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Upton-on-line Diaspora Edition


Upton-on-line Diaspora Edition

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Welcome back to upton-on-line for 2003 after a Christmas/New Year ‘holiday’ in New Zealand (as if any such thing is possible for ex-pat kiwis at such a frenetic time of year) and nearly ten weeks of serial computer crashes. Commentary resumes on the usual smorgasbord of kiwiana beamed from one of the co-capitals of ‘Old Europe’, as Paris is now known in the “Anglosphere” (the latest re-branding of the much-resented trans-Atlantic bonds of Anglo-American exceptionalism).

In this issue ...upton-on-line comments briefly on the scarcity of morality when it comes to interpreting national positions on Iraq; French politics as a mirror image of New Zealand politics; how they call wayward leaders to account in Togo; and some absolutely essential reading for any New Zealanders wanting to understand the (or at least one) leading edge of treatyological discourse - Histories, Power & Loss, the remarkable book edited by Andrew Sharpe and Paul McHugh. And finally, an announcement for those of you who just can't put the Resource Management Act down.

But first, to get your ear in

Consider the plight of team Alinghi member, Christian Karcher interviewed in Le Monde a few weeks ago. For any New Zealander who has battled with the French tongue and been looked at like an alien every time they open their mouth (as upton-on-line invariably is when ordering his favourite oranais), M Karcher's battles with kiwanglais are so reassuring. When asked about the obstacles to welding a cosmopolitan team together he had this to say:

"The first three months were in fact exhausting on account of language difficulties. The New Zealanders have a very particular accent that we had to get used to. Once our English improved we started to be able to express our ideas..."

Upton-on-line has spent the last two years defending English on the basis that it's a language you can massacre and still be understood. It will be interesting to see whether M. Karcher will give our British or American co-linguists a run for their money with his newly perfected accent. Upton-on-line has to admit that, after a two-year absence, his first few encounters with classic kiwi (i.e. 'received' kiwi as spoken in service stations) were not without challenge.

Justifying Ira

q Reaction to Donald Rumsfeld's tactical missile accusing France and Germany of representing "Old Europe" (with all those overtones of decadence, indecision, economic malaise and internal divisions) has brought fondly nurtured trans-Atlantic prejudices right out into the open. It has been interesting to note how on this side of La Manche/the English Channel, righteous outrage seems to have little ideological charge in it. Left and Right (in France at any rate) seem more united in their determination to deny America a free hand than they are on almost any other subject. America Rules - Not O.K. Meanwhile, in London, Ferdinand Mount writing for the Sunday Times can happily smear the entire Franco-German establishment as "the axis of weasel".

In Britain, on the other hand, there are at least glimpses of an ideologically based division. Despite Tony Blair's best attempts to disorient it, a still-functioning Left is standing up for a traditional leftish pacifism. Their discomfort must be made all the more acute by the knowledge that Conservative MPs are under strict orders not to breath a word against the Prime Minister's stalwartly Churchillian stance. (I'm sure Tory resolve is rooted in the highest principles but it is for them a happy coincidence that their convictions chime with the oldest trick in the political book: destroy your enemies by embracing them...)

Upton-on-line has neither the time nor the contacts to attempt a careful dissection of the games that are being played for national advantage. But one would have to note that any search parties sent out to locate the 'truth' might be a long time returning. France's position is (as you would expect) the most complex. It is unbending in its insistence on a second resolution before any war is declared. That raises far more questions than it answers. Is France saying that the moral authority for war rests in Security Council resolutions? If so, does its possession of a veto in the Security Council impact on the morality of its position. If it knows it can always block a resolution, does this mean that morality will be served by whatever position it chooses to adopt?

This seems to be one of the problems facing any government (for which read the overwhelming majority of governments in the world) relying on UN Security Council resolutions. How can they assure us that they are not simply using the hurdle of a second resolution as a way of spelling out what grounds they would or would not support for a war? The less likely a second resolution is, the easier it is to give the existence of one warm support - safe in the knowledge that such a resolution is unlikely.

In contrast with France, Germany's opposition to war seems almost disarmingly frank. As possibly the only remaining policy plank in respect of which Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder can plausibly claim to command popular support (and which everyone knows helped him come back from the dead during last year's general elections), Germany's opposition seems transparently self-interested. The public doesn't want it and the Chancellor is quite unpopular enough without another millstone.

So (as befits a non-permanent member of the Security Council), Germany's position is inherently uninteresting. Whereas France's position is much more deliciously problematic. Because what happens if, faced with the inevitability of American action and more chain-dragging from Mr Hussein, the case for a second resolution strengthens markedly? That is by no means impossible. After all, nice Swedish Mr Blix has already come up with sterner comments than anyone was expecting.

