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116 responses to “Julian Assange, Andrew Bolt: political celebrity and the ‘free speech’ of privilege”

  1. Austin

    I have read this twice, and i don’t see any actual answer to Assange’s point.

    The author, like the judge, rightly condemns bolts articles as hateful and offensive – as having a negative “material effect on the self-identification, social inclusion, confidence and rights of Indigenous Australians”.

    The point (i think) Assange would make, and i would agree with, is that we cannot suppress hateful or even harmful speech (except in cases of direct and obvious libel – i.e. accusing someone of a crime).

    In doing so we a) undermine our claims to support freedom of speech (it’s not just freedom of speech as long as you say the right things) and b) give racist views a kind of legitimacy they don’t deserve – if the ideas are banned they must be to powerful to defeat in open debate.

    I have read hitlers speeches, and i defend the right of people to publish and access them. Reading them was informative, mainly in that i was amazed how similar his rhetoric was to that used by modern day western leaders. is this an intellectual experience the author would deny me?

    To ban any form of speech erodes the quality of intellectual debate.

    Also, the ineffectiveness of such bans is obvious… have muslims been defended from slander by them? no- because openly attacking muslims is not taboo in the way openly attacking indigenous australians is… (i am not saying indigenous people don’t suffer immense racism – it is normally just not voiced as directly) which means that practically, to be fair, half the journalists in australia would have to be put through the court system.

    Those coming down in favour of this decision never face the essential question – do you support free speech? if so you don’t get to make exceptions. None.

    Also… Assange’s point about the two women was that he didn’t rape them… not that men are a certain way and women are another…

    finally… and i am sorry if this comment is a little disjointed,- the author mocks “nineteenth century bourgeois liberalism” – but then says that “free speech” (which is the only thing he can conceivably have been meaning in his initial, sneering comment) is not what the case was about presumably implying he does value free speech.

    Perhaps i can put this last point best as a question – do you believe in free speech or see it as contemptible “nineteenth century bourgeois liberalism”?

    or perhaps it is free speech when it is defending the ideas you (and probably i) beleive in, and “”nineteenth century bourgeois liberalism” when it is defending ideas we both despise?

  2. John Humphreys

    Your approach seems to be (1) determine truth (inspired by Allah or Marx or the “vibe” or something); then (2) not allow anybody else to utter anything different. In your preferred system, we enter a game of everybody trying to get government power first, because then you can shut down your opponents’ speech. For example, if an “anti-you” got government power, they could deem (correctly) that your article is grossly offensive, and then conclude (wrongly) that you should not be allowed to write it.

    The idea that the “one truth” needs to be imposed on the silly masses is at it’s heart fundamentally totalitarian. Has the quality of debate in Australia really dropped this low?

    Consider this… if what you say becomes popular, then it will be the dominant meme and you have nothing to worry about. But if what you say is unpopular, then government censorship is likely to censor *you*, not the people in the majority. Either way, you are better off with free speech.

    You also might want to consider some humility. I’m sure there are things you believed 10 or 20 years ago that you now think are wrong. In 10 or 20 years in the future you will look back on yourself now and realise that some things you believe are wrong. Pretending that you have “the answer to the question of life, the universe and everything” is not only dangerous, it’s also just obviously wrong.

  3. Chris

    Just a quick comment. Assange’s memoir ended up being unauthorized and so you could assume to be incomplete. That, together with the fact the court case is ongoing, I don’t think its fair to complain that it doesn’t cover all that people would like about the rape allegations.

  4. Jacques de Molay

    I must admit I got sucked in a bit with the whole Assange/WikiLeaks thing. I thought he was all about government’s needing to be open and transaparent which I strongly support and thought the leaks of things involving the Nigerian govt were invaluable and needed to be exposed.

    However aside from the rather generous size of Assange’s ego I started to re-think things when he called for ALL information to be publicly available including everything of private citizens. That’s bullshit. A govt who are there on behalf of the people is one thing (and should be expected) but not the private details of everybody. I don’t think my address or credit card number should be freely available to anyone that wants it. Get fucked.

    Now this and I raise an eyebrow whenever I hear of anyone defending Andrew Bolt’s “non-right” to say Aboriginal people shouldn’t be viewed as Aboriginal if their skin isn’t dark enough for Andrew Bolt’s liking.

    We don’t have unfettered free speech in this country and thank god for that.

  5. Anna Winter

    John, what a shallow comment. You are basically making the slippery slope argument that because sometimes it might be a bad thing to restrict speech that we should never, ever do it. If that’s your argument, then cool. But don’t assume that because you think in such black and white terms that this, by itself, somehow proves that anyone who disagrees with you is a fascist. Because it doesn’t prove that at all.

  6. patrickg

    (except in cases of direct and obvious libel

    But this is exactly what Bolt’s piece was. He lied about the identities of several idigenous Australians, in addition to numerous other factual errors.

  7. Chris

    Mark @ 4 – oh yes, I realised that you weren’t explicitly saying that, but you did quote a bit of text that mentioned it and then said you agreed with its conclusions.

  8. Chris

    Jacques @ 5 – I don’t agree with all of Assange’s view (and I agree with your estimate of the size of his ego!), but I think its worth having a debate about some things which the government currently keeps confidential about its citizens. Tax returns for example – maybe they should all be made public – perhaps transparency in that area would reduce cheating as well as make it clearer to people the areas in the laws in which the scheme unfairly benefits the wealthy.

  9. sg

    I’m shocked! A libertarian free-speech supporter misunderstands basic power relations, glorifies competition and the market (in ideas! please!) and ignores the concrete consequences of Aboriginal dispossession for their ability to compete in that marketplace (of ideas! please!)

    Where is this “free and open encounter” that occurred between Eaton et al. and Bolt before they took him to court? What a ridiculous, primary-school level of thinking this man shows. He may have done good things for the accountability of government[1] but he certainly has not added to the sum of human philosophy as it concerns the relationship between state and private power, privacy and information.

    If this is cyberpunk’s legacy …

    fn1: insert fine print, caveats, and general suspicion about the extent of his achievements here!

  10. Jacques de Molay

    Chris @ 10,

    Personally I’m not all that interested in how much/little tax people pay although the game as always is in favour of the wealthy and I’d like to see them pay more but not at the expense of everyone’s tax details being out there in the open.

