Friday 24 April 2020

Long Live The People's Dictatorship!

Doing What The People Say: If Jacinda Ardern’s Government is to be branded “near dictatorial” for doing everything New Zealanders expect of it, then: “Long live the people’s dictatorship!” is the only democratic response.

DEMOCRACY AND DICTATORSHIP have always been curiously intertwined. I say “curiously” because, contrary to the generally accepted view, they are not opposites. If democracy reposes power in the people, then dictatorship provides an answer to the questions: Who should give expression to the people’s power? Who guarantees that what the people say is done? A dictator may also be a protector. Someone to whom the people voluntarily entrust their safety and security in times of dire emergency.

At moments of extreme peril to the state, the Senate and People of the ancient Roman Republic would confer upon a trusted citizen the extraordinary office of ‘dictator’. For a limited period of time that citizen was permitted to exercise all political and military authority single-handedly.

The most famous Roman dictator was Cincinnatus. According to legend, this conservative aristocrat was called away from his plough by a delegation of the Republic’s leading citizens to defend Rome from its enemies the Aequi. Having fulfilled this mission, Cincinnatus dutifully relinquished his power and returned to his estate.

Kings and dictators also have a lot in common. A strong king was able to defend his subjects from the depredations of his nobles. The “King’s Justices” overruled the functionaries of the local aristocrat against whom humble folk ordinarily found themselves powerless. A “good” king was one who protected the bodies and property of his subjects. A “bad” king allowed his barons to run riot with both.

It is not the unimpeded exercise of executive power that is in-and-of-itself evil; but the purposes to which such power may be put.

Those who protest the “undemocratic” and “near dictatorial” emergency regime set in place to combat the spread of the Covid-19 virus in New Zealand are guilty of seriously mischaracterising the present Lockdown and the necessarily comprehensive restrictions required to give it force.

The Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, along with her ministers and public officials were vouchsafed emergency powers by the House of Representatives in the name of the New Zealand people. It is in our name that she is waging the campaign to eliminate Covid-19. We have the right to demand that she protect us, and she has the duty to do exactly that. What could be more democratic than a political leader armed with all the power necessary to carry out the people’s will? If she stops doing what we have asked her to do, then we have plenty of ways of letting her know. (Anyone who doubts the power of the people to make their displeasure felt should take a look at Simon Bridges’ Facebook page!)

No, those raising all these “democratic” objections to the Covid-19 Emergency Regime do not strike me as having the people’s interests at heart. Quite the reverse in fact. Like the robber barons of old, they resent the power of the Prime Minister to protect our bodies at the expense of their property.

For thirty-five years, those same robber barons have steadily stripped the state of the power to intervene on behalf of its people. They are terrified that the Covid-19 Pandemic is exposing the enormous risks imposed on ordinary people by this deliberate policy of disempowering the state. They are even more frightened of the example our Prime Minister is providing of how beneficial the power of the state can be when applied conscientiously. The world looks at the egregious failures of Donald Trump and shudders; it observes the astonishing successes of Jacinda Ardern and cheers.

But surely, as a defender of Free Speech, I must uphold the rights of “non conformists and dissenters” to question authority? Questioning authority in good faith and without the dishonourable intentions of “Gotcha! Journalism” is one thing; shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theatre is another.

But if the theatre really is on fire? What then?

Well, then you do your best to assist the theatre staff evacuate the building swiftly and safely. You certainly don’t stand up and start telling the terrified patrons that they’re being led in the wrong direction; that the exit is actually over here; and, anyway, the staff of the burning theatre across the street are doing a much better job!

If Jacinda Ardern’s Government is to be branded “near dictatorial” for doing everything New Zealanders expect of it, then: “Long live the people’s dictatorship!” is the only democratic response.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 24 April 2020.


Sam said...

Nations that have responded reasonably to the pandemic like New Zealand or Korea have appointed some sort of committee that coordinates on a national scale. With out this coordination each body part just does its own thing. Australia has consistently lagged behind New Zealand's response to corona precisely because they lack a strong central governing body that can coordinate across 7 independent states.

I'm guessing Trump grew up to insulated from the real world. He has no idea what evil is, if Trump did know what evil is then he would uppercut himself but with out discipline and focus any redeeming traits are completely useless. And so in a crises Jacinda's decisions are always decisive and well informed. Jacinda rarely wastes man and material and victory is won by safe margins. If not victory then her stoicism in a crises has been more than enough to win her the admiration of her Party and the favour of the people.

