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creating john paul II Arrow vol 5 no 3 contents
About borderlands volume 5 number 3, 2006


Creating Pope John Paul II: Religion, the 'War on Terror'
and the Politics of Discourses of Howardage

Holly Randell-Moon

Macquarie University



This essay explores the ways in which Australian Prime Minister John Howard represented the death of Pope John Paul II by eulogising him as a liberationist who led the struggle for freedom against de-individualising regimes such as communism. Such a positioning attempts to align the Pope with the rhetoric of the current 'war on terror' by appealing to the 'common' elements of Christianity, reproduced in other contexts as 'the individual' and 'freedom of choice'. This has the effect of displacing the specificity of the Pope's Catholicism onto politicised discourses of 'freedom' and 'individualism' in Western democracies such as Australia. It is argued that these representations centre on a discursive production of religion specific to the Howard Government's political rhetoric. Through the development of a new term 'Howardage' the particular historical and cultural investments in Australianness, that are effected through the discursive framing of religion under the Howard Government, can be identified in representations of the Pope's death.  


1. Upon the death of Pope John Paul II, Australian Prime Minister John Howard observed that the Pope 'was not only a great moral and religious figure, but he was also a very significant political figure, in the best sense of that term' (Howard, 2005b). Later that day in a press conference on the event, Howard argued that the Pope 'opposed Soviet communism because he believed rightly that it diminished the individual and suppressed the spiritual content of man's being' (Howard, 2005c). The Pope's role as a 'moral and religious figure' is carefully differentiated from his location as a secular 'political figure' in the first statement. The separation of the secular and non-secular in this context performs a double movement. Firstly, this differentiation assumes that to be a 'religious' figure is distinct from a 'political' figure. Secondly, however, these two roles are nevertheless associated through their juxtaposition. This serves to reproduce a representation of the Pope as occupying a 'unique' historical position as both a 'moral and religious figure' and a 'political figure'. The Pope's support for both the 'individual' and 'the spiritual content of man's being' contributed to his political commitment to destabilising communism. It is not the Pope's status as singularly religious or political, but the articulation of their relationship by Howard that augments the Pope's 'political significance' and his death as an important historical event. Contextualising Howard's statement that the Pope was a 'political figure, in the best sense of that term' in his representations of the Pope's death, serves to elucidate some of the historical and cultural contingencies surrounding the relationship between religion and politics under the Howard Government.

2. This essay explores the specific ways in which Howard represented the death of the Pope by eulogising him as a liberationist who led the struggle for freedom against de-individualising regimes such as communism. By framing the Pope's leadership in explicitly political terms, Howard deploys both secular and non-secular language that aligns the Pope with the rhetoric of the current 'war on terror', despite the Pope having been opposed to the war in Iraq. This is achieved by reproducing 'common' elements of Christianity as fostering 'the individual' and 'freedom of choice'. The specificity of the Pope's Catholicism is then displaced onto politicised discourses of 'freedom' and 'individualism' in Western democracies such as Australia. Although Howard attempts to secularise the Pope's death, the political conceptions of the Pope are based on religious notions of the individual, specifically liberal Protestant ideals regarding autonomous political choice. The individual operates in specific ways in relation to Catholicism and Protestantism in Australian politics that are not apparent in Howard's utterances. The death of the Pope as an event conflates the historical and religious specificities of the Pope's life, as he is repositioned within Western political teleologies as a supporter of nations that provide 'freedom' to its individual citizens.  

3. The purpose of this essay is to trace the formation of a particular religious discourse increasingly utilised by the Howard Government. It does so by staging an examination of the effects of this discursive framing of religion in the context of media representations of Pope John Paul II's death and the resonances of this framing with the broader political context of the 'war on terror'. This examination draws on speeches and interviews given by Howard, as well as United States President George W. Bush and Pope John Paul II prior to his death. Using Richard Jackson's Writing the War on Terror, Katrina Lee Koo argues that a '"war on terror" discourse' is defined 'by a politically sanctioned vocabulary, such as "axis of evil", "evil doers", "freedom loving peoples" (Jackson, 2005: Ch. 3) which 'then achieves the status of "true knowledge" - at least among key actors and institutions' (2005: para. 4). To this end, this essay's interest is not in the relationship between Australian Prime Minsters and Popes or the influence of the Vatican on Australian politics as such. Whilst others have argued that Howard's commemoration of events of national importance suggests a blurring of the roles of Governor General and Prime Minister as ceremonial head of state (Irving, 2004: 110), the context for this essay is how representations of the Pope's death by Howard draw on the repetition of 'common sense' associations between Christianity, the individual and freedom of choice, consistent with the Howard Government's domestic policies. Such associations attempt to suggest a commensurability between the Pope's religious agenda and the Howard Government's cultural and political policy priorities despite two important distinctions: the Pope's opposition to the Iraq War and his apology to the 'stolen generations' for their forced removal by government and church authorities from their Indigenous families in the early to middle of the twentieth century.

