Saturday, 12 February 2011

Could It Happen Here? (A Scenario Inspired by Egypt’s Revolutionary Moment)

The Fire Next Time: Suppose the 30,000-strong hikoi that rolled into Parliament Grounds in May 2004 had refused to disperse? If New Zealand is ever to have an "Egyptian Moment", that moment will be created by the tangata whenua - on behalf of us all.

THE GREAT HUMAN SPECTACLE of revolutionary passion in Cairo’s Tahrir (Liberation) Square has prompted me to think about what could possibly spark a similar uprising here in Aotearoa/New Zealand.

To my mind, there is only one chink in the armour of the existing state apparatus large enough for something sharp and dangerous to be driven into its heart – and that is the increasingly ill-defined relationship between the New Zealand State and the tangata whenua.

Crucially, the State’s own perception of its powers and responsibilities in this bitterly contested area, including its sense of legitimacy, has become deeply confused and conflicted. Confronted with a sufficiently powerful challenge from the Maori people, it is possible the Government would become politically paralysed just long enough for events on the street to spiral out of control and acquire the sort of unstoppable momentum that brought down President Hosni Mubarak.

It might begin with something as simple as the recent call by Maori Council members from Tamaki Makaurau for a nationwide hikoi against the Marine & Coastal Area Bill. The call was accompanied by a vote of No Confidence in the Maori Party leadership, which could easily be interpreted as an invitation to the Maori rebel MP, Hone Harawira, to make himself available to lead the proposed hikoi – just as he led the 2004 protest against Labour’s Foreshore & Seabed Bill.

Let us assume that the simmering dissatisfaction with the Maori Party leadership’s handling of the Marine & Coastal Area Bill, and its treatment of Mr Harawira, is powerful enough to mobilise the same sort of numbers as the 2004 hikoi. And, let us further assume that in 2011 an additional list of grievances gets added to the protesters' bill-of-fare.

What if issues such as the sale of New Zealand land to foreigners; the threat to privatise state assets; the loss of sovereignty inherent in the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement; and the constant degradation of Aotearoa’s natural environment; were grafted on to the injustices of the Marine & Coastal Area Bill? What if the hikoi’s leaders possessed the revolutionary sophistication to forge a conceptual link between the abrogation of tino rangatiratanga in the Nineteenth Century, and the loss of New Zealand’s economic sovereignty in the Twenty-First? Between what happened to Maori then, and what is happening to Pakeha now? What if Maori and Pakeha grievances became conjoined?

A hikoi filling the streets of Wellington, armed with a list of revolutionary demands, and made up of not only of Maori of all ages, but also of a surprising number of Pakeha, advances on Parliament. The protest leader tells the vast throng filling Parliament Grounds that the time for piecemeal change has passed: that only a thorough-going revision of New Zealand’s constitutional arrangements – as promised by the National Government – will rescue Aotearoa. Such a revision, he declares, must be based on Treaty of Waitangi, and must guarantee to Maori and Pakeha, alike, the full and undisputed possession of all their rights – political, cultural and economic.

Then, over the cheers of the 30,000-strong crowd, their leader warns them that they must learn from the events of 2004. That they must not simply return to their homes and leave the making of change to others. That they must stay where they are – until their demands are met.

With this last suggestion, the revolutionary potential of the hikoi becomes ominously clear. Watching from the Beehive, the Prime Minister must now decide whether to clear the grounds, or enter into dialogue with the protesters – and thus confer upon their demands an aura of legitimacy.

The Government dithers, and the delay is fatal. As word spreads – by e-mail, texting, Twitter and through the blogosphere – hundreds, and then thousands, of young people pour into Central Wellington to join the uprising.

Reluctantly, the Prime Minister orders Police to clear the protesters from Parliament Grounds. The Police Commissioner is uneasy. There are close to 50,000 people participating in what is already being called the Peoples Constitutional Convention of Aotearoa. Moving them will require a massive use of force.

Rumours quickly spread that the Police intend to use tear-gas on the protesters. The crowd’s instant response is to storm Parliament Buildings. The front doors are forced open – the revolutionary crowd now occupies the House of Representatives.

Right-wing students and business executives, whipped into a murderous fury by right-wing bloggers, attack the protesters still occupying Parliament Grounds. Shots are fired. Several people are killed and many injured. Police officers are accused of allowing the right-wingers through their lines. Some accuse AOS personnel of handing out weapons to the counter-revolutionaries.

The Prime Minister declares a State of Emergency and calls upon the Military to "assist the civil power". Mass demonstrations and strikes break out in all the main centres. Tens of thousands march to mark the funerals of the murdered protesters. Occupations of Auckland’s Aotea Square, Cathedral Square in Christchurch, and the Octagon in Dunedin, follow.

