Thursday 16 September 2010

Working Towards The Fuhrer

A dictator with no need to dictate: The followers of Neoliberalism, like Nazism, know what is required of them. In the rabidly pro-business climate fostered by the current government, neoliberal initiatives will be taken, pressures applied and legislation instigated on the reasonably safe assumption that such measures will be rewarded by the incumbent regime - not punished.

WAS IT REALLY BEYOND the wit of this Government – this Parliament – to rebuild Christchurch without flattening the Constitution? Was there really not a single MP with sufficient knowledge of our planning laws and building codes to strike a principled balance between reconstruction and the rule of law? Not even one boffin, in our entire civil service, who knew how to make it happen?

I simply don’t believe it.

The Canterbury Earthquake Response and Recovery Act (CERRA) – a rare example of parliamentary unanimity – says a great deal about how impatient our political class has grown with the whole concept of democratic restraint.

Twenty-five years of neoliberalism have so hollowed out our political culture that a bill overturning the whole notion of an executive answerable to both the legislature and the judiciary attracted not even one "No" vote.

The Parliament elected in 2008 contains not one Mike Minogue, not one Marilyn Waring. In the whole 122-member House of Representatives there’s apparently not a single MP who understands what the English Civil War was fought to secure. Not one Member willing to defend the Bill of Rights of 1688. Not one politician prepared to stand for the rights guaranteed in Magna Carta.

All the excited talk about the "next generation of Labour leaders": about how Jacinda Ardern, Clare Curran, Grant Robertson, David Shearer and Phil Twyford were going to lead their party into a more courageous and principled political space; well, it has turned out to be just that – talk.

Though it’s by no means a valid excuse, the social-democrats can at least argue that, as one of the two major parties, Labour’s freedom of action is heavily constrained by its need to keep abreast of public opinion.

No such argument is available to the Greens.

The whole raison d’ĂȘtre of the Green movement is to lead public opinion; to stand by its principles; to bear witness on behalf of those who do not have a voice; to "speak truth to power". But, where were the Green MPs on Tuesday night?

Running scared.

It would not have happened in the Green Party led by Rod Donald and Jeanette Fitzsimons. Sue Bradford wouldn’t have run. Rod was a person, and Jeanette and Sue still are people for whom the baying of the media pack and the barking of the talk-back bigots is proof that they are on the right path.

The Green Party of Russel Norman and Metiria Turei is a party which knows what is right, submits the appropriate amendments, watches them get voted down, and then goes ahead and votes "Aye" for what they know to be wrong. And all because Guyon Espiner and Duncan Garner might say unkind things about them on the six o’clock news-bulletins if they voted "No".

The failure of Labour and the Greens to oppose CERRA is further proof that as political movements they lack all conviction. Their behaviour is now entirely circumscribed by what the news media determines to be "good politics". Anything which smacks of political eccentricity; anything which suggests, even for a moment, that the parties of the Left are prepared – in defence of their core principles – to step outside the narrow boundaries of media wisdom, must be avoided at all costs.

They would no doubt reject this negative judgement as both unreasonable and unfair. New Zealanders, they would say, are pragmatic people – not given to high-flown rhetoric or grand gestures (see here for Matthew Palmer’s chilling estimation of our core political values).

Certainly this is what we’ve been trained to say of ourselves, but I’m not so sure pragmatism really is a trait we admire. New Zealand’s recent history suggests that we Kiwis are more deeply moved by principled stands (the anti-tour protests) and defiant gestures (our nuclear-free legislation) than we’re prepared to admit.

Pragmatism may be the admonition of our masters, but principle is the counsel of our hearts.

And if the draconian contents of CERRA tell us anything at all, it’s that our masters do not practice what they preach. A pragmatic piece of legislation would have brought a much narrower and more concentrated focus to the problem of Canterbury’s reconstruction. CERRA’s extraordinary radicalism; it’s quite deliberate traducing of such fundamental constitutional conventions as parliamentary supremacy and judicial oversight; all point to something much more dangerous and extreme than mere pragmatism.

In his magisterial biography of Adolf Hitler, Professor Ian Kershaw seizes upon what one of the Nazi regime’s lesser lights, Werner Willikens, called "working towards the Fuhrer":

"Through ‘working towards the Fuhrer’, initiatives were taken, pressures created, legislation instigated – all in ways which fell into line with what were taken to be Hitler’s aims, and without the dictator necessarily having to dictate. The result was continuing radicalisation of policy in a direction which brought Hitler’s own ideological imperatives more plainly into view as practicable policy options."

In the case of CERRA the entity being ‘worked towards’ is not a man, but an ideology. Neoliberalism is every bit as totalitarian a credo as fascism, and its adherents as imbued as were Hitler’s followers with an unwavering determination to extend its reach and tighten its grip.

In the political parties of the Right – National and Act – and in the key state bureaucracies, policies are devised and legislation drawn up by individuals who, like the politicians and bureaucrats of Nazi Germany, are conscientiously "working towards" the full realisation of the neoliberal project. It is simply not necessary for John Key, Bill English or Rodney Hide to issue detailed directives to these people, because they already know what has to be done – and are doing it.

