Entries in australia (1)


The Authenticity Hoax infects Australian Politics

On the excellent ABC blog "The Drum", an Australian academic named Jeff Sparrow laments the importation of the discourse of "authenticity" into Australian politics. It seems that the current election campaign has become dominated a competition over which candidate, prime minster Julia Gillard or opposition leader Tony Abbot is "more real", complete with a call for Gillard's handlers to "let Julia be Julia". It's a shame, really.

The first half of Sparrow's piece pretty much tracks the argument in chapter six of The Authenticity Hoax -- he's even kind enough to give me a shoutout. Then he gets to the heart of the matter:

Quite obviously, Julia Gillard's pledge to find herself does not represent a renunciation of politics-as-usual so much as an intensification of it, with her attack on her handlers almost certainly scripted by those handlers themselves, fully aware of the electoral impact of a properly-designed Turnip Day.

The new focus on political character in Australian politics ('what is Julia really like?', 'just what kind of person is Tony?') directly replicates the preoccupations of US campaigning, in which all candidates try for authenticity, all of the time. But why, exactly, have we moved to this presidential style of politics?

Sparrow and I agree that while the temptation is the blame "the media", that's just not good enough. After all, the media is a consumer good like any other, and blaming the media for serving up bad politics is like blaming McDonald's for serving up bad hamburgers. Someone is buying it, the question is why?

Here is where Sparrow and I part company. He blames "market fundamentalism" and the ideology of "neoliberalism":

The neoliberal turn was always about more than pure economics, involving an insistence that notions of individual autonomy, consumerism, efficient markets and transactional thinking should be extended into all social relations, even - or, perhaps, especially - those that had previously been dominated by quite different rules.

I don't quite agree. Think back to the mid-2000s in Canada, where there was so much hand-wringing over "aliented voters" -- the recurring theme then was that none of the parties properly represented the views of individual voters; the need to compromise by supporting a big-tent party was seen as a shameful compromise.

One of the recurring arguments in the book is that the "authentic turn", in politics as elsewhere, is, paradoxically, a consequence of anti-market thinking. And yes, I think Sparrow is right that much of the disaffection of these supposedly "alienated" voters seems to have been a product of their having adopted and internalized the ideology of consumer sovereignty. But we need to be a little more careful: the main ideological motivation for this is not itself pro-market ideology: just the opposite. The desire for the authentic, in politics as elsewhere, is largely a consequence of anti-market thinking, which is just to say that it is the authenticity-seekers who are creating the very conditions for their own exploitation.