Would France then feel that its bluff had been called and that it could no longer reasonably withhold its veto? If it did, would the morality of its position be enhanced? After all, America (and in all likelihood Britain) would lose no time in insisting that France was being unreasonable, that it had no bottom line - and that its use of the veto was simply designed to use diplomatic leverage simply unavailable to other countries equally entitled to a veto (if vetos should be allowed at all - something New Zealand has solidly opposed since 1945). If on the other hand, it fell in behind a second resolution how could it defend itself against the charge that it was simply caving in to stay inside a tent that was going to be erected anyway.

The morality of all this? Well it's a little hard to find. Which just goes to show that (unless you're an extreme legal formalist) the existence of a Security Council resolution isn't prima facie evidence of the morality of a proposed international course of action. Neither, for that matter, is the absence of a resolution evidence of a lack of moral justification. The UN provides useful cover for all manner of political positions. But at the end of the day, resolutions - or the absence of them - will not relieve politicians of the responsibility for explaining in substantive terms where they stand on issues of war and peace.

In that respect at least, the USA and Germany share common ground. The Bush Administration's motivation is secured, right or wrong, in a determination to promote what it sees as America's domestically defined security interests. And the Schroder Government's opposition seems equally firmly rooted in a very clear appreciation of domestic politics. For M Chirac (and a host of others) the Security Council seems to provide a wonderful black box in which all manner of conflicting motivations can be safely hidden without trace.

Laying down the law in Togo

Togo is rarely a hot news item in the English speaking world, being hermetically sealed within the culturally exceptional zone known as Francophonie. Any recent news space has, in any case, been hogged by Côte d'Ivoire. However, things are afoot in Togo no doubt adding to French worries. Its President for the last 36 years General Gnassingbé Eyadéma is currently maneuvering to change the constitution to extend his stay in office. This, following a solemn personal declaration in front of President Jacques Chirac that "in 2003, at the end of my term, I will return to my village. Not only will the Constitution not be revised but better than that, I will respect it: laws aren't made to be tailored to a single individual. My word as a soldier, to that!"

A recent article in Le Figaro by a former Togolese Secretary of State, Kofi Yamgnane, served as a reminder that outside the often cynical sphere of developed world political debate, there are other powerful traditions still alive. With New Zealand's unique constitutional focus on a Treaty conceived by a literate political tradition that was then signed by the leaders of a strongly oral culture, Mr Yamgnane's retort to his President is not without interest. Here's what Mr Yamgnane has to say about people who don't keep their word:

"The African continent is a continent of oral traditions and Togo is no exception to this culture. In Northern countries, countries with written cultural traditions and in France in particular, the fascination with the 'truth' of the written word has killed off the potency of the spoken word in the same way that the cult of youth, achievement and speed has killed off respect for the old.

"If in Africa the 'old' are so much more respected for their experience, it's because in oral cultures knowledge is not just a matter of what's written, intellectualised, scholarly and academic; the oral tradition has acquired in our communities the weight and the rigour of the most sacred writings, knowledge of the word being one and the same with experience and wisdom...

"Because it is sacred, the word is listened to and respected: the given word is a pledge. It is for this reason that only those who have the right to speak - the elders - are permitted to recount the collective memory of the tribe and the people; to pass on to the young, knowledge of the secrets of life; to explain the mysteries of life - birth, illness, death, dreams; to ensure communication between the living and the dead, the visible and the invisible; to be the watchmen for generations still to come, the real dimension of the future; to be the guardians of that treasure which is that harmony between Man and his environment.

"It is here that one feels the weight and the significance attributed by Africans to the word, above all those of the elders: in a situation where black Africa has been deprived of a practical system of written expression, it has held onto the cult of the word. To break one's word, once given, is a crime, because to do so is to mock one's ancestors - in other words the entire lineage of those who have transmitted the word over the centuries without corrupting anything, from generation to generation right down to the present. To do so is to deprive the living culture of its authenticity..."

Not surprisingly, Mr Yamgnane's message to 'his' President is clear: keep your word or betray your entire people, your ancestors and your culture. Powerful stuff. It's funny how fundamental honesty seems to be a universally recognisable quality!

Meanwhile the French Government's attempts to get the President of Côte d'Ivoire, Laurent Gbago, to keep his word are running into awful problems. Having hauled him and representatives of the rebels to Paris to hammer out an accord, the President has returned and promptly set out to renege on everything. Perhaps they made a mistake by trying to set down the terms of the agreement in something called the Linas-Marcoussis Accord? On M. Yamgnane's reasoning, Paris-based diplomats may have placed more store by the words they wrote than in the words M. Gbago uttered. Or perhaps he too has become a stranger to his own word?

Plus [Governments] change, plus c'est la même [challenge for the opposition]

Only Le Monde would give a defeated Prime Minister 5000 words in which to explain his defeat - and then, eight months after the event. But such is the Olympian height of both the newspaper in question and the former office holder, that it seems perfectly natural that things should be done this way.

