Cory’s book: Part 1 of a blow-by-blow fact check series by @adropex


By Lesley Howard @adropex

13 January 2014

Intro: in part one of a @NoFibs series, Lesley Howard examines and fact-checks the preface and Chapter 1 of Cory Bernardi’s book The Conservative Revolution.

A lot has been said in recent days about Cory Bernardi and about statements he makes in his book The Conservative Revolution.  It seems that Bernardi’s stand on certain issues has, at the very least, inspired controversy and for some, outright disgust. Looking at mainstream and social media reports it would appear that Bernardi has many detractors and that if he has any supporters they have been noticeable by their silence. It also appears that some of the critics have not actually read Bernardi’s book but have responded to what they have heard from others who may or may not have read the book either.

So what had Bernardi actually said that prompted such emotional and angry responses? Had his words been quoted out of context and how had he supported his claims? To answer these questions I decided to purchase and read the book, which was not as easy as it sounds.  Perhaps aptly The Conservative Revolution was not available for purchase in a modern digital format. A ring around of small local bookstores (located in conservative heartland electorates) produced no outlet that stocked the small paperback. Further phone calls resulted in one leading bookstore chain saying they did not and would not stock the book but they could order in a copy but only with prior payment. Eventually another leading bookstore chain located a book in one of its stores (located in an electorate currently held by the Greens).

In his preface Bernardi begins by defining key terms he proposes to use throughout his book. This is an appropriate and professional beginning to a treatise and ensures the reader will not be confused by semantics or misinterpretations of language.

“I will use the term radical and radicals because I believe that the ideas promoted by these people are fundamentally at odds with natural law, the traditions and cultural wealth that we have inherited from our forefathers, and are therefore diametrically in opposition to what is best for society and the individual … I will also use terms such as ‘progressive’ in scare quotes because I believe that their ideas are the opposite of progress, and in fact lead to social dissolution, poverty and a sense of loss.”

Bernardi goes on to define any political or social force opposed to his concept of traditional principals as “left” or “leftist” and describe the “three types of people in Australian political life”. The first group, the radicals are the collective of all who are active in having views different from his own. The second and largest group Bernardi refers to as the ‘silent majority’, which comprises all those Australians who are busy with getting on with their own lives and “rarely have time for political activism”.  The third group are the conservatives, those people who are politically active and have views in accordance with his own. The radicals  “are constantly trying to tear down … and diminish”, the conservatives “seek to protect and defend” and both groups target the passive silent majority for their vote on Election Day.

Bernardi concludes his preface with an explanation of why Australia needs a conservative revolution. He believes that within our society the concepts of right and wrong have been replaced by a moral relativism and that “…the wisdom of the ages is being replaced by momentary fads and quick fixes”.

“That is why we need a conservative revolution; a revolution that will restore conservative values to their rightful place as the guiding principles of our civilisation and the cornerstone of governance. We need a revolution that will see Australia return to the traditions that have sustained it since federation; the same traditions that have allowed all free nations to flourish.”

Bernardi does not define what he means when he uses the words “free” and “flourish” but I think a student of cultural history could probably find quite a few examples of nations who would have defined themselves and their citizens as free (until overthrown by invasion), which prospered over centuries but had traditions different to those to which Bernardi is referring. Certainly we do not need to look beyond our own shores for such an example but perhaps Bernardi would consider that a radical viewpoint as it occurred pre Federation.

As Bernardi moves into the body of his book he begins to articulate more specifically his viewpoint and makes reference to external sources in support of his thesis. In the opening of the first chapter, “A Time for Choosing”, he states that the principles and values which would be restored by a conservative revolution are those “that have successfully guided mankind and our society since the dawn of time”.  Given that Bernardi placed mankind at the dawn of time it can be reasonably assumed that he is an adherent to the Creationist school of thought. Otherwise such a reference would not be logical. However, the claim that mankind, in its entirety, has been guided, successfully or otherwise, by these principles and values does not appear to be based upon logic given that millions of members of mankind, throughout the eons, have lived there lives completely unaware of the principles and values espoused by Bernardi.