4. The recuperation of religion, and more specifically Christianity, into the Howard Government's cultural agenda through a liberal individualistic discourse, underlines how religion is particularised according to specific cultural and social formations. Michel Foucault writes in 'Truth and Juridical Forms' that 'at a particular moment in the past, something happened that made religion appear. Religion was made; it did not exist before' (2000: 7). Foucault's notion of discourses as constitutive and historically specific, points to how religion is made manifest according to discursive relations of power/knowledge. This 'making' of religion emphasises the ways in which meaning making is discursively constructed and politically aligned. From this vantage point, the essay offers a critique of existing terminology used to describe the Howard Government's cultural and political agenda, such as 'Howardism', which fails to account for the productive nature of language and the discursive formation of religion. By developing the term Howardage, this 'making' of religion as historically and culturally contingent under the Howard Government will be identified in representations of the Pope's death.  

5. One such manifestation or 'making' of religion in contemporary politics is the blurring of the secular and non-secular sphere through political rhetoric across certain types of Western democratic political configurations such as the United States and Australia. The use of religion as an element of political rhetoric by conservative political parties, as with the Howard-led Liberal-National Coalition Government, is part of a broader strategy to transpose a particular strand of 'Christian values' into everyday culture. Marion Maddox writes in God Under Howard that 'religiously inflected social conservatism has become firmly enmeshed with right wing economic thought ... the emphasis on "family", "values" and "social stability" [has] played a key role in rebranding far-right social conservatism as "mainstream'' (2005: 24, 69). This is not to suggest that religiously inflected political rhetoric is unique to conservative political parties. Nor that politically aligned uses of religion are legitimate or otherwise within the contemporary local and global political environment, but such an alignment is not neutral and occurs at specific political moments for specific reasons. Utilising an understanding of religion as being 'made' in a Foucauldian sense is a productive approach to mapping the ways in which government policies are rendered culturally meaningful through religion by the Howard Government and how this cultural agenda informs representations of the Pope's death.

Contextualising the Pope's Death as a National Event

6. Pope John Paul II visited Australia twice, in 1986 and 1995, and John Howard had an audience with the Pope in Rome on July 6, 2002. The meeting was largely cursory and publicity related, no policy matters or issues were raised, though the Pope conveyed an amusing anecdote concerning kangaroo meat according to Howard (Howard, 2002). The Pope's death on the April 2, 2005, occasioned tributes from national and international political leaders and was reported widely in the mainstream Australian media. Howard's official position as Australian Prime Minister enabled a public response and evaluation of the event.

7. The Pope's death was a transient media event in that there was a high volume of coverage within three or four days surrounding April 2. Later relatively sparse references concerned the Pope's funeral, and whether Howard would attend, and later still the appointment of the new Pope Benedict XVI. Goldie Osuri and Bobby Banerjee suggest that global media events such as September 11, provide ways for 'both mainstream media (especially print and television) and diverse cultural groups within the nation-state in collaboration with the government' to actively produce 'local narratives and discourses about translocal alignments between the United States and Australia as Western countries under attack for their democratic traditions' (2004: 158). Adjusting Osuri's and Banerjee's arguments to media representations of the Pope's death, we can say that this event functioned within a global setting to enable the Government to produce specific localised discourses about Australia and its relation to the United States through the 'war on terror'.

8. In this media event, democracy was not 'under attack' but threaded through the Pope's death in order to reiterate an investment in Australia as Western, democratic, nation through a particular association between religion and politics informed by the wider political framework of the 'war on terror'. This association was constituted through a reproduction of religion and politics as comprising essential qualities. Religion on the one hand stressing 'dignity' and 'spirituality', which are transposed by Howard into political conceptions of 'freedom', 'progress', and 'individualism'. By interrogating Howard's remarks about the Pope's death, we can see the discursive intersections between religion and politics are intertwined in a complex cultural nexus. It will be demonstrated how the making of religion through the Pope's death was a way of signifying political 'progression' in the 'war on terror', and within a local context, to situate Australia as a nation within this development.

