Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Karl du Fresne: What no one's talked about during this election campaign

In 1992, the American political scientist Francis Fukuyama wrote a celebrated book with the extravagant title The End of History and the Last Man. In it, he argued (I’m quoting from Wikipedia here) that the triumph of Western liberalism marked the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution.

The rationale was that the Soviet Union had collapsed under the weight of its own tyranny and sclerotic inefficiency. The decades-long Cold War that defined the post-war era was over and free-market economics (Reaganomics in the US, Thatcherism in Britain, Rogernomics in New Zealand and similar variants elsewhere, including Australia under Bob Hawke) had prevailed throughout the democratic West.

It seemed at the time that the epochal struggle between Marxism and capitalism had been emphatically resolved. There was a mood of smug triumphalism (guilty, your Honour) among advocates of what came to be termed neoliberalism.

Ha! We (and Fukuyama) could hardly have been more wrong. The supposed “end of history” turned out to be merely a brief, anesthetising lull. Far from the ideological contest between left and right being decided once and for all, the contest broke out anew in an insidious and potentially even more lethal form. No one saw this coming; or perhaps I should say no one on the right side of politics.

It’s no exaggeration to say that Western civilisation and Western democratic values are under attack as never before in modern history. The breadth, intensity and viciousness of this attack is breathtaking.

Where it will lead is impossible to say. That will largely depend on whether society recognises what’s at stake and has the will to dig in and resist it.

At the moment, there’s little sign of that happening. Tragically, the only world leader putting up any sort of fight, Donald Trump, is a politician whose values are so bereft of any ethical coherence that if anything, his stand gives the woke left an illusion of moral credibility.

As yet there seems to be no settled term for the amorphous ideology driving this attack on Western capitalist values. It’s variously described as cultural Marxism, neo-Marxism, post-modernism, identity politics or, more colloquially, wokeism. It has its ideological roots in Marxist theories about power structures and the oppression of supposedly disadvantaged minorities – people of colour, women, LGTBQ people, Muslims and immigrants, to name a few – by a privileged white elite. Its adherents see society not as a cohesive body of people with mutual interests but as an agglomeration of marginalised and victimised identity groups struggling to break free of repressive norms.

Having realised decades ago that that the fight between capitalism and classical Marxist economics was lost, the extreme left opened a new front. They attacked liberal democracy’s soft underbelly: its values, conventions, institutions and philosophical foundations.

Suddenly a whole range of bedrock values, from the right to free speech to belief in fixed biological gender, was under savage attack. The underlying purpose is to destabilise society and therefore render it amenable to radical change.

Our supposedly shameful history and heritage also stand condemned. If we can be persuaded to be ashamed of our past, how much easier it becomes to persuade us that the society that grew out of it is deeply contaminated too.

As I wrote in a column in 2018: 
[Neo-Marxism] grows out of the assumption that Western civilisation, and all that goes with it, is fundamentally rotten and therefore must be dismantled and rebuilt from the ground up.

In the cockeyed illogic of the neo-Marxists, we should feel guilt and shame at having inherited a civilisation that has lifted untold millions of people out of poverty and introduced them to democratic government.

You can see Marx’s influence in neo-Marxism’s hostility to capitalism, its contempt for supposed bourgeois values – the family, for instance – and its emphasis on class and division.

But neo-Marxism takes classical Marxist analysis a whole lot further, examining every issue through the lenses not only of class but also of race, gender, sexual identity and any other potential point of difference that can be leveraged into a grievance.

It marches arm-in-arm with identity politics, seeing society not as a cohesive whole, sharing common interests and aspirations, but as a seething mass of oppressed minorities struggling for liberation – hence the ever-increasing number of aggrieved groups clamouring for special recognition. The result is polarisation and fragmentation.

Neo-Marxism also sets out to create a sense of continuing economic and social crisis, using this as justification for ever more intrusive state intervention and control. And it seeks to undermine our most basic understanding of human nature and society. How we see and interpret the world is dismissed by neo-Marxists as a social and political construct, a product of our conditioning.

Nothing is fixed, not even the sex we are born with, and nothing has any objective value. Every belief and every value, no matter how soundly based in human experience and observation, is up for attack.

Paradoxically, while the neo-Marxists assail some belief systems as oppressive – Christianity for example – they make excuses for others, such as Islam, although it’s infinitely more controlling. But don’t go looking for ideological consistency in neo-Marxism; you’d be wasting your time.
Some woke ideas (most notably the belief that sexual identity is a mere societal construct, “assigned at birth” as if by some conscious and arbitrary human intervention) strike most New Zealanders as demonstrably barking mad, but that hasn't stopped them being embraced by radical zealots and championed by sympathetic polemicists in the news media.

