Mr Eekes’ remarks: The governor-general; patriotism and class war

My occassional correspondent,  J W Eekes Esq. sent this missive as a comment on the Henrygate thread. It speaks to the heart of the debate about “Kiwi-ness” with a vigor born of class-consciousness. I thought it well worth elevating.

Many thanks sir. Please regale us with more of your pithy observations.

The problem of the Governor-General

J W Eekes [guest post]

The real problem with the Governor-General isn’t his size or ethnicity. The problem is his membership in the self-serving, bipartisan cohort of judges and lawyers who consider themselves born to rule this country and have done so for decades.

Ruling classes throughout the Anglosphere co-opt whoever and whatever they can to legitimise their hold on power and give the impression of inclusiveness in what is in fact always an elite club governed by inviolable customs and shibboleths.

Satyanand’s ethnicity might be a problem for Henry and his supporters. It’s not for the establishment who long ago accepted him and elevated him to office. What matters to them is membership in the ruling class of our very own good ol’ boys and gals. If anything, Satyanand’s South Asian origin served to make him Helen Clark’s top choice even though it aroused suspicions of tokenism.

The only genius of the ruling class is its ability to pay lip service to lofty terms like meritocracy and public service, while exploiting the vast majority of people and convincing them that jandals, Richie McCaw and the quarter-acre section mean Godzone is something more than a lame concept invented by repressed depressives who clearly never lived or visited anywhere else.

The debate on “who a New Zealander is” has for too long been framed by mindless stereotypes running along ideas not just of ethnicity, but lifestyle and intellect too.

Orwell said, “Patriotism is usually stronger than class hatred, and always stronger than internationalism.” The inability to recognise the existence of the ruling class as a distinct entity is widespread even though the G-G is the best example of its existence. Kiwi anti-intellectualism, parochialism and disdain for outward-looking cosmopolitanism is also rife, and exemplified by Tamihere’s statement.

Tamihere implies a person must unthinkingly accept that “being a Kiwi is the best thing in the world” in order to be a New Zealander. This astounding crassness reminds me of George Bernard Shaw saying “patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all others because you were born in it.”

Tamihere reminds one of the fanatical, futile and proto-fascist “Loyal” campaign of a past America’s Cup when thousands of cars were accessorised with black flags, silver ferns and the word “Loyal” to allegedly express support for a small group of yachtsmen racing in that overblown contest.

Tamihere’s dismissal of any recognition of this society’s shortcomings as predictable and dispensable “whingeing” is unfortunate.

What’s also lamentable is the deliberate confusion of public service with office-holding that exemplifies the post of Governor-General. It is an unelected, parasitic position confined to ribbon-cutting, pomp and bluster.

Laws’ only worthwhile point was mentioned in today’s NZ Herald, when he said the G-G deserves no more respect than anyone else. If he’d been elected rather than plucked from obscurity and unilaterally appointed by professional, perennial politicians like Clark, the Governor-General would command legitimate respect.


Orwell’s legacy: on patriotism and revolution

If you want to follow up some of Mr Eekes’ references you could start with Orwell’s The Lion and the Unicorn:

National characteristics are not easy to pin down, and when pinned down they often turn out to be trivialities or seem to have no connexion with one another. Spaniards are cruel to animals, Italians can do nothing without making a deafening noise, the Chinese are addicted to gambling. Obviously such things don’t matter in themselves. Nevertheless, nothing is causeless, and even the fact that Englishmen have bad teeth can tell something about the realities of English life.

The sub-title of this short pamphlet by Orwell is‘socialism and the English genius’, it has been criticised by some as reflecting Orwell’s break with Marxism and revolution, but it is not. A more nuanced reading is necessary and this passage indicated quite clearly where Orwell’s politics lie — on the revolutionary left:

What this war has demonstrated is that private capitalism that is, an economic system in which land, factories, mines and transport are owned
privately and operated solely for profit–DOES NOT WORK.

We also have to remember that Orwell was both an anti-Fascist and anti-Stalinist — 1984 and Animal Farm are testament to that. So this passage from The Lion and the Unicorn is also worth remembering and repeating today:

Socialism is usually defined as “common ownership of the means of production”. Crudely: the State, representing the whole nation, owns everything, and everyone is a State employee. This does NOT mean that people are stripped of private possessions such as clothes and furniture, but it DOES mean that all productive goods, such as land, mines, ships and machinery, are the property of the State. The State is the sole large-scale producer. It is not certain that Socialism is in all ways superior to capitalism, but it is certain that, unlike capitalism, it can
solve the problems of production and consumption.

