Upton-on-line: Special Recycled Arguments Issue
Diaspora Edition - Special Recycled Arguments Issue
20th March 2005
In this issue:
The OECD’s survey of expatriate skills sparks a predictable debate; Chris Laidlaw and Jim Hopkins adopt a novel and unpredictable way of injecting new life into the old republican cause; and Bernard Cadogan challenges constitutional commentators to lift their game.
The brain drain makes its annual reappearance
Data from the OECD where upton-on-line is based appears to have fuelled a new round of national angst about the number of allegedly skilled kiwis domiciled abroad. Fortunately for everyone, these people seem to take themselves less seriously than some of those who claim to be gravely concerned by this overly qualified wanderlust. At least that’s the impression gained from even a superficial reading of the ensuing ‘blog-burst’ that cyber-observatories have been monitoring since the New Zealand Herald first broke the story in its issue of March 12th.
Upton-on-line liked in particular the worldly ambivalence of one fellow diasporan, Johnny Ellis, whose antidote to all the shock horror was probably pretty representative of many:
“I'm a teacher in Hong Kong and read your entry on the Herald's expat survey. Although I haven't read the Herald piece, the tone you relate from it is consistent with the generally expat frame of mind - that 'we' are so much better off and so much the wiser for having had the gumption and ability to leave NZ. This is tempered, of course, with recollections of barbecues, lawn mowers and scrum-wide supermarket aisles.
“It's part of living away from NZ, though, that you have to have justification for doing so. Like conscientious objectors and soccer players, expats feel the need to explain themselves. That pay packets in the places kiwis leave for are large provides a good deal of that justification.
“I'd like to remove myself from this shallow picture of rationalising venality, but as a teacher, the benefits for me of leaving NZ were compelling enough, just like everyone else who leaves”
Fair enough. Those who think there’s a crisis to be milked might do well to spend an hour or two trawling through the off-shore reactions that have been posted to these figures. They might also do well to have a look at the range of data released by the OECD in deciding whether this story is quite as alarming as it may seem. (The full report is entitled Trends in International Migration, OECD 2004)
While it’s true that 24.2% of New Zealand’s graduate population is abroad, Ireland – one of the flavour-of-the-month economies for those who seek to draw unfavourable conclusions about New Zealand – counts an identical percentage of its highly skilled population off-shore. (And its total expatriate population as a percentage of national population is 23% - well above New Zealand’s 16%). Is there something about small island countries that propel their people to travel? Upton-on-line can think of a few and they’re not all to do with earnings and tax rates.
On the other side of the equation, New Zealand seems quite good at attracting tertiary educated immigrants (indeed its entire immigration policy is skewed to do this). The OECD figures show a native born tertiary educated population of 521,349 to which must be added a further 170,082 foreign born tertiary educated residents (these figures by the way relate to 2002 data ). In this respect, New Zealand joins countries like Australia, Switzerland and Canada in having over 20% of its highly skilled workforce sourced from migration.
If you just look at the movement of highly skilled workers between the OECD economies, only the United States, Australia, Canada, Switzerland, Spain, Sweden, Luxembourg and Norway (in that order) have more highly skilled workers from other rich countries than they have expatriate graduates. The UK, for example, has 700,000 more highly skilled expatriates than it has highly skilled immigrants from other OECD countries (like New Zealand).
The really interesting graphic to look at is Figure II.3 on p 126 of the report which displays the balance between immigration and emigration of highly skilled workers by country. The economies with big net gains hoovering up the skills are, predictably, the United States, Canada and Australia. Predictably, because these are the settlement/immigration societies par excellence. But there are big net gains also in France, Germany and Spain. It is Australia’s performance that, for its population size, stands out.
Ventilating the hothouse
Whether New Zealand’s off-shore stock of skills represents a loss, an asset or neither is not susceptible to any one-line conclusion. The optimists maintain that it is a testament to the robustness of New Zealand’s education system, evidence of the openness and globalization of the kiwi population and healthy insurance (assuming they return one day) against the build-up of parochial attitudes in our isolated hothouse. The pessimists maintain that the diaspora is proof that the hothouse has become insufferable and that the world’s business and academic capitals have become colonized with exiled kiwis sighing wistfully for their lost home as they mournfully contemplate a yawning chasm of mountainous taxes and paltry incomes.