Bernardi goes on to say that Australia needs “to reacquaint [its] citizens with the understanding that there are absolute truths that hold true in all places and at all times”. He does not articulate what these absolute truths are but, given that in the next chapter Bernardi develops the thesis that the conservative revolution would be a return to the moral code embodied in Christianity, as set down in the Ten Commandments, it would be reasonable to assume that the term “absolute truths” is synonymous with this “moral code through which mankind is internally governed [and it] is fundamentally immutable.”

“Absolute”, “eternal”, “immutable”, “true” are words that reoccur throughout Bernardi’s book with respect to his conservative values. Given that moral codes, principles and values are subjective constructs and relevant only to the community to which they are embodied and given that communities are not immutable but are fluid and evolve throughout time, it is not obvious how Bernardi arrives at his conclusions in this respect. He certainly does not provide external sources in support of his claims. Similarly, whilst discussion about moral codes inherited from Christian teachings has a relevance with respect to western or Australian society, Bernardi does not attempt to explain how they can be applied unilaterally across all mankind and all time.

Whilst descrying radicals Bernardi states that a radical departure from the current situation is required to re establish “the family, social and economic virtues that have been neglected for at least two generations, yet are as innate within the human spirit as they ever have been.”

Having articulated a general background and basis for a conservative revolution Bernardi uses the rest of Chapter 1 to offer his own understanding and interpretation of the American political theorist Russell Kirk’s 10 general principles of conservative convictions “to which most conservatives would subscribe, even if some may stress the greater importance or significance of one or another”. These principles form the basis for Bernardi’s perceived need for a conservative revolution. The principles reinforce the notions of endurance and continuity of custom, prudence, prescription, reintroduce the notion of the undesirability of leftist thinking and ‘progressive’ wishful thinking, and recognise that progress (no scare quotes) is vital for development as an inflexible society is “doomed to fail”. The desire for change must be balanced with the need for stability and endurance and the protection of permanent interests. “ This timeless wisdom comes from ages past”. At this point Benardi quotes Marcus Aurelius (121-180 AD) in support. All publications of Marcus Aurelius’ works are necessarily translations from his original Greek script, of which there are many. Bernardi’s footnote identifies only the publisher of the translated work and the date of publication but no more.

The quote of the translation Bernardi uses essentially says that change is not automatically evil but the product of change is not automatically good. This does not intrinsically support the Bernardi’s position but the general message to take from both Bernardi and the translated Marcus Aurelius is that change for change sake is not necessarily beneficial, but nor is change necessarily wrong. Bernardi’s choice of Marcus Aurelius for historical affirmation is perhaps unusual. Bernardi closely aligns himself with and bases his conservative beliefs upon Christian ideals. However, Marcus Aurelius was listed amongst the Persecutors of the Christians and dealt with them severely during his time as Emperor. It wasn’t until 313 AD, nearly 150 years after Marcus Aurelius’ death, that Christianity was legalised in the Roman Empire.

Whilst cautiously acknowledging that change is an inevitable part of a healthy society, Bernardi warns us that “for all the advances in technology, science and communications” there is evidence that our society is failing. He draws a correlation between the “atomisation of society” with “the startling increase in recent decades of single person households”. Whilst Bernardi’s footnote ascribes the source of his information on single person households as the Australian Bureau of Statistics, he does not put this information into a meaningful context. The only truth the reader can glean from this is that the number of single person households has increased over an undefined period of time. Whether the percentage of single person households in our growing population has increased is not mentioned nor is a definition or the results of a statistical test given to identify what Bernardi means by “startling”. The reader can only be left to assume that Bernardi is startled which is an entirely subjective and personal response but not supportive of a causal relationship between a perceived social problem and an undefined empirical record of household structure over an undefined period of time.

Bernardi concludes his first chapter by outlining the four pillars that are essential to the restoration of “the principles, the virtues and values that have served mankind so well over the centuries”. Increasingly words such as “fight”, “battle”, “enemy”, “war” come into the Bernardi vernacular as he introduces his four pillars of Faith, Family, Flag and Free Enterprise over the next four chapters. It is interesting to note that 46 pages are devoted to the first pillar Faith, 22 to Family and 18 to each of the last two pillars. Whilst Faith, as defined by Bernard, is presented as a pillar it is in fact a constant theme throughout every chapter of his book and underpins all his discussions and statements. It would perhaps therefore be more aptly given the status of being a foundation upon which the other pillars reside.