After months of deafening silence, Lionel Jospin has finally uttered on the events of his dramatic exit from politics (he failed to make the run-off for the Presidential elections, being narrowly beaten by the extreme-right's M. Le Pen thus allowing M. Chirac to coast home to an 80% victory). At the time, everyone said it, and they still are: Jospin acted impeccably. No rancour, no shrieking, no self-pity: just a comprehensive acceptance of personal responsibility followed by a Sphinx-like silence.

These are bad times for the French Left which has fractured badly. Jospin's government of the gauche plurielle was so plural it ended up looking like a virulently Picasso-ish sort of kaleidoscope. It put up so many presidential candidates that it virtually guaranteed Chirac's re-election. And now that it is vanquished from office it is indulging in a first class round of ideological navel-gazing with fast proliferating factions, each insisting that it is the true guardian of the faith. And just this last weekend, the hapless Robert Hue, leader of the once proud but now fast-evaporating Communist Party, failed for the second time in a row to win a seat that has been a stronghold for the comrades since the year dot.

It sounds a bit like the Right in New Zealand politics with three (or is it four?) parties each claiming to represent the real conservative middle New Zealand pulse. (In fairness to them, however, parties of the Right - especially in New Zealand - generally can't sustain the energy for grand ideological skirmishes: none of them take politics sufficiently seriously to generate the sober policy papers so beloved of the concerned left).

So to read the re-election formula of M. Jospin (who has acted impeccably from the moment of his demise and strenuously ruled out any return to active politics) one has an overwhelming sense of déjà vu. He offered no grand plans (so beloved of French intellectuals), no epoch making clashes of the cadres. Just tried and true political nous: divided parties don't win elections; split votes hand victory to the other camp; a coalition of like-minded forces (such as Chirac produced) will always out perform competing minnows; and - the silver lining if you can call it that - even popular governments finally founder when the economic tide goes out and/or when they tackle difficult issues.

With M. Raffarin announcing pension reform this week one can see M. Jospin permitting himself a brief smile before returning again to his dourly Calvinist face mask. Losing must have been traumatic but watching the victors start to lose limbs to the alligators in the pond must provide a grim residue of satisfaction: the eternal verities hold. If for Trotskyists (M. Jospin was one albeit, covertly) God isn't in his heaven, there's the comforting substitute knowledge that the unions are already at the barricades.

Histories, Power & Loss - essential reading that may have passed you by

Opinion surveys have, upton-on-line recalls, not given the Treaty of Waitangi a particularly good rating as a potential source of national unity. Given the nature of so much that is written about it, that's probably not surprising. There are various strands of guilt-based writing that range from flaccid to righteous and a fairly hectic radical discourse. Faced with that, probably a majority of the population is in flat denial (although they won't say so). Those who aren't are left wondering where to turn.

Upton-on-line's advice is to go and buy a copy of Histories, Power & Loss, subtitled Uses of the Past - A New Zealand Commentary. Published by Bridget Williams Books in early 2001 and edited by Andrew Sharp and Paul McHugh, it is a collection of nine essays by nine New Zealand historians and is all about the way history has and is being put to use in making sense of Treaty relations in New Zealand. It is a must buy for anyone who wants to find out just how incredibly sophisticated this debate has become. Be warned: it is not an easy read. But that's no reason not to tackle it. The issue isn't easy - that's why the reflex responses of denial or radical assertion are such easy (and hopeless) substitutes.

Upton-on-line would not dare try to summarise such weighty and diverse pieces. The whole point of such a volume is to expose quite complex arguments in some detail. This, of course, is the Achilles heel of the whole project: it is a conversation that is, at times, so erudite that it is in danger of leaving any audience other than an academic one far behind. But, remarkably, none of the authors flinches in the face of the uncomfortable practical, political realities of the arguments they develop. This is why the collection is so important.

In case the foregoing makes it all sound too austere, here are a few excerpts to encourage readers. This is a book that actually lands some punches and they are inevitably controversial. Take Bill Oliver's critique of the Waitangi Tribunal's tendency to construct a retrospective utopia in an essay provocatively enough entitled "The future behind us":

"The elaboration of an alternative past which postulates a function for 'the Crown' which could not conceivably have been discharged is of no help in its primary task - the identification of Crown breaches of the Treaty. On the contrary, its unreality is in essence counter-productive." (pp 28-29)

Te Maire Tau's essay, on the other hand, posits a Maori epistemological universe that it simply inaccessible, raising real questions (from this point of view) about the possibility of making Maori studies a part of ordinary university work:

"...to insist that the university is a whare wananga is misleading and untrue both to western traditions of the university and to maori traditions of the whare wananga." (p 71)

Lyndsay Head's chapter, entitled "The Pursuit of Modernity in Maori Society" is a trenchant challenge to those academics who presume to understand better what it is the Maori leaders they write about understood back at the time of the Treaty. She explains this 'repackaging of perpetual innocence' in these terms:

"The problems with the current historiography, then, can be stated as follows. 'Innocence' makes Maori action effectless, and consigns their history to the unanlysable limbo of victimhood; 'enclosure in tradition' or 'cultural independence' cannot deal with change that is simply not quantitative. Both these respond less to Maori experience than to political filters." (p 100)

Head's revisionism is rooted in a linguistic analysis that leads her to assert, most remarkably, that "the Maori language of the Treaty is now routinely referenced to a world in which it did not exist."