Those in occupation of the House of Representatives declare themselves to be the Provisional Government of the Bi-Cultural Republic of Aotearoa/New Zealand and order the New Zealand Defence Force to defend the Tangata Whenua and Tangata Tiriti from their enemies.

Maori soldiers, ordered to suppress the uprisings, mutiny. The Provisional Government of the new republic now has an army.

The revolution becomes unstoppable.


Sanctuary said...

You show little understanding of the nature of military hierarchy in professional armines Mr. Trotter.

The Egyptian military is a third world army largely made up of conscripts and with a junior officer corps sympathetic to the calls for change. While the soldiers of our army may be made up of an unrepresentatively large proportion of Maori, we have a professional army with a largely Pakeha officer corps unquestioningly loyal to the government from top to bottom - and the soldiers unquestioningly follow the orders of their junior officers. The navy and Air Force are very heavily drawn from the Pakeha lower middle and middle classes.

The same may be said of the police, in fact even more so than the armed forces.

The fact is the authoritarian nature of New Zealanders (who love order above law) together with the absolute loyalty of Pakeha officers, other ranks and Police, makes it far more likely our army would use force to restore order than Egypt's army.

And anyway, the small size of our armed forces means that even the scenario you describe wouldn't result in a revolution - it would result in civil war akin to England in 1642, with two sides keen on a fight but living in a thoroughly demilitarised society.

Foreign intervention (meaning our erstwhile ANZUS allies) would thus be inevitable, and you can bet your bottom dollar they wouldn't be backing the "Provisional Government of the Bi-Cultural Republic of Aotearoa/New Zealand" anymore than the west backed the Spanish Republic in 1936.

Chris Trotter said...

That certainly is the conventional wisdom, Sanctuary. But ever since I heard about the tino rangatiratanga flag hanging from a window at the Linton Army Camp I've wondered whether or not its true.

I think the argument probably held during the Cold War, when it was much easier to paint "communists" as an alien threat to New Zealand's way of life.

But how easy is it, really, to present your cousin from Rotorua as an "alien threat"?

Soldiers are no more immune to the zeitgeist than any other citizen. A heightened level of political awareness - such as I've described in this scenario - would not only seep through to the barracks, but also, eventually, into the Officers' Mess.

And don't forget how deeply indoctrinated our army now is in the whole peace-keeping and civilian-protection ethos. Even the dreaded "officer class" might not find it as easy as you suggest to order their troops to open fire on unarmed New Zealanders.

I do think you're on to something though when you talk about the "demilitarisation" of NZ society. Our armed forces lack many of the decisive weapons for order restoration - most particularly tanks and fighter aircraft - that make for the swift suppression of revolutionary activity.

The idea of pistol-packing gang-members battling it out in the streets against racist cockies armed with hunting rifles is a pretty grim one.

But, would the Aussies and the Yanks intervene? I'm not so sure about that.

Anonymous said...

Could Aotearoa become an eco socialist South Pacific Nation with an Indigenous leader and strong social, environmental and progressive policies?

If fiji, and many pacific nationans supported the change, as well as many asia pacific nations as well as Bolivia, Ecuador, Brasil and Cuba etc, and Australia knew that although things had changed, things were stable and they just had to get along with the changes...

It is not just the army that has a lot of maori faces, bu the trade unions, security forces and police. Sooner or later if Aotearoa can have a woman Prime Minister it may have a President, and a maori one sooner or later.

New Zealand may see some deep changes coming up, they will not be from Key or Goff, the old neoliberal guard.

Anonymous said...

Frankly, if I were John Key faced with that sort of scenario, I'd tell them they're welcome to their bicultural, progressive whatever.....just as long as they can come up with the money to pay for it.

You can bet that anyone with the money to do so would be heading overseas on the first flight they could get, and I doubt a ragtag collection of students, Maori nationalists and radical environmentalists would be able to maintain unity for more than a few weeks, let alone convince the rest of the world to continue lending us the 300 million we currently need per week to eep our head above water.

Victor said...

And how would our largely Pakeha Navy and Airforce respond to this untoward development?

Does Te Kaha have the capacity to shell the Beehive?

Seriously, though, Egypt has had nothing but military rulers since the 1952 'Young Officers' revolution.

Before that, the ruling dynasty was descended from the loins of an Albanian general in the Ottoman army.

So the militarisation of Egypt's political life is the norm, in the way it isn't for anyone in New Zealand.

That doesn't make Chris's scenario impossible. But it certainly makes it unlikely and counter-intuitive.