9. The essay firstly provides a framework for the representation of religion in discourses of secularism. It will then work through the theoretical connections between language, religion and the Howard Government's cultural agenda in order to provide a background for the way Howard deploys political language in the context of religion. The essay concludes by applying these ideas to a critical examination of the specific ways in which the Pope's death provided a means of reproducing Australia as a democratic supporter of individualism and freedom.

Representations of Secularism

10. In Australian Liberals and the Moral Middle Class, Judith Brett describes politics as being concerned with 'symbolic work, about explaining to people how their society is changing, about why new policies are needed and what they are, about recognising new groups and new needs, and giving people new images of themselves and their country' (2004: 147). This 'symbolic work' underlines how material political structures and effects are constituted and rendered culturally meaningful through language. In the case of religion and politics, this relationship is symbolised and made manifest through what Maddox defines as the 'broadly liberal separationist' discourse concerning the delineation of the secular from the non-secular (2001: 107).

11. This delineation underpins most writing on politics in, for example, popular newspapers, despite a demonstrable blurring of religion and politics in political rhetoric. In an article for the Sunday Telegraph called 'No one wants to be left at the political altar', Matt Price argues that Howard's invocation of Christianity in his 2004 valedictory speech to the parliament is contrary to normal political secularism. Howard is quoted within the article saying that Christmas is 'an occasion of the year that celebrates the birth of the most significant figure in human history, Jesus of Nazareth' ( 2004: 101). Price writes, however, 'Australia remains an irreverent and secular nation ... Nor is there any hint that religion will wield the influence here that it does in the US [United States]' ( 2004: 101). This speech is viewed within a framework of secularism by Price, who fails to recognise the significance of the Australian Prime Minster promoting a specific kind of religion as mainstream and transhistorical. Price's comments are reflective of a broader conception of Australian politics as somehow greatly secular in comparison to other countries such as the United States of America (Maddox, 2001: 2).

12. Religion cannot be unbound from the political (nor other) institutions in Australian society. Australia's preamble includes a reference to 'Almighty God', both houses of Parliament open with prayer, and the bipartisan Parliamentary Christian Fellowship organises the opening of Parliament Services . Despite obvious overlaps between religion and politics, Maddox argues in For God and Country , 'neither our institutional arrangements nor our founding narratives have so far generated much substantial discussion about the proper relationship between religion and the state' (2001: 106). Rather than propose a prescriptive or normative 'proper relationship' between religion and politics, this essay is concerned here with the slippage between the two terms, and how the 'symbolic' nature of secular political structures can be rendered leaky through their constitution in language.

'Howardism' and 'Howardage'

13. The Howard Government's 'symbolic work' in framing religion occurs through a specific set of political and ethical agendas characterised by political commentators as 'Howardism'. Howardism refers to the cultural changes brought about by a long serving government. The 'ism' deriving from the idea of Thatcherism, named after British conservative Margaret Thatcher who was Prime Minister from 1979 - 1990 ( Leys, 1989: 101-103; Skidelsky, 1988; Thatcher, 1993) , and whom is considered by Howard to be one of his major political influences (see Wright, 2005). Angela Shanahan in an article for The Age defines Howardism as 'loosely' referring to 'social conservatism combined with economic liberalism' (2003). Robert Manne defines Howardism similarly in this way, but also draws attention to what he calls 'conservative populism ... Howard's willingness to ignore the traditional liberal values he associates with the "elites" and to make a direct appeal, as in the case of Tampa, to the gut instincts of the "people"' (2004). Greenfield and Williams argue Howard's rhetoric forms part of the 'effectiveness of "Howardism"', a rhetoric that presents 'policies as representing the common sense and interests of "the mainstream" against ... ideologically driven' (2001: 32, 39) and purportedly divisive identifications based on class, ethnicity, gender, or sexuality.

14. All of these definitions characterise the Howard Government's cultural agenda as combining the ostensibly disparate political discourses of liberal economics and social conservatism. Such an agenda is presented through a bifurcation between the 'elites' and minorities with 'mainstream' Australia. However, focusing on the Howard Government's political and cultural agenda in and of itself reiterates an opposition between political discourses and the material social level upon which politics marks its effects. This has two results.

