After the huge vote for the neo-fascist National Front, the philosopher Alain Badiou excoriated the French intelligentsia for their complicity with the new anti-Muslim racism.

‘As always,’ he wrote, ‘the idea – no matter how criminal – precedes power, which in turn shapes the opinion that it needs. The intellectual – no matter how appalling – precedes the minister, who constructs her followers.’

In Australia, the problem presents slightly differently. Political commentary, with its fixation on the adjudication of winners and losers in each news cycle, resembles sports writing more closely than philosophy. Think, for instance, about how speculation about a leadership challenge can rage for weeks with almost no discussion of the policy differences (or lack thereof) between the candidates.

The basic consensus between most politicians and most analysts about the fundamentals of economic and political policy means that debating political theory seems, at best, an indulgence, and, at worst, a kind of disloyalty.

Where does that leave writers – or, for that matter, readers?

Let’s be honest. It’s time – it’s way past time – to force some arguments. With extraordinary transformations taking place around the world, it’s no longer sufficient to remain silent while the political debate focuses exclusively on trivia.

In the coming months, as the Australian Labor Party enters into a profound and prolonged crisis, the need for a new public discourse about the Left and its future will only become more urgent.

A few days after Badiou published his statement, Greece went to the polls. Golden Dawn (Chrysi Avgi), whose uniformed members march carrying flags that closely resemble swastikas, won 7 per cent of the vote, sufficient to send twenty-one members to parliament. Its electoral slogan was ‘So we can rid this land of filth’.

Yes, Greece is in deep crisis. Still, until recently, the notion that genuine Nazis might be represented in a western European parliament would have been unthinkable.

These are serious days, not just for Europe but for the world. Writers of the Left need to get serious, too.

Jeff Sparrow

Jeff Sparrow is a Walkley Award-winning writer, broadcaster and former editor of Overland.

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