Quadrant Editors Give Cover to David Flint

Professor David Flint can dish out the personal attack, the misquote and the illogical inference, but the Editors at Quadrant seem to think he can’t take being called out on it.

[UPDATE: I have received an email at 11:15am Friday 28 March from Editor Quadrant Online. He states they wish to run my piece over the weekend. His contact was stimulated by this blog post after daily emails went unanswered. Quadrant Online Editor denies deliberate refusal to publish although other items published during the week. I accept this. Guess it’s too late now. Have I overreacted to Quadrant? Possibly. Probably. To Flint? Absolutely not. But I gotta let the droppings from my big mouth stand otherwise I’m part of the problem.]

Over at Quadrant Online Professor David Flint (National Convenor of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy) and I have had a tit-for-tat over how images of Toff-Tories in the Coalition parties can be a political liability. As an example, we referred to the political effect of the reinstatement of the barrister rank of Queen’s Counsel. At least, that’s what I did.

But the Editors of Quadrant stopped the tit-for-tat the moment I identified undergraduate howlers, misquotes and basic logical failings in Prof Flint’s first article in the debate. No rebuttal to his response for me then. And, incidentally, no embarrassment for Prof Flint.

The Chain of Disappointment

Prof Flint was engaged to produce a response almost before my piece was online. When his response was published, the editor of Quadrant Online invited me to engage with it. So far, so normal.

Prof Flint’s response, however, was not. As I outline below in a considered fisking, it relied on misquotation, a complete misreading of my argument, silly and completely wrong inferences about my views on constitutional monarchy, a generalised if ridiculous smear that I am “nasty” and arguing ad hominem, and an anti-republican tirade that was completely unconnected to any proposition I put forward.

Naturally I answered. And was ignored by both the Editors of the online and paper magazines, despite the earlier invitation to respond. No explanation was forthcoming. I had trouble getting any response at all. This was and is deeply disappointing, as I have previously had a good relationship with the Editor of Quadrant Online. And it is completely against what I thought Quadrant stood for. Irony upon irony; for days Quadrant has been running a link condemning The Conversation for not giving Christopher Monckton the right of reply (see image right).

Monckton Conversation LInk on Quadrant 27-03-2014 11-00-35 PM

For someone who is a Professor of Law, Prof Flint’s lack of comprehension, logic and basic writing skills is more than concerning. The resort to a knee-jerk fingerpointing and cries of “Republicanism!” is absurd and embarrassing, especially given I am a constitutional monarchist.

But that Quadrant backed off from a debate when one of their favourite sons was looking sickly is unforgivable. PP McGuinness and predecessors would be livid.

Find below my response to the petard on which Prof Flint hoist himself, and which Quadrant refused to publish [see UPDATE above].

If at any point the relevant articles are difficult to find online, here are Evernote links to my original article and  Prof Flint’s response. See my initial response to the Honours List announcement here to see the continuation of the Toff-Tory issue.

Fallacious Argument Isn’t Confined to the Left

David Flint does Constitutional Monarchists no favours by misrepresenting arguments and calling everyone he disagrees with a Republican, writes James Falk

Professor David Flint’s rebuttal to my recent article is deeply disappointing coming from someone of his position and experience. It is an extended misreading that does not address the article’s core concerns of effective political communication and political legitimacy.  It is one that is buttressed by misquotes and misrepresentations.  Even worse, it is one which puts at its centre a completely erroneous inference that I oppose and smear constitutional monarchists. Why would I? I am one.

I never thought I’d have to act like Quadrant’s forensically-gifted editor Keith Windshuttle on something Prof. Flint wrote.

Unfortunately for Prof. Flint, his writing seems to rely on an anti-republican autopilot developed to address arguments that differ from mine. The constitutional monarchy, many of its institutions and its supporters need no defence from me.

Yet Prof. Flint manages to claim that “Falk may choose to dismiss constitutional monarchy as not working” when I did not. Indeed, I didn’t even include the words “constitutional monarchy” in my piece.  He then spends hundreds of words on an anti-republican tirade that is, well, utterly irrelevant.

My constitutional monarchism may well be less visceral than Prof. Flint’s; I recognise that political legitimacy and authority are fragile things, and that our current arrangements succeed because our constitutional structures are adequate, they have sufficient customary and emotional resonance with citizens and political actors, and within them conventional limits of personal restraint and sense of duty still exist.

More important, I simply do not trust any modern political class to consciously design a republic where legitimacy and authority, and their emotional bases, will be as well established as in our current system.

Even if they did manage to design such a republic, I certainly don’t trust our contemporary political class to execute it effectively, or to act with the restraint and sense of duty necessary to maintain that legitimacy and authority.

