November 09, 2005 | Graham

Beyond left and right

Jennifer Marohasy was at last night’s lecture by David McKnight about his new book “Beyond left and right”. So was I.
She appears to be confused about McKnight’s stance, so was I, and so, I think, was McKnight. It’s a pretty bleak time for the left, particularly when the Republicans can win four straight terms in the former citadel of US left politics – New York – as Michael Bloomberg has just done.
As this quote from the New York Times puts it:

“New Yorkers now vote for vision, ideas, and skills that bring the city together, and for leaders who appeal to our common public interest instead of the special interests,” said Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, a good-government group that supported the mayor. “That’s the appeal of Bloomberg; people believe he isn’t a typical politician, and that his only priority is a well-run city.”

Last night McKnight was only interested in cobbling together special interests, and he didn’t really care who. Imagine enlisting Cardinal George Pell in the “progressive” cause? Well McKnight can.

Posted by Graham at 9:20 pm | Comments (4) |


  1. Cobbling together special interests is not the point MacKnight is trying to make. It is about transcending difference to find similarities that move beyond traditional notions of right and left. The similarities may well be found in ideologies of caring – witness Stephen Fieldings opposition to the IR reforms. George Pell is archly conservative but there are some values that he would hold dear (or so one would hope)such as compassion for the poor and disadvantaged. In the end Macknight’s progressive humanism is about a de-centring, a move towards inclusiveness which necessarily means care and concern for those outside of the trad Right’s traditional circle of concern (the individual)and it is in this movement that the shared values of a vast array of seemingly disparate groups and interests may coalesce. It’s called heart politics in some circles. Its also about reclaiming the communitarian from economism

    Comment by Angela Ballard — November 11, 2005 @ 9:06 am

  2. I think the problem is that McKnight isn’t really “transcending” anything. Traditional politics, as practised by most, is a process of building temporary or longer lasting coalitions and alliances wherein the enemy of my enemy may very well be my current best best friend. In that milieu making a temporary alliance with Pell is as valid as making one with anyone else. But it’s not taking anything beyond left and right.
    What I found most puzzling was McKnight’s unwillingness, or inability, to define exactly what it was that he stood for (he did give us examples of what he was against), although he did acknowledge that his analysis of the world when he was younger no longer applied.

    Comment by Graham Young — November 12, 2005 @ 12:18 pm

  3. I could be mischevious and say that I am glad some people are shocked that I think that George Pell can be enlisted in the progressive cause. But it ‘s really not that simple. As Angela suggests, Pell for all his gay-bashing and anti-abortionism, comes from a strong Catholic tradition based on social justice.
    And he is no fool – he recognises, like Anglican Archbishop Jensen, that the Indsutrial Relations changes will badly disadvantage many ordinary and low income Australians.
    And all of this is a telling sign of the destructive extremism and ideological obsessions of Mr Howard and his confreres.
    Angela is right: Transcending old ideologies – that’s what my book ‘Beyond Right and Left’ is all about.

    Comment by David McKnight — November 15, 2005 @ 2:56 pm

  4. But David, surely you’re not suggesting him as a permanent dance partner? And if you’re not, then this is just a conventional alliance for temporary and common purposes, not a realignment of political ideologies which goes beyond what we have at the moment.
    I tend to agree that politics has moved beyond left and right, but that is because the enlightenment has, at least for the moment, triumphed, leaving nothing for the left. George Pell is certainly no friend of the enlightenment, so perhaps I am wrong about the termporariness of any arrangement you might have with him!

    Comment by Graham Young — November 15, 2005 @ 10:46 pm

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