Which leads upton-on-line to urge New Zealand commentators to look again at what the diasporan bloggers are saying. By and large they don’t bear out the doomsayers. And what about this diasporan? Upton-on-line has no insights that merit more attention than those of others. People’s reasons for emigrating are too numerous and too personal for individuals to say anything compelling. (There’s a rich opportunity for some serious research here, however.) But for what it’s worth, upton-on-line did identify with one of the diasporans quoted in the original Herald article, Hamish McMaster, a behavioural psychologist with Deloittes in Boston. Here’s what he had to say about being able to swap notes with colleagues over lunch at a Harvard conference:
"You couldn't really do this in New Zealand. You're isolated from ideas, both in terms of time and getting face to face with people."
And if he were to return home, something he says he would consider doing?
"The reasons would be 99 per cent professional. Pay rates aren't really the thing. If I can do some interesting behavioural psychology in New Zealand then I'll go back.”
There is a lot in this. An ideological prescription that taxes and incomes are all that make the difference is just so unsatisfying. Of course these things are important, but all taxes and all incomes being equal, the odds still lie pretty heavily stacked in favour of the big, human capital rich populations of the northern hemisphere (and their Australian metropolitan outposts). Those who believe the income gap between New Zealand and the rest of the rich world is simply a question of policy failure overlook simple human factors such as proximity to people and the richness of intellectual exchange that these societies offer. Of course there are trade-offs. All those well-informed conversations - whether in formal conclave or over lunch – carry with them exposure to high levels of airborne particulate in the streets and beaches thick with sun-starved Scandinavians. But you can’t have everything.
If political leaders want to help, they might think about the way in which the investments of taxpayers’ funds that they make (or advocate from opposition) contribute to the richness of intellectual life. Whether it is research and education, or just the seriousness with which public debates are prosecuted, tertiary qualified kiwis (and plenty of non-tertiary qualified ones too!) will certainly be influenced by the extent to which New Zealand is a place where ideas and information are truly valued.
Upton-on-line was not being even slightly tongue-in-cheek in suggesting in the last issue that some rich diasporan might consider publishing a serious newspaper in New Zealand. For, notwithstanding easy electronic access to global news and information, the physical absence of the papers that get read because they just arrive on the desk does make a difference. So do the relatively small numbers whom the Hamish McMasters of this world can nobble over coffee. Wellington will never be San Francisco and Dunedin will never be Heidelberg. But the gap between them could perhaps be made to feel less forbidding.
The great Pinot Noir flavoured constitutional raspberry
Off-shore readers (and whatever percentage of the 75% tertiary educated kiwis who have stayed at home but have stopped reading newspapers) will surely be fascinated by the strangest twist to date in New Zealand’s lethargic attempts to have a debate about the monarchy. It’s a debate that recurs a bit like facial eczema. When the political spore count crosses some mysterious threshold, two dyspeptic camps come to life. Symptoms appear in a reasonably predictable sequence – florid rings of republican fervour are followed by an allergic response from the royalist camp. Secondary infections of constitutional reformism are common but systemic apathy usually overwhelms enthusiasts for change and the status quo is restored.
The Prince of Wales’ recent visit seems to have spawned another outbreak. But instead of being terminally boring, this one has been unusually funny. Tired of running the usual arguments, key proponents have chosen fantasy as a far more powerful weapon. It all started when Chris Laidlaw published a piece in The New Zealand Herald of 8th March in which he purported to report a conversation with the Prince back in 1997. It was an hilariously comic sketch that only the most straight-laced and humourless New Zealander could have taken at face value. A few paragraphs will quickly give the flavour:
“A dinner had been arranged in Christchurch for [the Prince of Wales] to meet a variety of outdoor-oriented people, mainly Canterbury farming grandees and captains of local agro-industries. I was included as a conservationist.
The conversation was not scintillating. Not even the best of Canterbury's new pinot noir could liven it up, although I noticed the Prince of Wales was downing more than his fair share.
Pretty soon I was able to engage Charles in what amounted to a private conversation and I steered the subject round to constitutional matters.
Because he seemed to be particularly open and affable I asked him what his reaction would be if, as King, he was told that New Zealand wished to remove him as Head of State and become a republic. One eyebrow shot up. Had I gone too far?
"I take it you assume that will inevitably happen," he replied, with just the hint of a wry smile.
