The Revolutionary Trinity: The three constitutive principles upon which the French Republic was founded: Liberty. Equality. Fraternity. If ever a nation is entitled to boast about its core values: about the ideas deemed fundamental to its very existence; then that nation is France.
YOU WILL SEE them chiseled into the lintels of public buildings all over Paris. The three constitutive principles upon which the French Republic was founded: Liberty. Equality. Fraternity. If ever a nation is entitled to boast about its core values: about the ideas deemed fundamental to its very existence; then that nation is France.
Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence (which preceded the French Revolution by 13 years) and his ringing affirmation that: “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” undoubtedly proved inspirational. But, essentially, Jefferson was presenting an argument. Those three words: Liberty, Equality, Fraternity; pronounced in an absolute monarchy; were unequivocally revolutionary.
Which is why, nearly 230 years after the storming of the Bastille, there remains a part of France which angrily denounces the revolutionary trinity of 1789. Thousands still living in France today, remember the very different trinity pronounced by Marshall Petain in June 1940. Not Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, but Work, Family, Fatherland.
Petain’s Vichy regime was but the culmination of the reactionary tendencies which had harried and fought the legacy of the Revolution ever since the restoration of the Bourbon Dynasty in 1815. Urged on by the Catholic Church; complicated by the personal ambitions of the Bonaparte family; poisoned by a virulent antisemitism; reactionary France, the France that sent Captain Dreyfus to Devil’s Island on trumped-up charges; the France that made peace with the Nazis; the France that even today swells the vote of the Front Nationale; has never gone away.
In the light of this centuries old quarrel about the meaning and purpose of La Belle France, Europe’s most enlightened nation state, what were the delegates to the NZ First Party’s annual conference thinking by voting for a remit legally requiring immigrants to New Zealand to swear allegiance to their adoptive country’s “core values”?
Almost certainly, they were not thinking of embroidering their nation’s banner with the French trinity of revolutionary principles.
Not that there haven’t been times in New Zealand’s own history when Liberty, Equality and Fraternity constituted the terse programme of home-grown revolutionaries. The “Red Feds” – those militant trade unionists whose exploits enlivened the years immediately prior to World War I – were not above letting-rip with a lusty rendition of La Marseillaise as they marched to do battle with “Massey’s Cossacks”. (Armed farmers on horseback, enlisted by Prime Minister Bill Massey to crush the “Red Feds”.)
Therein lies the problem, of course. From the moment New Zealand became a British colony in 1840, the tension between those who came here to build a better life in a better country than class-riven Britain; and those who came here for the sole purpose of making money to enhance their reputation and status; has been palpable.
NZ First’s conundrum has always been to decide which of these two conflicting impulses it should endorse. Like their leader, they are torn between the allure of socio-economic elevation, and the stirring egalitarian verses of Dick Seddon’s and Mickey Savage’s Hallelujah Song.
Even those two men, the tutelary patriarchs of socialist New Zealand, might struggle to agree on the precise nature of New Zealand’s core values. Seddon favoured a white nation, untainted by either the brown or the yellow peril. Savage, by contrast, had imbibed the magic of Wiremu Ratana and knew that whatever New Zealand might eventually become, it would always be Maori first.
From the recorded comments of the remit’s promoters, it seems pretty clear that NZ First tends more toward Seddon than Savage. The core values they are seeking to defend are those of the “Better Britons” which the New Zealanders of the late-nineteenth century believed themselves to be.
Far from the universal principles of the French Revolution and the undying political legacy of the European Enlightenment; the core values which NZ First hopes to enshrine in law are grounded in exclusion. Their purpose is to impress upon Muslim immigrants the entirely unacceptable character of their religious and ethnic traditions, and to make it clear that the price of New Zealand citizenship is the attenuation, or outright abandonment, of those traditions.
The trinity worshipped by NZ First is not the unabashed revolutionary’s Liberty, Equality, Fraternity; but the half-arsed reactionary’s threefold tribute to the Kiwi Way. Authority. Orthodoxy. Conformity.
This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 5 October 2018.