The following article was placed adjacent to regular contributor John Roskam's article in the Saturday Age, linked here.
KEITH Windschuttle, whose appointment to the ABC board was announced on Thursday, first came to public attention in late 2002, with the publication of his denialist work The Fabrication of Aboriginal History.
On the basis of a comically flawed methodology, Windschuttle argued that the British settlers killed only 118 of the Tasmanian Aboriginal population; that those Aborigines who resisted the destruction of their way of life were no better than vicious common criminals, robbers and murderers; and that, as a "dysfunctional" people, the Tasmanian Aborigines were actually responsible for their own demise. In Fabrication, Windschuttle wrote about the collapse of Tasmanian Aboriginal society with a moral coldness not seen even in the 19th century settler accounts.
Among the many types of public intellectuals, there is a curious category to which Windschuttle belongs: disillusioned former ultra-leftists who begin to move to the right and, because of a temperamental incapacity for moderation, are incapable of stopping until they reach an equivalent extreme.
In the early 1970s, Windschuttle was one of the most dogmatic members of the revolutionary New Left.
One of the articles he wrote at that time argued that the Beatles were political reactionaries who failed "to ultimately resolve the question of what to think of Chairman Mao". Another praised those who urged anti-Vietnam War demonstrators "to kill the f---ing pigs".
Windschuttle began his journey to the extremities of the neo-conservative right only in the 1990s. He now began attacking people for having taken precisely those positions he had himself earlier embraced. One example involved the leftist Noam Chomsky. In 2003, Windschuttle informed the journalist Jane Cadzow that in 1975 he regarded the victory of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia as "great". Yet at the very same time he was writing an article for the neo-conservative magazine The New Criterion that condemned Noam Chomsky, in the most unequivocal terms, for welcoming the victory of the Khmer Rouge.
At the completion of his political journey, what kind of intellectual work does Windschuttle admire? In a recent piece, Windschuttle vilifies the journalism of the leftist Robert Fisk, and heaps highest praise on the journalism of the American right-wing warmonger Victor Davis Hanson. "Isn't it hypocritical," he wonders "to laud conservative political writing while at the same time condemning radical political writing?" He argues it is not. He is an open admirer of partisan journalism, so long as it comes from authors of the right. This is a curious position for a member of the ABC board to hold.
Will Windschuttle at least tolerate the expression of views contrary to his own? To judge by his recent writing, he will not. In a recent lecture in New Zealand, Windschuttle launched a standard
neo- conservative attack on the "adversary culture" of the left intelligentsia. In this lecture radical Muslims were characterised as "barbarians outside the walls who want to destroy us", whose sinister work was aided by left-wing intellectuals, representative of "the decadent culture within". "The relentless critique of the West which has engaged our academic left since the 1960s has emboldened our adversaries and at the same time sapped our will to resist." The implication for the ABC of Windschuttle's characterisation of left-wing thought as the source of Western decadence and defeat is not difficult to discern.
In the Earle Page lecture he delivered last year, Windschuttle cites sources of the intellectual infection Australians must now learn to identify and resist. One is Australia's great novelist Patrick White, who, according to Windschuttle, "injected the Nazi comparison into Australian cultural discourse, where it has been
ever since". Another is the teaching in the humanities faculties of the universities, riddled by Marxism, feminism and semiotics.
A third source is the ABC. According to Windschuttle's fantasy, 30 years ago the ABC was "captured" by a coven of Marxists. It remains under capture to this day. "They have built a house of culture that the appointment of a board now dominated by conservatives has been unable to displace." Towards the end of this lecture Windschuttle asks the obvious question. What is to be done? Windschuttle's answer is clear. Only through the philosophy of economic rationalism and by the full commercialisation of the ABC can the Marxist stranglehold be broken.
In reality, Windschuttle's particular dream will fail. The Howard Government is in the pocket of the television networks. They will never agree to advertising on the ABC. It is his general program, however, for an ideological purge of the ABC, if he forms an alliance with the other right-wing heavy hitters on the board, that is likely eventually to succeed.
Why has so extreme and combative a figure as Windschuttle been appointed to the board?
Even now relatively few Australians realise that John Howard leads the most ideologically combative government in the nation's history. Even though it has won four elections; even though the Labor Opposition is demoralised; even though the Murdoch press and talk radio now operate as a kind of permanent hallelujah chorus extolling its virtues; even though the ABC has in general learned to be compliant, the Government is infuriated that there still exist small groups of political dissenters broadcasting from obscure corners at the ABC.
Having failed to bring the ABC to heel with a new-style management team under Jonathan Shier; having failed to gain the co-operation of the old-style conservative chairman, Donald MacDonald, in its bid to change the culture of the ABC; having failed to tame the ABC by direct ministerial attack, the Government has gradually found itself turning more and more to the board appointment of reliable right-wing heavy hitters, such as Ron Brunton and Janet Albrechtsen, to complete the job.
With the appointment of the most extreme cultural warrior in the country, Keith Windschuttle, the ideological gloves are finally off. Howard is determined to silence the thin voice of dissent still heard inside the ABC. In his determination, even the pretence of ABC independence has now been formally abandoned. The contempt for the ABC audience and for the institutions of democracy could not be more complete.
Robert Manne is professor of politics at La Trobe University. This article was originally printed in the June 17 Saturday Age, reprinted with generous permission.