Upton-on-line: Identity Edition
In this issue:
In (yet another) national identity edition, upton-on-line explores some of the questions raised recently by Colin James in an address entitled Four Million People in Search of an Idea. But first, proof that old Gauls die hard... Such a pity Le Figaro recently devoted its literary supplement to spies and espionage. And to inject a frisson of reality, the newspaper published a special interview with Pierre Marion, the head of the French External Security service between June 1981 and December 1982.
It was Marion 's successor, Admiral Lacoste, who was in charge three years later when the Rainbow Warrior was bombed. Asked whether, 10 years on this was a sad anniversary, Marion gave a reply that provides a fascinating insight in to the mindset of that particular generation of French public servants:
"I read recently in Le Monde that Admiral Lacoste, my successor (whom it won't be forgotten was swiftly relieved of his functions) made much of the fact that "without the personal authorisation of the President" he would never have mounted such an operation. Well, that is surprising to say the least. The truth of the matter is that any analysis of the affair shows that it was the conduct of the operation by the GGSE which left much to be desired. The affair concluded, after two months of shambles, with the resignation of the Minister, M. Hernu, and the departure of Admiral Lacoste.
That was most unfortunate! For I won't surprise anyone in reaffirming the fact that it is essential in operations of this kind that their existence is never brought to the attention of the public." As Figaro noted, M. Marion doesn't beat about the bush. What you don't know can't hurt you - unless you happen to be on the wrong boat, in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Such a pity the cover-up was so poorly handled! James on nationhood For the benefit of diasporan readers - and perhaps some on-shore kiwis too - upton-on-line commends a recent thoughtful contribution to a 'State of the Nation' lecture series at Auckland 's Holy Trinity Cathedral in Parnell. Under the heading of 'Four Million People in Search of an Idea', the noted journalist and commentator, Colin James, explored the forces that he currently sees shaping the complexion and reflexes of the nation state currently and commonly known as New Zealand . James is the doyen of New Zealand political journalists.
Amidst the welter of quick, convenient judgements and bald labels that serve as boilerplate political journalism, James has maintained a silver thread of poised, considered analysis based on careful reading and a great deal of respectful listening. More than that, he has shaped the very way in which a generation of better-read New Zealanders understand their recent history. His book,
The Quiet Revolution, made the case that the generational changes of the Lange-Douglas era amounted, in their scale and audacity, to nothing less than a revolution - albeit a quiet one without AK-47 toting youths or political assassinations.
In his recent lecture James has summarised this era as two revolutions - the bi-cultural revolution (or as he calls it the 'reindigenisation of Aotearoa') and the revolution carried through by the Vietnam generation which he describes as 'the indigenisation of the Anglo-Celts'. The first saw Maori bring the Treaty of Waitangi back to centre-stage and with it, their relationship with the political institutions of the land; the second, saw a confident crop of Anglo-Celts "[tear] up the rulebook of public policy and private behaviour". And in each case, James observes, "no bridge or bus has been blown up, no politician has been assassinated, no mass movement has emerged in our political system to overturn it." With the dust settling (and a new grittiness in the body politic becoming familiar), James now asks what the legacy of these revolutions means for the nation-state known as New Zealand. Is there, he asks, a generation that can make a nation out of all this tumult?
James identifies two new waves bearing down on the populace. The first follows on from the bi-cultural revolution. It is the knock-on, within Maori New Zealand, of an emerging middle class. That younger generation of Maori will, James suggests, shift the energy of its emphasis from rights claims to economic and educational development and, in common with most middle classes, start to challenge traditional governance within iwi. In short, democratisation will follow in the wake of growing wealth. While that involves a Maori appropriation of Anglo-Celtic traditions, James is quick to point out that this is no one way street. On the contrary, demography will see an increasingly Maori New Zealand which, together with a significant
Pacific Island infusion, will firmly embed New Zealand as a country not just in but of the Pacific. This is just a lazy summer breaker compared with the seismic scale of the other wave James identifies on the horizon - the Asianisation of New Zealand led by a resurgent and increasingly rich and powerful China . In a nutshell, James sees Chinese investment, Chinese culture and Chinese power projection redefining the geo-political orientation and identity of the country. So, as James prudently but plausibly argues, the "Pacific-ation" of New Zealand will be followed by its "Asianisation".
