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Written By: - Date published: 12:16 pm, August 24th, 2014 - 38 comments
Categories: accountability, democracy under attack, elections - Tags: ,

Would it not be a hallmark of a dictatorship if a government twisted systems of governance to discredit political opposition while simultaneously bending the very same systems in a different direction to protect its own?

Would it not the hallmark of a dictatorship if TV, radio and newspapers uncritically, routinely and increasingly, turned to a single, controlled source of information for their headlines, and ran stories that merely echoed or amplified the spin of that single source?

Would it not the hallmark of a dictatorship if individuals within a government could develop and run their own systems of patronage and revenge with apparent impunity?

And would it not be incumbent upon any population, no matter how mis-informed or ill-informed, to use, say a ballot box if one was available, to still-birth any such emerging trend before it became a normalised and entrenched feature of their country’s political landscape?

38 comments on “Questions ”

  1. Olwyn 1

    Bill, I agree that the things you list are all hallmarks of dictatorship, but fear that many people will not heed the warning bell. New Zealand is a young country that has not endured sustained, destructive tyranny. Quite a few people tend to think that whatever suits them is democratic enough, and that political constraints only serve to protect the losers while inconveniencing the winners, with themselves of course counting among the winners. So, while I would like to think that your final question would be met with a resounding “yes” I am not holding my breath.

    • cogito 1.1

      “New Zealand is a young country that has not endured sustained, destructive tyranny”.

      Ironically, the Austrian mother of our current PM escaped from just such a tyranny…. and yet her son seems to be engaged in behaviours that lead to exactly that end.

      Interestingly, we also read today that our current PM is highly superstitious… just like a certain tyrant Adolf. http://www.nzherald.co.nz/election-2014/news/article.cfm?c_id=1503581&objectid=11313430

      How long before we find out that he consults soothsayers and mediums?

    • Daveosaurus 1.2

      New Zealand is a young country that has not endured sustained, destructive tyranny.

      The TĆ«hoe may wish to disagree with you on that point.

    • greywarbler 1.3

      @ Olwyn 1.30
      I think you have summed up the prevailing approach well. Thinking in those terms is an explanation for the odd complaisance as NZ slowly sinks in a pool of mud.

  2. Colonial Viper 2

    It’s a controlled democracy.

    I’m also familiar with Sheldon Wolin’s concept of “inverted totalitarianism” – a form of dictatorship where there isn’t the usual ‘strong man’ figure at the top (a Saddam Hussein, Noriega or Marcos) – but a relatively faceless elite corporate class of the 0.1% making decisions to benefit themselves.

    • I would differ. I would class it as “popular authoritarianism” in which the ruling elite and it’s hangers on retain power by co-opting a sufficient fraction of the population within the “us” faction so as to remove effective civil rights from the “them” faction. This is done by a mix of aspirational politics, appeal to greed and denigration of those who don’t “make the grade”. It’s a replacement of liberal democracy by simple majoritarianism.

      Hence, the ruling party and its agents are allowed to act with relative impunity as long as what they do doesn’t impact on others within the faction (the true elites have absolute impunity). Everyone else has civil rights that aren’t worth the paper they are printed on. That’s why the dirty politics thing won’t be as effective as it should be: there will be many who see National’s perfidy as a legitimate means of keeping the “wrong” people out of political power.

      It’s worse in the US. The ruling elite there act with absolute impunity and the disenfranchised are punished even when they don’t do anything (as Ferguson has demonstrated).

      Once more, if you really want to know what the right are up to, just look at what they are accusing others of doing. The right are the most accurate self-deceived, self-diagnosers in existence.

      • Colonial Viper 2.1.1

        I agree with everything you say, and as such don’t believe that we are poles apart.

        Once more, if you really want to know what the right are up to, just look at what they are accusing others of doing.

