To be conservative is to be nothing. It’s a philosophy founded on negation: the negation of progress, the negation of movement, the negation of art. To enact conservatism is to attempt the realisation of myth, and in so doing conservatism creates nothing but a patchwork void held together by a vast and churning nihilism.
Tickets to this void ran between $149 (‘The Menzies Three Day Pass’) and $599 (‘The Reagan Pass’) at CPAC Sydney last week.
There you could see the greatest conservative minds of this generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical nakedly off-chops. A Ringling’s of gormless geeks: come see The Gentleman Thumb Nigel Farage gobble on about the Empire’s second coming; or Thin Man Tony Abbott, the first shadowboxer to give himself a concussion; or perhaps you’d prefer the sweaty antics of our Parmigiana Pagliacci, Mark Latham, as he’s dragged off stage midway through his famous ping pong ball trick.
Anti-environment, anti-abortion, anti-queer, anti-trans, anti-feminist, anti-immigration, anti-peace, anti-union, anti-socialist, and anti-social: CPAC Sydney was a veritable anti-chamber of antiquation.
With this conference Australia’s C.H.U.Ds weren’t so much leaving the sewer as they were expanding its marketshare.
CPAC was founded by the American Conservative Union (ACU) in 1974. Future US president Ronald Reagan gave the inaugural keynote speech back then, and like the great man himself, CPAC stands as a testament to the power of late stage Alzheimer’s.
Conservatism now hinges on the perpetual churning out, and regurgitation of, content.
Be you a former Prime Minister, a Fox News Host, or Diamond and Silk—to be a conservative thinker in 2019 is to be a misnomer. Conservative punditry, especially in this country, requires a level of skill and intelligence on par with that required of an organ grinder, who, you must admit, at least had to train and clean up after the monkey.
Organised by the ACU and its Australian president Andrew Cooper, CPAC Sydney was set afloat by sponsors like the Institute of Public Affairs and Advance Australia, and duly promoted by the Murdoch empire, 2GB, Sky, and vitally, a vast network of rightwing facebook groups. The result was a blend of Australian and American neo-conservatism, a monster stitched together by a movement now rabid with violent bigotry and retooled fascism—a walking corpse of the worst ghouls of the 20th Century.
CPAC is the comment section given life. It is a Cronenburgian splicing of conservative beasties: ‘it’s hebephilia, actually’ Libertarians meets ‘it’s an assault rifle, actually’ ethno-nationalists; ‘European Christian’ Charles Martel roleplayers meets dogecoin loving technocrats; West Australian secessionists meets cranks convinced the lizard men in Canberra are keeping the discovery of the Inland Sea a secret. These fringe types don’t so much stand along side the traditional conservatives and (the now traditional) neo-cons, so much as they couple with them. This is contemporary conservatism’s base and the key commonality binding it is an unending unquenchable rage.
For all its attempts to present itself as a convergence of sensible conservative thinkers, CPAC’s great success is as a monument to conservative insensibility. Its speakers, press, and punters reveal an elegant if discomforting truth: that the difference between the right and the alt-right is little more than pedigree, education, and media training. What separates Tony Abbott from, say, Raheem Kassam is the sad reality that one was elected to turn his predjudices into policy, where the other has only dreamt of it.
People fretting over the intermingling of these ‘extremists’ with Australian conservatism’s best and brightest are fretting over a horse that bolted back around Pauline Hanson’s maiden speech to parliament. CPAC slots so seamlessly into the sour quality of Australian discourse right now that it’s a wonder that they don’t set up permanent shop in Barangaroo casino. They could tour the state Royal Shows, selling showbags containing a pamphlet explaining how no law can remove your right to place this bag over your head and inhale your liberty.
Cooper has said that CPAC Aus. is aiming to be an annual occurrence. This first trip has certainly caused a stir, with attendees and protestors clashing outside the conference. But you have to wonder if there’s really a need for CPAC in Australia considering it’s selling pricey tickets to a show doled out daily by Australia’s media and politicians, the cost of which rarely exceeds that of a $3.00 paper and the going street-price of Xanax.
‘Protect the future, fight on’ is the motto of CPAC Sydney and in the ‘fight on’ we see a glimmer of conservative honesty. Never stop fighting. We see this in play with CPAC’s main acts. When Mark Latham tightens his girdle to affect a bow for ‘the Great Donald’ and wetly huffs ‘what a magnificent audience of deplorables’ to a gaggle of red-faced gronks and pundits, he attains a plain of honesty usually reserved for clowns. It is the honesty of smashing a meringue pie in your face and laughing along with the peanut gallery.
At CPAC, Latham, Abbott, Albrechtson, Farage and co. can do away with pretense and reveal the four word slogan at the root of their beliefs: ‘ain’t I a stinker?’.
And on that point it’s hard to argue with them.