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Monday, September 15, 2003
HYPOCRISY AND THE TREATY OF WAITANGI: The ongoing saga of the foreshore and seabed has finally promted me to attempt to distill, with some small semblance of clarity, my thoughts on the Treaty of Waitangi. I seem to disagree with everyone I've ever discussed this with, and I don't expect this time to be much different, but here goes...

The thing that strikes me most about nearly every Treaty debate we have in this country is how it manages to get pretty much everyone to abandon the principles supposedly most dear to them. I've already blogged about this in relation to ACT's support for nationalising Maori private property (a move I can't imagine them supporting under any other circumstance). But the hypocrisy is by no means limited to the right. Just as an ideologically pure ACT party should accept the Treaty, but doesn't because it's politically inconvenient, an ideologically pure left should reject it, but doesn't, because it's politically useful.

Most people on the left think think Treaty of Waitangi is a good thing, that it should be respected, and that at least in some form, it is provides a blueprint for an ongoing relationship between Maori and Pakeha. (The text itself, of course, is a little problematic - because there are two of them and they say completely different things. But luckily, according to some Court of Appeal judges a few years back, there were some lovely principles underlying both versions, and we can rely on them instead.)

The problem is that buying into the Treaty of Waitangi as a form of binding contract (whether a contrat sociale or one of a more mundane commercial variety) requires the rather uncomfortable adoption of something quite close to a libertarian ideology, which doesn't exactly sit well with the rest of the left's belief structure.

Much of the divide between the left and the right can (admittedly crudely) be characterised as a divide between a consequentialist (outcome-based) morality and a deontological (process-based) morality. For those on the left (myself included), what matters is that people get certain things, such as a certain level of income, health, education etc. How they get them is not all that important. Conversely, for those on the right, what matters is not what people end up with, but how they get it: provided that any particular distribution of wealth etc. is arrived at through free exchange, there's nothing particularly the matter with massive inequalities.

The thing that's odd about the left's attitude to the Treaty is that it seems to rely on a process-oriented view of justice: when it comes to the Treaty, things are right or wrong, not because of their consequences, but because we agreed (not) to do them in a document. (Although even this ignores a multitude of 'process' problems: e.g. the ability of the Treaty to bind succeeding generations who never actually agreed to it; the fact that both parties thought they were agreeing to different things etc.)

Of course, this is something of a caricature: most on what we call the left these days have a fair amount of time for free market transactions. Nonetheless, they would usually subject these transactions to to certain standards of fairness, and are seldom as uncritically accepting of them as they appear to be of the Treaty. Why they are so here is probably due to one of two factors:

(a) the Treaty just happens to fit with the left's conception of fairness, but is easier to sell to the right;

(b) intellectual laziness.

I'd like to believe it's the first, but if it is, then why don't other minorities (e.g. Pacific Islanders) deserve the same treatment as Maori? (One possible reason is indigenous rights. While I don't have time to go into this in depth here, suffice it to note that this too relies on a heavily process-oriented view of justice. Just as I fail to see how the Treaty can be a valid basis for the ongoing relationship between Maori and Pakeha, I similarly struggle to see the relevance of Maori having been here first, at least beyond an entitlement to some form of compensation for land theft etc.) In my own humble opinion, the real question for those on the left should not be one of what Maori are entitled to under the Treaty, but what they are entitled to as human beings.

Now (though I might not go so far as to call it a holocaust) I have no problem with the claim that an incredible amount of injustice has been visited upon Maori in the past; and like any other namby-pamby Rawlsian-type liberal I also believe that there are still injustices in our society today, many of which disproportionately affect Maori. However, I completely fail to see what the Treaty has to do with any of them. The land confiscations etc. perpetrated by Pakeha colonisers would have been wrong regardless of whether a Treaty was signed or not. Similarly, present inequalities are a concern independent of a 150 year old piece of parchment.

Both 'wrongs' ought to be addressed. But the Treaty has nothing to do with it.
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