  11. paul walter

    Well, the thread starter itself seems odd to me. Before veering off to attack Julian Asange over his Swedish adventures ( nothing yet proved in court, unlike the Bolt case ) for reasons that aren’t quite apparent to me, Mark Bahnisch offers up a very valuable paragraph, concerning the “recolonisation” of aborigines; the very clearest example available concerning the context in which the term hate speech can be legitimately employed, when free speech deteriorates to a manifestation of a reactive pathology, over the employ of reason and rationality.
    Then he produces a strange attack on Assange that veers toward contempt prior to investgation and even a type of hate speech directed toward men.
    The implication is that Assange is the exemplar for allegedly typical male behaviour that always reduces all the myriad complexity, across the spectrum, involved in relationships between men and women to something ultimately reducible to rape.
    But I’m not sure of the angelic honesty of the two Swedish women and I’ll wait for court cases, if any, before just accepting that Assange’s interaction with these women was automatically a rape incident, just on the say so of people at least as suspect as to honesty as Assange.
    Discussing Assange here in anything but derogatory terms may eventuate of yet another comment of mine offering context to be disallowed as a comment, but closing me off won’t change my mind. If people have to stifle debates, they must lack faith in their own arguments..

  12. JoeG

    It seems that the main argument (only argument?) for freedom of speech is that “The false and unsound will be vanquished”. But this seems to be true only for a small set of propositions, eg about technology, physics etc. In the social sciences, it is clearly not the case that the false are vanquished – Freud, anyone? But the other point to note is that we are not told how long we have to wait for truth to prevail – 150 years isn’t long enough for Darwinism. So long as there are powerful interests who benefit from doubt, they will oppose true ideas as long as they can.

  13. Alex

    I’ve read the article a couple of times and i’m really not sure what he’s on about. He seems to be saying that allowing Bolt to publish lies equates to a free flow of ‘information and ideas’ really?

    John Humphrey’s straw man is equally hillarious. We had a crackpot political aspirant in the ACT some years ago with the same name. Must be the same guy.

  14. sg

    Mark, I’m pretty confident that in the long run steampunk will have more of social value to offer than cyberpunk. Less nihilistic and more speculative!

  15. Fran Barlow

    A couple of points …

    Julian Assange has gone above and beyond the call in making available to the general public useful information about the operation of our governments. In the course of doing all of us that service he has put himself in the crosshairs of the most powerful, venal and unscrupulous people on the planet. That makes him the sort of person to whom I’m inclined give uncommon latitude, thogun of course it doesn’t mean that everything he says ought to be waved through..

    I’m certainly not going to buy into the Swedish matter at this point. Put me in the camp of those who do wonder about the etiology of the action and its connection to the above named powerful interests. It could be all bona fide but it smells bad to me.

    That all said, he’s embarrassed himself in this matter. His sweeping claims that all utterance, including even, one presumes, the trolling of vacuous and bigoted opinionators like The Blot is essential to “democracy” is so much twaddle. A claim like that needs to be demonstrated rather than merely asserted. Is there any evidence that had the Southbank snake oil salesman been run over by a metaphorical bus (or perhaps, as Alan Jones once suggested of the PM, Clover Moore and Bob Brown), been put in a chaff bag and dumped at seaon the day before he penned his lying diatribe that democracy would be in a worse state than now? The world has lost the voices of people far more worthy than him, and yet has survived.

    Of course, it could be his claim that the threat to free speech arises from attempt to curtail free speech in general, rather than the mere slapping of the wrists of those abusing its privilege. If indeed one could show that the Eatock matter were part of a general campaign to impose onerous sanctions on those speaking against some set of mores, he might have a point, but again, this simply isn’t so — not even in Blot’s case. No sanction has been imposed upon him. A judge has found that he has misrepresented people in public and done so recklessly and in a way likely to harm the perception of indigenous people in the broader community. The “sanction” has entailed not a restriction of speech — the offending articles remain fully available — but an augmentation of it — the publication of speech which exposes the misrepresentation, corrects the public record and vanquishes the bogus. Blot’s objection is not in practice about restrictions imposed on his right to foul public space but on the exclusivioty of his right to do so through the grant of the privilege of correction to others with standing. Normally, he gets to exlude those challenging him on his blog. On this occasion, someone serious — BromberJ — gets right of reply. How that diminishes democracy is hard to say.

    Certainly, Blot has neither been silenced, nor even been silent about being silenced. He has been venting his spleen about his inability to speak up for himself ever since, stamping his foot in pique that someone else with standing has had the temerity to call him a reckless liar in public.

    Why Assange has gone into bat for this creature’s hurt feelings and dented pride is hard to fathom. He’s a sharp guy, but having revealed himself as a thoughtless free speech fundamentalist, he has declined greatly in my estimation.

  16. Sam

    requires you to engage with the actual text rather than with what you think I say.

    Mark, funnily enough, this is exactly what Dr Tad (and others) accused you of yesterday – engaging with your construction of what he said, not what he actually said, in order for you to make a rhetorical point.

    No doubt you are in the right on both occasions. You always are.

    In any case, it certainly hasn’t taken long for the LP camp to fall out of love with Julian Assange. But I guess he had it coming. If he’d defended Ivan Milat’s right to express himself artistically by sadisticall murdering backpackers, it wouldn’t have been as bad, right?

  17. Mindy

    Snort, Julian Assange champions Bolt’s right to free speech (i.e. tell lies about people) but tries to have his own unauthorised biography pulped. I tell you what Julian, you first mate. Lay yourself bare if you expect everyone else to and don’t get your knickers in a twist if people tell stories about you (I’m not talking about the Swedish case here, I think Assange is probably an arsehole in bed and outside of it). Seems to me to be a bit of double standards for Mr Assange, he wants all the secrets but refuses to share any of his own.

  18. Brendon

    Nowhere comes closer to adulterated free speech as in the USA.

    And thats the home of the screaming shock jock and a powerful media that runs more like a government propaganda arm than anything else.

    And no country successfully lies to itself more.

  19. Link

    Julian Assange has gone above and beyond the call in making available to the general public useful information about the operation of our governments. In the course of doing all of us that service he has put himself in the crosshairs of the most powerful, venal and unscrupulous people on the planet. That makes him the sort of person to whom I’m inclined give uncommon latitude, thogun of course it doesn’t mean that everything he says ought to be waved through..

