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It is morally defensible to establish a nation-state built around maintaining a specific and exclusive ethnic population
Total votes: 11
Submitted by Peter Cresswell on Mon, 2008-02-04 22:45
Expect another day tomorrow of protest, anger and hot air, all now par for the course for the day on which New Zealand was founded. You'd think, in a country with as much to offer and as much to celebrate as New Zealand has that our National Day itself would be something to celebrate. Not likely.
Even without a full moon, Waitangi Day instead regularly produces a ragtag cavalcade of mischief-makers intent on misunderstanding whatever anyone else says -- no matter how simple and however straightforward. Every year there's a whole lot of people doing a whole lot of talking very loudly past each other -- often the same people every year. I expect no less this year. I expect another Waitangi Day with the same protests as last year, the same people loudly proclaiming that the state owes them a living ... and more claims for even more legal privilege based on race.
Another Waitangi Day in which the the usual parade of politicians and protestors confront and avoid each other, in which the professional grievance industry bewail their fate and issue further demands for the taxpayer to give 'til it hurts. Frankly, we don't need another tax-paid gravy train or another grievance industry or yet another charter for separatism or a forum in which to demand it -- and this was never what was promised by the Treaty. We simply need good law -- good colourblind law. That was what the Treaty promised.
We don't need more nationalisation of land, of seabed or of foreshore; we simply need a legal system in which what we own is protected, in which real injustices can be proven swiftly and without great expense, and where justice can be done and be seen to be done. That was what the Treaty made possible.
The disappointment is that the promise has not always been the reality.
Perhaps the greatest disappointment every Waitangi Day is to reflect that for all the time spent on Te Tiriti in New Zealand school rooms, there's so little understanding of what it means, nor of the context in which it was signed. Teaching real history is no longer fashionable. Teaching myths is.
Partnership? The Treaty was not about 'partnership' of the form now espoused -- neither word nor concept appeared in the document. It was not a Treaty offering permanent welfare, nor a tax-paid gravy train into perpetuity. In three short articles it simply offered the introduction of British law, and the rights and protections that were then protected by British law. That was it.
Biculturalism? The Treaty that was agreed talked neither about race nor culture. Like British law itself at the time it was colourblind. What it promised was not the politics of race but the same protection for anyone, regardless of race, creed or skin colour.
Would that today's law was so blind.
At the time it was signed, the context of British law really meant something. By the middle of the nineteenth century, British law -- which included British common law -- was the best the world had yet seen. It was what had made Britain rich, and what still makes the places where British law was introduced some of the most prosperous places in the world in which to live today. From the perspective of one-hundred and sixty-eight years later, when individual rights and property rights are taken for granted even as they're slowly expunged, it's easy to take the framework and protection of British law for granted. Looked at in the context of the history of human affairs however it was a tremendous achievement: the first time in which individual rights and property rights were recognised in law, and protected in a relatively simple and accessible framework. Perhaps history's first truly objective legal system. The introduction of British law to the residents of these Shaky Isles at the bottom of the South Pacific, which at the the time were riven with inter-tribal warfare, was a boon -- and those who eagerly signed knew that. Their immediate perspective might have been short-term -- to forestall a feared annexation by France; to end inter-tribal violence; to secure territorial gains made in the most recent inter-tribal wars; to gain a foothold for trade -- but there's no doubt they had at least an inkling that life under British law promised greater peace, and the chance at prosperity.
"He iwi tahi tatou"
'He iwi tahi tatou.' We are now one people. So said Governor Hobson to Maori chieftains as they signed the Treaty that is now the source of so much division. But are we really 'one people'? Not really. No more than our ancestors were then. But nor are we two, three or fifty-four peoples -- do you have a people? -- and nor does it matter. What Governor Hobson brought to New Zealand with the Treaty was British law, which then meant something, and Western Culture, which makes it possible to see one another not as 'peoples,' not as part of a tribe or a race, but each of us as sovereign individuals in our own right.
That was a good thing.
