Tuesday 31 October 2023

Failing The “Leftist” Litmus Test.

Palestinian Lives Matter: What is it then that permits those who self-identify as leftists to survey the horrors of 7 October 2023 and see only a glorious act of Palestinian resistance? How is it possible for those who cheered on Jacinda Ardern’s “politics of kindness” to absorb all the details of the rape, the torture, the killing – and not respond with fury and disgust?

LIKE THE WAR in Ukraine, the war in Gaza is serving as a remarkable litmus test for the Left. It is testing its moral compass, its understanding of international law, its grasp of geopolitical realities and, not least, its awareness of what the PR mavens call “the optics”. A substantial portion, even, perhaps, a majority, of the Left is failing all of these tests – badly. That this should be the case points to what would appear to be a dangerous cognitive weakness in contemporary progressivism – and to a West under siege.

The moral and geopolitical confusion over the Russo-Ukrainian War is more readily understood than Israel’s war against Hamas. For the so-called “Tankies”, abandoning the cherished image of the Russian people, Nazism’s destroyers, as the world’s saviours, was an emotional wrench. Rejecting the argument that the Russian Federation’s illegal invasion of Ukraine was a justifiable response to US and Nato provocation proved equally difficult. None of these considerations excused the Tankies’ defence of Russian aggression, but one could at least see where it was coming from.

That is certainly not the case with respect to the devastating pogrom unleashed upon the Jewish inhabitants of Southern Israel by the Jihadist terrorist organisation, Hamas. To encounter its historical equal, it is necessary to travel back in time to the genocidal pogroms set in motion by the antisemitic citizens of the Baltic states in anticipation of the Nazi einsatzgruppen’s arrival in 1941. Here, too, one encounters the same indiscriminate and unsparing cruelty, the same savage delight in rape, torture and murder, that characterised the Hamas pogrom of 7 October 2023.

As was the case in 1941, it is quite impossible to look upon the atrocities of 7/10/23 as anything other than a deliberate turning away from all civilised conduct. Unless, that is, one has already been convinced that against the Jews/Israelis any and all crimes are permitted – and justified.

That this was the belief of the Nazis is well-documented. That a burning desire to rid the world of the “Zionist Entity” is equally evident in every act of Arab aggression towards the State of Israel since 1948. The important distinction being that, while Egypt, Syria and Jordan only wanted to drive the Jews into the sea, the Jihadists of Hamas are religiously committed to making sure that every last one of them drowns.

What is it then that permits those who self-identify as leftists to survey the horrors of 7 October 2023 and see only a glorious act of Palestinian resistance? How is it possible for those who cheered on Jacinda Ardern’s “politics of kindness” to absorb all the details of the rape, the torture, the killing – and not respond with fury and disgust?

One possible answer is that they have seen the images of Palestinians shot and killed for daring to oppose the Israeli occupation of Palestine. They have watched, aghast, as Israeli aircraft, Israeli artillery, have pounded the houses and apartment buildings of Gaza to rubble. Seen, also, the tiny victims of such bombardment, and heard the anguished cries of their mothers. “Lex Talionis!”, they cry. “An eye for an eye!”

But the moral vacuity of this position was as obvious to a Galilean rabbi back in 30AD, as it was to the Gujarat lawyer who declared in 1920AD that “An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind”. A leftist who turns her face in fury and disgust from the IDF’s brutality on the West Bank, cannot, either logically or ethically, refrain from doing the same in the face of Hamas’ murderous fanaticism.

That Pro-Palestinian leftists cannot see the deeply cynical purpose behind Hamas’ attack is similarly baffling. Notwithstanding the facts of international law concerning the responsibility of all those exercising state (or state-like) authority to protect their citizens from harm, Hamas committed its atrocities in the certain knowledge that Israel – fulfilling its own legal duty to protect its citizens – would feel compelled to destroy those responsible for organising and committing them. That this would entail air and artillery strikes on Gaza was obvious to the whole world. But, Hamas did not shrink from Israeli retaliation, it welcomed it.

Why? Because it knew that if the IDF was coming after them, then it would also be coming after the apartment buildings, the office blocks, the schools and the hospitals from which it launches its rockets, and under which it locates its storehouses, fuel dumps, arsenals, factories and command centres. Does Hamas know that this is a blatant breach of the Geneva Conventions – a war crime? Of course it does. Doesn’t it care that its own people will be “collateral damage” when the Israeli missiles strike their targets? Not at all. A steadily rising civilian death-toll isn’t a bug in Hamas’ strategy, it’s a feature.

There was a time when, to be regarded as a serious leftist, one was obligated to inform oneself as well as possible about world affairs – especially the geopolitics of great power rivalry and its consequences. No longer. One can be a fervent supporter of the Palestinian cause without ever pausing to wonder from whom groups like Hamas and Hezbollah get their military supplies, their military training.

Today’s leftists do not know, or do not care, that it is the hand of the Islamic Republic of Iran that is moving these terrorist pieces on the Middle-East chessboard. The same Islamic Republic that murders women and girls for refusing to wear the hijab. The same Islamic Republic that is committed to the utter destruction of Israel – and is rapidly acquiring the nuclear capacity to do exactly that. Today’s leftists simply do not realise that, if this was the Lord of the Rings, they’d be on the side of Sauron – they’d be cheering on the orcs.

Don’t they care about the optics of all this? When Jewish students in New York have to barricade themselves in their university library, against pro-Palestinian leftists, and all the antisemitic, misogynistic, homophobic and transphobic “allies” standing right there beside them, pounding on the door, trying to get in. Does it not occur to them that people looking at the video clip of that incident posted on X might be reminded of something? When a supposed “leftist” stands up in Auckland’s Aotea Square and urges the multitude waving their Palestinian flags to “Globalise the Intifada!” – i.e. Let’s have pogroms everywhere! – and is cheered to the echo. What does he suppose New Zealand’s Jewish community sees?

Not leftism, but fascism. And so does every other leftist who still understands the meaning of the word.

This essay was originally posted on the Democracy Project website on Tuesday, 31 October 2023.

The Demographic Fix.

Coffee-Coloured Cultural Moment: Pop group Blue Mink’s anthemic “Melting Pot”, released in 1969, was a product of that brief sunny moment in history when people genuinely believed the world would be a better place if all of its peoples could “just get together in a lovin’ machine” that turned out “coffee-coloured people by the score”.

IT COULD NOT BE RECORDED TODAY, let alone top the charts. Blue Mink’s anthemic “Melting Pot”, released in 1969, was a product of that brief sunny moment in history when people genuinely believed the world would be a better place if all of its peoples could “just get together in a lovin’ machine” that turned out “coffee-coloured people by the score”.

The problem was that, by 1969, the world had already moved on from the idea of a single human family. Dr Martin Luther King’s self-sacrificial creed of non-violent civil disobedience had died even before he did, replaced with the “Burn, Baby, Burn!” of ghetto insurrectionists and Black nationalists. In New Zealand, too, the rise of Nga Tamatoa and the Polynesian Panthers offered a strong challenge to the 1960 Hunn Report’s policy of integration.

As the Seventies rolled into the Eighties, the First World’s adoption of what would become known as “Identity Politics” was already far advanced. On the Left of New Zealand politics especially, the claims (some would say the irreconcilable claims) of class, race and gender were poised to supersede the universalist principles that had driven the huge protest movement against the 1981 Springbok Tour. Indeed, the barbed wire had hardly been coiled up, and the batons stowed away, before the nascent Māori nationalist movement was demanding to know why leftists who recoiled from South Africa’s apartheid system, had so little to say about the dispossession and subordination of their own country’s indigenous population.

Whipped into a coherent doctrine by Donna Awatere in a series of essays entitled “Māori Sovereignty”, published in the feminist magazine Broadsheet, the Māori nationalists made it clear that the tangata whenua were not only seeking the return of their land, but also the restoration of their power. This was a revolutionary demand, and Awatere and her fellow nationalists knew it. In the early Eighties, however, the superior Māori birthrate had many nationalists looking forward to that moment when, in the not-too-distant future, the population of the indigenous people of Aotearoa would overtake that of the Pakeha descendants of New Zealand’s British colonisers.

The huge attraction of this notion was that it allowed the revolutionary changes required to restore Māori sovereignty to be achieved democratically. There was no need to outgun the Pakeha – not when Māori could simply outvote them. Provided Māori parents taught their children well about the changes they would soon be in a position to enact, and provided the dwindling number of Pakeha were properly prepared for the big cultural transition, everything could proceed smoothly – and, more important, peacefully.

At about the same time, either by accident, or design, the New Zealand state was contemplating a very different demographic future for its citizens. In the mid-1980s, Pakeha politicians, bureaucrats and academics, no longer willing to countenance what in practice, if not officially, amounted to a “White New Zealand” immigration policy, produced a policy review that “quite explicitly sought to ‘enrich the multicultural fabric of New Zealand society’”.

