Category Archives: Politics

Short Essay: The Australian Liberal Party: liberal, or conservative?

In John Howards’ description, the modern Australian Liberal Party is ‘[u]nique’ (1999), in that they are both liberal and conservative.  Whilst seemingly a contradiction in terms, there really is no misnomer; the name comes from ‘classic liberalism’ (Heywood, 2003), whereby their priorities are specifically catered toward ‘negative freedoms’ (Heywood, 2003), notable for the absence of restrictions.  While there are sometimes tensions between their classical liberal outlook and their social conservative side, this is not uncommon in any other political ideology.

The conservative liberalism of the Liberal Party can be identified in their official political philosophy.  Annotated here is a discussion of their philosophy based this promulgated list.  ‘We Believe…’ (Liberal Party of Australia, 2011).

  • In the inalienable rights and freedoms of all peoples; and we work towards a lean government that minimises interference in our daily lives; and maximises individual and private sector initiative
  • In government that nurtures and encourages its citizens through incentive, rather than putting limits on people through the punishing disincentives of burdensome taxes and the stifling structures of Labor’s corporate state and bureaucratic red tape.
  • In those most basic freedoms of parliamentary democracy – the freedom of thought, worship, speech and association.

These points highlight their classical liberal philosophy, with the emphasis on individualism, toleration and the minimal role of government.  It promotes the individuals’ ability to forge their own links with community on a volunteer basis, and provides for a meritocratic society where the best and brightest rise to the top.  Through rationalisation, their commitment to low taxation also shows a commitment to minimal welfare, since they consider that a meritocratic society ensures that inequality must be due to personal failure.

  • In a just and humane society in which the importance of the family and the role of law and justice is maintained.
  • In equal opportunity for all Australians; and the encouragement and facilitation of wealth so that all may enjoy the highest possible standards of living, health, education and social justice.

This is both conservative and liberalism; classical liberal ideals of ‘formal’ justice (Heywood, 2003) in that all have rights, but similar responsibilities.  The Liberal Party is saying here that they don’t agree with ‘special treatment’ of individuals or groups, since all are equal, with equal opportunity to make their own way.  An area of contention is the conservative aspect, in that that the private institution of the family takes precedence.  This aspect of the party faces a measure of contradiction with the liberal ideal of tolerance of diversity.

  • That, wherever possible, government should not compete with an efficient private sector; and that businesses and individuals – not government – are the true creators of wealth and employment.

This is evidence of their economic liberalisation – their belief in small government, minimal regulation, and free enterprise.  They expect markets to provide the best outcomes, since it is only by ‘for profit’ enterprises that have an incentive to create what society needs and wants.

  • In preserving Australia’s natural beauty and the environment for future generations.

While this may appear as detraction from the Liberal Party philosophy, towards the ‘Green’ movement, this can actually be looked at from both a liberal and conservative viewpoint.  Liberal, in the ‘freedom of the individual’ to participate as they see fit, on the principle of no harm, applying Mills libertarian principle to the environment, as opposed to other members of society.  A conservative aspect in this philosophy is their underlying value for tradition.

  • That our nation has a constructive role to play in maintaining world peace and democracy through alliance with other free nations.

Finally, this position takes a liberal approach, toward recognition of the equality of all (hu)mankind, tolerance of diversity, and the movement toward economic liberalism.

Through examination of their philosophy, the misnomer of ‘Liberal’ is removed.



Heywood, A. (2003) Political Ideologies: An Introduction, 3rd ed., New York:Palgrave Macmillan.


Liberal Party of Australia (2011) ‘We Believe… ‘, The Party: Our Beliefs [online], available:

Short Essay: Costs, Benefits and the unequal distributions of Economic Rationalism

When first used, the idea of ‘Economic Rationalism’ implied governments maximising efficiency through rational economic decision making (Quiggins, 1997).  It would be difficult to claim the majority of Australians do not want efficient and rational government policies, especially in fiscal matters.  So why has ‘Economic Rationalism’ become a pejorative term?  Over several decades since its first use, the etymology has changed, becoming synonymous with neoliberalism, and the unfettered free market.  To some, this has not just altered our economy, but has fundamentally changed our society.

To clarify, economic rationalism is the policy where ‘the primary role of government should be to maximise economic efficiency’ (Wright, 2002).  Utilising basic economic theory, this means that the economy must move as close as possible towards the ‘free market’, through the removal of most, if not all regulation, and the removal of ‘public goods’.  This was a key policy feature of the 1980s, with policies to privatise and deregulate sectors of the economy.  Over successive governments, both Labor and Liberal, this ‘neo-liberal’ trend has continued.  It is also noted that economic theory has become a pervasive ideology dominating nearly every sphere of public life (Richardson, 1997).

