Julia Gillard’s recent declarations of cultural conservatism are curious and hardly worth taking seriously, apparently gay marriage is an enemy of ‘thrift’. It is part of a pattern of some on the centre-left imagining a mythic socially conservative past for the left before the 1960s appeared. It is quite fictitious if we consider the Curtin-Chifley governments in Australia and the American New Deal as highpoints of the old democratic left they were deeply influenced by cultural radicalism (I ow this insight to David Plotke’s comment on the New Deal). What was ‘culturally conservative’ for the New Deal and Curtin-Chifley was racism; the accommodation with Jim Crow and the defense of White Australia. Those who wax lyrical about cultural conservatism never want to bring this back.
There’s another parallel with the 60s. One aspect of this period is that some liberals deferred to the far left, consumed with guilt for liberalism’s omissions they were uncritical of the excesses of the left. This would be a trope of neo-conservatism, and later critics would wildly exaggerate the extent to which liberals deferred to the far left. However there were times when it did occur consider the career of Leonard Harrison in Lawrence, Kansas. Consider the history of Communism how did people of the intellectual ability of Maurice Dobb or Ronald Meek come to defer to the thuggish operatives of high Stalinism? Today we see some on the centre-left such as Gillard exemplifying the same type of difference to anti-liberal forces this time on the radical right.