Salient: Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Vol. 32, No. 4. 1969.
Mr T. P. Shand on the Ideology of politics
Mr T. P. Shand on the Ideology of politics
"Our argument with the socialists is that they believe that a change in the government will cause people to change their natures.'"
Mr T. P. Shand said this when summing up the different philosophies of political parlies in New Zealand, in an address at Victoria recently.
Mr Shand took a linear model for his description of the New Zealand political scene, with Communists and Fascists occupying the extreme ends, and all other opinions—Socialist, Liberal Left, and Conservative arranged between.
In the centre there was a large group about which the experts knew very little, how many there were, or how they reacted.
If any party in New Zealand wanted to gain power it must attract this large uncommitted group in the centre.
Mr Shand illustrated his theory with examples from the history of the major parties.
In the early years the concern in Parliament had been to build an alliance to obtain particular parochial demands.
The Labour party had grown as the political weapon of the Trade Union movement in the early days of this century.
"The actions of the leaders of the Party are still coloured by a strong sense of the class struggle." he remarked.
The National Party had been formed in 1936, a coalition of those remnants opposed to socialist policies.
This was part of the constitution, but it had never been well thought out and had been dropped.
Pragmatic views, based on certain principles were now accepted.
Each party thus had a central core of volunteer workers with strongly committed views.
The leaders of each were drawn from this and therefore were sharply opposed.
These leaders quickly become conscious that to win they need the support of the large group in the centre.
Each parly is much nearer the centre than its own organisers.
Mr. Shand is certainly far to the left of the reactionary "19th century liberalism" many believe to be the only ideology the National Party has.
Mr Shand denied that this was ever a philosophy fundamental to the National Party, and suggests that his brand of liberal conservatism is much more in the mainstream of National Party thinking, an argument he developed more fully in Rostrum 4, than he did last week.
He is certainly correct that his view provides a rationale for the actions of the National Party over the last twenty years, but he has never been able to give any evidence that any other substantial figure of his party actually shares his philosophy.
Mr Shand does not have any simple formula in which he tries to express the workings of society. On the contrary he views society as an extremely complicated set of rationships between interdependent and ill-defined parts.
He hesitates to legislate great changes for society for fear ot undesirable unpredictable indirect results, and he sees the continued existence of many of the imperfections which exist in society as inevitable.
The most that can be hoped for is a system of "rough justice" achieved by small piecemeal changes judgement as pragmatically useful in the light of past experience. Every forseeable indirect effect must, theoretically, be thoroughly investigated.
Mr Shand recognises this type of social evolution but perhaps not how great and unforeseeable are the indirect effects of any change, however small.
From his view of society as a complex system (he often uses the analogy of an organism) Mr Shand derives a belief that tensions between sections of society should be minimised as they are destructive of society. Thus an important task of policies is to make improvements in the institution which achieve this "rough justice" in order to relieve tensions and so to conserve society.
This brand of conservatism is in obvious opposition to the status quo or never-do-anything variety. It is sophisticated enough to see that imperfections exist and create conflicts (Marxian contradictions) and that the conservatism of the existing society depends on the relief of those imperfections by alterations in social and political institutions. It is at this point that all liberal conservatives try to cross a chasm in a series of many small steps.
They believe that society can be made tolerable by the use of many small changes to alleviate tensions, but fail to see that thes tensions are inherent in the most fundamental and predominant features of the present capitalist, bureaucratic, technocratic and hierarchical society. This brings into question whether the present society is worth conserving, for it is certain that anything which is going to materially relieve social tensions in anything except their most superficial and short-term manifestations is going to alter drastically the whole nature of society.
Mr Shand's criticism of the Labour Party—"We criticise the left for thinking that government can make the people better than they are by nature"—is essentially a criticism of its apparent belief that by making somewhat larger though no more fundamental changes in our institutions than the National party would they can abolish all contradictions of society.
Mr Shand recognises that they cannot be totally abolished in the framework of the present society. It is ironic that a prominent member of the "right" understands the nature of social contradictions belter than the dominant members of the "left".
Conservatives are thus not blind, like Fabian socialists but, short-sighted, a fact which can be seen also in the conservatives rejection of concentrations of power, as opposed to the good Labour Parly man's belief that "The Government should Govern."
Mr Shand, as any good conservative would, quoted Lord Acton's adage: "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." The conservative solution is to divide the governmental system up into medium-sized units—things like dairy boards, courts of arbitration and broadcasting corporations.
This mitigates the evil of extreme autocracy, but it does nothing which in any way alters the reciprocal of power—the powerlessness of the vast majority of people.