    Hear. Hear. That was worth repeating.

    Also agree with your last Fran as to why Assange would go in to bat for what’s-‘is-name. Free speech is obviously a hobby-horse for Assange and supporting a right-wing nut like what’s-‘is-name undoubtedly helps to nuture a reputation for being somewhat perverse i.e, windswept and interesting. He won me over entirely with the line about ‘Societies should be founded on truth’ Good grief. WOW. What a novel fucking idea! He wouldn’t be the first to have had such an epiphany but he’s probably the first in history to seriously threaten the establishment, i.e, as you say, the most powerful, venal and unscrupulous with a structured pointing out of the bleeding obvious and horrible, powerful truth.

    A broad brush with so called ‘free speech’ is probably not the best approach. Anyone who’s been in a room with more than three people, knows that ‘free speech’ is often not a terribly politic option, but there are degrees and motivations.

  20. adrian

    Love your work Sam. Top satire there @ 20. You have the right wing nut job oeuvre down to a tee, even down to the underlying sense of misplaced persecution.

  21. Sam

    Don’t really get your point, Adrian (but then I rarely do.) On whose right wing behalf am I claiming persecution? Bolt? Assange? I was merely pointing out some, no doubt unintentional, double standards regarding textual interpretation.

    That, and the amusing spectacle of the group-think attack on the former LP hero, Julian Assange. I guess he was (as we used to say – Fran will recognise the phrase) ideologically sound only when he was embarrassing the US military.

    But I guess he has now shown himself to be not one of us . The sense of disappointment, nay, betrayal, is palpable.

  22. Kim

    No idea what you’re on about there Sam. If you go back and look at posts from last year both Mark and I expressed a lot of skepticism and critique of Assange. I’m on my phone do can’t link. Bit there has been consistency in questioning celebrity cult politics.

  23. Kim

    And while you’re celebrating engagement with ideas you might like to do some on relation to the post instead of disseminating your inaccurate ideas about what the LP hivemind supposedly thinks.

  24. Kim

    If your comment concerns Fran’s view – address her.

    Fran is not LP.

  25. Sam


    Of course I meant Fran (and others) who while not officially part of LP are certainly part of the LP community, just like the regulars are on other blogs. The swing from “Assange can do no wrong” to “I knew all along he was unsound” is just infantile.

  26. paul of albury

    And on the alleged hive mind love affair – why does approval of some of Assange’s actions mean we have apparently elevated him to sainthood. I don’t think ‘the left’ as far as it exists on LP has to be that tribal. We can admire what he’s done for open government (with some doubts and misgivings) but he’s always been openly libertarian (and fairly extreme at that) which I personally think makes him right wing.
    But I can approve of some of his actions. (I won’t judge on the Swedish allegations, I also think they appear a very convenient, but they may be genuine, we don’t really know). But I don’t have to disapprove of everything he does because he’s on ‘the other side’.
    From my perspective LP mostly has people who can discuss issues and not just cheer for their side. It may make things more complicated but we can cope with that.
    I think even those right wingers thats come here to do anything other than snark see that about LP too. They can engage on issues and will only be condemned out of hand if their only arguments are tribal.
    Assange is right wing. Some of his actions have been good. On Bolt he’s being a libertarian fantasist.

  27. akn

    I find the subject of ‘free speech’ tiresome especially when addressed by Assange whose expertise is in setting up networks of people to bust out documents rather than in political philosophy.

    An informed opinion can be heard by listening to the podcast of Alisdair MacIntire’s public lecture on “on proper limits of free speech”.


    Free speechers seem not understand that the right to free speech is not a licence to tell lies or inflame hatreds. Beyond which, anyone who believes that they don’t self censor their speech on a daily basis to suit their own purposes and needs and those of others is kidding themselves. I’ve never yet met a free speecher who actually called their boss face to face an arse dwelling maggot. Or sling it to the coppers in which case you’d now be on a charge in Victoria if not in NSW. Try that and see how far you get with an untrammeled ‘right’ to free speech.

  28. akn

    The full title of MacIntyre’s talk is “Intolerance, Censorship and Other Requirements of Rationality – What are the proper limits of free speech?”

  29. SAVVY

    “Fran is not LP.”

    Someone better inform Fran of this… the shock might kill her.

  30. sg

    Just as an aside Fran:

    Julian Assange has gone above and beyond the call in making available to the general public useful information about the operation of our governments

    This isn’t true. The people who leak information to Assange have gone above and beyond the call; Assange just puts it on a website. I’m thinking particularly of the poor American guy rotting in a military jail.

    Assange has done some good stuff, but let’s not deny the credit to the people who really deserve it.

  31. Chris

    sg @ 33 – Assange has created a place where people can send information to get released with much lower risk to themselves than doing it directly. That guy in the US would not be there if he hadn’t bragged about doing it online to someone who turned him in to authorities.

    As a result Assange has really made himself a target.

  32. Fran Barlow

    sg said

    Assange has done some good stuff, but let’s not deny the credit to the people who really deserve it.

    Take out the words the and really and I can agree.

    It’s silly to oppose these two classes of people, just as it is silly to contrast the roles of soldiers on the front line with the people in the hinterland sustaining them. Without someone doing what Assange did, those other people would have been shut down. Look at the Pentagon Papers story all those years ago. It required a whistleblower and publicity agents willing to stand in front of the metaphoric truck.

    I salute everyone who helps.

  33. Brendon

    I think it is possible to agree with Assange on some things he has done and said, and disagree with him on other things. Without either throwing him under a bus, or making him a saint.

    My complaint with Assange’s argument was that in weighing up the fairness in the issue, he used with politicians and their rights as a comparison. He should have compared Bolt – who gets published by the biggest media outlet in Australia, and who has his own TV show – to private citizens who could only hope they get their letters to the editor published. Bolt attacked private citizens, not politicians. Their is no Parliament for private citizens to use to attack back.

  34. Dr_Tad

    The more I read Mark B’s pieces the more I sense a weird kind of late Foucauldian logic to them. There’re lots of talk about power relations between individuals and speech acts of the privileged, but tied to an implicit or explicit whitewashing of the state as a centre of real, material power in society, wielded overwhelmingly in the interests of a tiny elite (the “1 percent”).

