On the one hand, imperial titles and bottles of Grange; on the other, austerity and cutbacks.

There’s nothing subtle about the Right’s program today. That’s partly why the Left struggles to respond: too often, we’re wrong-footed by the sheer brazenness.

The environmentalist Bill McKibben describes humanity as ‘running Genesis backward, decreating’. No wonder we hesitate to acknowledge the awful reality: a tiny handful of the super rich preferring planetary devastation to any diminution of their privilege or power.

It’s more comforting to dismiss today’s conservatives as so many over-sized Young Liberals, a peculiar anomaly to be ridiculed until sensible adults duly replace them.

Comforting – but wrong.

Peter Cook performed a sketch about would-be radical journalists discussing their conservative proprietor.

‘Whenever the old man has a cocktail party,’ one of them says, ‘there’s about ten of us – young, progressive people – we all gather up the far end of the room and … quite openly, behind our hands, we snigger at him.’ ‘That doesn’t seem very much to me,’ replies his friend.
‘A snigger here, a snigger there – it all adds up,’ answers the radical.

That’s Australia at the moment, where the Right has the power – and the Left has the internet memes.

Of course, almost by definition, the conservatives lack a broad constituency for their program of self-interest. The great only appear great, as Jim Larkin said, because we are on our knees.

That’s why, in this, Overland’s anniversary year, we’re emphasising possibilities as much as problems. This edition, for instance, highlights the boycott of the Sydney Biennale, and discusses some of the issues revealed by it.

Yet a program of hope begins by acknowledging just how high the stakes are.

‘Perseus wore a magic cap,’ said Marx, in a passage that could have been written today, ‘that the monsters he hunted down might not see him. We draw the magic cap down over eyes and ears as a make-believe that there are no monsters!’

But the monsters are there – and we need, more than ever, to face up to them.

Jeff Sparrow

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

More by Jeff Sparrow ›

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

If you like this piece, or support Overland’s work in general, please subscribe or donate.

Related articles & Essays