Tag Archives: Republicanism

On being vulnerable

NB: In this post, I’m using the words “liberal” and “republican,” both with lower case first letters. I am NOT referring to any political parties which use these terms in their names. I am using them in their original sense, as the names of particular modes of organising political life.

In a standard liberal account of freedom, freedom is construed as non-interference; you are free to the extent that no one interferes with you. At its most extreme, you end up with something like Hobbes’ account of freedom:

Fear and liberty are consistent: as when a man throweth his goods into the sea for fear the ship should sink, he doth it nevertheless very willingly, and may refuse to do it if he will; it is therefore the action of one that was free:

As long as you can choose to do something else, like say, die, then you are free. It’s a very thin account of freedom, and I find it unsatisfying. Of course, liberal theorists have other, thicker accounts of freedom, but they are still accounts of freedom as non-interference. I’m rather more taken with the account of freedom found in republican political theory, that is, the mode of governance of the Roman republican and the 16th century Italian city states, as well as for example, Australian and New Zealand, which are republics in all but name.

As I have written before, in republican political theory, freedom is freedom from domination.

Think about a slave with a kindly master. The slave gets to live where she likes, eat what she likes, do whatever work she likes, just because the master happens to be kindly. Under the standard liberal accounts of freedom, this slave would be free, because she was not subject to interference.

The master however, can at any time reassert his power. If he so wishes, he can tell the slave where to live, what to eat, what work to do. He is even able to physically assault the slave, and she has no recourse against him. So in order to keep him happy, to avoid incurring his displeasure and losing the chance to direct her own life, she must keep a weather eye out for him, ingratiate herself with him, make sure that she doesn’t offend him, kowtow, and doff her cap. Even though he does not interfere with her choices, he nevertheless dominates her, and she constrains her choices because of that domination. She cannot stand tall, and look him in the eye. Under the republican account of freedom, this slave is not free.

I find this account of freedom compelling, because it taps into a sense of standing. A free person is one with standing, one who can treat with the powerful, can act without fear of unjust retribution, can take her place in the community. It is a highly social sense of freedom – a free person is one who enjoys standing within social setting. It is the freedom of the hearth, not the freedom of the heath (Philip Pettit’s phrase, not mine). And it is an institutional sense of freedom. In the liberal account of freedom, the slave with the kindly master is free, but that is just a contingent state of affairs. It is just because the world happens to be that way, rather than because anything guarantees that the slave is free. However the republican account of freedom looks at the relationships between people, and the institutional structures that guarantee freedom. So a person is not accounted free just because of a happy coincidence; she is only free if the world is organised in such a way that she is necessarily free.

The republican account of freedom is an intensely social account of freedom. It’s not just about one person being free, or being dominated, but about groups of people being free, or being subject to domination. If one person is dominated, and thus is not free, then other people who are sufficiently similar to him or her, can similarly be dominated, and so not be free standing citizens.

For example, think about the case of rape. If a woman is raped, perhaps walking home in the evening, then other women who are walking through the same area, or out walking at the same time, may feel similarly threatened. They may choose not to walk home, or to go by a different route, or to walk at a different time. So their choices are constrained, and they change their behaviour, for fear of rape. Their freedom is reduced, in this area of their life at least. (Freedom is not an all or nothing game: you can be more free in some areas of your life than in others. For example, you may own your own home and have a lovely family, so your personal life is ‘free’, but have a bully boss, so your work life is less ‘free’.)

In technical terms, this can be referred to as a vulnerability group. A vulnerability group is a group where in virtue of the similarities between all the members of the group, each of the members can be dominated qua member of the group.

And that’s why Melissa McEwan’s post resonated with me. When I hear a sexist put-down of a woman, I see that woman being dominated in virtue of being a woman, and I know that as a woman, I am vulnerable to those types of put-downs too. That’s why I get the little sinking feeling in my stomach, the sense of unease, the worry that other put-downs will follow. Each little bit of misogyny reinforces my vulnerability to being dominated, whether the misogyny is directed straight at me, or at another woman. And if it happens to me once, then it can happen again, and again, and again.

