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The Spike: or, Victoria University College Review, September, 1922

Debating Society

page 57

Debating Society

Urquent Rustice Sane

To date the Debating Society has had a somewhat eventful year, and the Secretary has had the pleasure of interviewing several of the greatest men in the land. It is at present uncertain whether he will have to proceed to Downing Street which, no doubt, has ere this learnt of the activities of the Society, and give assurances that discussion of the great problems of the day does not constitute disloyalty.

One of the early brickbats bestowed on the Society related to the patronship. At the last annual general meeting His Excellency the Governor-General was duly re-elected patron, and his acceptance of the position sought. In reply came a request for a list of this year's subjects for debate, which was complied with. Finally a communication was received stating that His Excellency "does not feel that he can accept the position, as the subjects chosen for Debate include some with which he does not think he can properly associate himself."

The attitude taken up by His Excellency is that certain of the subjects being of a political nature his acceptance of the patronship would mean that he countenanced these subjects. A Governor-General must have no politics, no matter what his private opinions may be. Until Such time as the Society decides to omit such subjects from its programme he must regretfully decline to accept the office of patron.

With all due deference to His Excellency it is submitted that the position taken up by him is untenable. To decide the question on the basis of whether or not members will discuss academic or political subjects is surely to lose sight of the true nature of a Debating Society. The very essence of a debate is the idea that there are two sides to every question and to say that students should seek enlightenment only on subjects other than politics appears extraordinary. Are we to discuss the great and burning subjects of the day or content ourselves with subjects such as: "That the study of poetry is of greater intellectual value than the study of history"?

When it is considered that this is an example of subjects strenuously debated in past years it is not to be wondered at that the discussion attracted vast audiences of five or six.

Thanks to the profound intelligence of some of the chosen representatives of this young democracy the Society's activities are now appreciated from the North Cape to Stewart Island. Such a splendid advertisement seldom falls to the lot of any Society and the gratitude of our members knows no bounds. The real point at issue was as to whether a group of politicians may with impunity set up a dummy, and have him, under the shield of privilege, defame certain of his fellowmen. Such tactics may he good polities with the elections near at hand, but we would have these politicians know that while we pity their failure we despise and detest them. It would he wearisome to-make further comment; suffice it to say that it is high time every intelligent being in the community awoke to the deplorable level to which politics have sunk in this country and come to realise the truly terrible fact that less than one per cent, of the men who go through the New Zealand University enter politics. Surely this is a damning indictment of present-day education and citizenship. When will some brave man arise and explode the prevailing theory that to be successful in the political field in this country it is necessary, first, to be on the verge of senile decay, and second, to have made money out of your fellow-men sufficient to provide a cloak of smug respectability?

On June 10th the subject for discussion was "That the New Zealand University should exist for the purpose of general culture and not for the purpose of providing a specialised training for an industrial, a commercial or a professional career." Messrs. A. M. Cousins and A. B. Croker were the movers, and Messrs. J. B. Yaldwyn and R. M. Campbell the opposers. The ideas of the affirmative are well summed up in an extract from John Henry Newman:—

"This process of training, by which the intellect, instead of being formed or sacrificed to some particular or accidental purpose, some specific trade or profession, or study or science, is disciplined for its own sake, for the perception of its own proper object, and for its own highest culture, is called Liberal Education.

"Some insist that education should he confined to some particular and narrow end, and should issue in some definite work, which can he weighed and measured, page 58 as if everything, as well as every person, had its price; and that where there has been a great outlay, they have a right to expect a return in kind. That is called making education and instruction useful ' and 'utility' becomes their watch-word." The opposers laid stress on the fact that this was the age of commercialism and that lack of time precluded anything but specialisation. A liberal education was possible only for the sons of the wealthy. The motion on being put to the meeting was declared carried by a small majority. The judge. Mr. P. Levi, placed the best five speakers in the following order: Messrs. Yaldwyn, Campbell, Cousins. Wood, and Free.

