Push comes to shove
figured it out about Paddy McGuinness. He's a sort of defence counsel
for backwardness, the attorney for atavism, a Rumpole for the reactionaries",
was Sunday morning and we were walking across the park. The grass was
emerald green after the rain and the unexpected return of blue skies
had lifted our spirits.
can just see him now, gowned, bewigged, and in high dudgeon", she
laughed. "'Ladies and gentlemen of the jury! My clients, the Prime
Minister and Senator Herron are just simple people; poor defenceless
men, striving to do right according to their beliefs. And it is not
just my clients who are being persecuted! The prosecution are putting
on trial here generations of officials of Church and State who took
Aboriginal children from their mothers! How dare they criticise the
actions and even the motives of these fine men!' rave, rave, blah, blah.
His Honour looks wearily over the top of his bifocals and thinks: 'Oh,
spare us the moral outrage bit, Paddy' 'cos he's heard this performance
before, when McGuinness QC appeared in the Court of Public Opinion for
the Japanese whalers and Helen Demidenko and the tobacco industry and
other cases so numerous he's forgotten."
was spot on. I'd been searching for the right metaphor for ages, but
Jo had hit on it. To understand Paddy you've got to understand the Sydney
Push and the philosophy called contrarianism. The Push was a rooting
club, pseudo-intellectual drinking circle and philosophical talk shop
and that flourished in Sydney from just after World War II to the late
sixties. In hindsight it was mainly a support network for desperados
and bullshit artists who were waiting for well-paid careers as apologists
for the prevailing order.
called themselves libertarians. Some talked out of the left side of
their mouth and some out of the right, but when you get down to it,
contrarianism was the most lasting intellectual product of the Push.
It is a philosophy tailor-made for professional ideological provocateurs
or "controversialists" as they are called in the industry.
is a self-admitted contrarian", I said "He studies what the
left or the 'do-gooders' of the professional middle classes are saying
and advocates the opposite. There's a steady market for that. But I
ask myself this: where would our bold contrarian have stood in some
of the great political punch-ups of history?
in the USA for example: the earliest, most principled and consistent
advocates of abolition were people almost tailor-made for Paddy's wrath
and contempt. They were earnest middle class do-gooders and bleeding
hearts -- eastern state liberals. Mostly, they believed that negroes
were just humans like them, but without the education and advantages
-- an outlandish notion at the time. When there was no option but to
take up the gun against slavery, they stepped forward and died in droves.
And then there's the Dreyfus Affair."
mean the French artillery officer who was falsely accused of selling
military secrets to the Germans? He was a bourgeois and a Jew wasn't
He came from German-occupied Alsace. He was convicted in 1894. His conviction
was almost universally accepted at the time, but the struggle to overturn
the verdict tore French politics apart from 1897 to 1899.
thing is, lefties and middle class do-gooders were the earliest to rally
to the defence of Dreyfus. He would have rotted on Devils Island till
he died if it hadn't been for them. A contrarian columnist would certainly
have turned on them with a vengence. And look at the anti-Dreyfusards:
boy! ideologically, they weren't a million miles from the present-day
Quadrant crowd! They were a motley collection of ultra-conservative
poets, literary wankers, Catholic reactionaries, monarchists, right-wing
nationalists, and embittered ideologues."
anti-Semites", Jo said.
there don't seem to be any declared anti-Semites hanging around at Quadrant,
but remember the Demidenko-Darville Affair. Anybody who pointed out
that The Hand that Signed the Paper was based on anti-Semitic
myths got flogged by the Quadrant crowd. They were suppressing
free speech, the argument went."
it was much too splendid a day to dwell on these things so we fell silent
and strolled on towards the city.
in Whispers from the mean streets
-- Best of 2000