How many people read The Monthly?

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.

24 thoughts on “How many people read The Monthly?

  1. It has been suggested that Rudd has simply repackaged some themes from David McKnight’s “Beyond Left and Right”. That is quite likely from a glance at Rudd’s summary paper in the Fin Review. This is a pretty feeble effort because I deconstructed several chapters in the book, paragraph by paragraph although I think David insisted that he would not need to make many changes in the second edition.

    His problem is that no less than 30 colleagues are named as readers of drafts, urgers, inspirers and general co-conspirators in this lightweight piece of intellectual frippery. So he is locked in, like the lifestyle lefties described by Meaghan Morris on one of her papers, they are like a big extended family of lovers and partners, ex-partners and lovers, longtime colleagues in action groups, party branches, editorial boards, demonstrations, solidarity groups, etc. So any person among them who admits that there is substance to the multitude of criticisms that can be made of the book is in trouble with the collective, which is a fate worse than death among the collectivists.


  2. Rafe – Certainly, Rudd quotes from McKnight. I checked the Oakeshott references in McKnight’s book to see if I could find a link to ‘brutopia’, but no luck. It could well be there in another context however.


  3. Andrew – Rudd is quoting most, if not all, the Hayek stuff from a secondary source. If you read the originals, Hayek is nuanced – Rudd isn’t. Also I should add that Rudd hasn’r even read the contents page of ‘The Constitution of Liberty’. If he had, he would know that Hayek does support (very minimal) welfare state functions.

    On Monthly I have let my subscription lapse, but have bought two at the newsstand. These being the latest two with pieces by Rudd (and Gideon Haigh in the last issue).


  4. Not how many, but who.

    I’ve read The Monthly but it appears to be slipping into the same ways that have lighted all such magazines the way to dusty death in recent years – not just an absence of fact-checking, but a nostalgia for times whose passing some cannot accept:
    * Mungo MacCallum (who makes Alan Ramsey look fresh and incisive)
    * Richard Neville
    * Bob Ellis
    * Long hand-wringing pieces on social policy that don’t really engage with policies and the motivations behind them
    * Long hand-wringing pieces on issues which no longer matter, e.g. Bob Ellis semi-apologising for throwing up, making a pass at someone’s wife and then cursing that person for not offering him a writing gig in 1967
    * Long hand-wringing pieces on literature that basically perpetuate academic feuds by other means, and offer no reason why any general reader should care if no Australian novels were published next year
    * Long hand-wringing summaries of phenomena in the United States, e.g. prayer in schools, which don’t resonate much here but which, the writer tries to assure us, pose imminent threats to Australia.

    As long as that magazine publishes Gideon Haigh, Peter Craven, Helen Garner, Chloe Hooper and Robert Forster, it is worth buying.

    The Menzies-Fairfax thing reminds me of the similar event a few years ago, where a teacher and historical novelist from Canberra was said to have worn an emolument from a foreign country to a party. There was a great controversy about this at the time, far more than the current controversy.


  5. Andrew – Rudd sounds like he’s been reading (or reading about) John Gray. Re-read the first chapter of Endgames and see what you think.

    I can’t think of any passage in Oakeshott where he warns against “unchecked market forces.”

    Rudd’s critique seems much closer to John Gray’s interpretation of Oakeshott than it is to Oakeshott’s work itself.

    As for this use of the term ‘brutopia’ it might be via Robert Eccleshall. In a passage where he glosses Gray’s work he writes:

    “Traditional institutions were dissolved by market forces, and with them went those attitudes of deference which had sustained the claim of Tory patrician statecraft to govern by evolutionary adaptation rather than by schooling in the techniques of permanent revolution towards a free-market brutopia.”


  6. Don – That was the reference to Brutopia I found; I had not checked Gray but as he moved to the anti-market side he picked up the characteristic hyerbole of writers of that school of thought so perhaps he has used the term somewhere.


  7. Andrew – Yes I realised later that you’d already mentioned the Eccleshall reference.

    If anyone’s interested, you can read the first page of Eccleshall’s article via Google Books. It’s reproduced in a book edited by Michael Freeden.

    Type in something like – brutopia “john gray”


  8. Don – Perhaps it is, but is there any reference to Oakeshott that would give any support to Rudd’s claims?


  9. Andrew – I can’t find any reference in Oakeshott that sounds like what Rudd is attributing to him.

    I think what’s going on looks something like this:

    1. From the perspective of today’s left, free market reform looks radical. IR reform, privatisation etc.

    2. So… brilliant idea! We leftists are trying to CONSERVE society’s valuable institutions. Maybe the conservatives can help us? Let’s see if we can peel them away from the free market ideologues.

    3. Now… we’ve just got to find a conservative figure who’s as opposed to that guy Hayek as we are. How about Oakeshott ? He gave Hayek a serve didn’t he?

    4. Hey look! This guy John Gray is saying that Oakeshott was opposed to unchecked market forces. And he used to be a Thatcherite! We were right!


  10. Don – I think it is something like that. But even if Oakeshott had made such a claim, there is no reason to give it any more weight than if David McKnight or Kevin Rudd said it. Oakeshott wasn’t an empirical social scientist, and did not have the intellectual tools to know what effects markets had.


  11. Andrew-which is why he would never say something so ridiculous.
    I’ve read the vast majority of Oakeshott’s work and I’ve never come across something so silly as ‘brutopia’. He will on occasion refer to the idea that unregulate markets are silly, and that we can impose civil conditions on market transactions, but this never has the connotations that those in love with regulation have.


  12. I visted a Baltic former soviet/nazi/free market/imperial military prison called Karosta Cietums (or “Australia in miniature”) yesterday and it was Brutopia by all accounts.. I could go into the details of how the various reigimes treated their prisoners in different ways according to ideology but it is priceless information you find on the interweb.
    Every politcal system is brutal and to differentiate is nitpicking. The state or the dominant corporation is defined as those who have a monopoly on the means of violence. Prison is for deserters and swinging voters.

    The problem with the monthly is that Chris Feik is too tall and unwilling to invest in a decent keyboard synthesizer, and is therefore out of touch.
    I imagine that the editor of policy is also too tall and therefore out of touch with words closer to the street as such.
    Apart from poor circulation due to height this is about the only comparison, as the Monthly intends to be light reading and Policy is uninentionally hilarious when it publishes articles by the likes of Edwards who posts on websites which worship the bell curve whilst failing to explain just how long they would last in the jungles of the Congo with nothing but a pair of wellington boots.


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