Anonymous said...

The Republic of Aotearoa. A long time coming.

Anonymous said...

"Maori soldiers, ordered to suppress the uprisings, mutiny."

Thats where you may be wrong. I am not maori but know some "maori soldiers" and have had this kind of "pub discussion" before- would you shoot your own people if ordered, and the order was defensible? The answer was yes, as to act against the sworn oath of allegiance, to defend the NZ Government and the Crown, would be a loss of mana.

Anonymous said...

Chris's scenario may appear far-fetched, but one important point about the Egyptian uprising is that no-one in Egypt could have imagined it happening ... until it actually did.

Why did it happen?

To help understand why, can I recommend a brilliant and provocative analysis published a week ago by BBC economics editor Paul Mason, listing "Twenty reasons why it's kicking off everywhere", at

Many of Mason's points apply here in Aotearoa.

Gerrit said...

The first step as outlined in the posting is not only quite feasable but also a possibility.

The real problem is what to do AFTER the revolution.

How will New Zealand society function, how will the "systems" of distribution be organised, who will take charge of the republic?

Will it be a democratic republic? Who has the power to maintain civil obedience in the new republic?

I think the Tunisians, Egyptians and possibly New Zealanders will find the euphoria of the easy part of having a revolution, is quickly replaced by a governing system is not much to celebtate after their fight for their earlier premise of having "freedom".

Not saying that they should not have overthrow the dictators but that they be mindful not to end up a basketcase like Zimbawia.

One revolution leading to another despot letting "veteran" goon squads imposed an even worse regime on the people.

SPC said...

The real difference is the lack of moral authority to remove an elected government that can be legitimately challenged in the electoral process.

Anonymous said...

Goodness me, what a crock.
Understandable though. This nonsense is from the guy who ran behind Howard Broad's apron when the state went berserk and busted a few Maori radical dreamers and wet behind the ears vegan anarchists for an imagined revolution.
Don't worry Chris, the bogey man is not real.

maps said...

Back in 2004 I was pumpin' out propaganda calling for this sort of course of action, Chris. 'Let's not disperse - let's blockade parliament' and so on. I doubt it had much influence, though it was distributed within the nascent Maori Party, and it did dovetail somewhat with what Tame Iti was saying the day the hikoi arrived in Wellington.

An analogy might be made between the events you imagine and the 'hikoi' that regulalry brought governments to a standstill, and sometimes brought them down, in Bolivia before the rise of Morales. Mostly indigenous workers and peasants would create their own shadow state in the regions, electing various bodies there, then converge on La Paz and advertise their rejection of the official state.

Victor said...


Hole in one.

Exclamation Mark said...

Right. So even if everyone who votes for the the Maori Party, the peace loving Green Party and half the people who vote for Labour - maybe 25% of the population max (and I think I'm being quite generous there) - decide to have this hypothetical revolution and overthrow the Government, then what?

They get to boss around the few remaining people who don't fuck off to Australia for a couple months. Enevitably they run out of food seeing as none of them know how to work the land properly.

After a while, when they really start to starve and form territorial factions to fight over the few remaining resources, a massive outside force invades the country.

They various territorial factions put a gallant resistance, using their superior knowledge of the geography and guerilla tactics. But it is ultimately futile as the northern-most gang decides to throw their lot in with the invading force (just to settle a few old scores) and the rest of the gangs soon fall to the neocolonial might.

Still, it's not all bad because some of the factions end up making pretty good coin by singing and dancing for the tourism ventures set up by the NeoCols and they are even allowed to have a couple of seats in the new parliment....

The End

Chris Trotter said...

I know it meets the requirements of your rhyming scheme, AK, but the "N" word still carries too much racist weight for acceptable use in the 21st Century.

Anonymous said...

"The idea of pistol-packing gang-members battling it out in the streets against racist cockies armed with hunting rifles is a pretty grim one. "

Grim as it may be, it is also invevitable. And in some ways, nessesary.

We shall see what will happen and when this year.

TLS said...

As a right wing student, I think that instead of an armed back-lash we would instead find that there would not be enough popular support for such a regime change. I believe that even among the lower and more disadvantaged/failed classes, the desire for an ordered government to protect and provide is too strong to support an uncertain future of a rebellion.

Anonymous said...

If the new participatory democracy and republic allowed a degree of Autonomy I could imagine most people being happy.

It is obvious National has no economic plan, and I am not too sure Labour has one either. Sooner or later something has to push.

If there was a degree of Autonomy I am sure a lot of farmers would be happy with that. Tuhoe etc would also be happy with Autonomy.

