Sunday, November 14, 2010


I have been re-reading D'Arcy Cresswell's Present Without Leave with the notion in mind that I might write something on what we have become. There was an enormous amount of speculation about New Zealand's future from the late 'thirties to the mid-fifties and I thought I might revisit all that and see how wildly wrong or savagely right they were. Cresswell seems so much on the button that he is worth quoting - what a contemporary ring has his commentary on how and why we pass laws and what we then think of them:

" ... their notion of what is wrong and what is merely unlawful is determined by the number of those who may be concerned, and whether they break the law openly, as the many may safe;y do, or secretly, as the few are compelled. In this their feeble condition is made plain, that in appearing to love freedom they love only lawlessness, and have no objection to laws being passed which they don't mean to keep. No doubt their manner of settlement first divided the theory from the practice of law, and allowed both the few to make laws and the many to break them. For in the backwoods a law indicated a state of emergency, and so it was agreed on; of which the officials and cranks took every advantage; and in this way laws are passed which men agree to in theory but not at first in practice as touching themselves. So a law that was passed in an emergency, or unnoticed, becomes in the end a fixed item of government, to be disregarded and laughed at if against the many, but held to be binding if against the few. And of this favourable state of affairs those take advantage who are forever scheming to introduce their peculiar views. For it is the characteristic of prudish and sectarian law-givers that they had rather their laws were passed than obeyed, dreaded than revered. Yet the making of true laws belongs alone to the highest statesmanship; ..."

It is a chilling thought to put those ideas from 1936 against the climate of our present law making whether it be earthquakes or Hobbits, copyright or blood alcohol levels.

1 comment:

  1. After going to several public meetings regarding the current broiling of urban issues in Auckland, I hope only one thing: that if they are to solidify anything into stoney law, consideration should be given to the future consequences of them in a rapid age of progress. My fears are this: that laws are not only not obeyed because they were hastily put together in the 'neat package' of the One City, but that the laws and numerous urban strategy documents will become anachronistic in the short to medium term and hinder innovative developments within the city. On the other hand, it may be said that no one would be able to foresee any of this, but it almost seems that with all of this churning out of law, there needs to be something visionary behind it.