As it turns out, I live in a good space, with a loving and thoughtful partner, and for the most part, I don’t have to deal with misogyny in my own life, and what there is has not come my way through my partner’s actions (of course we both make missteps from time to time, but we’re human beings, not saints). But the moment I step out of my house, I am confronted by it, and it seeps into our home via newspapers and TV and the irritating pop-up ads on websites and the like. It’s ever present, even with something as banal as the sausages and strippers banner I saw last year (it’s still there). When the environment I live in so unfailing reminds me that women are of little worth, it’s hard not to feel vulnerable, and hard not to feel a sense of unease.

The Queen

The Queen had a birthday here in Australia yesterday. She had one a week earlier in New Zealand, which just goes to show that New Zealand’s queen must be older than Australia’s queen.

In ah… honour of the event, here’s a short piece I wrote for the New Zealand Republican Movement’s May newsletter.


I’m veering between shaking my head in disbelief, anger, and simply laughing at the absurdity of it all. Despite overwhelming support for a change, the British Cabinet has decided to retain the law that makes women stand in line behind men when it comes to inheriting the throne.

Disbelief, because the second wave of the women’s movement is over fifty years old now, and still it seems that the blokes at the top have not got the message. Let me spell it out – men and women are equal. Men are not superior to women, men are not better than women, men do not make better rulers than women simply by virtue of being male. To be sure, some men are better than some women at some things, and vice versa. But there is nothing inherently different between men and women that means that men should have automatic preference for positions of power and influence. At the very least, men and women should have equal opportunities to attain those positions of power and influence.

That’s an old, old message, one that’s been around for decades, one that most people have listened to, and importantly, one that most people have bought into. But not, it seems, the British cabinet. That’s why I am shaking my head in disbelief. It’s as if feminism is something they have never even heard of.

And I’m angry too. They are sending a powerful message, that despite all the changes that have been wrought in our societies by the realisation that women are human beings too, at the end of the day, it’s being male that’s the important thing. They have dismissed half the human race as simply being not good enough, when there’s a man, any man, ahead in the line. That’s reason enough to be angry. However it’s the nature of the dismissal that makes raises my ire. It turns out that the reason they have shelved the problem is that it would take a lot of consequential law changes, and they would have to consult with the heads of Commonwealth countries first. But rather than making an in principle decision that the law should be changed, and starting a process to get the changes made, they’ve said that it’s all just too difficult, and really, they can’t be bothered. It’s yet another dismissal of women’s rights as something not to be taken seriously.

Yet it’s all so absurd. All that the “men first” decision shows is that the monarchy is hopelessly outdated, a relic of the days when kings rode to war, and women were diplomatic pawns to be traded in marriage. Retaining male primogeniture simply shows how disconnected and unreal the monarchy is. It’s one more signal that we should free ourselves from this ancient hierarchy.

A day to remember

Many years ago, when I was four or five, my parents got my brothers and me up to watch one of the lunar missions returning to earth, on what was then our very new and exciting black and white TV. I can recall shots of the sea, and not much more. I think they were live shots, but my memory could be playing me false here – it could be that film was flown out to New Zealand and then shown on TV. But in that case, I can’t think why Mum and Dad would have gotten us up specially to watch it. What I do remember is the occasion, and why it was important.

Fast forward a few decades, to a different country, and a much larger colour TV (flat screen, digital, bells and whistles, and not something we had intended to get just yet, but our old TV suffered from mechanical derangement in the move over the Tasman).

Today, my husband and I got our children to watch the apology to Indigenous Australians for the Stolen Generation being read in Federal Parliament by the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd. We want our girls to remember this day, or even if they don’t remember the day itself, to remember that we got them to watch and witness when the Prime Minister, in the Federal Parliament, said “Sorry.”

Saying sorry is important. The words really do matter. Here’s why.