Deliberate Misrepresentation, Deliberately Missing the Point

Apart from poor inference, Prof. Flint also claims I dismiss the constitutional monarchist as a “Toff-Tory strawman”. To that, I can only say read the lead:

When conservatives argue that capitalism, small government and a liberal democratic culture are the greatest forces for fairness and poverty-alleviation in human history, the Left can be expected to produce a Toff-Tory strawman to very effectively undermine the case.

By my account, a strawman is an informal logical fallacy where an unfair and untrue representation of an argument, or its bases, is used to win a rhetorical battle. It isn’t a real person. It isn’t a group of people. It is clear that Prof. Flint is very familiar with the term’s use, but in the context of this paragraph he is utterly unable to understand it.

There is no equation of Toff-Tories with constitutional monarchists here then. What I am writing about is a clearly an issue of political communication and rhetorical success. What I do say is that every time a subset of conservatives embraces Royalist measures that privilege seeming over policy or constitutional substance (see below), they provide partial justification for the Left’s use of this strawman. This bolsters the Left’s rhetorical tools, and can be used to taint the educated swinging voter’s core assumptions about conservative politics.

Prof. Flint then uses his misrepresentation to overtly describe my piece as “a very nasty and personal attack on constitutional monarchists”. He even uses the borrowed gravitas of naming a logical fallacy (in Latin, what’s more!), when his entire piece is based on a false premise. To paraphrase Mr Gump, logic is as logic does.

And for my political enemies and friends, readers of my writing, and fellow political-campaigners, the idea of aligning me in any way with “Marxists and their acolytes” would be, well, more than mildly surprising.

The Quote That Isn’t

More concerning for me is the quote that isn’t. Let’s put it down to sloppiness or heightened emotions, rather than malice. Compare the paragraph above from my piece, with this from Prof. Flint (quote marks Flint’s):

Falk has even devised a shorthand insult: constitutional monarchists are dismissed as ”Toff-Tory strawman” whom he dismisses as “the useful idiots of the left who can be relied on to  undermine hapless conservatives whenever they argue that capitalism, small government and a liberal democratic culture are the greatest forces for fairness and poverty-alleviation in human history.”

In my article there are no “useful idiots” and no ”hapless conservatives”. There is no “dismissal” of Toff-Tory strawmen [or constitutional monarchists], because, well, I know strawmen aren’t real people. The political communication argument seems too nuanced for a Prof. Flint who seems to seek offence, and Marxist republicans, wherever he looks.

Seeming Over Substance

Prof. Flint makes a false equivalence between core constitutional structures (such as the Westminster system, Monarch and Governor), and the formal, peripheral trappings of a Royalist system (such as toasts, oaths, Royal titles, barrister ranks and so on).

He completely ignores the point that those trappings only serve a political function when they support the legitimacy and authority of their broader system. When, for a large number of people on all sides of politics, they are empty of any engagement with national loyalty or acceptance of constitutional political authority, or they are meaningless, or they grate and embarrass, then those trappings are in fact damaging to broader acceptance of constitutional monarchy.

This is the core point Prof. Flint leaves unaddressed, certainly as it applies to these peripheral Royalist trappings:

…customs and conventions must be living and imbued with vitality; they must speak to the ideas of current legitimacy, authority and power if they are to be functional. Clinging to dead conventions that do not speak to a society, that no longer serve as unifying or justifying a social form, represents either tokenism or idealism completely contrary to the realist character of practical conservatism.

Perhaps, I suggest, he leaves it unaddressed because it doesn’t fall neatly into his Republican-Bad, Monarchist-Good playbook.

It is this embrace of Royalist form over substance I refer to as the essence of Toff-Toryism, and the evidence for the Toff-Tory strawman beloved of the Left. It, and the super-sensitiveness that evidently accompanies it, provide the Left with one of their most effective and enduring misrepresentations of conservative thought.

Minor Mea Culpas

This is not to say I wouldn’t change elements of my article. Certainly, it should have been more obvious that the Queen’s Counsel question was only an example, rather than the essence of my case. Equally, implying all states that removed the rank of QC were under Labor governments at the time was an unintentional mistake.

In order to separate the political communication issue from the example, I will be writing specifically on the QC question in Quadrant very shortly [subsequently withdrawn]

And, of course, indulging my inner Mark Latham on the “conga line of stuffed shirts” was inflammatory for the sake of it. That can be fun, but is rarely good communicative practice.

No doubt Prof. Flint will respond to this. It is only right that he should. I look forward to a more apposite critique.

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