        Absolutely spot on – from the politics of envy to attacking people as “bludgers”

      • greywarbler 2.1.2

        @ Tom Jackson
        Thinking of the USA and their economic and political direction and how this has affected the people, and vice versa here is a piece I saved from some time back. The way that the economy works for all or a few is probably the biggest lever for those wanting to usurp power. The summary of the trend in the USA fits us well too I think.

        it’s obvious that the nonstop economic expansion that lasted from the end of World War II to the Arab oil embargo of 1973 was a historical fluke, made possible by the fact that the United States was the only country to emerge from that war with its industrial capacity intact. Unfortunately, the middle class – especially the blue-collar middle class – is also starting to look like a fluke, an interlude between Gilded Ages that more closely reflect the way most societies structure themselves economically.
        For the majority of human history – and in the majority of countries today – there have been only two classes: aristocracy and peasantry. It’s an order in which the many toil for subsistence wages to provide luxuries for the few.


        This economic summary seems to indicate that we will not be able to recapture the democratic practices and advantages that we had and need to bear the changed economics in mind when trying to fashion a political path forward.

        • Tom Jackson

          I’m not sure I buy that particular version of the argument. Other countries that were devastated by the war managed to sustain relatively egalitarian societies. However, Piketty’s work has given other reasons why the author of that article’s conclusion may be correct.

          For yet another alternative view, this is a good article (apologies, as I have linked to it previously).


          My own (not exactly precise) view is somewhat different from all of these. It’s that we had been moving for a very long time from societies where questions of distribution were solved by the exercise of political and economic power (i.e. whoever could bend things their way did so) to societies where the proper answer to those questions was thought to be evidence based – to be decided on the evidence rather than by personal interest and power. Communism and postwar social democracy were simply different ways of doing that.

          It’s pretty obvious who stood to lose out, and by 1970 they were obviously crapping themselves, so they took their opportunity to seize control and try to reverse the changes. Part of the project is to denigrate the idea of knowledge, so it’s no surprise that the postmodern society we live in is one where relativism and scepticism are lionised and promoted. That’s one of the reasons it is so hard to get any traction on climate change in a society where vaccination loonies get plenty of airtime.

          • greywarbler

            @Tom Jackson
            Interesting stuff thanks for the link. I’ve yet to partake – going to get a sandwich and multitask.

            • greywarbler

              @ TomJackson
              What an easy read and well explained argument by David Graeber. A way forward out of ‘bafflement’. And I like someone who can use irony. He sees as an unwritten policy that no alternative ideas or protests should ever be able to seem successful, and so threaten the hegemony of the present neo liberalism. And so anyone voicing a possible alternative faces the demand to prove that it is better. On the sharp questioning those who don’t accept TINA receive , he comments –

              Normally, when you challenge the conventional wisdom—that the current economic and political system is the only possible one—the first reaction you are likely to get is a demand for a detailed architectural blueprint of how an alternative system would work, down to the nature of its financial instruments, energy supplies, and policies of sewer maintenance.

              And I’ll just throw in as an aside a great costume drama around the battle between establishment and enlightenment in Denmark. Graeber refers to the spread of revolutions around the world as ripples of ideas which are ongoing and unstoppable because although the authorities may try and dumb down ideas and imagination he considers this is impossible. (I hope.)
              A Royal Affair In 1767, the British Princess Caroline is betrothed to the mad King Christian VII of Denmark,

              Just a thought. The Santa Fe Institute was I thought, set up to bring multi disciplinary approach to various problems. I don’t know whether their intellectual span is stretched as far as questioning neo liberalism et al but if they did, interesting ideas would come from there too.

  3. Rich 3

    Love the what do you think of the other guy from Cunliffe;

    “A smiling performer dedicated to his political craft.”

  4. crocodill 4

    “New Zealand is a young country that has not endured sustained, destructive tyranny”.

    Only if you don’t count what Pakeha led governments/systems have done/still do when they come across anything Maori.

