Privileged Status?



Maori are legally privileged in New Zealand today, just as the Aristocracy were legally privileged in pre-revolutionary France.

Jamie Whyte, Act Party Leader, 26 July 2014


REPROVED BY DAME SUSAN, condemned by the Maori Party, castigated by most of the news media, it remains to be seen whether Jamie Whyte’s equation of Maori legal “privileges” with the feudal privileges of the French aristocracy was electorally clever or stupid.

The example of Don Brash’s Orewa Speech undoubtedly looms very large before any right-wing political leader whose party is languishing in the opinion polls. The National Party leader’s notorious address to the Orewa Rotary Club, in which he promised to nullify nearly all of Maoridom’s political rehabilitation since the 1970s, saw his party’s poll ratings advance by an unprecedented 17 percentage points. It had put the National Opposition back in the race – with a vengeance!

The New Zealand electorate, it seems, is one vast racist itch just waiting for a scratch. And if it remains as easily satisfied as it was ten years ago, then Whyte’s speech to the Act Party’s Hamilton conference – and all the fallout from it – should produce a statistically significant up-tick in his party’s support.

And really, what else could Jamie do? The New Zealand voter is ill-disposed toward philosophical speculation and debate. The finer points of John Locke’s defence of individual liberty and the role played by private property in its preservation, are not the stuff of all that many Pakeha conversations. The merits or otherwise of their Maori neighbours, on the other hand, remains the subject of lively speculation.

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Richard Prebble understood and accepted this inconvenient truth about the New Zealand voter. He had watched good-naturedly as Roger Douglas and Derek Quigley (Act’s founders) toured the country (on millionaire Craig Heatley’s dime) preaching the pure gospel of neoliberalism to anyone who would listen. Which, as Prebble already knew, would always be far too few to secure a solid footing for Act in the new MMP parliament. He had the data, he knew what it would take to move 5 percent of his fellow Kiwis into Act’s camp – and it wasn’t John Locke.

What Jamie Whyte lacks, however, is his predecessor’s wry political cynicism. If he was to raise again the divisive issue of Maori “privilege” (at Act’s campaign manager, Richard Prebble’s insistence?) then he was determined to do so with all the panache of a swashbuckling Cambridge philosopher. Not for him the mean-spirited snarling of the hard-bitten provincial voter that Prebble translated so well. No, he would wage war on the legal privileges of Maoridom in the guise of an antipodean Robespierre.

“Maori are legally privileged in New Zealand today,” Whyte told Act’s annual conference in Hamilton, “just as the Aristocracy were legally privileged in pre-revolutionary France.”


Presumably, in making this bold comparison, our Cambridge graduate had some notion of what those aristocratic privileges included, even if many in his audience, subscribing to Henry Ford’s view that “history is bunk”, did not.

Let’s list just a few of them:

  • The French Aristocracy were exempt from taxation.
  • French aristocrats presided over their own seigneurial courts – i.e. they were able to try their own tenants for any beaches of the law alleged to have taken place on their own estates.
  • Deceased tenant farmers of aristocratic land were prevented, under the law of mainmorte (the “dead hand”) from bequeathing the tenancy rights they enjoyed whilst living to their descendants. Upon their death the right to use the property reverted to its aristocratic owner who was then free to dispose of it as he saw fit – even at the cost of evicting the deceased tenant’s family. The aristocrat could, of course, be “persuaded” against this course of action by the tenant’s descendants paying their lord a “fine” for the right to go on farming the land.
  • Aristocrats also enjoyed a range of monopolies within their domains. For example, requiring tenants to have their grain ground in the aristocrat’s mill.
  • In many parts of France, a tenant wishing to get married had first to acquire his or her lord’s permission.
  • The aristocrat’s prior permission was also required before a tenant farmer could vacate his tenancy – i.e. move away from the lord’s estate.
  • To secure these aristocratic consents it was customary for tenants to pay yet more “fines”.


