Kevin Rudd and 'Beyond Right and Left'

One of the sources of new thinking for Labor's new leader is Beyond Right and Left: New Politics and the Culture War the book written by David McKnight, the 'owner' of this blog-website. The book was quoted extensively in an article by Kevin Rudd in The Monthly magazine.

You can read Rudd's article, entitled 'Howard's Brutopia'

Rudd also cited the book at a speech he gave entitled 'What's Wrong with the Right', delivered at the neo-liberal think tank, the Centre for Independent Studies, in Sydney.

(The speech is still on the CIS website, but takes some digging. It is also available at the ALP website at

Rudd was particularly interested in the critique of neo-liberal economics which was offered in 'Beyond Right and Left'. The critique is unusual in that it emphasises the social, rather than economic, effects of neo-liberal economics. These include the effect of long working hours and a 24/7 economy on the family and personal life.

As Rudd says:

"McKnight rightly concentrates on the central vulnerability in this philosophy: the problem that arises from the commodification of all things, that is, "the transformation of obligations based on love and altruism into those of commodity-based economic values (i.e. money)".

He describes the central dilemma:

"Hayek recognised this paradoxical inconstancy, and proposed that we must simply learn to 'live simultaneously within different kinds of orders within different rules - those of the markets and those of the family. We must be ruthlessly self-interested in the market and sweetly caring in the family; greedy at work and selfless at home..."

"Herein lies the core challenge for conservatives, as the impact of neo-liberalism cannot be effectively quarantined from its effect on the family - and beyond the family to other sub-economic, reciprocal relationships within communities, and other social and spiritual associations."

Once again, McKnight distils it best:

'Rather than the two worlds existing simultaneously, one world is slowly crushing the other. Hayek's intellectual paradigm has turbo-charged the privatised, marketised economy, which is relentlessly encroaching on the life-world of family, friends and community. The invisible hand is clutching at the invisible heart and slowly choking it. Thus the story of New Capitalism's effect on the family is just part of a wider story of what is happening to all non-market relations between people. Bonds of respect, civility and trust between people are being weakened, and relations based on competition, self-interest and suspicion are growing.'

Mr Rudd later expanded this to point out the historic changes which are being unleased by the Howard Government's 'Workchoices' law:

'Previous generations of the Australian Right have been variously dominated by old-style conservatives or social liberals: Deakin, Menzies, Fraser, Peacock and others. All supported the welfare state as a form of social insurance and an institutional corrective against market fundamentalism. This partly explains why, in the period of Deakinite Liberalism, it was possible for a number of Right-Left alliances to be formed to secure the passage of what can be described (in the context of the times) as progressive legislation. The Harvester Judgement of 1907, which legislated a minimum wage based on Justice Henry Bourne Higgins' determination of a living wage "for human beings living in a civilised community' - defined not by market forces but rather from an entirely different values-base - is a case in point.

'John Howard, though, has always wanted to overturn the Harvester Judgement (as David McKnight has noted, Howard said in 1983 that 'the time has come to turn Mr Justice Higgins on his head'), and he was finally delivered his political dream when, following the 2004 election, his Senate majority enabled him to legislate away a century of hard-won protections for Australian families. But in doing so, Mr Howard is also in the process of unleashing new forces of market fundamentalism against youth workers; families trying to spend sufficient time together; and communities trying to negotiate with single, major employers experimenting with their newfound powers. Breadwinners are now at risk of working less predictable shifts, spread over a seven-day week, not sensitive to weekends and possibly for less take-home pay. The pressures on relationships, parenting and the cost and quality of childcare are without precedent.'

In an article in the Age newspaper, the paper's associate editor Shaun Carney notes:

The Labor leader is convinced that social democratic parties are only ever electorally viable if they are associated in the public mind with the future, with optimistic plans and solutions. Merely diagnosing the faults of their opponents and offering to patch over their mistakes if elected cannot work. This is the essence of a well-received 2005 book Beyond Right And Left by academic and former journalist David McKnight, which increasingly appears to be a sort of blueprint for Labor's strategic and philosophical direction under Rudd.