But unfortunately, we still don't see each other that way, do we? And the myth-making about 'partnership' and 'biculturalism' is just one way to avoid seeing it.
To be fair, the Treaty itself isn't much to see. What Hobson brought was not the founding document for a country, but a hastily written document intended to forestall French attempts at dominion (and the Frank imposition of croissants and string bikinis), and which brought to New Zealand for the first time the concept of individualism, and the protection of property rights and of an objective rule of law.
British law is not what it was, and there's a meal ticket now in fomenting misunderstanding of what it once promised.
The Treaty signed one-hundred sixty-seven years ago today was not intended as the charter for separatism and grievance and the welfare gravy train that it has become - to repeat, it was intended no more and no less than to bring the protection of British law and the rights and privileges of British citizens to the residents of these islands -- residents of all colours. That was the context that three simple clauses were intended to enunciate. And one-hundred and sixty-seven years ago, the rights and privileges of British citizens actually meant something -- this was not a promise to protect tribal culture (which had dominated pre-European New Zealand history and underpinned generations of inter-tribal conflict, and which the modern myth of 'partnership' underpins), but a promise to protect individuals from each other; a promise to see Maoris not as part of a tribe, but as individuals in their own right; a promise to protect what individuals own and what they produce by their own efforts. That the promise is sometimes seen in the breach than in practice is no reason to spurn the attempt.
The Treaty helped to make New Zealand a better place for everyone.
Life in New Zealand before the advent of the rule of law recognised neither right, nor privilege, nor even the concept of ownership. It was not the paradise of Rousseau's noble savage; force was the recognised rule du jour and the source of much barbarity (see for example 'Property Rights: A Blessing for Maori New Zealand'). Indeed just a few short years before the Treaty was signed, savage inter-tribal warfare reigned, and much of New Zealand was found to be unpopulated following the fleeing of tribes before the muskets and savagery and cannibalism of other tribes.
Property in this war of all against all was not truly owned; instead, it was just something that was grabbed and held by one tribe, until it was later grabbed and held by another. To be blunt, life was brutish and it was short, just as it was in pre-Industrial Revolution Europe, and - let's face it -- it was largely due to the local culture that favoured conquest over peace and prosperity. As Thomas Sowell reminds us: "Cultures are not museum pieces. They are the working machinery of everyday life. Unlike objects of aesthetic contemplation, working machinery is judged by how well it works, compared to the alternatives." Pre-European local culture was not working well for those within that culture. Let's be really blunt (and here I paraphrase from this article):
Harsh, but true. And note those words before you hyperventilate: "not due to any racial inferiority, but because that is how all mankind starts out (Europeans included)." Some one-hundred and fifty years before, the same boon was offered to the savage, dirt-poor Scottish tribesmen who were living then much as pre-Waitangi Maori were. Within one-hundred years following the embrace of Western civilisation, Scotland was transformed and had became one of the centres of the Enlightenment. Such was the cultural gift being offered.
The boon of Western Civilisation was being offered here in New Zealand not after conquest but for just a mess of pottage, and in return for the right of Westerners to settle here too. As Sir Apirana Ngata stated, "if you think these things are wrong, then blame your ancestors when they gave away their rights when they were strong" - giving the clue that 'right' to Ngata's ancestors, equated to 'strong' more than it did to 'right.'
Who 'owned' New Zealand?
It's said that Maori owned New Zealand before the Treaty was signed, and that while the 'shadow' of sovereignty was passed on, the substance remained. This is nonsense. Pre-European Maori never "owned" New Zealand in any sense, let alone in any meaningful sense of exercising ownership of sovereignty over all of it.
First of all, they had no concept at all of ownership by right; 'ownership' was not by right but by force; it represented taonga that was taken by force and held by force -- just as long as they were able to be held (see again, for example 'Property Rights: A Blessing for Maori New Zealand'). Witness for example the savage conflict over the prosperous lands of Tamaki Makaurau, over which generations of Kawerau, Nga Puhi, Ngati Whatua and others fought. There was no recognition at any time that these lands were owned by a tribe by right -- they were only held as long as a tribe's might made holding them possible, and as long as the fighting necessary to retain them brought a greater benefit than it did to relinquish them (and by the early 1800s, with so much fighting to be done to hold them, all tribes gave up and left the land to bracken instead).