The speed with which all this happened caught what might loosely be termed the right off guard. The neo-Marxists have captured most of our key institutions: universities, schools, the media, the health sector, the churches, the public service, the arts and, to some extent, the courts. Even sport has succumbed (hello, Israel Folau).

Resistance to the woke agenda has been strangely subdued, enabling the activists to characterise those who openly oppose them as an extreme right-wing fringe. Note, for example, how the New Zealand media routinely stigmatises groups such as the New Conservatives as “far right” but never attaches equivalent labels to parties on the far left such as the Greens, preferring to treat them as mainstream. In doing so, the media have succeeded in creating the convenient illusion that the political centre has shifted sharply to the left.

Not only that, but by relentlessly focusing on the grievances of small, disaffected and highly vocal minority groups, the media present a warped and distorted image of society. The playwright Arthur Miller famously observed that a good newspaper is a nation talking to itself, a metaphor that can be extended to all the media. But these days it’s a conversation dominated and largely controlled by left-wing political and ideological elites, and one in which the mainstream of the populace plays little part. The image of New Zealand that’s frequently presented in the media – that of a country sharply divided between a privileged white ruling class and a seething mass of the oppressed – is a gross caricature of one of the world’s most tolerant, liberal democracies.

WE HEAR frequent reference to the "culture wars", but this is a misnomer. “War” implies two opposing sides, but in fact the offensive from the left has encountered little resistance – not because of any compelling force in its arguments (there usually isn’t any), but because the people who should be leading the counter-charge are cowering in their foxholes. Politicians who profess to adhere to conservative values have been missing in action, intimidated into silence by the sheer volume of white noise from the activist media. They apparently forget the old management adage that what you accept, you approve.

Corporate institutions have capitulated even more cravenly, scrambling to demonstrate their woke credentials by re-branding products to appease ideologically driven complainants. (A notable example was the renaming of Australia’s Coon cheese brand, a consumer favourite established in 1935 by Edward William Coon.) Fear of boycotts is usually the driver.

A key part of the woke left’s strategy is to deny that any of this is happening, or at least that it’s part of any grand plan. On Wikipedia, the idea of cultural Marxism is dismissed as a “far-right anti-Semitic conspiracy theory”. The Wikipedia entry goes on to characterise it as an idea peddled by religious fundamentalists, white nationalists and neo-Nazis.

This is a variant of the line taken in the 1950s and '60s by New Zealand Marxists who scoffed at claims of communist influence by ridiculing fears of “reds under the bed” (to which Catholic trade unionist Tony Neary, who staunchly resisted communist infiltration of the union movement, riposted that the Reds were sitting up in bed and having breakfast brought in).

As I wrote in that 2018 Dominion Post column:
And how do the neo-Marxists respond when anyone resists their nihilistic theories? Typically, opposition is howled down as hate speech or met with sneering and ridicule. There’s no room in the neo-Marxist world for dissent or freedom of expression.

The tragedy is that neo-Marxism is triumphing because the institutions of liberal, democratic government are too weak, too naïve, too complacent or too uncertain of the worth of their own values to put up a fight.

Neo-Marxism has now extended its influence far beyond universities, reaching deep into government, schools, the media, the arts and even the churches. The result is a society that is losing confidence in itself, which is precisely the neo-Marxists’ aim – because a society that has lost confidence in itself is easier to intimidate and control.
AS I WRITE this, we are in the last days of an election campaign. If the opinion polls are accurate, and I have no reason to doubt them, Jacinda Ardern will be New Zealand’s prime minister for the next three years. The only real uncertainty is whether Labour will govern alone or in coalition with the Greens.

Either way, there will be nothing to stand in the way of a re-energised neo-Marxist agenda. New Zealand First has served as a restraint on the government since 2017 but the brakes will be off after Saturday if, as the polls predict, the Peters party fails to win a seat. (Disclosure: I held my nose and voted for Peters in the last election precisely because I reasoned – rightly, as it turned out – that NZ First could curb the ideological excesses of Labour and the Greens, but I can’t bring myself to vote the same way again. No one has done more to bring politics into disrepute in my lifetime than Peters, and even my fear of a left-wing juggernaut in government isn’t enough to justify supporting him a second time. I’ll be voting ACT, though not with whole-hearted enthusiasm.)

What might a Labour or Labour-Green government deliver? We have already had a foretaste in the form of one of the world’s most permissive abortion regimes and the proposal to legalise cannabis. Expect much more under a re-invigorated and unrestrained Ardern government, starting with laws to curb so-called “hate speech”. The putative justification – that the Human Rights Act doesn’t protect people from attacks on the basis of their religion (for which read Islam) – can be easily fixed by a simple amendment adding religion to the existing protections against discrimination on the grounds of colour, race, nationality and ethnicity. But don’t expect the government to stop there. Using the Christchurch mosque massacres as a pretext (a false one, since the absence of restrictive speech laws didn’t cause the shootings and the introduction of tough new ones wouldn’t prevent a similar occurrence), the government is likely to crack down on any speech regarded as offensive by members of supposedly vulnerable minority groups. Egged on by provocateurs in the media, an Ardern government might decide not only to lower the threshold at which speech is considered harmful, but to extend protection to other groups demanding special treatment – for example, trans-gender people.

