The right kind of authoritarianism

April 20, 2015

Australian socialist Louise O’Shea rescues Tom Elliott--an investment banker and supporter of the right-wing Liberal Party, the country's equivalent of the Republicans in the U.S.--from misunderstanding, in an article written for Red Flag.

I'M A big fan of newspaper columns written by the investment banking progeny of shonky businessmen and Liberal politicians.

Their life experience of elite private schools, manicured lawns, holidays in beachside mansions and membership of exclusive sports clubs generally makes them uniquely equipped to be insightful and empathetic social commentators.

Who else has the courage to back the Tony Abbott government in blowing the whistle on the Age of Entitlement, exposing the five-star lifestyle that pensioners, the disabled and those in need of health care have been living at our expense?

A giant among them is Tom Elliott, son of businessman John Elliott and Liberal politician Lorraine Elliott, who uses his years of experience running multinational financial companies to make the world a better place.

His credentials as a heavy-hitting social commentator are probably best demonstrated in a recent Herald Sun column, "Socialist Alternative living in a Soviet dream." Elliott argues that the Easter weekend fascist and Islamaphobic "Reclaim Australia" rallies were "legitimate," and suggests that socialists were "inconsistent" for opposing them because Elliott visited Soviet Russia in 1987 and had, it seems, a pretty average time.

Tom Elliott
Tom Elliott

As a stand-alone piece it will surely elevate Elliott from mere journalistic luminary to Walkley Award contender. But only when read in the context of Elliott's earlier body of work can the true genius of the piece be appreciated.

In February, Elliott argued to scrap democracy altogether and establish a technocratic dictatorship in order that the government's austerity program could be freed from the unreasonable constraints imposed by the troublesome voting public. What was needed, Elliott argued, was to "appoint a committee of eminent and competent Australians to sort [society] out. A benign dictatorship if you will."

What people missed in all their outrage about the fascistic implications of this statement was the important social justice message: without such measures, the oppressed minority of Liberal politicians, terrorized by voters since time immemorial, will be denied a safe space from which to express themselves free from intimidation. As someone who visited an inner-city bakery back in 2010, I can tell you that such prejudice is indeed rife and a threat to our way of life.

SEEN IN this context, Elliott's criticisms of Soviet Russia make more sense. The Soviets only "prevent[ed] politically incorrect candidates from standing for fear of presenting voters with the 'wrong' choice." They should have scrapped voting altogether.

Similarly, their efforts at "central planning" just didn't go far enough. Elliott makes it clear that what is in fact needed to prevent empty shops, alcoholism and misery is a committee of "tough minded professionals" with five years to reshape the economy and good performance rewarded with "a substantial pension for life and maybe an Australian Knighthood."

Elliott presumably also believes the Soviets were on to something with their practice of "tossing into prison those who deviate," given his support for the government's ever-more draconian anti-terror laws, tighter bail restrictions and mass surveillance of the population.

Elliott thus stands in the proud journalistic tradition of authoritarianism which has so enriched intellectual life in Australia. If only more commentators had the mettle to cheer on racist, far-right mobilizations that demand the government go further in its efforts to vilify and deny religious freedom to Muslims and disparage those who challenge such bigotry, the world would truly be a better place.

First published at Red Flag.

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