Early in the chapter on Faith Bernardi moves into his major thesis. He opens with a statement that Australia’s future will be fashioned by the “faith of the people”. The reader shortly gets an insight into Bernardi’s leanings, with respect to what constitutes faith, in his reference to the “blessing of Almighty God” in the Preamble to the Act to Constitute the Commonwealth of Australia (July 9, 1900) and hence “Faith has been part of Australian life from the day our Constitution was proclaimed …”. Whilst Bernardi acknowledges that the non-religious can “demonstrate a kind of faith through belief in their country, their leaders, themselves and fellow man” Bernardi moves quickly to define his fundamental hypothesis. In summary, it is that mankind was made in God’s image and hence morally values every single human life.

From this springs the concepts of equality, human dignity, liberty and compassion that could not otherwise exist without this specifically Christian tradition. Hence, Christian principles and values are the absolute truths that have guided Australian society. Any radical leftist movements away from these tried and true mores are the fundamental cause of most problems in our society today and consequentially a return to these eternal truths is the necessary resolution. That is why we need a conservative revolution.

In support of his thesis Bernardi draws from various writings including The Bible. Which interpretation and which publication of The Bible he does not specify. Most particularly Bernardi includes this quote:-

“Even secular democracy is workable only on the basis of Christian assumptions about human dignity, respect for persons, natural rights, the common good.”

This quote was taken from a 2007 publication of selected essays by Cardinal George Pell. In May 2013 Pell gave evidence before Victoria’s Parliamentary Inquiry into the Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and other Organisations and admitted that his church had covered up abuse, that he was aware records had been destroyed and that paedophile priests had been moved from parish to parish in order to avoid a scandal. Bernardi would have been in full knowledge of Pell’s disclosures before his book was published months later. Be it tactless, tasteless or otherwise it is certainly an unfortunate source and a diminished resource to quote from with respect to the concepts of human dignity, natural rights, the common good and social morality.

Cory’s book: Part 2 of a blow-by-blow fact check series by @adropex

Read more The Conservative Revolution book reviews

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  1. James D Black says

    Conservative Revolution is a contradiction in terms. Bernardi’s tome is the Mien Kampf of its day, a provocative, racist tract.

    • Racist how?

      • Bernardi now fully exposes himself as not only Racist but Fascist, Sexist and anti Green. This book is an irrational grab bag of Rand/Greenspan/Branden Thatcherism for militant Christian fundamentalists.. radical “liberals,” not to say rabid, although Bernardi doesn’t understand that these two adjectives have different meanings -and equate w Deviant or Criminally Insane in his mind, into the Faustian Dialectical Materialist Leninist-Marxist revolutionary bargain!
        Throw in George Pell and the ancient persecutor of Christians Marcus Aurelius, then walk away denying all responsibility for the social hatred and trauma you’ve maliciously promoted on behalf of a nonexistent Silent Majority that you strive to “protect & defend.”
        Sweet Jesus.. yes he was a Palestinian freedom fighter. -But Nonviolent!

      • I repeat for the hard of reading: How are his statements racist? I can see how people might consider them intolerant, but racist?

    • As for provocative, that’s surely ok. In the free market of ideas, let Bernardi’s ideas have it out with other ideas. Or is censorship the preferred way? Suppressing unpopular ideas certainly would be in keeping with the methods of national socialism.

  2. I look forward to reading the rest – bang on the money so far though.
    Four words for Cory: Jesus was a radical.

    • Jesus called people to a higher moral code than the society of the day permitted. where people thought they were doing enough to satisfy the requirements of God, Jesus ramped it up another notch to show the futility of trying to impress God by your own efforts.

      • The society of the day as dictated by the Jewish laws which Bernardi holds so high with the contradictory fiction of Judeo-Christianity. The two are mutually exclusive.

      • a) I was only talking of christian morals. Where was reference to a judeo-christian standard? Even so, the core of both codes are the ten commandments. Care to tell me how christian and jewish morality with respect to the ten commandments are mutually exclusive?

        b) Which elements of the judeo-christian view do you claim are fiction?

