History Repeating Itself as Liberals Abandon Philosophical Roots

March 24, 2022 Updated: March 24, 2022


In his autobiography, “Lazarus Rising,” John Howard, Australia’s second longest-serving prime minister, stated that the Liberal Party is the party of both Edmund Burke and John Stuart Mill. It is the party of both conservatism and classical liberalism.

Historically, the Liberals have been electorally successful when espousing these philosophies simultaneously.

Edmund Burke, the 18th century Irish-born statesman, is considered the father of modern conservatism. He argued against the British Government’s attitude toward the American colonists, including its taxation policies.

Burke believed the colonists should enjoy the rights of all English citizens. On the other hand, he was very critical of the French Revolution, asserting that it was destroying the fabric of good society and its traditional institutions.

John Stuart Mill, the great English political philosopher of the 19th century, conceived of liberty as justifying the freedom of the individual in opposition to unlimited state and social control. He was a passionate advocate for free speech as necessary for intellectual and social progress.

Mill was possibly the first to argue against the tyranny of the majority, in which the majority of an electorate pursues exclusively its own objectives at the expense of those of the minority factions.

In his “Forgotten People” speech of May 22, 1942, Sir Robert Menzies, our longest-serving prime minister, laid out the foundation principles of the Liberal Party. In it we see a blending of the ideas of both Burke and Mills.

Menzies declared that he would stand up for the middle class “who are for the most part unorganised and unself-conscious. They are envied by those whose benefits are largely obtained by taxing them.”

Epoch Times Photo
Prime Minister Scott Morrison poses for a photo standing next to a photograph of Sir Robert Menzies during a luncheon in Melbourne, Australia, on March 12, 2019. (AAP Image/Daniel Pockett)

In this discourse, Menzies went on to add:

“We say that the greatest element in a strong people is a fierce independence of spirit. This is the only real freedom, and it has as its corollary a brave acceptance of unclouded individual responsibility. The moment a man seeks moral and intellectual refuge in the emotions of a crowd, he ceases to be a human being and becomes a cipher.

“To discourage ambition, to envy success, to have achieved superiority, to distrust independent thought, to sneer at and impute false motives to public service—these are the maladies of modern democracy, and of Australian democracy in particular.”

It seems, some 80 years later, in Australian democracy, nothing has changed.

As Tony Abbott argued in The Australian in 2017, conservatives are not interlopers in the party Menzies formed. To this end, Abbott cites Menzies’ despairing letter to his daughter Heather about the party’s Victorian state executive.

Menzies observed it was: “dominated by what they now call ‘Liberals with a small l’—that is to say Liberals who believe in nothing but who still believe in anything if they think it worth a few votes. The whole thing is tragic.”

Sound familiar? The problem is that when the Liberal Party tries to become Labor-lite, it dismays its own best supporters without gaining any new ones.

In fact, in the 1972 election, disgusted with what the then Liberals had become, Menzies cast his vote not for the party he founded and led for 22 years, but for B.A. Santamaria’s Democratic Labour Party.

Some 50 years later, history may well be repeating itself with the Liberals under Scott Morrison. The Liberals state on their website that they believe in “the inalienable rights and freedoms of all peoples … a lean government that minimises interference in our daily lives … those most basic freedoms of thought, worship, speech and association and the role of law and justice.”

But Morrison seems to have other ideas. Remember “free speech doesn’t create a single job,” “Daniel Andrews has my total support,” and his treatment of Cardinal George Pell, and most recently, under parliamentary privilege no less, of Bruce Lehrmann, who has pleaded not guilty to sexually assaulting Brittany Higgins, to give just some examples.

Menzies and Howard became long-serving prime ministers because they were conservative politicians of conviction.

Epoch Times Photo
Prime Minister Scott Morrison (C) with former Prime Ministers Tony Abbott and John Howard (R) after leaving the Senate at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, on July 2, 2019. (Tracey Nearmy/Getty Images)

As another successful conservative, Margaret Thatcher, stated in her Menzies lecture in November 1981:

“I count myself among those politicians who operate from conviction. Consensus is the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values, and policies in search of something in which no one believes, but to which no one objects. The process of avoiding the very issues that have to be solved, merely because you cannot get agreement on the way ahead. What great cause would have been fought and won under the banner ‘I stand for consensus’?”

By contrast, lacking any depth, Morrison’s guiding principle is to be a little to the right of a very left Labor party—and that’s delivering us two left-wing parties. The results of this have been disastrous for Australia, at so many levels.

Maybe Morrison and the Liberals should acquaint themselves with probably the most famous quote attributed to Edmund Burke: “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.”

Rocco Loiacono is co-author, with Augusto Zimmermann, of “Deconstructing ScoMo: Critical Reflections on Australia’s 30th Prime Minister,” available at https://DeconstructingScoMo.com.au.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Rocco Loiacono is a senior lecturer at Curtin University Law School in Perth, Australia, and is a translator from Italian to English. His work on translation, linguistics, and law have been widely published in peer-reviewed journals.