Classical liberals and political parties

Commenter Ute Man asks

At what point would Andrew Norton abandon the Liberal party …. Surely the Abbott inspired lunacy that encouraged Barnaby Joyce to publically voice his CEC conspiracies was a breaking point for anybody who even pretended to be rational. … Surely, at this point, it is impossible for the “last classical liberal” to deny the four-square conservatism (or idiocy, I can’t decide) of Abbott and his unannounced, unfunded policies to continue to support this party. Or are you just another prisoner to tribalism?

I’ve had many questions like this over the years. After all, in the thirty or so years that I have been a Liberal supporter the party has stood for the Australian Settlement minus the White Australia policy (Fraser), vacuous soft-right progressivism (Peacock), suburban conservatism (Howard), free-market liberalism (Hewson), upper-class conservatism with bad jokes (Downer), everything-depending-on-what-day-of-the week-it was (Nelson), market-leaning social liberalism (Turnbull) and now Tony Abbott’s big government conservatism. At the state level, the party often seems to stand for nothing at all, or at least there is no theme I can extract from their ad hoc point scoring against Labor.

Clearly for those – like much of the Australian Left – who see politics as self-expression, as part of showing what kind of person they are, this ideological variety would be intolerable. Indeed, with this view on politics involvement with any major party would be impossible, since both major parties are ‘broad church’ institutions incorporating a wide range of interests and beliefs. Which group is most dominant, or at least most obvious, will change over time with their numbers in the party, their skill, the political cycle, and luck.

While I do enjoy reading about and discussing classical liberal ideas even when there is no contemporary political relevance, I also think that classical liberals should get involved in real-world current politics. Given that classical liberals are a tiny minority of the electorate, I don’t think setting up a classical liberal party is likely to be a successful strategy. The alternative is to join one of the major parties. We are never likely to see a classical liberal government, but classical liberals can help nudge broad-church parties in a classical liberal direction.

But which party? The answer to that question is not as clear as I would like it to be. The Liberal Party has fewer ideological obstacles to supporting smaller government, but the actual historical record, at least since the 1980s, is more mixed, largely due to the Hawke and Keating governments.

For many classical liberals, it will come down to matters of personal history. I formed my party allegiances in a middle-class Liberal voting family, at the time church attending, both kids at private school, both parents working in the private sector, in the aftermath of the Whitlam government, at a time when strikes caused almost weekly disruption in Australia. The chances of such a person being a Labor supporter were very low, and unsurprisingly I did not become one. Friends with different personal histories joined the ALP. In this sense, Ute Man is right that there is a ‘tribal’ aspect to political loyalties. Allegiances are based on much more than just ideological fit.

Clearly I am not going to go off in a huff just because the latest leader has policies I don’t agree with – especially as we are likely to be several Liberal leaders away from a Liberal PM anyway. But would there be a point where I quit the Liberals completely? I would find it very hard to walk away after being involved for so long. I think it is only likely to happen at some major turning point in centre-right politics – like 1908-09 or the early 1940s – when circumstances dictated that we need to start again with some new form of political organisation.

65 thoughts on “Classical liberals and political parties

  1. How is it not intellectually honest, if that’s my conclusion about the antics of the climate change crowd?

    These people honestly think that they can stop the world from warming by lowering CO2 emissions. If that’s not an example of people thinking the earth has a thermostat that they can control then I don’t know what is.

    I never mentioned a vast conspiracy – my question was quite unambiguous.

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  2. Who are ‘these people’? Actual climate researchers, political wankers, activists?

    The point is whether, putting aside other natural factors
    1) we are making a significant contribution to warming because of industrialisation releasing CO2 into the atmosphere
    2) if so, what can we do to mitigate this so that **our contribution** to increases in the temperature of the climate do not take things over a tipping point. we cannot control sunspots, we can control our emissions (though not without some cost, which is where the real debate lies)

    You keep relying on this strawman about one lever controlling the climate being CO2 despite having this explained to you countless times. Earlier you even relied on the even more ridiculous strawman of comparing it to continental drift. You are not worth engaging with on this topic.

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  3. Your point is only of approximate validity insofar as researchers believe that CO2 will account for the bulk of future temperature increases. Of course that is a question of fact. Where do you think future temperature increases will come from? But even that is a far cry from talking about a thermostat. The sensible researchers already take account of the impacts of solar forcing in their models

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  4. I thought I wasn’t worth engaging with?? 🙂

    A previous reply is now lost in the ether, victim of a connection malfunction.

    I honestly do not believe, after all my reading, listening and thinking, that we are making a significant contribution to warming because of industrialisation releasing CO2 into the atmosphere. And I won’t be bullied into thinking otherwise. If you want me to change my mind – and I assure you my mind remains open and I am well aware that I could be mistaken – then you’re going to have to convince me.

    Calling me a Nazi (Hives Hamilton), blaming me for the Victorian bushfires (Septimus) or choosing not to engage with me (you) ain’t going to cut it.

    I compared global warming to continental drift because I cannot see any way for people living in 2009 to stop either process.

    Regarding the ‘tipping point’: please name for me one unbounded positive feedback process that exists in nature.

    Who knows where future temperature increases will come from? Who knows where future temperature declines will come from? What we do know for sure is that they have happened periodically for millions of years, and have almost always been independent of atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide.

    No-one has explained anything to me ‘countless times’. Not you or anyone else.

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  5. if you think this is a matter of ‘bullying’ you’re really not worth engaging with. Unless you’ve somehow bested physical chemists over the years and have proof that CO2 doesn’t absorb infrared.