The pale-skinned immigrants of yesteryear would be joined by the peoples of East and South Asia. Chinese, Taiwanese, Hongkongers, South Koreans, Indians, Bangladeshis and Pakistanis would take their place in the immigration queue alongside English, Scots, Welsh, Irish, Dutch, Canadians and Americans – not forgetting New Zealand’s highly valued (if poorly remunerated) “guest-workers” from the Pacific Islands.

Throughout the Nineties, the number of immigrants swelled significantly, dramatically altering the cultural “vibe” of a nation which had, for most of its history, been unashamedly Anglo-Celtic. Winston Peters made his populist bones decrying what he branded the “Asian Invasion”. Not to be outdone, and to the consternation of most New Zealanders (not to mention most geographers!) the National Party Prime Minister, Jim Bolger, described New Zealand as an “Asian Nation”. The economic and political changes of the next quarter-century would, however, make a prophet of Bolger. By the 2020s the Peoples Republic of China had become New Zealand’s largest trading partner.

What could not be disputed, as New Zealand plunged forward into the Twenty-First Century, is that the ambitions of the authors of the 1986 Review of Immigration Policy had been entirely fulfilled. New Zealand had become a multicultural society of enormous diversity and energy. By 2018, more than a quarter of those living in the country had been born somewhere else. What’s more, New Zealand’s population had grown to five million a full decade ahead of the demographers’ expectations. The impact of this rapid growth on the nation’s ageing and increasingly inadequate infrastructure, and New Zealand real-estate market, was massive.

But not as massive as its impact on the hopes and dreams of the Māori nationalist movement. Quite why they did not anticipate the “colonisers’” response to the prospect of a Māori majority – mass immigration to keep the percentage of Māori New Zealanders below 20 percent – is difficult to fathom. But, if they were caught by surprise by the “Asian Invasion”, they lost little time in coming up with a Plan-B.

Having been thwarted in their hopes of overtaking the Pakeha population, and thereby denied the opportunity of reclaiming their land and power democratically, it was necessary for Māori to come up with a plan that did not rely upon superior numbers and the democratic process for its success. Somehow, their being a minority of the population had to be rendered unimportant and irrelevant. Somehow, the mere fact of being Māori had to become a justification for being accorded equal authority with Pakeha.

Whether by accident, or design, the New Zealand Judiciary came through with all the legal and historical arguments necessary to transform what had been a Treaty-based relationship between the Crown, exercising full sovereignty over its legally subordinate-but-equal Pakeha and Māori subjects, and the territories they inhabited; into a relationship “in the nature of a partnership” based upon the “principles” of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, which, expert testimony assured the nation, did not entail a cession of Māori sovereignty.

Meaning, that if Māori are equal “partners” of the Pakeha, by virtue of Te Tiriti, then their numbers, expressed as a percentage of the population, are entirely irrelevant. Their right to equal authority emerges from their relationship to the land, not to how many of them there might be at any given moment in history. That being the case, on all important matters pertaining to the Treaty “partners”, solutions should be arrived at through a process of co-governance.

It may not be the outcome envisaged in Blue Minks hit song. Blanding-out New Zealand’s vibrant multicultural society into a coffee-coloured uniformity, while a “right-on!” notion in 1969, would strike most contemporary New Zealanders as a terrible idea. For Māori New Zealanders, however, it must be difficult to avoid the conclusion that, since 1986, the demographic fix has been in. Co-governance, the Māori defence against being tyrannised by a majority that was either deliberately, or accidentally, manufactured by the institutions of the state, a policy for which no government has ever asked for, or received, a popular mandate, can only be regarded as masterful – as clever as it is controversial.

This essay was originally posted on the Interest.co.nz website on Monday, 30 October 2023.

Saturday 28 October 2023

Reaping The Whirlwind.

Mild-Mannered Avenger: “The Nazis entered this war under the rather childish delusion that they were going to bomb everyone else, and nobody was going to bomb them. At Rotterdam, London, Warsaw, and half a hundred other places, they put their rather naïve theory into operation. They sowed the wind, and now they are going to reap the whirlwind.” - Sir Arthur "Bomber" Harris, 1942.

HAD IT NOT BEEN for the intervention of the Queen Mother, Arthur “Bomber” Harris would never have got his statue. While all the other great British commanders of the Second World War were showered with honours and had their likenesses cast in bronze, Air Marshall Harris became someone the British Establishment found it expedient to overlook. Why? Because Harris was responsible – at least in terms of his strategic decision-making – for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians.

Harris’s “Bomber Command” rained down explosives in such quantities that, in the cities of Hamburg and Dresden, they created firestorms. A firestorm takes hold when the combustion site exhausts its supply of oxygen and begins drawing in the surrounding air to keep the inferno alive. The inrushing air soon acquires the speed of a gale-force wind. This not only fuels the flames, it fans them, increasing the size and heat of the conflagration to truly horrific levels. Without oxygen, those huddling in bomb shelters are asphyxiated. Those attempting to flee find their feet sinking into superheated asphalt as, all around them, the streets melt. So hot did it become in Dresden, that school-girls seeking protection from the intense heat in a water tank were boiled alive.

Harris was not in the least bit fazed. In a notorious address, delivered to the British people in 1942, at the start of his no-holds-barred bombing campaign, Harris chillingly declared:

Sir Arthur "Bomber" Harris.

The Nazis entered this war under the rather childish delusion that they were going to bomb everyone else, and nobody was going to bomb them. At Rotterdam, London, Warsaw, and half a hundred other places, they put their rather naïve theory into operation. They sowed the wind, and now they are going to reap the whirlwind.

Challenged to justify the huge civilian losses at Dresden, in the context of a war that was clearly only weeks away from being won, Harris responded:

The feeling, such as there is, over Dresden, could be easily explained by any psychiatrist. It is connected with German bands and Dresden shepherdesses. Actually Dresden was a mass of munitions works, an intact government centre, and a key transportation point to the East. It is now none of these things.

It isn’t difficult to understand why Harris had to wait so long for his statue. But, those who turned their backs on him were the worst kind of hypocrites. In the context of an increasingly brutal global conflict, Harris distinguished himself by refusing to cloak the brutality of war in fine phraseology, or weasel words. The strategy of “carpet bombing” German cities was approved by Britain’s war cabinet because it worked. Home Office researchers had discovered that people coped better with losing their loved ones than they did with losing their homes.

People who say that bombing civilians doesn’t work are, quite simply, wrong.

Nor is it the case that New Zealanders can stand aloof from Harris’s cold-blooded destruction of human life. Six thousand Kiwis flew in those bombers, ofttimes navigating by the terrible red glow in the skies ahead of their aircraft. Nearly 2,000 of them never returned to base.

I rehearse these facts as the Israeli Air Force rains death and destruction upon the defenceless cities of Gaza. The world stands aghast at the horrific scenes filling the screens of its devices. “These are civilians!”, it cries, “Innocent women and children!” From the streets of the Middle East rises the grim accusation: “Israel is guilty of war crimes!”

But if the Israelis are guilty of war crimes, then so were my father’s generation – and my grandfather’s. It was “our side” that blockaded Germany for the duration of World War I. Like the other British Dominions, New Zealand was quite willing to have the Royal Navy starve Germany to death. It was war. You do what it takes to win.

“Bomber” Harris spoke the brutal language of military necessity. Faced with the impossibility of defeating Germany without killing Germans, he point-blank refused to indulge in moral humbug.

Sorting out the guilty from the innocent in the crimson fog of war is beyond the competence of mortal men.

Sir Arthur Harris (he was knighted in 1953) died in 1984, and his statue was unveiled by the Queen Mum in 1992. She was taken aback to hear the jeers and boos of the crowd.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 27 October 2023.

Wednesday 25 October 2023

Disinformation From The Left.

Dangerously Persuasive: When Hamas unleashes terror in Southern Israel, and the State of Israel unleashes hell in retaliation, disinformation is important. Which is why, by way of example, the Instagram message released a day ago by Pere Huriwai-Seger on behalf of the Aotearoa Liberation League is important.

DISINFORMATION has been part and parcel of the political process since, well, forever. It was only in the Nineteenth Century, however, that the need to create narratives advantageous to one’s own cause, and disadvantageous to one’s opponents, gained access to technologies enabling disinformation to be communicated at great speed and on a massive scale. With the dawning of the Twentieth Century, even more startling technological innovations upped the effectiveness of disinformation by several orders of magnitude. The old adage: “A lie will be half way around the world before Truth has pulled his boots on”; became a straightforward description of reality. By the Twenty-First Century, technology had advanced to the point where the separation of truth from falsehood required the adjudication of experts – and the ability to distinguish fake expertise from the real thing.

When people talk about disinformation today, it is almost always from within a left-wing narrative framework. The villains behind the disinformation tsunami allegedly inundating the civilised world are identified as white supremacists, misogynists, transphobes, anti-vaccination zealots, and fundamentalist Christians.