"I do, and I support it," I said.
"Well, to be frank, I think it would come as a great relief to all of us," said Charles. "It would remove the awful ambiguity we have at the moment. It seems to me that it would be a lot easier for everybody if you all had your own completely independent head of state.”
Readers will have immediately spotted the wild implausibility of any such conversation ever having taken place. Upton-on-line strongly commends the full article as a classic of its genre. Mr Laidlaw is a skilled humorist and this flight of fancy has all the zany qualities of Black Adder crossed with Gandolph. Which, come to think of it, is also a pretty fair way of describing New Zealand’s very own Jim Hopkins. A regular Herald correspondent these days, Hopkins used his subsequent column (March 11th) to deliver a pretend broadside to someone who is clearly a close pal. Again, a short extract will provide all the incentive readers need to checkout the full piece on the Herald’s website:
“I, too, suddenly recall - with almost fictional clarity - a conversation I had with BPC some 27 years ago - although it still seems like yesterday.
We were at a dinner in the Dargaville Pipe Band Hall held to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the War of Jenkins' Ear. Spotting the Prince sloshing down vast quantities of medicinal stout, I slipped over for a natter. Nothing obsequious or dreary, you understand. I didn't want to sound like a conservationist. So I chose my opening remarks carefully.
"What ho, old fruit," I said, much as I imagined Prince Philip might when he greeted Ma'am over a light breakfast of jugged fox and kippers. "What ho, old fruit. How's it hangin'?"
Being an excellent judge of character, much like Mr Laidlow, I could see immediately that I'd struck a chord. As soon as he heard my greeting, the Prince closed his eyes and sighed deeply, indicating how much he appreciated the thoughtful way I'd evoked fond memories of loved ones in the palace.
As for my second remark - "How's it hanging?" - it was clear this insouciant piece of street jive puzzled the Prince. Well, it's not the sort of thing royals say. In olden days, they often said, "Who are we hanging?" but they don't say "How's it hanging?"
Still, the Prince's response was most cordial. "I'm sorry," he said. "You'll have to excuse me. I must attend an execution."
"Some wretched republican?" I inquired.
"Not at all," he replied courteously. "Just some rude git who's trying to use a private conversation to score a public point."
Upton-on-line has no doubt that Messrs Laidlaw and Hopkins will be enjoying many a chortle over this braised raspberry of a fantasy with pinot-infused inflections followed by a mock riposte that exhales all the earthiness of the Canterbury vernacular.
But ingenious though the idea is of harnessing humour to the task of constitutional upheaval, upton-on-line thinks the strategy has in-built limits. There just aren’t enough funny people to sweep the monarchy away. If there were, we might all prefer to hang on to it as an antidote to the boredom induced by republicanism’s usual cheer-leaders.
It was a nice try, but upton-on-line considers that Chris Laidlaw wields a trustier weapon by promoting republicanism of the po-faced variety. Constitutional change through somnolence is much more the New Zealand way. But just before you settle back comfortably, upton-on-line has come across an altogether more demanding critique that could just jolt us into a better quality of debate. Rather than imagined, private, after-dinner conversations, this contributor chose a public, after lunch address to launch a different line of thinking.
Cadogan on constitutionalism
Upton-on-line does not often surrender the pen (or in this case the clavier) but his distance from the constitutional debate unfolding in New Zealand makes any personal commentary a risky business. But as luck would have it this publication has come across a rather superior piece of analysis by someone much closer to ground zero – Bernard Cadogan. Mr Cadogan has once before made an appearance in upton-on-line though in shorter form than this issue. He is a scholar currently completing a book and a thesis at Oxford on Governor Grey – but to characterise his field of enquiry in that way is a bit like describing Winston Churchill as an able mid-twentieth century landscape painter. In short, Cadogan is using Grey as a lens through whom access is gained to the entire space-time continuum of nineteenth century intellectual history.
Mr Cadogan’s grasp of his territory brings together a rare mix of macro theory and minute personal nuances. It’s like being an expert in both quantum physics and butterflies with the result that more often than not Mr Cadogan can excite the feeling that he is within striking distance of the careless cabbage butterfly that will cause the end of the universe. A clever university administrator would nab Mr Cadogan, chain him in a cell until he had metamorphosed himself into Dr Cadogan, and then immediately install him in a specially created chair of colonial studies. Accepting that this is an heroically unrealistic prospect given the ever risk-averse nature of academic appointments, the best upton-on-line can do is share Mr Cadogan’s recent address to a Dunedin Rotary Club meeting with a wider audience.
