Professor of Philosophy Tony Lynch contributed to the book The rise of right-populism: Pauline Hanson’s One Nation and Australian Politics with his chapter entitled: Pauline Hanson’s One Nation: Right-Populism in a Neoliberal world. In this review, I will briefly summarise Lynch’s main points and offer some comments and observations regarding recent political events in Australia.
Lynch (2019) begins by mentioning that during Pauline Hanson’s One Nation (PHON) first came about in 1997, he and other collegues saw this as a threat to democracy in Australia. However, Lynch now believes that he was mistaken, that in fact such populist parties arose not as a threat to democracy, but as a manifestation of two major political parties that both endorse a neoliberal worldview.
Lynch (2019) argues that PHON is a manifestation of neoliberalism sentiments of both the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and the Liberal Party due to that PHON has adopted a political language that ignores, or outright avoids, class analysis, something intrinstic to neoliberalism. The political language Lynch (2019) says PHON does adopt, is one not of class, but of status. And it is the fear of loss of status PHON supporters have, according to Lynch, that is one of the significant drivers of racist sentiments. This is because it is fear of losing some of their status to those they view as underneath them and believe are less deserving.
The status that is being defended, Lynch (2019) believes, what he calls the politics of home. This politics is of home is what he believes is analogus to the Robert Menzies’ class dissolving politics of “the forgotton people” where Lynch says:
“It takes no great expertise or insight to see just how much the ideology of PHON reflects and draws on Menzies’ middle-class politics of home. The personal and nationalistic pride in being at home, and having worked hard for that home; the sense of hard-won entitlement this founds; the insistence on border control and rigid control of access so that those who enter do so at our invitation, and share and respect the values of the household and its occupants; the antipathy to government redistribution downwards to those who have not managed, or have no desire, to trust their lives to a “fierce independence of spirit”; and a fundamental need to divide the deserving from the undeserving on the basis of the amount of pride one takes in one’s home, its maintenance, cohesiveness.“
From this, Lynch (2019) draws a distinction between PHON’s style of right-populism against others, which is that it is what he calls “bottom-up” populism. This populism is from people who are from members of the status threatened group. This is in contrast to “top-down” populists, which a billionaires and members of the elite attempted to appeal to the status threatened groups.
Lynch (2019) completes his chapter with a fear of a top-down right-populist taken advantage of the status threatened PHON supporters and uses such support to usher in more extreme neoliberal policies for their own self-interest.
Lynch’s argument is compelling. His comparisons with PHON and the histories of the ALP, Liberal Party and the Menzies’ era are supported with strong evidence. Furthermore, Lynch does great work to look at PHON at deeper level than the simplistic dismissal of ‘being racist fascists’.
This book was published just prior to the Australian Federal Election, where the Coalition (the Liberal Party and the National Party) created an upset by winning the election despite being predicted to lose according to opinion polls (where have we heard this before?). There are currently various explanations being attempted at what caused such an upset, which will not be discussed here. However, there was one noted influence of considerable mention: The Clive Palmer United Party.
Clive Palmer is a billionaire who self funded 60 million dollar campaign which was focussed on not on propping up himself as much, but of demonising the ALP. This event seems to be close to one of Lynch’s worries. A top-down populist utilising his position to influence status threatened Australians, who has been quoted (Ben Smee, 2019) saying:
“We thought that would be a disaster for Australia so we decided to polarise the electorate and we thought we’d put what advertising we had left … into explaining to the people what Shorten’s economic plans were for the country and how they needed to be worried about them.”
This may not be the disaster that Lynch is worried about, but is indeed a possible example of what could occur if in Australia a top-down populist with more charisma and influence than Palmer did get into a high level position in government.
If you wish to purchase the book I have reviewed, please click on the link below:
The rise of right populism: Pauline Hanson’s One Nation and Australian Politics: https://amzn.to/2KyPDD7