This ‘Economic rationalism’ has had some benefits, which are predominantly based around efficiency and access.  These benefits have mainly been realised by those in the higher income brackets.  Consumers now have increased access to a wide range of imports, and this subsequent competition drove prices down (Kenyon, 2000, Moore, 2001).  The banks also began to provide ‘largely non-discriminatory access to cheaper credit’ (Kenyon, 2000).  Moore (2001) posits that this rationalisation promoted efficiency that resulted in productivity gains, and ultimately to increases in incomes since the early 1990s; he also claims that the unemployment rate fell.  Supporters of economic rationalism also claim that the increases in these incomes were ‘equally’ shared, since the ‘progressive income tax’ system allowed ‘generous social welfare benefits’ to be provided, which means there was no increase in the inequality of total incomes (Moore, 2001).

However, there are those that disagree with the neo-liberal view, including other economists.  These disagreements usually fall into either an economic argument, in that there is scepticism over the possibility for coming close to the ideal market, or a normative argument, in that they disagree that the maximisation of efficiency is not the primary role of government (Wright, 2002).

The economic objections to the ‘ideal’ market are based around the requirements for the perfect market; no ‘monopolies or oligopolies’, an ‘infinitely adaptable market’, total price awareness, production is consumer focussed, no ‘inefficiencies’, no ‘public goods’, and no ‘externalities’ (Wright, 2002).  There are many economists who, whilst agreeing with economic theory, consider that the reality is that none of these conditions are met anywhere near this level of perfection, nor will they.

For those who criticise with a normative or moral argument, they have other concerns, usually in consideration of society at large.  The ‘economic irrationalists’ claim that this perfect market scenario cannot exist, and claim that instead of overall positive gains, society, in particular those ‘less well off’, have faced negative outcomes.  These outcomes are not all financial; they claim not only are people becoming poorer, but that social capacity is being eroded.  Wright (2002) informs that ‘[a] balanced life becomes harder’.  This is because the critics of economic liberalisation claim that these policies bring with them job losses and a reduction in job creation, showing the economic uncertainty faced by all workers and jobseekers.  These factors all affect the lower income bracket more harshly than other sectors.  This leads to lower income workers having to work longer, reducing their ability to fulfil their social needs, and earning relatively less pay, leaving them financially worse off (Pusey, 2003, see also Argy, 2009, Argy, 2007a, b, 2006).

Another loss appearing to be caused by economic rationalism is that of ‘inefficient’ industry, further taking away from the job market, and removing future opportunities for nation-building; ‘greater inequality both in terms of income and opportunity’; and the loss of ‘free’ cultural and social facilities (for these points and more, see Kenyon, 2000, Argy, 2006).

The ‘irrationalists’ emphasise that the only concern of business and the market is efficiency and profit margins, and claim that this is socially negative.  Sue Rigney eloquently highlights the sentiments of many in opposition to economic rationalisation:

‘Economic rationalisation essentially contradicts an inherent role of government which includes equity and access issues. It is sound “business” practice to centralise and rationalise services but the provision of information does not fall neatly within the numbers game.’ (1999)

Replacing the ‘provision of information’ with the provision of any other social good can result in similar sentiments across a wide section of society.

There are indeed benefits of economic rationalisation; however these benefits are not equally distributed, and effectively do not outweigh the costs.



Argy, F. (2006) ‘Australia a land of opportunity: but not for all’, Dissent,  (21), 57-60.

Argy, F. (2007a) ‘Distribution effects of labour deregulation’, Agenda (Canberra, ACT), 14 (2), 141-155.

Argy, F. (2007b) ‘Economic freedom: the good and the ugly’, AQ, Journal of Contemporary Analysis, 79 (5), 33-39.

Argy, F. (2009) ‘Choosing between classical liberalism and social liberalism’, Policy (St Leonards, NSW), 25 (2), 14-20.

Kenyon, P. (2000) ‘The Good Society: A Guide to Economic Policy’, Agenda, 7 (4), 303-320.

Moore, D. (2001) ‘The case for economic rationalism’, Economic Papers (Sydney), 20 (4), 82-89.

Pusey, M. (2003) Experience of Middle Australia, The: Dark Side of Economic Reform, Cambridge University Press.

Quiggins, J. (1997) ‘Economic Rationalism’, Crossings, 2 (1), 3-12.