I wrote, months ago, about the republican account of freedom as non-domination. A free person is someone who can stand tall, who can look others in the eye, who need not constrain her actions for fear of other people’s reactions. She is a person is with standing, one who can treat with the powerful, can act without fear of unjust retribution, can take her place in the community. She is free from domination.

Freedom as non-domination is a highly social sense of freedom – a free person is one who enjoys standing within social settings. And it is an institutional sense of freedom. The republican account of freedom looks at the relationships between people, and the institutional structures that guarantee freedom. So a person is not accounted free just because of a happy coincidence; she is only free if the world is organised in such a way that she is necessarily free.

This account of freedom can be used to explain what goes on when one person commits a crime against another. Very roughly, the person who commits the crime dominates the other, remove her freedom, and constrains her actions. The offender does not see the victim as a citizen, someone who enjoys freedom as non-domination.

I know, my account here is, well, thin, when it comes to crimes like rape and murder, and it could do with a lot more explanation. If you want to follow up on this, then the book to look for is Not Just Deserts: A Republican Theory of Criminal Justice, by John Braithwaite and Philip Pettit, (OUP: 1990). But the account does work quite nicely when it comes to the treatment of Indigenous Australians. For an incredibly long time, their citizenship was formally and literally denied, and even when that was changed, the treatment of Indigenous Australians by other Australians denied that Indigenous Australians had any rights, even, at its extremes, denied that they might have any status as human beings, and certainly denied them the same sort of status as other Australian citizens. They were totally dominated, treated as being of little account, treated as being some sort of irritation on the Australian polity.

So how to start restoring the status of Aboriginal people, as full citizens, as people who can stand tall and look the other in the eye, secure and respected in their freedom?

Braithwaite and Pettit argue that where a crime has been detected, and the offender convicted, then there should be recognition, recompense and reassurance. The offender must recognise that she has offended against the victim, compromising his standing as a citizen who enjoys freedom as non-domination. She must take steps to make good the victim’s losses, through compensation or whatever other steps are thought necessary. And she must reassure the victim that the actions or circumstances which created the crime will not re-occur.

I think Australia has done a lot of hard work with recognising that a great wrong occurred. To be sure, at least some people thought they were doing the right thing when Aboriginal children were taken from their families, in what we now know as the Stolen Generation, but whatever the intent of those who devised the polices and implemented them, the fact was that a great wrong occurred. (Rather than getting into “did it / didn’t it” occur discussions here, there’s a great post and links and comments thread – Debunking Windschuttle on Larvatus Prodeo for anyone who wants to argue that there never was a stolen generation.)

Some work on recompense is starting to happen, with claims against state and territory governments. More on that in a moment. It’s the third “R” I want to concentrate on, reassurance.

The victim needs to know that she will not be vulnerable to the crime again. She needs to know, not just the the offence is recognised, and the compensation has been paid, but that it will never reoccur. That’s why the apology is so important. After all, if it was only about recognition and recompense, then in a perverse market solution, it could become okay to commit crimes, provided you paid the price afterwards. Payment rendered for goods taken. And of course, transactions can always be repeated.

That’s why standing up and saying sorry matters so very much. The apology ties the recognition and recompense together, and binds them into a reassurance that the crime will not happen again.

Of course, paying compensation reinforces the strength of the apology. It turns the words from being mere words, into a genuine and sincere acknowledgement of past wrongs, and a clear signal that all efforts will be made to ensure that such a crime will not occur again, that the victims of the crime are no longer vulnerable to domination, that they are free citizens standing tall and proud.

That means that the next steps that the Rudd government takes are very important. From the outside at least, the recent John Howard inspired incursion into Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory looks suspiciously like another version of the Stolen Generation. In addition, so far, Rudd has not talked about recompense. However, for today, that should not detract from the enormous step that has been taken with the apology. And the apology contained this important sentence:

We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians.

It’s a first step.

