The Sham Liberals of New Zealand.
For the last two hundred years and more there have been in British politics two famous parties, named Whig and Tory formerly, and Liberal and Conservative latterly. Though perpetually contending against each other for office, they are not really opposite or contradictory. Society requires the operation of distinct principles for its maintenance and growth. Liberalism supplies one class of these principles, and Conservatism another. So far from being antagonistic, the one is really the complement of the other. Their true relationship is illustrated by likening them to the two forces by which our planet is propelled and kept in its orbit around the sun—the centrifugal and the centripetal. If either of these forces were annihilated, our globe would pass off and perish in the cold wilds of infinite space, or it would be drawn with increasing rapidity into the consuming heat of the central sun. So civilised society would be ruined, if either the force we term Liberalism, or the force we term Conservatism, ceased to operate. Being thus complementary, the one as necessary as the other to the welfare and progress of society—the one supplying what is lacking in the other—there is no incompatibility or real hostility between them. Now-a-days the two are united in happy wedlock, Conservatism seeking to preserve all that is good in our civilization, and Liberalism seeking to reach higher and further good.page 2
The great political battle of the time is not between Conservatism and Liberalism, but between Conservative Liberalism, and the Liberalism that is radical and revolutionary. A deep chasm separates these thoroughly antagonistic parties, one of whom seeks to conserve and improve our institutions on the lines of natural evolution, while the other seeks to upset and revolutionize society. In New Zealand we have numerous adherents to both parties who alike claim to be Liberals—the True Liberals and the new—Liberals of the old historic type, and the sham or counterfeit Liberals who form and support the Government now in office. One of the chief objects of The New Zealander is to expose our Government's travesty of Liberalism. The simplest way of doing this, and of exhibiting the difference between the genuine article and the brummagem imitation of it, seems to be to formulate the universally acknowledged principles of historic Liberalism. And, then, in the bright light which those principles pour forth, to inquire whether the legislation and administration of Government he in accordance with, or in opposition to, those principles.
The Liberal platform, in American phraseology, consists of seven planks. In British phraseology, historic Liberalism has seven notes, or characteristics, or points. Most people have heard of the five points of the People's Charter, and of the famous six points of Calvinism; and, in harmony with this mode of expression, we would set forth the seven notes, characteristics, points of the true Liberalism, to enable us to distinguish it from the fraud that now holds office.
I. Liberalism is the embodiment of true and great principles in legislation.
II. It claims for every one the utmost liberty compatible with the equal liberty of all others.
III. Taking its stand on the institutions our fathers have transmitted to us, it declares for Individualism against Collectivism, on State action in the common affairs of life.
IV. It upholds the institution of private property, and every one's right to the fruit of his own, but not of his neighbour's labour.
V. It advocates the co-extensiveness of taxation and representation.
VI. It is the reformer of all kinds of abuses.
VII. It is essentially progressive.
We maintain that these seven points or characteristics are all page 3 found in true historic Liberalism, and are all wanting in the new sham Liberalism of the day.
The fundamental characteristic of Liberalism is that it seeks to embody certain great principles in legislation, or that it seeks to bring legislation into accordance with certain great principles. These principles are of two somewhat distinct kinds, and we may designate them the moral and the scientific. The moral principles are justice, benevolence, wisdom, and the like. The scientific are those facts and truths, political, and economic, and social, bearing on the welfare and improvement of society, which philosophers and scientists have made known. We refer to such scientific truths as the great truth now coming into universal acceptance, that society is an organism, an organised growth continually changing or evolving into something different, and capable of being indefinitely improved or deteriorated. Whatever we seek to enact into a law, or to build up into an institution, ought to be in agreement with the principles of moral and social science. Only those laws and institutions which embody and carry out such principles are permanently beneficial to mankind in the every day circumstances resulting from the growth or evolution of society. Our circumstances are continually changing, and our laws and institutions must be changed accordingly and made suitable. Thence, to base our laws and institutions on the principles we have been mentioning, and to maintain them in harmony with the best sentiments and aspirations of the age, expresses the duty, as it forms the ideal, of the truly Liberal statesman.
Let us now ask, in all seriousness, whether the Liberalism, whose fundamental characteristic we have described, be the kind of Liberalism which for years past has been ruling New Zealand. Is their voluminous legislation in accordance with justice, benevolence and wisdom, or does it embody and carry out the scientific knowledge of the age? Certainly not. We doubt if our present Ministers ever thought of, or could even understand, statesmanship so high and enlightened, and so alien to the spirit of their policy, as that just now spoken of.