      • a) Bernardi has been quoted in the media and on his website stating Australia is “built” on Judeo-Christian values. I bet he uses the same phraseology in his book (can’t afford to buy his tepid treatise this week).
        Yes, both are built upon the Pentateuch and thus the Ten Commandments, but where Judaism sits and waits for the messiah, Christianity has declared Jesus their own messiah and raised the charged of DEICIDE (murder of a god) against the ENTIRE Jewish people (only rescinded by the Catholic church in the 1960s). Christian theology, by claiming a messiah, logically presupposes a displacement of Judaism. They cannot fit together, despite their common roots. The concept of a common “Judeo-Christian” values is a myth propagated throughout the 20th century in order to mobilise the population first against Germany during WWII, Communists during the 1950s-1980s and against Islam today.

        b) Anything that involves magic, miracles, global floods, instant anthropomorphic sodium chloride transformations, reverse mortality and corporeality, immaculate conceptions, virgin births etc.

  3. Amazing review. I haven’t read his book and really don’t know if I can, but will be looking forward to your further analysis. It’s certainly disturbing.

  4. I loathe Cory and think this is a perfectly awful piece of wring.

    Presuming eternal truths like this one, “Given that moral codes, principles and values are subjective constructs and relevant only to the community to which they are embodied and given that communities are not immutable but are fluid and evolve throughout time, it is not obvious how Bernardi arrives at his conclusions in this respect.” falls well short of a decent critique.

    And the book deserves a really thorough and devastating critique.

  5. The fact that Cory is the number 1 senate candidate for the LNP for SA and very close to Tony Murdoch is the scary thing.

  6. The author shows his ignorance of the bible in believing that using a different translation of the bible would render different positions to that which Bernardi lands on. For sure, it is common to reference the translation, but the inference given is that it is somehow a “conservative” translation that would lead to this reading.

    Australia’s future will be shaped by the faith of its people. The faith, or worldview, that the people possess will shape how they frame a society. Not every outcome will be equally desirable. To happily throw the christian worldview under the bus when it has been a large part of what has shaped our current society seems foolish when a serious consideration of the downstream effects of this wholesale rejection can reasonably readily be seen as negative.

    • Eva Makowiecki says

      Australia’s future will be shaped by its people – whether they have (Christian) faith or not. Presumably Jews, Muslims and Hindus have no place in Bernardi’s Australia? And that Bob is the racist part.

      Here’s what also concerns me about this book. Cory and George Pell and the Christian far right wing KNOW WHAT IS GOOD FOR ME WHETHER I LIKE IT OR NOT. Moreover, religious leaders seeking political power – whatever the faith, as all religious zealots seem to know how I should live – have also been among the most brutal, corrupt and utterly inept of political leaders. Many have readily resorted to corruption when preserving their own positions of power. Religion has no commitment to democracy. Anyone read anything in the bible about voting? And Jesus was never a politician. He was a wonderful gift (ironically) sent to teach us tolerance, Where did that message go? I think you’ll find similar messages in the Koran if you care to look.

      Bernardi’s book is just a piece right wing rhetorical crap. For the record, left wing rhetorical crap is no better, but it doesn’t get the airtime the right wing has.

      This book is just about making you think there is some ‘unstoppable groundswell’ of religious fervour. When really, it’s just pissing in the wind.

      • Eva: Having a belief that your own faith is correct doesn’t presuppose any racism. Racism refers to race, not to religion. What race is christian? What race is muslim? I know christians of any ethnic background you could mention.

        You could say he is bigoted, but I’ve yet to see racism shown by Bernardi.

        Brutal, corrupt and inept leaders – in the twentieth century, you’d have to include the various leaders of north korea, the various dictators who have led Russia and China, and any number of many “big men” leading African countries. I didn’t see any of them using the cross as a basis for their actions (The LRA would be a massive stretch).

        You really don’t know much about Jesus do you. How about reading the first hand source material rather than the Jesus you get from the media. He was amazingly inclusive in terms of spreading the good news to other ethnic groups when jews wouldn’t have, but didn’t tolerate sin and called people to turn from it.

        An aside, I’d agree that our society doesn’t have anywhere near the religious groundswell that this book has generated. It has some echoes of religion, but we are a couple of generations from where christianity was the norm.

