New Zealand's panic-inspired illiberal streak

The Kiwi government is committing the two sins you must never commit in a free society.

Solzhenitsyn's quote yesterday got me thinking more about how we've gotten to this point.

What's happening now isn't an accident. Two of the greatest political minds of in the tradition of liberal politics saw this coming 200 years ago.


First up is Montesquieu, who warned that a government without a strong separation of powers would collapse into despotism.

The parliamentary system in NZ is already weak on the separation of executive and legislative powers. It might have been different under the real monarchy, when the Queen and the Governor-General played a stronger part in the executive.

Now, that's all ceremony and show. The Prime Minister and the Cabinet play the official role in all but name. The administrative bureaucracies made up of the various ministries do the real work of governing, as they do in every complex modern state.

For decades that weakness has eroded the checks and balances necessary to prevent the kind of centralized administration which enables cadres of (maybe) well-meaning but incompetent and powerless managers to legislate your every movement.

Jacinda's Labour won an outright majority in 2020 on the back of the government's alleged "good management" of the Covid panic. That effectively eliminated what few checks and balances did rein in their law-making and law-enforcing powers.

That plus the perception of strong public support (which has, sadly, often been real) has allowed these fools to run roughshod over the rule of law. They've used "loopholes" in the non-binding Bill of Rights to transform those legal guarantees into licenses contingent on doing what the unelected health bureaucrats decree is good for you.

They haven't directly come out and said that Freedom Is Slavery. Yet.

Even so, they've gutted the whole tradition of a free and open society and made 60% of the population glad for the privilege.


Next up is Tocqueville, writing from a French aristocrat's perspective, who warned that liberalism's push toward absolute equality for all would have terminal consequences for a free society.

A people obsessed with their own self-interest become isolated from one another, out for themselves, with no sense of ties to the wider community.

Why be involved in public life when I gots mines, yo?

With a disengaged citizenry uninterested in self-rule and having no common interests to bring them into public life, the bureaucratic state happily takes command.

This has the effect of eroding away all civic associations and "secondary powers" – local organizations and government bodies – that stand between the individual and the State.

You can't even mount a serious resistance because there are no associations that can bring people together under a common purpose.

The steady elimination of barriers between the legislative and executive powers in the central State managed out of Wellington has come along with a two-pronged attack on localities.

The autonomy of local councils has already been under threat before Covid and before Her Highness took control. See the consolidation of Auckland into the "super city" back in 2010, or National's suspension of Christchurch city authority after the 2011 quake, for examples.

The recent push to centralize DHBs (that's local health departments for you non-Kiwis) and this ridiculous "Three Waters" legislation which gives 50% ownership of council water assets to unelected iwi (Maori tribes) is only a continuation of this trend. That's all being run through by legislation despite widespread public resistance, too.

The political trouble is, of course, downstream of the total dissolution of common public life. NZ has no strong shared civic institutions – if you don't count the rugby and sports clubs – and the population is largely apathetic about politics.

Those that are heavily interested in politics tend to be that loud activist minority that you'd find in any blue state city in the US. (With nearly interchangeable opinions.)


What we're seeing in Enzed right now is a combination of these two forces. Which is a recipe for that exact form of totalitarian melt-down that the great thinkers of political liberalism warned about.

Good luck, Godzone.

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Jamie Larson
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