Friday, April 13, 2007

Kansas, Thomas Frank, New England, Jim Belshaw

This is a post on a post, triggered by a comment from Neil (Ninglun) .

In my last post, Hicks, Kansas amd New England, also triggered by a post of Neil's, I spoke of Thomas Frank's views as set out by Neil, linking this to New England and regional decline. Neil responded with a very thoughtful comment on my post. I am now going to repeat Neil's comments interspersed with mu comments.

Franks writes from a somewhat nostalgic stance, obviously being an admirer of the populism (US historical sense)/agrarian socialism which characterised much Kansas politics in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

I did not realise this at the time I wrote. You can find some information about Frank on his web site. Wikipedia provides a useful introduction to populism. There is also a good article on the US Populist or People's Party, a party that had a great deal of influence in Kansas.

Like Frank I come from a regional area and am stamped with the history and culture of that area. Like him, I come from a populist tradition, although New England popularism was different, coming much later and drawing from different historical and cultural traditions.

He(Frank) is stuck by the way today Kansas Republicans have been sidetracked into identifying with what he sees as their "class enemies" by taking on the agenda of the extreme Christian Right.

The Australian position is different, although it does have some similarities.

Unlike the US where rural populist movements failed to sustain a separate political identity, the Australian country parties created a sustained if sometimes unstable presence. The Australian equivalent is the move of those parties to the conservative side of politics. The early Australian country parties saw themselves occupying a middle ground equally opposed to Labor or the Liberal equivalent.

I find it interesting that there appears to be no US equivalent to the Australian independent or minor party movements.

It is a very lively and original book, but I couldn't help thinking Frank's nostalgia also is a touch unrealistic, a bit like a Labor supporter wanting to revive the policies of Curtin and Chifley, or a National Party person wanting to revert to the ideas of the Country Party circa 1955... Though in the light of recent developments part of me well understands why people would wish to revisit both!

As Neil knows, I still classify my personal party politics as Country Party, a party that no longer exists. However, I do not want to return to the CP of 1955. If I had to go back, I would go back either much earlier or later to the Country Party reform movements of the early seventies when we were trying to chart new directions for the Party. We got it wrong but, as in earlier periods, there was a constant bubble of excitement and new ideas.

More importantly, the regional movements especially in New England were always more than the Country Party, with the New England New State Movement providing a core energiser within the same populist tradition. I belong to the New England regional populist tradition, not just to the Country Party. In fact, that party is only a small part of my political beliefs.

As I said in my response to Neil's comment, political philosophies that are not constantly rewritten and reinterpreted in the light of current experience die. My problem is that for a number of reasons the ideological tradition that I belong to went into abject decline. Yet that tradition has much to contribute to the resolution of current problems.

I am perhaps, and by historical accident, the only person alive in Australia today who can write about these traditions as a still living thing thing. I hope not, but so far I know of no other. In the meantime, I am at least trying to articulate and reinterpret some of the rich theme that forms the New England populist tradition.

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