Do any of these legal privileges bear any resemblance to the supposed legal privileges enjoyed by Maori? Are Maori exempt from taxation? Do Maori preside over their own courts? Are Maori able to prevent the alienation of their tribal resources by imposing restrictions on their tenants’ ability to bequeath, sell or otherwise transfer their interest in tribal property? Do Maori enjoy monopolies over specific goods and services? Is prior permission required from Maori before a citizen is able to exercise his or her rights?

Perhaps the most questionable aspect of Whyte’s historical comparison was the aspect which the Race Relations Commissioner, Dame Susan Devoy, picked up on in her statement of Wednesday, 30 July, in which she stated: “Equating Maori New Zealanders to French aristocrats who were murdered because of their privilege is a grotesque and inflammatory statement.” Quite true, because to link the French Aristocracy and the French Revolution is, indeed, to conjure up images of angry crowds, clattering tumbrils, rolling drums and the sudden descent of Madame Guillotine’s blade.

The historical details surrounding the persecution of the French Aristocracy are, as is so often the case, even worse. The guillotining of condemned aristocrats in the manner so vividly described by Charles Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities certainly did take place, but at least as many more aristocrats met their deaths at the hands of the Parisian Mob. In a grotesque settling of centuries-old social scores, aristocratic families were dragged from the relative safety of the city’s overcrowded prisons and butchered in the streets. Whipped to a frenzy by such fanatical foes of privilege as Jean-Paul Marat, the poor of Paris fell upon these defenceless men women and children and quite literally tore them to pieces.

These are dangerous precedents to play with in a country whose racial and social prejudices lie buried in such shallow graves. Politicians who make persistent, but groundless, claims that a minority of the population is enjoying legal privileges which the majority of ordinary citizens do not possess, can hardly hold themselves blameless when those same ordinary citizens turn against that minority. Or, God forbid, upon it.

As the great Russian playwright, Anton Chekov, once remarked: “If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don’t put it there.”


  1. “The principle of justice—not law—is human dignity and egalitarianism together. And they really are the lens through which civilizations are built. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Bhutan or Canada or China or India or Australia: all civilizations. Look at what the Buddha said, or Mohammed, or Confucius; look at any major moral and ethical theorist. They all talk about human dignity and egalitarianism in one way or another. Those are the lenses through which you can build society. ” John Ralston Saul

    I’d say without these there is no civilisation, no civil society,just the law of the jungle or Slavery: (1) A grossly oppressive feudal system that flourished for 1500 years during a period called the Dark Ages when Christianity ruled. (2) Capitalism carried to its logical conclusion.

  2. The New Zealand electorate, it seems, is one vast racist itch just waiting for a scratch.

    Quote of the year. So true, but if you say it out loud you’re somehow anti free speech. This vast racist itch, as you have put it, reserves the right to have its allergy, and to scratch it raw at will.

    Whither the antihistamine?

  3. The wealthy elite, who pay little tax, and enjoy the top end of a practically vertical playing field they’ve rigged to benefit themselves, are more like the French aristocracy than any other group in NZ.

    • I thought the same thing Simon; the closest match to the French aristocracy in our society are our wealthy elite. Limited concessions from the powerful are not the same thing as privilege, since they are conditional on what the powerful will allow, and not just on what the recipient would like. In comparison, the genuinely privileged have the power to insist on their interests having priority over the interests of others. This is the feature that our wealthy elites share with the French aristocrats; a feature which is certainly not shared by most Maori. Jamie Whyte is being willfully disingenuous. Pulling his speech apart would make a good introductory exercise for a stage 1 critical thinking class.

  4. What is most surprising commentary on Whytes remarks is John Key’s continued promotion of Act as a political partner to National, especially in Epsom.

    I suspect the real proof of this being electorally ‘stupid’ will be on September 20th.

    I doubt whether those voters that occupy the centre of the political spectrum will have much empathy with Whytes ‘equation’, or John Key’s support.

  5. One should remind Jamie all those fancy frogs got their heads cut off. Social reform can be painful.

  6. My understanding is that the Maori electorates were set up in the 1860’s to give them a vote in a qualified voting system whereby one had to own a certain value of land to get a vote. Maori land was often tribally owned so they didn’t get a vote.