The aggressively pro-business design of the Auckland Supercity; the sacking of Environment Canterbury’s elected councillors; CERRA: none of these are the product of some dark and carefully orchestrated conspiracy. What they actually represent is the "continuing radicalisation" of the neoliberal project, and the increasing willingness of its promoters to take any initiative, apply any pressure and instigate any legislation which "works toward" the final triumph of the unregulated market, and the final solution of the Democracy Problem. 


Victor said...

An excellent piece, Chris.

I've had a go at you in the past concerning over-ready use of Nazi analogies. But certainly not this time!

"Working towards the Fuhrer" is a key concept in understanding how consent and consensus are engineered in our bureaucracy and media-dominated age. We owe a debt of gratitude to Ian Kershaw for having so accurately identified the process.

And we've had gallons of it over the last several dismal years.

Anonymous said...

Hmm. Sounds like someone else I know of. Labour don't wish to offend the next UN leader, where are the Muldoon's of today?

Madison said...

Chris, I may disagree with you on some points but the whole idea that today's politicians are unwilling to stand for their principles is completely spot on. If more of these MP's were willing to take a stand on their own principles most countries wouldn't have ended up in the muck we're stuck in now. Great changes are made by people who go against the grain and we're lacking a lot of those people in powerful spots right now.

peterquixote said...

agreed on fundamentals, how can I agree with you this is difficult, and there is no doubt that Canterbury will be reduced to subservient cow country slaves,

jh said...

[from your link]
"But all that said, it isn't the potential for gross draconian tyranny that may be the real problem. Rather, it is the possibility that the powers might be applied to fix "problems" that really aren't the fault of the earthquake at all. After all, there is a fine line between tweaking a law to rebuild infrastructure and getting rid of an inconvenient legislative barrier to (say) improving the productivity of Canterbury's dairy industry, or allowing a contentious roading work to progress.

Again, I'm not saying Gerry Brownlie (or any other Minister) conciously intends misusing these powers. But once you give a man a hammer, suddenly everything starts to look like a nail. And so it is with Ministers and the power to remake law swiftly and decisively."
and then again [same link]

"The most significant check on the use of the powers in this legislation will be the allegation that they have been abused - no government wants to wear the mantle of taking advantage of the plight of earthquake victims for nefarious ends."

so I don't quite get the fuss but where are the concerned commenters on Frogblog * when the noble Greens talk about handing the foreshore and seabed to Maori where culture and character are the presumed guarantors of an optimal outcome for everyone ?

jh said...

Chris, do you need a Marxist(?) analysis to see the crime here?
I'm not too worried about it as I think that if they get too cute they will be caught out.

Nick said...

Excellent work Chris. Those of us who regard history as a cyclical event will see this as a preamble to a more serious full circle event. It is the old adage of history repeating itself as a farce.

One interesting thing about the drive towards "unregulated markets" is that they require the restrictive practice of regulations and property laws to enable them, a paradoxical contradiction. Unfortunately "laws" dont require a democratic system to enact them. One wonders if the attachment to democracy amongst New Zealanders might improve if the markets fail to deliver the material trade off for our freedoms?

Peter Cresswell said...

Chris, how on earth does a govt granting itself unprecedented and near-dictatorial powers look anything remotely like a free market.

There are many good reasons to oppose the Gerry Brownlee Enabling Bill, but your thesis about what's driving it is, quite simply, bizarre.

If you look at this Bill, the implementation of a new super-bureaucracy in Auckland, the sacking of Environment Canterbury’s councillors, National Standards, three strikes, boot camps for young offender, DNA testing and asset confiscation for those not even proven guilty, car crushing, and all the other examples I’ve indicated at this post, you don't see examples of a government relinquishing power (which is what a free market requires) but giving power to itself.

Unknown said...

I agree with your point on principles but I fail to see how this legislation is 'flattening the constitution' when we do not not have a constitution to bypass. In fact, if we did have such a document there would presumeably protection in the wording to prevent exactly this kind of law-making on the fly.

jen said...

PC" , don't agree that the "free market" requires the relinquishment of government power. What the so called free market demands is the use of government power to serve corporate interests. Free marketeers ( person's by virtue of legal fiction) demand and obviously get, bailouts from government all the while demanding austerity from us little, actually human, persons,

Carol said...

PC, that contradiction is pretty much indicative of the way neoliberalism operates, and IMO, does not indicate a failure in Chris's analysis. I think David Harvey analyses that contradiction well in his book "Brief History of Neoliberalism"

As I recall, he argues that while neoliberalism has been the driving discourse of the powerful elites since the 1970s, the practice is not always consistence with the free-market theory. He argues that the one thing that remains consistent in practice, is that the elites will do whatever it takes to ensure their continuing dominence, and the shift of wealth "upwards".

I think the commentary at the above link also highlights Harvey's analysis of the loose alliance between neo-conservatives and neoliberals, creating various contradictions with the theory that is espoused by neoliberalism.

Jeremy Harris said...

Hello my name is Jeremy Harris and in response to the CERRA I've created a facebook group looking to keep pressure on or hopefully, ultimately, amend this very troubling (from a democratic standpoint) Act.

Here is the group's link:

I'm asking if those of you in the blogoshpere could write a quick post linking to it and ask your readers who are worried about our democracy to please join.


Jeremy Harris

jh said...

Cera has given building owners an ultimatum knock them over or we will. Different owners, different insurers can't agree and so cera will knock them down and give them the bill. It will be good to see those tall buildings disappearing on the back of a truck.
So far so good.