    Regarding the ‘tipping point’: please name for me one unbounded positive feedback process that exists in nature.

    It’s not ‘natural’, that’s why there is a feedback effect, that’s the whole point.

    What I explained to you ‘countless times’ was how your thermostat strawman metaphor was a strawman. You don’t need to be ‘bullied’ into accepting AGW to understand that that’s a strawman since that relies on simply not misrepresenting what other people think rather than accepting what they think. I think I’ve done this 4-5 times to no avail. Yoiu really are an evasive tribalistic fraud.

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  6. CO2 does absorb infrared radiation.

    In fact, the CO2 currently in the atmosphere absorbs pretty much all the infrared radiation that the sun throws at us.

    That’s why adding more CO2 to the atmosphere won’t make any significant difference to global climate – all the infrared radiation that can be absorbed has been absorbed.

    Emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere occurs for numerous reasons, only one of which is industrialisation. Unless there is something qualitatively different about industrialisation’s emissions’ relationship to infrared radiation, then I think we can safely lump our emissions in with those of nature, and treat them the same.

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  7. This is an excellent link of a recent forum discussion held at MIT on climategate. It’s about 2 hours long but it really is excellent. These guys are at the top of their field in atmospheric and political science. Each person was particularly scathing of what has happened at East Angiia and the discredit it has brought to science.

    Really worth watching what people think who are at the top of their field.

    http://mitworld.mit.edu/video/730

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  8. Jeremey I didn’t ‘blame you for the victorian bushfires’.

    I was talking about the Melbourne heatwave, which predated Black Saturday.

    The temperatures experienced in Melbourne earlier this year were off the charts, smashing all previous records.

    I’m very very interested to know what is causing this? What is causing it?

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  9. That’s why adding more CO2 to the atmosphere won’t make any significant difference to global climate – all the infrared radiation that can be absorbed has been absorbed

    This is a joke right? You do know what the difference is between infrared being absorbed and infrared being radiated back into space? What do you think happens to infrared that isn’t radiated away into space and is absorbed? It just sits there forever in some wormhole? What do you think the greenhouse effect refers to?

    Seriously if you don’t even grasp the basic physics behind the idea of a greenhouse gas I don’t know why you’re bothering to have an opinion on this and not only that. but such a strong held opinion that is completely against basic understanding. You can’t criticise what you don’t understand.

    Your position is really no different now from that of a HIV denialist. I really am going to stop replying to you now lest I stop losing all respect for you as an individual. I am serious.

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  10. In fact, the CO2 currently in the atmosphere absorbs pretty much all the infrared radiation that the sun throws at us.

    You misunderstand the process. CO2 contributes to a rise in temperature because it is transparent to non-infrared radiation that we receive from the sun – much of this radiation is absorbed by the Earth and retransmitted as infrared – which is mostly absorbed by the CO2 on it’s way back out (so it never makes it back out into space). The CO2 (and other “greenhouse gases”, some of which are many times more potent than CO2, like CH4) acts like a slightly-leaky one-way valve for energy. This effect is certainly settled science – a runaway greenhouse effect is why the surface of Venus is over 400C (and it’s also why the Earth is warm enough to be habitable).

    What we do know for sure is that they have happened periodically for millions of years, and have almost always been independent of atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide.

    Unfortunately for us, human beings have only been around for the last 200,000 years or so. I’d rather like us to stay around for a bit longer. The fact that the Earth’s climate can change due to other factors does not invalidate the hypothesis that it can also be changed by significantly increasing the CO2 concentration of the atmosphere.

    Regarding the ‘tipping point’: please name for me one unbounded positive feedback process that exists in nature.

    I’ll name two just off the top of my head – the collapse of a star larger than 3 solar masses into a black hole; and the chain reaction of nuclear fission within a supercritical mass of uranium-235. At any rate, it isn’t necessary for the positive feedback process to be unbounded – as long as it’s bounded by a state that is significantly less habitable than the current state, it’s something we’d need to avoid (ie, if the bound is a new equilibrium that’s 15 degrees hotter, that’s not really a “win”).

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  11. caf, I’d like to debate further but Jason has his pen poised to delete me from his friendship list if I say any more, and I don’t want that to happen.

    The last two examples are interesting! Now, if someone can find one that exists – not just in theory, but actually exists – in climate science, I’d love to know about it.

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  12. Jeremy:

    Take my view… ignore the hard science as we aren’t scientists, as it’s a really difficult area to understand for laypeople, ignore the swill about 80 feet sea levels in 27 January 2097. Ignore the sharks like Gore referring to AGW as the moral dilemma of our time while the oaf takes the Google’s 767 private jet around for a spin, ignore Prince Charles, the tampon sniffer and adopt my take on thing. Ignore the anti-capitalist creeps at the Copey festival.

    There is a decent amount of compelling evidence to suggest there is a component of the warming we’re seeing as a result of human’s throwing up all this crap into the atmosphere without charging up the cost on the debt side.

    In a way this is actually a positive marker, as it is sort of indirect evidence the giga countries (India and China) and some other notables in the poor world have finally got their act together in terms of economic growth witnessing the wonderful rise in living standards for a lot of humanity out of grinding poverty.

    However there is a risk we’re screwing up the gases we breathe and heating the place up.

    Seeing human’s have thrived in the current environment we really don’t want to artificially screw things up. It’s not really worth the risk.

    There are, I believe less damaging ways to reach zero emissions by 2050 and we should explore those.

    However we should really take the side of the scientists while ignoring the crap and the frauds on both extremes.

    that’s my humbles opinion for what it is worth.

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