In normal circumstances, the pet-hates of leftists don’t carry very much weight. Unfortunately, the life of the world stopped being normal in January 2020, as it became clear that a novel coronavirus – Covid-19 – was about to ignite a global pandemic. Fearful that the small but very vocal clusters of anti-vaccination zealots, located in just about all Western nations, would undermine the public health and immunological measures vital to fighting the virus, public servants began establishing anti-disinformation units to identify and counter the lies being spread about Covid-19, and, more importantly, the vaccines developed in record time to bring it under control.

In those countries with centre-left national and/or state governments, most particularly the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, politicians and activists moved swiftly to extend the brief of these disinformation units to encompass just about all of the Left’s pet-hates. The situation was not improved by the intervention of national security agencies alarmed at the volume of Russian and Chinese disinformation pouring onto Western social media platforms.

From the perspective of the Left, this conflation of Far-Right disinformation with the disinformation emanating from authoritarian nation states would prove to be enormously helpful. A pro-censorship position, which at least some of the mainstream media might have challenged, could now be presented as a matter of national security. In New Zealand, willingness to buy into this aspect of the anti-disinformation project was aided by the still raw memories of the Christchurch Mosque Massacres. Far-Right lies could produce deadly consequences, argued the Left. Free speech should not be considered an unqualified good, not when it empowers “bad actors”.

What the New Zealand Left – notoriously ignorant of its own, and the international movement’s history – finds it almost impossible to accept is that disinformation (or, as it was once, more honestly, known: “propaganda”) was, and is, every bit as rampant on the revolutionary left, as it was, and is, on the reactionary right. Indeed, modern disinformation/propaganda was more-or-less invented by Willi Münzenberg, a German political impresario, commissioned by the Communist International to spread the Bolshevik’s revolutionary creed across the West. Tactics we take for granted today: front organisations, activist celebrities, newspapers, magazines, plays, movies, and phonograph records – all with an easily digestible political sub-text, were Münzenberg’s inventions. In the early 1920s, the Right had nothing to match “Willi’s Wurlitzer”.

Not that the state-subsidised Disinformation Project would ever acknowledge the fact, but the effectiveness of New Zealand’s right-wing disinformers is well below that of their left-wing rivals. Better educated, more articulate, technically more proficient, and – most importantly – working with, not against, the grain of New Zealand’s official “progressive” ideology, New Zealand’s left-wing activists’ political and cultural production throws that of the Right into the shade. Their output can be found on Facebook, Instagram, X and Tik-Tok – global platforms often denied to the Right by Silicon Valley’s “progressive” billionaires. Freed from the need to hawk their ideological wares in the murky swamps of Telegram, the Left’s disinformers/propagandists have no need for false identities. Operating freely, under their own names, they have ready access to the hearts and minds of millions.

Not that very many New Zealanders know or care what the Left is saying. Indeed, political speech only becomes important in moments of national and international crisis. In the middle of a global pandemic, disinformation is important. When Russia invades Ukraine, disinformation is important. When Hamas unleashes terror in Southern Israel, and the State of Israel unleashes hell in retaliation, disinformation is important. Which is why, by way of example, the Instagram message released a day ago (22/10/23) by Pere Huriwai-Seger on behalf of the Aotearoa Liberation League (a front organisation comprised of Pere and his wife Sarah) is important.

With film-star good looks and a compelling verbal style, Pere commands the viewers attention from the moment he authoritatively disabuses them of any notion that what is currently unfolding in Gaza is not their fight. New Zealand, he informs them “has troops involved”. An alarming “fact” if one’s knowledge of New Zealand’s role in the Middle East is poor – i.e. most of the New Zealand population. That Pere flashes up a media release explaining that New Zealand has eight military personnel serving in the United Nations Truce Supervision Organisation in no way excuses his claim that the country has troops involved. In the minds of his viewers his words will have conjured up images of Kiwi soldiers rubbing shoulders with members of the Israeli Defence Force. It’s misinformation shading into disinformation.

Pere’s pace is brisk, and just seconds later he is informing his viewers that New Zealand has “long supported the colonisation of Palestine”. This is historical nonsense – and malicious nonsense at that. He states as a fact that New Zealand “invaded” Palestine and “seized it for Britain” in 1917. Curiously, he neglects to inform his viewers that the New Zealand Mounted Rifles was merely one unit in the British Expeditionary Force waging war against the Ottoman Empire, of which Palestine was a mere province. According to Pere, the province was handed over to “Zionist terrorists”. Curiouser and curiouser, since Ottoman Palestine was actually handed over to the British by the League of Nations as a “mandated territory”, and remained in British hands until 1948.

But Pere is just getting warmed-up. While they were busy making Palestine safe for Zionism, argues Pere, the Kiwis treated the Palestinian people “horribly”. He cites the Surafend massacre of 1918 as proof.

What happened at Surafend wasn’t pretty, but it didn’t happen out of the blue. Troopers of the NZ Mounted Rifles and the Australian Light Horse went to the village of Surafend to secure the surrender of the Palestinian Arab who had shot dead a New Zealander, Trooper Leslie Lowry, after stealing his kit-bag. Their demand refused, the Anzacs attacked the men of the village (having evacuated the women and children to a place of safety) killing between 40 and 200 Arabs, and setting their houses on fire. The Anzac perpetrators received a tongue-lashing from the British commander, Allenby, but none of them were ever punished.

Had Pere homed-in on the Surafend massacre right from the start of his video, he could have presented a picture of New Zealand’s complicity in British, and later American, imperialism that was not only persuasive by truthful. Instead, by surrounding the Surafend massacre with a string of disinformative statements, the whole four-minute video becomes an exercise in the most blatant propaganda. And not just any propaganda, Pere’s falsehoods are the falsehoods of Hamas and their Iranian backers – whose cause Pere equates with the cause of Māori nationalism in Aotearoa. Presumably, what Hamas terrorists did to the Jewish inhabitants of Southern Israel is what decolonisation looks like.

Imagine the reaction of the Disinformation Project if they had found a video presentation promoting right-wing disinformation and hate on such a scale. A video dripping with Islamophobic hate in the same way Pere’s drips with annihilationist hatred of Israel. Such a video would have been presented to the mainstream media as evidence of the danger posed by radical political extremism; of the need to take decisive action against such horrific hate speech.

And the mainstream media would have lapped it up.

This essay was originally posted on The Democracy Project website on Monday, 23 October 2023.

Tuesday 24 October 2023

Thinking About The Roman Empire.

Template For Masculine Politics: It is as well, then, that, all over the Western World, young men are thinking about Rome. Because, if ever there was time to “unleash hell” on the decrepit, the corrupt, and the criminally incompetent, then that time is now. For, make no mistake, all across the rest of the world, there is no shortage of young men thinking about the Barbarians.

WHY ARE MEN always thinking about the Roman Empire? Women, baffled by their partner’s quickening heart-rate when confronted with images of disciplined legionaries preparing to “unleash hell”, or worried by the Caesar-like poses they catch them striking in front of the bedroom mirror, have turned to their sisters on Tik-Tok for answers. Predictably, it was men who responded. The conclusion of the male commentariat? Men think about the Roman Empire a lot because the Roman Empire still contributes such a lot to what it means to be a man.

But, Rome retains its relevance for another reason, one only partially bound up with masculinity. Rome provides the template for empire: a template so powerful that we have been surrounded by its symbols for centuries. From the Dark Ages, when Charlemagne received the title of Holy Roman Emperor from the Pope; to the Consuls of the French Republic and, after them, the Emperor Napoleon; to the fasces that can still be seen adorning the United States House of Representatives and Lincoln’s memorial throne; to the classical colonnade of our own Parliament Buildings in Wellington: the legacy of Rome is ubiquitous.

The simple truth about Rome’s persistence of vision is that the ideas, the institutions, and the leaders that nourished it continue to inspire and guide our own. The way we think about politics: our curious bifurcation of means and ends; the way we honour the spirit of the Laws, even as our leaders flout the reality; the way we seek peace by preparing for war; all this is as Roman as “Hail Caesar”.

So, too, the notion that, to a favoured people, God (or, the Gods) might promise “empire without limit”. There are still numerous New Zealanders who recall hearing their parents talk about “the British Empire, upon which the sun never sets”. To this very day, Americans still celebrate in song a continental republic stretching from “sea to shining sea”.

So, Rome lives, and men of all ages still thrill to its unalloyed celebration of power. Ninety years ago, Nazi stormtroopers marched beneath devices self-consciously modelled on the eagle standards of the Roman legions. “Hail Hitler” they cried, as lustily as the men of Rome’s Thirteenth Legion had shouted “Hail Caesar!”, offering their leader the same stiff-armed Roman salute. Certainly, the movie director Ridley Scott had as little difficulty as Joseph Goebbels in mixing valour and violence into a thrilling, if extremely dangerous, recapitulation of Rome’s political imperatives. “Gladiator” is fascism in sandals.

Rome’s shadow is visible even in today’s headlines. It is said that the Roman senator, Cato, ended every speech with the same sentence: Ceterum (autem) censeo Carthaginem esse delendam [Furthermore, I consider that Carthage must be destroyed.] When it came to which great city-state should command the Mediterranean basin –  Carthage or Rome – there could be only one. Clearly, the Israeli state and Hamas have arrived at the same conclusion. Like Cato, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, seems hell-bent on destroying his mortal enemies. When Carthage finally fell, the Romans left not one stone standing upon another. The Israeli’s seem determined to leave Gaza in the same state.