Richardson, J. L. (1997) ‘Economic Rationalism And The Scholarly Culture’, in Scholars, Libraries Collecting Policies and Archives Policy, Canberra, Canberra: Independent Scholars Association of Australia Inc.

Rigney, S. (1999) ‘Economic rationalisation and its effect on government services’, in 8th Asia-Pacific Specials, Health and Law Librarians Conference, Australian Library and Information Association.

Wright, J. (2002) The ethics of economic rationalism, Sydney:University of New South Wales Press.




Short Essay: The Australian Constitution: historical origins, and adequacy as a ‘superior law’

The Australian constitution is over one hundred years old, and reflects its historical origins in a number of ways.  Is it possible that this document still reflects Australia?  Taking an overall view, it can be said that it is adequate, however could also benefit from clarification.

A number of key players in the push for federation had ostensibly saw a need for ‘joining forces’ in areas of common interest, but were willing to accept compromises that would get the ball rolling; perhaps not expecting that the constitution would remain relatively unchanged for this length of time.  When the colonies first considered the constitution, they were highly supportive of the British parliamentary system; however an admiration for America’s constitutional changes had an effect on the way the founders’ considered the future of Australia.  While the founders’ did not wish to break British ties as America did, they saw benefits to the American system of ‘federalism’, since none of the colonial politicians were particularly willing to give much ground in the granting of power to the central government, instead preferring to retain their power, and limiting the national government to specific areas. However federalism and the British parliamentary system of responsible government do not always fit together, which can lead to the electorate losing faith in government, since it is the conventions of responsible government ‘that predisposed the electorate to have faith in government’ (Bagehot, as cited in Cornford, 2005).  The implementation of federalism was a measure of political compromise, since the colonial governments had already rejected or delayed the ‘federation project’ several times.  They were aware that there may be conflict with federalism and the Westminster system, but considered that the ‘unwritten conventions’ that they were adopting would provide sufficient guidance to manage them.

The constitution also suggests its origins through the features it lacks (see Aitken & Orr, 2002, Ward & Stewart, 2010, Singleton et al., 2003).  There is no recognition of rights, as the founders’ largely considered that common law would best protect rights, making a separate ‘Bill of Rights’ unnecessary; it contains no confirmation of commitment to democracy; and no provision of universal suffrage, since there were no women in the constitutional delegations, and they only had the right to vote in two states.  However, the constitution did include two references to Indigenous Australians, which pointed to its origins – the references were ‘dismissive’ (Aitken & Orr, 2002), and were removed by an overwhelmingly supported referendum in 1967.

The constitution itself is a highly legalistic document which is vague on details, which makes its’ adequacy as the body of superior law in Australia debatable.  Additionally, much of our society and government has been changed by events since the constitution was written.  The shaping of the constitution itself meant it was also necessary to create an adjudicator, the High Court, who manages disputes between States and the Commonwealth.  They have come under fire in recent years, being accused of ‘activism’ by interpreting the law away from strictly black letter law, to a more socio-political interpretation (see Ward & Stewart, 2010, Singleton et al., 2003, Galligan, 2003, Aitken & Orr, 2002).  In light of these factors, several calls have been made to modernise the constitution.  There have been calls for a Republic; attempts to reduce Senate power; clarification and codification of ‘implied’ features like reserve powers and some conventions; calls for centralisation, either through disbanding or replacing states with lesser powered ‘regional’ governments; clarification or redefinition of state and commonwealth powers; and calls to introduce a specific ‘Bill of Rights’ as constitutions in other nations provide for (Ward & Stewart, 2010, Aitken & Orr, 2002, Singleton et al., 2003, Galligan, 2003).

However, changes to the constitution have historically been hard to make.  This may point to its wide acceptance by the community, but may also reflect another, less benign reason.  Ward and Stewart (2010) point out that one intended design feature of the constitution, s. 128, is seemingly ‘undemocratic’.  This section requires a ‘double majority’ – a vote must be carried by a ‘democratic’ majority of all voters, across a majority of states.  This was intended to ensure that the ‘majority’ populated states could not overpower the ‘minority’ populated states.  It is interesting to note that this is considered blatantly undemocratic by some, but others consider it akin to extra-democratic in its ‘protection’ of minority populations (Galligan, 2003, Singleton et al., 2003, Aitken & Orr, 2002).

Possibly due to its vagueness giving rise to flexibility in interpretation, the constitution has stood the test of time, and still maintains its relevance today; however with society ever changing, it is important to ensure the ‘superior body of law’ continues to reflect the nation.  The possibility of reform should not be discarded.