What would a visionary forward looking nation look like? One that removed child poverty, inequality and domestic violence, teen suicide and actually had Aotearoa as a society moving forward together?

A Republic of Aotearoa is not such an unrealistic concept.

The alternative offered by Key is nothing to celebrate:
How much more land, resources and soveringty can people handle being sold off?

We have had Muldoon, and Rogernomics, and neoliberalism has had its day. Whats next is the interesting part...

Loz said...

Uniting the people of New Zealand against an elected (and very popular) government doesn’t make much sense. Forget the army; the police would deal with this hypothetical situation anyway.

This 30,000 strong crowd is about 5,000 more than the Queen Street Springbok tour mobilisation achieved in 1981. It’s another highly unlikely hypothetical.

Ironically, the march against union militancy in that year (a perfect example of our conservative national tendencies) is the size of what you are suggesting. You are more likely to get a crowd 30,000 strong of kiwis that have had a gutful of hearing about the Treaty than you are in radical defiance of the government.

The police were capable of dealing with a united left during the Springbok tour... even if the left could possibly be united with middle New Zealand - why would the Army be called upon now? New Zealanders are a conservative bunch who just don’t like or respect lawlessness.

New Zealand police are not likely to be armed and opening fire on unarmed protesters. If activists do decide to mimic Tama Iti and bring firearms to a protest it is possible that (as a last resort) the police could use force... although I suspect most of New Zealand would be supporting the cops comrade. :)

Anonymous said...

By gum, you're right! And now that I think about it, nobody has ever imagined that John Key might turn into a lizard person and run around bitting off everybody's heads, either. Best start preparing for that, too.

Just because events have happened that weren't foreseen, it doesn't mean that trying to distinguish the likely from the unlikely is pointless.

WAKE UP said...

Chris, this is the most mischievous column you've ever written.

Victor said...

It defies comprehension that anyone of sound mind would want to advocate armed rebellion (for that is what is being recommended) against a democratically-elected government.

It particularly defies comprehension that this should be recommended in a country that's benefited from a millennium of incremental constitutional development (albeit much of it overseas)and from a resultant largely peaceful and consensual civil society.

Perhaps it's the cosseted naivety of New Zealanders that persuades them they can play fast and loose with the hard-won achievements of the ages without opening the floodgates of slaughter.

Or perhaps it's just the hot weather. If so, cold showers are recommended all round.

Chris Trotter said...

Please point out in this posting, Victor, where armed rebellion is advocated.

I talk about counter-revolutionary violence (which, historically-speaking, is where it almost always begins) and I talk about the Police contemplating the use of massive force, I also talk about the government calling upon the military to assist the civil power, but nowhere - apart from the forcing of Parliament's front doors - do I talk about, let alone advocate, the use of force or violence on the part of the revolutionaries.

Apology please.

Victor said...


Unless I've misunderstood the scenario, you have described a group of people (I will avoid the loaded term 'mob') dislodging the legally- constituted, democratically-elected government and abrogating that government's authority to itself.

By any interpretation this would be an act of rebellion. You yourself have used terms such as 'uprising' and 'revolutionary crowd'.

As you are in charge of the terms of your own hypothesis, I don't know for sure whether any of your huge, surging mass is armed, though this would be a reasonable assumption.

However, at an early point in the rebellion, the rebels (putchists?) gain the support of mutinous soldiers. Unless the soldiers had mutinied without recourse to the regimental armoury, theirs would clearly be an armed rebellion ab inito.

And, once the mutineers declare their support for the rebel pseudo-government, the whole caboodle would, of course, be a rebellion under arms.

That's not to say that the anti-democratic rebels might not have been provoked by the government's violent heavy-handedness or the even more violent actions of some of its supporters.

But whether or not the rebels fired the first shot does not alter the fact that they are rebels and, by the time your narrative ends, armed rebels.

So for what should I apologise? Perhaps I've made an unwarranted assumption in thinking that you would approve of the replacement of our democratically-elected, constitutional government by an (admittedly very large)group of zealots, who take their authority from their own self-righteousness rather than the expressed wishes of their fellow citizens.

Perhaps you are just describing a hypothetical situation without implying any approbation thereof. If so, I apologise to you.

Anonymous said...

Of course Maori and the Left also have a tradition of direct action and non violent civil disobedience (NVDA), which are not just tactics that Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr used.

Parihaka has taught us much. The tactics of the community to defend against foreign control are many, if Key and Goff cannot stop the corporate landgrab of Aotearoa, then people will look elsewhere and use both parlimentary and non parliamentary means.

