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The art of Australian political biography

Bolton, G. (2006) The art of Australian political biography. In: Arklay, T., Nethercote, J. and Wanna, J., (eds.) Australian Political Lives: Chronicling Political Careers and Administrative Histories. ANU E Press, Canberra, ACT, pp. 1-13.


Real intellectuals do not do political biography. Biography as a genre is suspect because it lends itself to a discourse of old fashioned narrative, beginning with the life and parentage of the subject and heading predictably towards death and posthumous reputation. Political biography is doubly suspect because it carries with it a whiff of the ‘great man in history’ heresy. This suggests that if Halifax and not Churchill had become prime minister of Britain in 1940, or if Al Gore had won the presidential elections in the United States in 2000, the world somehow would not have been absolutely identical to the world we know today. Political biography, at least since Plutarch nearly two thousand years ago, is also prone to contamination with a moral agenda, or at the very least to an implication that the lives of past statesmen may convey lessons and examples to the political leader s of our own generation. (And m y use of the term ‘statesman’ will alert the perceptive reader to the further danger that, since individuals of the masculine per suasion have traditionally exercised political power , political biography is ineradicably flawed with gender bias.)

Publication Type: Book Chapter
Murdoch Affiliation: Vice Chancellery
Publisher: ANU E Press
Copyright: © 2006 ANU E Press
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