Why Conservatives are the New Radicals

This comment was published in News Weekly

Since my entry into adulthood I have considered myself a conservative. I always thought that learning from the experience of our forefathers was an easier and more painless way to progress than to insist upon repeating their mistakes for oneself.

This time-honoured approach enables incremental change without revolutionary upheaval, bringing together mankind’s innate desire for both change and continuity.

Conservatism, I believed, builds upon the existing order to deliver enduring benefits for society. That may still be true, but I have come to understand that in today’s world I have become a radical.

In fact, given that so many of the enduring values and institutions that have built Western society have been or are in the process of being sidelined by a new orthodoxy, anyone supporting their continuity can only be described as a radical too.

But, when considered in terms of how far we have departed from constitutionally limited government and time-honoured values, a radical approach to government and society is what is needed to restore sustainability and order to our world.

Globally we have seen profligate governments spending borrowed money to prop up the welfare state. In nations such as Greece, where the highest aspiration of the worker appears to be to retire on an unfunded government pension at an early age, and where the primary occupation of business is seemingly to avoid paying tax, debt has cruelled any chance of future growth unless national bankruptcy is declared.

Successive Greek governments have refused to rein in the welfare state that encourages dependency rather than self-reliance and when a small but ultimately futile gesture in austerity is implemented, the result is violent protest against the state itself.

Too many Western nations are heading down a similar path, where governments seek to minimise the impact of every potential peril while inevitably increasing their citizens’ reliance on government handouts.

In a nation such as Australia, the fact that over 800,000 people are on disability pensions should set the alarm bells ringing. Just how did we get to a point where there are fewer people in this country on unemployment benefits than on disability payments?

Or what about the constant political demands for more government handouts for families?

Now I fully appreciate just how tough it is for families to make ends meet today, but do we really think that taxing families more just to hand them back some small portion of their tax dollars actually makes sense?

Wouldn’t it just be easier and simpler to tax them less and let them decide how to spend their money?

Rather than have the plethora of family tax benefits A and B, dependent spouse tax offsets, parenting payments, baby bonuses, maternity leave, child-care subsidies and so on, imagine how much smaller government would be if we didn’t take the tax to fund these individual payments in the first place.

Support for families could be provided through the tax system via income-splitting or granting to families additional tax-free thresholds according to the number of their dependents.

Such a system would recognise the valuable contribution that stay-at-home parents make to the long-term wellbeing of their children, while simultaneously reducing the size of government.

For those in real need, a single universal payment could be provided that also offered an incentive so that every additional dollar earned meant the recipient was actually better off. This would ensure that even those on the margins of society were provided with a personal and meaningful reason to find paid employment.

A similar approach could be taken in any number of areas. Rather than add to existing programs, we could cut them back and start again. Surely we have learned from experience that an additional government initiative, on top of the existing failed ones, doesn’t do anything except cost taxpayers more.

So too could we see radical reform in the social arena. For too long, the historically important contribution of Christian thought and values has been marginalised and sidelined by moral relativism.

The current reigning orthodoxy effectively prohibits contemporary Christian thought from being taught in the education system, yet government funds education programs highlighting such things as ‘Johnnie’s two mummies’ or the ‘contribution of Islam to Australia’.

Sure, both of these might be of interest or even importance to some, but why are our taxpayer dollars being spent on such propaganda?

Advocates of such programs will maintain they are meant to ensure that we are an inclusive and tolerant society. They may have a valid point but many observers will counter that since the social re-engineering revolution, society is racked by more division and social disharmony than ever.

In many Western nations, people can lose their jobs merely for expressing their belief that marriage should remain between a man and a woman. Churches are often obliged by law to employ those who disagree with their fundamental precepts. Individuals expressing unpopular views can no longer enjoy the traditional protections of free speech, but risk being silenced by the legal system.

The greatest offence in the modern age is no longer murder or terrorism, but saying something that is perceived by someone as being offensive.

Consider the case of convicted terrorist David Hicks. A popular protest movement to free him from detention in Guantanamo Bay saw him lionised by unthinking socialists as a heroic Che Guevara-like figure.

Hicks released a book that played down his involvement with Islamic extremists and his support for their jihadist agenda. Naturally, the book was feted by the left as inspirational and as a faithful chronicle of an innocent victim’s triumph over adversity.

And as the ‘Free David Hicks’ movement became the cause célèbre of the left, outspoken conservatives increasingly became their target.

Newspaper columnist Andrew Bolt was dragged into court for questioning why some people chose to identify with a particular race that was only a minor part of their ancestry.

Two Victorian Christian pastors fought a costly five-year legal battle because they dared to quote some verses from the Quran and people laughed at the absurdity of it.

Those who have questioned climate change alarmism have been attacked as extremists, dinosaurs and deniers. Predictors of a catastrophic warming of the world have preferred to attack climate-change sceptics through personal smears rather than refute sceptics’ arguments with facts and evidence in public debate.

Greens leader Senator Bob Brown, a champion of this modern day nonsensical orthodoxy, has even admitted to his desire for a world government.

Those in the past who suspected that this supra-national leftist vision was part of the Greens’ agenda have predictably been derided as cranks and conspiracy theorists.

However, Bob Brown recently confirmed many people’s misgivings when he called on Australia to push for the establishment of a global parliament elected on the basis of one person, one vote, one value. (The Age, 30 June 2011)

Recently, left-wing activists were at the forefront of stirring up public outrage to force the Gillard Labor Government to shut down Australia’s live cattle export trade to Indonesia. This was a result of the barbaric cruelty shown on our national broadcaster in the treatment of some cattle in at least one Indonesian abattoir.

Personally, the cruelty was such that I couldn’t bear to watch the entire footage — a reaction I shared with many others I know.

However, I cannot help but contrast the public outrage over the broadcast of such images of animal cruelty with the silence over the killing of over 100,000 unborn Australian children every year.

Abortion is also a cruel and bloody business, except that it involves human rather than bovine life. I wonder if those who decry the killing of a cow are the same people who vilify others who dare to question a woman’s so-called ‘right to choose’.

Are these by any chance the self-same activists who have campaigned against the publication of information or footage that shows the gruesome reality of what abortion really entails?

In response, the Australian Communications and Media Authority has prohibited access to at least one website showing graphic abortion images due to complaints on the grounds that the images may cause ‘offence’.

I agree that the images in question are horrific, but abortion is a horrific practice.

Why then is it deemed appropriate to hide from public view the grisly fate of 100,000 of our most vulnerable children every year, and yet a matter of urgent public interest for our national broadcaster to highlight the cruel methods of slaughtering cattle in a neighbouring country?

Perhaps we simply don’t like being confronted with some uncomfortable truths about our society’s slide into moral relativism.

Whether it be life, economic or social issues, it seems reasonable to ask: how did we get to this stage? Since when did the mistreatment of animals become of greater concern than the taking of innocent human life?

When did accepting money from government become more important than taking responsibility for yourself and your family? When did it become acceptable to take advantage of the system rather than take pride in not needing it?

These are just some of the reasons we need to break free from the current direction being taken by much of the Western world.

It will require a radical about-turn and return to the days when government stuck to its core functions; where families rather than the state took care of themselves and their neighbours; and where community values took priority over corporations.

Such a change will require nothing less than a return to the enduring values that built Western civilisation — respect for life and liberty and the pursuit of a greater good than personal gratification.

Of course, few countries (or their citizens) are ready to embark on such a course. But as the unhappy consequences of today’s social disorder become increasingly apparent, I am betting that radical change will come in the not too distant future.

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