      • Eva Makowiecki says

        Raised a catholic Bob, and haven’t paid any attention to any media Jesus. And insisting on Christianity is certainly not inclusive – it tends to exclude other faiths – which also tend to be tied to races. My beef with some Christians – and I would put Bernardi in that group – is that they don’t follow Christ’s teachings – which includes tolerance. I don’t think we have any disagreement about Jesus being a force for good – just your view that I don’t understand anything about him. I believe do.

        Re brutal leaders of the 20th and every other century – they are all monsters. My point was that far too many religious leaders also turned into monsters – and by claiming allegiance to god over mankind, their natural inclination is not toward democracy. I believe this makes them particularly unsuitable to govern. Bernardi’s brand of intransigent Christianity tends to demonstrates this. My sincere apologies to every religious person who has no wish to govern, and is happy just being a good person.

      • Bernardi is simply expressing a view informed by his christian worldview that if people followed the moral code of the bible, society would be better ordered. Jesus didn’t tolerate sin, and didn’t step back from calling out sinful behaviour in anyone.

        So being a monster is bad, and because some religious people turn into monsters that should preclude them from government while not precluding any secular humanist who has just as much tendency to turn into a monster? Any one of the monsters i mentioned wouldn’t have cited religion as their motivator.

      • Bob, Jesus spoke of love of enemies, there isn’t much evidence of this from Cory. There is also little of Paul, “this is not by way of hardship but by way of equality” – when dealing with international aid.

        I think Cory confuses Christ with Christendom (many conservatives do). Christendom has often enough preached pretty much the opposite of Christ.

      • Evan, the greatest love you can have for neighbour is to tell them they are in mortal danger of damnation rather than trying to pretend there is no problem. if you seriously believe in the call of the bible, then you owe it to your neighbour to not leave them in ignorance.

        I can’t find your reference to Paul, but it is probably with respect to hardship in spreading the gospel. The call to repent and believe in Jesus and the equality of believers in assisting each other.

        Corey is probably just living out the belief that society would be better ordered if we followed the christian moral code. Christendom is similar to a theocracy, and i don’t see anyone lobbying for that.

      • Hi Bob, 2Cor. with specific reference to collecting money for those in need.

        Cory picks the bits of the Christian moral code that he values. I haven’t heard him speak on welcoming strangers, or ‘freely you have received freely give’. The Good Samaritan doesn’t turn up much either.

        Christendom meant rule by Christian rulers and in accord with Christian morality (sic), it needn’t refer to theocracy in a narrow sense of rule by priests or a special god appointed caste or individual. This Christian morality meant dividing up the world amongst European invaders for instance – I submit that this was not Jesus intention for those who subscribed to his way of doing things.

    • “The author shows his ignorance of the bible in believing that using a different translation of the bible would render different positions to that which Bernardi lands on. For sure, it is common to reference the translation, but the inference given is that it is somehow a “conservative” translation that would lead to this reading.”

      The author does not show her ignorance of the bible.The author simply said Bernardi had used the bible as a source but did not reference which version of the bible . The was not an implied or intended inference to anything, it was a statement of fact. Incomplete references to other sources have also been noted by the author but you have not commented on those.

    • And you show your ignorance of the Bible, Bob. Different translations of the Bible render entire established tracts of Christianity null and void. I suggest you read up on your textual criticism.

    • And you show your ignorance of the Bible, Bob. Time to read up on textual criticism, methinks.

  7. Thank you Lesley for your review. I look forward to the future installments.
    I would very much like to read Bernardi’s book, because I do not feel that I can rightly criticize it without prior reading. I cannot however bring myself to contribute to his coffers by buying ‘The Conservative Revolution’. I will have to see if the library will spend their limited resources on it, perhaps our new Federal Government will feel it essential to the populace to distribute copies much in the style of the Gideon Bibles.
    Does anyone know of any other place to obtain an unpaid copy of this book?

    • Phillip, if you lived in the electorate of Don Randall, or you were in Queensland where George Brandis is a Senator, you might try getting hold of one of the many copies I’m sure they’ll be ordering for distribution. Paid for by the taxpayer, of course.

