books politics

What is power

Something about Leunig at his best leaves me speechless. It’s the expression of that idea, but without leaving me any referrent I could pass on to anyone else. I’m left, dumb, pointing, mouthing “look! look! That’s it!”

6 replies on “What is power”

Hi Tom. Sorry, I’ve never got Leunig. He seems just a straightforward combination of the standard left wing package and cynicism – both of which are pretty silly, especially cynicism. You’ll have to explain to me why you think he is good. Nicol

Nicol. Leunig isn’t classically left wing (in fact, he’s a social conservative in many ways – see his cartoons on the baby in the creche for example). He’s a dreamer, but not of a socialist or communist utopia. Maybe some old-fashioned ideal of community, power, elites and personal ethics.

I don’t think he’s cynical either – more a manic depressive who fluctuates between hope/belief in the innate humanity of mankind, and despair for its self-destructiveness. His cartoons juxtapose the *little people* (Mr Curly, Ducks, etc – as symbols for humanity, confusion, kindness, hope) with our social and political context (of power, authority, language/discourse, news) and all the tools of our everyday abuses (anti-depressants, petrol, oil, flags, fridge magnets).

Sure he has a political agenda, but its not polemic, and doesn’t manifest a conflict of the left and right.

Hi Will, good to read you there! Glad someone read my comment. I have to admit that I haven’t read many Leunig sketches, but I’ll analyse this one to say why I don’t like it.

There are six question-reply pairs, I’ll comment on each in turn.

1. This is just cheap cyncism. Some people DO have more liberty than other. People without liberty are miserable.

2. Cheap cynicism of the same kind. Admittedly our democracy leave much to be desired, but to pretend that we have no democracy is the route to the destruction of what little we have (as in, your democracy is a lie – accept my (probably worse) alternative).

3. Again cheap cynicism. See 1. and 2.

4. I take this as to mean, Justice is when everything you want is availiable. To be honest I find this statement a bit obscure, but not that objectionable. Although he loves to tie it in with that classic enemy of the ‘left-wing package’, supermarkets. By ‘left-wing package’ I do not mean the left, but that standard political package that many undergraduate students buy into without really questioning anything.

5. Sorry I don’t get this.

6. Well this just seems like a combination of a number of dull and cliched factors with not much content and a cheesy style. Truth is powers stinks of postmodernism which I can’t even be bothered to argue against. Truth is what is. Power is ones capacity to control what is. They are different things. If he means that the powerful can control what we beleive to be true, well that’s nothing new, and why doesn’t he just say that. The rest of the sentence is just trying to fit in with some kind of ‘easy rider’, isn’t this an alternative and cool cartoon, kind of ethos.

Well, there’s my rant. I must admit that I did think one of his cartoons about a duck was okay, but this cartoon, when I get it, irritates me.


Hey Nicol,

I’m glad we can get some serious intellectual discussion going on for once (whoever runs this blog is clearly a relentless egomaniac with pretensions to pseudo-philosophy and cheap french wine) 😉

In response to your points….

First caption, not sure this is best described as cheap cynicism (heck, is it realism? I don’t know). Sure, people without liberty may be miserable. But so are millions of people with liberty. Ok, so maybe they are not oppressed, brutalised, tortured, abused – but should we be complacent about that? Do we really have “liberty”. Do those born into poverty in highrise tower blocks in Manchester have the same liberty as those born into wealth and education? The point about this caption (and each of the parts of the cartoon – i think) is that Leunig is challenging the concepts that we assume (or are encouraged to assume) as given – liberty, democracy, choice, freedom, justice, truth. Do any of these things really mean what is claimed? I don’t think Leunig is denying them absolutely as imporant – but that the present status of our democracies is degraded from the values upon which they are supposedly founded. The target of this criticism is their political application.

Ok, so second caption – “democracy is a movie”, As said, I don’t think Leunig is denying the values of democracy – just that what is talked about as being this holy grail of modern life is not necessarily the solution to all the problems of the world. Do democracies empower people – well some …. but not all. Anyway, democracy is staged and choreographed like a movie. “Democracy” in Iraq – who decided the constitution? Who decides how the government is to be structured? Who decides when elections are to be held? There are already winners and losers by the time people go to vote. Will the Kurds lose out?

Ok, so by calling it “a movie” Leunig may be pushing this point in describing democracy as a fiction. Nontheless, there is some validity in what he alludes to. I would dispute that is cynical. Then again, maybe i’m just a cynical bastard too.

Third – “freedom is a recreational drug”… Again, isn’t the point that freedom is something that we aspire to when we don’t have, then abuse and take for granted when we have it – evidence in the falling levels of voter participation in much of the western world.

(So, I don’t think Leunig is denying freedom is important, but that humanity is condemned to abuse or neglect it).

Five – well “choice is what happens when there’s lots and lots of bargains”, ok – maybe Leunig is being a bit opaque, but isn’t the point of this that “choice” is often a mirage of just taking what you can get. Do i have the “choice” of driving a Skoda or a Rolls Royce? Ok- so the fact that choices are imposed by the constraints within which we make them isn’t particularly clever. But “choice” is part of the democratic-economic vocabulary of freedom and empowerment that is totally loaded in favour of the “haves and have-mores” as GW likes to call them.

Six – I don’t think Leunig is a postmodernist. Quite the contrary – he’s protesting against the use of power to enforce “truths”. So, yeah -maybe that’s nothing new. But, his communication of that argument appeals more to humanity than to the conventional “scientfic” belief in the objectivity of fact. Much of his philosophy is sympathetic to a more primitive, personal existence.

Leunig is neither standardly left-wing, nor entirely cynical – see the other ‘toon of his posted on this site for an example

It might just be my selection bias that makes nicol think Leunig is so…

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