The second characteristic of Liberalism is Liberty. Here we may parenthetically observe that the two words Liberalism and page 4 Liberty are etymologically identical, both being derived from the Latin word Liber, or free. A Liberal, therefore, means a free man and Liberty freedom. They are twin-children of the same parent age.
Liberalism claims for every one the utmost liberty compatible with the equal liberty of all others. It affirms that human beings have an indefeasible right to liberty. It denies that any person or class of persons is entitled to trespass on the liberty of any other person or class of persons. It denies that even the omnipotent majority, however great, are justified in taking away the liberty of the minority, however small. It proclaims liberty to the nation, so the different ranks and classes into which the nation is necessarily divided, and to the individual unit.
Consider what Liberals have done for the British nation. Great and glorious are the victories by sea and land which our national history records. There are other victories, though not on field or flood, equally great and glorious, which our historic Liberals have won. To them we are indebted for the overthrow of monarchical despotism in the seventeenth century, for the passing of the Habeas Corpus Act, for an independent judiciary, for trial by jury, for the Bill of Rights, and for many other victories over injustice and tyranny. As time would fail me to recount them all, I will give, as samples, a few of the victories Liberalism has won during my lifetime. In 1825, there was the repeal of the tyrannical laws which forbade combinations of workmen—a glorious victory for the working classes. In 1827, there was the Catholic Emancipation. In 1832 there was the great Reform Act, extending the Parliamentary franchise to the £10-householders. In 1837, there was the abolition of slavery throughout the British dominions. In 1846, the victory of Free Trade was won by Cobden and Bright. In 1867, household suffrage was granted to dwellers in town, and in 1884, to dwellers in the country. In short, it is to the Liberals, who never forgot the Conservative constitution of the nation, that we owe the rights and liberties of the subject and the political institutions which are their guarantees and shrines.
"The rank is but the guinea's stamp,
The man's the gowd for a' that."
In feudal times, when our kings were all despotic, the noble Liberals of those times waited on King John, and compelled him to sign the Magna Charta. In later times, the nobles oppressed the masses beneath them; but Liberalism stepped forth and snatched from the oppressors their excessive powers and privileges, and defended the middle and lower classes. And in times still later, when the middle classes were preponderant and were thought to be abusing their preponderance, the Liberals secured the household franchise for the protection and independence of the humblest. While doing all this—while stripping kings of their despotism, and snatching from aristocracies their unjust privileges and prerogatives—the historic Liberals have ever contended that there must be a grading or gradation in such a diversified society as ours—that there must be a stratification of the population into higher and middle and lower and other classes or strata.
It must be obvious to every person possessed of even the commonest sense that there is no resemblance between the true historic Liberalism and the new Liberalism of our Government. The new Liberals have never been the defenders or advocates of liberty. On the contrary, they have been its opponents, stealing the name of Liberal, but degrading the reality. Ever since they came into office, they have been passing laws after laws, and all of a restrictive character. They have been curtailing the freedom of different trades and employments. They have been continually interfering, restrictively and oppressively, with almost all kinds of business page 6 followed in the colony—agricultural and mining and manufacturing and commercial.
The third characteristic of Liberalism is that, taking its stand, in conjunction with Conservatism, on the institutions our fathers have transmitted to us, it declares for Individualism against Collectivism, or State action, in the businesses of common life.
It is very difficult to state exactly what things should be done by the State and what should be left to private persons. We have heard much of late about delimiting the spheres of Russia and Britain in Central Asia, and about delimiting the spheres of rival European nations in Africa. It is more difficult, we suspect, and also more important, to delimit the respective spheres of the State and of the individual. Some things or businsses belong entirely to the individual, and others either to the State or to the individual, as circumstances determine. To the State undoubtedly belong the defence of the country by means of armies and navies, the preservation of peace and order inside, the protection of life and property. In the intermediate or debatable region between the State's sphere and the individual's, there are such matters as poor-relief, religion, education, post office, telegraph, railways, and the supplying of light, of water, of stimulants. In this debatable region, some enlightened Statesmen are in favour of State action, while others equally enlightened are against; and probably as good arguments are adducible for the one side as for the other. Leaving the borderland which separates Collectivism from Individualism, we hold that all the other innumerable and varied businesses of ordinary life belong exclusively to the sphere of the individual. And we affirm that there are many departments of business undertaken by the New Zealand Government which ought to have been forbidden to them, and where they assuredly are trespassers. Banking, for instance, is not a business which Government should undertake. Neither is insurance, fire or life. Neither is money-lending, nor the buying and selling of private land, nor the taking over the coastal steamship traffic, etc., etc.
