The Crimean crisis – my $0.02

A lake’s worth of ink has been spilled on the subject of the Crimean crisis already and I’m not sure I have anything of value to share, but I’ll have a go here.

Two pieces of news landed in my inbox this week that seem to me to connect to each other. One was a column comparing the annexation of the Crimea into Russia with annexation of the Sudetenland into Nazi Germany in 1938. I think this a potentially dangerous misreading of history. It seems to be a commonplace that the Second World War might have been averted if Britain and France had resisted the annexation of the Sudeten or the remilitarization of the Rhineland, and therefore the statesmen of that age failed gravely. Extrapolating from this analysis to the present leads to the conclusion that now is the time to “stand up to Putin” in a suitably aggressive way. Right on cue came the other thing in my inbox: Senator (and possible Presidential aspirant) Ted Cruz declaring that

Tomorrow it could be Estonia, Latvia, Moldova, Romania, the Czech Republic or Poland. … Meeting his [Putin’s] challenge now with strength, not appeasement, would be the best way to ensure that this does not happen.

Much as it pains me to quote from an old Marxist like Humphrey McQueen, his book Suspect History contained one of the fairest assessments of Neville Chamberlain ever written: He could not imagine Auschwitz, but he didn’t need to imagine Passchendaele. Too ready an equating of Vladimir Putin with Adolf Hitler prevents us drawing the lesson Chamberlain could have taught: leaving an authoritarian nation to its own devices may – may well – lead to bloodletting. But an aggressive and ill-considered response will virtually guarantee it.

Welcoming the Microparties

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the rise of “microparties” in Australia, particularly following the unexpected successes of the Australian Motoring Enthusiasts Party

and the Australian Sports Party.

Many people have pointed to their inexperience, and there have been questions as to the desirability of single issue parties having influence at all

This is (or at least should be !) the biggest talking point of this election – single issue crazies potentially holding the government to ransom. The “states house” is a joke & Keating’s comments about them have never rung louder. Who is going to be strong enough to initiate reform in the upper house?

This concern is misplaced. The microparties tell us something rather encouraging about the world we live in.

Francis Fukuyama’s influential book The End of History and The Last Man argued that modern capitalist liberal democracy represented the endpoint of political development: once a society had come to look like Australia, or the United States, or western Europe, further development was neither possible nor likely to be sought. It follows from this that the problems that exist in a society once it reaches this point are not “curable”, but only “manageable” (homelessness would be a good example). In other words, a natural limit to the power of the state would be found. This seems to be the state Australia has reached, where on all of the big questions the major parties agree. By way of example, despite the hyperventilations of Mungo Macallum, it’s hard to imagine anyone seriously thinks Tony Abbott will disband Medicare. And even though the Rudd/Gillard government’s asylum seeker policy was incoherent and confused, one can’t really say credibly that it was actually a “welcome mat” to unlawful arrivals.

In this context, the rise of microparties suggests the electorate has reached the same conclusion: that the first two rights of America’s Declaration of Independence – life and liberty – have been tolerably well secured. What is left, then, is the pursuit of happiness. Securing this is something that microparties are particularly well placed to secure, because their key concerns are the passions and interests that give life meaning and make life worth living. By way of example, the Australian Fishing & Lifestyle Party

the Outdoor Recreation Party

and the Shooters’ and Fishers’ Party.

I suggest that, far from being a trend to be mocked, these new groups should be encouraged and their input sought into the political process. I look forward to the rise of the Philately Party, the Campaign for Comic Opera, and the People Who Like Rare Steak And Sing In The Shower Party.