Alas, this morning we had time only to watch the apology itself, and a little of Mr Rudd’s speech, before we had to take the girls to school. We don’t know how long we will be living in Australia – it could be a few years, or it could be forever. There’s a good chance that our girls will become Australians in substance, not just form (they all have Australian citizenship, by birth or by descent, in addition to NZ citizenship). As Australians, I think that it is important for them to know that they witnessed the moment when the leader of the nation had the courage and the integrity to say, “Sorry.”

Update over the break.
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Royals break wind in public

The royal family can’t be bothered sending anyone to Sir Edmund Hillary’s funeral. Never mind that he was a Knight of the Garter, never mind that he was one of the greatest New Zealanders of the 20th century, never mind that New Zealanders care deeply about him, and have chosen to mark his death with a state funeral. They’re just not going to be there.

To be fair, no one could expect the Queen to travel to this funeral. She’s in her eighties, and her travelling days are over, especially at short notice. But there are plenty of royals who are perfectly capable of flying to New Zealand, if they cared to do so.

But they don’t. Courtesy of The Holden Republic, here are the other terribly important things the royals have to do on the day of Edmund Hillary’s funeral.

The Queen will visit the King’s Lynn Preservation Trust Limited to mark its Fiftieth Anniversary. Her Majesty will also open the new CT Scanners/Radiology Suite at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, King’s Lynn.

The Duke of York United Kingdom Special Representative for International Trade and Investment, will attend the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

The Earl of Wessex will attend the Annual Banquet of the Worshipful Company of Pattenmakers at Mansion House, London EC4.

The Princess Royal Patron, Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, will hold a Dinner at Palace of Holyroodhouse.

The Princess Royal will Launch the Lothians and Edinburgh Abstinence Programme at Malta House, 1 Malta Terrace, Edinburgh.

The Princess Royal Patron, Silver of the Stars, will open an Exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street, Edinburgh.

The Duke of Gloucester Colonel-in-Chief, The Royal Army Medical Corps will receive Colonel David Morris upon relinquishing his appointment of Representative Colonel Commandant and Colonel Peter Roberts on assuming the appointment at Kensington Palace.”

I have blogged before about the rudeness of the royals. But this snub is much, much, worse. I am an avowed republican, and I would be delighted to shake off the last vestiges of bowing our heads to people just because they happened to have been born into the ruling family. But the Queen is New Zealand’s head of state, and she or a member of her family should be at this funeral, as a mark of respect to Ed Hillary, to New Zealand, and to the genuine sadness of New Zealanders everywhere. The only charitable construction I can put on this is that they are trying to send us a signal that they are irrelevant, and that New Zealand should become a republic. But who are they to tell us what our constitutional arrangements should be?

Time to toss these irrelevant, rude, snobs.

Constitution is a verb

It really is the silly season in New Zealand. Pollies all on leave, the usual stories about floods and people being rained out of campsites, and retrospectives of whatever journalists can dream up to write about. Even the best have resorted to cat stories and look at the way we were pieces. Newspaper editors, in their most cynical moments, must have been delighted that they were able to fill their pages with stories about Sir Edmund Hillary. He is, of course, a man whose death should be remarked, and his life celebrated, but I wonder if the newspaper coverage would have been quite so fulsome had he died a few months earlier, or later?

In the midst of all this, former prime minister Mike Moore has decided that it’s time to debate republicanism. His main point – there should be a group of eminent persons writing a new constitution for New Zealand. Idiot/Savant has already disposed of Moore’s “eminent persons” group, a proposal that ought to be anathema to republicans anywhere. But if you look closely at some of Moore’s other arguments, you will see that he is not really interested in republicanism at all. He is far more interested in writing a new constitution for New Zealand. So in the Trojan horse of arguing for a republic, he really hopes to wangle some new arrangements for how we constitute ourselves.

He does start with an argument for New Zealand becoming a republic: Australia is likely to become one, so New Zealand should too. Well, that’s compelling. I wonder what else New Zealand should just follow Australia in doing? Protectionism of primary producers? Imprisoning refugees and their children? Removing resources from indigenous people and then using the army to force them to live a certain way?