We hear a lot from such groups about the need to embrace diversity, but the one diversity they don’t tolerate is diversity of opinion. Yet free speech is the currency of liberal democracy. Once we accept curbs on our right to engage in free and robust discussion of contentious issues (but stopping short of advocating active discrimination or incitements to violence, which present law rightly prohibits anyway), we risk becoming what might be called an illiberal democracy: one in which we may still be free to vote for the politicians of our choice, but without our votes being informed by full and open debate. Putin-style democracy, in other words.

But it’s not just transformational legislative change that advocates of liberal democracy should worry about under a new leftist government. Even where it doesn’t take the initiative itself by passing radical or oppressive new laws, a Labour or Labour-Greens government will provide a political environment highly conducive to the advance of the woke agenda. Expect more agitation for separate institutional arrangements for Maori (including non-elected positions on councils), more unilateral adoption of Maori place names (fine, but let’s do it by referendum), more condemnation of supposed white privilege and white supremacy, more hysteria over so-called cultural appropriation, more humiliating, Salem-style public denunciations (accompanied by mandatory attendance at “cultural competency” courses) of people who refuse to toe approved ideological lines, more pressure on companies to pander to exaggerated minority sensitivities (and grovelling apologies when they are perceived to have fallen short), more politicisation of the police, more judicial activism by courts incorporating tikanga (Maori custom) in common law, more virtue-signalling by academics and writers who proclaim themselves as socialists (and therefore unashamedly align themselves with a sorry history of tyranny, repression and economic ruin), more arrogant interference with people's freedoms by activist groups such as Extinction Rebellion, more social media bullying of dissenters and more instances of “cancel culture”, where organisations are intimidated into abandoning legitimate speaking engagements for fear of disruption.

All of this is happening already, of course, but it’s likely to acquire far greater momentum with the encouragement, tacit or otherwise, of a government that doesn’t have to worry about humouring a socially conservative coalition partner.

The striking thing about the current election campaign is that barely any of this has been mentioned. It’s only slightly melodramatic to say there’s a battle going on for the heart and soul of the country, but there has been little hint of this other than in New Conservatives campaign billboards calling for free speech. National, the party that supposedly represents mainstream conservative values and therefore should be manning the barricades against the neo-Marxist takeover, is timidly tip-toeing around it and pretending not to see it, possibly because it’s terrified of incurring media antagonism. Covid-19, the government response to it and the likely economic consequences have so dominated people's attention that the woke agenda has been allowed to proceed virtually unchallenged. New Zealand in three years’ time could feel like a very different place, and not in a good way.

Karl du Fresne, a freelance journalist, is the former editor of The Dominion newspaper. He blogs at


Jetneter said...

A great piece thanks Karl. It’s shameful that in our socialist bubble articles like this don't get into mainstream media. The chances of NZ getting a program like Outsiders are nil. I have read a few of Katie Hopkins’ articles online. She is a good example of how speaking against the woke agenda gets you ostracised by timid editors and the sneering mob. Please keep it up..
There is a silent majority out there. We just need the right leader. Pun unintended. I’m sorry to say that Judith Collins is a huge disappointment.
Dave C

Anonymous said...

This is what journalism should be there for, but seldom is in NZ today. Thankyou for another excellent commentary..
Democracy - Mediaocracy - Mediocrity - ??????

Caroline said...

Beautiful piece of writing, well done Karl! I was feeling for these sentiments in a conversation only yesterday but you've really nailed it.

Julia du Fresne said...

There's been little hint of what you describe largely because the MSM have determinedly ignored New Conservatives, who fulminate non-stop against Marxism in all its guises in the only venue available to them: social media.

Ahwen Boone said...

Thank you Karl. You continue to be one of the few who are prepared to eloquently stand by your (and my) convictions. I fear we are proceeding, at an accelerated rate, towards becoming "The Peoples Republic of Aotearoa" the Venezuela of the South Pacific.

Tony Orman said...

Thanks Karl.
The erosion of democracy has been going on for some time even as far back as the 1980s when the 4th Labour government sold public assets. without consulting the owners. In more recent times the Key government made some very undemocratic moves, e.g. the state grab of Environment Canterbury. Now we seem poised to enter an accelerated phase.
The evidence was there in recent select committees where submitters are now restricted 15 minutes or less. In one case Labour MP Duncan Webb as chairman of RMA committee dismissed the Council of Outdoor Recreation Associations at the 5 minute mark of an allocated 15 minutes time. The futile firearm law the Adern government rammed through was another example. Government claimed it read 13,000 submissions in two days. The issue wasn't really assault weapons (I don't own one nor do I wish to) but the absolute insult to democracy.
Keep exposing the truth Karl.

