A Letter From New Zealand

AMERICA has had, and is still having, more to do with the making of Greater Britain than is dreamed of in the world’s philosophy. New Zealand, especially, may be cited as a witness in this connection, and a book might be written about what she has adapted and assimilated from the United States. For example, she has labor laws, under which a systematic effort is made to give the worker what is considered fair pay for his work, and to avert and adjust disruptive differences between workers and employers. These laws have been so distinctly beneficial in their practical operation that they have already been worked into the legislation of several other colonies, and their principles are now in process of active germination in the political soil of England. Yet what is their genesis ? Of course they were, in the first instance, called for by the conditions of life in New Zealand, and no doubt New Zealand could, from within herself, have applied a solution more or less satisfactory, for the necessity was patent to the consciousness of her thinking men. As a matter of fact, however, the guiding hand came from America; that is, the public men of New Zealand, looking all round for aids to help them out of a difficulty, found the United States ready to present them with a means to the end they had in view. As I write I have before me copies of the Massachusetts Act of 1886, to provide for a State Board of Arbitration for the settlement of differences between employers and their employees, also of the 1887 and 1888 amendments of that statute, and copies of the earlier annual reports of the State Board ; and it is within my personal knowledge that these and kindred documents from the same source led to the drafting of the originals of the present labor laws of New Zealand. The Hon. T. W. Hislop, sometime colonial secretary and afterwards minister of education in the colony, was the first to take this work in hand. The bills projected by him did not reach the statute book, for the ministry of which he was a member went out of office, but what had been assimilated from America was not lost, for Mr. Hislop’s successor, the Hon. W. P. Reeves, with a happy talent for progressive statecraft, caught up Mr. Hislop’s work and carried it on to the goal of definitive legislation.

The change thus being brought about is one of the very greatest importance in the mutual sphere of capital and labor, employer and employee. It rests on the principle of vital partnership, and involves the ultimate expression of that principle in practice. Probably neither in America nor England nor New Zealand is the point of realization yet within measurable distance, but the leaven is at work, and there is no reason to believe that it will not spread throughout the whole lump. This result is likely to be reached much sooner in New Zealand than in either America or England, because the colonial lump is not only smaller, but less compacted than it is in either of the other instances of prejudice, vested interest, millionairism, monopoly, and other complicating ingredients of time and individualistic trade on the grand scale. It may be that America herself will in the end gain by the working of her own example in New Zealand, for the colony’s geographical limitations and social and racial homogeneousness are probably more favorable to the early and symmetrical development of vital changes than the contrary conditions which prevail in the United States ; and these very states may have to come for their full vitalizing impulse of progress to the country which in the first instance obtained its corresponding impulse from them. Then the parable of the mustard seed will be realized in the sphere of economics.

America has in other things played a considerable part in connection with democratic development in New Zealand. In New Zealand’s labor laws, modeled on those of Massachusetts, a distinct step is taken toward a real partnership of labor and capital. In a minor degree an attempt has also been made to make labor independent of capital, and this, too, is traceable to the United States. In this instance, however, the journalism of New York, and not the legislation of any state, has been the intermediary agent, and Italy the land of the example. Some years ago the Milanese correspondent of a New York newspaper described the manner in which public works in Italy were occasionally carried on by workingmen organized on principles of cooperation. It was shown that capitalist contractors were not necessary for certain undertakings, and that, in effect, the profits which would have gone to such contractors remained among the workers themselves, or were, in consequence of lessened cost, never drawn from the state or public body. New Zealand journalists, reading these articles, reproduced their gist, and suggested the application of the principles and the methods they disclosed to public works in New Zealand. Alert and sympathetic politicians caught at the idea, which was reduced to practice, with the result that one of the recognized institutions of the colony is what is now known as its cooperative works system.

This method of carrying on public works is still on its trial in New Zealand. In some instances it has failed, especially in connection with buildings where skilled and unskilled workmen have been employed. To make it a success in such cases, careful, almost scientific, classification of the workers is necessary to begin with, and then there must be the coördination of all under a management, the authority of which must be all pervading and all prevailing; resting in the consent of all, and receiving the submission of all. So far coöperative workers in New Zealand have not proved themselves to be equal on a large scale to these complex requirements ; but in ordinary road or railway work, in connection with which mere manual labor and physical strength are the chief factors, where the supervision is intrusted to a government engineer, and the majority of the workers are unskilled laborers, the coöperative system has been a substantial success.

