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John Howard and the triumph of reaction
In The Opportunist, Guy Rundle comes to grips with John Howard, the prime minister who, on the eve of an election, seems to have turned round his political fortunes by spurning refugees and writing blank cheques for America's War on Terror.
This is a brilliant account of John Howard's dominant ideas, his concerted 'dreaming' with its emphasis on unity and national identity that reveals him to be the most reactionary PM we have ever had, the only political leader who would allow ideas like those of One Nation to dominate the mainstream of Australian politics in order to improve his political chances. Rundle puts Howard in the context of the economic liberalism he shares with his colleagues and opponents and the conservative social ideology that sets him apart. It is a complex portrait in a radical mirror which relates John Howard to everything from Menzies's 'forgotten people' to the inadvertent glamour of the government's antidrug advertising. It is also a plea for right-thinking people of every political persuasion to resist the call to prejudice and reaction.
Correspondence discussing Quarterly Essay 3, The Opportunist:
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A portrait of a political opportunist who is also ... a sincere reactionary: putting back the clock because he believes in it, but also fanning the whirlwind of unreason in order to save his political skin.
There is no doubt that Howard is one of the finest practioners of the art of politics we've seen. It is refreshing to see someone of Rundle's perspicacity acknowledging this while at the same time lementing these skills are employed with a ruthlessness that in the end helps to destroy the very values they paradoxically believe they serve.
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