    I don’t agree with Assange’s theory of how to change the world, nor with many of his formulations in the op-ed about Bolt. I am upset by the attitude he’s displayed to the assault charges, which I think trivialises them. But at least Assange can see that the state is a real problem in any struggle for freedom and liberation that ordinary people may try to wage. It is not a simple case of his “privileged” position as an individual but that he has (in his own, idiosyncratic, anarchoid and inconsistent way) launched an attack on state power. And he has done so in a way that is utterly unlike the fake anti-state posturing of the libertarian Right, which actually presumes the state’s role in ensuring the private property based “liberties” it defends.

    Mark, on the other hand, praises the Fair Work Act robbing Qantas workers of the legal right to take industrial action. A funny view of power indeed.

  35. tigtog


    The swing from “Assange can do no wrong” to “I knew all along he was unsound” is just infantile.

    Really would like you to actually link to one of the LP bloggers saying that first one, or even a single thread where that was the dominant opinion of the commentariat. Even when he was first charged and then arrested most commentary here was expressing concerns as to whether his rights to due process were being infringed amid suspicions regarding the politically convenient timing rather than treating Assange as any sort of saint.

    LP has been broadly positive in principle but mildly dubious regarding execution with respect to the Wikileaks project since our first post on it in 2007. We’ve never idolised Assange. Wikileaks, and the concept of transparency activism generally, is much bigger than this one man.

  36. Kim

    Shorter Dr_Tad – the interests of women and Indigenous people are irrelevant because we need to attack capitalist state power.

  37. Kim

    “We” in this context to be understood as the Great White Male Activists with their Intertubes.

  38. Katz

    Challenging thesis Dr Tad:

    whitewashing of the state as a centre of real, material power in society, wielded overwhelmingly in the interests of a tiny elite (the “1 percent”).

    The question is to what extent does this formulation describe juridicial processes to which Bolt was subjected. What is the best description of Australia’s judicial system. To what extent is this system capable of systematically delivering justice? To what extent should persons of the Left endorse this system?

  39. Kim

    Dr_Tad opposes any recourse to the bosses’ courts, Katz. He’s written at great length about the egregious political errors of Indigenous activists in doing so. No doubt he will now call me a Foucauldian or something.

  40. sg

    But but Dr_Tad, isn’t it your plan to take over the state, and then wither it away (honestly we will! we will!)?

    Kim, I think you should get with the program. Women’s rights will flow naturally from a society where the workers run everything.

  41. Mark Bahnisch

    Well, let’s try not to make this all about Dr_Tad.

    But I will take issue with this:

    But at least Assange can see that the state is a real problem in any struggle for freedom and liberation that ordinary people may try to wage.

    I don’t see any evidence that Assange is interested in facilitating any struggles for freedom and liberation. Rather, his incoherent political writings, shaped by an obvious narcissism, seem to celebrate an adolescent Nietzschean philosophy, mixed with a cyber-anarchism which is far from democratic, but heavily hierarchical and competitive. His practice, organisationally, in Wikileaks also appears very far from democratic. And it’s quite correct to point out that his misogyny, it burns…

  42. Katz

    But Dr Tad does stimulate an impulse to contemplate not just engagement with the institutions of the state, yes or no, but more importantly engagement with the state, when and how.

    It would be a pity to eschew this opportunity in favour of another rehearsal of set piece argumentation.

  43. sg

    yes, let’s all talk about marxism, because that definitely wouldn’t be set piece argumentation on a left wing blog. Oh no, sirree.

  44. Katz

    It would be possible to have an intelligent discussion without mentioning Marx.

  45. Elizabeth Humphrys

    “egregious political errors of Indigenous activists”

    @Kim — In no way has Tad, or Left Flank, or the other writers on the Left who have written on the Bolt decision, ever said the actions of the litigants were anything like ‘egregious’. In fact, on numerous occasions Tad and others have stated that they were understandable. It concerns me that as soon as someone, in this comment thread and others on LP I have read lately, attempts to raise that certain things are contradictory (Assange seems to have acted horribly to the women but that does not make him wrong about the question of the state in the Bolt case) there is just rudeness and bile in return. I at times disagree with Mark – and pretty much ALWAYS disagree with you Kim while finding your views challenging – but I would hope I would not look for cheap shots to insinuate someone is sexist and racist. Tad made one comment in this thread which was, although very directly critical, a political point about power. You however have made six (?) comments in this thread, a number basically telling people to STFU. Are you looking for political engagement or people who are agree with? I find I’m pretty hesitant on LP to say anything because all I expect is rudeness in return. Sorry if I sound very annoyed (and Mark may accuse me again of being intemperate) but I am pretty frustrated by LP threads not actually discussing politics, but rather deteriorating in to cheap shots.

  46. Sam

    Re 40 and 41; Dr Tad has certainly hit a raw nerve. I suppose that, as a psychiatrist, he knows how to do this, but still …

    Kim, if I had the time I would go into the archives and dig up the many comments that hailed Assange as a hero of the Left, especially when he was being labelled as a terrorist by Biden, Palin, half the Australian Cabinet and 100% of the right wing commentariat. Taken even semi-seriously, these comments suggest that he is serious danger of being handed over to the tender mercies of the US justice system, as it applies to suspected terrorists. (At least this is what his lawyers in London are saying could happen to him. And it is what a lot of people on this blog have also said.)

    But because he has taken up the cause of free speech (as he sees it) in the extremely unpopular case of Andrew Bolt – and let’s be honest for a change; in its collective gut the LP would love to have that offensive, infuriating turd silenced – Assange gets thrown under the bus.

    It is the very essence of infantilism.

  47. Elizabeth Humphrys

    @49 Sorry to stray Mark…did not see your attempt to get the discussion back on track before I posted.

  48. Occam's Blunt Razor

    They’ll be coming after you guys next.

  49. Kim

    Elizabeth, I was responding to what I saw as a cheap shot in the last part of Dr_Tad’s comment (in his last paragraph). I’m sorry if I sounded rude. My ability to make a nuanced argument by the fact is limited by the fact that my home computer is kaput! So I’m writing from my phone.

    I do think much of this is getting far too personal and about the alleged views of commenters rather than about the OP.

  50. sg

    OBR, who are “they”?

  51. Katz

    I don’t want to discuss Dr Tad’s views. I want to discuss how to stake out a defensible position between Dr Tad and Assange.