Confronted with the imminent demise of his people, the Roman historian Tacitus has the ancient Briton, Calgacus, say of his conquerors: ubi solitudinem faciunt pacem appellant – they make a desert and call it peace. We must earnestly hope that Tacitus’s words do not supply Gaza with its epitaph.

Equally relevant to the headlines of the 2020s is Rome’s bloody transition from republic to empire.

Very few people living today understand that Julius Caesar, the man who made the Roman Republic’s fall inevitable, was what most of us would call a socialist. Though a patrician (aristocrat) by birth, Caesar saw in the Roman Senate little more than a corrupt body of elite oppressors of the plebs (the ordinary people).

Attempting to protect the plebs from the patricians was, however, a risky enterprise. Caesar had before him the fate of the Gracchi brothers (think of the Kennedy brothers in togas) whose lack of a sufficiently large body of armed men to protect their reformist agenda resulted in both of them being assassinated.

Caesar’s success as a political leader was founded squarely on Rome’s legions and the money they allowed him to amass. By the time the patricians became desperate enough to kill him, Caesar had made sure that the corrupt, elite-driven Roman Republic was beyond saving. His adopted heir and protégé, Octavian, would become Rome’s first emperor – Augustus.

It is very difficult to look upon the corruption and dysfunction of the present American Republic without recalling the moral and social disintegration of the Roman Republic. (The constitutional inspiration, incidentally, which guided the USA’s founding fathers.)

Like the young Roman Republic, the young United States would acquire its own version of empire and, by virtue of its military and economic strength, emerge as the master of its world. As is so often the case, however, the vigour and vitality of a young republic fades. Wealth substitutes for glory. Republican virtue becomes a memory. Unity dissolves. The republic falls into the hands of men with too much money and too many years.

The question upon which the fate of the world now turns is whether or not the American Republic, still rich, still immensely powerful, can rise above the rancour and corruption into which it has fallen. Caesar was murdered by men who clung to a Roman republican constitution that no longer worked. It had become a threadbare veil, no longer capable of hiding – let alone restraining – the naked ambition of ruthless political and military leaders eager to replace it with something more rational – and less restrictive.

There are many who would argue that the United States is not that far removed from the circumstances which led to the fall of the Roman Republic. America’s enemies would appear to be better students of history than either the Democratic or Republican parties. Profound challenges to American hegemony in Europe, the Indo-Pacific and the Middle East can hardly be faced down by a nation that cannot even elect a Speaker of the House of Representatives – let alone pass a budget! Not even Rome, in all its long history, was able to produce a cavalcade of clowns to match the current American spectacle.

That the USA is presided over by a man in his 80s speaks eloquently of the USA’s predicament. Every day, it’s sclerotic institutions make it clear that America is no longer a country for young men. America desperately needs what Rome, in extremis, always seemed to find: a vigorous political general, with a plan in his mind – and loyal legions at his back.

It is as well, then, that, all over the Western World, young men are thinking about Rome. Because, if ever there was time to “unleash hell” on the decrepit, the corrupt, and the criminally incompetent, then that time is now. For, make no mistake, all across the rest of the world, there is no shortage of young men thinking about the Barbarians.

This essay was originally posted on the Interest.co.nz website on Monday, 23 October 2023.

Wednesday 18 October 2023

Losing The Working Class.

Workers' Power. The power of the NZ working-class reached its zenith in 1974, when 10,000 workers marched in protest at the Drivers Union leader, Bill Andersen's, arrest - and secured his freedom. The Labour Government of Norman Kirk was frightened of the organised working-class then. Fifty years later, there's precious little left of the private sector unions to inspire fear in anybody.

I ALWAYS WONDERED what it would take to detach the New Zealand working class from Labour. Not all of the working-class, obviously, but enough to strip the party of the demographic heft that, for more than a century, has made it a decisive electoral player. Now I know, but it took a fair few wrong guesses before I got there.

On paper, it should have been Rogernomics. After such a comprehensive betrayal of Labour’s working-class base it seemed impossible that all but the most mindless loyalists would continue to vote for the party. It was the conviction that underpinned Jim Anderton’s creation of the NewLabour Party – give the ordinary working-class voter an honest social-democratic party to vote for and Labour’s electoral base would shift en masse.

Well, that’s exactly what happened in Jim’s seat of Sydenham, but NewLabour’s message fell on deaf ears just about everywhere else. Labour’s candidates reassured the residents of working-class electorates that Rogernomics had been for them. New Zealand could not have gone on the way it had been under Muldoon. Something had to be done. Our economy had to be shaken-up and set on a new, more productive path. It had all been done for them, so their kids and grandkids to look forward to something better than freezing-works and car-plants. If Mickey Savage had been leading Labour in the 1980s, they said, he would have followed exactly the same policies.

And, you know what? It worked. In Labour’s safest seats Jim Anderton’s candidates hardly made a dent in Labour’s bodywork. The workers stayed loyal right through.

Their dogged faith in the Labour Party reminded me of “Boxer”, the indomitable draught horse of George Orwell’s Animal Farm. No matter how many times the pigs who wielded the power made the lives of all the other animals miserable; no matter how many times they slyly amended the rules of the farm (most famously from “All Animals Are Equal” to “All Animals Are Equal – But Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others”) Boxer remained loyal to the Revolution, exerting all his mighty strength to keep it going. Until, at last, worn out by his ceaseless exertions, he fell ill and was sold to the proprietor of the local knacker’s yard by the self-same pigs he had always believed in and supported.

There had been other tests of working-class loyalty. The abortion issue had sorely tried the patience of Labour’s working-class Catholics of Irish descent in the 1970s. Homosexual law reform did the same, right across the Christian denominational spectrum, in the 1980s. Like the Springbok Tour of 1981, which had pitted young, mostly middle-class, university students and their liberal middle-aged mentors, against the rough-and-ready working-class lovers of Rugby, the struggle for gay rights was overlaid with an ill-disguised contempt for the morally deficient people its promoters were struggling against.

By the late-1980s, however, the issue which had bitterly divided the traditional Left in the years immediately following the Springbok Tour, and hacked a jagged wound across the trade union movement, was turning up on the conference floor of the Labour Party. The radical quest for Māori sovereignty, and its central political demand – “Honour the Treaty” – could no longer be ignored by the party whose 50-year alliance with the Ratana Movement had given it control of the Māori seats.

That was the moment at which Labour should have grappled with the political implications of Māori sovereignty and the Treaty, thrashing them out for good or ill, until its members, and (much more importantly) its voters grasped their meaning. But, that was not what Labour did. When confronted with policy remits requiring Labour to honour the Treaty of Waitangi, conference delegates and MPs nodded sagely and dutifully raised their hands in support. Very few understood that what they were receiving and passing-on was the political equivalent of a live hand-grenade, and that, one day, the pin of that hand grenade, either by accident or design, was going to be pulled out.

Anyone who has ever wondered how the Fourth Labour Government could so blithely legislate for the Waitangi Tribunal’s reach to extend all the way back to the signing of the Treaty in 1840, or how that judicially pregnant phrase “the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi” could so carelessly have been inserted into the State Owned Enterprises Act, should wonder no more. The leaders, and the members, of the Labour Party were so ignorant of both the Treaty’s status in Maoridom, and of their country’s morally dubious colonial history, that they simply didn’t see the harm in paying lip-service to Māori demands.

Donna Awatere had put her finger on the phenomenon in her seminal Māori Sovereignty essays, published in Broadsheet:

The strength of white opposition will be allayed by the fact that Maori sovereignty will not be taken seriously. Absolute conviction in the superiority of white culture will not allow most white people to even consider the possibility.

Lord Cooke of Thorndon, however, had no choice but to take the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi seriously. His ground-breaking judgement that the Treaty was “in the nature of a partnership” would produce a rich harvest of subsidiary judgements and policies that, as the decades passed, would draw the descendants of the settlers who made New Zealand closer and closer to the Dock of History.

One of those judgements related to the foreshore and seabed, and came frighteningly close to tipping New Zealand into fierce racial conflict. It was only Helen Clark’s up-close-and-personal interactions with the hard men and women of the Māori nationalist movement, the people she dubbed “haters and wreckers”, that prevented the 2005 General Election from anticipating the 2023 General Election by 18 years. Clark’s effective nullification of the Court of Appeal’s decision, and her unequivocal assertion that the foreshore and seabed belonged to all New Zealanders, was sufficient to hold enough of Labour’s working-class vote to defeat Don Brash’s attempt to start what Act’s David Seymour is now promising to finish.