    One of the incorrect presumptions of hardship is that it breeds good sense/intelligence/character/moral behaviour etc etc. Nothing is guaranteed or straightforward. I’m gonna go way out on limb and say, hey, you know if Pakeha weren’t so violently snatchy about who had final political say a certain while ago, maybe our systems would’ve been improved by the addition of Maori power/perspective and not so ruined now. Of course, that’s not really a nice thing to say, since it would be yet another form of appropriating something for colonial good at indigenous costs, but it might’ve worked out marginally better. Ah if only, if only… if only we weren’t such greedy selfish swine boo hoo hoo hoo.

    Olwyn is right, pretty much the common view now is that what is good for maintaining the position of the man who has power is also regarded as the definition of democracy and justice. Colonialism is in our blood and still alive, there’s nothing “post” about it.

    • Olwyn 4.1

      Hi Crocodil: I did actually think about what has been done to Maori, as well as other groups that have lacked or lack whatever is needed to bring the powerful to heel. But I said what I did because NZ has not experienced that kind of complete social and political breakdown that tyrannies bring about, that effects almost everyone, including many of the toffs and would-be toffs.

  5. disturbed 5

    How fitting as I read this blog on National’s tyranny as they sell this country from under our feet that a Merle Haggard song should come over HB Country radio singing how we feel.
    As Merle sings;
    “When you’re runin’ down our Country man your walkin’ on the fighin’ side of me.
    Runin’ down our Country our fighting men have fought & died to keep us free.”

    Says it all National you creeps. Look at this they are getting creamed with their stupid political projections by 2018.

    We wont have a country by 2018 if these merchants of sell-out are left to destroy our Country and leave us as tenants and slaves to their rich mates.


    • alwyn 5.1

      Perhaps you would have done well to listen to the rest of the words to this song.
      When he wrote this song he certainly wasn’t speaking in favour of the left. He was in fact a lifelong Republican voter.
      I suggest you might like to glance at the attached article and have a look at the words of the song you quote and also the words of “An Okie from Muskogee”

      • Colonial Viper 5.1.1

        Republicans used to be good union and working class supporting folk.

        • disturbed

          The National Party was for also the working man before they turned right hard to Corporate interests in the last 60yrs thank god Michael Joseph Savage and Walter Nash that come to the workers aid when National lost the plot.

          National means representing the people of the country. (The word)

          And they forgot what the word means.

          I worked in North America for twenty years when the republican Party was also for the working people then it also sold out to Corporations.

          Also when in Kentucky they still cling to the notion that the republicans are for their freedoms but we all know what the right is now all about so the worm has turned with their political ways not the people as happened also here with this criminal mob.

          Americans would be incensed if foreign interests gobbled up a quarter of their productive farmland and there would be an uprising but we have sat by as the Nat’s have just done this mostly themselves single handed. Of the eight million hectares we have the Nat’s’ in six years have sold of 1 million of it in six years. The other 1 million was sold in the 24 yrs.’ before Key arrived back.

        • SpaceMonkey

          Abraham Lincoln was a Republican.

    • Don’t be so quick to pin the blame on National. They would not be able to do this if there weren’t vast swathes of the general population who acted as enablers.

      Your real problem isn’t John Key – it’s the authoritarian asshole next door.

      • Rich 5.2.1

        Asshole? Who’s that then?

        • Tom Jackson

          The elderly men who say that people need to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, who stole the boots of the people they are talking about, and were given free boots by the government when they were the same age.

          There are others in the bestiary.

          • alwyn

            “The elderly men …….. were given free boots by the government ”

            I presume from this comment you are talking about all the men who spent five years or so wearing army boots as they gave up a great chunk of their young lives serving New Zealand during the second war?

            • Tom Jackson

              Most of them are dead. I’m talking about their evil boomer kids (yes, of course they don’t think they are elderly, but they are officially old coots).

            • greywarbler

              Deflecting the discussion on an emotional issue that isn’t at the centre of the discussion, again.

      • Colonial Viper 5.2.2

        our mainstream media and our lack of strong alternative media also wear a significant portion of blame.

        • Ffloyd

          2cv Pretty much all of the blame is how I see it. John key would not have amounted to a hill of beans without the support of the media. Support is not actually the word I am looking for but all I can think of at the moment. It was a whole lot more than that.