But Jacinda does have weaknesses to begin with she wasn't the most economically or militarily gifted which wasn't a result of any deficiencies either way but rather a lack of interest. One could imagine that all the military rituals and customs would seem pointless to an individual like Jacinda and when Jacinda became Prime Minster there's been a lack of adjustments where as some one like Trump, the Pentagon in most instances was willing to execute his increasingly erratic orders. I guess beautiful ideology just rolls off the tounge.

Wayne Mapp said...

Hmm, Chris, I wonder if the lockdown is getting to you. First an article about a mythical ready reaction face to put people in their place and now this.

While people might believe Simon has got his tone wrong from time to time, how many would really believe he can't even raise the issues and make the comparison with Australia. Yes, we are in it together, and yes we have basically acquiesced in the govt having extreme powers. But no, we haven't given up the right to dissent. And for political leaders to have the freedom to point out alternatives.

Now, I know you must know all this as a matter of logic. So why are you emotionally rebelling against the idea of being able to express it? Unless, that is, your article is intended to provoke this kind of reaction

Guerilla Surgeon said...

It's ironic that conservatives have turned this state of emergency into identity politics considering how much they are supposedly against this.

Incidentally, the "fire in a crowded theatre" was coined by Oliver Wendell Holmes the US judge in the middle of a tremendous crackdown on people who were against the US taking part in World War I. He characterised phrases like this... "The working class have never yet had a voice in declaring war. If war is right, let it be declared by the people - you, who have your lives to lose."... As shouting fire in a crowded theatre and put people in jail for it.
And at the moment, some people are shouting fire in a crowded theatre by calling the coronavirus a hoax, or trying to sabotage the lockdowns. But freedom of speech right?

Jeremy Bowen said...

Tightly written. Glad to see the picture painted so we'll.

Trev1 said...

Cincinnatus was an impoverished patrician farmer, not a career politician. He was charged with saving the Roman Republic, not subverting it. With victory achieved he returned to his farm. Democracy, including the free speech which underpins it, is an essential service, even moreso in an emergency.

petes new write said...

Well said, well written Chris.

Fredericknz said...

Very well said Chris, also look at big business and their reactions.....mmmmm

Chris Trotter said...

To: Wayne Mapp.

First off, Wayne, as the bloke who was given the runaround by the NZDF for years, I don't think you're in a position to say what is, or isn't, going on in that sphere. I'd trust my sources over your bland assurances any day of the week!

Second, as is so often the case with the members of your party, you set up a straw man and then proceed to knock him down. My only reference to Simon Bridges in this post is to his flaming on Facebook. You are well aware that there have been a great many more voices raised in opposition to the Government's Covid-19 strategy than the Leader of the Opposition's.

Naturally, you make no attempt to address the core argument of the piece: the importance of having someone with the power to enforce the people's will - and how difficult that has been made over the past 30 years by those who see the state as a dangerous impediment to their self-enrichment. Such people have no qualms about shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theatre if the play the audience is watching looks like changing their hearts and minds.

I believe you to be a good man at heart, Wayne, but like so many of your colleagues in the National Party, you learned the knack of simply not registering that you were surrounded by cruel and mendacious colleagues. It's a trick that undoubtedly made your life as an MP and Minister more comfortable, but it in no way exonerates you.

Those who fail to speak up are usually found bowing down.

Kat said...

Wayne Mapp's comments give a few clues as to the tormoil going on inside the National party right now, including the zoom rooms of the 'powers that be' that benefit most from a National led govt. Jacinda Ardern has proven she can lead a govt and run the country for the many not just the few. National have whinged themselves into irrelevance while being led by a leader who has as much eloquence as sand in the crotch of wet bathing togs. Simon Bridges is the best choice National have got of the bench at the moment. No wonder John Key came out this week in fawning praise for Chris Luxon as Prime minister.

djohnr said...

I throughly enjoyed the enlightening piece, pity it isn't in the NBR, also loved the second article "Slapping the Mapp" keep it up Chris.

Wayne Mapp said...


I don't know how much you know about the SAS facility in Papakura. The main base is in Papakura itself, with barracks, gym, training buildings and a comprehensive indoor range. The SAS also has a special and extensive outdoor range in the Hunua foothills with a very large new combat training facility. This is probably where all the sound of explosives would come from, plus helicopters.

SAS solders train intensively at the range, at least monthly. They are the only NZDF force that would do any combat (urban and open country) training within the Auckland region. They use all sorts of weapons and explosives in their training and it is extremely realistic. The rest of NZDF combat training is done in Waiouru and at the Burham and Tekapo ranges.

I simply do not believe the SAS or any other people in the NZDF are doing any combat training out of the ordinary.

manfred said...

If people's right to organise against the response to covid 19 endangers people's rights to life, then they should be shut down. This includes 'free speech', freedom of assembly etc..

greywarbler said...

