Friday 29 October 2021

The Majority Is Always Wrong.

“No Minister”: Sir Humphrey Appleby’s working proposition was that government was far too important to be left to politicians – let alone the ordinary person in the street. To the silver-tongued Oxbridge mandarin, the top-down neoliberal revolutionary, and the uncompromising social-liberal public servant of 2021, majority rule will always be a dangerous proposition. 

THERE HAVE ALWAYS BEEN public servants who looked upon democracy as a dangerous innovation. The writers of the classic British television comedy Yes Minister captured this sort of public servant brilliantly in the character of Sir Humphrey Appleby. Sir Humphrey’s working proposition, that government was far too important to be left to politicians – let alone the ordinary person in the street – was a legacy of the aristocratic mode of government. A tradition which endured longer in Great Britain than just about anywhere else.

The creators of Yes Minister, Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn, partisans of the political philosophy that would come to be known as “Thatcherism”, were fierce opponents of this aristocratic style – believing it to be one of the most significant causes of Britain’s national decline. Like Margaret Thatcher herself, they saw the ordinary man and woman in the street as an infinitely safer repository of political authority than any silver-tongued Oxbridge mandarin. Clear away the detritus of aristocratic snobbery (about which Thatcher, the grocer’s daughter, knew a great deal) and doctrinaire socialism, these “radical Tories” insisted, and all would be well.

New Zealand’s experience vis-à-vis its public service has been somewhat different. Here, the senior ranks of the nation’s public servants were profoundly mistrusted by the militant missionaries of neoliberalism. Not because their instincts were aristocratic (like Sir Humphrey’s) but because, thanks to New Zealand’s interesting political history, their instincts were high-mindedly social-democratic.

Throughout New Zealand history the most positive and long-lasting reforms and innovations have been initiated and administered by partisans of the state. To the men (and they were very nearly all men) who masterminded the bureaucratic coup d’état which gave this country “Rogernomics” and “Ruthanasia”, the idea of an activist state was anathema.

That the people of New Zealand might prefer their country to be run that way: that its positive freedoms gave them life chances they were loath to surrender; mattered not at all to these bureaucratic revolutionaries. In their eyes, the superiority of neoliberalism was self-evident. The idea of validating it at the ballot box was as nonsensical as voting gravity up, or down.

This disdain for, and outright hostility towards, the idea of popular sovereignty: manifested (at least initially) by the elite guardians of the neoliberal flame; was to have profound consequences for the future of democracy in New Zealand.

In terms of practical politics, the imposition of neoliberalism in New Zealand was hugely assisted by the legacy of the right-wing populist National Government of Sir Robert Muldoon. Shrewdly, the Labour politicians tasked with the imposition of policies utterly at odds with their party’s principles enlisted the aid of Baby Boomer activists from the new social movements: anti-racists, environmentalists, feminists, gays and lesbians; whose causes Muldoon had for so long frustrated. They were the social activists who largely replaced Labour’s democratic socialists and trade union advocates. With the anti-neoliberal resistance driven out of the party, these “social liberals” inherited what was left of Labour.

Unlike the “Old Left”, however, this “New Left” was profoundly suspicious of the ordinary man and woman in the street. In their struggles for women’s rights, Māori rights, gay rights and the “rights” of the natural environment, the new social movements often found themselves outnumbered – sometimes by as much as ten-to-one – by the conservative majority.

For many social liberals, therefore, democracy was not the solution, it was the problem. If majorities were allowed to rule, then genuine social progress would be reduced to a snail’s pace. At all costs, social liberal reforms must remain the preserve of political elites. Conscience votes cast by individual MPs were acceptable. Binding referenda, which gave the final say on radical economic and social reforms to the people themselves, were not.

A generation after Rogernomics and Ruthanasia, New Zealand has thus been ushered into the worst of all possible worlds. A political class, generally, and a public service, especially, in which democracy is viewed with hostility and suspicion; and majority rule derided as a right-wing mechanism for allowing racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic and transphobic prejudices to run riot.

Given the opportunity, this benighted Kiwi majority will vote in favour of treating every citizen equally, or, even worse, proudly uphold the principle of freedom of expression. Given a chance, this majority will vote for social-democracy over neoliberalism.

“And that, Minister, would be a disaster!

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 29 October 2021.


A O said...

Well, its fair to say that we haven't seen much democracy over the past 20 months...

John Hurley said...

Facebook doesn't allow posts about white nationalism - they say expert opinion says there is "no meaningful difference between white nationalism and white supremacy".

WTF if not a nation extrapolated from a base what then? Labour began to try to make a "truly multi-racial society" (1984). What is that? How does it work? I suspect it was based on the flawed observation that if racism is wrong homogenous societies are wrong.

