Norman Abjorensen’s mess of a book

I’ve not thought much of Norman Abjorensen‘s work for a long time, but his latest book John Howard and the Conservative Tradition disappointed even my low expectations. It is a mess.

Abjorensen states himself to be in favour of popular sovereignty, and sees the efforts of liberals and conservatives to limit it to be their most important, from his perspective, feature. The great success of Australian conservatism, ‘has been to serve a ruling elite under a pretence of caring for all’. But after having run through some 19th century conservative resistance to the then maturing Australian democratic institutions, for the 20th century Abjorensen seems to have forgotten how he started. Much of the book is just a summary of the political lives and times of successive ‘conservative’ parliamentary leaders, with no particular emphasis on democratic developments or how the interests of the ‘ruling class’ were served.

In an unusual move, however, he has tacked on the end of the main text several previously published book reviews, and in one – on Clive Hamilton’s Silencing Dissent – the anti-democracy theme is developed. As I noted when that book was published, while the Howard government did not always deal ideally with its opponents, its overall account is tendentious. Vigorous debate continued throughout the Howard years, including constant and often vitriolic criticism of the government. And of course the democratic system smoothly removed the Howard government in 2007.
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