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Why I am not a conservative

By Jim Belshaw - posted Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Now this post is triggered by a comment Neil Whitfield made: “As my in many ways quite conservative friend Jim Belshaw says …

Neil, old friend, I am not conservative. Old fashioned sometimes, a tag I actually wear with some pride, but not conservative. I just belong to a different minority tradition, perhaps several traditions, in Australian thought.

To illustrate by an example.


If I had my way, I would tear New South Wales down, limiting that state to just Sydney and the Blue Mountains so that the Sydney Government could get on with what it does best, representing Sydney. This view may be wrong, but it's hardly conservative because it involves fundamental change.

Before going on, a definitional note. The Wikipedia story on conservatism is not bad. It says:

Conservatism is a term used to describe political philosophies that favor tradition and gradual change, where tradition refers to religious, cultural, or nationally defined beliefs and customs. The term is derived from the Latin, conservāre, to conserve; "to keep, guard, observe".

Now I do like the idea of conserving appropriately defined. I am also not opposed to tradition. But sometimes the established order has to be torn down. Sometimes, it is necessary to mount a counter view.

If you look at my attacks on the intellectual orthodoxy that came out of the 70s, and this includes some of my comments on multiculturalism, I am opposed to its rigidity, the way in which it has shut out alternative views.

But this does not mean that I am opposed to Australia as a pluralist society. Pretty obviously, I support this.


If you look at my attacks on some elements of Howard Government philosophy, I am opposed to what I see as the rigid orthodoxy and the little nationalism of what has become the alternative orthodoxy.

Now my position here is a little complex in that I do have some sympathy with some of the elements in that position as originally articulated.

For example, I actually think that there are many good features in the New Zealand model of public administration as articulated by the New Zealand Treasury. I supported and still support the way in which it tried to break down an imperfect system. It's just that the application in practice, and especially in NSW, is a gross distortion of the original principles.

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First published at Personal Reflections on August 27, 2007.

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About the Author

Jim Belshaw is an economist and historian by training. He worked as a senior public servant before moving to the private sector as a manager, strategic consultant and free lance researcher and social commentator. He blogs at Personal Reflections.

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