There is a mechanism at play here that no one has picked up on. Ethnic groups have boundaries - markers and race is just one of those. Race is important because it says a lot about who you are – there is a hell of a big difference between someone from a place where people lived in mud huts and heard lions roaring to a European or a Chinese person. People cannot not perceive race anymore than blue (which doesn’t exist either), but that doesn’t mean people of other races can’t join the ethnic group.

Societies aren’t open forever at some stage they have to agree on myth and that allows society to operate smoothly. That matters because at the lower level of society resources are scare (not so much at the professorial level). It doesn’t matter if the Japanese population expands because “they are us”.

Ranginui Walker argued that 2.1 children meant NZrs had chosen to live within their resource base and used that to argue against Asian immigration. Oscar Knightly wants a larger population (Q&A) but everyone should be an Instant Kiwi. Mai Chen had a terrible time adjusting to Christchurch in the 70’s and sees herself as a trail blazer “I came out as Chinese – the Chinese are here – Yay!”. Lately Maori are having large families to get their numbers up.

I rest my case Your Honour.

I do care said...

Chris you seem to have left out one important power group -the Unions, in particular the left of this group, - at the time of this economic revolution. Were they willing to accept a radical loss of workers rights to attain a nuclear free NZ and a potential fracturing of the Five Eyes?

Paul Deacon said...

Hi Chris -

Has it occurred to you that the majority opinion on Covid (which you share) might also be wrong (and for similar reasons)?

wilfandnora said...

I thought you might like to read this, from the New Left Review. The context is clealy British, but still televant to the nature of our Labour Party.

swordfish said...

Absolutely bang-on, Christopher ... been singing this tune on social media for a long time now ... the profoundly anti-democratric sensibilities of an elitist & ultimately self-interested Woke Cadre ... who I'd suggest are neither genuinely "Left" nor truly "liberal".

My comment on The Standard just a few minutes before I saw your current post:

"Long March through the Institutions … Woke dogmatists, deeply immersed in Queer Theory, quietly capture administrative positions & enact profound change by stealth … no need for any of that really yucky stuff like democratic endorsement or accountability because … well … the vast majority of voters are just the most appalling deplorables who don't even remotely possess the Critical Theorists' unusually refined sensibilities … & obviously we can trust the highly privileged children of the Establishment to act in all of our best interests, can't we ?

And, of course, Wokedom’s massive downplaying of class & wealth disparities [traditionally a core concern of the Left … & by far the most consequential factor for life chances] … in favour of a total obsession with & cynical weaponizing of ethnicty & (to a lesser extent) gender … dovetails very very nicely with Corporate interests."

The affluent Woke's luxury beliefs are great for signalling 'elevated' social status … often at a direct & profound cost to 'ordinary' people … all aided by moral panics, purity spirals & the uber-romanticisation of intersectional 'in-groups'.

Simon Cohen said...

What a poor muddled man you are John Hurley.

John Hurley said...

Yes Simon Cohen, it's easier to say there's no great replacement because race doesn't exist (Paul Spoonley) and that "Auckland used to be boring" and UK has X people and Japan 120 million "and they're doing o.k" (Arthur Grimes - salary $700,000?) and shout racist like the trope of hackneyed opinion writers responsible for the fall off in newspaper readership.

You're right I am a bit muddled, but (I think) Eric Kaufmann says there hasn't been a lot of work done in this field (meaning at the edge of our understanding?).
We know from the data that Brexit split families and was all about values; whether you prefer order and continuity to change and Jon Haidt says liberals and conservatives are like yin and yang (opposite and complimentary) Much of this disposition is genetic and it makes sense that societies are run in accordance with the wisdom of the crowd rather than the self interested and a progressive priesthood.

Better to hear about this stuff from Jon Haidt and Eric Kaufmann than me but that will never happen while an oligopoly controls the national conversation. Kim Hill joked “is it good luck or good management that we haven’t had national populism?” That’s what hate speech laws are all about and (probably) public interest journalism as I would have thought not everyone would agree with the property investors Christmas gift of a height limit that rises from 2 to 11 meters without compensation.
It just isn’t of interest to the newspapers beyond it was badly needed.

Jon Haidt

Why nationalism beats globalism

What is your sacred value?

Eric Kaufmann

“I’m sorry to be the data driven pol sci academic”

Kaufmann argues that every national society has an “ethnic core” defined by markers such as language, religion, and race. This group defines its wider society politically, socially, and culturally. If it is powerful and self-­confident, it welcomes newcomers and assimilates them into itself much as American WASPs did with ­European immigrants in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. If it is weak or governed by a self-­abnegating elite, the ethnic core is wracked by “existential insecurity channeled by the lightning rod of immigration.” The result is right-wing populism.