    To be specific, Assange denies the justice of the state disciplining expression because the state destroys liberty. Dr Tad denies the effectuality of pursuing justice through the institutions of the state because the state is owner-operated by the 1%.

    On the other hand, conservatives assert that there is no justice beyond the aegis of the state.

    Social democrats don’t agree with all of the above yet they concur with some of the above. The boundaries, however are ill-defined, contingent and shifting.

  52. Elizabeth Humphrys

    @56 Kim — after declaring I ALWAYS disagree with you, we now agree and I look the fool. In reading Tad’s comment again I’m not sure he is taking a cheap shot, he means that the logic of Mark’s position is to deny the real power (that Tad sees) in the Qantas situation. But I can see how that might not be clear to others, who have not lived for Tad for the last ten years. As I have. For my sins. Now we must get back to Assange, or Mark will visit with a big stick! (and my goodness, it is now after midnight. this blog is like a black hole for time. please fix that also kthxbai).

  53. sg

    But Katz, Dr Tad is just wrong about the role of the state. It’s not that simple, and it’s a classic marxist-leninist trick to pretend it is. In place of the theory and understanding of governance we have developed over 100 years of democracy, what has revolutionary socialism got to offer? Pledges of good faith from our new proletarian overlords, and that’s about all. The reality is that the state acts in a much more nuanced and conceptually challenging way than Dr Tad wants to believe, and the Bolt case is a classic example of that. The FWA/qantas situation may prove to be another (though Dr Tad may be proven right in that) and the history of workplace conciliation in Australia in general is not what Dr Tad wants to think it is.

    So why do you want to discuss how to stake out a “defensible position” between two people who are completely wrong?

  54. sg

    oops, I said a bad word and got thrown into moderation – can someone fish me out if they’re about?

  55. paul of albury

    Perhaps social democrats are pragmatists, Katz. Not seeing the state as necessarily Big Brother or Big Money (and therefore requiring revolutionary destruction) but something which can occasionally be useful, but unlike conservatives recognising that authority may nevertheless be wrong?

  56. sg

    Thanks Mark. I think that comment was a dead giveaway as to one of the words that triggers moderation!

  57. Katz

    Critiques of Assange et al make sense when they are couched more explicitly in the nuanced language of self-conscious social democracy.

    Put bluntly, social democrats know there is no end to history, unlike Assange and Dr Tad.

  58. Joe

    I thought Assange’s article was quite good.

    On a practical level, the “loudness” that different people are able to generate and get their voices heard needs to be accounted for in an open society.

  59. Mercurius

    ”The true and sound will survive. The false and unsound will be vanquished.”

    That sounds like a nice planet. Would somebody who actually lives on it please send us Earthlings a postcard?

  60. Mercurius

    And on the OP – bravo, Mark. You’ve been hitting quite a few out of the park lately, but I’ve been too busy to comment.

    Hierarchical competition =/ freedom

    We’ve been on to this stuff for decades, ever since the cultural biases of “IQ” tests were revealed. It’s staggering how often the individuals at the apex of a true “meritocracy” designed by PLUs*, managed and administered by PLUs, and run for the beneft of PLUs, most closely resemble…PLUs!

    *People Like Us

  61. TerjeP

    Tax returns for example – maybe they should all be made public – perhaps transparency in that area would reduce cheating as well as make it clearer to people the areas in the laws in which the scheme unfairly benefits the wealthy.

    That is what they do in Norway. Mum found this out when she googled some of her relatives from her homeland and found their tax returns published online. Personally I think it is a quite appalling idea. How about we televise cabinet meetings instead.

  62. Patrickb

    Infantile, not helping.

  63. Eric Sykes


    Assange is just monumentally useless when he talks about things he clearly only has a superficial knowledge about:- the Bolt scenario explicated here, women, race …

    He’s very good (frighteningly excellent even) when he talks about things he has deeper knowledge of:- art, cyber cultures, blogosphere, leaks, digital copyrights…

    We all suffer from this self-deceit now and again. He should shut up more, it would help him in the long run. But he’s young, maybe he’ll have time to learn.

    …and more broadly FWIW..what Fran says.

  64. Dr_Tad

    Mark @63

    I will clip & collect for future reference.

  65. Fran Barlow

    sg said:

    Dr Tad is just wrong about the role of the state. It’s not that simple, and it’s a classic marx|st-len|nist trick to pretend it is.

    Wrong all over the place. Dr_Tad’s description is more nuances than you are allowing and marx|st-len|nists don’t take a simplistic view of the state.

    In place of the theory and understanding of governance we have developed over 100 years of democracy, what has revolutionary socialism got to offer? Pledges of good faith from our new proletarian overlords, and that’s about all.

    A lot more than that — the prospect of human liberation from scarcity, class rule, the truncation of human possibility and an end to all overlords.

  66. su

    Assange was also vocal in his support of the Murdocracy in regard to the phone hacking scandal, at the time I thought he was just thinking ahead to how much more difficult investigative journalism might become under stricter privacy laws (and I think thats a concern too), but just as likely this was another manifestation of the cyberpunk idea that all information without exception should be freely available to all. Given that that scandal highlighted the enmeshment of government, police and big business, I’m not even sure that Assange is particularly exercised by the idea of State power.

    I struggled through all of his writings on IQ and it left me with the strong impression that he is not so much motivated by ideas of counterhegemony as seriously pissed off that he, with his great big brain and all, is being played for a fool by that conglomeration of government and business interests just like the rest of the mug punters. He wants to be an information insider, as befits his intellect.

    The furious demand by some that feminists STFU about Assange and Strauss Kahn reminded me strongly of Faludi’s ideas about post-9/11 when women were told sit down, shut up and get back in the kitchen in support of their manly heroes. Different “emergency”, different heroes, same essential concept. The idea that feminism is some kind of peace time luxury is anything but counterhegemonic. If your heroes are treating women as the spoils of victory or success then fuck it, you’re just changing the bums on seats, not changing the structures of power one whit.

