Checkmate: The impending political crisis over free speech threatens at least two of the multiple players currently engaged on New Zealand’s political chessboard. For Labour and the Greens it may already be too late to protect themselves from the moves of their opponents. For National and NZ First, however, a path to electoral victory in 2020 beckons.
A CHESS GRAND-MASTER can discern the future direction of the game from the way the pieces on the board are configured. He is thus able to predict the moves of his opponent with considerable accuracy. In some instances, he will be able to identify a path to victory that cannot be blocked. When both players see this path, the doomed King is laid flat and the game is over.
The impending political crisis over free speech threatens at least two of the multiple players currently engaged on New Zealand’s political chessboard. For Labour and the Greens it may already be too late to protect themselves from the moves of their opponents. For National and NZ First, however, a path to electoral victory in 2020 beckons.
The passions aroused by the recent visit of two Canadian right-wing provocateurs, Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux, are evidence of deep cultural tensions within New Zealand society.
Superficially, these tensions appear to be generated by powerful disagreements over what freedom of speech actually means. Those who regard free speech as an indispensable precondition for any functioning democracy pit themselves against those who consider the whole concept to be a mere rhetorical flourish: a principle promoted by dominant groups for no better reason than to maintain their economic, social and cultural privilege.
At a deeper level, however, the controversy threw into sharp relief the ideological contours of twenty-first century New Zealand. Multiculturalism was exposed as something much more than an academic buzzword. What Southern and Molyneux made clear, by opposing it so openly and aggressively, is that multiculturalism has become our official state ideology.
There’s a saying, often attributed to Voltaire, which declares: “To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticise.” The free speech controversy, by identifying multiculturalism as the concept Kiwis are not allowed to critique without drawing down the unrelenting wrath of its state-sanctioned and supported defenders, has caused many citizens to wonder when and how “nationalism” and “biculturalism” became dirty words.
The answer is bound up with New Zealand’s – or, at least “official” New Zealand’s – wholesale embrace of neoliberalism and globalisation. A country whose elites have signed-up to an economic philosophy based on the free movement of goods, capital and labour: the three fundamental drivers of globalisation; is more or less obliged to adopt multiculturalism as it core social philosophy.
Old fashioned New Zealand nationalism, and its more recent offshoot “biculturalism”, were products of a country which saw itself as offering something uniquely and positively its own to the rest of the world. It is probable that a substantial majority of Kiwis still subscribe to this notion (although a significant minority still struggle with the concept of biculturalism).
What the free speech controversy of the past four weeks revealed to New Zealanders was that too forthright an expression of cultural nationalism can result in the persons advocating such notions being branded xenophobic or racist – and even to accusations of being a white supremacist, fascist or Nazi.
The battle for free speech cannot, therefore, be prevented from extending out into a broader discussion over whether or not New Zealanders have the right to reject the downsides of neoliberalism, globalisation and multiculturalism. Is it any longer possible to advance the radically nationalistic idea that the nature and future of New Zealand is a matter which New Zealanders alone must decide, without finding oneself pilloried on Twitter or banned from the nation’s universities?
Returning to our chess analogy, it is possible to foresee that in the months ahead NZ First will find itself feeling more and more alienated from the radical multiculturalists in Labour and the Greens. The sharper the free speech debate becomes, the more likely it is that Winston Peters and his fellow “fetishizers of New Zealandness” will find themselves branded purveyors of “hate speech” by the Red and Green pieces on the political chessboard.
If National refuses to take the lead role in upholding free speech, then the chances are high that a new political party dedicated to defending New Zealanders’ rights and freedoms will start placing additional pieces on the chessboard. The sheer venom (and violent protests) such a party would be bound to attract from the Ctrl-Left would very soon lift its support above the 5 percent MMP threshold.
Checkmate in two years.
This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 10 August 2018.