There are non violent revolutions and system changes, and no doubt we will be seeing a lot of it in action soon, as the Government continues to fail to act on climate, peak oil, low wages, child poverty, corporate takeovers and asset grabs and so on.

Cheers for a creative post Chris, it is a pity about the standard of some of the violent rhetoric and responses in the comments from some.

Anonymous said... This is a basic guide to planning a Non Violent Direct Action Campaign for activist groups. It is based on the thought and writing of many different activists.

Happy Reading and all the best for 2011

Chris Trotter said...

Thank-you, Victor, apology accepted.

As you say, the posting is quite deliberately described as a scenario - and should not be construed as a personal endorsement of the actions described.

I would point out, however, that virtually all revolutions begin as an act of rebellion against legally constituted authority.

What's more, from a Maori perspective, the "democratically elected government" described in this posting is nothing more than an engine for imposing the will of the Pakeha majority on the Maori minority.

I would also point out that the 18th Century political theorists Thomas Jefferson and Tom Paine both asserted the right of the people to overthrow a government bent on the usurpation of their rights. What else is the TPP - if not such a usurpation?

My scenario describes a large number of New Zealanders applying direct democratic pressure on their government to honour its promise of constitutional reform. The rebellion only truly begins when the State is thought to be preparing to unleash massive force on its own citizens.

These are precisely the circumstances envisaged by Jefferson and Paine as constituting the justification for citizens to take action in their own defence.

Finally, the Maori soldiers mutiny in response to orders from their commanders to forcibly overthrow the Provisional Government - by then the de facto (if not the de jure) executive authority. They are rebels only if the counter-revolutionaries are successful. Otherwise, they remain the heroic defenders of the new Bicultural Republic of Aotearoa-New Zealand.

shirleyboy said...

Te Kaha could drop the sky tower from several kilometres out at sea. There are a huge % of Maori in the RNZN.

Gerrit said...

It would seem that the "revolution" in Egypt has left a vacuum even the militairy cant fill.

The rebels are still in the streets demanding higher wages, etc. and wont get back to work or obey civil law until their demands are met.

Next step will militairy action to quell the rebels, a return of a militairy dictatorial ruler (Fiji comes to mind)and the rebels are back in poverty, subjudicated and worse off then before.

Therein lies the perenial problem of having overthrown a government, the vacuum created will not be filled by sweetness and light but with more of the same.

Back to the barricades 30 years from now for the Egyptian people.

Any revolution ever been for the betterment of the people?

Cuba and the USA come to mind but both those have run out of stream and in need of another revolution.

Cuba has laid of 500,000 state workers and told them to become capitalists and the USA is busy becoming socialist and making everyone a state servant.

And so the circle of impotency off the people, by the people continious.

As for heroic defenders of a revolution, the war veterans of Zimbabwi are a shining example of that group of sadist.

For to defend something is to not physically allow another revolution.

Chris Trotter said...

To: Shirleyboy

I'm wondering whether those who eagerly affirm the proposition that our armed forces would not hesitate to open fire on their fellow citizens, or "drop the Skytower from several kilometres out at sea" are aware of the history of the so-called "Velvet Revolutions" in Eastern Europe in the late-1980s.

To cite the example I know the most about, the GDR (East Germany). It is generally agreed that the regime fell primarily because it could no longer rely upon the forces of state repression to suppress the mass demonstrations against the GDR's Socialist Unity Party government.

The most dramatic case was Leipzig, where mass protests had been growing for several weeks. Faced with the prospect of unleashing dealy force on their own people, the Liepzig police effectively mutinied - informing the SUP leaders that they would not leave their barracks if ordered to fire on the demonstrators.

After that, the fall of the Wall was only a matter of time.

I find it incredible that there are more than a few New Zealanders happy to reassure us that our own Police and Defence Force personnel would obey in an instant the same murderously repressive orders which the despised enforcers of totalitarian communism - when confronted with irrefutable evidence of their Government's loss of legitimacy - nobly refused to carry out.

Victor said...

Yes, of course most revolutions commence as rebellions against legally constituted authority.

There is, however, a crucial difference between rebellions against non-representative despotisms (such as have occurred in Egypt and Tunisia in recent weeks) and those aimed at overthrowing democratically-elected governments.

Yes, I also accept that many Maori see New Zealand's outstandingly democratic system (strict proportional representation, three year parliaments and no second chamber) as simply a means of imposing the will of the majority over the minority.

All democratic government is that by definition but some democratic systems have developed ways of mediating and softening the dominance of the majority. Again, this is a sphere in which New Zealand has a reasonably good record, although there is clearly room for improvement.