The scale of pay per foot, or yard, or chain, is fixed by a government department, just as it would be officially in the department’s own interest in regard to any other public work to be contracted for by any person or persons ; but in the case of cooperative work, this scale is made known to the whole country, and the works to which it applies are practically open to all who choose to earn money by them. At first the classification of the workers was very rough, almost non-existent in fact, and there were many complaints, that old, or weak, or inexperienced, or otherwise inefficient men received dividends not earned by them, to the detriment and loss of the better workers. However, a method of classification, which practically does away with complaint on this score, has now been in force for some time, and there are indications that the experience thus gained will enable the system to be applied successfully to works where skilled and unskilled labor have to go on side by side, and where all must be coördinated under a central authority which is supreme, and must not be questioned for the time being.

When this comes to pass, the other colonies which have been closely watching the experiment so far as it has gone will be certain to follow suit, for in all these countries the democratic principle is not only paramount, but the workers make common cause with, and follow one another; and whatever they ask with a show of good sense and sound reason is readily given to them. And by the time Australia has learned from New Zealand, perhaps America will be ready to learn from Australia this important lesson in the evolution of a system of labor under which the worker and community are brought into cordial relations, in which the capitalist has no part. In any case, the genesis of coöperative works in New Zealand is worth noticing as an illustration of the leavening power and interaction of democratic ideas, and as an instance of that colony’s aptness at assimilation in such matters, and of what she, in one way or another, owes to the United States in that connection.

New Zealand has caught up from Massachusetts, not only popularly but legislatively, deliverances made in respect to the relations between employers and workers, and her popular arenas have now for some years rung with the gospel of Maine in respect to the sale and use of alcoholic liquors. Indeed, this understates the case, for with the liquor law of Maine as their guiding example, the temperance party of New Zealand years ago succeeded in placing the principle of local option on the statute book, and every electorate in the colony can now, if it chooses to vote by a three-fifths majority for No License, close every public house in the licensing district. In one extensive electorate this has been carried into effect, and this success, like the proverbial taste of blood, has added to the eagerness and energy of the temperance people, who, with every adult woman in the colony enfranchised, hope to return at each parliamentary election an ever increasing number of members favorable, not merely to local option, but to national prohibition by an absolute majority.

In these days of reading the literary factor is, however, probably even more potent than the political ; and in this connection, too, it is America that gives New Zealanders their most congenial comrades and educators. Of recent writers in English none have a greater influence with assimilative minds here than Walt Whitman, Lowell, and Emerson. Whitman is intellectual meat and drink to large numbers of New Zealand men and women. A few days after his death in March, 1892, one of the smallest newspapers in the colony said that “ Whitman and America were in a remarkable degree the counterparts of each other — large, live, full of power, and teeming with wonderful potentialities. People, when they go to America, find that it takes them long to get into sympathetic adjustment with the country, and so, too, it is, as a rule, with the reader when he or she first makes acquaintance with Walt Whitman. But once get into adjustment with him, and what in modern literature is found to be so invigorating, so expanding, so dispersive of trumpery or despondent views of life, as Whitman’s poetry, or even the prose of his Democratic Vistas and Specimen Days ? ” Nor was this an isolated or a transient opinion, for only a month or two ago one of the chief morning journals of the colony had a leading article on American literature, the writer of which said that “Walt Whitman interpreted the true underlying spirit of American democracy as faithfully as Goethe represented the German and Shakespeare the English aristocracy.

“ In Whitman, with all his crudities, his coarseness, and even his absurdities, we find a comprehensive view of life, so great that it could only have been produced among the magnitudes of the American continent, so free that it could not have drawn breath under a monarchy, and so strong that it shows at once the vigor of a new race and the aspirations of a new time. His outlook is on to ' the fathomless universe.’ Raised above either optimism or pessimism, his spirit accepts life and death, not with Oriental fatalism, but with the calm intelligence of one who plays his active part in the world as one unit in a mighty system. In this spirit of intelligence, in the faith and love of humanity, he sees the commonest objects, the meanest of his fellows, with an almost childlike interest. He sings not only of ‘ growing spring and farms and home,’ but also of ‘ the city at hand with dwellings so dense,’ and of ‘ the workmen homeward returning.’ In him, at all events, there is passion and power in the expression of his nation’s inner and outer life. Whitman could never have grown to spiritual maturity in an English village or an English city. What Tolstoi is to Russia, Whitman is to America, — its heart and its voice. Even if he stood alone, he would constitute a national literature.”