Don’t get me wrong – I think Australia is a fabulous country, and I’m very happy to be living here. There are many things that Australia does that I think New Zealand could emulate – the separation of powers through having an upper and a lower house being a case in point. However, we should not have an upper house just because Australia has one – we should have one because it introduces serious checks and balances into the process of making law. “Australia does it so New Zealand should too” is a very poor argument, for anything. The case for New Zealand becoming a republic should stand on its own merits, not on what is happening across the Tasman.

But then Moore’s real intent becomes clear. He thinks that we should engage in writing a whole new constitution, in order to avoid ad hoc change. As examples of ad hoc change, he cites the move to MMP, the inclusion of the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi, whatever they might be, in legislation, and the recent changes to electoral finance law.

It’s bizarre to claim that the move to MMP was ad hoc. The electoral process was reviewed by Royal Commission on the Electoral System, which came up with some radical suggestions about how New Zealand could elect its government. The Commission’s suggestions were tested in an indicative referendum, which selected MMP as the preferred system of voting, and then MMP vs FPP was tested in a binding referendum. There was a huge amount of discussion and debate about just how New Zealand should be electing its politicians. It was hardly an ad hoc process.

The inclusion of the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi in legislation was certainly introduced without anyone quite knowing what it meant. But again, the process was hardly ad hoc. There had been years and years and years of Maori protest and debate, demanding that the Treaty be honoured. Over time, the attitudes of Pakeha New Zealand started to change. Of course, this debate did not happen in parliament, so maybe that’s why Moore regards it as ad hoc. Parliament finally took notice, and started making changes, at first under the 1984 Labour government, and later under the 1990 National government, notably when Doug Graham was Minister of Treaty Negotiations. In the meantime, the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi, as they applied to legislation, were being teased out by courts and judges, in a time honoured practice, of taking a case, getting a judgement, possibly appealing that judgement to higher and higher courts, with each appeal and review refining our understanding of what the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi comprehend (in the sense of “include”, not “understand”). Again, hardly an ad hoc process. Indeed, the most ad hoc part of this process in more recent years has been the foreshore and seabed legislation, overturning a carefully thought out judgement from a court.

As for electoral finance reform, I’m with Moore, in part, on this one. The process by which the recent Electoral Finance Act was put in place was hardly ideal. It nevertheless followed the standard parliamentary protocol for legislation, and I think the result is weak legislation that far too clearly serves political parties’ interests, instead of the interests of the electorate. But Moore claims there had been a previous consensus on electoral finance. Sure! It was a consensus that allowed parties to use parliamentary funding for political purposes, and let donors hide behind “anonymous” trusts. It was a consensus that benefitted political parties, and because their own interests were at stake, neither party has had the courage to deal with electoral finance properly. I’m not sure that there is a problem with that particular consensus being broken. Nevertheless, that particular law is going to be tested in the coming year, through the courts, like the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi. And at least one political party has promised a thorough going review of electoral finance should they be elected. Again, not an ad hoc process, ‘though perhaps one that Moore doesn’t like.

As you can see, none of these arguments is about New Zealand becoming a republic. They are actually all about perceived problems with our existing constitution, and therefore, a need for it to be rewritten. I’m all for New Zealand becoming a republic, but I don’t think these are the arguments for it. I can’t help thinking that these are the things that Moore finds irksome about New Zealand, so he would like to change them. Even more than that, I can’t help thinking that MMP, the Treaty of Waitangi and electoral finance are issues that politicians find irksome and would like to change, to a system that suits them better. But I think that many ordinary citizens are rather pleased to have at least some constraints on politicians.

Mike Moore ignores the success of the existing New Zealand constitution in his rather specious arguments for a rewrite. We have never had a written constitution, and I’m not sure that we need one. What we have is a series of interlocking agreements, both legislative and by convention, dating back as far as the 1688 Bill of Rights, that define the way we constitute ourselves. From time to time we rewrite or change or add to those agreements, but it’s a bit here and a bit there, never a wholesale change. So for the most part we keep the framework and the warp and weft intact, just making changes that are needed, without disrupting the entire edifice. In doing this, we constitute and reconstitute ourselves, in a process that makes constitution a verb, not a noun. We engage in a constant process of revising and re-visioning ourselves. It’s never settled, it’s never certain, it’s never black and white, once and for all. And that gives us real freedom to act and to be.

