Thursday 10 August 2017

Have The Greens Entered Their Jacobin Phase?

A Green Robespierre? As the following posting was being sent to The Daily Blog, the Greens female co-leader, Metiria Turei, was announcing her resignation from both her position in the party and Parliament. The logic of uncompromising revolutionary virtue is inherently hostile to the notion of politics as the art of the possible - and to liberty itself.
THE JACOBINS, along with “Madame Guillotine” and Robespierre’s Reign of Terror, will forever be associated with political extremism. So, the mere suggestion that our very own Green Party might be entering its Jacobin Phase is unlikely to be well received – especially by the Greens!
The historical lessons of Jacobinism should not, however, be dismissed unheard. The rise and fall of the Jacobins is instructive to all pursuers of progressive change, precisely because it reveals the calamitous consequences of elevating revolutionary virtue above all other considerations.
The tragic irony of the Jacobins is that, in the beginning, they were the new French Constitution’s most avid defenders – most particularly of its Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. It is only as the French Revolution unfolded: each succeeding chapter bloodier and more terrifying than the last; that the Jacobins, its most eloquent, energetic and effective defenders, found themselves propelled relentlessly towards increasingly extreme measures. Believing themselves to be the only reliable champions of “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”, they found it easier and easier to brand all those who opposed them as counter-revolutionary agents of the ancien rĂ©gime.
Initially, the eloquence of the Jacobin deputies [MPs] and the venom of their journalistic allies, was reserved for members of the more moderate factions within the National Assembly. But, as the French people’s enemies, both internal and external, multiplied, the Jacobins’ political paranoia worsened. The number of executions rose sharply, causing even the Jacobins’ own followers’ misgivings to grow. Undeterred, their leader, Maximillian Robespierre, intensified the Reign of Terror. The man the people of Paris called “The Incorruptible”, sent former friends and comrades to the guillotine with the same cold resolve with which he dispatched members of the despised aristocracy.
To quote his own, memorable, advice to the Jacobin-controlled Committee of Public Safety: “the first maxim of your policy ought to be to lead the people by reason and the people’s enemies by terror.”
As the realisation eventually dawned on what remained of France’s revolutionary leadership that if Robespierre was not stopped they would all be killed, the National Assembly was galvanised into action. Robespierre, himself, was declared an “enemy of the people” and laid open to Madame Guillotine’s sibilant kiss.
Thus does History instruct us. That any political movement which abandons the reasonable pursuit of achievable objectives and embraces instead a regime dedicated to the imposition and enforcement of a universal and uncompromising “republic of virtue”, may begin by executing its enemies, but it will end by making enemies of, and executing, its friends. Freedom can never be secured by coercion. Every revolutionary movement which tried has ended up devouring itself.
If the Greens have indeed entered their Jacobin phase, it is likely to be their last.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Wednesday, 9 August 2017.


Anonymous said...

Which of these statements is correct?

She resigned because her family, any family, could not withstand the appalling, personal, vicious abuse being hurled at them.”

She resigned because her family, any family, could not withstand the appalling, personal, vicious abuse being hurled at them [by Metiria’s misconstruing of her circumstances]?

J Bloggs said...

And if we want to keep on with the historical analogies, is it time for Jacinda to show she is more De Gaulle than Petain?

Bert said...

I was appalled at Eugenie Sage supporting Metiria and I wondered if Green politics has got so toxic they are like some totalitarian regime where Metiria is Kim Jun Haircut?

Jordan Peterson sees that sort of thing as ideological possession. They have a simple algorithm that explains the world

Anonymous said...

I find it all very disheartening. It's a tragic mess. A cluster you-know-what mixing dirty politics, absence of backbone, a ruthless commentariat, messy human lives that don't quite fit the ideal image of the 'deserving poor', Victorian moral reasoning, and a party that is an unusually broad church and choses the wrong moment to air its theological differences. I still wish they had held strong, united and stared down the haters - at least for a week or so until the media moved on. To my mind raising benefits 20%, giving the in-work tax credit to beneficiary kids and allowing sole parents to earn $200 before their benefit is abated is in the realm of the achieveable - hardly revolutionary. Gutted.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Anonymous – +1

Nick J said...

Bert, I think Jordan Peterson is well worth watching (yes I know GS has put him in the alt-Right basket). Im not sure the Greens are ideologically possessed per se, we might more accurately say that we all are to some degree.

If there is value in watching Peterson it is that he explains ideology very much from a practicing clinical psychologists perspective, not from that of an academic postmodernist, or a neo Marxist or a libertarian viewpoint. One of the themes Peterson projects is that humans have evolved to perceive visual patterns very quickly, and that has evolved into pattern recognition elsewhere. We also live in a world where we develop behavioral boundaries that going beyond which challenges our comfort zones. I would posit that Turei's admissions were outside of comfort zones and therefore perceived as a danger, and that they had a pattern that was confirmation of that.

Nick J said...

