Emeritus Professor of Law David Flint AM argues that the terrorist Man Haron Monis would not have been at liberty to commit murder in a Sydney cafe in December 2014 if the New South Wales legislative process had not been captured by political factions and left ideologues.[i] His contention that political and administrative elites have in a sense been captured by untoward forces or processes has merit and is an important observation, though his characterisation of those forces leaves room for further work.
Before describing Flint’s argument, it should be noted that he is a credible witness for reporting elite legislative processes. His career began when he was admitted as a lawyer in NSW and England. His lectures at universities generally combined legal and business matters. In 1977 he served a year as head of the Faculty of Business at the University of Technology, Sydney. From 1987 until 1997 he served as the University’s Dean of Law. He was appointed to various other high level functions, not surprising in light of his being named World Outstanding Legal Scholar by the World Jurists Association in 1991. He is widely published on legal, legislative and business subjects, including elites (The Twilight of the Elites, 2003).
The essentials of Flint’s argument begin with the reasonable assertion that once upon a time someone like Monis would not have been allowed into Australia, would not have been granted citizenship, and not have been allowed to live drone-like from the taxes of the Australian people. When this era of prudence ended is not stated but Flint implies that it was some decades ago because only hundreds of thousands or perhaps millions of Australians remember it. And it could not have been recent decades because it was a time when “the nation’s political class was little different from the rank and file. We all shared the same Australian qualities of common sense, good judgment and basic decency.”
How could someone so criminal, so fanatical and so parasitic not only be granted citizenship but be released on bail while charged with serious offenses? “The answer lies in the capture of the nation’s and the state of NSW’s legislative process, administration and bench, and their consequent failure to fulfil the reasonable expectations of rank-and-file Australians.” (Emphasis added.)
Flint proposes two agencies that have effectively captured the political and administrative elites.
The first agency is the rise of political factions, that have robbed members of parliament of their freedom of judgment. They are compelled to vote as their factional bosses direct in order to secure a comfortable retirement. A problem here is that factionalism has been part and parcel of Australian politics for at least a century. Parties themselves are a type of faction that restrict the independence of members, and parties go back centuries. The faction concept might be more useful if broadened to include lobbies of one sort or another – business or religious for example – that capture elites using inducements, threats or persuasion.
The second reason Flint advances is more plausible, that ultra civil libertarian thinkers hold sway over changes to the legal process. This resulted in “radically utopian” changes to the bail act that resulted in the public being exposed to Monis.
David Flint has been critical of out-of-touch elites for some time, at least since he wrote The Twilight of the Elites in the first years of this century. This important topic points us towards the ideological, sociological and demographic dimensions of the corruption of elite leadership in Australia, going far enough back to account for Monis’s immigration in 1996.
To explain the political elites’ alienation from everyday Australians it is necessary to consider such sociological concepts as hegemony, in which power is exerted by indoctrinating people in empirical and moral doctrines. Related trends include the leftist dominance of the university system from the 1960s, resulting in the indoctrination of elites-in-training and the rise of utopian anti-Western ideological movements in the professional class, especially in academe, the media and entertainment. Elite alienation might also result from extreme levels of economic inequality now being seen in English-speaking societies, itself exacerbated by rising ethnic diversity, a solvent of social cohesion and trust.
In previous articles and posts I described hostile attitudes towards the Australian people on the part of political and media elites. Would Flint describe these people as captives or captors? What distinguishes the two categories? To make that distinction will require identifying the source of actors’ motivations, whether they are endogenous in characteristics such as personality and identity or are reactions to external manipulation.
The research literature on cultural warfare examines these questions indirectly. For example Eric Kaufmann’s monograph, The Rise and Fall of Anglo America (2004), examines how post-ethnic radical ideology (“cosmopolitanism”) originated and rose to capture elite universities in the U.S. by the 1950s or 1960s, initiating the top-down transformation that Flint describes and which is still unfolding in Australia and other Western societies. Kaufmann maintains that the leading motivation of those in the cosmopolitan vanguard was humanistic idealism, and that they won converts through force of analysis and moral passion. Once the movement gained momentum it began capturing institutions through educational indoctrination and intimidating critics, first university departments then whole disciplines and then government bureaucracies in a process foreseen by the Italian communist Antonio Gramsci. The latter stages of the process described by Kaufmann are not so different to Flint’s version of capture.
David Flint has put on the table the idea that (effective) elite hostility can be explained by their being captured in some way, either by political processes or ideologies. It remains to more fully describe this phenomenon.
[i] David Flint (2014). “Capture of legislative process, bench opened gates to Man Monis’s release”, The Australian, 19 December. (Abridged print version p. 24). http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/legal-affairs/capture-of-legislative-process-bench-opened-gates-to-man-moniss-release/story-e6frg97x-1227161218197