Unfortunately, Jacinda Ardern, possessed none of her predecessor’s understanding of the Māori nationalist movement and its revolutionary interpretation of the Treaty. When asked to summarise the Treaty’s clauses by journalists in the first months of her premiership, she could not oblige. A classic example of her party’s dangerous propensity to good-naturedly wave Māori demands through Labour’s policy check-points, Ardern simply lacked the political resources to turn back the political demands of such forceful Māori politicians as Willie Jackson and Nanaia Mahuta.

Neither Ardern, nor her successor, Chris Hipkins, had the intellectual or ideological sophistication to argue either For or Against the revolutionary ideas contained in the He Puapua Report. Nor did they possess the courage to follow Helen Clark’s example of political intransigence.

Labour made no case for co-governance because it couldn’t. For the previous 40 years it had put “all that Treaty stuff” in the too-hard, or the too-scary, basket. When the sovereignty hand grenade finally exploded, in the second term of the Sixth Labour Government, the best Labour could manage was to blame the resulting injury to the New Zealand body politic on the “racism” of the people whose votes it would need to go on governing.

Unsurprisingly, it didn’t get them. Almost accidentally, Labour discovered what it would take to make the working-class stop voting for it. Not the Pasefika working-class, admittedly, but the “settler” working-class – made up of Pakeha New Zealanders and the children and grandchildren of immigrant workers. Making those citizens feel as though they had, somehow, to justify their right to participate in shaping their nation’s future: that was the crucial catalyst for electoral defection.

Like their European and American counterparts, the New Zealand working-class has completed its historical journey from Left to Right.

And it ain’t going back.

This essay was originally posted on The Democracy Project on Tuesday, 17 October 2023.

Monday 16 October 2023

Labour In 2023: No Place Left To Grow.

Missing The Point: It’s the element of punishment – the mood of ‘anyone but Labour’ – that Labour stubbornly refuses to accept. It certainly wasn’t evident in Chris Hipkins concession speech on the night his government was so resoundingly voted out of office. 

“I HAD BEEN HOPING that this election would resemble 2005 more than 2014. Clearly this was not the case.” So said the pseudonymous “Mickey Savage” on the Labour-leaning website, The Standard, the morning after. A spectacular understatement, obviously, but the observation also confirmed just how out of touch Labour’s membership has become.

The election-night which Saturday evening (14/10/23) most resembled wasn’t the election night of 2014, with its calamitous Party Vote of 25.13 percent, but the election night of 1990 when, after six tumultuous years in office, Labour was punished with exemplary viciousness by an electorate which had, very clearly, had enough. 1990 was also the other occasion when the voters of the “safe” Labour seat of Mt Roskill ejected their local MP (one Phil Goff) in favour the National candidate.

It’s that element of punishment – that mood of ‘anyone but Labour’ – that Labour stubbornly refuses to accept. Certainly, it wasn’t evident in Chris Hipkins concession speech. Although politicians invariably reach for tidal metaphors when confronted with significant defeats, the identification is far from apt. Politics is not a matter of gravitational attraction, it is constructed out of the hopes and fears – and rage – of human-beings. When parties lose, it’s not on account of the position of the moon, it’s because they have done things that cause even their supporters to vote for someone else – or stay at home.

The things that Labour did between 1984 and 1990 – “Rogernomics” and all that – turned New Zealand upside-down. Concepts and theories which had guided the politicians of both parties for decades were jettisoned with a speed and a ruthlessness that made effective opposition extremely difficult. Difficult, but not impossible. The New Zealand in the 1980s was still the sort of society in which dissent and debate, even in regard to what was fast becoming the state’s official ideology, was still permitted. The mainstream news media still saw the virtue of offering citizens both sides of the story.

Herein lies the difference between that earlier wholesale clean-out of Labour, and the 2023 General Election. Between 2017 and 2023, the Sixth Labour Government also turned New Zealand upside-down – but not in the same way as Roger Douglas and Richard Prebble.

When the Fourth Labour Government closed down freezing-works and sold state-owned enterprises, it was front page news. Protests were staged and documentaries were made. The responsible Cabinet Ministers were forced to explain and justify their actions publicly which, to a creditable degree, they did. The introduction of neoliberalism in New Zealand did not end up requiring (as one trade union leader had predicted) tanks in the streets.

That’s not how its been for the past six years. Massive changes in education and health policy were introduced without adequate explanation or justification. Jarring changes in the linguistic structure of official communications were implemented without consultation, leaving many New Zealanders feeling culturally disoriented and politically ignored. Distracted by the Christchurch terrorist attack and the sudden onrush of the Covid-19 Pandemic most of these developments went unnoticed until Labour, freed from NZ First’s moderating influence by the “Thankyou Jacinda!” election of 2020, began stepping up the pace of change.

Missing from this “revolution” (as Dame Claudia Orange described it) was anything approaching the coherent explanatory framework provided by Roger Douglas and his colleagues courtesy of the neoliberal intellectuals in Treasury, the Reserve Bank and the Business Roundtable.

The highly controversial report, He Puapua, for example, proposed wholesale constitutional reform – to a degree which would have left New Zealand politically unrecognisable. Far from being conceived as the starting point for a wide-ranging public debate, the report was prepared in secret and only released by the Sixth Labour Government after it was leaked to the Act Party.

Although disavowed by Jacinda Ardern, sharp-eyed members of the public recognised a remarkable degree of congruence between He Puapua’s recommendations and government policy. They were told, none too politely, that they were seeing things.

Undeterred, those taking a close interest in public policy noticed something else: the deep reluctance of Labour ministers to engage in the sort of head-to-head ideological confrontations that were common during the unrolling of Rogernomics. After 2020, all attempts to debate the future of Te Tiriti o Waitangi and Māori-Pakeha relations tended to be framed as manifestations of racist, white supremacist, prejudice. Tellingly, a long-delayed discussion document on Treaty-based constitutional reform was deemed too inflammatory for public release by Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson. It still hasn’t seen the light of day.

Even more concerning was the mainstream news media’s extreme reluctance to entertain any debate over the many contentious issues – “co-governance” in particular – that were growing out of the Crown’s newfound commitment to “indigenisation” and “decolonisation”. Increasingly, voters came to understand that there were topics which could not be questioned or debated without “consequences”. Around this new ideology they further observed the erection of a complex array of protective barriers. Those who attempted to breach these barriers were accused of spreading “misinformation, disinformation and malinformation” or, even worse, of deploying “hate speech”.

Inflation, the cost-of-living, rising mortgage interests rates: if the pollsters’ efforts were to be believed, then these were the issues driving the voters towards National, Act, and a change of government. Concerns about co-governance did not feature in these lists of voter concerns. Nonetheless, they persisted. In places where no one was likely to cluck their tongues in disapproval, or send an anonymous complaint to the HR department, the state of ethnic relations in New Zealand was the subject of intense unease. It kept Act’s numbers at record levels and fuelled the re-emergence of NZ First. It was the political dissidence that dared not speak its name, but it existed – and it would prove extraordinarily motivational.

When the defectors from Labour punished their old party in 1990, it was an act of bitter revenge. David Lange and Roger Douglas had promised “transformation” and they had delivered it. New Zealand the way Muldoon’s followers had wanted it, no longer existed. The votes of those who lamented its passing were cast against Labour in anger and despair. A final “Take that!” gesture of defiance before the new order became irretrievably bedded-in.

Thirty-three years later, voters threw their support behind National, Act and NZ First with much higher hopes of achieving something positive. While freezing works could not be re-opened or privatised state enterprises repurchased, the indigenisation and de-colonisation of New Zealand society can still be halted at the stroke of a ministerial pen.

It is to be hoped that New Zealand’s new Prime Minister, Christopher Luxon, understands this. That among all the other things he has to do, he must not fail to honour the expectation of his conservative voters to defend democratic “New Zealand” from Te Tiriti-Centric “Aotearoa”.

The 2023 election result signals a decisive shift of the non-Māori, non-Pasefika, and non-Woke elements of the electorate to the right. Labour’s massive losses in Auckland put it at serious risk of being reduced to a South Auckland-based Pasefika party. In forthcoming elections, what National, Act and NZ First haven’t already taken is in grave danger of being stripped off Labour’s electoral carcass by the Greens and Te Pāti Māori.

For as long as its manifesto fails to overtly distance itself from the authoritarian radicalism of today’s “progressives”, the party of Mickey Savage, and “Mickey Savage”, seems destined to fade into historical irrelevance.

From where it stands now, Labour has run out of places to grow.

This essay was originally posted on the Interest.co.nz website on Monday, 16 October 2023.

Friday 13 October 2023

Reckless Speculation.

Don't Panic! Chris Bishop’s scaremongering may elicit nothing but voter scorn, being seen as evidence of a party in full panic-mode. Presumably, National’s loss of confidence in its capacity to shape events has been brought on by its pollsters’ detection of a steady, and so far irreversible, slide in their level of electoral support.

WHAT HAS CHRIS BISHOP SEEN that has so unhinged him? Why would National’s Campaign Manager, whose party is currently attracting by far the largest share of voter support, suddenly start babbling about a second election?