To upton-on-line’s mind, there is something deliciously ironic that the often patronised milieu of a provincial Rotary Club can provide a better platform for a contribution of this calibre than the monastically self-referential world of academia. But one warning: readers should not be tempted to engage Mr Cadogan directly. He is a cunning tactician and the address that follows is a masterpiece of deception in leaving no trace of self-important learning. Contact Mr Cadogan directly and you risk triggering an avalanche that will leave you buried under several metres of Gadamer, Dworkin, and Pocock not to mention a slew of long forgotten theorists of Spanish colonisation. You have been warned.
Here is what Mr Cadogan says – followed by a bit of a quibble from upton-on-line:
I would like to review the “Insight” Programme discussion on the monarchy last Thursday night. Before I do so I would like to begin with a few propositions about New Zealand.
New Zealand, regardless of whether it remains with the monarchy or becomes a republic, is first and foremost a democracy, and has been so for over four generations.
New Zealand does not just have democracy but its real designation is that it is a democracy.
New Zealand has been the best democracy there is, over that time.
New Zealanders have pioneered and sustained quite radical democratic institutions.
New Zealanders have sustained a democracy that lacks the intricate in-built checks and balances that comparable nation-states have contrived to thwart and check the will of the people.
I see this as a credit to us, something unique and marvellous about our democracy, rather than something to criticise or condemn. It incentivises participants in public debate to talk with their fellow citizens, rather than work their ways through the corridors and labyrinths of counterbalancing institutions.
The NZ constitution isn't an antique 18th century clock like the American, the British or the French versions; it is the product of vigorous 19th century popularism that attained its ends constitutionally. As such it functions rather like a Zip water heater; it boils away, makes a lot of noise and relies on a thermostat to calm down.
New Zealand democracy is premised on trust in the people. With us, unlike the Americans, it’s not “In God we Trust”, but surely “In the People we Trust”.
An exceptional attribute of our democracy is that early on the First Nation of New Zealand, a non-white ethnic minority, was included in the citizenship of what was then a white settler state, and that we moved on after to develop a fully inclusive New Zealand citizenship, while comparable nations were depending on systems of comprehensive segregation and of civic exclusion.
The Maori Rights Act of 1865 and the Maori Representation act of 1867 not only predated the much trumpeted 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution; they weren’t the dead letter that the Amendment was in many parts of America when I was born. We don’t need lessons in “Free-dom” from anybody.
The upshot of all this was that by the beginning of the 20th century, we were the only nation on Earth whose constituent peoples shared a universal franchise regardless of race or gender, and to start practising the new inclusive democracy of the modern era.
Whereas other nations with historically organised ethnic minorities have almost invariably descended into political violence, bombing campaigns, assassinations and kidnappings, Maori and Pakeha New Zealanders have done more than keep the peace, despite the bitter grief and anger from the Land Wars. They have gone and fashioned a citizenship that is an example to the world which is even stronger in 2005, when we are talking about tough-stuff and considering our constitutional arrangements, than in the illusory years of the halcyon 1950s and 1960s when it seemed that we had solved everything and that nothing could disturb us.
Just as it is right that we should gather each ANZAC Day to reject the militarism previous New Zealanders fought against, so should we also take time on other occasions to recall the Land Wars, and whether we as Maori or Pakeha, renounce attitudes and political behaviour that would compromise the New Zealand citizenship we have made for ourselves.
Charity begins at home, and we do have to face up to our colonial past if we are to move on from it. We aren’t living on a space station or in an airport terminal. We have deep community in our nation and that community has a past. That past is more of a rich heritage, a bequest, than a burden.
What's also exceptional to our achievement as a people is how much we take it for granted. We don't place our hands on our hearts, we don't wear our hearts on our sleeves, and we don't make a religion out of our nation and its institutions. Our democracy is essentially too healthy for us to do that. It's surely pathological when a nation has to sacralise itself.
That leads me to affirm that the constitutional order that people are talking about now is about your constitution. Yes, a New Zealand constitution exists, in various statutes, in the institutions and conventions of government, and it doesn’t belong to coteries of experts, or to mobs of fanatics, or to know-it-all cranks, but to you and to no one else.