15. Firstly, hermetically analysing the Howard Government's combination of liberal economics and social conservatism in government policy masks the ways in which these discourses are informed by both local and translocal political and cultural alignments. Maddox observes that the concept of Howardism construes this agenda as unique through Howard (2005: 197, 198), despite for example, the previous Labor government under Paul Keating sharing similar economic policies. There is also the assumption these policies will 'fade' when Howard is out of office (2005: 5), as if Howard has entered and exited from an otherwise extraneous Australian cultural and social setting.

16. Secondly, focusing exclusively on the way Howard's rhetoric constructs an opposition between the 'elites' and the 'mainstream' risks reiterating this binary unless Howard's language is contextualised through its social and cultural outcomes. In addition, the notion of Howardism diminishes the role of religion if the Howard Government's economic and social policies are viewed as intrinsically disparate but located within an internal logic of Howard's cultural agenda. That is, Howardism does not account for the ways in which Howard's language is productive in making religion rather than reflecting a set of cultural and political values. Howardism then requires a modification when looking more specifically at Howard's language and the multiple ways religion is used to legitimate different sorts of claims to power. In order to define the process of de-contextualised rhetoric that collapses disparate discourses, the term 'Howardage', a pun on Howard and adage, will be used.

17. Through 'Howardage', discourses of 'family' and 'Christianity' are made indistinguishable from liberal notions of individualism and freedom of choice. This is evident in the operation of government social policy. Howard's proposals for the establishment of Family Relationship Centres in 2005 are concerned with both 'the welfare of Australian families' (Howard, 2005e: 1) and the idea that family is 'the greatest social welfare system mankind has ever devised' (2005e: 4). Howardage works through a twin discourse whereby two ideas are juxtaposed to produce a discursive association. In this case, the Family Relationship Centres operate for the welfare of Australian families, whilst at the same time their establishment derives from the notion that families are a form of welfare in themselves, suggesting it was this latter point that established the Centres and not a politically aligned view of the family.

18. The notion of family as enabling welfare can be contrasted with occurrences of the Howard Government producing policies that interrupt the choices of some families. The Howard Government's legislation banning same-sex marriage (the Marriage Amendment Act 2004 ) is implicitly based on Christian discourses concerning heterosexual marriage. Yet Howard defines Christianity as individual freedom of choice, 'one of the driving philosophical forces of Christianity is individual choice and free will' (Howard, 2004: 118). Invoking religion is inherently ambiguous, given that the naturalised assumptions regarding 'Christianity' are made to occlude the discursive predicates upon which the term is evoked. As such, Howard's use of the word 'family' as a universal referent deconstructs itself in different contexts as a specific marker of heterosexual subjects who are prepared to be gendered and define marriage as procreative. Howardage becomes the way that policy becomes palatable but invisibilises the strategies that construct the policy. This does not mean that these political strategies reside with or have been created by Howard, rather Howardage becomes a way of bringing together disparate discourses to produce a discursive formation along specific political lines.

19. By identifying Howardage it is possible to map the ways in which a 'distinctive set or chain of meanings' (Hall, 2003: 89) is articulated in reference to specific terms in Howard's utterances. The negotiation of religion and politics through Howardage deploys both secular and non-secular language that invisibilises culturally contingent notions such as the 'family', and, as the following will demonstrate, Christianity, the individual, freedom and the human.

Representations of the Pope's Death by the Howard Government

20. Howardage is also in play in Howard's essentially political and secular constructions of Pope John Paul's life. As noted above, for Howard, the Pope is a 'significant political figure, in the best sense of that term'. What renders the Pope politically significant in Howard's terms is the preservation of individual notions of freedom that are mutually compatible with the Pope's religion. Stuart Hall writes in 'The Whites of Their Eyes' that 'language, broadly conceived, is by definition the principal medium in which we find different ideological discourses elaborated' (2003: 89). That is, 'the articulation of different elements into a distinctive set or chain of meanings' (2003: 89) produces a naturalised cultural repertoire for the speaker to draw on. The use of 'freedom' for example, in the context of liberalism, becomes necessarily related 'with individualism and the free market' (2003: 89, 90) which makes their connections appear self-evident and unproblematic when spoken.

