Politics

Age of Anger by Pankaj Mishra book cover

The Pleasure of Hating

It is always a good idea, I think, to resist the temptation to regard the politics of one’s own time as especially awful, but recent history does seem to have provided no shortage of prima facie evidence that there is something a bit unhinged and perhaps even pathological about contemporary conflicts. As Pankaj Mishra and Kenan Malik both argue, the volatility and irrationalism of the present are expressions of widespread feelings of alienation, resentment, anger and hatred. This much, at least, seems obvious enough. The difficult question Mishra and Malik set out to answer is why this should be the case.

The Populist Explosion by John B. Judis Book Cover

Bad Hombres

'Why did people vote for Trump? That is the question we should be asking ourselves, and it’s one that’s given extra urgency by the fact that his ascendency is not an isolated case, but the most spectacular instance of a more general phenomenon. In Europe, a veritable basket of deplorables is now angling for the votes of the disaffected. If liberals and leftwingers are serious about wresting momentum from them, they will have to understand their appeal.'

Bolt Worth Fighting For Cover

Crying Freedom

Conservatives and libertarians: a happy marriage or heading for divorce?

Not entirely innocent: Inside Australia’s Anti-Terrorism Laws and Trials

In its initial response to 9/11, the Australian parliament passed the Security Legislation Amendment (Terrorism) Act 2002, creating the offence of ‘engag[ing] in a terrorist attack, a crime punishable by life imprisonment’. It is easy to forget that, at the time, the deeds most commonly associated with the word ‘terrorism’ were already illegal. Bombing, hostage taking, beheadings and the rest of it: prior to 2002, these were all, of course, crimes. But the Terrorism Act 2002 did more than rebrand old offences with the post 9/11 lexicon.

Strengths and defects: Triumph and Demise & Power Failure

It is widely agreed in the journalistic accounts, the emerging academic studies, and the various politicians’ memoirs that the Rudd and Gillard governments had serious flaws and that their disunity killed any momentum and obscured their achievements. It is also well recognised that the media in general, and the News Limited outlets in particular, played a role in the Labor governments’ demise. You get barely an inkling of that from reading Triumph and Demise.

In the Company of Cowards by Michael Mori Cover

Undue process: In the Company of Cowards by Michael Mori

Two lessons may be learned from American military lawyer Michael Mori’s account of his defence of David Hicks. Neither of the lessons is new, but each requires constant reaffirmation. The first is that power corrupts. Despite its high-flown rhetoric about freedom and the ideals of the Founding Fathers, the United States refuses to join some of the most potentially powerful international instruments of justice, including the International Criminal Court... The second lesson is that in contemporary liberal democracies, things are rarely done because they have intrinsic organisational or ethical merit. Rather, it is strategic usefulness that rules.

Dirty Secrets: Our ASIO Files by Meredith Burgmann (editor)

Conceptual slippage: The Spy Catchers & Dirty Secrets

In 1950, ASIO’s Canberra office could record only two telephone lines from the Soviet embassy at any time. By contrast, in a single month in 2013, according to Edward Snowden, the US National Security Agency acquired data from more than 3 billion calls and emails. Perversely, the staggering gulf between then and now makes ASIO’s history more relevant than ever. We do not (and cannot) know what the secret organisation does today, but its record allows us to extrapolate.

Political memoirs

2014 has been something of a watershed year for books on Australian politics. Of course, this is hardly surprising. The soap opera of the Gillard and Rudd years will probably exercise politicians, analysts and biographers for years to come. But we are currently facing something of an armada – to steal a phrase from the popular media – of political memoirs and biographies.