It’s up to you within the terms of the law to do with it as you judge best. If liberty is the slow fruit of ages, then we plucked that long ago.
I am entirely confident that you will get it right, that the quality of our democracy is such, that anyone in good faith can put a well-argued and fair-minded proposition to the New Zealand public, and that you will make the right decision on the basis of the information presented to you.
Constitutionalism is not an esoteric game to be played by pundits. There is no judge of any court in this country for all his or her intellect and learning who cannot be overmatched for intelligence and common sense and life experience by the aggregate wisdom of judgment of 12 honest women and men in a jury. There is no professor or scholar in this country who is so learned that he needs not refer to yourselves and trust your good judgement.
The New Zealand electorate is such a jury, a jury of 3 million, and the New Zealand public is the readership and audience to whom this debate must be constantly referred. In my experience of politics and scholarship, I am convinced that there is no argument, no matter how abstruse, that you are unable to consider fair-mindedly and arrive at a reasonable decision for yourselves.
You must feel at times that this is all a one-way process, that experts and people with vested interests are talking at you, or worse still, you are fed up with being talked over or around as if you did not exist, as if you did not require the trust that is mandatory in any civic discussion in our democracy.
This won’t be the case if you insist at all times that the debate is referred to yourselves and take a lively interest in it. The response to the phone-in poll during the “Insight” discussion, with about 9000 people ringing in to vote shows that you are very present and that you are listening to every word that is being said.
Constitutionalism isn’t the preserve of experts. It doesn’t require formidable learning or freakish intelligence or perverse bloody-mindedness to follow. It is about the Common Good, our Public Good, our Common Weal in Tudor English; and a Commonwealth was the Tudor English translation of the Latin Res Publica.
I consider that the Insight Programme last Thursday served the Public Good extremely well in kick-starting the debate.
Like a good game of rugby, it warrants a commentary. The following features of the audience and panel debate struck me as noteworthy.
While the phone-in poll found against the Prince of Wales becoming King of New Zealand, I would easily award the debate in the studio to the monarchists. There was a disjuncture between the public mood and the on-screen proponents of a republic, even though they were supposed to be on the same side.
The monarchists had internalised the language for monarchy. They were the better debaters, and were constantly able to score points against their republican opponents. They knew their stuff.
The Republicans were surprisingly weak both in their arguments and in their responses to debate. They were assuming an authority and self-evidentness that they can't yet rely on.
The discussion boiled down to two mantras which both sides cheerfully reiterated at each other, which were the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” of the monarchists, and the “It’s time we left Mother, it’s time we left Home” formulation of the republicans.
The monarchists affirmed that the Crown is precisely what is needed to uphold the Treaty of Waitangi and indigenous rights in New Zealand. I think that this needed to be said, because however we designate our Head of State, the Treaty and indigenous rights issues will always remain central to New Zealand. A republic cannot be a repudiation of these responsibilities. We cannot do what the South Africans did in 1960 and what the white Rhodesians did in 1965 by breaking from the monarchy. That would be a revolutionary denial of our own past and of our common citizenship.
We are still smouldering and paying for from the last such binge of denial in the 1860s.
The Republicans failed to give a coherent view of the Treaty in a New Zealand Republic. Yet enough has been published on precisely how the Treaty and indigenous rights would be translated from one order to the other.
The Republicans failed to define what a New Zealand Republic would really be like. New Zealand is a parliamentary democracy with a head of state possessing reserve powers, so we are not likely to become a presidential republic of any kind, whether the United States, France, Mexico or South Africa.
As it was, Ron Mark after a piece of George Bush-bashing that would have done credit to Michael Moore, was able to get away with making the American Republic the model for a New Zealand Republic, which he then proceeded to argue against.
In my opinion the Republicans talked down to the audience and to the television public. They were either lecturing or prophesying a fait accompli. They were lumbering about like iron-clads, trying to meet objections.
The intellectual nadir of the debate occurred when the Republican lines broke and one of their spokesmen was reduced to making the plea that it was unfair for the substantial minority of New Zealanders who are republicans, not to have a New Zealand Head of State.
We are not talking about civic rights for minority groups here. We are not talking about "identity politics". It is sad when a cause that could embrace the entire nation and define New Zealand for the 21st century is reduced to the demands of a sect or community sector. How can we build a nation on that basis?
