In 1170, after a falling out with his former friend and sponsor, Henry II, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas A Beckett, was murdered in his Cathedral by four knights from the King’s household.
History since then has generally accepted that Henry’s frustrated utterance ‘Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?’ was taken as an implicit order to those knights to commit the murder.
I have been thinking a whole lot about this episode in the past week or so, since the former CEO of the National Australia Bank, Andrew Thorburn, was forced to resign as CEO of the Essendon Football Club after only one day in that new role.
There are legitimate reasons why people might object to Thornburn becoming CEO of an AFL club. His tenure at the National Australia Bank came to a premature end soon after the Banking Royal Commission several years ago, where he and the chair of the NAB both appeared to be both tone deaf and most lacking in repentance for the shortcomings of their bank’s highly profit driven conduct to the detriment of their customers.
But his well known career as a banker was not why he was forced to resign from Essendon. It was that it emerged that he was the Chair of an Anglican Church ministry known as ‘Cities on a Hill’. A pastor involved with this ministry raised concerns about abortion and homosexuality in 2013.
Our technocratic premier, Daniel Andrews, saw fit to mount a public attack on Thorburn on the basis of his involvement with this Anglican ministry, arguing that he was not fit to hold office at Essendon due to his involvement with a religious group which had expressed such views.
Andrew Thorburn is no turbulent priest, although he appears to be highly active in the Anglican Church, and Daniel Andrews is no king, even though he has the arrogance, authoritarianism, and haughtiness of one, but I still see parallels between his actions in condemning Thorburn and those of Henry II 850 years ago in implicitly ordering the murder of Archbishop Beckett.
In 1170, when kings actually ruled wielding actual powers, dissent from those elements of civil society which were powerful enough to counter the powers of the state could undermine the authority of the king, sometimes legitimately. The head of the Christian Church in England, Thomas A Beckett, was in a position to do so. Killing him was an attempt at silencing dissent.
Daniel Andrews is a technocrat who controls the state apparatus within Victoria. He has demonstrated in recent years that he does not tolerate any dissent and feels threatened by the very existence of Civil Society, which represents other sources of legitimacy and social stability to that of the state, which he directly controls.
Business, Religion and Sport are all parts of Civil Society which are are vital to our community, and which he has intruded upon during the period of the pandemic. In attacking Thorburn, he has seen an opportunity to assert his post-Pandemic authority over two aspects of civil society that he does not and can not directly control – religion and sport.
Premier Andrews has over reached himself in his role as Premier in condemning the decisions and values of sporting clubs and mainstream religious organisations in criticising the appointment of Thornburn on his religious affiliations. This is the sort of attack on private beliefs and civil society which is best suited to a nation where civil society is much weaker and where the abuses of power of the state are more frequent and systematic, such as Putin’s Russia or Chavez’s Venezuela.
I also find the people siding with Premier Andrews as hypocritical in their talk of greater tolerance. Being a Libertarian, I would love to see greater tolerance for everyone. What I instead see is that there has been a shift in the cultural conversation where those who were oppressed are now joyously embracing the role of oppressors. There is no tolerance, just intolerance from a different source.
It reminds me of the old Bugs Bunny cartoon where Bugs and Yosemite alternate in chasing one another depending on who has the most lethal weapon in their hand.
But it is more serious than that. It is not that long ago that being of a particular religion or not in this country determined whether you were eligible to hold public office or join certain clubs. That Daniel Andrews is prepared to intervene politically and argue that someone of a particular religion should not hold office in a sporting club is a matter of concern for everyone in this state and in this society. It is an intervention which undermines the freedom of expression and conscience of everyone.
His politically motivated religious intolerance is a disturbing step towards a religiously motivated intolerance, whether directed against people who have religious beliefs or those who (like me) are rather skeptical of such beliefs.