As James observes, "we might think we deserve, or at least need, a period of calm and consolidation. Instead, we will find that "we" will be different." It goes without saying (James does in his penultimate paragraph) that we are talking here about a nation state called Aotearoa. The nationhood bit All this James provides by way of background (and future-ground) to asking what ' New Zealand ' means as a project and how it might be advanced. Here is his answer:
"As I understand it, a nation is built in one of two main ways: either a "folk" with a shared culture occupies a territory for a long time or the occupants of a territory build a nation around an "idea". An example of the first is France and of the second the United States . "If the Anglo-Celtic colonisers had never come or remained a small minority Maori might have developed a "folk" nation as they adapted to the modern world -- indeed, some Maori call iwi "first nations" in imitation of North American terminology.
Alternatively, the Anglo-Celts might in a century or two have also developed a "folk" nation -- if Maori had been successfully assimilated and extinguished as a "folk". But Maori share the Anglo-Celtic cultural heritage and now the colonisers' culture in turn is being modified by the Maori culture. "So perhaps some generations hence there may be a sort of melded "folk" here that somehow draws energy from both the animist and post-christian cultures. That is a step too far for my imagination: those two ways of the seeing the world are too far apart. I think we are going to be two cultures in one territory for quite some time, for all the Pacific-ation I talked of earlier.
"So is there an "idea"? If there is, it is to be found somewhere in the concept of the Treaty of Waitangi, two cultures living in parallel and in harmony, each fertilising the other, sharing power -- "he iwi tahi tatou", "we two peoples are one". The optimist in me thinks that possible, but only after a generation or two. The pessimist points to the vast conceptual gulf between animism and post-christianity, each suspicious and uncomprehending of the other. If the optimist is right, we will have a model to show the world, which would be an astonishing achievement. If the pessimist is right, we face tension and division -- and in any case can that "idea" encompass the Chinese (and Indian) influence to come?
Nevertheless, I have more optimistic moments than pessimistic ones." James then goes on to ask how New Zealanders might set about securing whatever goals this identity throws up: "How indeed? We can't even organise a flag that represents us right now let alone other institutions and a cultural, social and political roadmap. So I retreat from the heights upon which a nation is supposed to dwell, the "we" that is New Zealand (and that will be Aotearoa), to the lowlands, to the "we" that is each of us. Perhaps the small picture, the "we" that is each of us, has a clarity the big picture, the "we" as nation, cannot have.
"And in that small picture I see that no bridge or bus has been blown up, that no politician has been assassinated, that no headless populist movement has ravaged the political landscape. If we, the each-of-us small-picture "we", can hold to that high tolerance and large goodwill, "we" will muddle through in our usual disorganised way, grumbling all the while, a beacon to other diverse societies. Perhaps that unglamorous instinct is our "idea". Perhaps that is our nation."
Entropic Europeans Readers consoled or otherwise by this vision will want to consult the full text of the lecture which can be found at the following webpage: http://www.ColinJames.co.nz Up-raising or not, it is an honest and courageous fronting up to the tidal rip in which New Zealand finds itself as the world moves rapidly away from the certainties that seemed to define the hundred odd years between 1880 and 1980; years when it would have been inconceivable to think about a 'New Zealand' that bore any other name or followed closely in the wake of the western global powers of the day. Upton-on-line has no disagreement that James has correctly identified the two most significant forces that will tend to tug New Zealand away from the cultural and geo-political anchors that defined its 20 th century existence.
Whether the anchor chain will actually break is another matter. James' analysis invites serious debate. Upton-on-line offers two or three observations. The first involves James' depiction of contemporary Anglo-Celts (as he calls them). The very label is problematic. It's a fair descriptor of the particular breed of European who reached New Zealand shores in ever-growing numbers in the second half of the nineteenth century and early twentieth century. But even then they were consciously part of something much bigger - British civilization. And their indigenisation here makes this a node of that former British 'moment'.
It makes a difference - because the British who settled in New Zealand carried with them not some narrow, embattled tribal identity, but took for granted a global citizenship. And that is one of the hallmarks of New Zealanders today. They may not label themselves as neo-Britons; but they surely regard the widespread English-speaking world - whether it's Britain , Canada , the US or wherever - and the global sphere in which English is the common linguistic currency, as a field of action in which they're fully fluent. You only have to look at the easy way New Zealanders travel and take up residence to see that.
To the extent that these increasingly cosmopolitan people are a part of James' future, they seem truly passive and without any distinct identity. While James posits a future full of Maori and Pacific development, be it in theatre, popular music or every day cultural practice, and an historic re-bridging of the gulf that opened seven centuries ago with the Maori migration from Polynesia, his Anglo-Celts seem to contribute nothing. They just become part of a " melded 'folk' ... that somehow draws energy from both the animist and post-christian cultures." True, James acknowledges a connection with "a very great tradition, the greatest this world has seen: Shakespeare and Goethe, Michelangelo and Picasso, Mozart and Beethoven, Newton and Einstein, Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Hume and Marx."
