Decline and Fall: The Faustian Compact


I wrote this article, which was published on Webdiary, nearly six years ago – just before the 2007 election. I stand by everything in it, including the original final paragraph.

Being an atheist, I do not think we have souls. However, for the sake of the Faustian analogy, let me take the position that Philip Ruddock once had a soul. One interesting question is, to whom did he sell it?

Ruddock was a founder of the parliamentary branch of Amnesty International. He was an advocate of Australia’s increasing its foreign aid budget, and he took part in several peace missions to Cambodia when that country was enduring its civil war. He was also a member (one of the few Liberals) of the Parliamentarians Against Apartheid group. With such principles, it did not surprise me when, in 1988, he and a few other Liberal MPs defied their then leader, John Howard, and crossed the floor to support Bob Hawke’s resolution opposing any immigration policy based on racial discrimination.

In 1996, the Howard government was elected, and Ruddock was made Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. He was elevated to the Cabinet after the 1998 election, having decided to become, in Andrew West’s words:

… that ultimate political novelty: a surprise. He would be no wuss … [he] became the proud spruiker for locking children and their families behind the razor wire. He referred to a refugee child as “it” and spoke of asylum-seekers fleeing tyranny … as ‘people seeking a different resettlement outcome’.

It was after the 1998 election that I began to think that Philip Ruddock looked like a man who had sold his soul. Soon after that Crikey (thank you, Christian Kerr, for the confirmation) began referring to him as the Cadaver. Then came the Tampa, and the 2001 election: the resemblance to a greenish-skinned corpse grew stronger. His old friend Phillip Adams wrote of him in on 28 June 2003 (sorry, the original link to the Oz doesn’t work):

In recent weeks we’ve seen Ruddock’s hands shaking as he stands in the Reps to answer questions about an international criminal and illegal who jumped queues to gain Australian citizenship, having made generous donations to Ruddock’s election fund. But even before getting the tremors at the despatch box, Ruddock was showing symptoms of a deepening crisis. We’re used to seeing the upper echelons of Australia’s political leadership ageing dramatically in office. One day they’re young and feisty, the next haggard and exhausted.

Yet while Howard remains sprightly, sustained by the aphrodisiac of power, Ruddock recalls The Picture of Dorian Gray. …

Why? Because his policies of mandatory detention, involving the imprisonment of hundreds of children, his ruthless and inflexible imposition of unprecedented cruelties on innocent human beings, have subjected him to more criticism than the rest of the Howard ministry combined.

It’s clearly taken its toll yet Howard has shown no pity, no inclination to reshuffle, no sign of rewarding Ruddock for doing a dirty job by promoting him to a more comfortable portfolio. Worse, in a gesture of staggering cynicism Howard gave him the added responsibility of Reconciliation and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs. Ruddock, who once would have supported reconciliations ideals, has been forced to participate in a slow, cynical process of destruction.

Ruddock knows the Bible far better than I do. But isn’t there a warning against Mephistopheles contracts? What does it profit a man if he gains the world but loses his immortal soul?

That article resonated with me, and helped answer my first question: Ruddock sold his soul to Howard. A Faustian bargain par excellence. And his master has been making him pay ever since. Witness Wayne Errington in Crikey:

After a decade of Howard’s dominance, the right is in the ascendant. Working out exactly who is liberal or conservative after a decade in power, though, is difficult. Nothing has given Howard greater pleasure than watching wets such as Ruddock and Vanstone implement his authoritarian refugee policies. Brendan Nelson, Helen Coonan and Julie Bishop have toed Howard’s line against their ideological instincts.

This raises a second question: why did Ruddock sell his soul? For that matter, why did Vanstone, Nelson, Coonan, and Julie Bishop?

This question is easily answered in Ruddock’s case. He said to Adams: “I’ve been waiting to be a minister for 20 years.” One might expect similar responses from his formerly small-l Liberal colleagues.

Does it all come down to ambition, to power? After all, the effect of power on the character is well-known. Why, then, haven’t people like Georgiou, Troeth, Baird, Moylan, and Payne also crossed over? Their political careers would have been easier, and far more successful, had they too acquiesced. Could it have something to do with integrity?

And that raises a third, and to me fascinating question: what happens to people who so compromise their integrity, their ethics, their principles? In its extreme form it involves what the eminent psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton called socialization to evil through a process of “doubling”. Are they so corrupted by their bargain that they disintegrate – or is redemption possible?

Ruddock is the Member for Berowra, and at the last election received 56% of first preferences (2PP 62%). Almost certainly he will be re-elected. Even if the Coalition is annihilated on 24 November 2007, he will be one of the survivors. And if the Coalition does lose, will Ruddock be able to help rebuild the Liberal Party as a genuinely conservative force, a party that once again reflects the vision and ideals of people like Peter Baume, Ian MacPhee, Fred Chaney, Dick Hamer, Malcolm Fraser, and even Bob Menzies? Will he achieve disintegration, or redemption?

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Well, the question in my final paragraph has been answered: over the past five and a half years Ruddock has done nothing to restore the Liberal Party as a genuine conservative party. Instead he has acquiesced – and thus has been complicit – in the continuation under Abbott (with the willing help of the likes of Bernardi) of what Guy Rundle has described as Howard’s radical right-wing libertarianism.

Is there any hope for the once not-too-bad Liberal Party? I don’t think so. Dystopia, here we come. Have a nice day, and would you like fries with that?

711 thoughts on “Decline and Fall: The Faustian Compact

  1. And what about those smiles everywhere! Progressives, the glass is always half full

  2. Puffy,

    Exactly. Where’s an auxiliary when you need one?

    By the way, would you care for a glass of fizz? There are a couple left …

  3. Goodnight everyone.

    This is my favourite berceuse (= lullaby) ever, and below is a photo of how I hope to be very soon:

  4. Is it okay if my Mum joins the tipping comp? You can just squeeze in someone born, bred and lived her first 24 years of life out past Longreach, can’t you?

  5. Puff m’dear,

    I think our revered Publican may have retired for the evening, but I’m sure he’d be delighted.

    If he says no tomorrow, it’s all my fault.

    Meanwhile, I am going to bed.


    Well, perhaps …

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