Jacobin phase Chris, lets hope not. We need the Greens to provide a space for idealistic counterpoise to the ideologically pure of the Right such as Treasury economists and ACT.

In terms of the revolution eating its own the Jacobin experience is echoed by the Soviet experiment with Stalinism. I was watching the Hand Maidens Tale on TV, the whole thing was very scary as you draw so many parallels, such as Iranian theocracy, or Soviet Stalinism. The ideologically pure wont allow any questioning of their vision of heaven on earth, a very dangerous position. Solzhenitsyn wrote about this, if you pointed out that the Soviet system was demonstrably wrong you were automatically out of line, questioning not allowed.

Are the Greens at this stage? I think not. Is it in their DNA? Yes very definitely.

Victor said...

Well written, Chris.

I must say that my jaw dropped when I heard Mother Superior Jeanette say that the two dissidents should have ignored their "private" sense of morality and just supported the party.

I thought "Bolshevik" rather than "Jacobin". But, on reflection, I think your comparison is truer, as this totalitarian mood has erupted where a wee while ago you'd least have expected it.

Sailor said...


If she had engaged her brain last Friday when the possibilty of being in cabinet was over and resigned as co leader the ensuring load of crap that has befallen on the beloved Green Party would not have happenned .What remains of the Jacobites is is a train in Scotland better known as the Harry Potter Express.

Res Publica said...

Although by no means a fan of historical determinism I can't help but the see the parallels between the rise (then fall) of the radical Jacobins in the Green party's recent history.

However, it's important to note that with the fall of Robespierre came the Thermidorian reaction. So if we're going to continue with the analogy maybe the next phase is a move back away from radicalism and back towards a more pragmatic position

Victor said...


As GS puts it, +1


The Greens' recent travails have actually reminded me less of the French Revolution than of its Napoleonic sequel.

When Napoleon organised the abduction and execution of the Bourbon Duke of Enghien, the newly-crowned emperor's foreign minister, Talleyrand, famously said to him:

"Sire, what you have committed is worse than a crime. It's a mistake!"

That was my instantaneous judgement of Metiria's tactics, when announcing what I otherwise thought was an excellent raft of benefit policies. And, using the same test of practicality, I then changed my mind, however briefly, when the polls started showing a perceptible rise in Green support.

But, since then, mistake has followed mistake, as new allegations have come to hand and as the Greens have withdrawn into a silo of self-righteousness, which, in recent days, has morphed into rank intolerance of dissent.

I'm tempted to cite another adage from a slightly earlier revolution, to the effect of: "You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately".

Yet the fact is that New Zealand politics needs an effective Green party. And it also needs a party with the Greens' attenuated sense of social justice.

So I hope for their recovery from this self-administered wound, though I doubt whether I'll be voting for them this time around.

greywarbler said...

I am gobsmacked to read all the male mother superiors sit in judgment on Metiria and her little diddling to enable her to progress. She was getting what she should have been getting without any need for special pleading. It is the system that keeps NZs down. Paula Bennett has cut out training incentives altogether hasn't she. People engaged in an education community learning something, why we can't pay for that. Car sleepers and retail workers don't need to know much beyond the three R's.

It 's like a whole country of constipated creaking old bodies and brains and younger people precociously aged, who have such little understanding of real life and don't want to know. They just sit mulling over the same little crossword day after day trying to make sense of the clues, their attention on the minute and trivial.

Nick J said...

Ha Victor, Cromwell and the Long Parliament. He came with armed troops but as per his speech shamed them as well. I'm not sure shame is something that the Greens and Turei will recognise.

sumsuch said...

Not sure what you're saying, temporally. Just know 'the art of the possible' has rendered the Maori Party rank. And bowing the head to the possible wasn't the 1935 democratic revolution's origin. In the Catholic slums of Lancashire, because of Papal Bulls against Socialism, they emptied chamber pots on my g.grandfather's (admittedly egomaniacal) head. There was no immediate reward in that. But the old bugger was right, and more, which you seem to approve of most, practically right. The art of the possible silences voices, what else do the silenced have but voices? Voices are revolution.

charles e said...

No doubt many think my repeated warnings over the years that the Gs are a poisonous bunch of extremists that Labour should have as their first priority to diminish and destroy is just another odd view from some old Tory.
I have even said that they are the sort of people who would end democracy if they ever got power. I had not thought of them executing people but of course they would.
Well I'm glad at last you agree with me Chris and I think your Jacobite parallel is much better than my comparisons with the Nazis as the latter held together for a long time.
Now Labour need to dump the 'understanding' and surge to the finish rope. Just tell the Gs it was a misunderstanding and cannot possibly be in existence now the Gs have blown up.
Go Labour! Eat their lunch and do a deal with damn Peters. Make him Deputy and the government will be yours for .... oh at least a year.
I think it is time for a change though. But not one with the veneer thin Gs in it.
There needs now to be a new centre environmental party started which will solely be about the planet, leaving ideology to the main parties, but replacing NZF as king maker.. Perhaps call them the Blues, as the Green brand is dead, not just in NZ but all over the world. It was never green, but red.