But there's a sense that this is all in the past. James' Anglo-Celts seem to suffer from some sort of civilisational entropy - post-colonial, post-Christian, post-north-Atlantic in orientation, and post-protestant too, it seems, as a faltering work ethic and bulimic consumerism lead to increasing Chinese investment and ultimately ownership. Reappropriating New Zealand from the independence generation Upton-on-line thinks this all goes a bit far. In the first place, it is by no means far-fetched to suggest that a generation from now we will see a reappropriation of that civilisational consciousness which is much broader than something 'Anglo-Celtic'. The 'independence generation' (as James calls the revolutionaries of the seventies) will have passed on and with them their hectic need to turn their backs so self-consciously on the past. In many ways the Vietnam generation is a part of the problem of New Zealand nationhood, not the solution. While it has been quick to characterise as archaic or antediluvian all manner of institutions, customs and traditions that had their origins in British traditions, it has been less successful in replacing them.
The initiatives that span the Palmer-Bolger-Clark administrations have generated a formalistic and anaemic sort of 'fusion constitutionalism' that is rooted less in the daily practices of people's lives than in the enthusiasms of passing committees. As a result, our electoral, judicial, legislative and honours systems have all fallen prey not so much to an indigenisation as a sort of 'deculturalisation'. The only truly unique, quirky and indigenously rooted feature left (other than perhaps the monarchy) is the institution of the Maori seats.
They trace their existence back to very particular historical circumstances and have so far resisted the attempts of learned electoral reformers and redneck politicians alike to get rid of them. The fact is that young European New Zealanders are not some lost white tribe passively seeing some Anglo-Celtic identity washing away. Many of them are highly globalised world citizens who sense that the fluencies they can mobilise didn't just spring from nowhere in the years after 1840. What makes us think a younger generation won't take a fresh interest in their broader origins? Shorn of their parents' or grandparents' angst, they may - like lots of young people all around the world - take an increasing interest in their past and how it continues to shape the future without feeling constrained by it.
They would be greatly assisted - as would their Maori-Pacific counterparts - if we were to axe the scandalous curriculum known as social studies that presently masquerades as a source of historical and cultural initiation.
The time may not be so far off when a conservative politician (of the right or the left) decides that young New Zealanders could benefit from getting some basic chronological and civilisational sequence coherently under their belts in place of the fashionable 'pick your module' lottery approach to coming to grips with history.
There are two grand narratives of immediate relevance for young New Zealanders (and they really are grand to all but the most desiccated and cavilling intellectuals): the rise of western civilisation and the radiation of the peoples of the Pacific from an ancestral (Formosan) homeland that makes Maori the most audacious and far flung navigators of this diaspora. At some point we will teach it and when we do some of our current attempts at nation-building will start to look a little parochial. One of our current predilections is to register breaks with the past. We are post-modern, post-colonial, post- British, post-Christian.
There is more continuity and evolution than the 'independence generation' have sometimes allowed us to glimpse. Take the 'post-Christian' tag? Christianity in its many forms has been around for two millennia. It also played a decisive role in the contact between Maori and Europeans. It continues to pervade all manner of social and cultural forms. Upton-on-line would be cautious about deleting it too precipitately from the New Zealand cultural landscape. Might the diaspora strike back?
One of the striking omissions from James' discussion of the national enterprise is the off-shore kiwis - be they Maori or European. New Zealand is - by dint of distance and small critical mass - a hothouse. Many fly the coop, even if only for a few years, to enlarge horizons and drink in cultural otherness. Upton-on-line recalls Maori constitutents once explaining to him the relief they felt in going back to Sydney and leaving all sorts of social and familial strictures behind. The same applies to hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders in places like London .
But separation also helps crystallise the essence of that elusive thing called nationality that is largely taken for granted at home. Are returning kiwis going to re-define the place? Not likely. But the sheer scale of the flows in and out suggest that rather than indigenising like a solution crystallising out once removed from the heat, there may be a growing identity of being New Zealanders-in-the-world. In any case, in a globalising world, does it make sense to define the nation (in either a political or an emotional sense) as being confined to the 4 million on-shore souls? The fact is that there are the thick end of a million more creating all sorts of bridgeheads and networks in other nations without necessarily shedding their sense of identity. A Chinese tide?
James is remarkably direct in sketching a future in which New Zealand 's entire understanding of itself is metamorphosed by a tsunami-scale engagement by China and the Chinese in the affairs of our distant, happened-yesterday islands. Here is what he proposes:
"Unless we Anglo-Celts and Polynesians decide to learn hard, work hard and save hard, much of our investment will be from China , directly and indirectly. As the Chinese buy us up, they will come here to nurture their investments. Project forward another 20 years to the middle of the century: by then the Chinese presence will be a large feature of life here -- unless we change a lot or we decide to forgo the wealth they can bring here.
