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William Rolleston : a New Zealand statesman



Part of the paradox of Rolleston's career lay in the conflict between his social position and his political opinions. The landed squatters regarded him as their friend socially, but they viewed with bitter hostility his obstinate efforts to prevent aggregation of large properties. On the other hand, while he was sometimes called "the people's William" and "the idol of Canterbury", the more radical section of the community failed to take him entirely to its page xviheart because of his social friendship with the other sections of the community and because of his political associations.

These political associations were in the main with the party which ultimately came to be regarded as conservative; but he himself held radical views on many questions, and might most correctly be described as a Liberal of the old school. One of the main features of English Liberalism during most of the nineteenth century was its opposition to State interference. The historical explanation of this was the determination of the early English Liberals to free industry from the shackles imposed by the State. Hence when, in the 'nineties, there emerged in politics a fresh impulse towards State intervention and control, the principles of true Liberalism, as understood by Rolleston, were laid aside. To his astonishment and dismay he, who had started out in life as a Radical, found himself dubbed a Conservative. He thought that in due time the pendulum would swing. On some questions, as this narrative will show, it has after many years swung back to an approach to Rolleston's views; but it is probable that the political pendulum never oscillates fully to its opposite extreme. The law of periodicity never fully operates in politics. As Bertrand Russell truly says: "The movement of human society is partly cyclic, partly progressive—it resembles a tune played over and over again, but each time with a fuller orchestration than before. In this tune there are quiet passages and passionate passages, there is a terrific climax, and then a time of silence until the tune begins again."