Cory’s manifesto: Book review by Lola Montgomery @lolathevamp


By Lola Montgomery  @lolathevamp

24th January 2014

The Conservative Revolution hit the internet in a storm of outright criticism. Twitter was awash with Senator Cory Bernardi. The book became the Australian political punching bag of, with mock reviews serving as comedic outlet for many citizens’ frustration with the current Australian government. The reviewers mostly admitted not having read the book, nor wanting to, and ranged in content from the point of view of a dachshund to a recommendation that the pages be best used as lining for the birdcage.

No Fibs put out a call for someone to actually buy, read and review the book, and for some reason, this appealed to me. I’ve read The Conservative Revolution, and I lived to tell the tale.

The first thing I noticed about this book was that it’s hard to find. My closest bookshop closed a couple of years ago, so I tried an outlet I consider to be mainstream – Target. After all, Bernardi considers this work to be about mainstream values. However, with my inner-city franchise devoid of Bernardi, deeper into the suburbs I needed to go. I found a QBD, hopes high that I could purchase and be on my way. I looked at the floor-to ceiling displays of new releases. No Bernardi. Not in the Bestsellers either. Clearance sale? Not even. Having driven half an hour to Westfield, I wasn’t about to be beaten. As I trawled the department stores, I’m started to wonder, not entirely for the first time, had this response to Bernardi’s book been the result of a rather intense marketing strategy to invoke interest where otherwise none would exist? Judging by its scarcity, it seemed that not many people had read the book. Incendiary it might be, but influential it was apparently not.

I asked Bernardi himself via Twitter where I could buy it. No response. I contacted the publisher for a review copy. Again, silence. I could only find this book distributed on and Connor Court Publishing’s own site. Perhaps it would be available in the city CBD? I grew quickly tired of trying to find it and purchase through the publisher, and so my review was delayed a week while I awaited delivery. By this point I even doubted that there was a marketing strategy involved in The Conservative Revolution.

So, to the work itself. Bernardi is a man who has considered his position – indeed over many years – and is obviously passionate about it. As the title indicates, he is conservative through and through, espousing his belief in ‘principles and values that have successfully guided mankind and our society since the dawn of time’. He believes in absolutes, right versus wrong, no shades of grey, fifty or otherwise (eleventy?). Bernardi is on the side of right and good, proven through time (variously described as since the dawn of time, and over the last two centuries as conservative theory has been developed).

Bernardi has developed his thought on conservatism into four pillars; Faith, Family, Our Flag, and Free Enterprise, with Freedom and Future rounding out the last chapters. It is not by accident that he places Faith first in the order of pillars. In one of the most telling passages, Bernardi reveals that he sees faith as the only barrier to atrocity: “As we see the desolate wasteland of destruction strewn across last century, we cannot but notice that the overwhelming majority of those atrocities were committed in the name of ideologies dedicated to pure science and rationality, from Nazism to Soviet and Chinese Communism.”

Having just completed a PhD, I found myself applying the same kind of blowtorch critique and editing that my writing was subject to, and my initial impression was that this read like the first draft of an honours or masters essay. Actually, it read like a very long, quite unbalanced, undergraduate essay. While he clearly had researched his position, and ticked the conservative boxes of ‘pro-life’, ‘free enterprise’ and ‘Christian belief’ (with a few seemingly unnecessary kicks at Islam thrown in) he overwhelmingly used inflammatory and heightened language to describe the social degradation that he sees as the reason and purpose of the existence of the Left; “the cultural Marxists who seek to control almost every aspect of our society.”

It all went downhill in the 1960s, according to Bernardi, when the ‘social revolution’ caused more harm than good.

“It is no coincidence that, as the attack on our moral customs and traditions has gained momentum, our society has experienced an overall state of decline. Noticeable symptoms include a general sense of detachment from community, a reduced level of public service, higher crime rates, increasing levels of poor health, loneliness, relationship breakdown and child abuse.”

As he continued in this vein, I wondered if Bernardi had considered the possibility that these problems always existed in society, but were not talked about and debated as much as they are today? Bernardi later slammed discussion of economic inequity, for example, as an instance where the ‘morbid’ Left are consumed by politics of envy.