But the holistic alternative to dominance by the majority is surely either dominance by the minority or some sort of federal structure that allows for local self rule. The former is clearly unacceptable. The latter might be acceptable if Maori all lived in some parts of the country and Pakeha and everyone else in other parts. This, however, is not the case.

And, yes, of course, rebels who succeed are no longer rebels and end up writing the history books.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes what is more important the the Army, is the elite of the army - the SAS - how many of them are maori and would be willing to fire on civilians in New Zealand?

Re revolutions, Bolivia, Ecuador and other Latin American nations are making progress, they have moved out of the awful phase of dictatorships that plagues the continent.

Tariq Ali visits New Zealand next month and will be speaking in Auckland, he no doubt will have some very interesting things to say of what happens when people oppose their governments and force change. staring: Tariq Ali, Raúl Castro, Hugo Chávez, Rafael Correa, Cristina Kirchner, Néstor Kirchner, Fernando Lugo, Lula, Evo Morales

Screening in Auckland from 20th Feb. This is one way people can have a look at what social change at community and nation state level looks like.

"There’s a revolution underway in South America, but most of the
world doesn’t know it. Clearly frustrated by the half-truths and
sensationalistic tone adopted by the U.S. right-wing media (Fox
News, in particular) when reporting on South America, Oliver Stone’s documentary on the politics of the region can be read as a rebuttal of sorts."

Loz said...

Chris, there are two treads of thought from the replies to your hypothetical story, both of them focussing on illegitimate dictatorship. The original story woven suggested a "dictatorship of the majority" and the constitution being rejected by Maori radicals on the basis of legitimacy. Most of your readers, quite rightly, reject this premise as an illegitimate attack on democracy itself.

Shirleyboy's suggestion is completely in keeping with your proposed (yet hypothetical) revolution in the sense that Naval personnel rebel in the same vein as any army against the elected government. Shirleyboy actually suggested it was Maori who mutiny and "drop the Skytower".

Who really represents totalitarianism in this conversation? Is it the "totalitarianism" of democracy rejected by racial politics? Democracy by definition is not totalitarian... a truth understood by the multitudes in Egypt. Isn't it more likely that the "repressive totalitarian" is represented by the overthrow of a democratic government? For me, the question is how strongly should democracy be defended when threatened by a righteously empowered minority?

I personally don't care if democracy is threatened by capitalists, communist vanguardists or Maori separatists, the moral authority must be against those who wish to usurp democracy for personal interest.

I know you are arguing that a government that uses force to quell protest loses moral authority to govern. I can’t understand is how the theoretical, (yet proceeding) storming of the House of Representatives and overthrow of parliament is anything but a violent overthrow of democracy that should be utterly rejected. Your original piece doesn’t even suggest that the crown authorised lethal force after activists seize parliament and declare a revolutionary government yet it implies that the government is illegitimate.

If a foreign power used force to overthrow parliament and declare its own provisional government most of us would wonder where the military were in such a time of crisis. I can’t support a hypothesis that it’s different if a violent overthrow comes from a section of society within.

The Elephant in the Room is that Democracy and Maori Sovereignty are mutually opposed to each other. A revolutionary Maori movement is the antithesis of New Zealanders who believe in equality or democratic principles & can’t be easily massaged into construct where such opposing forces are aligned.

Puddleglum said...

"The Elephant in the Room is that Democracy and Bosnian Sovereignty are mutually opposed to each other."

"The Elephant in the Room is that Democracy and East Timor Sovereignty are mutually opposed to each other."

"The Elephant in the Room is that Democracy and Irish Sovereignty are mutually opposed to each other."

"The Elephant in the Room is that Democracy and Jewish sovereignty are mutually opposed to each other." (well, in a few years, given the demographics)

"The Elephant in the Room is that Democracy and Muslim/Pakistani sovereignty are mutually opposed to each other."

The very concept of 'legitimacy' in government is an invention. It is not the abstract 'justness' or 'fineness' of a system or process for establishing governments that provides its legitimacy but. rightly or wrongly, it is the aggregated actions, or inactions, of people.

The de facto situation throughout history is that governments govern through the acquiescence of sufficient numbers of people. Call it 'enlightened self-interest' if you wish but, at base, a government governs primarily because it has not - yet - been pushed out through the acts of 'sufficient' numbers of people.

In some cases - e.g., military coups - the sufficient number may be quite small. In other cases it may take an overwhelming majority. Circumstances determine what is sufficient. The American Revolution, as I understand it, was only supported by about a third of its citizens (I read that somewhere).

Hume said that even the tyrant rules with the consent of the people. if you replace 'acquiescence' for 'consent' I'd agree. In many cases, the art of governing is just to make 'sufficient' numbers of people sense that the risk of change is too great, just now. (Once again, 'sufficient' will vary from circumstance to circumstance.)