21. The Pope's contribution to Western politics is narrativised as a teleological development of freedom and its relation to individualism, in comparison to the failure of de-individualising regimes such as communism. The Pope's Christian religion is used as an element of contradistinction to communism. In reference to Karol Józef Wojtyla's role in opposing communism in post-war Poland before he was ordained as Pope, mentioned above, Howard says 'he opposed Soviet communism because he believed rightly that it diminished the individual and suppressed the spiritual content of man's being', and that the Pope's religion was 'a wonderful demonstration of the importance of the individual ... and the inherent right of every man and woman to be free' (Howard, 2005d). By appealing to politicised notions of 'freedom' and the 'individual', Howard situates the Pope's role as a religious figure as contributing to the development of Western democracies such as Australia.

22. In the same way, when commenting on the Pope's death, United States President George W. Bush argued, 'the Pope preached that the call of freedom is for every member of the human family' and that it was this 'moral truth' that contributed to the fall of communism (Bush, 2005). In Howard and Bush's utterances, 'freedom' operates in association with the teleological development of global capitalist economies. In the context of a speech describing how democracy destabilised the communist Soviet Union, Bush locates 'freedom' as 'a momentum which would not be halted' (Bush, 2003). 'Freedom' and 'individualism' then are mutually reinforced by religion, producing an articulation where the development of democracy is inevitable and displaced from economic, cultural, and historical contingencies.   

'Common' and 'Basic' Christianity

23. The notion of the individual functions to de-specify the Pope's religion as Catholic (and religious significance as head of the Catholic Church) and collapse all Christian denominations and differences into 'common' elements of Christianity. The construction of a 'common' and 'basic' Christianity masks a series of distinctions, such as that between Protestantism and Catholicism, in how religion is practised and its impact on politics. For example, in a radio interview Howard expresses that:

As a non-Catholic Christian could I say I admired him immensely ... There were some issues obviously where there are ranges of views within Christendom but by and large the central tenets of the Christian faith are articulated by all combinations of Christianity (Howard, 2005d).

24. Howard refers to the 'basic' or 'central' tenets of Christianity several times in his comments on the Pope's death. In an earlier interview on ABC Radio's AM Programme , the Pope is described as displaying 'strength' and 'determination' in his defence of 'the central tenets of the Christian faith' (Howard, 2005b). In Howard's press conference on the event he reiterates the Pope's strength in holding 'fast to the central tenets of the Catholic Church' (Howard, 2005c).

25. Identified by Price as 'a Methodist-turned-Anglican who attends church irregularly' (2004: 101), Howard asserts the commonality of all Christian denominations as part of his biographical background. In a 1998 episode of ABC's Compass program he noted 'I would just as easily go to another Christian church, right across the religious spectrum ... certainly what I would call the Protestant-Catholic-Anglican traditions it wouldn't make any difference to me' (quoted in Maddox, 2001: 13). What renders these specific strands of Christianity into 'basic tenets' for Howard is the underlying notion of the individual. These meanings of 'Christianity' are demonstrative of another example of Howardage where criticisms of the exclusivity of the church are annulled by Christianity's connection to individualism. In his 2004 valedictory speech, mentioned in Price's article above, Howard elaborates on these basic tenets, saying:

For all the brickbats that have been hurled at the Christian churches and for all their failings and for all the failings, personal sins and indiscretions of some of their members, it remains the fact that the Christian religion is the greatest force for good, progress and dignity of the individual in this nation (Howard, 2004: 118).

26. This use of Christianity is dependant upon a religion that has a transhistorical essence but is linked to specific historical markers. This Howardage involves the installation of Christian mythology as a kind of historical truth or 'fact'. Here again is the rhetorical strategy by which Christianity becomes both the result and cause of a specific historical and political agenda. Hall argues 'ideologies "work" by constructing for their subjects (individual and collective) positions of identification and knowledge which allow them to 'utter' ideological truths as if they were their authentic authors' (2003: 90). In this way, the veracity of an event is supported by an appeal to common knowledge so that culturally contingent statements appear to 'be simply descriptive statements about how things are (i.e., must be)' (2003: 90). Howard's utterances concerning the Pope are displaced as authentic and mutually constitutive reflections of politics and religion. The Pope's religion enables individualism, which produces freedom and supports political systems such as democracy, because Christianity is essentially 'good'.

Protestantism and Australian Politics

27. Although he attempts to promote a transhistorical sense of Christianity and 'goodness', Howard's notion of the liberal 'individual', however, is articulated in reference to specific markers, such as participation in the free market, and is complicated by its historical and cultural connections to Protestantism. Howard's alignment of the Pope's religious contribution to individualism invisibilises the significance of Protestant conceptions of the individual and its contribution to the development of the Liberal Party as an opposition to the Labor Party.