  67. Fran Barlow

    oops Mods: … markup failure:

    please close quotes at “pretend it is”

  68. Fine

    “I don’t see any evidence that Assange is interested in facilitating any struggles for freedom and liberation. Rather, his incoherent political writings, shaped by an obvious narcissism, seem to celebrate an adolescent Nietzschean philosophy, mixed with a cyber-anarchism which is far from democratic, but heavily hierarchical and competitive. His practice, organisationally, in Wikileaks also appears very far from democratic. And it’s quite correct to point out that his misogyny, it burns…”

    I wish I’d written this. Thanks Mark.

  69. Mercurius

    Democracy depends on the free flow of information and ideas.

    Err, no. Democracy gets loaded with a lot of hopes and dreams that it isn’t, and was never designed to, support.

    Democracy is bounded by its the conditions of its birth. It started life as a power-sharing club for property-owning men. And it hasn’t changed much in its aims or (sic) execution.

    The justified concern that democracy is needed to curb excesses of state power is three generations too late. The mid-late 20th century were characterised by excesses of state power that led to horrors. But what we have now in the early 21st century are excesses of corporate power that are also killing millions through the inequalities they perpetuate.

    The common denominator here, whether the bogey is state power or corporate power, is … power. The concentration of power is what kills freedom. States, when they had too much power, killed freedom, and people, in vast numbers. But states have been weakened by the global neoliberal consensus, and now it is corporate powers who are “freely” plundering global resources and contributing to an unsustainable framework that has and will result in millions more deaths.

    To the extent that an Assange or a Bolt are able to encourage diffusion and disruption of power, they are a force for freedom. I think we can all agree that Bolt is just an apparatchik fighting for the concentration of corporate power, and as such he is no friend of freedom. Assange’s record is more mixed — his actions reveal no compunction to diffuse the power that is presently concentrated in the hands of smart, technologically competent, men.

  70. su

    On your last point, Merc, I think the decision to go with the infodump approach is a symptom of what you describe. I can understand breaking with the NYT who in their article on Assange actually revealed more about their own organisation and the extent to which they have been captured by government than it did about Assange, but Wikileaks should have established another alternative to provide proper context and analysis of the leaked documents. The vast majority of people will not be able to go through the information much less understand it properly, so it is not accessible to all, even though it is freely available to all.

  71. Katz

    Given the nature of the material acquired by Wikileaks and given the power and ruthlessness of the interests who want to stop Wikileaks from acquiring and disclosing this material, the range of Wikileaks’ methodology is narrow.

  72. sg

    Fran at 76, are you serious? We have multiple examples of the implementation of M**st l++ism and none of them show a natural inclination towards good governance or the proper management of information, let alone freedom from scarcity or class rule. Until someone can present a functioning alternative to the democratic state, then I think I’m entitled to view with more than a little suspicion their opinions about how we shouldn’t use the state as currently constituted to redress inequality.

    The appellants in the Bolt case won a victory for Indigenous people; if Assange is extradited to Sweden, not rendered to the US, and found guilty of rape in a fair court it will be a victory for women. That’s a good thing, and protesting that we should wait for the state to be reformed is asking us all to twiddle our thumbs to eternity.

  73. Fran Barlow

    Savvy said of the fact that I am not “LP”:

    Someone better inform Fran of this.

    Fran is entirely aware of this. I’m not entirely sure who, precisely, is “LP” assuming (which I doubt) that anyone at all is “LP”. This is a repeat of the hivemind assertion about LP. Certainly though, I can only speak for myself and even have to get LP mods to correct my markup errors.

    I post here. Sometimes people, including moderators, and others who also post here think I’ve said something worthwhile on a topic. Often they don’t, and from time to time I disagree sharply with someone who is a moderator or regular. Make of that what you will.

  74. Fran Barlow

    sg said:

    We have multiple examples of the implementation of M**st l++ism

    No, we don’t. As far as I can tell, we have no examples at all. We have had some examples of failed states vacating the field and those espousing language borrowed in part from Marx and Len|n assuming control of what is left of the social infrastructure and making do, in circumstances where making do would permit nothing like Marxism-Len|n|sm or even bourgeois democracy. I’m not going to reiterate what I’ve hitherto said at length here before. You do realise that GregM is going to be miffed if you start start threadjacking in his style?

    In any event, discussion on the character of the state and its relations to class formation and struggle have had a long and complex history from entirely crude and deterministic accounts to the more textured accounts one sees in writers such as Ralph Miliband (see for example Class Power and State Power, in which the state acts not so much at the behest of the ruling class, but on their behalf.

    You should be aware though that the struggle to overcome scarcity, class society and see the withering away of the state was not peculiar to Len|n (see for example, State and Revolution) but was entirely orthodox within social democracy prior to 1914.

    So too was the vision of “socialist man” (sic) … and in this respect you might for example consider Isaac Deutscher’s book On Socialist Man which is considered an entirely orthodox text, and would probably have been endorsed by the early deLeonists and syndicalists, had it been published at the time.

  75. Fran Barlow

    And just FTR, I neither suppose that Dr_Tad opposes all resort to the state nor take that view myself. It was not even the view of the Trotskyist organisation of which I was once a member.

    You can scarcely read a post of mine on public policy here these days that doesn’t comment on how the state ought to conduct its business. I have certainly made plain my views on the Blot matter, and on QANTAS and on carbon pricing, all of which presume action by the boss’s state. You may have read of proposals I’ve made here before for the reform of processes leading to governance, which I’ve grouped under the heading “inclusive governance”.

    Those on the left who oppose explicit carbon pricing call upon the same state to make other provision. All of us defend so much of the action of the state as advances the rights of marginalised people, and the fact that we don’t believe in making a fetish out of such action, or being bound by its terms when reliance on the state would prejudice the position of working people and the oppressed more generally in no way contradicts this view.

  76. Dr_Tad

    Thanks Fran, well put. I was struck by too powerful a sense of ennui to reply to all that nauseating, red-baiting liberalism.

  77. Howard Cunningham

    Come on, people, Assange is just afraid of the creation of laws to shut HIM up. Pick someone on the other side and defend them to really defend yourself.

  78. sg

    It’s not red-baiting, Dr_Tad; I just think you’re wrong in your understanding of how the state balances interests in society.

    Fran, surely you have to admit that you are no longer a member of a certain organization, and this is precisely because you hold a more nuanced view of the role of the state (and, e.g., Socialist Man(sic)) than is compatible with that certain organization.

