It can fairly be advanced that the sort of populism we see now in NZ is an attempt to substitute State action of one sort or another for a fractured sense of national culture and the sacred. Feelz, the faith-based Green initiatives, the raw narcissim of the Winstone Ganders of our Parliament, the inchoate visions of Maori resurgence, the general retreat into solipsism have become the standard fare, and a thin gruel it is.
The results: a plethora of mindless acts (especially by youth, who feel all this anomie most intensely), suicides and self-harm, a deep series of fractures and the start of the demonisations we though were behind us - boomers vs Millenials, rural vs urban, Greens vs our present level of comfort, renters vs landlords, Awkland vs the rest of the country, cities vs provinces, makers vs takers, vegans vs omnivores, and on and on ad infinitum. There is nothing here to unite us if these chasms widen. And attempts by Gubmints to rub Statist balm, using our own extorted money, into these essentially spiritual communal wounds, miss the mark so completely as to be farcical.
David Goldman argues that a sense of the sacred is needed to give purpose to life:
These all are manifestations of what is commonly called the identity crisis of the West, but might better be termed the West’s struggle with the sacred. By “sacred”, I mean that which endures beyond our lifetime and beyond the lifetime of our children, the enduring characteristics that make us unique and will continue to distinguish us from the other peoples of the world, and which cannot be violated without destroying our sense of who we are. The sacred is what a country’s soldiers are willing to die to protect; unless there is something for which we are willing to die, we will find nothing for which we are willing to live.
Tradition surely is part of this, but not every part of our tradition is sacred to us: we find within tradition elements that have prevailed through the ages and which we expect to prevail, if our present existence is to have a purpose, beyond our lifetimes. These elements of tradition cannot exist except through a nation: contrary to Hillary Clinton, it takes not a village but a nation to embody the language, customs and ethos that found our identity. The invariant feature of the various expressions of nationalism on both sides of the Atlantic is an attempt to recapture the past in order to envision a future. “Identity” as a concept is meaningless, except as it is rooted in the past and pointed toward the future. Who we are at the moment depends on where we came from and where we expect to go. Our present, as Augustine argued in Confessions XI, is a composite of memory and anticipation.
Augustine (in City of God XXIV) famously took issue with Cicero’s definition of a res publica as an association founded on common interest, arguing instead that it was founded on a common love. It might be more accurate to say that it is founded on a common sense of the sacred, for the sacred embodies not only love but also awe and fear, specifically the fear that by violating the elements of tradition that define us we will lose ourselves.
"..by violating the elements of tradition that define us we will lose ourselves" - but what, any more, Defines Us in the here and now?
Politicians, whatever their personal characteristics, do reflect something of the zeitgeist. And it is not a pretty image that we see in that dim mirror. After all, just ponder the various comment threads here on Interest, for confirmation......