Without Rules, No Society Functions

Readers will have gathered from previous blogs that the breakdown of sound democratic government in USA and UK troubles me greatly. To which I last week added a close-to-home failure of leadership and good governance in a local society.  Light years apart in importance but with a common thread of flouting the Constitution and Rules.

Good governance is crucial for New Zealand’s social and economic wellbeing. We have 300,000 societies & clubs and 500,000 enterprises – they all have Constitutions, By-laws and Rules to be followed.

Ever since we began to live in communities, decisions that affect the group have been made by a chief supported by councillors.  By trial and error, communities learned that decision-making improved if made within agreed guidelines of approach, process and behaviour. This enabled their little society to function for the greater good.   In due course societies grew, so that the need for rules and protocols in government and justice became greater, more complex and more formalized. A common feature of successful and long-lasting civilizations was the wisdom and predictability of their rules-based exercise of power in a proto-contract with the governed. The Chinese, Persian, Assyrian, Egyptian, Greek, Roman and pre-Columbian American civilizations were examples – large and complex social systems, highly codified.

Many of us are descended from Celts, Anglo-Saxons, Vikings and Polynesians. These younger and smaller societies appear to have made further developments of protocols and rules for council debate. Two examples among many:

  • The Icelandic Althing (founded 930 CE) is the world’s oldest surviving parliament;
  • The Polynesian respect for the kaikorero on the marae, a tikanga where he who holds the tokotoko has the floor.

French Enlightenment philosophy developed the idea of co-equal separation of Executive, Legislature and Judiciary. Already existing approximately in the common law British framework, the French thinking was adopted formally in the USA Constitution and held strong for 230 years.

We now have constitutional outrage – a return to behaviours reminiscent of the Stuart and Bourbon Kings! In both USA and UK, the Executive is out of control, being slowly but remorselessly reined in by an alliance of Legislature and Judiciary.

These appalling leaders are not alone – many countries are now led by populist autocrats with broadly similar agendas and wilful ignorance of history. Their damage is already severe – to globalism, trade, security, regional peace, trust, political engagement, environmental co-operation, free flow of people and resources.  Worldwide, psychological damage is additional but equally hard to restore – damage to people’s spirits, optimism, courage, creativity, safety, and hope for peaceful prosperity. Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness seems to be a receding dream for billions.

So, a prayer for a return to a rules-based world – its governments, diplomacy, trade, finance, treatment of people, and behaviours! Perhaps the EU has it right?