    In this case my criticisms of maxist lioninism are not a threadjack; the thread has been drawn to discussion of Dr_Tad’s views on Bolt and Qantas, and I’m responding to that. I’m also not, gregM style, accusing you of being a mad butcher. But! you really need to let go of the idea that mixist laninosm hasn’t been tried. The USSR is a classic model of the consequences of a political theory with no concept of good governance. It’s the praxis of M-Lism.

  79. Dr_Tad

    sg @ 91

    I can’t be “wrong” in my “understanding of how the state balances interests in society” because I don’t think the state is there to “balance interests”. I think you’re debating with a liberal rewriting of what I’m arguing. But there’s been a lot of that going around on LP threads lately, so I’m not upset or anything.

  80. Mark Bahnisch

    Someone will need to explain how this is on topic shortly!

  81. Dr_Tad

    Mark, you shouldn’t have “entertained” Katz @ 63.

    Clip’n’collect great moments in thread derailing. 😀

  82. Occam's Blunt Razor

    First they came for the Right Wingers . . .

  83. sg

    damned nihilists in their goggles!

  84. Fran Barlow

    sg said:

    I just think {Dr_Tad is} wrong in {his} understanding of how the state balances interests in society.

    As it’s not clear you understand Dr_Tad’s understanding, your point is unclear.

    you have to admit that you are no longer a member of a certain organization, and this is precisely because you hold a more nuanced view of the role of the state

    Actually, the most important difference I have with the organisation is also what separates me politically from Lenin|sm — the view that since the advent of imperialism, capitalism has everywhere and under all circumstances exhausted all of its possibility for developing the productive forces and thus that the capitalist state must always and everywhere stand as a bar to the oppressed and cannot, even under the pressure exerted by insurgent classes yield advantage to the oppressed. Progressive reform remains a possibility, even if we must assume that it is tenuous and improbable and unlikely to survive without discipline and struggle from working people. Partly for this reason, I’m also of the view that their model — the vanguard party to lead the workers in revolutionary struggle — is at best premature and improbable and that the struggle over reform is a struggle warranted not merely by its ostensible ends (progressive refroms, enalrgement of freedome viz-a-viz the boss class) but by the scope it offers working people to learn how to resist capitalism and generate effective collaboration between all of the working people. That’s an expressly non-Leninist perspective. I also don’t share their (Trotskyist) view of the class character of the degenerated and deformed workers states. I don’t see China or the DPRK as any kind of workers state.

    My view of the capitalist state however doesn’t differ substantially from what it was when I was a member however. Neither they nor I would deny that the capitalist state can be forced to yeield concessions to working people — and their argumentation over the Clarrie O’Shea matter all those years ago bears this out.

  85. Fran Barlow

    oops … I let one of the naughty words through … stuck in spam …

  86. paul walter

    Mark, why so anxious? Is the thread not attempting to unravel a fairly complex issue, in the best way it can?
    Most of us have to deal with it with whatever comparatively limited cognitive and expressive equipment we possess, it may take time relative to the time academics and intellectuals would take in deciphering the meaning of it all.
    I can see you advocate the New Labour, “manager of decline “approach, ultimately outlined in your “Weberian/Foucaultian”comment, 63, and I understand the reasons you offer, after all the whole thrust of neoliberalism over the last generation has been on globalised capitalism free of the constraints of national governments. Hence, you appear to understand the extent to which different groups in society are played off against each other as part of “divide and rule”.
    Arguably it is too late for direct action, the global plutocracy of which Qantas is just a currently visible manifestation has such a stranglehold on trade, financial etc laws through compliant governments that even attacks on working peoples conditions as overt and totalitarian in tendency as currently conducted by the Gordon Geckos involved in the Qantas example, are ignored or spun out as socialist plots for/by the gullible.
    But I think DrTad is damned well right to ask why the government took the course it did with the FWA; why the playing field was tilted Qantas mangement’s way. There is too much for Australians to lose, if the Qantas way of doing things, its”Road to Serfdom”, is schmoozed through by the ALP, to become the norm.
    Abbott and Howard SerfChoices will have won, without them firing a bullet in anger for this undeserved victory..

  87. Mercurius

    First they came for the Right Wingers . . .

    Again, with the ‘they’. Who are ‘they’?

    Still, I can understand your fear. After all, Eatock Vs. Bolt is like Kristallnacht all over again. There are right-wingers being rendered to secret prisons this very moment!

    What’s happened so far in this pogrom against the right-wing is that a rich, employed, influential guy lost a case in a very public pie-fight that he started, and has come out of this ordeal…still rich, employed and influential.

    False equivalencies may convince the mouth-breathers OBR, but you’ll have to do better than that around here, pal.

  88. Katz

    Mark, you shouldn’t have “entertained” Katz @ 63.

    Clip’n’collect great moments in thread derailing.

    That’s a bit unfair. I thought that Mark’s #63 contextualised very effectively his o/p remarks.

  89. Ootz

    Merc, nevermind the right whingers, apparently Assange loses appeal against extradition.

  90. TerjeP

    Come on, people, Assange is just afraid of the creation of laws to shut HIM up. Pick someone on the other side and defend them to really defend yourself.

    Defending the freedom of others because you want freedom for yourself seems very logical but also very principled. So I’m no sure why the tone of your comment seems to be pleading with us to see it as the opposite.

  91. Joe

    Anyway, what wikileaks does show is that history has changed in as far as there exists technologies, which allows for the mass storage of “information.” Even if wikileaks or its founding team are failures (or firing concept-blanks), they have highlighted this change and lade it bare for all to see.

    This change has and will further change, for example, communication and speech behaviour.

    Especially in fields like sociology, computers, networking, etc. are probably the single largest contributors to changes in contemporary (Western) culture and society. They change the way we behave, interact, and think about ourselves.

  92. Katz

    The European Arrest Warrant is a travesty.

    Assange has been charged with nothing under Swedish law. Yet he now faces rendition to and compulsory incarceration in Sweden while Swedish authorities decide what to charge him with, which may or may not be rape, and/or extradition to the US for any of a number of crimes against US national security.

  93. Mindy

    Has the US actually requested his extradition? Or is that more spin from the Assange camp?

  94. Fran Barlow

    They have said they are going to ‘await the outcome of the Swedish extradition case’, Mindy.

