The helm of po­lit­i­cal af­fairs

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Ger­ard Wind­sor’s

The one word notably ab­sent from the book is spir­i­tu­al­ity, a term too of­ten de­based or used as a synonym for re­li­gion, but surely a nec­es­sary part of re­li­gion. What’s miss­ing is what old-style Catholi­cism might have re­ferred to as the in­te­rior life of the soul.

There seems a spon­ta­neous Protes­tant per­spec­tive to the anal­y­sis: Catholics are less bi­b­li­cally lit­er­ate and less in­clined to re­li­gion­speak, whereas they did say lots of prayers and beget lots of mys­tics.

I miss the tough think­ing of God, Ac­tu­ally. Rather than de­ploy­ing his con­sid­er­able in­tel­lect, Wil­liams seems to be tick­ing boxes and mak­ing up about eight cat­e­gories. Th­ese range from ‘‘ good and faith­ful ser­vants’’ through ‘‘ right­eous straight­en­ers’’ (too much Man­ning Clark for my taste) and ‘‘ fel­low trav­ellers’’ to ‘‘ gen­tle­manly ag­nos­tics’’. Wil­liams has his favourites. The most suc­cess­ful Chris­tian prime min­is­ters in his view are Joe Lyons and Paul Keat­ing. He would like the top award to go to Jim Scullin, for whom ‘‘ Christ and La­bor were one’’ (Clark again), but con­cedes that po­lit­i­cally Scullin was a fail­ure.

He has a bias that’s part char­ity, part a yearn­ing to re­cruit non-ob­vi­ous play­ers for the team, to label as em­bry­onic or strug­gling be­liev­ers men whose bi­og­ra­phers would have no truck with this. And at least once he ad­mits to­tal de­feat and sails un­com­fort­ably close to cen­so­ri­ous­ness. His six pages on Harold Holt con­tain the bold­est line in the book: ‘‘ like most of his fel­low cit­i­zens — then and now — [Holt] was an ap­a­thetic ag­nos­tic’’. His ‘‘ par­ents set a dis­so­lute ex­am­ple . . . an in­vet­er­ate wom­an­iser . . . there was a he­do­nis­tic side . . . [he] had a limited imag­i­na­tion’’.

So in 1967 Holt ‘‘ was ill-equipped to deal with a se­ries of per­sonal and po­lit­i­cal set­backs . . . But then the rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against Holt’s house . . . Holt stag­gered, then fell with a great crash. (Matthew 7:26-27).’’ Which means Wil­liams favours the sui­cide at Che­viot Beach the­ory. This too de­ter­min­is­tic moral­ity tale leaves me un­com­fort­able.

Wil­liams ac­knowl­edges po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tists Ju­dith Brett and John Warhurst as fel­low work­ers in this field. All three seem to point to the present as the most re­li­giously in­ter­est­ing po­lit­i­cal mo­ment we’ve had: an in­creas­ingly sec­u­lar na­tion has pro­vided it­self with two can­di­dates for the prime min­is­ter­ship who are the most knowl­edge­able and de­vout Chris­tians in our his­tory. There’s a book there.

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