Nick J said...

Well said Grey. In the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy a spaceship lands at Lord's during a cricket match. Nobody can see it because it does not comprehend. It is an SEP (somebody else problem). I walk down Lambton quay and see beggars as do the political class of Wellington. They are an SEP.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Jesus wept Charles, what a load of over the top drama queening. "Likely to end democracy".Just look at their backgrounds – nary a revolutionary among them these days let alone a genuine member of the working class. They're all dressed in suits, and if any of them do smoke pot they do it very discreetly. Plus Metiria's peccadilloes, minor though they may be in comparison to yours, did to some extent split the party. And he's you crying "we shall all be murdered in our beds" – it's like a Goon show script. FFS words (almost) fail me.

charles e on hols said...

GS it would be good occasionally if words did fail you and Jesus had dry eyes for at least a week.
Are you not familiar with Traison des Clerk (sp?). It's the bastards in suits you have to worry about not the workers you fool. Give me a dope smoker any day. Indeed I'm one. Have you not read Tolkien or Orwell?
It's the ordinary folk who are solid and save the day not the educated or more precisely pseudo-educated. Look at what happened in Germany twice which was the most educated (and green nature worshipers actually) country on the planet.

Victor said...

Sailor and Charles

Sorry to be a pedant but Jacobins and Jacobites are totally different creatures.

btw Charles, there must be somnething to this Jacindamania thingee, if you, of all people, find your fingers typing "Go Labour!". Has the left side of your brain taken sudden control of your hands?

David Stone said...

Charles is just taking the piss. Don't let him get under your skin. I wouldn't be surprised if he turns out to be Chris making a foil to enhance his arguments.
He makes a good point though that the Greens original core issue is across the spectrum of politics and does not in itself align with any left/right issues. A purely environmental movement may be more necessary. And it may do all right too.
Cheers D J S

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Needless to say Charles, if you keep putting out your bullshit, words will never fail me. In fact I think I may well get a PhD thesis out of you somewhere. So you will finally be of some use. :)

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Indeed David. A tax avoiding pot smoker. I'm beginning to doubt that Charles as such, actually exists.

charles e said...

Victor I like pendants. Thanks for the correction. I’m in Catholic Italy so that must be it. Although even then I should have said Jacobitism, to be precisely wrong.

Three terms is enough for anyone, and if Labour could get high in the 30s then it would be good for us to have a change, as long as WinFirst did not have too much power and no other party was essential for a majority gov.

It is important for our democracy, I think, that we have two strong parties, which usually have to take on one or at a push two smaller ones to govern. Boring perhaps but government should not be exciting, and turbulent lest it frightens the horses. Look at the current mess of the opposition four. Fun for us but not great for Zild I reckon. Don't want to be governed like Italy! It may suit them but were are very much not Italians, much as I am fond of them.

By 'enough' I mean for the good of all including my National. Naturally I hope they would be back in 3 years and I’ll still probably vote Bill.
Having said that, my 21 year old son and his nerdy mates are voting Act and he dragged me along to meet Seymour. Impressive guy. He might get enough votes to have a party of two! There were a load of students there. Tempted to vote for him. He seems a true liberal in the old sense. Arco rather than neo.

Victor said...

Have a great holiday, Charles, if that's what you're up to.

Anonymous said...

As John Campbell put it "you told a story, but it wasn't your story.

She wouldn't be the first would she

N AUCKLAN D'S LONG Bay Park, Paul Spoonley notices a large man aggressively confronting a park ranger. As we drive past, the man picks up and throws the ranger’s bike.
“Just stop over here,” says Spoonley. He opens his door and half gets out of the car.
The man sees Spoonley looking and approaches him, yelling as he walks: “You alright mate? You all good? You all good buddy?”
“You OK?” asks Spoonley calmly.
“Yeah. He just won’t f***ing leave me alone, eh?”
The man notices me: “You all good?” he says, crouching down, peering through the window.
“Yes,” I say.
“Yeah, well he won’t leave me alone. This is my car here. He won’t leave me alone. I’m telling him to leave me alone.”
Things are tense, uncomfortable, possibly dangerous.
“Okay,” Spoonley says, closing his door gently, “let’s get out of here.”
The man bangs on the window three or four times: “You all good?” he yells again. “You all good?”
A little further up the road, Spoonley asks me to stop so he can tell the other park rangers about the man.
“Sorry about doing that to you,” he says later. “I worked in a freezingworks for five years and I was a slaughterman. I worked in a gang of seven, and five of them were Mongrel Mob members. I am very much a middle—class Pakeha but those sorts of guys, I spent a lot of my younger life with.
“We cannot afford to socially and economically exclude these communities,” he says. “That sort of public anger, the ‘What are you looking at?’ sort of thing. There are social costs to exclusion.”