  95. Mindy

    Thanks Fran. I wonder what that means? If Sweden gets him, we [the US] will get him from them, or if Sweden doesn’t get him we’ll find a way to get him? He has made himself some powerful enemies.

  96. Katz

    The US is unlikely to do anything specific until Assange is securely incarcerated in Sweden.

    Certainly the Obama administration has voiced a determination to have Assange face “justice”.

  97. Katz

    This site provides a usable overview of the legalities and manoeuvrings in relation to Assange:


    Noteworthy are the provisions of “temporary surrender” operative between Sweden and the US but not between the UK and the US and the activities of the secret Grand Jury currently sitting in Alexandria, Virginia.

    The Grand Jury proceedings, to the extent that they can be known, point to a determination of the Obama regime to prosecute Assange.

  98. guy rundle

    found this in the archives which might clarify things:

    The Morning Age-Argus, September 9, 1907

    Sitting as President of the Board of Decency and Warden of the Cinque Ports, Mr His Justice Honour Sir Antony Goome-Greeber delivered a resounding judgement against one Ebenezer Furbelow for publishing and distributing by means of a platen press, a pamphlett advocating the intermarriage and breeding of races for the purposes of creating ‘one humanity’.

    In delivering his judgement, Sir Antony noted that whilst freedom of opinion was the right of every free born englishman and whiteman with property over £125, there were limits prompted by the threat of dangerous and catastrophic acts.

    ‘More than a half-century of science informs us that the mixing of races is a disaster not merely for Whites but for all humanity – yet still these rapscallions persist in advacing ideas without foundation in our society. Levelling notions of equality are the way of the guillotine and the tumbril, and there was no doubt that the very foundation of first the colonies and then the dominion were dependent upon notions of our distinct racial essence. ‘else we should give the vote to the black man’ noted his honour to laughter. ‘or woman!’ he added, to even more.

    Given that doubting the notion of separate racial essence would undermine the very basis of the society withinwhich the speech and judgement was made, his sir honour found it by definition impermissible. He also noted the real harm possible from encouraging interbreeding not merely to the race, but to the ‘poor picannies’ themselves – ‘for what would their identity be? they are neither one nor the other. a greater wrong to a person in the very act of creating them, it would be hard to imagine.’ Such possibilities of real harm overrode any considerations of Mr Furbelow’s writes as an englishman, a Shropshire man, and a Rechabite. Speech was not free, sir his honour noted – it was a social act of power framed within an episteme and taking its meaning from discursive practices.nothing could demonstrate this more than that new – and mixed-race – human beings may come from Mr Furbelows words through the encouragement of fornication. ‘what greater proof could there be that speech is not merely speech?’

    Mr sir his honour also considered Mr Furbelow’s defence quoting old testament intermarriage examples, not least the Queen of Sheba. However he ruled that it is not impossible to imagine that societies may work on an entirely different, ‘ie wrong’, basis. ‘why in a century’s time a man may sit where i am – who knows perhaps he will not even be Anglican – and condemn someone for saying that the races are NOT equal!’

    Court then had to be cleared due to laughter.

  99. sg

    For those with a sci-fi bent, I’ve just put up on my blog an attempt to relate all of this to the tragic disappointment that is the cyberpunk genre …

  100. Adrien

    It’s an odd piece of writing.

    Why? What’s ‘odd’ about it?

    It’s intriguing that Assange does not see fit to provide any concrete examples of parliamentary wisdom emerging through robust challenges to majoritarian opinion.

    It’s pretty difficult to find examples of parliamentary wisdom. If ye be a wantin’ wisdom ye should look elsewhere. 🙂

    But if you mean concrete examples of social change that began when small groups of people were able to speak their minds, openly. To publish their views etc. Well you’re spoilt for choice. I wouldn’t have thought examples were necessary.

    If this sort of nineteenth century bourgeois liberalism is his credo

    That’s all so very tired. One of the first steps toward a fair legal system was taken by a god-king does that make one who supports the rule of law an advocate of theocratic dictatorship? And I’d be careful with that ‘bourgeois’ label old bean; this man, whatever his character, has challenged the most powerful forces on Earth. And he’s done so on the basis of this ‘bourgeois credo’.

    Your Barnaby Joyce allusion is misleading. He writes:

    The law, whether civil or criminal, is a serious business. At its end is the deployment of armed police to imprison people or seize their assets by force. It should never be used to regulate disfavoured views.

    This is the main point. He’s perhaps to much a purist but you distract us from this main point. Refuse to deal with it head on. How is this different essentially from the writings of Mr Bolt?

  101. Adrien

    I’m sorry Mark I don’t mean to pick on you. Everyone does it. But please look at this:

    it’s signally interesting that, after defending parliamentary privilege (and wishing that totally privileged speech be extended to the rest of us), the sole actually existing Parliamentarian he names, unfavourably, is Barnaby Joyce.

    This follows Mr Assange’s belabeling as a ‘bourgeois’ and why is this allusion to Sen Joyce there? What Assange writes is:

    Why don’t we just introduce a climate change-denial law prohibiting Barnaby Joyce from rubbishing climate change so we can prosecute him and get on with the necessary reforms?

    As an example as to further authoritarianism viz free speech. He asks where do you draw the line? If you think that question requires an answer you haven’t provided it.

    Your side don’t want to admit there actually might be such a line. Right now you’re all busy fightin’ back the nasty neoliberalism under which you’ve been oppressed so many decades. So liberalism is on the nose and you seek out all non-hackers who don’t pack the gear to serve in your beloved Left.

    Hence you associate Assange with Joyce, ambivalently enough, but for, it would appear, no other purpose to evoke the who’s-side-are-you-on question. It’s ‘signally interesting’ you say? Why exactly. That you don’t.

    It’s more subtle and elegant certainly. So is your readership. But it’s exactly the kind of dishonesty that has anyone criticizing Israel labeled anti-semitic. It’s more Berianism.

    The meat of your argument is the skepticism of Fredrick Siebert’s optimism. This is more a question media concentration and the techniques of public relations, advertising and the whole apparatus of mass manipulation.

    A law that says it’s okay for a judge to decide that this or that bit of writing is offensive and therefore illegal does not help. It makes it worse. Naturally, you won’t even consider the possibility because it’s ‘bourgeois liberalism’.

    This may sound ridiculous – and Joyce would in any event hide behind the parliamentary privilege, giving him the protection we all deserve