Max Teichmann, RIP

In his Weekend Australian column, Christopher Pearson reports the death of Max Teichmann. In recent years, Teichmann had been a regular at the Catholic paleocon magazine News Weekly. But when I took Teichmann’s Monash University subject on populism a very large number of years ago he was still a man of the left.

As Gerard Henderson’s amazing files record, this passage by Teichmann on the 1975 dismissal of the Whitlam government included the Australian left’s characteristic hyperbolic style:

At the beginning of 1932 Germany was a Weimar Republic semi-democracy. By the end of 1933 she was a dictatorship. … But in terms of a narrow, legalistic interpretation of the German constitution, Hindenburg’s action appeared justified. Within eight months Adolf Hitler was to be prime minister of Germany. ….

The similarities between Germany 1932 and Australia 1975 do not end there. The Nazis gained support by exploiting people’s fears about inflation and unemployment; by promising all things to all men, in terms so vague so as to defy analysis; by kicking the communist can; by posing as defenders of the constitution and of law and order, while busily subverting all these things.

In my experience, Teichmann was a likeable character but a long way from being a model professional academic. Our lectures were straight after lunch, which Teichmann sometimes appeared to have spent at the bar in the university staff club. The lectures were often rambling. But my most vivid memory of him is from the populism exam. He came to see us just before we started. ‘You’d have to die in the exam to fail this one,’ he assured us. He wasn’t going to meet too many academic standards, and we didn’t have to either.

Max Teichmann, RIP.

Update: The Age’s obituary.

Political styles

Ideologies and political movements don’t just have substantive beliefs, they have styles as well.

Conservatism and the cultural left both engage in identity politics. When a dispute is about not just what we should do, but who we are, things – and language – get heated. Conservatives and the cultural left often use stories to make their case. Stories have dramas and excitement not so easily found in a logical argument. It is not coincidence that many conservative intellectuals are historians.

Classical liberals and social democrats tend to be far more cool and analytical in the way they present themselves. They are better at detaching themselves from issues. They will often use statistics rather than stories to make their case. They are more likely to be economists or philosophers than historians.

Left-wing academics have their own style in a particular form of bad writing. Take this passage from the Smith and Marden article on think-tanks:
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Do think tanks follow God or mammon?

The latest issue of the Australian Journal of Political Science contains an article called ‘Conservative Think Tanks and Public Politics’, by Marcus Smith and Peter Marden. They are against the former and claim to be in favour of the latter.

Smith and Marden don’t seem to able to decide whether think tanks are driven by God or mammon (the possibility that people who work in think-tanks might be sincerely interested in good public policy is not even considered).

The first part of the article is a conventional (left-wing) narrative of how business interests created think-tanks to serve their financial interests. But then it switches to God, arguing that the Christian Right is increasingly influential in the ‘networks of interests associated with conservative think thanks’. According to Smith and Marden, the Christian Right argues that ‘Australia has fallen victim to a culture of permissiveness, rampant materialism, and instant gratification.’ Why commercial interests would want to support opponents of these excellent business opportunities is never made clear.
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Brand power

In the end, so that I could support his classical liberal deputy Tim Wilson, I did vote for Labor Party member Peter McMullin for Lord Mayor of Melbourne.

But as it turned out McMullin came third, behind former state Liberal leader Robert Doyle and Adam Bandt of the Greens. The Age‘s Jason Dowling thinks that the council electoral system is rotten:

Doyle had almost twice as many votes as his nearest opponent but any one of five of the 11 candidates who stood for lord mayor could still win. Such a system raises the question of who really decides the outcome: the voters or the back-room dealers who decide preference deals? The best policies — not the best preference deal — should count.

But this isn’t the problem. What the result shows is that brand counts in politics like it does in any other situation where we must make choices based on minimal information. I doubt most voters wanted to read the 23-page booklet they were all sent on the Lord Mayor race, or the large amount of campaign material distributed by the candidates.

So they went first for a name they knew – Doyle – and second for a party they had heard of, the Greens. No other party formally endorsed a candidate.
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