Aitken, G. & Orr, R. (2002) Sawer’s: The Australian Constitution 3rd ed., Canberra:Australian Government Solicitor.

Cornford, I. (2005) ‘Changes to the Australian Public Service: Some Deleterious Effects Upon Political Accountability and VET Policy Formation and Implementation’, AARE 2004 Conference Papers,  available:

Galligan, B. (2003) ‘Federalism and the Constitution’ in The Cambridge handbook of social sciences in Australia,Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Singleton, G., Aitken, D., Jinks, B. & Warhurst, J. (2003) Australian political institutions, 7th ed., Frenchs Forest, N.S.W.:Pearson Education.

Ward, I. & Stewart, R. G. (2010) Politics One, 4th ed., South Melbourne:Palgrave Macmillan Australia.

Short Essay: Strengths and Weaknesses of Federalism for Australia

The acceptance of Australias’ constitution created a system of government for its disparate colonies, in the form of a ‘federation’.  Explanation varies as to why this form of government was chosen, which has faced a decline in popularity (Ward & Stewart, 2010, Galligan, 2003), with claims of inherent weaknesses.  To explore this, the strengths of federalism, along with these identified weaknesses will be highlighted.

The disparate colonies, with differing needs and difficulties, had developed their own ‘imagined communities’ (Anderson, as cited in Barker & Kelly, 2008, p. 129), which gave rise to differing outlooks and goals.  Federalism, which allowed the retainment of this shared community and ‘local patriotism’ (Craven, 2001, Gillespie, 1994), was seen as the method where the colonies could join together for issues of national importance, whilst retaining their own identities.  This feature of the constitution allowed the states to have an individual ability to set policy priorities, and develop responses that were specific to their circumstances, and their respective electorates.  This is the likely reason why federalism is seen as ‘closer to the people’, with the ability to be more responsive to the needs of their electorates, and so being more accountable to them.  Arguably, this was the founders’ intention (Galligan, 2003, Ward & Stewart, 2010, Singleton et al., 2003).

This ‘tailoring’ approach was not the only benefit here, since by allowing different policies in the states, and utilising the competitive spirit that developed within this evolving community, new policies were able to be ‘tested’, allowing for a wider range of policy mixes that ‘work’ to be found, which could subsequently be copied or innovated by the other states.  Unfortunately, this competitive spirit has also had a negative effect, in that policies that require collaboration and agreement between the states can be difficult to achieve (Singleton et al., 2003, Ward & Stewart, 2010).

Co-ordinate federalism, where the states had clearly defined and separate roles than that of the federal government was the expectation at Australias’ formation  (Singleton et al., 2003).  Over time, this has changed to become increasingly collaborative, to a ‘cooperative federalism’ (Ward & Stewart, 2010).  This has become necessary not least because of relatively recent changes to taxation, where the Commonwealth government now has ‘fiscal dominance’ (Ward & Stewart, 2010), where they are the primary collector of revenue, creating a Vertical Fiscal Imbalance (VFI).  This provides the commonwealth government with considerably more leverage to govern spending policy, which were decisions intended for states.  This control of spending policy has hindered the founders’ intended limits on government (Ward & Stewart, 2010).

In addition to the VFI, some federal services and policies now encroach onto state territory, leading to some area of duplication (Ward & Stewart, 2010, Singleton et al., 2003).  This can have negative consequences, primarily in lesser efficiency because there is ‘too much government’ (Abbot, as cited in Ward & Stewart, 2010); however it can also be argued that this can provide benefits to the electorate, in that they can pursue alternate avenues for resolution of difficulties (Singleton et al., 2003, Ward & Stewart, 2010).

I have shown that the strengths of federalism are: being closer to the people, increasing responsiveness and accountability; acts as a limit on government, has allowed the cultures of the states to flourish, has provided the ability to utilise different policies based on state differences, and allowed testing of new ideas before mass implementation, to find policy mixes that work.  I have also established the antagonistic features; the primary concerns with federalism are duplication of services, VFI, difficulties in securing national agreement and ‘too much government’.



Barker, J. & Kelly, S. (2008) ‘Technology and Nationalism’ in G. Herb & D. Kaplan, (eds.), Nations and Nationalism: A Global Historical Overview,Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 126-136.

Craven, G. 2001. The Australian States and the Australian Nation. in Sunday Special – The Barton Lectures Part 7 Australian Broadcasting Commission, Australia: Radio National. Radio (Transcript).