Kaufmann does not attend only to the nationalist side of Western politics. Whiteshift gives ample consideration to the globalist side as well, animated by what Kaufmann calls “left-­modernism.” This is an ­ideology peculiar to the West, originating among late-­nineteenth- and early-twentieth-­century American intellectuals. Progressive advocates of ­left-modernism such as John Dewey and Jane Addams were already defining the United States as the “embryo of . . . a universal civilization,” continually fed by open immigration. Left-modernism urges minorities to cultivate their particularities while the ethnic majority is instructed to “universalize itself out of existence,” a policy Kaufmann describes as “asymmetrical multiculturalism.”

Ingroup identification is independent of negative attitudes toward outgoups

John Hurley said...

In his 2016 book Twilight of the Elites, the French geographer Christophe Guilluy argues that globalization has transformed his country into “an American society like the others, inegalitarian and multicultural.” From his perspective, an ethnically and culturally diverse society is necessarily an unequal one. This certainly seems to be the history of the United States and what until recently set it apart from all other Western countries. In 2017, a group of conservative European intel­lectuals including Roger Scruton, Rémi Brague, Ryszard Legutko, and Pierre Manent issued the “Paris Statement,” which defended national democracy with the claim that “only empires can be multicultural.” Historically, the combination of self-government and solidarity has been constructed on the foundation of the nation-state. Will Western people living in what Kaufmann admits will be “a dynamic, low-cohesion, future-oriented society with an attenuated connection” to their own history and traditions share enough to form a self capable of meaningful self-government? On what basis can elites in such a society be held accountable by the populace?

It is largely an illusion that you can have a say unless we have a media that tells us everything not just what elites want us to hear. Low income people in this country are just living on the edge. Once we were egalitarian and retired bus driver Bernie S_ could retire to Rakaia huts etc, etc. Maori and Pakeha working class recognised each other. It is loading credibility to call Auckland and Queenstown "success" for those whose expectations are simple. Some people just want a house and garden a place a people and continuity. Try sitting on the train at 5 o'clock riding through Tokyo and looking at the grey apartments. Is it any wonder my 2 year old visitor cried on repatriation.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Facebook doesn't allow posts about white nationalism "
So Facebook bans white nationalism – good. Did you not read their terms of service? There much the same as any other organisation that allows you to use their stuff for free and uses you as a product. Including your favourite right-wing sites. They can ban you for anything or nothing. They will certainly ban anyone who they think might cut down on their profits. That's capitalism – get used to it.
I'm sometimes amazed at the naïveté of conservatives, who think that everyone owes them a platform. And it's hilarious when the people denying them a platform are also conservative – perhaps even more conservative than they are. :)
As the old hitmen used to say, "It's nothing personal – just business."

John Hurley said...

Blogger Guerilla Surgeon said...
"Facebook doesn't allow posts about white nationalism "
So Facebook bans white nationalism – good. Did you not read their terms of service?
I saw a case where a young man had a conviction for underage sex (not paedophilia). He was banned from Facebook but took it to court and won on the basis that large companies like that operate as a public utility (public square).

The only problem with white nationalism is assuming (it isn't an extreme form that excludes minorities) is that it is against the elite goal of creating ethnicless societies. Why are white countries: "classic migration receiving countries", given these are developed countries. On what basis would adding more and more people increase productivity (and livability)? To quote Bernard Hickey, Michael Reddell argues convincingly that immigration has had a negative affect on NZ.

Mathew Goodwin points out that there has never been a case of a majority ethnic group going quietly - but given the control our naughty media has us under I'm not sure.

greywarbler said...

John Hurley A lot of multi culturalism is as a direct result of some nation going to another nation and planting a flag on the land, and taking control of it. (Eddie Izzard skit.) Countries now not wanting to cope witth multi-culturalism should have stayed at home.

Those overseas companies, French and the British East India Company, the Dutch East India Company - if they had stayed at home and conducted trade between countries - their multi cultural problems would be less. The French were in India according to this article, from 1667 and it looks through to 1954.

greywarbler said...

Did someone say that this neo-lib bureaucratism seems like a new religion? Or is it just something that hits the side of my brain often like an echo? How can we get back to our previous mixed mainly secular hegemony?

Are we lost forever to the denizens with pretty pictures of people sitting around or cycling in the sunshine in the bur'c idea of our well-ordered happy society (homeless and anxious people behind 'flats' at the side hiding the unseemly scenery of the scenario.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Sorry John, you're being incomprehensible again. Brandolini's law says I can't be arsed trying to make sense of what you say. Honestly, if you'd keep your comments short and stop saying stuff which obviously means something to you but not to anyone who can't translate it, and posting links - which of course we are supposed to read/listen to using up more of our time, it might be possible to have a conversation with you but much of what you say only makes sense to you.
Just give you an example John, for years I thought you were fond of Professor Spoonley, because you kept quoting him without any context. It took me a while to figure out you have a visceral hatred for the man, which is interesting because he's not at all a bad person from what I can gather. Sad.