So while I am for a little tinkering, replacing an unelected monarch with a republican president, I am not interested in codifying and setting in stone our understanding of who we are.

And as for the eminent persons group. Republicans bow their heads to no one by virtue of position. They might revere acheivement and expertise, but not mere eminence. In any case, who is going to be involved in and select the “eminent” persons? More politicians? I hope not. Politicians need to remember that they are the servants of the people, not the other way around, and that they work within the system that citizens give them. They most certainly should not be allowed to set up the rules themselves. I much prefer the idea of using experts to come up with some ideas, and a citizens jury to debate and decide on them. Who would the experts would be? It turns out that we are a very wealthy society, so we can afford to employ some people just to think about how we should govern ourselves, in universities, the public service, think tanks, the judiciary, even consultancy firms. There are plenty of people who have real expertise in this area, rather than picking some “eminent” people. The one major qualification for being on the panel of experts coming up with a range of ideas, or for being on the citizens jury? Members must not be, or have been, parliamentarians.

Who is the rudie?

So the Prime Minister preferred to carry on running the country while the queen pontificated about something or other. Predictably, this was seen as an insult to the queen. Coupled with a report about Commonwealth prime ministers not bothering to dine with the Prince of Wales and his wife, it seems that Commonwealth leaders really are terribly rude.

Or are they?

These are, for the most part, elected heads of some of the most robust democracies in the world. I don’t mean robust in the sense of rough and tumble, but in the sense that both the institutions and the practice of democracy is strong. The leaders of democracies gathered at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting can truly said to have been chosen to lead by their fellow citizens. Sure, not everyone in this country will have voted for Helen Clark, but if John Key, or whoever, is elected next year, then he or she will just as surely be the leader of our democracy as Helen Clark is now. Not because everyone has voted for him or her, but because the great majority of citizens in this democracy will have participated in the democratic processes that have resulted in him or her becoming leader.

And who is the queen? And the Prince of Wales? Nobodies. Nobody chose them, nobody trusts them with any real power, nobody wants them to actually rule. By simply being born in the right wrong place at the right wrong time, they get to swan around, invoke inherited privilege, and demand that we treat them with respect. The position of the Prince of Wales’ wife is no better. She has done nothing on her own account to be entitled to respect, simply married into the Windsors.

I see no reason not to treat the Windsors with common courtesy. But common, ordinary old courtesy is all they should get. If I were to send Helen Clark an invitation to dinner, I’m sure I would get a polite note back, saying “Thanks, but no thanks.” Ordinary, common courtesy. I have no right to make demands on her time, I have no right to expect her to listen to any speech I make, I have no right to compel her to act in any particular way, other than through the ordinary mechanisms of our robust democracy, functioning in the same way as it does for every other citizen. If anything, I have more right to approach the leader of our government than Elizabeth Windsor does, just because I am a citizen.

Rather than the democratically elected heads of Commonwealth countries being apotheosized as “rude” when they elect to spend their time governing instead of listening to these nobodies, the relics of the House of Windsor should be seen as rude, for even beginning to think that they have a right to take up the time of Commonwealth heads of government. Elizabeth, Charles and Camilla, you are the rude people here.

Why anonymous donations should be banned

The Electoral Finance bill looks like a patched up job, and no matter what Labour apologists say, the rules around anonymous donations just look silly.

The new rules – donations over $1,000 must be channeled through the Electoral Commission so that the party doesn’t know who it’s getting the money from, and there’s a limit on the amount that parties can receive through this channel – $240,000. Why that number? It’s 10% of the total amount that parties can spend in election year under the election spending caps – clause 28C(1). There’s a further restriction – an individual donor can only contribute 15% of the total – clause 28C(3).