    Today we have a universal franchise so the raison d’etre of the Maori electorate has evaporated.

    Time to move on?

  7. If Maori really did have the same privileges as the French aristocracy then surely they would hold the same level of position in NZ society as the French aristocracy held in France at that time.

    Privilege leads to a result of more land and wealth and power.

    No? Maori don’t?

    If they don’t hold a position in NZ society equivalent to French aristocracy in France at that time then… they don’t have the same privilege.

    Simple. Logic.

    Which seems to have escaped our rather educated Jamie Whyte.

    But that’s probably because he has zero understanding of what privilege is and looks like.

    • Jamie Whyte’s, and Act’s, purpose with this type of speech is to distract from those that do have that type privilege – the rich.

  8. as a philosophy student, im amazed jamie whyte could have studied philosophy and come to his ideological conclusions. The coursebook on contemporary political philosophy does a fair bit of damage to anarcho capitalist theories, and the criticism of anarcho capitalism doesnt go far enough imo, but it should be enough to deter anyone from taking it seriously

    Although, not everyone that takes philosophy has a love of truth as i do, so i guess he just ignored the good arguments against it and chose to believe what he wanted to.

  9. I think that there would be a lot of Maori families in shacks out the back of Moerewa, Ruatoria, Huntly and Otara who would be surprised to find that they have the privileges of 18th Century French royalty. In fact, I was in Huntly a few weeks back, and I didn’t see peacocks strutting around the front lawns of the residences there, that certainly didnt look like the palaces of Versallies, and not a single Maori dandy and fop wearing the finest silk and velvet in sight..??

    Though, he would have a point if he said that about the iwi leadership. Now that is a group that acts like French Royalty…

    • That’s the point Jamie Whyte failed to make. He expressed himself poorly in my opinion – he had a good point but shot himself in the foot when saying it.

      The real equivalent of French nobility are the ‘poseurs with wobbly walking sticks’ on the Treaty Boards and their lawyers who have been on this gravy train for decades and who now inhabit the Rich List.

  10. Dont these globalists just love the whole ‘divide and conquer’ thing?….

    Any issues that confuse,divide … at times curry favor with , at others turn against….these are the methods used. Matters not to them. Media , lobby groups…all can be used in the long term.

    Its a practice as old as Rome itself.

    • Having read the comments I cant help thinking that Jamie and the French Revolution are the wrong historic analogy. How about the good old principle of picking on a distinct group, vilifying them to the masses for their “crimes”, dehumanising them and then doing unto them with both popular acclaim and approval. Sort of the Goebbels approach to Jews or the Pravda approach to kulaks.

      So to Jamie, you might note that when the formerly mentioned technocratic elites gathered power they picked on a distinct group. best not let the bugger near the levers of power.

  11. There’s only one group that should be compared to the Old Aristocracy – the rich. The people who get laws written for their benefit, who get millions per year in subsidies and who get their taxes cut. Basically, the people who Act work for.

  12. After reading this article I am ashamed that I cheered when the Aristocracy in France got their heads chopped by a sharp blade in the movie “Tale of Two Cities.” Also how happy I am that as a Maori I do not have such a privileged status. If Mr. Whyte was factual, I can see me now in a movie being judged by women knitting something in the front seats and the Judge saying; “This privileged Maori is guilty, eh Jury.” It would be no use me pleading: “But Judge I pay my taxes, I got free milk in schools just like the peasants children, and I got two shillings and sixpence a week family benefit like all children even though I am an Aristocratic Maori.” I could hear Robspeare Whyte and the Revolutionary Act Party saying; “Off with his head.”

    • What was not mentioned in Chris’ article on the “Terror” was a backdrop of fear for the revolution. Monarchist armies were converging on Paris, the aristocracy were perceived to be in later terms “5th Columnists”, the people of Paris legitimately feared counter revolutionary reprisals from the Ancien Regime. “Best to kill the buggers first”, was quite likely the thinking.

      I would hope in that scenario Mr Whyte would be put into the cart for the guillotine by the Maori, Pasifika and white westies of the Committee for Public Safety.

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