Second, even if the tribesmen and women had begun to develop the rudiments of the concept of ownership by right (the concept of ownership by right being relatively new even to 1840 Europeans) they didn't own all of the country -- they only 'owned' what they owned. That is, what Maori possessed were the lands and fisheries they occupied and farmed and fished and used. This was never all of New Zealand, nor even most of New Zealand. The rest of it lay unowned, and unclaimed.
Third, prior to the arrival of Europeans Maori did not even see themselves as 'one people'; the word 'Maori' simply meant 'normal,' as opposed to the somewhat abnormal outsiders who had now appeared with their crosses and muskets and strange written incantations. The tangata whenua saw themselves not as a homogeneous whole, but as members of various tribes. This was not a nation, nor even a collection of warring tribes. Apart from the Confederacy of United Tribes -- an ad hoc group who clubbed together in 1835 a bid to reject expected overtures from the French -- there was no single sovereignty over pre-European New Zealand, no sovereign entity to cede sovereignyt, and no way a whole country could be ceded by those who had never yet laid claim to it in its entirety.
Our 'Founding Document'?
So the British came, and saw, and hung about a bit. The truth is that some of the best places in the world in which to live are those where the British once came, and saw and then buggered off -- leaving behind them their (once) magnificent legal system, and the rudiments of Western Culture. See for example, the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and of course (as noted in obituaries of former governor John Cowperthwaite) Hong Kong. We lucked out.
What the Treaty did do, for which we can all be thankful, was to bring British law to NZ at a time when British law was actually intended to protect the rights of British citizens, and it promised to extend that protection to all who lived here. For many and often differing reasons, that was what the chieftains signed up to.
But the Treaty itself was not a founding document. No, it wasn't. On its own, with just three simple articles and a brief introduction, there was just not enough there to make it a document that founds a nation. As a document it simply pointed to the superstructure of British law as it then was and said, 'let's have that down here on these islands in the South Pacific.'
The treaty's greatest promise was really in its bringing to these islands those rights and privileges that British citizens enjoyed by virtue of their then superb legal system; the protection of Pax Britannia when those rights and that protection meant something, and when British power saw protection of British rights as its sworn duty. The result of this blessing of relatively secure individual rights was the palpable blessing of relative peace, of increasing security, and of expanding prosperity.
Sadly, British jurisprudence no longer does see its duty that way, which means the legal context in which the Treaty was signed has changed, and the blessings themselves are sometimes difficult to see. Law, both in Britain and here in NZ, now places welfarism and need above individualism and rights. That's the changing context that has given steam and power to the treaty-based gravy train, and allowed the Treaty and those who ride today's Treaty gravy to say it says something other than what is written in it.
The truly sad thing is that the Treaty relied on a context that no longer exists -- and the only way to restore that context, in my view, with a new constitution that makes the original context explicit. To restore the original legal context, and to improve upon it with a legal context that protects and reinforces an Objective rule of law -- as British law itself once did -- one that clarifies what in the Treaty was only vague or was barely put. And in doing so, of course, such a constitution would make the Treaty obsolete.
Waitangi Day comes just two weeks after Martin Luther King Day. It might be worthwhile to remind ourselves of King's dream for the future of his own children:
Perhaps we will one day celebrate that dream down here -- not as a dream, but as reality? Celebrating our national day not as a charter for grievance that continues to poison discussion, but instead with real joy. Celebrating that the colour of a man's skin is of no importance compared to the content of his character. Shaking off the gravy train of grievance.
Perhaps one day we will actually celebrate the birth of this great little country, instead of seeing its birthday as an annual source of conflict. Wouldn't that be something to celebrate?
Linked Articles: Unsure on foreshore: A Brash dismissal of Maori rights? - Not PC
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