It does a profound disservice to the debate for republicanism to make opponents sound anti-democratic, and anti-New Zealand. If you distrust and fear and suspect the people, you are going to talk down to them or at them or engage with them univocally if at all. What we are seeing here is the on-going failure of the New Zealand intelligentsia to give constructive leadership.
As for their mantra, that “it’s time we left home”, we have been a vigorous democracy from well beyond living memory. We have been a self-governing nation-state since Seddon’s time, regardless of whether we were in an imperial context or not. It's not a case of adolescents leaving home, but a case of grown adults being proud and fond of their mother. But there will come a day when distant cousins will be there in her place, and they won't know us and we won't know them, and we will be strangers to each other.
Britain, its social structure and the monarchy itself are undergoing profound change. It is not longer the absolutely united United Kingdom it was when New Zealand was founded and from which it took the imprint. That united United Kingdom didn't exist before 1801, it didn't exist after 1922 when there were two Irelands and it doesn't exist now with devolution. It was just a moment in the wider scheme of British history, and it has passed. Britain and New Zealand are fast drifting apart. The British just don’t know why and where we fit in anymore.
When I was 7, and was first taught the meaning of Gallipoli, I was not told that the New Zealanders who fell there had died for the Empire, but that they had fought for democracy, for New Zealand democracy, against a military power-state.
We left “Home” long ago and if we chose to associate with a parent state and its monarchy from which we derive our institutions and the Treaty, it’s on our own terms and because we wanted to do so. Those men who went into battle at ANZAC Cove did not do so because they were the civic counterparts of underage minors but because they saw themselves as the citizens of an adult nation.
What people who dispute this fail to understand is that the essential good we derived from Britain wasn’t geo-political tutelage, or only imperial preference for our primary produce, but an entire civilisation that transcends any one nation state in the modern Anglo-American world. And it’s from what we have inherited and out of what we have kept alive from that global civilisation, that we will find the languages for constitutionalism and the intellectual resources to fair-mindedly discuss our national institutions.
I deplore it when people tell us not be "Eurocentric". The fact is that we are not going to find a uniquely New Zealand language for our constitution. We are not going to come up with a one-out of-the-box polity like the Swiss. It is perilous to imitate alien models without understanding the political anthropology that underlies them. We must use the wisdom of the ages, the best practice of kindred nations to express ourselves, whatever we decide.
What intellectuals and academics are not contributing to our New Zealand debate is the rich lore of political thought that a great New Zealander like John Pocock has expounded at Johns Hopkins for decades now or Quentin Skinner has propounded at Cambridge. The master-scripts and meta-narratives for New Zealand's identity won't come from the intellectual equivalent of tariff barriers and trade protection that shut out the wider civilisation we belong to. We are not making an Iranian nuclear programme here.
It is good to watch Coronation Street and it’s OK to read and talk about Quentin Skinner. A civilisation is the higher term of a nation-state and all we are doing is affiliating to what we like in the wider Anglo-American world, and appropriating what’s our own.
Republicans then have to improve their game.
I consider that the monarchists had the advantage of a cogent language which they all knew in depth. The problem with their language is that it is basically archaic and tautological; its premises predict its conclusions, and what we heard was an argument deployed round and round in a figure–eight railway track in a series of non-sequiturs that deny real-time development in the future and ignore historical change altogether.
If we are to believe them, the monarchy is so atemporal, so eternal and so sovereign as to be as unchanging as God himself is, while New Zealand is cast in such a flux of time that it requires an unmoved mover as a reference point. But the monarchy too is subject to profound historical change. It is changing at the rate of knots compared with the Japanese Emperorship, the Papacy or even the US Presidency. Even the New Zealand Prime Ministership as an institution has changed less since the age of King Dick and King Edward VII.
Both the monarchist and republican arguments were presented in classical terms with little reference apart from the Treaty to actual New Zealand life. The debate was couched in the language and concepts of the late 19th century. Both monarchies and republics have moved on since then.
For example, as I have said today, I trust the sovereign people I share my New Zealand citizenship with, and I don’t require a circuit connector in the form of a monarchy to protect me or any other citizens’ rights from yourselves and from the sovereignty of the people.
Along with the remedies that the Law provides, the best protection for the rights of any minority in a democracy such as ours is the goodwill and support of the informed majoritarian community. This is something we do very well and if our democracy isn't healthy, then no amount of clever institutional checks and balances will avail.