His statistics don’t always add up – it has been noted in the media that his estimates of abortion rates are inflated, and he tears into the conditions that produced the Global Financial Crisis with all the passion of a ‘Leftist’ without seeming to notice that they were set in place by conservative governments.

In fact, he often describes concerns that the Left also have, conversely blaming them for the issues. It is in these passages that this reader despaired over the present state of binary oppositional politics, where the same concerns can be shared, but no progress can be made, because each side is too busy vilifying the other. For example, he provides a very lucid account of Samuel Francis’ ‘anarcho-tyranny’, a state where: “Authorities crack down on the law abiding citizen with ever-intrusive laws and regulations while they become impotent to deal with social dissolution and the very real and much more threatening problems it poses. Perhaps this is because a political elite that has become morally bankrupt and unable to deal with real problems will try to overcompensate by focusing on secondary, perhaps even trivial issues, or invent controversies so as to be seen to ‘do something’.”

Fascinatingly, Bernardi does not appear to acknowledge that these are many of the same criticisms his reviled ‘Left’ level at the Abbott Government in which Bernardi serves.

And for the record, Bernardi is aware that the words ‘conservative’ and ‘revolution’ do not seem immediately compatible and also acknowledges that members of both the Left and Right can identify as conservatives: “modern conservatism, while perceived as a counterweight to the political left, is much more that what popular commentators will label ‘right-wing’ politics”. He throws in a few passages that conservatism is kinda fluid and flexible, it allows for disagreement and complexity. Bernardi does understand complexity, but his caricature of the concerns of the left stop his work from being intellectually sound: “Indeed, the conservative may even reject the ‘right-wing’ label as being incompatible with freedom, order and the interests of society for the simple reason that conservatism eschews ideological tendencies be they of the left or the right”. These moments that offer a glimpse into some more productive political collaboration seem few and far between. Bernardi allows his assumptions and lack of rigorous research to interfere with the progress of his theory.

By the end of the book, I found myself wishing Bernardi would give a guest lecture and tutorial to a first year Cultural Theory or Philosophy class. In an environment where ideas can be discussed freely and without the negative emotion he puts into deriding the Left (who, incidentally, he considers are themselves the purveyors of negativity), I think Bernardi would find many thinkers of all sides might share some common ground. Indeed, he might reduce the fear of the other that he admits drives his conservatism, quoting John Kekes: “A natural attitude that combines the enjoyment of something valued with the fear of losing it”. I think it is interesting to apply that quote to environmental protection and see what happens. Never mind unpacking his use of the word ‘natural’. I’ll leave that to the imaginary class he guest lectures. They can also deal with the passage in which he describes “Rousseau, J.S Mill, Marx, Freud and their acolytes”. The final three words erasing decades of critical thought and debate around all such theorists – often from those of the Left.

Bernardi is not a terrifically engaging writer, his soap-box passion merely reveals predictable positions and his binary opposition removing any capacity for interesting moments. The Conservative Revolution is a hard read, technically as well as politically. It burrows its nose so far into political binary opposition that the world view becomes a cloister of bitterness towards the perceived power and influence of the ‘other’ (the Left). This book is a symptom of a political climate that discourages engagement between sides, opinions and beliefs. Around and around we go, in eternal argument and fear of one another.

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  1. John Stannard says

    I would have thought that the allegation of pursuing a binary political agenda is equally levelled at the opposition. It is a scourge arising out of our preferential voting system being reduced by politicians on both sides to raw numbers and power rather than principles. Who would have thought?

  2. I’m constantly surprised at religious people like Bernardi decrying Hitler as an example of all that’s wrong with the world. I agree that Hitler was a very bad person, but I wonder how they haven’t noticed that he was fervently christian, carried the bible with him everywhere, and often sprinkled christianity, and the importance of god and family values in his speeches. The church backed Hitler to the hilt and the Pope of the time instructed the German people that he was on a mission for god.