Gillespie, J. (1994) ‘New federalisms’ in J. Brett, J. Gillespie & M. Goot, (eds.), Developments in Australian Politics,60-87.

Galligan, B. (2003) ‘Federalism and the Constitution’ in The Cambridge handbook of social sciences in Australia,Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Singleton, G., Aitken, D., Jinks, B. & Warhurst, J. (2003) Australian political institutions, 7th ed., Frenchs Forest, N.S.W.:Pearson Education.

Ward, I. & Stewart, R. G. (2010) Politics One, 4th ed., South Melbourne:Palgrave Macmillan Australia.


The Symposium on Australian Settlement

It is widely accepted that the past can influence the future.  This is the dominant discourse which surrounds the concept of an ‘Australian Settlement’.  Posited as the ‘more or less enduring resolution of conflict’ (Stokes 2004a, p. 5) that created bipartisan support for particular ‘political ideas and policies’ (Stokes 2004a, p. 7), this ‘settlement’ seeks to define an Australian political identity which guided Australia from Federation through to the 1980’s.  However, this ‘Australian Settlement’ has now crumbled, and our society is significantly different.  While it is a relevant tool for studying political history, a genuine understanding of modern politics cannot be reached through study of the ‘Australian Settlement’ alone, because the forms presented have been decontextualised, are selective in features and its focus on the past does not assist to provide direction for the future.


Politics is not a distinct super-section of Australia.  It is, according to our ‘style’ of democracy, theoretically representative of our population, by extension, politics should reflect the values of our society. This means that past policies cannot be accurately viewed, or fairly judged, exclusively from this angle.  To obtain a genuine understanding of Australian politics, it is necessary to consider the societal context, discourses of assent and dissent, as well as the underlying beliefs and motivations for particular policy decisions.

In this, Stokes (2004a) attempts to be more flexible, however much is still judged based on current values, and neglects how ‘progressive’ much of the early years were, and is based on the authors own underlying values.  As Melleuish informs, ‘… in an age which no longer accepts its values, we are apt to forget its positive aspects and its virtues’ (Melleuish 1995, p. 131).  When approaching the ‘Settlement’ from a modern perspective, issues are seen with the management of race and gender relations, the inequalities in democratic institutions, increases in the role of the state, an increasingly insular country.  However, in most cases, this modern perspective means these problems are considered in conjunction with persuasive discourses, positive or negative, towards neo-liberalism, and globalisation (Conley 2004).  If viewed from the perspective of the makers themselves, the view would likely be quite different.  The context, intent and outcomes should be judged holistically.

Selective in features

The governments of federation, and still today are, to varying degrees, ‘social liberal’.  Many of the ‘settlement’ policies were not, as Kelly appears to assert, purely economic, but had significant social basis, which Stokes incorporates, albeit at a reduced importance (2004a, p. 15).  Also, as seen in the symposium, the ‘Australian Settlement’ as originally written had ‘limited scope’ (2004a, p. 9), and as Brett (2004) notes, even Stokes’ expanded version of the settlement misses key considerations.  While the idea of an ‘Australian Settlement’ has gained significant currency, there are still significant points of contention.  By choosing elements and framing them in particular ways it becomes possible to alter the discourse these elements are subjected to, allowing both the ‘identity’ and individual component discourses to be usurped to a particular purpose (Stokes 2004a, p. 7; see also Conley 2004).

Past focused

Stokes (2004a, p. 5) correctly asserts that future directions are shaped by ‘past errors and achievements’.  It is, however, unfair to consider that all of the Australian Settlement was worthy of being discarded as a ‘past error’, and the policies enacted to remove the ‘pillars’ as being the ‘achievements’.  A holistic judgement of political history does indeed give us insight into how, and why policies were enacted; however this insight does not really provide direction for our future.  Society has undergone significant changes, as have the political and economic imperatives now faced.  It would be imprudent to deny any possibility of enacting similar policy again.

Stokes’ contribution to the identity discourse of an ‘Australian Settlement’ is significant to providing a good underpinning knowledge and understanding of Australia’s political history, however it cannot provide a stable platform for understanding modern politics, or the politics of the future.  Looking to the past for shaping the future has its own problems, and it would be easy to consider that at the end of the next ‘settlement’, which is not yet formed, the decisions made now may be judged in the future to be incorrect.  Priorities should be clearly focused on the present, working for the future, rather than looking back.