In all its long history of responsible government: from the 1850s to the present day; New Zealand has never been forced into a second election. It’s just not something New Zealanders anticipate. Having cast our votes, most of us expect a functioning government to be fashioned without delay. What we do not expect is for the party with the largest number of votes to say: “No, we don’t like the hand you’ve dealt us – deal us another one.”

The sort of politicians who do that sort of thing are mostly to be found in the member states of the European Union. When the citizens of an EU member state get it into their heads that they don’t particularly like the latest treaty their political class had signed, successfully petition for a ratification referendum, and win it, they’re surprised to learn that voting a proposition down is nothing like enough to persuade their political class to accept defeat and enforce the will of the people.

Dear me, no – that’s not how things work at all. With the honourable exception of the United Kingdom, the only thing winning a referendum entitles the poor old EU serfs to is … another referendum. Just ask the Danes, who voted “No” to the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, only to discover that “No” was the wrong answer. In 1993, presented with another referendum, the Danes reluctantly voted “Yes”. The lesson was not lost on the Irish, who faced a similar ‘second go’ if they voted down the austerity measures contained in the EU’s fiscal treaty of 2012.

Nothing signals the political class’s contempt for the will of the people as strongly as its refusal to accept the will of the people. The message being sent is unmistakable: We – not you – know what’s best for the nation. So, don’t go getting ideas above your station. Which was the pretty much the gist of Chris Bishop’s reckless speculation. Get it right – or we’ll make you do it again!

The question now, in the backwash of Bishop’s intervention, is how will the voters – especially those currently intending to vote for Winston Peters – respond to National’s threat? Is the prospect of enduring something unprecedented in New Zealand’s political history – a second election – likely to prove too unsettling for the average punter? Will it be enough to extinguish the fluttering flame of rebellion that led them to contemplate a vote for NZ First? Will “instability” simply be coded as “personal insecurity” in conservative voters’ brains, causing them to tug their forelocks and, suitably chastened, step back into National’s ranks?

If that’s what happens (and very clearly that is what National’s strategists are hoping will happen) then the NZ First Party Vote may drop below the 5 percent MMP threshold. National’s Party Vote, and quite possibly Act’s too, may then inflate sufficiently to allow them to come together in the “clean” two-party coalition government Christopher Luxon is begging voters to give him.

To discover that New Zealanders could so easily be cowed into submission would be rather disconcerting. It would signal an almost masochistic desire to be punished for allowing themselves to be seduced by Jacinda Ardern’s “kindness” back in 2020. Lacking Peters’ restraining influence, the resulting National-Act government would have free-rein to impose the swingeing austerity programme required to pay for Luxon’s inflationary tax-cuts. That so many of us are willing to see so much pain inflicted upon our fellow citizens, strongly suggests that there is a fair amount of sadism mixed in with all that masochism. Hardly a pretty picture of our national character, and even less so of those NZ First voters so easily bounced into abandoning their nobler impulses by the prospect of a second election.

Contrariwise, Bishop’s scaremongering may elicit nothing but voter scorn, being seen as evidence of a party in full panic-mode. Presumably, National’s loss of confidence in its capacity to shape events has been brought on by its pollsters’ detection of a steady, and so far irreversible, slide in their level of electoral support. Bishop’s talk of a “hung parliament” may even suggest that notwithstanding NZ First’s support, National-Act may soon be struggling to command the 61 seats needed to govern.

Those same pollsters may also be predicting that if Act’s support continues to decline, and NZ First’s to climb, then, by the evening of Saturday, 14 October, the two parties may be level-pegging. Certainly, such a prospect would induce palpitations in all but the most hardened political campaigners. Not only would it void the best argument for Luxon making Act his first choice, but it would also throw into sharp focus the National Party leader’s singular lack of experience in forging coalitions. Voters would be entitled to query whether Luxon has the political skills needed to manage coalition partners displaying such obvious mutual loathing as NZ First and Act.

Where the polls land in this, the last week of the election campaign, may produce a truly spectacular result. Providing Peters’ support remains solidly above 6 percent, and Act’s determination to hold a referendum on the meaning of Te Tiriti remains firm, something disastrous may happen to National’s support. Seeing only the chaos and instability that Bishop’s reckless speculation has primed them to see, a crucial number of the voters who deserted National for Labour in 2020 – and were then persuaded to return by Luxon’s elevation to the leadership in December 2021 – may opt to return to the devils they know.

After all, a political combination that has already demonstrated its incapacity to deliver very much of anything, may begin to look a lot more desirable than a coalition of parties committed to making the economy scream, and splitting their society into two, mutually hostile, racial camps, with frightening efficiency. The venerable Aesop’s fable about the frogs who grew tired of their do-nothing monarch, Old King Log, only to find his deadly replacement, the altogether too active King Stork, much less to their liking, seems increasingly apposite to the 2023 election campaign’s final days.

This essay was originally posted on The Democracy Project of Monday, 9 October 2023.

Three Angels.

I have been hard at work,” replied the Avenging Angel, “and where I have been there is no shortage of blood. I was there, above the field at Re’im when the fighters of Hamas arrived. All those revellers, so young, so beautiful, they were dancing and singing, oblivious in their joy to the horror that was advancing fast upon them.

“TELL ME WHERE YOU HAVE BEEN”, cried the Angel of Justice. “I have been seated here for hours, watching the ripple of explosions lighting up the length of Gaza, tracing the rockets’ fiery arcs across the skies of Israel, of Palestine. It is my fate to weigh the guilt of men, but in this land that is no easy task. And now you interrupt my thoughts, your raiment torn, your wings all blood be-spattered, a wild light in your eyes.”

“Indeed, I have been hard at work,” replied the Avenging Angel, “and where I have been there is no shortage of blood. I was there, above the field at Re’im when the fighters of Hamas arrived. All those revellers, so young, so beautiful, they were dancing and singing, oblivious in their joy to the horror that was advancing fast upon them.

“Where was the Angel of Pity upon that terrible field?”

“Absent. But the hot rush of my wings was there to fan the flames of retribution in the gunmen’s hearts. To blow the tinnitus of hatred into their ears. It drowned out the pleas for mercy of the young women, overwhelmed the shouts of protest from the young men. Such a ringing there was in their ears as their weapons dealt out death all around.”

“And Pity absent”, whispered the Angel of Justice.

“Oh, yes, there was no trace of Pity as they stripped, and tortured, and raped, and killed. But, I was there. How often had they called upon me, the Angel of Vengeance, to deliver their enemy into their hands? Out of the ruins of their homes, over the bodies of their brothers and sisters, as the limp forms of their infant nieces and nephews were passed down solemnly, hand-to-hand, from the mounds of rubble. Out of all that grief and rage, how could I not hear their prayers, their summons, their calls to me, the Avenging Angel?”

“And you granted them their wish,” said the Angel of Justice, casting a wrathful glance in the direction of his companion.

“I did, my friend, but only because their calls to you, for Justice, had for so long gone unanswered. And where Pity and Justice are absent, or unheeding, what is left but Vengeance?”

“Justice in Palestine? In the land of Israel? And exactly when, my friend, would you have me set that clock ticking? With Vespasian and his legions? With the destruction of the Temple? With a people dispersed to, as it says in the Hatikvah, “the ends of the East”. Shall I start the clock then – in Roman times? Or, perhaps you would have me begin with the first medieval pogrom? Or, with the greatest? With the Shoah, the Holocaust, and all that mechanised Nazi terror? If I remember rightly, Pity was also absent at Auschwitz. The Jews have reclaimed their ancient homeland because they have learned, from the bitterest experience, that they are never truly safe in anybody else’s.”

“But Palestine is somebody else’s homeland, also, my friend. The memory of the Arab is no less poignant than the memory of the Jew.”

“True enough, but when that same Arab has tried, on three occasions, to drive the Jew into the sea, it is difficult for the Jew to resist the temptation to call upon you, the Avenging Angel, to even the score. Because, as I recall, it was your swift sword that avenged the slaying of Israel’s Olympic athletes at Munich in 1972. Your wings that blew sand in the faces of the Egyptians and Syrians just one year later in the war that began on Yom Kippur.

“It is difficult, is it not, my friend, to rightly distinguish Vengeance from Justice? But – hush! What is that sound!”

The two angels’ wings lifted them high above the mountaintop, their eyes searching the cracked rocks and bare sands below for the sound’s source. While they looked, the heart-rending wailing, born of that worst of mixtures – grief and rage – throbbed louder and louder, as if to set the whole of Israel, the whole of Palestine, vibrating with its inconsolable misery.

At length, the Angels’ gaze fell upon the source of the sound. Sobbing, beneath a bare and bitter thorn tree, sat the one so many in Israel/Palestine speak of, but so very few speak to: the Angel of Peace.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 13 October 2023.

Tuesday 10 October 2023

National Starts To Panic.

Running Scared? That’s the voters’ choice, if you listen to National’ s panicky Chris Bishop: a clean two-party coalition, or a dirty three-way.

GUYON ESPINER AND ANDREA VANCE kept casting glances towards Ruth Richardson, much as they would towards a batty old aunt. Indisputably, there was something deeply eccentric about Richardson’s performance on Saturday’s Newshub Nation. But, there was also something scary.