          I am however a strong believer in Karma and I think they will rue the day they put key into the position he is in today. …..Until recently that is.

        • Tom Jackson

          True, but people have to cast a ballot for them.

          A solid portion of the electorate are ignorant, pricks, or ignorant pricks. National would be nothing without their support.

          • Rich

            Yes but it’s really only the pricks that we should worry ourselves about. Ignorance can be overcome.

  6. Macro 6

    Yes, and

  7. A dictator is an absolute ruler; Key is no dictator.

    Twisted governance, control of media, and control of revenue streams can all be applied to a pseud-democracy.

    You can’t fix this problem by voting.

  8. Man in a Barrel 8

    In a true democracy the Government constantly acts in accordance with the will of the majority of those with a voice – none of this “If we’re elected there’ll be free false teeth for all” campaign promising which is conveniently deferred or explained away as suddenly unaffordable as soon as bums are comfortably ensconced on the Government benches for three years of unscripted reaction, expediency and graft -for which breach of promise the teethless demos must wait three or five or whatever years to be fobbed off and lied to all over again.

    And of course even true democracy contains no magical force of glinty-white goodness. Even in the original democracies women, slaves and a sizeable chunk of the population had no voice, and democracy by its very definition enables the oppression of the minority by the majority unless it is contrained by influences on it from outside – influences like religious or spiritual belief, a Written Constitution, long established conventions, free speech and a free press and pure historical myth expressed in our stories. In many ways an ideal Medieval King with true Christian beliefs and a real fear of God makes for at least as good if not better system of Government than any democracy. Is a benevolent dictator worse than a corrupt democracy?

    A democracy cannot be better than the society it speaks for and if we are seeing a crapification of our democracy as reflected in Parliament it is because of the crapification of society, the loss of a civic sense of duty and pride in our community as we each fight instead for our share of the cake with our eyes bigger than our stomachs.

    Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

    WB Yeats.

    • UglyTruth 8.1

      “In a true democracy the Government constantly acts in accordance with the will of the majority of those with a voice”

      Actually not, what you have described is a mobocracy. When the majority wants to act against the law what you have is a conspiracy, not lawful government.

      noun: mobocracy; plural noun: mobocracies
      rule or domination by the masses.
      “the court will never permit mobocracy to overwhelm the law of the land”

      The law of the land is based on the law of nature and on reason, not on the arbitrary whims of a mobocracy.

      • Man in a Barrel 8.1.1

        I don’t think we’re at odds. I would say a mobocracy is a democracy without the external constraints I refer to. Law is not enough – a mobocracy can pass any laws it likes perfectly legally, requiring the courts to bow to it. What is required to constrain a democracy is respect for those fragile and even ephemeral constraints on the abuse of power – conscience, integrity and honesty. A society which holds those things in high regard – such as by expecting the resignation of a Minister who abuses her power – can rest confidently on its democracy. A society which holds that the “vital issues about what the different parties are offering – such as monetary policy and how changes to the Reserve Bank might work in practice” are more important than the honesty and integrity of Ministers (see todays appalling opinion piece in Stuff *) gets the Government it deserves.


  9. One Anonymous Bloke 9

    National Party sources say: to get National back on track, National’s campaign manager Steven Joyce, late on Wednesday, ordered that all MPs, candidates, and those door-knocking for National, not to discuss the Dirty Politics book with anyone.

    Selwyn Manning at TDB.

    Let’s just say not all candidates are obeying these orders.

  10. greywarbler 10

    The things you mention Bill in your post are no doubt a feature of a dictatorship. But using the term of ‘abuse and perversion of democracy’ would probably be more apt.

    Commenters have pointed out that Republicans were for the working person at one time in the USA. Labour was for the working person in NZ until clever plotters manipulated their way into positions of power and turned the boat on another course. All done under the umbrella of ‘democracy’, and still using democracy’s trappings though these are getting patched and worn.

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