28. The Attack On The Values And Institutions Of The Western Democratic Order
From 'The Australian Achievement' by LJM Cooray (1996)

Freedom is not an absolute concept. Freedom must be tempered by the laws necessary to preserve it. Freedom would be meaningless if any individual had the freedom to assault another. Freedom is restricted by a complex of laws. Freedom, it has been shown above, is tempered not only by law but by a series of values and institutions.

The values and institutions of the western democratic order involve a balance between freedom and liberty on one hand and law and legal and social values and institutions which place restrictions on freedom on the other. It is a system which has gradually evolved over a long period rather than one which has been consciously created. In this sense it stands in contrast to the coercive systems in which a few attempt to mould individuals and institutions.

The values and institutions of the western democratic order are under attack and the extent of freedom has gradually diminished in the last few decades. Free enterprise is under attack and escalating government regulation is weakening it. The idea of limited government has been replaced by that of an ever-growing state and bureaucracy. Respect for law and order and legal procedures is declining. Commitment to the work ethic is diminishing. Discipline is being undermined. The family is disintegrating. Religion and moral values are no longer as influential as they used to be. Tradition is ridiculed. Conservatism, with its emphasis on considering what is tried and tested before rejection, is a value considered to be outdated. The idea of gradual change is being rejected by a growing group of arrogant politicians, bureaucrats, academics, trade unionists, feminists, environmentalists and others, who believe that they have the answers to complicated human problems and whose reforms are often counter productive.

The attack focuses on both the area of freedom and the restrictions on freedom. The explanation lies in a distorted critical spirit which, without evaluation, proceeds to analyse specific problems. Where the system permitted freedom, that area of freedom is under attack. Where restrictions on freedom have existed, these restrictions are likewise devalued and under attack. The attack on freedom, particularly economic freedom, needs no illustration. The figures provided in section 26 provide a dimension on the growth of government, which inevitably diminishes freedom, with consequences for individual freedom and private enterprise. However, at another level, the movement is designed to destroy restrictions on freedom. The family, religion, tradition and moral values are under attack. The sexual revolution, abortion on demand, removal of restrictive provisions in drug laws, attacks on the powers and authority of the police (which is indirectly an attack on law and order) and the calls for accountability of ASIO are other examples of attacks on the restrictions on freedom inherent in liberal values.

An analysis of the manner in which proponents of change argue and operate provides an understanding of the manner in which a great deal of regulation has been put into place and existing laws and values undermined. The emphasis is on a problem human suffering, exploitation, injustice, illogicality, etc. From this analysis of problems the transition is made to either the need for reform and regulation through legal enactment and powers vested in the bureaucracy, or for the destruction of existing law and moral values. A problem requires a solution and the solution is change (euphemistically called reform). The strengths of the existing system are often not appreciated and the costs of the reforms are often not evaluated.

The self-styled reformist utopian will argue that the problems are so pressing that there must be government activity. The economists will speak about the problems created by freedom and the need for planning. The argument that there is a "need" for planning in a particular situation, when asserted by itself in the context of human problems, appears to be a compelling one. The regulationist or economist, however, does not consider whether planning, given human imperfections, will make the problem lesser or worse. The need is there, and therefore, with scant regard for human fallibility and all the problems and costs, the plans are made and then implemented.

The argument is often made that the complications of modern life make planning essential. For the reasons adduced in the previous paragraph, the basic issue is not whether planning as an isolated issue is essential or not. The issue is whether planning can be effective — whether it will reduce or multiply the problems. See further sections 5.4, 16 and 26.

A paradox which is often not appreciated is that the more complicated the society, the more difficult it is to plan. It becomes more difficult to understand the competing elements involved and the complexity of the nature of individual action and interaction. The more complicated the economy, the more difficult or impossible planning becomes. In a relatively underdeveloped social and economic system, planners with reason and common sense can pick schemes which will succeed and allocate resources on the basis of who will be the winners and losers. The modernisation of Japan, Singapore and South Korea it is said has been based on the ability of governments to pick winners. However, this strategy, even if successful in a period of relative underdevelopment, will not necessarily be repeated in a more complex structure, in which making intelligent choices is more difficult, if not virtually impossible.

Another often overlooked dimension is that a great many of the problems in private enterprise do not arise from freedom and the market. They arise from government regulation. Monopolies or domination by a few large players are the product not of the market but of government regulation. It is government protectionism and government laws which provide the context in which monopolies are established. The two airline duopoly in Australia was based on legal protection, as are the broadcasting and telecommunications industries. The examples can be multiplied. Many of the problems which the critics say are due to the operation of freedom and the market are in reality the consequence of government intermeddling in the market.

Government regulation that goes beyond the basic principles enshrined in the criminal, torts and contract law, generally does not succeed. Regulation is established and creates problems. The case is then made for more regulation. The blame is placed on freedom and the market, rather than on ill-conceived regulation, which is in reality the root of the problem. Failed regulation breeds more regulation in an attempt to correct the failures. The argument is often made that the original regulation did not go far enough. The problem often is that the original regulation itself was ill-conceived and unnecessary or went much further than was necessary.

There has been an unprecedented attack on the values and institutions of the western order from many quarters which have had a cumulative effect. Among those who have done most damage to the values and institutions of the western democratic order are people who call themselves "liberals" or who support "liberal values" but get carried away on particular issues by concern for manifest human problems and support counter productive reformist trends and proposals.

The public affairs media in Australia and the western world in general (though to varying degrees) are not supportive of these values and institutions, which are fiercely attacked in some quarters. A similar attitude prevails in social science sections of tertiary institutions, the school education bureaucracies and teacher unions (although not necessarily amongst the rank and file). Politicians have been influenced by ideas emanating from media and education. Many politicians may substantially agree with the values stated in this book. Some may disagree. Politicians who do agree may not have the courage to stand up for all such values because of party discipline, the ridicule and largely sloganised and unreasoned comment which would follow from the media and the left (and also from some of their political colleagues).

The Australian Values Study (section 35) provides interesting food for thought for a lack-lustre Opposition which (a few exceptions apart) has a shadowy public commitment to the values and institutions of the order. It demonstrates the extent of commitment and support of the Australian people (outside politics, the media and the education hierarchies) for the basic values and institutions of the democratic order. There is a divergence between belief and practice. One of the causes of this divergence is the ethos and culture in law, politics, education, academia and the media which encourage conduct contrary to beliefs. Both major political parties have moved away from the values and institutions of the western democratic order under the influence of the demands of special interest pressure groups and, in the case of the ALP (and of some in the Liberal Party), because of the influence of ideology and (so-called) progressivist ideas. Australia waits for a political leader who has a true commitment to the western democratic order, translates its values into policies, proclaims those policies, exposes the failures and counterproductive nature of regulationism and (so called) progressivism, is willing to stand against the virulence and noise of the small opposing elite and to absorb the criticism and reap an electoral harvest.