Brennan G & Pincus J. (2002) From the Australian Settlement to Microeconomic reform: the Change in Twentieth Century Policy Regimes. CIES Discussion Paper No. 0213. Adelaide, SA: Adelaide University.

Brett J. (2004) Comment: the country and the city. Australian Journal of Political Science 39:1, 27 – 29.

Conley T. (2004) Globalisation and the Politics of Persuasion and Coercion. Australian Journal of Social Issues 39:2, 183-200.

Kelly P. (2004) Comment: the Australian settlement. Australian Journal of Political Science 39:1, 23 – 25.

Melleuish G. (1995) Understanding an “Age of Uncertainty”. Australian Journal of Politics & History 41:1, 130-134.

Sawer M. (2004) Comment: the Australian settlement undone. Australian Journal of Political Science 39:1, 35 – 37.

Smyth P. (2004) Comment: Australian settlement or Australian way? Australian Journal of Political Science 39:1, 39 – 41.

Stewart RG & Ward I. (2010) Politics One, South Melbourne: Palgrave Macmillan Australia.

Stokes G. (2004a) The ‘Australian settlement’ and Australian political thought. Australian Journal of Political Science 39:1, 5 – 22.

Stokes G. (2004b) A rejoinder. Australian Journal of Political Science 39:1, 43 – 47.

Tom Conleys ‘Globalisation and the Politics of Persuasion and Coercion’

A Critical Review of Tom Conleys 2004 article, ‘Globalisation and the Politics of Persuasion and Coercion’, Australian Journal of Social Issues, Vol. 39, Issue 2.

The authors objective in this article is to show that politics worldwide has been significantly impacted by the ‘discourse and practice of globalisation’ (Conley 2004, p. 195).  The three salient, interlinked themes are ideology, persuasion and coercion, which together, the author claims, have led to a singular view of reality, persuasively presented to the public, followed by coercive implementation of an economic liberal agenda; all alternatives having been marginalised.

Ideological and Material Components of Globalisation

The first theme discusses the effect of political ideology on globalisation.  The author claims that equal, bilateral consideration needs to be given for ‘ideas, rhetoric and discourse’ and material components of globalisation, since it is the ideological factors that influence perceptions of political economic policy constraints and opportunities (Conley 2004, p. 186), and the material components that provide the structural limitations.  Further, it is argued that ‘dominant interpretations’ can influence the fulfilment of the process, and change the political environment (ibid., p. 186).

According to the author, governments have developed a ‘deterministic’ evaluation and liberalising reaction to globalisation.  The author concedes that various political and economic events caused a shift in policy perception, and equates this with liberalised policy changes becoming institutionalised ideology.  This may be partially accurate, however the article appears to neglect the impact of the growing strength of global institutions such as the World Bank and World Trade Organisation, which have placed considerable pressure on states to implement a neo-liberal structure (Firth 2005, p. 11).

Whilst the argument that ideology certainly impacts world views and narrows the range of options which are open for consideration is acceptable, the author does not do enough to show that ‘at each point of material change’ Conley 2004, p. 186) there were alternative interpretations of this ‘material reality’ (ibid.) leading to differing policy when considering the impact of the world economy.

Globalisation as Persuasion

Closely linked with ideology, the second theme contends that globalisation has been framed as an ‘international imperative’ (Conley 2001, p. 241, 2004, p. 184), to persuade the population that liberalisation of the economy was the best, indeed, ‘only viable option’ (Conley 2004, p. 185).  It is ultimately claimed that globalisation is the justification for the shift to economic liberalism.  It is also suggested that the government has used ‘persuasion’ to lower the publics’ expectations of the state (Conley 2001, p. 241, 2004, pp. 184, 188).

With a degree of rhetoric, the author presents these ideas, and attempts to persuade.  His primary argument has an element of success, effectively showing that governments have used persuasive methods, to both push globalisation as a national good, and also showing that a degree of public ‘education’ has taken place, espousing the same notion.  The use of the term ‘education’ has negative connotations in the article, and the authors own beliefs come through strongly in this section.  The author places negative images of various changes, both at a social and political level, however beyond his own use of language and interpretation, there is little that shows ‘economic liberal’ globalisation has caused this.  It could be argued that it is actually the social changes have led to this change.

