221, Topic 5: Parties, Extremism, And The Partisan

I’m a  political junkie. Always have been. I remember when I was about 3 or 4, it must’ve been sometime around the ’96 election, asking if Helen Clark was Prime Minister of the North Island and Jenny Shipley Prime Minister of the South. Wildly off – but not a terrible piece of political analysis for a toddler. I also always remember wanting Labour to win. Not that I’m from a staunchly Labour family. Mum’s is, but has at the very least taken a holiday from Labour post-Foreshore and Seabed, and Dad’s is Tory, while he would typify the middle-aged classical liberal better than few other people. In fact, last election I think Mum voted Mana, and Dad voted Act. My siblings range from almost entirely politically apathetic, to radical feminist – something I’ve learnt is safer not to comment on, especially if one possesses the organ of the patriarchy, but a politically diverse background to say the least.

Regardless, I’ve always been brought up with a strong sense of justice and fair play, something that’s come from both my left-wing mother and my right-wing father (who, in case that label causes you to cast aspersions, I know it would me, was with the protesters at the ‘Battle of Molesworth Street’ in ’81) that, for me, has always materialised in left-wing political views (that have strengthened with further philosophical endeavour and examination) that I’ve never had particular difficulty translating into partisan support. In fact I’ve always regarded the non-ideological position that many people take, you know the ‘I look at each policy on its merits’ non-position, with a deal of contempt – the same sort of reaction I get when I hear people declare themselves ‘Spiritual, but not religious,’ or agnostic without some sound reasoning to back it up.

The non-ideological position I find to be consequentialist in the extreme. It’s either invariably the position of the ignorant, the ill-informed, indecisive, or the liar. It results from a complete lack of effort to ever examine the divisions in society, social structures, or the historical law of cause and effect, then apply some moral reasoning, and pick a fucking side. It represents a contentedness to live in the gloomy depths of Plato’s cave, and just spend life fulfilling  one’s basket of appetites, consuming cultural genocide like MTV, and the computerised warblings of the latest Disney-to-adult filmstar convert ‘because its catchy’.

Either that or it’s the position of the repugnant political snake-oil salesman, hiding either a psychopathic level of moral flexibility (or more correctly, amoralism. It’s easiest to be flexible with one’s morals when one doesn’t have any) behind buzzwords like ‘common-sense’ in his pursuit of the narcissistic, Nietzschean Superman quest for power, or the deeply ideological true-believer who seeks to cynically hide his agenda, most likely because it’s not in the interests of the vast majority of the 47% of voters who cast their ballot for him. There’s no such thing really as a moderate in politics. The very act of taking a position is extreme. It’s asserting that this position is true to the exclusion of others. Even if one were to take what is perceived to be a ‘middle’ position, it would still be extreme in its middle-ness. Any moderation is either spin, disingenuousness, or indecisiveness, which is why Peter Dunne has only managed to break 1% twice in his 6 elections away from Labour.

Anyway, the point is, I’m a partisan. That’s not to say that I advocate pitching a tent and blindly following a political party the way one follows a sports team, but humans are collective animals. We seek those who share our views, and if we take a position – an act of extremism – it’s logical that we’d want to make these positions reality. The easiest way to do this is to organise. Which is why basically as soon as New Zealand referred to some coherent entity – the Natives were pacified, and the ‘enlightened’ man could get on with the business of living in a modern, ‘civilised’ nation – New Zealand’s first political party formed, the Liberals, a typical ‘Big Tent’ party – centrist, happy to represent the interests of all New Zealanders [Raymond Miller, “The Party System: Development Of The Party System,” in Party Politics In New Zealand, Oxford, 2005, p. 27]. Which was why it was ultimately doomed.

The Marxist would say that all divisions in society are material, any others are false. Either they are illusionary or stem from fundamental material divisions. I’m not in absolute agreement with this position (It would be disingenuous to call myself a Marxist), but I do think its valid and is useful for my purposes. The centrist party seeks to represent both sides of these divisions, and as they are fundamental opposites, it is a self-contradictory goal. As something that is self-contradictory cannot exist, a self-contradictory goal is the same as no goal at all. And so a party with no goal is the same as no party at all. The Liberals couldn’t pick which side of the material divide they represented.

The first material divide was the urban-rural, industrial-agricultural divide, reflective of a typically combined development of a latterly colonised country like New Zealand – simultaneously late-fuedal and capitalist [Miller, p. 28]. The tensions proved too much. The Liberals picked a side – urban, and the rural Reform party formed to represent the interests of agriculture over industry [Miller, p. 29]. However, rapid industrialisation, heralding well and truly the arrival of Capitalism in New Zealand, rendered this divide obsolete. The divide now was not the late-feudal one, but the capitalist one, a divide between capital and labour, owners and workers [Miller, p. 30]. The Labour Party was formed eventually from a merger of rag-tag workers’ movements, becoming, eventually the natural home of those who fell on the worker side of the owners-workers division. So there was the workers’ Labour Party, the land-owning farmers’ Reform Party, and by elimination, the Liberals were left with the urban capital-owning bourgeoisie and petty-bourgeoisie, which proved to be too small a coalition for significant electoral success, leading to sixteen years of Reform Government [Miller, p. 31]. Coming to the eventual realisation that their’s was now an irrelevant  divide, both now representing the interests of owners over workers, United and Reform merged to become the National Party [Miller, pp. 30-1]. New Zealand society, now capitalist, had one material division, and a partisan divide to reflect that. Labour, the proletarian party, and National, the bourgeois.

This analysis shows too why there is no such thing truly as centrism, as moderation, why holding a view means extremism. A materialist social divide means that there is one division and so it is binary. In capitalism this division is based on capital, those who own it and those who don’t. Any policy or position concerning society (i.e. a political position) is therefore based on this divide. Taking a position means taking a side which means being fundamentally opposed to the other. Movements which seek to act in the interests of both these fundamentally opposed sides have always, and always will be doomed to fail – look at Fascism. So the question remains – which side are you on?

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2 thoughts on “221, Topic 5: Parties, Extremism, And The Partisan

  1. Great work – a highly interesting and thought-provoking blog post. It clear from this post that you have a very strong grasp of the issues and arguments relating to this topic.

    Your blogging style is still a bit precarious however – you verge close to the edge of a ‘rant’. So, again, you need to make sure there’s enough scholarly elements as part of your unique approach. I liked your highly-personal introduction. There’s some great personal narrative involved. But you also need to think about getting some proofing done before (or after) you publish, as there’s a few mistakes and unclear sentences that reduce the impact of your work.

    9/10 A+

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