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Broad church schisms

By Grant Wyeth - posted Wednesday, 25 March 2015

While the Prime Minister's performance, and the recent attempted spill motion, has been cause for much chatter about the Liberal Party's leadership, there is in fact a deeper existential crisis within the party that needs to be explored.

The "Broad Church" of the Liberal Party that John Howard extolled contains two main philosophical traditions; classical liberalism and classical conservatism.

While modern populist political promotion has packaged these two traditions as a coherent philosophy in itself, this is not the case. Up until the global rise of Labour movement in the early 20th century, conservatism and liberalism were opposing forces - the reverence for tradition vs the constant improvement of institutions via merit. The two formed an electoral alliance after World War II to counter the spread of a common enemy of Communism.


But of course, anyone who believes that the enemy of their enemy is their friend has a very superficial outlook on life, and is bound to find themselves in an existential crisis sooner or later.

Which is where the Liberal Party, and similar "fusionist"parties around the world, now find themselves.

The 20th Century and the beginning of 21st has been a period of exponential change for humans; technologically, socially and cultural.

Fueling this exponential change has been the increased freedom with which humans have had to exchange ideas with each other. As new technologies enhance our ability to communicate, newer technologies are formed. From car to aeroplane, from radio to the internet, to the sum of human knowledge now carried in our pockets.

But as you can see from just these technologies, their arrival also brings massive social and cultural change along with them; greater movement, greater interaction, greater exposure to non-traditional concepts. For those with conservative predilections, who are naturally suspicious of change, this can be uncomfortable, but for liberalism this is taken in stride ("The Left" has its own gripes with modernity, although that is a piece for another time).

Which makes the modern conservative adoption of a classically liberal ideas such as the free market and individual liberty perplexing. It is fair to conclude that the freer the trade (exchange), the greater the change.


In fact it would be suitable to suggest that the free market is cosmopolitanism itself; the ever increasing closeness and overlap of groups and individuals exchanging, embracing, learning from, and morphing their ideas. An awkward prospect for those who value tradition.

The 2009 leadership contest between Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott was something a personification of this current existential crisis in the party. While on the surface it was simply a battle between climate "realists" and "deniers" within the party, this forms a proxy for much greater faultlines.

I would suggest that climate denialism itself is a proxy for an inability to handle a changing world. A cloud for conservatives to yell at due to being distressed with the pace of change with a buffet of global, social and cultural issues. From the decline of the nation-stateto the rise of women.

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About the Author

Grant is a freelance writer and political analyst. Combining his background in political philosophy with his current work in the digital industry has given him great insight into evolving human interaction, technical innovation, economic intelligence and migration patterns. He is the proud owner of an Enron glow-in-the-dark yo-yo that he took from the company's London office post-bankruptcy. He is a dedicated fan of the Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Namibian cricket teams. And due to an extraordinary lack of interest from others, he is quite possibly Australia's foremost authority on Canadian politics. He is impossible to inconvenience, extremely helpful in any capacity, and always punctual. He has previously lived in London and Montreal, but currently lives in Melbourne.

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