That Asianisation will put this society under social and political strain, test it to its core. Will we say in 40 years: no bridges or buses blown up, no politicians assassinated, no headless mass political movement? And there is a deeper change coming, one that will be even more difficult -- not just for these North Atlantic outposts in the southwest Pacific , Australia and New Zealand , but for the North Atlantic countries, too. That is that over time our science will begin to come from China . The North Atlantic 's secret power has been in the ideas of science that have made us materially richer, better educated and longer-lived. We will find those sorts of ideas begin to come from China .
There will be other ideas, too: the ideas of political, economic and social ideology and spirituality. We are used to "our" ideas, the legacy of 2500 years of thinking and theologising, from Athens to Chicago . For 200 years "our" ideas have also lighted universities and political movements and policymakers throughout the world because the "developed" world, the North Atlantic , has been dominant economically and strategically.
By the middle of this century, however, Asian ideologies will increasingly push through our protective screens. And we will have to take notice because of the growing numbers of Chinese here and growing Chinese importance -- one might call it a recaptured imperial eminence -- in the world, economically and strategically. We will be in the Chinese sphere of influence. And if we are to escape that, it will not be back to the North Atlantic but to a precarious place at the intersection of the Chinese and Indian spheres of influence if India becomes an economic and strategic competitor with China .
These will make enormous impacts on our way of life, our perspectives on life and our self-regard. And the "we" will change as Chinese and then Indians come here." Well, perhaps it will happen thus. But what are these Asian ideologies? Upton-on-line's (not terribly extensive) travels in Asia detect a materialism and consumerism that isn't too distant from the barrage of marketing that leers from roadsides at any recent arrival in NZ; or a desire for tidy domestic security that is not too different from those harboured in the sprawling suburban dormitories of New Zealand or Australia. Are these truly different ideologies or are we simply dealing with the banality of a common human desire for material security and a degree of private space in the anonymity of modern urban life?
More importantly, can it be assumed that China 's vertiginous growth rate will be maintained? We should hope that it will be if social peace hangs in the balance. But we don't have many historical precedents for unprecedented wealth creation, dispersion of information and a rising middle class co-existing with an opaque oligarchy perpetuated in power by a single party. We would be wise to avoid being overly eager to absolve China from the prospect of being seriously distracted by political turbulence. For a start, there are minorities whose numbers outstrip the populations of many large countries.
Leaving that aside, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that all sorts of dysfunctionalities and rigidities have led and will continue to lead to some spectacularly wasteful uses of capital. Readers may recall an era when Japan was going to devour our region. (This was the same era when the only other economy to have understood the future was Germany . Today is has 12% unemployment.) As financial commentators are constrained to observe almost weekly, China runs the risk of all manner of shakeouts.
That it has managed to avoid serious disruptions to date does not imply some immunity from shocks. While China may possess extreme labour market flexibility, its institutions are less well adapted to coping with big shocks should they come to pass. Again, can we really be so confident that the technical and scientific future lies in China ? James is right to talk about the political, economic, social and spiritual ideas of the West in the same breath. That they developed together may not be an accident. Is a Chinese state devoid of real political plurality and vigorous civil debate really going to be a crucible of scientific and social creativeness?
China still faces enormous challenges and there are likely to be all sorts of in-house, in-course corrections before China is in a position to assert 'imperial eminence'. But even if it does, can we assume that New Zealand will be part of its 'sphere of influence'? Upton-on-line thinks that for Europeans and Maori alike, the values of individualism and political democracy are more than deeply enough embedded to find common geo-political cause with other free societies. The extent to which spheres of influence are extended has as much to do with those to whom they are extended as those who impose them. In short, upton-on-line is reluctant to concede anything inexorable about
China 's rise or the extension of any sphere of influence. ( A case can be made that vigorous democracy in India - and a genuinely independent judiciary - give it every chance of being a more durable and flexible force in the region.) Whichever way you look at it, both Maori and European New Zealanders have far more in common with one another and with Europe and America than they do with China .
While we may be busy defining our differences domestically in the current generation, it would be remarkable if we didn't define ourselves in common terms faced with anything like James' Chinese sphere of influence. Upton-on-line would expect the political nation at some point in the future to assert its membership of that western, democratic sphere of influence rather more decisively than it does at present. The Vietnam generation's distaste for traditional entanglements may still have some distance to run.