28. Notions of political members as individuals with the freedom of choice to vote according to their conscience formed the basis of non-Labor party's criticisms against the Labor party in early twentieth century. Members of the Labor Party, who represented the union movement and working-class citizens, were seen as signifying sectional interests, which curtailed individual judgement concerning political decisions. Brett posits that this derives from 'the complex intertwined history of liberalism and Protestantism in which the Protestant reformation's fight for freedom of religious conviction paved the way for its secularisation in liberalism's independence of political judgment' (2004: 40). This conception of individualism as liberal and democratic therefore tended to invisibilise Protestantism through the use of secular language. In contrast, such language framed and visibilised Catholicism as overtly 'religious'. The Vigilant , a newspaper produced by 'the Victorian (later Australian) Protestant Federation', in 1925 opines that unlike Roman Catholics, 'Anglicans, Presbyterians, Methodists and other Protestants go into public life as citizens. They are to be found in all parties. They do not combine for sectional or sectarian purposes. But Romanists do' (quoted in Brett, 2004: 54). Coupled with stereotypical associations of working-class citizens and Catholicism, the Labor Party's ability to govern was seen as doubly impaired by sectional rather than national interests. As such, anti-communist sentiment expressed by non-Labor parties was often overlain by anti-Catholicism. For example, in 1921 Fighting Line , 'the publication of the New South Wales branch of the Nationalist Party', drew an analogy between the red symbol of communists and the colours of 'papal and cardinal vestments' of 'the Catholic Church militant' (quoted in Brett, 2004: 72).

29. Where the Pope's Catholic religion enables secular individualism, Howard's inferential use of the word 'individual' performs an occlusion of the historical characterisation of the interaction between Catholicism and the Labor Party as de-individualising. Catholicism's specific ties to cultural and class markers are then extraneous to and can be subsumed by a superseding national identity. Howard localises the event of the Pope's death by linking it to a sense of nationalism, saying, 'all Australians will want me to express at this time a particular sense of sympathy and solidarity with the Australian Catholic community' (Howard, 2005c). The 'individual' then becomes re-positioned within discursive articulations of nationality and the free market that enables a further connection between 'freedom' and 'human' to be drawn out.

Freedom, Individualism and Humanness

30. Through Howardage, the distinctions that Howard masks in his use of Christianity elide the construction or making of religion for specific political and cultural agendas. The Pope's Christianity is connected to liberal economic discourses on the individual which frames religion in a way that is consistent with aspects of Howard's domestic social policies. The Howard Government was elected in 1996 as part of the Coalition government, comprised of a majority Liberal Party with a minority National Party. The Howard Government promoted a cultural agenda that served to re-centre policy support for 'mainstream' Australians which was predicated on the idea that these values were being threatened by 'privileged interest groups', 'minority fundamentalism' and 'political correctness' under the previous Labor government (Allon, 1997: 12). The Pope's religious agenda is portrayed as connected to an adherence to core and essential values in opposition to subjective interests. Howard comments that the Pope 'was an unwavering critic of those who believed that watering down the faith in the face of criticism would win support' (Howard, 2005c) and that 'he was an impressively strong man in defending his faith against what he regarded as negative modernist trends' (Howard, 2005b). The Pope's Christianity is positioned as an essential value extraneous to social or 'modern' formations. This faith is essentially durable because it is not subject to or dependent upon vacillating influences and criticisms.

31. The use of the 'individual' functions similarly as an essentialised and universal category in Howard's utterances concerning democracy and freedom. Howard argues in an interview that the Pope 'opposed communism ... because it restricted people's freedom'. However, as the interviewer draws attention to, this same 'restriction' formed part of the Pope's opposition to the war in Iraq (Howard, 2005d). Emphasising the Iraq war's potential to exacerbate a Christian and Islam binary, the Pope stated, 'we must not allow a human tragedy also to become a religious catastrophe' (ABC, 2003). The Pope's criticism of the Iraq War frames it within a human oriented conflict subject to human responsibility. By contrast, religious or political institutions such as Christianity, democracy, and the individual, are discursively located in Howard's utterances as extraneous to human action or agency which dislocates them from historical and cultural contingencies.