    Another thing that astonishes me about such people is that they invariably say that things are getting worse, with more crime and ill-health, etc, but anybody who looks at the actual statistics can see immediately that crime (especially violent crime) has trended downward since we started keeping records, we live longer and more healthily than ever before, we are more intelligent, more literate, more knowledgeable, more cultured, more moral, more generous than previous generations. And even with recent awful events in Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, and former Yugoslavia, this era is still the greatest time of peace in all history, so bloodthirsty were our “good” ancestors. Women now have (almost) equal rights, children have rights, slavery is (mostly) abolished, animals have rudimentary rights, gays have equality in much of the world. Racism is a dirty word. Bullying is generally seen as a weakness instead of a strength. We live in a time when the greatest encyclopedia is available to anyone for free along with untold more riches, from Project Gutenberg, to The Internet Archive, to YouTube.

    I don’t understand why conservatives are invariably so out of touch with reality. I remember hearing of an Assyrian clay tablet dating to approximately 2800 BC that said, “Our earth is degenerate in these latter days. There are signs that the world is speedily coming to an end. Bribery and corruption are common.” I guess conservatives will always think like that. They have for thousands of years.

  3. Bloody minded Christians. Don’t they know that Jesus was a socialist? They do believe he was 3 in 1 – ya gotta question the IQ of anyone who believes that twaddle, let alone let them be a politician.

  4. Ruth L Innisfail says

    Wendy has said it all!

  5. Eva Makowiecki says

    Lola, I can ‘t help but think your PhD thesis would be subject to much more scrutiny and criticism than you did to Cory Bernardi! I think you pay him too much credit by presuming he knows what he is talking about. There’s no need to apply a blow torch to his work as it’s so full of contradictions, staggering hypocrisy, deception/dishonesty (arguing Hitler is evil because he wasn’t a Christian, when in fact Hitler was a christian) and is at times, just plain delusional, that any critique should read “… just a little crazy” or “just plain nuts”. However, congratulations on both finding and reading the “Conservative Revolution”, and taking the time to publicise that Bernardi’s work is rubbish – if very politely. And you are right to publish your results, as the underlying motives for the publication are actually quite sinister. Firstly, his role is to push the debate as far to the political right as possible, so the government looks relatively moderate by comparison when it acts; and secondly, he really believes this stuff. Judging from what I have read, Bernardi is intent on wiping out many of the rights and freedoms men and women have fought to achieve over the last century. Tony Abbot is bound to look moderate next to that.

    It would be fun to make light of Cory Bernardi and his views if he wasn’t part of, and represented the views of a disturbingly significant part of the Abbott government.
    N.B. there are thoughtful and intelligent people in the Abbot Government, but Cory Bernardi is not one of them, and he is not alone.

    Remember we used to joke about John Howard wanting to go back to the 1950s? Mr Howard is positively left wing compared to Cory Bernardi.

    Even if you didn’t like him, John Howard was a fundamentally rational man – and there were things he simply would not do. No such restrictions apply to Bernardi – after all, he knows what God wants him to do – take us (especially the poor and the women) back to something akin to the 19th century/industrial revolution, where we all knew our place. Somewhere where the church was in charge and god made people like Cory rich through ensuring (Christian) parliaments never passed a law that didn’t advantage rich people, through paying slave wages to workers, using child labour, condemning thousands upon thousands to an early death through being worked to death and living in squalor, and lets not forget, that white (christian) people also had the right to take other people’s land, and could go to war for the right to sell opium to the ‘heathen’ Chinese. And they openly claimed that as Christians, they were bringing the benefits of ‘civilisation’ and Christianity to these ‘pagans’. Western civilisation certainly brought many things, many good things, but, lets not pretend it was only a source of ‘enlightenment’.

    Yes, lets bring religion back into politics – it seems to work particularly well (not) at international levels, doesn’t it? Did Iran have the right idea after all? It is a country run by very conservative, religious old men – and yet, just like every other government that has too much power (particularly those whose power is granted by god), it will do anything to maintain that power.

    God has no place in government. He gave us free will to make our own decisions, and western civilisation gave us the freedom to exercise that free will within certain moral and ethical constraints – which are no longer simply tied to religious values. Conservative elements of all religions seek to claw back those freedoms – and that is what Bernardi is trying to do.

    His views need to be exposed for what they are – a potential danger to all free-thinking people, because bad things happen when men (invariably of privilege, and almost invariably male – with Cory’s church very remiss in this regard) invoke God to tell us how to live and to justify preserving their own privilege at our expense.