Red Koi Reviews

See what I've seen, hear what I've heard

Beyond Right and Left

Posted by redkoireviews on 04/04/2006

Bookcover for This book on Australian politics by David McKnight is probably the best book on politics I’ve read. I’m a member of the Australian Greens party, and have never been a member of any other. I have a ‘left’ outlook on issues, as I’m sure a lot of readers of this book will have.

I found it fascinating for two reasons. Firstly, it gave me a much better insight into the history of Australian left / right politics, and allowed me to better understand what the Greens have in common with the traditional left and the conservative right. It also made clear where there are areas of green politics that don’t really feature at all in the left / right spectrum.

Secondly, it challenged some assumptions about my own politics. McKnight suggests that green politics and ‘old’ conservative politics share some perspectives on issues such as genetic modification and other experiments with nature. That they both share a ‘precuationary principle’. I’ve have tended to assume that in all respects, green politics has more in common with the ‘left’ than with anything else. Certaintly nothing in common with conservative politics.

There are areas of the book that are absolutely no surprise to me at all, such as problems with over-consumption that neither the left nor right of politics has adequately dealt with. But there are other areas that are a new an interesting addition to what I know about politics, like the importance of ‘famliy’ and ‘values’ as an area where progressive politics needs to take back the agenda currently dominated by the neo-liberal right.

There are many arguments that I just don’t agree with. The biggest is the misconception that green politics is all about ‘conservation’. For me, the conservation side of environmentalism is a small fraction of what it means to be ‘green’. Inter-generational equity is a yawning gap in his brief description of green politics.

However, just because I don’t agree with everything in it doesn’t mean I haven’t been influenced by it. I also have a tremendous amount of respect for the arguments put forward by McKnight.

While the book is an excellent historical analysis, it’s attempt at suggesting the much desired ‘new’ progressive politics is pretty ad hoc and patchy. But then, McKnight never claims to be defining the new politics, only planting the seed for further discussion.

For academics and others with a lot deeper knowledge of politics, this book is probably not going to say anything very new, and may be too simplistic. The review by Bryan Palmer at Ozpolitics certainly seems to say so. But for those like me who take and active though non-professional interest, it’s a great ready with some gems to get the mind stewing.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

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