The service of their swords: For your average medieval knight the essence of the feudal deal was pretty simple: the land was yours, but only for as long as you were willing and able to protect it - along with all those who lived on it and off it. It's taken far too long, but finally our National Party lordlings have realised that if they cannot defend New Zealand's farmland their political tenure will soon be forfeit.
THERE WAS A TIME when the ruling elites had to put their money where their mouths were. More to the point, if they wanted to go on ruling (let alone remain one of the elite) they had to put their lives where their money was.
Back in the Middle Ages, if you weren’t willing to defend your own and your dependents’ lands, then in the eyes of your fellow aristocrats, your men-at-arms, your tenants and most especially your serfs, you weren’t fit to hold them.
That’s because the protection of land – the resource upon which everyone ultimately depends for survival – was the very essence of the feudal system. The serfs, who made up most of the population and supplied all the food, owed many kinds of services to their lord. But their lord, by the same feudal token, also owed services to them.
This reciprocity had a name: noblesse oblige. The obligations of nobility.
And the most important of these was the obligation to defend the demesne: the lands apportioned to lords by their master – the King. Above and beyond all other services, a feudal aristocrat owed his liege-lord (from whom he received the property and people entrusted to his care) the service of his sword.
Even today, defending the source of the people’s wealth and welfare is the sine qua non of executive responsibility. A lord who refuses to defend his demesne is traitor to both his King and his people.
How pleasing, then, that our own "feudal lords" – John Key and Bill English – have finally rendered us the service of their regulatory swords. What remains of this country’s productive farmland: the demesne apportioned to them by their liege-lord and sovereign – the New Zealand people – will not, now, be permitted to fall into foreign hands.
Not that we serfs should forget how much urging it took to recall these lordlings to the obligations of their democratic ennoblement. Nor should we overlook the startling fact that under the stewardship of those wearing Labour’s livery the Overseas Investment Office permitted foreigners to purchase an astonishing 650,000 hectares of the people’s demesne.
The Wearers of Red, who today criticise the Wearers of Blue for their tardiness in addressing the problem of strategic resource alienation, had nine years to redraft the legislation governing the scale and scope of foreign investment in New Zealand – and did little more than tinker around the edges.
But perhaps we shouldn’t be too hasty in condemning our political masters. Considering the multitude of evil counsellors whispering in their ears, it’s surprising we have any land left at all.
What advice do you suppose the foreign moneylenders are offering them? What demands are being made by our desperately indebted farmers? How many of them can afford to refuse the foreigners’ proffered gold?
And what about the mad monks of Treasury – and their even more ascetic brothers in the Business Roundtable? Having compelled us all to wear the hair-shirt of deregulation and the flesh-biting cilice of free trade, they are still urging our leaders to surrender what’s left of New Zealand’s patrimony to the Holy Church of Globalisation.
That the Prime Minister and his Minister of Finance refused to be swayed by such evil counsels is cause for celebration. But, while we are praising our lords for the service of their democratic swords, let us also offer up a word or two of thanks to the Crafar family.
Had their debt-laden farms not come so close to passing forever into foreign hands, it is very doubtful whether we inattentive serfs or our indifferent lords would ever have become sufficiently roused to rise in defence of our beleaguered demesne.
Having lifted not one finger to save the 650,000 hectares that disappeared into foreign ownership over the past decade, the pledge of every citizen, and every political party must now be: New Zealand for New Zealanders!
Whoever seeks to purchase New Zealand farmland must agree to live on it – or look elsewhere.
This essay was originally published in The Dominion Post, The Timaru Herald, The Taranaki Daily News, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Evening Star of Friday, 1 October 2010.