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New Zealand Now



When Paul was about to be scourged in Jerusalem he resorted to magic. 'Civis Romanus sum,' he said to the centurion who stood by, and at once there was excitement and alarm. The centurion hurried to the captain, the captain hurried back to Paul, the scourgers disappeared, the captain hung about anxious and afraid. It was an outrage to bind a Roman citizen. To scourge him was an atrocious crime.

This was about 60 a.d., when Rome, though declining, was still strong. It is in fact clear that the privilege claimed by Paul would have been valueless if Rome at the time had been weak in Judaea; he had been scourged seven years earlier in Macedonia, and does not appear to have protested until afterwards, when he saw that the authorities were troubled. For Roman citizenship could be opportunist as well as devout. It could mean, and in Paul's day usually did mean, that he who invoked it did so for prudential page 78reasons. The Devil was sick, the Devil a saint would be. The citizen was in trouble, the citizen a Roman would be. It could have been in rare cases only that 'civis Romanus sunt' meant 'I am proud of Roman justice and of Roman virtue'. It would be rash to say that it meant as much as that to Paul. He remembered that he was a Roman when he was threatened, as a British, American, or German citizen remembers his nationality on foreign soil. And the value of the remembrance of course depends on the strength of the nation remembered. Nationals are as safe as their country is strong, as unsafe as it is weak. But there is a citizenship whose value is entirely independent of a nation's power to exact redress for injury, and that is the only kind that New Zealanders can possess in their own right; as, in present circumstances, it is the only kind remaining to Frenchmen, Danes, or Czecho-Slovakians. Citizenship is in fact not a good word for it, but it would be a good word if the thing itself were more real and more common. And we know what it means whatever we call it: love of country, with all that such a phrase implies—awareness of one's country, physically and spiritually; belief in it; pride in it; glad acceptance of it, though not necessarily of all it does or has done; loyalty to it; a desire to stand by and help it when calamity comes, even if it comes as a punishment for folly.

Before we ask how many citizens New Zealand has by that test we must consider what creates that page 79kind of citizenship. For although men are made to love as well as to mourn—and will love the strangest things, animate and inanimate—it is not at all clear that love for one's country has much to do with its beauty or ugliness, if there could be any standards by which such qualities could be measured. It has on the other hand a good deal to do with early and long association with some corner of that country as home, and in that respect our circumstances are far from favourable. To begin with, we are not old enough to have what are commonly called historical associations. Of those who have lived all their lives in New Zealand, as most of us now have, far fewer than half have lived here for fifty years. If there could be an average age of New Zealanders it might be about forty—certainly no higher than forty-five, and perhaps as low as thirty-five. But even if it were fifty-five there would be only one generation in most cases behind it, and it is very unlikely that there would be unbroken association with one place. We have no old homes, and relatively few homes that are even reasonably permanent. Wordsworth's observation on his dalesmen neighbours that many had 'a consciousness that the land they tilled had for more than five hundred years been possessed by men of the same name and blood' is almost incredible in New Zealand. Neither our land nor our houses nor our occupations nor our possessions pass normally from father to son. If we have homes of our own we page 80remember when we bought them, and if we possess land the chances are about one in three that it came to us by inheritance. Nor is the likelihood any greater that we shall retain it for the rest of our lives, even if we are not driven out by misfortune. For land in New Zealand is a commodity that we buy and sell as often as we see a chance of gain. We have no sense of perpetuity in the land itself or even in land tenure. What we call lease in perpetuity is in practice a lease that is perpetual only on one side. The land cannot be sold, but the right to occupy it can be, and almost invariably is. We are not so much farmers as dealers, producers who see a chance and move on. Not more than ten per cent of our farmers say 'Here I am, here I stay'; and some who do say it afterwards change their minds.

And just as there are few farms that have been in the possession of the same family since they were first occupied, so there are few buildings, public or private, that have been seen by three generations. A church here, a mission house there, a wattle-and-daub relic that has somehow escaped replacement, a school somewhere, a jail, an overlooked shop, an early stone barn. Not much more, and however romantic we are, not much more is yet possible. We built to begin with to keep out the weather, and we have not had the opportunity yet to build against time—if the human race will ever again attempt anything so futile. But although this leaves our consciences clear, it also page 81leaves our hearts and minds clear of all those emotions that long association usually implants. First Church in Dunedin perhaps, the Cathedral and old Provincial Chambers in Christchurch, Grafton Bridge in Auckland—these and a very few other things made by hands have mingled with our thoughts and become a part of our unconscious selves; but in general we have escaped contact with such ensnaring things and ended our first century heart-whole and mind-free.

Perhaps it is good, perhaps it is bad. The question here is: how far have we travelled yet towards nationhood, or to that emotion of nationhood that expresses itself in love of country? Do we know why Burns and Shakespeare and Scott and Wordsworth and Browning felt their hearts leap when they thought of England or Scotland? Or are we aliens still in the land that gave us birth, feeding our bodies from its soil, and preserving carefully disentangled minds? Is our citizenship opportunist or touched with emotion — landless, homeless, and rootless as we have so far been?