But a generation on, with colonial cringe long forgotten, the enduring values of that western inheritance - evolved in the light of our particular history - are still likely to recommend themselves. Europeans and Maori alike owe any world citizenship they have to western roots and western connections. They will not be passively relinquished. Those roots give rise, in the New Zealand context, to a sceptical view of authority, a dislike of being preached at and a sometimes foolhardy, sometimes magnificent disregard for risks in tackling the impossible. In upton-on-line 's view there is a resilience there that will prove the equal of any unfamiliar spheres of influence - and maintain a solidly global outlook.
Footnote on revolutions and nation-building As James notes, there are two common processes of nation building. To use his words, "either a 'folk' with a shared culture occupies a territory for a long time or the occupants of a territory build a nation around an "idea". An example of the first is France and of the second the United States." Clearly the first process is not open to New Zealand (as James notes, it might have been open to Maori if they'd held European colonists at bay). That leaves the second. Is there the possibility of an idea around which the nation might coalesce? Here, James provides a pregnant opening. New Zealand is definitely not an enlightenment age project. So it might seem strange to suggest that New Zealand might be founded on an idea. But it depends what we mean by an idea. The truth is that neither France nor the United States have sprung purely from an idea. If that was all there was at the basis of either nation it would long since have unravelled. Ideas appeal to elites.
They also have the habit of being rather mutable. The world and social relations are constantly changing. France and the United States sprang from revolutions. There were certainly ideas - radical ideas - at the root of their combustion. But these were no common room tussles. Large amounts of blood were spilt. And in the case of the United States, the collision between some of those ideas and the institution of slavery led, within less than a century, to an incredibly bloody civil conflagration that still echoes through American discourse. The fact is that both nations came to terms with a status quo and a history that was by no means satisfactory to all parties.
But while revolutions have winners and losers, ordinary people have to get on with their lives. The entire community is scarred. But scars heal and, if the accommodation post-bellum is half reasonable, so do communities. And that is exactly what happened in New Zealand . The land wars were effectively a revolutionary termination by settlers of the constitutional order that had originally been contemplated. This is not a new idea - Professor Jock Brookfield for one, has exposed the revolutionary roots of the nation state we live in today. We live with the scars - we have done for a long time. And this is where upton-on-line finds James' emphasis on the 'quietness' of the revolution misleading. His repeated refrain is that "no bridge or bus has been blown up, no politician has been assassinated, [and] no headless populist movement has ravaged the political landscape."
Maybe not. But plenty of blood was spilt in nineteenth century New Zealand . And in its aftermath an accommodation was found. It wasn't even-handed, it wasn't neutral, it wasn't built around an idea. But it worked. And it still does. And James rightly identifies the functional 'idea' - and it's one of tolerance. James' repeated refrain about no bridges, assassinations or populist uprisings has the no doubt unintended but unfortunate undertone that this is all a miracle and we should hold our breath in wonderment as long as it lasts. This is not a tenable basis for nation-building. But there is another strategy. Why not say more about the land wars? Why not make this ground zero of national trauma the real heart of the way New Zealanders understand the emergence of their state? The Treaty enshrined an idea. It crashed. New Zealand is not built on that idea although valiant efforts have been made to resurrect it.
So we cannot celebrate the outcome as the victory of an idea (as Americans can with their civil war). But what survived the wars was a mutual tolerance - which, in the circumstances, is miracle enough. This is surely a much more important legacy for nation-building than the current fascination with Gallipoli. Gallipoli risks being an 'easy' source of nation-building sentiment - blood shed in a cause that can, with modern hindsight, be dismissed as part of a world order that is long gone and for which we harbour no regrets.
Whereas the Land Wars and their legacy live on with us and the tolerance we managed to salvage is the living source of the glue that holds the nation together. So upton-on-line would propose a change to James' refrain, and it's this: blood was shed, lands were lost and communities were divided. But despite all that, sufficient respect survived to enable one (not two) nations to emerge. There aren't any other models for New Zealand . Which is why hanging on to the one we've got rather than creating another one by committee or commission seems a prudent way to go. James calls it muddle through.
That doesn't do it justice. It's the result of a genuine fusion of European and Maori attitudes to co-existence. So we shouldn't be going around congratulating ourselves on having avoided the worst of revolutionary excess. We had our revolution and it wasn't a pretty sight. (So did the French and neither was theirs - and they still haven't got over it.) If all young (and not so young) New Zealanders understood that - and the achievement that followed it - we might be better placed to withstand the temptation to meddle that arises from time to time.
Colin James has done New Zealand a service in distilling his thinking in the terms that he has. Upton-on-line hopes it will stir a significant and thoughtful reaction.