Paul McHugh provides a history of how the sovereignty of the Crown has been understood and developed in New Zealand (no doubt a foretaste of his forthcoming book). He navigates through the steady deconstruction by the courts of the so-called 'Whig' account of parliamentary sovereignty in New Zealand to its logical conclusion (in the minds of many) - republicanism. This, he notes, would be to dissolve one history and create the need for a new one. He describes the magnitude of such a step in these terms:

"This would be a brave new history into which Maori are understandably reluctant to be drawn. It would require a new Treaty with a new partner. Given Maori experience over the past one hundred and fifty years, one might understand why they prefer to stay with the Treaty partner and text they already have.

But without question, the most challenging essay - and the hardest to come to grips with - is that by J G A Pocock. Pocock is a New Zealander who has lived most of his life abroad - he is Professor Emeritus of History at John Hopkins University and in academic circles is often referred to as "New Zealand's greatest living historian". For some reason this seems to be almost a classified secret disclosed only to fully initiated historians. Pocock is in the process of writing a multi-volume work on the intellectual universe in which Gibbon's Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire was written. (Entitled Barbarism & Religion, Pocock has so far got to the end of volume two without yet broaching the Decline & Fall itself...)

It is impossible to summarise Pocock's thesis easily - partly on account of his elliptical style, and partly because of its sheer subtlety. But it is well worth repeat re-readings because it is the historiographical equivalent of landing a huge helicopter in the middle of a pristine ecological reserve without as much as breaking a fern frond.

In arguing for a treaty between competing treaty histories, Pocock has much to say about the way history is used - and abused - to claim the present. But his final conclusion - that we live in history and can't escape from the debate by locating ourselves beyond critical reach is hugely powerful. And, despite the vastly erudite presentation of the argument, he doesn't locate his conclusions on some distant planet. Here is a part of his conclusions:

" A continuing debate over the meaning of sovereignty does not so much replace, as become, the exercise of sovereignty itself, since the formal sovereign - the Crown incorporated with the Parliament and people of New Zealand - is required to hear constant challenges, both to its exercise in past and present and to the historical process by which it came into being. This debate over the nature of a state's sovereignty is not a prelude to the dissolution of that sovereignty; Aotearoa New Zealand is not situated in narrow seas, a constellation of offshore islands offered absorption into a continental empire of the market. In debating its sovereignty and rendering it debatable, the exercise of sovereignty is intensified, a significant and imaginative move in a world where sovereignty is everywhere challenged and threatened with suppression.

"A binational polity may be said to have reinstituted itself as a marae, that very Maori institution where challenge is constantly being turned into greeting and strangers into guests and fellow counsellors. The situation is not idyllic but precarious; past antagonisms do not disappear when required to engage in negotiation. But the peoples concerned - it is a simplification to say there are two of them - have known and shaped each other for two centuries, and the antagonisms and incomprehensions between them do not altogether preclude that situation in which 'they know what I think of them and I know what they think of me' and the relations between them are implicit as well as explicit."

Upton-on-line hopes copies of the book are still available (he bought his in a High Street store in Auckland at Christmas time). And if there aren't he hopes a flood of requests from readers will encourage a reprint. Whether this bunch of historians thought they were providing their own profession with a nice little cocktail or fuelling a wider debate is not clear. But in upton-on-line's view they and their publisher have performed a singular act of national service.

To repeat: this is not easy reading. But if you are dissatisfied with the quality of public debate, this volume at least serves to demonstrate that some people are doing the hard yards on claims that usually get summed up and tossed away in a sentence or two.

Announcement for RMA readers

Rather than make upton-on-line unreadable to all but a highly-paid priesthood, a major article on section 5 of the RMA by Simon Upton, Helen Atkins and Gerard Willis has been posted on Simon Upton's personal website. The article is an exhaustive - we hope not exhausting - analysis of the gestation and development of section 5 of the Act, the celebrated purpose clause. It is also a reply to a revisionist reading proposed by Messrs Skelton and Memon that appeared in the Resource Management Journal last year. The Upton, Atkins and Willis article can be accessed by visiting http://www.arcadia.co.nz/rm/section5.htm .


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