If you are still reading The Monthly, you’re part of a pretty exclusive group – just 42,000 people, or 0.2% of the population, according to the Roy Morgan Readership Survey. Admittedly, Morgan’s call centre would have to ring a lot of people before they found any readers of the magazine I edit, but then again Policy never set out to be an antipodean Atlantic Monthly.
Apart from lacking the Atlantic Monthly‘s circulation, this month’s Monthly was lacking The New Yorker’s famous fact checkers. Crikey had a go at them for publishing Mungo MacCullum’s claim that Robert Menzies had an affair with Elizabeth Fairfax, wife of media proprietor Warwick Fairfax. There is no evidence that such an affair ever took place.
Several people (including me) have criticised Kevin Rudd’s article ‘Howard’s Brutopia: The Battle of Ideas in Australian Politics’. But none of us have yet challenged the claimed origins of the term ‘brutopia’:
Contemporary British conservatives such as Michael Oakeshott have starkly warned against a ‘brutopia’ of unchecked market forces.
It is some years since I have read Oakeshott in detail, but I doubt this is true. Oakeshott wrote little on economics, but what he did – such as ‘The Political Economy of Freedom’ in Rationalism in Politics – is generally sympathetic to markets, though in a non-ideological way. More to the point, it is hard to imagine an elegant writer like Oakeshott using an ugly neologism like ‘brutopia’. And he wasn’t really the type to quote from Donald Duck comics, where the term originated in the late 1950s, in a clear reference not to market dystopias but a dystopia lacking markets, the Soviet Union. Putting pop culture references into academic writing did not start until decades after Oakeshott did his main work.
If it wasn’t Oakeshott, who was it? The closest I can get via Google to a ‘British’ reference is a 2000 article by an academic in Belfast. Rudd clearly defines ‘contemporary’ rather broadly (Oakeshott died in 1990) so perhaps it was a print only usage. But like Mungo’s Menzies affair, Rudd’s conservatives warning of market brutopias sounds like something New Yorker-style fact checkers wouldn’t have allowed into print.