The ever-growing encroachment of our Government on the fields which should be left exclusively to Individualism, marks them of from the true Liberals. Their Collectivist policy cannot but result in deteriorating the character of the people, in undermining their highest and noblest qualities, and in making them the humble servants and lickspittles of a batch of successful politicians. The page 7 true Liberals consequently condemn Collectivism and all its works, and maintain the ancestral rights and liberties of the people. Their policy is to develop and improve the nature and character of the individual citizen, and to keep him from being degraded into a bondsman of the Ministry of the day. This noble policy rests on the irrefragable grounds:
That individual liberty, in opposition to Collectivism, is the best school in which mankind can be educated;
That it is the soil in which self-reliance and energy and enterprise and all the higher and more heroic qualities thrive best; and
That it is in the clear sunshine and open air of liberty that human nature receives its richest and noblest development.
The fourth characteristic of true Liberalism is that it upholds the institution of private property, and every one's right to the fruit of his own labour, but not of his neighbour's. By private property we mean that which we are entitled by immemorial prescription to call our own, as that to which we have an exclusive right within the limits of reason. For instance, if a man buys land and pays for it and raises crops on it, that land and those crops are his. Or if he, in accordance with law and justice, inherit money, or dig silver and gold out of the mine, that money and those metals certainly are his. Or if he shears the wool off the backs of his sheep, and grows flax in his swamps, and manufactures them into woollen and linen cloth, or pays others for doing such things, assuredly the cloth is his, his own or private property. This is what is meant when we allege that everyone has the completest right to the work of his own hands, to the outcome or fruit of his own exertions, manual or mental.
Such political convictions as the foregoing are repudiated by our counterfeit namesakes. They hold that things universally, our very selves and our means, belong to the People, and that the State, as their officer and factotum, has a perfect right to take by taxation, not a small and reasonable share of our means, but just as much as may be required by their wastefulness and extravagance. They are incessantly telling us that under a democracy the will of the majority of the People is all in all, and that the chosen exponents of that will may dispose of us and ours at their good pleasure, and tax us to any extent they please. If such a tryannical creed were acted on fully, there would be little or no difference between our senile condition and the condition of Negro chattel slaves. Their favourite candi- page 8 dates and some of their supporters are already advocating land nationalisation, which is the second step to Communism (the first was State agency or Collectivism). They claim that the land belongs to the People because the Almighty made it equally for all and that all have an equal right to it, and that this right can be realised by imposing a heavy land tax and making the agricultural population pay all the necessary taxation of the nation, and exempting all others.
On the same ground it will next be argued that the silver and gold, the metallic money of the world, belongs to the People equally; for the owners of silver and gold no more make their metals than the land-owners make the soil. In the same way they will next contend, and with cogency, that the People have a right to share equally all the broadcloth and fine linen on earth, because it was the common Father of us all, and not the flock-master and flax-grower, who clothed the sheep with the wool and made the meadows produce flax. Such is the process by which Collectivism and unlimited taxing power in the Government lead to land nationalisation, and from that to Socialism, and from that again to Communism, with free love and universal concubinage.
While marching along the downward path we have been describing, our sham Liberals at present seem more particularly bent on effecting through State-agency what they call a more equitable distribution of the good things of the world. It would be more correct to say that their object was a more equal, even a perfectly equal distribution. Were they able, by the continuation in office of such a Ministry as the present, to accomplish their object, and to divide all the existing wealth equally all round, what would be the final outcome ? The equality produced would not last a year, perhaps not a month. There would be a brief period of holidaying and feasting—the saturnalia of extravagance and dissipation—a morning bright and brilliant, but brief, and ending in a dreary day of clouds and storm. A re-distribution of the world's wealth, in equal shares, would lead to idleness and waste and anarchy and, eventually, to universal destitution, and would carry us back to primeval barbarism and savagery. Instead of this equality being a benefit and a blessing, it would be a calamity and a curse. We even affirm unhesitatingly that it is the very inequalities, which the new or Socialistic Liberalism wishes to remove, that are the real operative causes to which we are indebted for the rise and maintenance and progress of civilisation. It is the inequalities of the page 9 earth's surface which make it habitable and beautiful and grand, so it is the inequalities in the social conditions of men which make them useful in this life and train them for the next. Level the surface of our globe and make it as smooth as a bowling green, and immediately a shoreless ocean would roll around it from pole to pole, and would extinguish all terrestrial life, inclusive of the human race.