I don't think New Zealand would be spared from the spectacle of revolution because of the noble mindedness ('fairness', etc.) of New Zealanders. Any 'sparing' of New Zealand will come down to circumstances or, if you prefer, scenarios.

Anonymous said...

Chris did not talk about maori sovereignty but about sovereignty in general, as mentioned by his remarks on the undemocratic TPPA Free Trade Deal, being forced on New Zealand.

"What if issues such as the sale of New Zealand land to foreigners; the threat to privatise state assets; the loss of sovereignty inherent in the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement"

By that reading a maori radical movement protects and reinforces the sovereignty of the nation..

Anonymous said...

Seems far fetched and very unlikely. But I was looking at the CIA's briefings on nations and NZ per capita GNP is 26.000 while Chiles is 15.000 and Argentina's 14.500 so we are not all that far above the level of economic instability where a more authoritarian regime might be seen as the only way for reform.
But NZ does not have the right wing unions that in l972 were so critical in disrupting Allende and Whitlam. Neither does it have the incedinary revolutionary priests(but in the far north) and land confisications in Chile were part of the left wing provication that provided fuel to the right. One can not underestimate the studidity or your right wing aristocratic farmer in the central south island, naki or northland.
I have always regarded the police as a hard working class organisation. The Navy officer classes was lower middle class with a few higher class officers often of brilliance and ruthless but who would never make it past commander or captain since 45. The Air Force officers are the hardline lower middle class in the country almost fatally weakened in numbers and influence by the axing of the Skyhawks. And surely if you were planning an insurrection you would be certain a frigate and the best airforce units were 10,000 miles away. The Army did have a class of brilliant combat capable maori officers and they still exist to a degree in the SAS, but maori loyalties are divided and I have always been certain that 60% of maoris would side with the Europeans in the event of insurrection. The danger in New Zealand is of a too left radical government pakeha led, not of trouble from the pa. Hone Heke's decision was that difficult and suspicious as the relationship was the Maori chance was with the Europeans.
Obviously the military are capable of suppression it is a question of whether the left or right factiion in the military or police would have the arms.Nothing could be more suitable for urban suppression than a Lav 3 its 25mm bushmaster is really far more powerful than most ww2 tank guns given the shells available. The frigate guns could easily level parliament they have a range of 16 miles, but the offshore patrol ships dont have a medium 76mm gun and that means they couldn't be used the way the Isreali patrol boats hit gaza.

Victor said...

A conundrum haunting this thread is whether a long-established, democratic political system would lose its legitimacy, should the government of the day plan or execute acts of inhumanity against some of its own citizens.

From an ethical perspective, there must surely come a point at which the ethical duty of resistance trumps the authority of a democratic mandate or any other consideration.

The domestic policies of the Third Reich, for example, would have been no more acceptable had Hitler become Chancellor as a result of a free and fair election, rather than through a mixture of backstairs intrigue, terror and (genuine but diminishing) electoral popularity.

But the ethical bar against the overthrowing of established, democratic governments and systems should be set very high, for both philosophic and practical reasons.

The philosophic reason is that to ignore the expressed and properly-weighted will of the citizenry as a whole is to deny the equal worth of all human beings. It is a form of elitism, even if the elite sees itself as the righteous army of the ragged and oppressed.

The practical reason is that, once you depart from constitutional propriety, you never know where matters are going to end up. Revolutions have, as we know, the habit of devouring both their parents and their children. And, once the bonds of community, legality and consensus are loosed, they are devilish hard to tie together again.

By the way, I'm not arguing the ethical case for Democracy on the contractualist grounds used by Paine and Jefferson, whom Chris has cited in the course of this thread.

Both of these eighteenth century rationalists saw humans as individuals who had freely agreed to be part of society and who retained the right, in extremis, to opt out of the contract.

Thanks to Darwin, however, we now understand ourselves to be a species of monkey and, like our cousins, to be naturally part of a social organism that is greater than any given generation of simians.

Nineteenth century scholarship and twentieth century experience should also have taught us to be wary of assumptions of human rationality or altruism.

In the political sphere, we must be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water, particularly when we have a constitutional system based on centuries of largely successful evolution.

More to come......

Victor said...

Chris also poses the interesting question of why we should assume New Zealand's police and defence forces would be willing to use force against their fellow citizens when, in 1989, their opposite numbers in the Warsaw Pact countries refused to do so.

Of course, there were innumerable occasions before 1989, when considerable force was used against the citizens of these countries, both by local security apparatchniks and by their Soviet sponsors.