Like the Bourbons (the French royal family restored to power following the defeat of Napoleonic France) Richardson appears to have “learned nothing, and forgotten nothing”. Hearing her speak about the New Zealand economy, and what is needed to restore it to health, it was as though the three decades that have slipped by since her brief tenure as Finance Minister were empty of incident. As if all the deterioration in the quality of New Zealanders’ lives and the slow decay of their nation’s institutions – much of it attributable to Richardson’s policies – could be made to disappear by a furious waving of hands.

Richardson is exactly the same person, ideologically, that she was in 1991, when her vicious “Mother of all Budgets” left beneficiary families in tears, and the charities dedicated to their support starved of resources. The same, pint-sized true believer: fizzing with ideological certainty; ready to inflict pain and hardship upon half a nation for its own good – and for the even better of the other half.

That the passage of so many years has not dimmed the fanatical brightness in Richardson’s eyes is only marginally less frightening than the fact that she sits on the Act Party’s Board-of-Directors.

That Ruth Richardson just might have the ear of Act Party Leader, David Seymour, was reportedly enough for a number of the National Party’s biggest friends and donors to take a deep breath and pour hundreds-of-thousands of dollars into the coffers of NZ First. Their argument was straightforward. National could not afford to be driven into the same dangerous territory as Jim Bolger. Winston Peters had applied the handbrake whenever Jacinda Ardern’s government threatened to leave the road – best to have him there if Christopher Luxon’s looked like doing the same.

After all, the only thing that had saved Jim Bolger’s government, following three years of “Ruthanasia”, was the First-Past-The-Post electoral system. The disastrous electoral impact of Richardson’s policies may be measured in the precipitate fall in the National Party’s share of the popular vote. From 48 percent in 1990 to just 35 percent in 1993. Had MMP been in place for the 1993 general election, Labour and the Alliance, with a combined Party Vote of 52 percent could easily have taken power. Bolger would have presided over National’s first one-term government.

If Seymour is permitted to exert the same economic and social policy influence over Luxon’s government as Richardson exerted over Bolger’s, then a Labour-Green government in 2026 will be odds-on favourite. And it won’t be anything like the Labour-Green-NZ First Government of 2017-2020. Assuming the pollsters are correct, and that Chris Hipkins’ government is soundly defeated on Saturday, then a pretty ruthless scouring of the Labour Party is unavoidable. What a National-Act government (unrestrained by Peters’ handbrake) is likely to face in 2026 will be as close to a “coalition of communists” as New Zealand has ever seen.

For a few days, over the course of the past fortnight, it appeared that the moderate faction of the National Party had prevailed over its hard-liners. Luxon made it clear to the voting public that while his preference was for a “clean” two-party coalition with the Act Party, if its preference was otherwise, then he would pick up the phone and call Winston. Almost overnight, NZ First’s numbers improved by a whole percentage point – lifting it to a projected 6 percent of the Party Vote. With NZ First securing that level of support, a National-Act-NZ First government became a dead certainty. The Right was poised to re-take the Treasury Benches.

Or … not. Between Luxon’s confirmation of a week ago that, if required, a three-party coalition, including NZ First, was possible; and National Campaign Manager Chris Bishop’s panicky Sunday predictions of deadlocked negotiations, hung parliaments, and the possibility (probability?) of a second election; something very serious had gone very wrong. Somewhere in National’s caucus, party, or party-donors’ ranks (and, quite possibly, in all three simultaneously) a split has opened up between those who favour simply a change of government, and those who, echoing Act’s election slogan, favour “real change” – Richardsonian change.

Having witnessed the NZ First “surge”, from 5 to 6 percent, these “Real-Changers” were clearly terrified that Act’s recent slump in support, from 15 percent to 10 percent, was not going to stop, and that Luxon might well emerge from Saturday night’s count with a Party Vote between 34-36 percent, followed by Act and NZ First with 8 percent apiece. For the Real-Changers, an Act Party with no more support than NZ First could produce only a lazy, do-nothing, National Government – something on the model of John Key’s. Unacceptable, was their judgement. Act won’t wear it. Seymour would rather face a new election than spend the next three years as National’s and NZ First’s geeky younger sibling. If Chris Bishop wasn’t prepared to tell the public, then Act and the Real-Changers would.

Hence Bishop’s panicky statement regarding fruitless negotiations, hung parliaments and a second election. Clearly, he and his fellow strategists are attempting to spook Peters’ more recent converts into returning to National and Act. Their argument is brutally simple: back a National-Act government – without Peters – or face months of crippling political and economic instability by keeping him in the mix. That’s the voters’ choice: a clean two-party coalition, or a dirty three-way.

Will it work? Is Peters’ recent support susceptible to such threats? Are they Real-Changers, too, or are they after a different sort of change? Not Richardson’s economic rationalism, but Peters’ economic nationalism? And if it’s the latter, then asking them to embrace Ruth and kiss Winston good-bye, may not work. It just seems logical that if a right-wing voter was looking for the real change that Seymour is offering, then he or she would already be safely tucked-up with Act.

Then there’s the Left’s lost and lonely. Driven away from both Labour and the Greens by the latter’s’ support for restricting freedom of expression, re-writing the Treaty, and encouraging transgenderism. These unreconstructed lefties are looking to NZ First for shelter from the wokesters’ storm. Ex-Labour-Alliance-Green voters are not going to oblige Bishop by backing a National-Act government – no way.

Peters, Himself, has described Bishops’ statement as “scaremongering”:

These very concerning comments must be an unfortunate misunderstanding because suggesting the National Party would start scaremongering and threatening to ignore the will of the people on Election Day and ignore the need of our country to form a stable government would be highly troubling to voters. It is telling voters National would instead enforce another costly election on the nation purely because of their own political expediency.

Which is a classically orotund Winstonian way of saying that such behaviour, far from persuading opponents of Labour and the Greens to run towards the National and Act parties, is much more likely to drive them into the arms of NZ First.

Very good news indeed for sly Uncle Winston, but not at all what eccentric Aunt Ruth was hoping to hear.

This essay was originally posted on the Interest.co.nz website of Monday, 9 October 2023.

Thursday 5 October 2023

Nostalgic For A Joyous Left.

Those Were The Days: If you drank at the Captain Cook Tavern, especially downstairs, your horizons simply couldn’t fail to be broadened. Upstairs, where the bands played, might have been more recognisably studenty, but, if you kept your ears open in the Back and Corner Bars, you could learn at least as much as you were being taught in all those lecture theatres on the other side of the Museum Reserve.

I WAS A CAPTAIN COOK MAN, Grant Robertson was a Robbie Burns man. If you know anything about the great student pubs of Dunedin in the 1970s, 80s and 90s, those allegiances should tell you a lot.

While I was at varsity, the “Cook” had a reputation for entertaining more than just students. While the “new” Dunedin hospital was being built in the 70s, the pub’s “Back Bar” was patronised by construction workers. In the years prior to the University Staff Club opening its doors, the Cook’s “Corner Bar” remained a watering hole for the more adventurous sort of academic. Trade union officials, especially those employed by the Hotel, Hospital and Restaurant Workers Union, could also be found in the Corner Bar, along with poets Hone Tuwhare, Peter Olds and John Gibb. The artist Eion Stevens also drank there. There were  pool-players, too, tough guys one didn’t interrogate too closely – unless one was looking for something a little more interesting than alcohol.

Meaning that, if you drank at the Cook, especially downstairs, your horizons simply couldn’t fail to be broadened. Upstairs, where the bands played, might have been more recognisably studenty, but, if you kept your ears open in the Back and Corner Bars, you could learn at least as much as you were being taught in all those lecture theatres on the other side of the Museum Reserve.

The Robbie Burns was different. For a start, its clientele was nothing like so bohemian. Law students drank at the Robbie Burns – alongside the true crème-de-la-crème of the university scene, medical students. The “Robbie” – as everybody called it – was just that little bit more – what? ‘Refined’? No, that isn’t right. How about ‘self-consciously superior’? Yes, that will do. That will do nicely.

Oh, and I nearly forgot, the Robbie was where most of the student politicians drank. The presidents of the Otago University Students Association and their hangers-on – the Robbie was their pub. That’s why Grant Robertson (OUSA President in 1993) and his mates drank there. Like talked with like – and liked it. To say they learned nothing would be wrong, but they certainly didn’t learn as much as the students who drank downstairs at the Cook. Unsurprising, I suppose, that all those budding journalists who worked on the student newspaper, Critic, generally preferred the Cook to the Robbie.

And all this is related to the looming general election – how? Nostalgia is fine, in its place, but what has drinking in the 70s, 80s, and 90s got to do with voting in the 2020s? Nothing at all, I suppose, unless you’re willing to see those two Dunedin pubs as peculiar prefigurements, strange and symbolic representations, of what the New Zealand Left used to be, and what it has become. Because what could be more like the sprawling and rambunctious labour movement of the 1970s and 80s than the downstairs bars of the Captain Cook Tavern? And what could more resemble the preening, superior, student-politician-dominated Left of 2023, than the up-itself, yuppified, Robbie Burns Hotel of the 80s and 90s?

