Ansell's confusions and Act's misfortunes
Chris points out that anti-Maori sentiment is still common amongst Pakeha, and that it regularly emerges during the lengthy unofficial public inquiries into subjects like crime and child abuse held on talkback radio.
Dave argues that, in the wake of the global financial crisis, New Zealand's capitalist class needs to 'complete' the neo-liberal revolution which began in the mid-'80s and stalled in the late '90s, and that, since very few Kiwis favour the reprise of the privatisations and user charges for public services which marked the late '80s and early '90s, neo-liberalism has to return inside the Trojan horse of racism. Dave suggests that working class and middle class Pakeha might be inclined to overlook Act's hardline neo-liberal policies if those policies are overshadowed by the party's Maori-bashing.
I think there is a good deal of truth in what both Chris and Dave say. As this blog has related in depressing detail over the years, too many Pakeha do suffer from an almost encyclopedic ignorance of Maori culture, history, and political aspirations. And Dave is surely correct when he detects a desire amongst New Zealand's elite to return to what Roger Douglas has ominously called the 'unfinished business' of the 1980s and '90s.
I don't think, though, that Act’s current anti-Maori campaign will revive the party’s fortunes. Although there is a ready audience and a motivation for anti-Maori rhetoric, Act's sociological and ideological contradictions render it unable to deliver the anti-Maori message in a coherent way.
We can get a vivid picture of Act's incoherence by considering some of the recent statements John Ansell has made to the media, and to the readers of his on-again, off-again blog (Ansell may have resigned from Act last weekend, after his falling-out with Don Brash, but he remains, by his own admission, a supporter of the party).
In his interviews and in his rambling blog posts, Ansell advances two very different objections to Maori nationalism, and to state support for Maori culture and institutions.
On the one hand, Ansell argues that over the last century and a half intermarriage and economic development have resulted in the assimilation of Maori to the rest of New Zealand society. Maori certainly existed as a distinct ethnic group in 1840, Ansell says, but they no longer have such status. In the cosmopolitan world of the twenty-first century, Maori identity is something that comes not from whakapapa and birth and upbringing but from individual choice.
In many ways, Ansell suggests, the choice to be Maori can be compared to the choice to become a member of some religion. State support for Maori culture and Maori institutions is no better than state support for Catholicism or Islam. Ansell made a similar sort of assimilationist argument when he debated Maori nationalism on this blog last year.
Elsewhere, though, Ansell relies on a very different argument against 'Maorification'. He repeatedly criticises Maori for committing crimes, neglecting their families, and having an ungrateful attitude towards Pakeha. Ansell argues that all of these problems are connected to the state's tolerance for 'separatist' institutions like the Maori seats in parliament. Ansell's two arguments against 'Maorification' are radically contradictory. His first argument relies on the premise that Maori have ceased to exist as an ethnic group; his second argument continually finds fault with Maori as an ethnic group.
We can appreciate the contradiction in Ansell's thinking if we consider one of the most-quoted of his recent statements to the media:
[Thanks to Pakeha] Maori have gone from the Stone Age to the Space Age in 150 years, and haven't said thanks.
In this sentence, Ansell tries to finds fault with Maori, as a group, for their lack of appreciation of the contributions of Pakeha to New Zealand society. If the assimilationist argument Ansell has made so often holds true, though, how can he reasonably make this complaint? According to the assimilationist argument, Maori have been hopelessly mixed up with other Kiwis, so that it is impossible to talk about 'Pakeha' and 'Maori' as distinct ethnic groups. If this is the case, then it makes no sense to try to identify the positive achievements of modern New Zealand with Pakeha, and to withold credit for these achievements from Maori.
Ansell's talk about Maori crime rates also contradicts his assimilationist arguments. He wants to use Maori criminals as a stick to beat all Maori with, but in his assimilationist moods he claims that the only real Maori are people who have made individual decisions to embrace Maori culture. All the evidence suggests that, far from having undergone some sort of 'conversion' to Maoritanga, many Maori offenders have never had contact with the culture of their ancestors.
Chris Kahui, Macsyna King and their close relations are perhaps the most notorious examples of the criminally-inclined Maori ‘underclass’ John Ansell decries. When Kahui and King tried to organise a tangi for their slain twins, though, their lack of contact with Maoritanga became very clear. They had no 'home' marae which could hold the tangi, and when their immediate family eventually performed the ceremony they did so with an ineptness that embarrassed other Maori (for instance, they got an old man, rather than a woman, to perform the karanga at the beginning of the powhiri that welcomed mourners).
In his blog posts and in his talks with the media, Ansell slides continually between his two contradictory arguments against ‘Maorification’; not surprisingly, he leaves many members of his audiences bewildered.
But Ansell’s contradictions are not the result of a merely personal confusion: they reflect the sociological and political divisions inside Act. As I noted in my last post, Act’s members are a mixture of well-heeled, cosmopolitan apostles of neo-liberalism, who see the world in relentlessly individualistic terms, and petty bourgeois xenophobes, who see the world in terms of reactionary racial, gender, and class stereotypes.
Ansell’s assimilationist argument against ‘Maorification’, with its utopian vision of group identities melting away amidst capitalist prosperity, belongs to the well-heeled, cosmopolitan wing of the party; his complaints about Maori group behavior, with their appeals to the traditional cliches of Pakeha rednecks, belong to the party’s angry petty bourgeois faction. Ansell is unable to make the case against ‘Maorification’ coherently because his case draws on two incompatible intellectual and social sources.
[Posted by Maps]