The next characteristic of historic Liberalism is the co-extensiveness of taxation and representation. This has been the sharpest and strongest arrow in the quiver of conquering Liberalism. In our Motherland formerly the parliamentary franchise was possessed only by a very small fraction of the people. This led to discontent and agitation, and the people at large claimed the franchise on the ground that they paid almost the whole of the taxation, and that taxation and representation were co-extensive. Their claim was logically irresistible, and was satisfied in part by the great Reform Act of 1832. After this reform the great majority of the nation found themselves still excluded from the franchise; and the agitation was resumed, and the cry was again raised—that taxation and representation should walk hand-in-hand; and household suffrage in town and country was the result.
The said principle of co-extension has been equally successful in New Zealand, where the two sexes, taxed or untaxed, have the vote-the outcome of Liberalism. Here, however, our Liberalism, like Macbeth's ambition, overleaped itself and fell on the other side. Our complete success as Liberals, strange to say, has resulted in the divorce of taxation and representation. The taxed are all represented now, but thousands on thousands are represented who are cither untaxed or taxed so lightly as not to feel it. We have separated the power of imposing burdens from liability to hear them. We have given complete political preponderance to the class that is most ignorant and most unfit to exercise it; and at this moment the property and wealth of the Colony are under the control and at the mercy of the unpropertied numerical majority.
What, then, should the true Liberals do in the peculiar circumstances in which they find themselves in New Zealand ? They should just do what their ancestral Liberals from time immemorial have done: that is, they should resist injustice and oppression. We have already remarked that when the tyranny of King John became page 10 intolerable, the Liberal barons of England interfered and compelled him to sign the great Charter. And, as we also have seen, when the aristocracy was supreme and leaned towards injustice and oppression, it was the Liberals, mainly of their own class, who put an end to their unfair privileges and prerogatives. And when the rich middle classes in Britain, and those who, in a small way, corresponded to them in New Zealand, were thought to be using the supreme power, when it was almost entirely in their hands, rather oppressively and for the promotion of their own class interests, the Liberals stepped forth to redress wrongs and reform abuses. In New Zealand we have gone much further than the British people; the supreme power of Government, and with it the whole property of the Colony, have passed over to the numerical majority. What, we ask again, is the duty of conscientious, genuine Liberals? It is, we repeat, to play the enlightened and manly part played by the former bearers of the Liberal name, by withstanding whatever tyranny may be attempted in the name of the numerical majority by the Opportunists, who are now striving to keep themselves in office by pandering to the meaner and more selfish passions of our human nature.
The sixth characteristic of historic Liberalism is that it seeks so reform abuses. It is this trait that entitles the true Liberals to the significant name so generally given to them, Reformers. The other party, who have assumed their venerable name, and who are now masquerading and gasconading in their stolen clothes, have mainly distinguished themselves by creating instead of reforming abuses. This is so notorious that it is not worth our while to dwell further on it.
The seventh and last characteristic of true Liberalism is that it is essentially progressive. Our space to-day, however, prevents us from going at length into the consideration of this noble characteristic. We need only remark that the pretenders to our historic name, like the ass in the lion's hide, make one of the silliest blunders possible in reference to progress. They mistake change for progress, and as they are incessantly changing one wrong set of political opinions for another wrong set, they fancy this page 11 is progress, and claim to be Progressists. In other words, they confound movement with improvement. They actually fancy they are moving onwards and upwards, while they are only moving backwards and downwards. The other day our Premier and his crew began to sound the big drum and to wave their false colours, proclaiming that they were going to imparadise New Zealand, and that they were really marching to the promised land and the New Jerusalem. Poor, deluded creatures !—if I may be allowed a few hot words from Mr Carlyle—they are marching, not to the New Je-rusalem, but to the old Ge-henna, and here I may leave them till next Saturday, and the next number of our New Zealander.
Note.—All communications In connection with "The New Zealander" to be addressed to Dr. Wallis, care of the " Observer " Office, Wyndham-street, Auckland.
Printed by Geddis and Blomfield, at the Observer Office, Wyndham-street, Auckland, for the proprietor. Dr. Wallis—Auckland, October 31, 1896.