June 18th 2016


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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Deregulation cause of dairy industry crisis

CANBERRA OBSERVED Double-dissolution election likely to deliver disillusionment

EDITORIAL Turnbull keeps his smile as all around lose theirs

LIFE ISSUES Infant viability fails to wake upper house interest

GLOBAL ECONOMY A generation left to twiddle its thumbs

LOCAL GOVERNMENT Amateur hour at the Brisbane City Council

EUTHANASIA Too quick a leap to counsel of despair

CULTURE WARS Australia Council cuts funding to Quadrant

SEXUAL POLITICS Gay "marriage" and the given in human procreative behaviour (Part 2)

FEDERAL ELECTION How to ensure your Senate vote goes all the way

PHILOSOPHY John Haldane holds true to faith-reason nexus

HISTORY The Chinese in Australia: not the story you've heard

MUSIC The times it takes to reach eternity

CINEMA Madcap adventures in the Kiwi bush: Hunt for the Wilderpeople

BOOK REVIEW The curate's egg

BOOK REVIEW That other great Irish prelate

LETTERS

 A day in the life of a religious white man from the point of view of evidence and truth

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BOOK REVIEW
The curate's egg




News Weekly, June 18, 2016

 

THE LIBERTARIAN ALTERNATIVE

by Chris Berg

Melbourne University Press, Carlton
Paperback: 277 pages
Price: AUD$32.99

 

Reviewed by Jeffry Babb

 

Like the curate’s egg, most readers will find that this book is good, in parts. This phrase derives from a cartoon published in the late 19th century in the humorous magazine, Punch. A young curate is dining with the Bishop. The bishop says: “I’m afraid you’ve got a bad egg, Mr Jones.” Not wishing to offend his eminent host, the young curate replies: “Oh no, my Lord, I assure you that parts of it are excellent.”

Berg’s proposition is that libertarians and conservatives are natural allies. I do not wish to imply that News Weekly readers will be offended by Berg’s book. Indeed, much of The Libertarian Alternative will appeal to a conservative Christian audience. In that sense, like the curate’s egg, it does have much that is good.

Berg defends the right of faith associations to govern their own affairs, and to hire staff who follow that faith. The freedom to associate and the right to self-government is a fundamental human right.

“For instance, religious schools that choose not to employ people whose lifestyles they disagree with – for instance, religious schools that teach against homosexuality, and do not want gay members of staff – are part of a longstanding battle between anti-discrimination authorities and free association” (p158).

The notion that someone can be “forced to be free”, as Jean-Jacques Rousseau proposed, does not sit well with either conservatives or libertarians. The idea that an anti-discrimination commissioner can weed out all forms of objectionable behaviour is fanciful. The idea that mankind is perfectible has led to more tragedy than any other 20th-century doctrine. How many people perished while the Communist Party attempted to produce the perfect New Soviet Man?

Berg is not an extremist. He does not believe that in a libertarian polity the state will “wither away”. He sees the state as a necessary provider of defence against external threats and policing to maintain internal order. The role of the state is to protect the rights of its citizens, in particular their right to property, says Berg.

John Locke, in his Two Treatises on Government, proposed the idea that a stable, property-owning citizenry is the key to democratic government, yet citizens retain the right to revolution. Conservatives would tend to agree, but would probably regard the restrictions on some rights as a necessity, as proposed by Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan.

Conservatives tend to believe that the surrendering of some rights is necessary to maintain social stability. Conservatives also tend to have a less sunny attitude towards politics and society than do libertarians. When conservatives speak of a social contract, it is to Hobbes rather than to Locke that they look. These two variations on the nature of contract theory define conservatives and libertarians.

The balance between “liberty” and “security” is one that is forever shifting. The privacy of the individual is pitted against the duty of the state to protect its citizens – and to be seen to be protecting its citizens – in the Age of Terrorism.

Can we speak anymore of a “right to privacy”? It seems liberty has been sacrificed for security for the duration of the War on Terror.

Libertarians regard the market as the key instrument of social and economic order. Berg writes: “The litany of market failures is long and includes monopoly, predatory pricing, under-provision of public goods, externalities and price gouging; [but] the question is not whether markets fail, it’s whether the failures of markets are worse than those of the governments that we expect to fix those failures” (p43).

The more egregious interventions by the government in the marketplace are, from an economist’s viewpoint, “low hanging fruit”. Berg cites ownership restrictions on Qantas, cabotage in coastal shipping, a closed market in domestic aviation, restrictions on foreign ownership, and other such purely political interventions in the marketplace.

One cannot easily dismiss these policy stances, yet one must admit most of them have no economic justification. That is not to say they are bad, just that they are purely political in nature. Retaining these policies is a political decision.

Woolly multiculturalism

Multiculturalism, says Berg, is woolly and unconvincing, not least because it has never been satisfactorily defined. Australia, says Berg, is a pluralist country where people and their individual beliefs and disagreements co-exist within a coherent political and legal framework.

“The emphasis in pluralism is on the individual, and the many planes on which those individuals can differ from the herd. There are as many differences within ethnic blocs as there are between blocs” (p91).

As Berg correctly notes, many immigrants come to Australia to escape political and ethnic restrictions on their freedom of belief and action. Many immigrants come to start a new life; they don’t want their old life reproduced in a new land. The actual influence of self-empowered so called “community leaders” must be doubted. Most immigrants see themselves as “Australians first”.

Chris Berg has written a thought-provoking book. Some parts are good, some are a trifle addled, like the curate’s egg, but conservatives will find much with which they can empathise.


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