A party purporting to represent the people cannot be anything like the prissy affair of ambitious back-biters that the Labour Party and (God help them!) the Greens have become.

Entering a genuine left-wing political party should be like entering the Cook on a Friday night. It should be buzzing with conversations and barking with arguments. One should have as much chance of encountering a burly construction-worker, full of choice epithets for those with soft hands and even softer heads, as a Māori poet, a philosophy lecturer, and a Marxist union activist. A people’s party should, like the Cook, be a place to get educated, inspired, intoxicated and (if you’re lucky) seduced. You should walk out of a people’s party ready to change the world, your place in it, and, if you’ve met the right sort of leftists, your opinions.

What a people’s party can never be is a collection of cliques, where like meets like and no one else. Where newcomers are assessed with a calculating eye and a closed mind. Where the only trick worth learning is how to separate the mere seekers after power from the smug possessors of it. A true people’s party is full of smiles and snarls – not smirks. Its members speak freely and argue passionately – not in conformity with the current orthodoxy. When people’s party comrades finish arguing, they buy each other a beer – they do not sell each other out, or dob each other in. A people’s party welcomes and involves, it does not exclude and punish.

Of course the Cook – as I remember it – is nowhere to be found in the Dunedin of 2023. The building still stands, it’s a pizza parlour now with electronic games. But the city – and the country – that made it possible for the Cook’s earlier incarnation to thrive, no longer exists. The New Zealand of 50 years ago, or even 30 years ago, was an altogether different country, they did things differently then.

The New Zealand Left, or at least the Left I encountered in the 1970s – and fought for across the 1980s and 90s – has also, like the Cook, ceased to exist. What killed it? The debilitating fear of freedom which is the inescapable companion of societies that devote themselves entirely to the pursuit of power and money, and construe the absence of these prizes as proof of culpable incapacity. In societies such as ours has become, there is no tolerance for sprawling, or brawling, or carousing. All ends are closed, all destinations known, all opinions pre-approved, all conduct scrutinised and judged.

If you can believe it, the University of Otago, alarmed by the twenty-first century student body’s predilection for drunkenness and couch-burning, bought up most of the great student pubs – and shut them down. The last time I was in Dunedin, however, I noticed that the Robbie Burns had somehow survived. It was being refurbished, brought up-to-date. Its owners promising “Emerson’s on tap”.

The thought occurred to me that New Zealand itself has become the Robbie writ large – a place where only the crème-de-la-crème feel entirely at home. Ours is increasingly a nation of the anxious and the embittered. A country which has not only forgotten how to fight, but also no longer remembers how to have fun.

What New Zealand, and the New Zealand Left, needs most is a rambunctiously good Friday night at the Cook, as it was, and, with just a little bit of luck, and a lot of courage, could be again.

This essay was originally posted on The Democracy Project website on Tuesday, 3 October 2023.

Monday 2 October 2023

The Angry Majority.

The People's Champion vs The People's Prosecutor: It is the news media’s job to elicit information from politicians – not to prosecute them. Peters’ promise to sort out TVNZ should be believed. If he finds himself in a position to carry out his threat, then it will only be because the angry majority has had enough – and voted accordingly.

THERE IS ANGER OUT THERE in the electorate. At least one Labour candidate has been assaulted, and the home of a Te Pāti Māori candidate has been broken into repeatedly and a politically-inspired threatening letter left behind. Questioned by journalists, the Leader of the Opposition, Christopher Luxon, has confirmed that the National Party is in a heightened state of vigilance. Several examples of what the party believes to be credible threats of violence have been sent to the Police.

The key question in relation to actual or threatened violence on the campaign trail is its prevalence. Are we witnessing no more than a tiny number of anti-vax diehards lashing-out at the mainstream politicians they love to hate? Or, is the anger and frustration more extensive? Are people venting their rage against a system they no longer see as demonstrating any real understanding of, or empathy for, the concerns of the population?

Expressed most forcefully on social media, there is certainly a view abroad in the electorate that if citizens do not adhere to a particular view of the world, then their opinions will be dismissed by the Powers That Be as, at best, worthless, or, at worst, dangerous.

As the election campaign has unfolded, the number of entities challenged in this way has grown to include not only heretical individuals and fringe groups, but also political parties attracting mass support. Act and NZ First have been decried as racist, and even the ideological acceptability of the National Party has been challenged. Given that all the most recent opinion polling indicates that, between them, these parties encompass a majority of the electorate, their characterisation as political deplorables is alarming.

Over the course of the last half-century a curious reversal has taken place. Back in the 1970s a small minority of the population (most of them university students and trade unionists) lamented the fact that their “progressive” views on everything from foreign policy to women’s rights; the environment to Apartheid sport; were rejected by a substantial majority of New Zealanders. Since then, however, the political evolution of the nation has reached a point where the causes of minorities have become the convictions of the majority.

Over the course of the same half-century, the young idealists and activists, who once revelled in their status as the moral and political vanguard of the nation, have moved into positions of authority and influence. In the universities, the public service, the legal profession, the major political parties, and the news media, the heretical rebels of yesterday have become the orthodox mandarins of today. Unfortunately, as they made what Rudi Dutschke, student revolutionary of the 1960s, called “the long march through the institutions”, their conviction that “we”, the enlightened minority, are right, and “they”, the unenlightened majority, are wrong, has congealed into an unassailable truth.

As individuals and groups espousing ideas and causes endorsed by only the tiniest sliver of the population make their pitch for official recognition, they have every reason to anticipate success. The assumption, in nearly every case, is that the minority viewpoints of the present, like the minority viewpoints of the past, stand an equal chance of graduating into majority acceptance. Only their residual wariness of the democratic process, and the crushing power of the majority it embodies, has prevented the key state and private institutions from letting themselves get pushed too far ahead of public opinion.

The best guess as to what made society’s key institutions suddenly feel powerful enough to challenge – and even to overrule – such deeply embedded cultural and political concepts as science and democracy, is the Covid-19 Pandemic. In responding to their global and national crises, the governments of the Western nations rediscovered the ease with which emergencies can be used to “persuade” their populations to accept policies which, in normal circumstances, they would stoutly resist.

Although speaking of the US experience, investigative journalist Matt Taibbi’s remarks may also mutatis mutandis be applied to New Zealand’s. Assessing the contribution of Dr Anthony Fauci, the USA’s Covid Czar, Taibbi writes:

Anthony Fauci showed proof-of-concept for the whole authoritarian package. He convinced the monied classes to embrace the idea of lying to the ignorant public for its own good, green-lit powerful mechanical tools for suppressing critics, engendered fevered blame campaigns … Only pandemic truths that eventually became too obvious to ignore prevented this story from having a worse ending. We’d better hope the door closes before the next emergency’s Answer Man tries the same playbook.

The re-election of Jacinda Ardern’s Labour Government not only reassured the progressive mandarins that, eventually, the majority can be relied upon to accept the judgements of the minority, but also, that the majority’s failure to be convinced no longer poses an insurmountable obstacle to progressive policy implementation. With the universities, the public service, the legal profession and the news media on side, a progressive political party can safely advance well ahead of public opinion. And, if they fail, there is always – as the occupation of Parliament grounds by anti-vaccination mandate protesters demonstrated – the Police.

Reassured of its apparent invulnerability, the post-2020 Labour Government threw caution to the winds. On matters pertaining to ethnic and gender politics it created an ideological salient positively begging to be attacked from all sides. Fatally underestimating the ability of social media to challenge the formerly unassailable influence of the mainstream media, Labour soon found itself confronted by a sizeable portion of the public which had not only stopped believing in them, but was also bloody angry with them.

Predictably, Labour’s political enemies moved swiftly to harness the electoral power unleashed by the public’s falling-out-of-love with, first, Jacinda Ardern, and then, after a brief period of hope that her successor might haul Labour back into line with public opinion, Chris Hipkins. By the opening of the 2023 election campaign, the polls were showing that Labour’s 2020 Party Vote of 50.01 percent had nearly halved. And Labour candidates were being assaulted.

True to their instincts, the “enlightened” minority struck back against the “racist” and “transphobic” majority, scolding their electoral representatives – especially Act and NZ First – for daring to align themselves with majority opinion on ethnic and transgender rights.

Nowhere was this elite disdain for populism more vividly displayed than on the weekend current-affairs shows, Newshub Nation and Q+A. The spectacle of two “progressive” young Pakeha journalists hectoring and pouring scorn on the Māori leader of NZ First, Winston Peters, was proof of just how little they understood the electorate they were doing their best to punish by proxy.

It is the news media’s job to elicit information from politicians – not to prosecute them. Peters’ promise to sort out TVNZ should be believed. If he finds himself in a position to carry out his threat, then it will only be because the angry majority has had enough – and voted accordingly.

This essay was originally posted on the Interest.co.nz website on Monday, 3 October 2023.