I suggest that both the monarchists and the republicans suffer from the sheer success of The Queen. She may not be as eponymous as Queen Victoria or the Emperor Franz-Josef in summing up generations of human time for whole nations, but she has been an exemplary Head of State, the very benchmark of what a New Zealand Head of State should be. We owe her the respect we would give a New Zealand Head of State if and when that time comes. We are not Americans or Australians with hang-ups about monarchy.
The Queen has arguably remained New Zealand’s best friend in modern Britain. Queen Elizabeth may well be distinguished for reigning inimitably as the one and only Queen of New Zealand.
Britain is undergoing profound social change. It is reconfiguring itself internally through devolution and other constitutional initiatives, reconfiguring itself in relation to the EU, and its traditional class-system has made way to a new social mobility and individualism. They are going through a rich and fascinating national identity debate like we are.
What many Britons think in their hearts is that the institution of the monarchy is primarily theirs, and that it belongs to 60 millions of them rather than 4 millions of us. Which is fair enough. One monarchical republic outvotes the other.
It's not as if we can now do what the Norwegians did 100 years ago by acquiring and naturalising their own Royal House. Norway has had the most excellent kings, Haakon VII, Olav V and now Harald V, kings whom we would respect too if they were ours. They would have made good kings of New Zealand, as they were Anglophone Danes in origin, descended from the British Royal Family as the British Royal Family is descended from them several times.
But the British Crown was imperial, one and indivisible. We identified with the Empire, and accepted a unitarian definition of monarchical legitimacy but we are now living in 2005 not 1905. And what we wanted was an "Emperor-over-the-Sea", to be "Men of Gondor", for there to be a king notionally, but not to have to actually live with or under him.
Whether we retain the monarchy or go for a republic, we are going to have to develop our own sense of ultimate legitimacy for our constitutional order, and that is the exciting challenge that this debate presents us.
This is an artful - one might even venture, cunning – piece. A couple of years ago upton-on-line was rash enough to suggest to the second (and probably last) Knowledge Wave conference that New Zealand had to invent a plausible ‘story’ in which to ground its nationhood (see upton-on-line 16th March 2003 ). It was, in comparison with the Cadogan formula, a piece of crude cave art. The high priest of one of New Zealand’s enduring shrines to intellectual soundness described it as “weak”. No such charge could be levelled at Mr Cadogan.
But his is, for all that, a populist call to arms. Can we really be satisfied that ours is a democracy that “ incentivises participants in public debate to talk with their fellow citizens, rather than work their ways through the corridors and labyrinths of counterbalancing institutions.” Upton-on-line is to one side of the debate these days but he doubts that the constitutional conversation has become so rich that conflict in New Zealand politics simply melts in the face of citizen dialogue; or that there we are lacking in corridors and labyrinths. The Court of Appeal (in its Cookean formulation) has certainly had a shot at doing some counter-balancing. As for labyrinths, the trail that has led in and out of ministerial offices, the Treaty of Waitangi Tribunal and rafts of tribal authorities via the offices of assorted money lenders and legal counsel is one that would required the RSPCA to intervene to save the Minotaur from malnutrition.
The question is more one of whether we have the right institutions – transparent and accountable ones that can mediate between the seductive voice of history (or histories), the incarcerating logic of legal doctrine and popular bloody-mindedness. When times are calm and boring it doesn’t much matter. But in those rare moments when the emotions of the moment look as though they could rip the fabric of the nation asunder, there’s something to be said for a place where precipitate action can be at the very least, delayed. The courts are the only such forum available and suffer not only from their monastic separation from popular sentiment but the arcane way in which applications to pull the national emergency cord have to be got up.
Upton-on-line thinks appropriately constrained and modest second chambers have more going for them than several generations of constitutional vandals have been prepared to allow. Remember, we’ve got rid of Provinces, the Legislative Council and now the Privy Council – all on the sort of cheery basis advanced by Mr Cadogan that we can trust our one-stop-shop democracy. But this quibble must wait another day. Mr Cadogan’s challenge to both sides of this debate to lift their game is timely. Perhaps there’s a University out there that might invite him to deliver an academic version complete with footnotes and arcane language so it can be taken ‘seriously’ by ‘real’ experts?
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