Economic Liberal Coercion

After persuasion paves the way, it is argued that coercion, in the form of ‘economic liberal policy change’ is then used to enforce change (Conley 2001, p. 241, 2004, p. 192).  According to the author, the public has been coerced into becoming market driven and self-regulating, ‘succeeding and failing on market terms’ (Conley 2004, p. 193).  Further, economic liberal coercion has allowed the role of the state to limit itself, as well as ultimately limiting political choice with an institutionalised conception of globalisation and state capability.  Since coercion ‘has’ the effect of modifying the economic policy ‘terrain’ (Conley 2001, p. 241), and ‘economic liberal globalisation has dominated the perceptions of those who have made the decisions’ (Conley 2004, p. 195), then, he informs, that this has the additional effect of reinforcing ‘the already substantive constraints of the world political economy’ (ibid., p. 192).

There is an degree of contradiction here.  While the author first informs that governments are not as tightly constrained by global forces as they claim, here it is stated that they are constrained.

The author certainly points out some inherent issues with economic liberal policies in this section, and clearly demonstrates the economical effect on several sections of community and industry.  However it is a large leap to claim such a change has come from a small group of politicians, at a certain time.  The concepts that underpin economic liberalism are not new, nor is the idea of globalisation.

The author suggests that effective ‘social democratic globalisation’ alternatives to liberalisation exist (Conley 2004, p. 195), however they have been marginalised by the liberalised, institutionalised ideas of the two major parties.


Language use in the article is overall reasonable, however the use of some terms can be perceived as loaded.  The bias against ‘economic liberal’ globalisation is quite evident, and there is emphasis on the social inequalities ‘created’ by economic liberal globalisation.  It is apparent that the author places all onus on government, when that government was ‘elected’ by the nation; it would seem that some of the blame should be accepted by the voting populace.  It is therefore surprising that more sociological data was not considered, as particular trends in sociology are likely to have considerable application in this area.


The author certainly succeeds in demonstrating that since the Hawke/Keating years, the dominant theories of globalisation have led to adoption of economic liberal policies.  Overall, the article succeeds in showing the main portions of his argument, however in many cases it raises more questions than answers.

(Western et al. 2007)



Conley T. (2001) The Domestic Politics of Globalisation. Australian Journal of Political Science 36:2, 223-246.

Conley T. (2004) Globalisation and the Politics of Persuasion and Coercion. Australian Journal of Social Issues 39:2, 183-200.

Firth S. (2005) Australia in International Politics : An introduction to Australian foreign policy. Sydney: Allen & Unwin.

Western M, Baxter J, Pakulski J, Tranter B, Western J, van Egmond M, Chesters J, Hosking A, O’Flaherty M & van Gellecum Y. (2007) Neoliberalism, Inequality and Politics: The Changing Face of Australia. Australian Journal of Social Issues 42:3, 401-418.


‘Sapere Aude!’ Kant and the Public/Private Distinction

“Sapere Aude! […] Have the courage to use your own reason!” (Kant, 1997, p. 83, my emphasis)

Kant is economical: In this short quotation, he indicts society, credits them with universal reason, and calls them to action. The quote suggests that every individual1 has the capacity for reasoning; they simply lack the courage and will to do so; this, according to Kant, implicates us in a ‘self‐incurred tutelage’ (p. 83). Kant presents Enlightenment as the escape from this immaturity; all that was required was the freedom to ‘make public use of one’s reason’ (p. 84). However, everywhere there were limits on freedom; some constraints were necessary to maintain public order. The acceptable, and useful constraints on freedom could be found within a distinction between ‘public’ and ‘private’2 reason (pp. 84‐85). This distinction rests largely upon the degree of exclusivity, publicity, and emancipation from higher authority.

Kant sees society as immature, limiting itself to following the dictates of ‘benevolent’ authority figures who demand from ‘all sides, “Do not argue!” (p. 85), but adhere to ‘statutes and formulas’ without questioning (p. 84). Instead of developing their own abilities, they have abandoned them; they have allowed themselves to become comfortable and safe with ‘a book which understands for me, a pastor who has a conscience for me, [and] a physician who decides my diet’ (p. 83). Kant likens this acceptance to a herd of domesticated cattle, made dumb, placid and timid; afraid of a danger made to appear serious by the ‘guardians’ who wanted to retain their control (p. 83), yet in reality was considerably less. In this ‘easy’ life, there was no real need for an individual to exert their own will or their own reason; the road to an easy life only required the money to pay for it (p. 83). However, in this ‘easy’ life, there would be no way to ‘extend knowledge,[or] purify […] errors’ (p. 87), a condition which, according to Kant, would be a ‘crime against human nature’ (p. 87).