32. Influenced by the US Bush Administration's '"war on terror" discourse' (Lee Koo, 2005), Howardage attaches economic progression to the individual as a means of fostering political environments that can overcome terrorism. This provides one of the ways in which democracy is 'articulated to express a Western identity even as it functions unevenly within nations like Australia and the United States in the context of "otherised" populations' (Osuri and Banerjee, 2004: 152). In a speech delivered to the National Endowment for Democracy, Bush stated that 'eventually, men and women who are allowed to control their own wealth will insist on controlling their own lives and their own country' (Bush, 2003). Through Howardage the representation of Australia as a neo-liberal economic democracy is used to signify 'modern' progression as a Western nation. Howard describes economic changes and policies under his government as 'modernisation, it's been the inevitability of Australia being part of globalisation. It was essential, unavoidable and I believe overwhelmingly beneficial' (quoted in Kelly, 2001: 243). This is connected to the invocation of democracy and 'democratic' religions such as Christianity as a defence against de-individualising political and religious regimes that purportedly reproduce terrorism. Bush makes this explicit when he argues religions need to be consistent with democracy and freedom. 'A religion that demands individual moral accountability, and encourages the encounter of the individual with God, is fully compatible with the rights and responsibilities of self-government' (Bush, 2003). Likewise, Howard has argued that 'modern and democratic Islamic governments are the greatest antidote towards the spread of radical Islam' (Asia Pulse, 2005). Thus although Howard describes the Pope as being opposed to 'negative modernist trends', this modernness is ascribed a negativity when it detracts from traditional and stable social ideals. When applied economically, this modernness signifies political progression that is extrapolated as only relating to democracy.

33. This connection between economic progression and individualism in Howardage functions metonymically in the context of freedom. On the day of the Pope's death, Howard commemorated him in an address to the Liberal Party Victorian Division State Council, saying 'we think not only of his contribution to the word wide church and to Christianity but we think of his contribution to the world wide cause of freedom which has helped shaped [sic] the lives of all of us in the last sixty years' (Howard, 2005a). This use of 'freedom' is qualified as 'modernisation' by democratic nations that provide choice and mobility to its citizens through liberal economic policies. Robert Hogg argues that economic rationalism, underpinning discourses of liberal economics, conceives of 'freedom' in a specific way:

Freedom means freedom from restraints, not positive freedom from lack. Economic rationalists believe that anyone is free to improve economically and socially if left alone to do so without inference and if they are diligent, hard working and subscribe to the power of the market. Failure is the fault of the individual - they obviously were not prepared to work hard enough or according to the principles of the market (Hogg, 2002: 240).

34. The enterprising and economically progressive individual is modelled on a subject that already has capacities for choice and mobility, but may require an amplification of those conditions. Conceived this way, individualistic economic policies furnish intrinsic human values. As Howard says of Christianity, 'there is no force which is greater for the enhancement of individuals and liberation of the human spirit' (Howard, 2004: 118, 119). Howardage produces a discursive formation whereby individualism and freedom lose their specificity from liberal economic discourses and become applicable to a generalised set of democratic values that both oppose and inhibit terrorism. This is married to an understanding of the individual that replicates these democratic values as human values in the context of religion.

Race, the Individual and Humanness

35. The word 'human', as with 'individual', operates in Howardage according to what Judith Butler describes as the 'differential norm of the human', which invites an implicit comparison to non-human or the other who cannot be apprehended as human (2004: xiv, xv). The Pope's religion is recuperated into the Howard Government's cultural agenda in order to reproduce an undifferentiated conception of the individual and freedom. This has the effect of dissolving the structural inequalities that limit the actions of certain subject positions. This is not to suggest that conditions such as social equalities/inequalities are more determinant than subjective agency, as Butler puts it, 'conditions do not "act" in the way that individual agents do, but no agent acts without them' (2004: 11). The ways in which the individual operates, through self-generated acts, in neo-liberal conditions establishes who is appropriate the model of the human. 'There are racial and ethnic frames by which the recognizably human is ... constituted' (2004: 90) that notions of 'the human spirit' in relation to Christianity obscure.

