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  • Writer's pictureGary Moller

Is tribalism the greatest threat to our liberal democracy?

Updated: Apr 6


The other day, my grown son visited the doctor for a minor concern and was surprised when they didn't charge him. Despite his offer to pay, they refused to accept it. Interestingly, I also went to the doctor for a minor issue, but was charged $80 for the brief ten-minute visit. The reason for this discrepancy is clear: I am a retired white man, while my son is a working man with brown skin, just like his mother's complexion. We are a family divided by privilege based on our skin colour (race, or tribe). So, also, increasingly, is the entire country.


New Zealand has entrenched and flourishing race privilege, which comes at the cost of merit-based systems and democratic principles.

I invited Paul Mulvaney, NZ Freelance Journalist, to comment on the state of New Zealand's democracy, and here's what he wrote:

When citizens abdicate their democratic duty, when the media abandons its responsibilities, when judges become political activists, when academics are intolerant of open inquiry, and when governments are subverted by an ideology – that is when a corporate tribal elite emerges to encircle the commons, that is to privatise what belongs to the public, to us the people, and to govern not in our interests but for themselves. It is in this way wealth & power are merged.


I support the activities of those in civil society who value & engage in Maori language and Maori culture. 

A liberal civil society is where we meet in all our differences – indeed society is at its most creative when diversity is practised & enjoyed by everyone.


To conclude Politics arises from civil society – from the various conflicting interests of people. 

That political-civil interaction is what democracy looks like. But, and this is the crux of my argument, no interest group has the right of governance unless the people agree

Elections are that act of agreement – always temporary with the winner always on trial. 

New Zealanders, both Maori and non-Maori, have not been asked to agree to tribalist governance . If we had been asked would we have agreed? 

Tribalism and democracy are incompatible. We can’t have both. 

Tribalism is based on principles of inequality whilst democracy is based on equality. 

Kin status is what matters in the tribe; citizenship is the democratic status. 

Tribalism is exclusive. To belong you must have ancestors who were themselves born into the system. 

Democracy by contrast includes people from all backgrounds

The matter of who is included or who is excluded touches all areas of New Zealand life. 

Many New Zealand families have members who are Maori and members who are non-Maori. 

If we wish to keep NZ as a liberal democratic nation then, as we derive our citizen rights from the nationstate, so we have a duty to ensure that the nation-state which awards those rights, remains democratic and able to do so. 

For our country to remain a liberal democracy, we need to know what democracy is, its true value, and what we must do to restore it

Paul Mulvaney

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2 commentaires

Philip Hayward
25 mars

Acemoglu and Robinson, in a hefty and respected book "Why Nations Fail", examine the history of nations and empires and conclude that the top cause of failure is when there are institutions that "extract" value zero-sum from the efforts of everyone else in society. In contrast, "inclusive" institutions are of benefit for social stability and survival., and nations that discover the value of these end up unleashing the creative potential of all their citizens.

Gary Moller
Gary Moller
25 mars
En réponse à

Philip, in the briefest of Plain English,"institutions that "extract" value zero-sum from the efforts of everyone", are "parasites".

For a society to thrive, it must first identify the developing parasites, then eliminate them forthwith.

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