The facets of Australian fascism: the Abbott Government experiment (Part 7) – By Dr George Venturini

By Dr George Venturini*

Searching for Tony Abbott (continued)

As a novice journalist Malcolm Turnbull watched Abbott at the Australian Union of Students conference of early 1978 and would write in The Bulletin: “The leading light of the right-wingers in NSW is twenty-year-old Tony Abbott. He has written a number of articles on AUS in The Australian and his press coverage has accordingly given him a stature his rather boisterous and immature rhetoric doesn’t really deserve” and ask the question: “how could a student of Abbott’s views hope to be a national leader?” (D. Marr, Extract from the revised and updated edition of D. Marr, Political Animal: The Making of Tony Abbott (Melbourne 2013), accessible at The Monthly, September 2012,  https://www.themonthly.com.au/making-tony-abbott-political-animal).

There were even rumours that Abbott had been thrown out of a student house because of his propensity to walk around naked.

In his second year at university, he had a girlfriend, whom he loved – and yet their relationship was an on-again/off-again affair because Abbott was strongly drawn towards the idea of becoming a priest. When she fell pregnant, Abbott knew he was too immature to help raise the baby, and it was adopted.

It was while at the University of Sydney that Abbott encountered Santamaria. From Sydney University Abbott graduated as a Bachelor of Economics (B.Ec.) and a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.) He resided at St John’s College and finally became president of the Students’ Representative Council.

Influenced by his chaplain at St Ignatius’, Costello S.J., Abbott was able to attend The Queen’s College, Oxford, as a Rhodes Scholar.

He arrived in a state of great excitement. Oxford, for Abbott, was the university. It was a bastion of tradition, educational achievement and the embodiment of all which was good about England. As he has often said, he is an “incorrigible Anglophile”. He flourished there, studying philosophy and politics, and immersing himself in the works of eighteenth-century conservative philosopher Edmund Burke. (L. Nowra, ‘The whirling dervish: On Tony Abbott‘).

He took especial note of Burke’s notion that “We fear God, we look up with awe to kings: with affection to parliaments; with duty to magistrates; with reverence to priests; and with respect to nobility.” He was also profoundly influenced by Burke’s idea that society is a “partnership” not only between those who are living, but “between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.”

While at Oxford, Abbott was a student boxer, earning two Blues. Abbott was a heavyweight with modest height and reach. It can be said without fear of contradiction that boxing has pervaded his life, with effective, conclusive results in disputes with other students at Sydney, translated into his rhetoric in public and political life.

At Oxford Abbott found another mentor in an American trainee Jesuit priest, Paul Mankowski, whom he called the finest man he had ever met. Deeply religious and keeping to a vow of poverty, Mankowski wore the clothes of dead priests. He was intelligent and a boxer. He fully endorsed the idea that “a healthy body means a healthy mind”, which was not so much a strand of Irish Catholicism but its English and American forms. The notion of “muscular Christianity” was especially important for Catholics, who emphasised sexual chastity before marriage and celibacy in priests. Physical activity was a way of finding a physical outlet for sexual frustration.

As a young man, Abbott was influenced by the most radical version of the relationship between Church and State, and of the conception of the role Catholicism – not merely Christianity – ought to play in shaping politics that this country has ever witnessed.

In June 1983 he graduated as a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (P.P.E.) and on 21 October 1989 proceeded by seniority to Master of Arts.

From Oxford Abbott returned to Australia and told his family of his intention to join the priesthood. In 1984, aged 26, he entered St Patrick’s Seminary, Manly. Abbott did not complete his studies at the seminary, leaving the institution in 1987. Interviewed prior to the 2013 election, Abbott said of his time as a trainee priest: “The Jesuits had helped to instil in me this thought that our calling in life was to be, to use the phrase: ‘a man for others’. And I thought then that the best way in which I could be a ‘man for others’ was to become a priest. I discovered pretty soon that I was a bit of a square peg in a round hole … eventually working out that, I’m afraid, I just didn’t have what it took to be an effective priest.”

It is not easy to establish whether Abbott felt a lack of humility – probably needed to be a priest, or a preference for life as a pugilistic adventure.

While Santamaria essentially embraced a form of theological integralism, Abbott inclined for an aggressive public view in the course of which he would, more frequently than not, make reference to his learning as a would-be priest – perhaps more devoted to Ignatius of Loyola the first Superior General of the Jesuits than to Jesus of Nazareth.

Nevertheless, Abbott and Santamaria found their respective points of arrival to integralism quite comfortably. Politically, integralism is particularly associated with the French Action Française movement founded by the French journalist Charles Maurras. The term was coined by Maurras, whose conception of nationalism was illiberal and anti-internationalist, elevating the interest of the state above that of the individual and above humanity in general. The best which may be said is that it is a philosophical position characterised by a view of life, romantic perhaps, but backward-looking, monarchical and authoritarian.

Theologically, integralism sees everything in the world as tainted unless it is ‘integrated’ or brought into the orbit of Catholicism. Integralism assumes that the Church has an unchallengeable, complete and accessible body of doctrine which gives guidance in every possible eventuality – social, political, strategic, economic, familial and personal.

Integralism also defines Catholicism in a particularly narrow, aggressive, ‘boots and all’ way, and argues that Catholic action involves influencing and if possible controlling state policy. Thus Catholics are obliged to do all in their power to ensure that all legislation is in keeping with Church doctrine.

Integralism has much in common with Italian Fascism, and much more so with Franco’s Spain.  It is also at odds with the Vatican II Declaration on Religious Freedom: “Freedom means that all are to be immune from coercion … in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs.” It is a real threat to democracy and to what freedom is left to Catholics to make their own decisions on a whole range of issues, particularly political.

What is certain is that integralism has not made Australian Catholicism ‘more intellectual’, as Abbott suggested. Integralism is, in fact, a form of doctrinaire conformism which is the death of thoughtful commitment and is the antithesis of any attempt at reconciling faith with reason and understanding – the two guides of public life.

So, what does this have to do with Abbott? Difficult to say, but in a few words, Abbott’s is Clerico-Fascism.

Clerico-Fascism is an ideology which combines the political and economic doctrines of Fascism with Clericalism, not necessarily of a specific religious tradition, but in this case Catholicism. In such Fascist regimes the clergy plays a  leading role through its organisations and movements.

Examples of dictatorships and political movements involving certain elements of Clerico-Fascism include:

But the best example of Clerico-Fascism à la Abbott is the regime of Francisco Franco in Spain.

Something else should be remembered further to understand the personality of Tony Abbott: a long life of boxing, almost always as a means, but certainly always as a tool and with a view to gaining power.

Tomorrow: Searching for Tony Abbott (continued)

GeorgeVenturini* In memory of my friends, Professor Bertram Gross and Justice Lionel Murphy.

Dr. Venturino Giorgio Venturini devoted some sixty years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. In 1975 he left a law chair in Chicago to join the Trade Practices Commission in Canberra. He may be reached at George.Venturini@bigpond.com.au.

⬅️ Part 6

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