The Interregnum - review

by Ryan J Holder / 08 April, 2016
Is New Zealand’s political settlement fraying at the edges? A group of young Kiwis offer their views.
TPP protests convinced the book’s editor that New Zealand is straying into the interregnum. Photo/Getty Images
TPP protests convinced the book’s editor that New Zealand is straying into the interregnum. Photo/Getty Images

In his critique of Paul Mason’s Postcapitalism, writer Douglas Murray observed that it is in the nature of book publishing for any given subject to be presented as the end of something, the birth of something or the rise or fall of something. But he forgot one: the stormy in-between of something.

The Interregnum is a collection of essays by several promising young New Zealanders, self-described “voices of a new generation”, with the premise that neoliberalism’s facade is starting to fade and people are beginning to notice. This is apparently evident in the rise of populist parties around the globe. The surprisingly large protests against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) signing have convinced editor Morgan Godfery, a trade unionist and writer, that this country is also ­straying into the interregnum, with all Antonio Gramsci’s accompanying “morbid” symptoms.

But just what is this neoliberalism that is under threat from Jeremy Corbyn, Ukip, Black Lives Matter, Donald Trump, the Greek party Syriza and the National Front? The best definitions on offer present it as an “almost religious devotion” to the free market, whose “articles of faith” consist of privatisation, deregulation, liberal trade and investment policies and cuts to public spending. And what are the morbid symptoms?

Andrew Dean kicks things off with a survey of our declining public sphere in the wake of neoliberal restructuring and broadcasting deregulation. He uses the knee-jerk reactions to Eleanor Catton’s comments about our “profit-obsessed, very shallow” politicians as a platform to decry the shackles on reasoned public debate. But were the original comments really the nuanced, eloquent opening to debate that Dean imagines them to have been?

Wilbur Townsend’s injection of irony in “Reimagining the Economy” comes as a relief. He assumes robots will take over a large portion of our jobs and suggests in response socialised ownership of production and a universal income. They might sound like far-fetched ideas, until you recall that the Labour Party is considering the latter proposal.

In “Welfare and Precarious Work”, Chloe King writes with unconcealed anger about the devastating effects of benefit cuts and increasingly precarious work. Then there’s the 48-page re-application form that stonewalls thousands more.

Irony of another sort returns in Daniel Kleinsman’s essay on Pope Francis’ ­teachings as explicated in Laudato si’. The encyclical is a moving call to arms against climate change, but also has lessons on global interconnectedness that are a useful guide to morality. Even though we are promised a faith-free deal, one gets the sense that something towers overhead. After the derision directed towards blind faith when invested in the market, Kleinsman’s “Religion and the Real World” seems particularly out of place.

Max Harris believes a polity with more love will help raise people out of loneliness and refresh our sickly political language (said to be a symptom of neo­liberalism, although I’m sure George Orwell’s Politics and the English Language was around before Rogernomics). Just how, we’re not really told. Doubters might also argue that love and empathy are among the most easily manipulated feelings of all, not far behind fear and hatred.

This is a hopeful book, which makes the constant talk about how ineffectual writing about change can be especially strange. These are bright young – often previously published – authors lamenting the inaccessibility of the public sphere. This skittering between optimism and impotence could be seen as a symptom of a much more peculiar phenomenon: that the political consensus in New Zealand does not appear to be fraying. John Key sits at popularity levels unheard of in international politics and might even be heading for another term. Outside the TPP uproar, where are our populist movements?

The Interregnum might have been better prepared to solve this conundrum if it had included opinions from a broader range of people. That might have truly represented the voices of a new generation.

THE INTERREGNUM, edited by Morgan Godfery (BWB Texts, $14.99)

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