Reflections on the Life of John Bennett of Melbourne, Civil Libertarian and Culture Hero

Published: 2013-08-18

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NOTE: This is a text brutally edited by the editor, originally written by Mr. Jackson and submitted to the New Times Survey, to be published by the Australian League of Rights. It will eventually appear on their website .

On 27th July a death notice was published in Melbourne’s premier newspaper The Age. John Bennett had died. It appears that John’s body had been discovered in his small Carlton house on the 22nd, his arms folded and his cat beside him.

John Bennett first entered my life when we were fellow students at the University of Melbourne in the late 50s and early 60s. Wikipedia states that he graduated with honours in law in 1958 and arts in 1966; but I remember him simply as an interesting and talkative person who was dating an acquaintance of mine, a charming and willowy blonde named Janice Llewellyn.

Perhaps my next clear memory of the man is that of his battle of correspondence in The Age, I think in 1979. He was defending Holocaust revisionism and Arthur Butz’s book The Hoax of the Twentieth Century. As a man who had recently engaged vigorously in fourteen years’ public campaigning to defend Rhodesia, I knew how arduous such participation is; and I thought to myself: ‘Thank God, I’m not involved in that controversy!’ But later on it found me anyway.

In the late ‘70s a challenge was mounted to the hitherto almost universally upheld understanding that Nazi Germany had engaged in a horrific attempt to exterminate its Jews by means of gas chambers in which several millions had been killed. I grew up accepting that as just as much a historical fact as the assassination of Julius Caesar or the Battle of Hastings in 1066. In France a university professor named Robert Faurisson published a claim that the alleged homicidal gas chambers had never existed. A German judge, Wilhelm Stäglich, published a book on Auschwitz with the same perspective. And an American engineering professor, Arthur Butz, published his book in which he argued that what became known, simply, as ‘the Holocaust’ was ‘the hoax of the Twentieth Century’.

Bennett, who had helped establish the Victorian Council for Civil Liberties (now Liberty Victoria) in 1966 and who was its secretary, decided to investigate these startling theses.

He experienced a ‘road to Damascus’ conversion, believing that the book mounted a credible case which should be publicly discussed and not just jeered off the stage. There also followed trouble with his associates in the VCCL, who were unpersuaded by Bennett’s report of what he had found. The upshot of this was that Bennett was expelled.

Bennett founded a rival group, the Australian Civil Liberties Union, which, so far as I know, never became much more than a splinter community in the field.

Bennett worked from 1974 to 1996 for the Legal Aid Commission of Victoria. During that time he published year after year his Your Rights pamphlet, updating it annually. It was a brilliant concept: a small 100-page paperback of practical advice for the ordinary person on how to deal at law with a wide range of matters from crime, neighbours, tenants, wills, pensions and compensation to marriage, divorce, children’s rights, births, deaths, house purchase, consumer rights and the police.

However, as time went on, Bennett began to include more and more sensitive and controversial views, usually under the general head of freedom of speech. He became very critical of the campaigns against ‘Nazi war criminals’ and in favour of racial hatred and vilification legislation, seeing belated war crimes trials as fundamentally unjust and the legislation contrary to intellectual freedom.

Bennett became a figure of world importance to historical revisionism and, especially, Holocaust revisionism (which its opponents insist on misleadingly calling ‘Holocaust denial’). He served on the board of the US Institute for Historical Review and associated with men like Robert Faurisson and Ernst Zundel. He also co-operated with the Adelaide Review, run by Dr Fredrick Toben, and with The Australian League of Rights, many of whose national seminars he attended.

Ironically, in the month of his death, Bradley Smith published a remembrance in Smith’s Report No. 197 of how, together with revisionist David McCalden, Bennett had approached him in 1979 on the mezzanine of a Los Angeles hotel during a Libertarian Party convention and stunned him by giving him a copy of a newspaper article arguing that the story of six million Jews being slaughtered by the Nazis was untrue. Smith has played a major role in publishing and supporting revisionist material, including that now circulated via Inconvenient History ( Bennett has been a hugely influential figure for historical revisionism.

Regardless of how right or wrong he will be found to have been in his controversial writings and activities, there is no doubt at all that he was a man of very great personal courage and integrity who deserves to be honoured by all those who cherish truth and the defense of free political orders.


Additional information about this document
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Author(s): Nigel Jackson
Title: Reflections on the Life of John Bennett of Melbourne, Civil Libertarian and Culture Hero
Sources: Smith's Report, No. 198, August 2013, pp. 11f.
Published: 2013-08-18
First posted on CODOH: Oct. 3, 2013, 7 p.m.
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