Kant did not impose a definition or rules for correct reason; this is viewed as an avoidance strategy; he did not want to provide a new ‘authority’ for society to follow, to inculate himself as another guardian. Instead, he was focused on encouraging the proper way to use our ‘natural gifts’ because true reform could not come from a ‘revolution’ (p. 84). Enlightenment must therefore proceed gradually because revolution merely replaced ‘old prejudices with ‘new prejudices’. This is why a single individual may not be extricated from dependence on their ‘benevolent guardians’ through this process, but the wider society could become more enlightened (p. 84).

Turning to Kant’s distinction between public and private reason, it is important to avoid being misled by these terms; ‘Public’ and ‘Private’ are used in specific ways. For Kant, ‘Public’ reasoning was used to highlight the open and inclusive nature of the reasoning process, the wide social network it was publicised to, and also necessity for the individual to be speaking in their ‘own voice’ (p. 86). Conversely, ‘private’ reasoning was closed and exclusive, in some ways limited in its publication, and was carried out as a subject to the will of another (p. 86). What is clearly seen here is a demarcation between the ‘modes’ or ‘roles’ which an individual has. In an Enlightened age, every individual will use both of these forms of reasoning dependent on their circumstances.

An individual using the ‘public’ form of reason stepped into the role of a scholar disassociated from their socio‐political milieu. Regardless of rank, this individual could openly criticise, discuss, and consider alternatives to policies and matters with which they were concerned. A citizen in this role would be active, and use their courage to provide the public with ‘all of his carefully tested and well‐meaning thoughts’ (p. 86) about errors being made. Private use of reasoning, however, was markedly different. This kind of reason is used within the constraints of an organisation, where you have a specific function within that organisation. Only those in charge have the capacity to determine process, and criticism or discussion is highly limited. While in this ‘private’ mode, citizens can think ‘what [they] will, but obey!’ (p. 85).

A similar dichotomy occurs with the publicity aspect. When utilising ‘public’ reason, the necessity for a broad audience is highlighted. Kant specifically highlights this using terms such as a ‘readership’, and a ‘society of world citizens’, and ‘the reading public’ (p. 85). Public reasoning aims at reaching the widest possible audience, specifically to encourage diverse opinions. There is also a sense here that Kant implies the capacity for publicity for posterity, with the unacceptability of unceasingly binding a society (p. 87). To the contrary, private reasoning limits its reach to a specific group, for a specific duration, and only while those within the binding of the institution remain.

The final and most important dichotomy occurs in the degree of emancipation from higher authority. For an individual to use public reason, requires them to be speaking from their ‘own person’. Contrast this with the conformity required by individuals limited to private reason, required to carry ‘out the orders of another’ (p. 86). Consider this in light of one of Kant’s typical examples, modified for these purposes. There exists a tax collector, call her Ann. Ann, using her capacity for ‘public’ reason, submits articles to various journals highlighting her understanding of the inconsistencies and inequality in a newly implemented tax regime. However Ann, in her position as tax‐collector has no capacity for arguing; she must accept her duty passively and obey the law as it currently stands.

For Kant, this ability to reason and argue, whilst obeying, is the epitome of enlightened behaviour. Through the individual act of courage by ‘throwing off the yoke of tutelage’, and free use of public reason, courage in others would be stimulated (p. 84). Through this engagement with others, giving and receiving cognitive challenge and through reflection and response to alternate viewpoints, all parties, including those who remain on the outside of the interchange, are provided the opportunity to progress in their path toward enlightenment.

In order to create a mature, enlightened society, it was necessary to have the courage to use the ‘natural gifts’ (p. 84) within all, rather than relying on various authority figures to simply tell us what is right, healthy or true. This is characterised as a social process of Enlightenment; a continual progression towards freedom, a means, as well as the end for human nature (p. 87). it was essential that the use of ‘Public’ reason was completely free, as the right, indeed the duty of society was to progress toward enlightenment (Kant, p. 87). However, constraints on ‘Private’ reasoning could be implemented without blocking public enlightenment, since one acts as a passive actor, a ‘cog in the machine’ (p. 85); this temporary constraint would be offset by their ability to use public reason.


Kant, I. (1997) ‘What is Enlightenment?’ in Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals and What is Enlightenment 2nd ed.,Trans. Lewis White Beck. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.

1 Indications within the text suggest a gender-neutral reading is possible; this neutral reading could be challenged in conjunction with other work by Kant. This is a topic for a separate essay.

2 ‘Public’ and ‘Private’ reason used in this paper relate to Kant’s usage in Kant, I. (1997) ‘What is Enlightenment?’ in Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals and What is Enlightenment 2nd ed.,Trans. Lewis White Beck. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.