The maximum amount that a political party may be paid in donations made to the Electoral Commission for the benefit of the party from the same donor during any specified period is 15% in sum or value (excluding any interest paid under section 28F(2)) of the amount that may be paid to the party…

So the power of individuals to make anonymous donations to political parties has been considerably restricted.

Both Kiwiblog and No Right Turn have analyses of the bill as reported back, so you can head over there for right wing and left wing views respectively. Kiwiblog has material here, here, here and here, and No Right Turn has posts here and here.

As ever, I want to be more theoretical. There seems to be a consensus, among non-politicians, that anonymous donations are bad, because then we don’t know who is using their money to influence political outcomes. But that’s about as far as the analysis goes.

You may recall that some weeks ago, I wrote about republican freedom. Roughly, a person is free just so long as no one else is in a position to dominate her. I subsequently deployed that account of freedom in thinking about the police raids on Ruatoki, and on various activists, and explaining why the raids reduced freedom for all of us.

Expanding that account of freedom a little, recall that a person can be dominated in one aspect of his life, but not in others. So you might have a spouse who restricts your friendships, demands that you behave in a certain way, threatens violence if you attempt to push back, but have a benign work environment. So you are more free at work, than at home.

Think about that dominating spouse again. What he does is reduce the choices that you may make. Some of them become so costly that you scarcely ever choose them, and others are just right out of the question. The range of choices you can make is restricted, and your freedom reduced.

The only thing to be said in favour of the dominating spouse is that at least her restrictions on your power to act are up-front. You know what they are. But there are many ways of setting agendas, and reducing choice, including back room deals and manipulation. These are perhaps worse, because you don’t know about them, and you can’t erect defences against them.

When people make anonymous donations to political parties, they are seeking to affect the political landscape without their actions being known. A union could donate a large amount of money to a left wing party, or a business group could donate to a right wing party. In each case, they would be hoping that if the party they choose to donate to is elected, then the political and economic and social landscape will be more favourable towards their own interests. When they make those donations anonymously, they are attempting to manipulate the political agenda, in ways that the rest of us are not aware of. And that reduces our freedom, because our capacity to make independent judgements about the worth of particular parties is compromised.

Of course, there’s no clear evidence that more money equals more votes, or that we are so susceptible to advertising that we are always swayed by it. However I know that my response to advertising, and my response to endorsements or news stories of any kind, is to wonder who paid for it, and who benefits, and what the underlying agenda is. If I don’t know who paid for it, then my capacity to make judgements about the worth of the message is reduced. (Obvious case in point – anti-climate change advertising / P R / research institutes funded by the big oil companies. Anyone who doesn’t regard research from those quarters with a very sceptical eye is outrageously naive.)

That’s why there should be no anonymous donations. Channeling the money through the Electoral Commission at least reduces the chances that a donor will expect a particular return for his money, ‘though as far as I can tell, it’s still open for someone to make a donation through the Electoral Commission, and then just quietly let the donee party know that the donation has been made. However, it still doesn’t let us know which groups are hoping that a particular party will win. We can’t tell where the money is coming from, and that reduces our capacity to make independent judgements about the agendas set out by political parties. And that reduces our freedom.

In addition to that, I have long thought that people who are prepared to give money to political parties ought to be prepared to stand up and be counted for it. This is not like making a donation to a charity, where you might think that the point of making the donation is obscured if you turn around and collect praise for it. For too long political parties have relied on the outward similarity between donations to charities, and donations to political parties. To be sure, a donation to a particular party might be made with the long term goal of making New Zealand a better place, but that’s a bit of a long bow. A donation to a charity is usually made with the aim of assisting the charity to achieve its specific purposes – feeding the homeless, supporting kids with cancer, whatever. Donations to political parties are more about reinforcing the donor’s view of what is right for New Zealand, imposing the donor’s own political views on the rest of us. And that’s another reason for anonymity to be out.