Jul 9, 2013

Egalitarianism, conformism and the Pakeha Party

There’s a great contradiction in the Kiwi heart: a conflict between equality in theory and equality in fact.

Egalitarianism is New Zealand’s founding myth: sometimes a symbol of Kiwi exceptionalism, other times a cultural touchstone in “the cultureless society”. Often a driver of social innovation and progress, but never offered on another person or groups terms. If Maori want access to New Zealand’s egalitarian sympathies, they must assimilate. There’s no room for Maori participating as Maori.

And so the Pakeha Party is born. David Ruck whitesplains to NZN:

"I know that there's huge issues to do with the Treaty and the history, but this isn't really about that. It's when certain Maori start asking for things that only they will be entitled to - that's what's annoying me, and obviously a lot of other people out there as well."

“It’s when certain Maori start asking for things”. Certain Maori. Ruck doesn’t enjoy John Ansell’s rhetorical flair, but he’s adopting the distinction between Ansell’s grievers and achievers. Ruck is pushing the distinction between Maori who advocate for the right to participate in New Zealand society as Maori and Maori who conform.

New Zealand society fluctuates between progressive social policy and provincial and suburban conservatism. Women’s suffrage, the welfare state and Treaty of Waitangi advances weigh against 6pm closing times, weekend trading bans and the Springbok tours (which cut both ways, to be fair).

However, there is a constant: assimilation (now better described in its less connotative and 21st century form - conformism). New Zealand society extends its benefits to those who conform to its norms. However, for many Maori that is not an opportunity worth taking. Maori battled against assimilation ideologies in the 19th century, integration ideologies in the 20th century and the option of conformist ideologies in the 21st century is neither dignifying nor sensible. The Maori renaissance demonstrated that Maori can participate as Maori, even if we failed to convince parts of New Zealand that this a good thing.

None of this is to say that the Pakeha Party – or any of its many sympathisers – is attempting to destroy Maori culture or Maori themselves. In its simplest form egalitarianism is about equality in theory rather than equality in fact. Dedicated representation for Maori (to use one example) grates against the notion that no man, woman or group should enjoy more or separate rights. Dedicated Maori representation might lead to equality in fact (Maori interests in the electoral system are protected and expressed in the Maori seats), but (technically) it isn't equality in theory. Maori enjoy a form of representation that is closed to non-Maori.

The reality the party misses is that the law makes distinction between people and groups all of the time. Distinctions based on age – think of the pension and various statutes that extend rights to children (e.g. the Children Young Persons and their Families Act). Distinctions based on relationship status – think the disparity in treatment (legal and social) between couples in de facto relationships and married couples. And distinctions based on ethnicity. The list doesn’t end there. If the Pakeha Party’s logic is extended to its natural conclusion the party must be arguing for less employment, more crime and lower life expectancy. What about abolishing the age of criminal responsibility? Special treatment for kids after all. The vicious irony of the Pakeha Party arguing for the law to treat them the same as children would be lost on no one.

The party will come to nothing. The 1Law4All party already exists, but with a more coherent set of principles and ideologies (if woefully misguided). Lew Stoddart pointed out on Twitter that a Facebook like isn’t equivalent to real world support. It’s hard to determine what a like means. Is the person liking the page to take the piss, to keep up with what’s being said (even if he or she disagrees with the page) or a casual indication of support? A like is easy and safe and Facebook is a petri dish of trolls. Eddie at the Standard outlines the issue well too.

The best thing to do: forget about the Pakeha Party, but think about the Kiwi character and how that gives rise to anti-Maori sentiments. Kiwi egalitarianism cuts both ways - it's a force for progress and regression. 


  1. Spot on, Morgan. There's not a word I would disagree with here.

    Come the next election, let the "Pakeha Party" put itself up for election. By then, it will be "yesterday's news".

  2. Any benefits that the Pakeha party get will also extend to the majority of Maori because we are also part Maori. Best of luck them getting redress at the Waitangi Tribunal I would turn up to that hearing with popcorn and skittles –Let the gravy train begin



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