It took a complex web of circumstances, including dissensions within the top leaderships, to create a mood in which the security organs were willing to disobey orders.

Moreover, the sudden, wholesale collapse of European communism testifies to the very lack of legitimacy enjoyed by the Warsaw Pact regimes.

This was itself a reflection of these regimes' absence of democratic credentials and the fact that they had been imposed on the region (including countries with strongly Russophobe traditions) by an alien superpower.

Chris cites the example of the German Democratic Republic, a track of land separated from the rest of Germany by virtue of the Soviet victory in 1945 and the subsequent machinations of the great powers.

Not only did most of its citizens view the new entity as less than wholly legitimate. Most of them had relations living in the Federal Republic and watched West German TV nightly.

I recall a conversation with a young women in Volkspolizei uniform at Checkpoint Charlie sometime in the late 1970s. As she checked my papers, I mentioned that I had just flown in from Cologne, where the summer weather was (as usual)humid and overcast compared with bright and breezy Berlin.

"My aunt lives in Cologne but I haven't seen her for years. Maybe one day!" she said, looking quickly over her shoulder and giving me a knowing smile.

As I received no subsequent approach from the Stasi, I can only assume that my uniformed Lorelei was for real.

Yet more to come...

Victor said...

Now let's contrast the GDR with New Zealand, an island nation with obvious boundaries, created by nature.....a country, moreover, which has enjoyed representative government since the mid-nineteenth century.

The weight of legitimacy is far heavier here than in fractured, fought-over Europe, with its conflicting national and imperial ghosts.

Furthermore New Zealand's democratic political system was built on the shoulders of another island nation's extraordinarily long constitutional history.

The fact that neither Brits nor (non Maori) Kiwis devote much thought to matters of legitimacy demonstrates, to my mind, just how axiomatic their respective loyalties tend to be.

On the whole, these axiomatic loyalties play a positive role in promoting social stability, active citizenship and community involvement.

But they also have their dark side and, I suspect, that, were push to come to shove, orders would be viewed as orders, and would be obeyed without too many questions.

Chris Trotter said...

You appear to have forgotten, Victor, that my scenario begins with actions being taken to resolve Maori grievances.

You also appear to have forgotten that this country was founded on the dispossession of one people by another - by force.

We are not quite the conflict-free exemplar of British constitutional propriety you seem to think we are.

Do I detect a teeny-tiny blind-spot in your analysis of New Zealand and New Zealanders, Victor?

You know what? I think I do.

Victor said...


I haven't forgotten the source of Maori grievance nor its centrality to your original scenario. I've already addressed that issue (however briefly and inadequately) in a previous post on this thread.

My impression was that this was an open-ended discussion and that we'd moved on to broader issues. Sorry if you feel I've treated your original post with insufficient reverence.

Nor do I view either New Zealand or the UK as perfect exemplars of constitutional propriety. And I'm well aware of the factious and fractious history that lies behind Britain's constitutional development.

For what it's worth, I almost added a long harangue about 'Bloody Sunday' and the crushing of the 1984-5 miners' strike by Maggie's boys in blue.

My point would have been to suggest that, however reprehensible these actions of the British state and its operatives, they would not, to my way of thinking, have justified the storming of Westminster or the overthrow of Britain's established political system, an observation that would not, I think, have been irrelevant to this discussion.

By the way, I believe Britain's political system to be much less democratic than New Zealand's, for obvious reasons, including the absence of proportional representation, the (still)unelected second chamber and the nefarious activities of Thatcher and Blair in over-extending the use of the Royal Prerogative.

Both countries, to my way of thinking, are in need of a written constitution with an entrenched bill of rights, although that need is more pressing and dire in the UK.

But I do think that both the UK and NZ are filled with people (mainly but not exclusively of Anglo Saxon origins)who have a much firmer, instinctive and unreflecting sense of loyalty than, to cite your rather extreme example, a citizen of the GDR before 1989.

I think this would tell if push came to shove, as you have described it. The question remains whether a different perspective would influence Maori police and service personnel to take a different standpoint. I hope we never have to find out.

And I plead guilty to blind spots. But I don't think you've spotted any today. Keep trying, though.

Andre Lopez-Turner said...

Fantastic debate here people. Lets install NZ citizens at the head of our corporations and services etc, and lets ensure shareholders are based in New Zealand, working and living for Nzers. And lets start a green, sustainable, industrial revolution in Aotearoa/New Zealand. And lets outlaw tax havens, and lets address the nature of man - irrespective of race, colour or creed.

Anonymous said...

And get rid of some of then tax on petrol! I think that is more likely to start a revolution these days than anything else!