Tony McKenna said...

A brilliant article. We can see this happening in USA with the inexplicable behavior of the Democrats.

Unknown said...

Great stuff Karl. Except that I believe that Trump/Q do have ethics - definitely, and that they are basically Christian. Living up to ones ethics is not so easy though.

Trump has his "flaws" they say. Yes, and how many flawless people are there ?

Trump is the right man, in the right place at the right time. Cheers, Colin Rawle

Robert Mann said...

Right ON, Karl
The very accuracy of your description convers a bleakness which is very unpleasant; but that will be necessary for many many more citizens if we are to break out of this'woke' trend which is far worse than mere stupidity.

Mervyn said...

"Donald Trump, is a politician whose values are so bereft of any ethical coherence that if anything, his stand gives the woke left an illusion of moral credibility." Trump has character flaws as does most people. But this statement demonstrates the ability of the Neo-Marxists and its hand maiden the mainstream media to brainwash the public. Could the writer provide actual evidence to back that statement other than what he has heard and believed to be "common knowlege"

I notice the article does not mention "Critical Race Theory" which is the driving intellectual force of Neo -Marxism and on which "identity politics" sexual orientation etc are but cadging a ride. Surprising really as the common retort for opposition to anything at all is "Racist"

The writer is a bit behind the times and it will be the race element not religous beliefs , sex or gender that will dominate NZ's political agenda. Muslims (people who belief in a particular religion) are already defined as a Race. It'is much harder for the LGB? to acquire that status and their individual expression being of no use to Neo-Marxist collectivism will dissapear from the conversation much to their chagrin you can bet.

Unknown said...

Brilliani article. I only wish that it was published sometime earlier and on many forums. This message needs to be spread widely. Thank you for saying this out loud.

John said...

Karl you have expressed my sentiments so clearly. I cannot believe the gullibility of the general public of New Zealand. My generation was taught to question and make informed decisions on issues. It is insidious the way Marxism has crept into our lives. I have lived through many many changes of government but never have I been so concerned for our country's future as now. Keep publishing.

Geoffrey said...

Great piece Karl. Your comments concerning how you voted last time and why you will change this time, mirrors my position exactly. I go further, to observe that since no Party (as evidenced by their campaign ) meets all of my preferences, I will vote for those that will do the least harm. Please keep pursuing this demon.

Coker said...

(Almost) totally agree, but I would argue that the current approach to cannabis use is a classic example of the illiberal democracy you otherwise rail so eloquently against. When the facts show so clearly that crimininalisation does nothing to stop either consumption or subsequent harmful effects, the liberal approach is take notice of those facts and adopt a different approach. Continuing to place restrictions on freedom regardless of the facts is very illiberal.

Steve C said...

Great piece of writing on this most important topic.

As a trustee and then chair of a primary school board over a period of 12yrs I can confirm that 'woke' ideology is heavily embedded in the education sector bureaucracy.

As a board we challenged the right of the school to impose compulsory Maori spirituality and cultural practice without properly informed parental consent and set about generating policy to rectify the situation. The resultant institutional harassment had to be seen to be believed. We were informed (along with other fallacious arguments) that we were legally responsible for protecting the various 'identities' of students including 'Maori as Maori'. Not all were convinced.

The situation destroyed the board. The school is now unnecessarily under a commissioner at taxpayer expense.

This experience has lead me to become an active supporter of New Conservative as they seem to be the only group to grasp the danger of the current legislative and bureaucratic direction, and have a plan for reversing the societal rot.

Peter Bacos said...

The 250th anniversary celebrations of Cook's landing last year was a classic piece of propaganda, of rewriting history a la the woke agenda. Meng Foon, the absurd Race Relations Commissioner said on Al Jazeera that he killed 9 Maoris. Has anyone read the Journals of Cook? Well, I have. Cook was attacked on landing, the Maoris stole everything they could lay their hands on and abducted Tupeia. It came to two confrontations in Gisbourne in which 5/6 Maoris were killed and one near Hawkes Bay in which 3 were killed. This is a classic case of statistics being taken completely out of context. Not a single politician or historian mentioned the background to these events; instead they let the prejudiced narrative prevail. This is the way NZ history is taught now. Presumeably Maori oral tradition must be given greater credence than eye witness accounts of savants. The description of Maori life and customs during this voyage were the beginnings of social anthropology.

John said...

Your piece is eloquently and persuasively argued, Justin. To place what we are seeing within a theological frame of reference, let us not forget Ephesians 6:12:

"For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places."