I like Jeremy Bowen's sentiments at 8.12. Likes this post Chris and makes a Freudian slip in his last word so it seems a question about future direction. Indeed, we'll....? That's what keeps me awake at night, with anxiety and hope sparring for the honours.

Doug Longmire said...

That's a good article Chris. I do appreciate your analyses and intelligent views from the Left.

sumsuch said...

Like your last word to Wayne Mapp. True. But so much happiness is encased between the two options. Like all the empires it's just an up and then a down. We can see from this most supreme of hillocks the facts of our matter.

greywarbler said...

Kat at 13.34
Luxon is strongly religious apparently. When businesspeople get strongly religious it's time to look at them askance and run a mile. The mixing of religion and its tax-free prominence, and politics gives opportunities for tremendous repressive and oppressive power and might.

I don't trust people pushing Christianity at me any more; the USA and its relentless evangelising and prosperity churches, and the Koreans with their Moonies and the Exclusive Brethren and other cults which gain a sort of cleanwash from making religious gestures, they all are against the declarations of Jesus against wealth. The belief of honest churches should be that wealth and assets are not something to live for or to worship.

Blackadder and his ploy to gain a follower's lands and inheritance from family and instead go to the church was not far from the truth.

John Hurley said...

Chris Helen Clarks gave asylum to the Tampa refugees despite polls showing 87% against it. She said that "polls showed the people came around"? Was this actual polls or was it just political capital at the time?

greywarbler said...

John Hurley
I watched that clip and what struck me was Lisa Owen sounding just like she does on radionz - hyped up, dominating, sounding as if she has to talk 120 words to the minute to please someone with a stopwatch. Sounds like a woman who is full of trivia and political goss and not much else. And where was Patrick Gower in this discussion? I found the whole thing very sucpect - far too much fast talking or declaration of cliches from the Right - Heather Roy and somebody who has worked for the Greens.

The trouble is that if a politician is waiting to act on what people think, nothing would be done. They have to wait to see if they are stimulated by the excessive zeal of someone like Lisa Owen or Mike Hosking or one of the big talkers, and by the time they get it together, the sky has fallen. It seems that most people haven't got time these days to think, they are too busy trying to get paid for the last job they finished, and the one before that.

John Hurley said...

Here is a take on the New Class War.

John Hurley said...

I've been looking at RNZ "A Slice of Heaven". A shanghai property developer wants to build a big resort in Northland. The local Iwi are divided. Mutu (of course) still feels enormous pain (on her fathers) side over the TOW. They have been to Shanghai more than once and with Maori it is all about people (If you do it right). Meanwhile some are against it one lady put a sign up "No Asian Invasion" was changed to "No Invasion" (as Noelle noted). "that was just a Maori being an "a__ hole". I disagree the people who have no sympathy for people wanting to retain their place as the people are the "A__ holes". It is human nature that people feel a sense of place and displacement when people who are not them come to dominate. This is the same as Samoa. People rioted over Chinese shop keepers; NZ Inc sent "police trained in anti-racism".
Really Spoonley?
Those who are opposed to diversity recognition range along a spectrum and there has been a tendency to overlook or discount the significance of either the more mainstream within this spectrum or those on the activist fringes. Looking back at our earlier work on social cohesion, it was a major oversight on our part when we omitted to consider the power of the internet to contribute positively or negatively to social cohesion or to consider the ways in which social media connections are driven by highly individualised forms of engagement with others. The divided society, which manifests itself in the representation of ‘this group’ versus ‘that group’ can be seen in all the ways in which white settler New Zealand was complacent in the face of increasing Islamophobic abuse experienced by the Muslim community prior to the mosque massacres. It was generally agreed that religiously based division was not part of the national character of New Zealand as witnessed by the public uptake of the Prime Minister’s early claim that “This is not us” (Guardian, 2018). However, as Jess Berentson (2019) has subsequently said: “So better then to say: ‘This has been us. And we don’t want this to be us.’”

Social Cohesion and Cohesive Ties:
Responses to Diversity ROBIN PEACE PAUL SPOONLEY

sumsuch said...

A post-political people in an age when we need it most. So love your words. Can't see modern politics doing the biz but expression in the moment is enough for me. The peak of the spece. Not a tombstone, just a fizz above the earth of our interment.

sumsuch said...

As we know from our time dictators often are popular. Except the Left in the West love democracy in all ways. Whereas the 'friends of rich fucks' ( the Right) here are more or less agin. If the Left could free themselves from their own rich friends I hope they could lend the idea of full force from the Rich's salesmen arsehole fuehrers.

I don't know a polie I could trust, but then again, I trusted Anderton. Sanders is the way. Which suggests revolution. Not the violent sort of course. Voices again.