The first Visitors' Debate of the year took place on the 24th June. Resolved: "That insistence upon external symbols of loyalty retards rather than assists true patriotism." The mover. Mr. C. E. Ball, was seconded by Mr. Moses Ayrton. National Secretary of the New Zealand Labour Party, while the opposer. Mr. C. Q. Pope was supported by Sir John Luke. M.P. The affirmative held that the harm lay, not in the symbols, but in their abuse. In New Zealand, compulsory symbolism in loyalty was being exploited for political purposes, and the elimination of all forms of cant was one of the needs of the day. The way to foster patriotism and devotion to the country was to make the country in the highest degree worthy of that devotion.

For the negative it was contended that as a people the British were inclined to hide their patriotism, and it was necessary to provide means for the expression of their sentiment. No loyal member of the community could regard the practices as out of place, but. on the contrary, they were essential to encourage a true spirit of patriotism. The motion was carried by a large majority. The judge, Mr. G. G. G. Watson, placed the best speakers in the following order: Messrs. Davidson, Pope, Campbell. Wood, Free, and Miss Patterson.

On Saturday, the 8th July, the motion was "That the New Zealand Labour Party is Fitted to Govern." Messrs. J. W. G, Davidson and R. M. Campbell were for the affirmative, and Messrs. A. Free and D. R. Wood for the negative. The movers expatiated on the virtues of the Labour Party and the qualifications of the members. They also dealt with the Party's platform and the many and great ideas embodied therein. Mr. Free and his colleague drew a lurid picture of the wickedness of the Party and the revolutionary character of its proposals. It was also pointed out that the members of the Government must be gentlemen. The motion was declared lost by one vote. The judge. Mr. D. Smith, placed the best speakers as follows: Messrs. Davidson, Campbell, Wood. Haigh. and Free.

The subject for debate on 29th July was "That the present parliamentary system of Government in New Zealand should be abolished." Messrs. F. H. Haigh and R. M. Campbell were the movers, and Messrs. N. W. Atmore, and N. J. Lewis upheld the present parliamentary system. It was contended by the affirmative that Parliament was out of touch with the dairy life of the people, and this was largely due to the way in which it was elected. The present arbitrary division of the country into geographical areas might he replaced by a system with an industrial and professional basis, and so secure some definite relation between Parliament and the vital interests of the people. Lord Bryce was authority for the low level of intelligence brought into the Parliament of New Zealand under the present system. The opposers maintained that the present Parliamentary system provided effective machinery for government. Also it was capable of meeting the changing needs of the country. In any case, the present was certainly not the time to propose changes in the constitution of Parliament. The judge. Mr. H. H. Cornish, placed the best five speakers in the following order: Messrs. Campbell, Davidson. Heron. Haigh, and Wood. The motion on being put to the meeting, was declared carried.

The fifth of August saw the Annual Debate with the Social Democratic Party, who were represented by Messrs. P. Fraser, M.P.. and T. Brindlo. These gentlemen moved: "That only by the adoption of Socialism con the highest form of intellectual freedom he attained."The Society representatives were Messrs. P. J. Smith, and F. H. Haigh. The movers set out the iniquities of the present social system and the lack of opportunity provided for progress and freedom in matters intellectual. Repression of original thought was assuming alarming proportions. The opposers set out to vindicate the capitalistic system and contended that each individual had an opportunity to make good. Throughout the world social conditions were gradually being bettered, and in this lay the hope of mankind. Conditions under Socialism would he such that the leaders would find it more than ever necessary to stamp out all opposition, and then goodbye to intellectual freedom. The motion was put to the meeting and declared carried.

Throughout the year the Society has had very large attendances at the debates and this is taken as an indication that the subjects are appreciated. The number of new speakers has continued to be satisfactory and several very promising debaters have appeared on the platform. The prospects for the coming year are exceedingly bright and the Society can be relied on to pursue its policy of enlightening the community on the problems of the day.