One must also add the following: approximate equality of incomes (it need be no more than approximate), political democracy, and abolition of all hereditary privilege, especially in education. These are simply the necessary safeguards against the reappearance of a class-system. Centralized ownership has very little meaning unless the mass of the people are living roughly upon an equal level, and have some kind of control over the government.

However, there can never be socialism in one country, it is necessarily internationalist and global. Socialism is therefore totally incompatible with nationalism and patriotism. Where Orwell perhaps falls down in his analysis (written in 1941 when there was still a danger that Nazi forces would invade the British Isles) that British patriotism might turn the Second World War into a war of resitance, liberation and eventually a class war for socialism.

The English revolution started several years ago, and it began to gather momentum when the troops came back from Dunkirk. Like all else in England, it happens in a sleepy, unwilling way, but it is happening. The war has speeded it up, but it has also increased, and desperately, the necessity for speed.

In that passage Orwell is talking about the class struggle in Britain, the miners’ strikes of the 1920s and the way that socialists supported the republicans in Spain against Franco’s nationalist and fascist armies. In 1941, at the heght of war, Orwell was committed to the English revolution and rightly so. It is due to the balance of historica forces that he did not live to see it succeed:

We cannot win the war without introducing Socialism, nor establish Socialism without winning the war. At such a time it is possible, as it was not in the peaceful years, to be both revolutionary and realistic. A Socialist movement which can swing the mass of the people behind it, drive the pro-Fascists out of positions of control, wipe out the grosser injustices and let the working class see that they have something to fight for, win over the middle classes instead of antagonizing them, produce a workable imperial policy instead of a mixture of humbug and Utopianism, bring patriotism and intelligence into partnership – for the first time, a movement of such a kind becomes possible.

No revolution is complete without a soundtrack. I’m on a bit of Zevon-kick at the moment. His gozno sensibility has always made me want to sing along.

2 Responses to Mr Eekes’ remarks: The governor-general; patriotism and class war

  1. Lewis Holden says:

    Elect the Governor-General? Now there’s an idea! 😀

  2. John Weekes says:

    The existence of an unelected head of state is archaic, undemocratic and illogical. Current Republican proposals which simply advise changing the title from Governor-General to an unelected “President” are insufficient. Such a President would be as irrelevant and aloof as the Governor-General currently is.

    An elected head of state would not only have greater legitimacy but could be mandated to act decisively in the event of a constitutional crisis or a destructive, costly and cynical interregnum like that of 1996 (when Winston Peters held the country to ransom).

    Term limits should be applied to all political offices. Public service and office-holding are distinct. The career politician is an abomination, as is the overpaid, overprivileged professional politician.

    The entire point of the Enlightenment, the most radical revolution in human consciousness for the past millennium, is to abolish illogical, hereditary and dogmatic power structures. I use the present term because it’s clearly an incomplete and ongoing process, even though it preceded the rise of Socialism, which is probably a side-issue here.

    Insular political cliques quickly become detached, arrogant and paternalistic, incapable of empathising with most citizens or representing their concerns.
    Professional politicians like Helen Clark, who lived off the taxpayer for her entire adult career, would probably dispute this, but her rejection by the electorate in 2008 was largely due to her real and perceived hubris and aloofness; policy differences between Labour and National became side-issues to a huge and decisive chunk of swing voters.

    Well-intentioned citizens are alienated from the political process by the concentration of political influence. This is worsened by the toothlessness of local government, so nakedly displayed by the new Supercity, and by a sprawling legislative system that makes understanding the law literally a full-time occupation.

    Any attempts by citizens to initiate policy changes at local, provincial or national levels are buried in quagmires of bureaucracy. Most citizens will never converse with politicians, because politicians are unapproachable to begin with and have consciously made themselves even more so.

    When a career politician has the authority to appoint our Head of State and does so by selecting someone who is not only obscure but yet another member of the judiciary, serious questions are raised.

    Until Henry’s comments, most New Zealanders did in fact have no idea who their Head of State was. If Henry had framed his comments in a more thoughtful manner, the national debate would have taken off in a different direction.

    In a parallel universe, Henry might have asked John Key:

    “Why is he our Governor-General?”

    I doubt Key would’ve been able to answer that any more decisively than he answered Henry’s real-world question.

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