36. The association between 'Christianity' and the 'individual' in Howardage attempts to assign specific cultural, religious, and class-based notions of Australianness to universal features of freedom and democracy. This has the effect of producing racially unmarked subjects and disassociates this positioning from the investment in and protection of an Anglo-Centric framing of national identity. In this way, what Aileen Moreton-Robinson terms 'the possessive logic of patriarchal white sovereignty is deployed to promote the idea of race neutrality through concepts attached to the ideals of democracy such as egalitarianism, equity and equal opportunity' (2004: para. 6). That is, 'racial discrimination in Australia is not associated with the unacknowledged culturally sanctioned beliefs that defend the advantages white people have because of the theft of Indigenous lands' (2004: para. 4). An understanding of the individual as relating to others through symmetrical social and power relations informs specific Howard Government policies towards Indigenous rights that obscures the continuation of white privilege based on the erasure of Indigenous sovereignty.

37. In 2001, the Pope apologised on behalf of the Catholic Church to Indigenous children who were removed from their parents by government and church agencies in assimilationist policies throughout the twentieth century until the 1970s (BBC, 2001); colloquially referred to as the 'stolen generations'. In a speech regarding his Motion of Reconciliation in 1999, Howard argued that:

[P]resent generations of Australians cannot be held accountable ... for the errors and misdeeds of earlier generations. Nor should we ever forget that many people who were involved in some of the practices which caused hurt and trauma felt at the time that those practices were properly based. To apply retrospectively the standards of today in relation to their behaviour does some of those people who were sincere an immense injustice (Howard, 1999).

38. Positioning citizens as individuals dissolves collective responsibility and erases colonial dislocation to produce racially unmarked Australians and invisibilise whiteness. It is useful to compare Howard's 'common' or 'basic' notion of Christianity as encompassing individual freedom with criticisms by mainstream Christian churches of his proposals to amend Native Title legislation in 1998, which were seen as repealing Indigenous land rights claims. Howard explained that:

[T]he church ... has, not only many denominations, but many positions within denominations and it has many spokesmen and women and committees. And you can't assume that, for example, [Anglican Primate] Archbishop Carnley speaks for the entire Anglican Church, he speaks essentially for himself and some body of opinion within the Anglican Church ... At the end of the day nobody owns the moral conscience of this nation. At the end of the day each of us has got to make our own individual moral judgement ... I have great respect for the role of churches in the Australian community ... But at the end of the day we all make our own moral judgements, they don't have a superior ownership of moral issues (quoted in Maddox, 2005: 148, 149).

39. Howardage positions the individual here as rejecting common Church consensus on 'moral' issues and exercising independent judgement. Yet if we recall Howard's statement that Christianity is the source of 'individual choice and free will', this exercising of independent judgement (and potential rejection of the Church) is nevertheless still rooted in Christian values. The association of Christianity and the 'liberation of the human spirit' are then reliant upon a specific type of individual humanness. The individual is reproduced as an agent within a cause and effect social setting, where the location of a subject within parameters that limit certain actions, such as the retention of land for Indigenous Australians, is actively ignored. The representation of religion as expressive of 'humanness' serves to frame its association with specific political conceptions of the individual and 'freedom' as universal and value-neutral. During the Howard government's response to a United Nations report reproving Australia's human rights violations in the area of racial discrimination in 2005, a member from Brazil was moved to say of the Australian ambassador that 'as a veteran diplomat, this statement, with its language describing programs and attacks on NGOs, reminds me of the sort of statement from communist bloc counties and Latin American dictatorships that Australia used to condemn' (Marr, 2005: 13; see Zifcak, 2005).


40. If the Pope is a 'significant political figure, in the best sense of that term', the means through which the Pope is located within a broadly Protestant individualist theological framework is an appropriation of the Christian in order to reconfigure the Pope's death into the Howard Government's cultural agenda. Religion becomes de-specified through a collapsing of inter-denominational differences into a 'common' consolidation of Christianity. These 'common' values are universalised as 'individualism' and 'freedom of choice' which functions to mask the influence of politically aligned conceptions of the individual and human rights. Through Howardage the construction of the Pope's death as a significant political event occurs by positioning the individual as dissolved from collective identification, or responsibility, into a capitalist economy. By discursively locating this individual within the political rhetoric of 'the war on terror', economic and individual freedom is articulated as producing, rather than deriving from, democracies, where the failure of de-individualising regimes is ahistorical, teleological, and inevitable.


Holly Randell-Moon is a doctoral candidate in Critical and Cultural Studies at Macquarie University, Sydney, exploring the intersections between religion and politics under the Howard Government. She has previously published in the Australian Critical Race and Whiteness Studies Journal.


I wish to thank Anthony Lambert and Elaine Kelly for their helpful insights on the various versions of this essay as well as the anonymous reviewers for suggestions relating to context and theoretical focus.


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