Royal gossip

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Australia has a new monarch, whose favourite non-fiction book is  so she says  Thomas Friedman’s The Lexus and the Olive Tree.

In the same survey, other parliamentarians lied and said their favourite novels were Anna Karenina or War and Peace; one assumes Gillard wasn’t similarly trying to impress anyone with her sophistication.

But nor is Friedman popular enough for her choice to ‘betray’ a common touch, as when, for electoral reasons, a politician declares a liking for the latest cinematic dross or a professional sports team.

So Gillard seems genuinely to like his work.

Say what you will about past PMs, but they at least would have known how to feign good taste and aesthetic judgement, when they did not actually have it. But, where once they might have read Cicero or Gibbon, nowadays state elites choose the verbal swagger of late-imperial bozo journalism.

And every ruling elite gets the culture it deserves. Friedman’s combination of schmaltz and bombast is a perfect fit for today’s international lawlessness, repeal of constitutional rights, and cabinet supremacy over parliament. This is the rule of a parasitic social layer.

Of course, in every society, rule is based not on merit or learning but on property rights (what Adam Smith called ‘the power to command labour’) and force.

But whereas, say, the senatorial elite of 5th- and 19th-century Europe were also men of letters, and in other times and places they were fierce men of arms, it’s no accident that today has called forth this crop of bumptious philistines, no longer concerned to present themselves as ‘the best part of the human race’.

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9 Responses to “Royal gossip”

  1. Alex Says:

    Ha, this kind of exaggerated snobbery is what made Torn Curtain so hilarious – I’m glad to see the style is back!

    From the outset I find it difficult to imagine politicians (particularly Australian ones) as normal human beings who sit down and read books, or listen to music, for pleasure. And, as you touched on, when they do announce their tastes it usually seems to just be politicking, like when Hockey said he listened to Ben Lee and Delta Goodrem (!). And if not politicking then simply bizarre, as when Howard claimed to like Bob Dylan… except for the lyrics (which is sort of like Bush saying he really enjoys the jaunty tune of The Internationale, or something.)

    For different reasons, I can’t really imagine Wilson Tuckey, say, sprawled out on his settee with War and Peace, whiling away the afternoon. As you say, the standard of intelligence within the Australian ruling class is not exactly overwhelming (unless you’re one of those people for whom “smart arse” is the same thing as “smart”).

  2. Nick Says:

    As a matter of fact, G.W. Bush said his favourite band was Creedence Clearwater Revival – not sure if he’s ever sung along to “Fortunate Son”.

    The tastes and habits of the Australian political class is one thing; as we know, they are largely a bunch of lawyers, union officials, etc: the most corrupt, timeserving dregs scraped off the most degenerate social layers. We’d hardly expect them to be dedicated connoisseurs of high culture or the liberal arts.

    But there’s surely a deeper logic at work, linked to the broader revival of obscurantism and nihilistic reality avoidance in the culture at large: alternative medicine, global-warming denialism and anti-science attitudes, identity politics and political correctness, etc. It’s no coincidence that these attitudes emerged in the Seventies.

    At the reins of the state, and of society at large, is a class without any historic project, beyond the restoration and protection of its own social privileges. It has no stake in intellectual advancement: its universities are ravaged, reduced at best to venues for outsourced corporate R&D. Its mass “culture” consists mostly of the crassest idocy, infantilising its audience. Its temples are gaudy sites of luxury consumption, much like the country houses in which the unproductive rentier class of Edwardian Britain aped the landed gentry, and dabbled in tarot and mysticism (just as the Nazis would later turn to astrology and the occult).

    It’s in this sense that postmodernism truly is “the cultural logic of late capitalism”.

  3. Nick Says:

    I should mention that Joe Hockey, too, is a Friedman fan (and, like Gillard, admits to a taste for John le Carré). Astonishingly, Hockey prefers The World is Flat, which by all accounts was even worse than its predecessor. He probably likes Delta Goodrem’s second album, too.

  4. Dan Says:

    Don’t know if you saw it, but in Saturday’s The Age, Gillard seems to have changed her choice to The Grapes of Wrath…

  5. Nick Says:

    Ha! Well, de gustibus and all that, but that’s a nice step up from Tim Winton.

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