  8. It would have to be a brave person, to put out into the public arena, his heart and soul for the world to see, or it could be the ranting’s of an unbalanced mind. Christianity in what ever form over the ages has proven to be, in my opinion, a big con and a lie. The church used the mechanism of instilling fear into the masses, that way they could control power and wealth for those who think they are the chosen few. Clearly the Liberal Conservatives in Australia are well on the way to gaining control of the Peoples House, the Parliament, given time, Cory will have made his mark on man kind. Let’s hope he can make a change in the best interest of our Children in stoping sexual abuse from the Church, that he thinks so highly off. Watch out Australia the “Gallows” will be back.

    • A big con and a lie? The manuscripts of the new testament were circulating in palestine and the mediterranean within the lifetime of antagonistic eye witnesses. It is the best attested document from antiquity. You’re free to disagree with what it calls its adherents to, but its historicity relative to the events it claims to document has got to stand for something.

      Bad things have been done in the name of christ, but not in accordance with what he called his followers to.

      • You could be right, but I prefer to live in the here and now and try to keep a balanced attitude to my surroundings, albeit it humans and our environment and if I had any sense at times I should not waste my precious resource of mental energy on the likes of Cory Bernardi.

      • A balanced attitude? As demonstrated by saying christianity is based on a big con and a lie? That’s keeping your mind open.

        Fully agree that at times it is easy to get drawn into online arguments taht cause more heat than light. Was the reason i bailed on facebook. Really need to give up blogs for the new year.

      • Again, Bob, all we have are fragments. The New Testament has been changed, copied, rendered and re-rendered countless times. And you’re right, its historicity has got to stand for something, but not as the basis of an extensive moral code that one person feels necessary to impose on all, as Bernardi does.
        It is a “big con and a lie” to that extent – fundamental issues of Christianity such as the Trinity and even the very words that Jesus apparently is meant to have uttered are probably made up and were inserted later on down the track for various theological and political reasons. It has used the man-made conceptions of purgatory, limbo and hell to terrify people for centuries. If you think this is not a “big con and a lie”, props to you.

  9. My guess is that the Woman Taken In Adultery passage was early but the gospel needed a final edit. It reads this way to a w.a.s.p australian male. The passage is recorded early but in different places in the manuscript.

    I don’t see that any major teaching or tenet (especially moral teachings) are effected by either passage. The Trinity is not claimed to come from simple exegesis and the idea of forgiveness is widely attested in Jesus’ statements and other NT writings.

    • Richard McKenzie (@HowToDemocracy) says

      But according to Bernardi’s religious type, the words of the Bible are “immutable”, therefore they didn’t require a “final edit”. You might not understand the Bible in such a manner, but people like Bernardi do and then try to force their particular interpretation of sin and morality on the rest of the population.

      If as fundamental a tenet to Christianity as the trinity has to be explained by tenuous interpretation, re-interpretation, alterations of the NT text and “beyond the realm of logic and reason” treatises from apologists, then any notion that the bible and associated moral teaching are “immutable” cannot possibly hold water (nor turn it into wine).

      These are just two examples of changes that have occurred in the NT – there are plenty elsewhere, most of them fairly minor, but some, like the Trinity, have far-reaching implications to Christian doctrine.

      Quite frankly, I’d rather not get my moral teachings from a book which condones slavery, murder, death by stoning, generations of guilt for the sins of the parents, killing of children, killing of women, killing of men, killing of worshippers of other religions, human-sodium chrloride transformations and (finally) the wiping “all the living things” from the face of the earth (Genesis 7:4).

      To borrow a phrase from Leviticus, “it is an abomination”.

  10. Hi Richard, I think what you say about Cory is laregely true.

    Christians aren’t all fundamentalists. And even most fundamentalists would recognise that the word “trinity” doesn’t occur in the Bible. The Catholic right (of which I think Cory is a “full paid up member” aren’t necessarily fundamentalist in the Protestant sense – they can eg. defend the inerrancy of the Vulgate on the basis of Papal decree, which protestant fundamentalists would be quite hostile to.

    And the Catholic right often rely on ‘natural law’ arguments. So that the claim to an immutable moral law isn’t only based on an immutable scripture or even papal infallibility.