Lowell is hardly less a favorite. In fact, his better sense of form, his satiric humor, and his more conventional methods of expression make him more easily understood by many than Whitman is, and both his prose and verse are very generally read and loved in New Zealand, for the sake of the wholesomely democratic manhood and womanhood portrayed and nourished by the author’s genius. Emerson’s vogue is narrower in itself, but his influence is great upon those whose influence is very considerable over many to whom he is merely a name, but who have, nevertheless, minds more or less ready to receive his teaching. This, it is true, is not infrequently misunderstood or misapplied by the Emersonians themselves, who are generally active members of associations devoted to the cultivation of intellectual interests and the liberalization of thought and sentiment. Naturally enough, perhaps, the disciples, being persons of Saxon and Teutonic stock, try to squeeze matterof-fact systems of thought and life out of their master’s philosophy. But time and Emerson himself will probably teach them the futility of this, and they will get into the true rhythmic relation with the Sage of Concord when they come to regard and use him chiefly as a perennial fountain head of moral and mental stimulation. In the meantime it must be a matter of some satisfaction to many in America to know that their genial Platonist is the guide, philosopher, and friend of numerous active intelligences among the Maorilanders.

This is not said in a dilettante spirit, but because it comes naturally within the scope of an article designed to show that democratic principles which have been nurtured in America have had a great deal to do with developments in Greater Britain, which is also considerably indebted to America for lessons in that constitutional federalism which gives the utmost scope to individuality in the political unit, not only without endangering the integrity of the whole, but with the best guarantee for its continuance, — that very scope itself. As the teachers of so great a lesson as this, Americans should take a wholesome pleasure in that national self-respect which is as different from provincial self-sufficiency as the assurance of manhood is from the conceitedness of boyhood. Similarly, a sense of gratitude for the lesson taught should draw England and Englishmen closer and closer in the truest spirit of friendship to America and Americans. But, indeed, this is inevitable, for the leavening process is still going on, especially in colonies like New Zealand, which adapt and assimilate much from America, in a way which influences the further democratization of England with a tendency to react also on America itself.

“ Our echoes roll from soul to soul,
And grow forever and forever.”

Surely it is not to be a dreamer of dreams to indulge in a hope that a knowledge of what is thus going on may enter intelligently into the national consciousness of both peoples, and remain there not as a sedimentary sentiment, but as an active principle of human fraternity and international comradeship.

There are, doubtless, many qualifying details that sober hope and moderate expectation, and also give the wholesome flavoring of humor to the consideration of the subject. It may be said of New Zealand, for example, that it is not only on the greater plane of democratic character and experience that she adapts and assimilates from America. There are, at any rate, quick-witted, keen-eyed persons in the colony who say that thencountrymen have even transplanted from New York the upas tree of Tammanyism, which, they aver, threatens to interpenetrate and overshadow the country’s political and civic life with its roots and branches. But that is an exaggeration. Tammanyism itself we may have on a small scale, but we are not indebted to America for its presence among us. It is a fungoid growth, due to conditions always more or less present where the people fail to think and act in the true spirit of manhood and democracy, and where there are adventurous self-seekers with the means and the unscrupulousness to turn the elements of that failure to their own account. Hence Tammanyism is not a thing which one country owes to another, but which grows spontaneously every where in proportion to the presence and power of unscrupulous schemers, and of people so deficient in the spirit of democratic citizenship as to become their timeservers. It is, therefore, an evil in respect to which every community stands in need of learning from its neighbors as to the means for getting rid of it, and if America cares to observe, she may now study the lesson which New Zealand is, it may be more or less unconsciously, teaching herself in the matter, not only by developing, through the ordinary processes of civilization, personal, political, and civic morality in the citizens, but by giving scope to socializing schemes which have a tendency to eliminate individualist capitalists and capitalism from the economic life of the country.

However, to revert to those minor matters in regard to which some may say that New Zealand is undesirably akin to America, what are they, after all, in comparison to those larger leavenings which are really destined to grow with the growth and strengthen with the strength of the young democracy ? Tammanyism has been mentioned, and probably sundry other things should be brought into the catalogue. It is said that Americans greedily devour praise, however ignorant and inconsequential may be its bestowers ; that they pant for flattery as the hart pants for the water brooks ; and are petulantly impatient of anything in the nature of criticism on their manners, customs, or institutions. These two characteristics taken together appear to indicate, on the one hand, a want of honest self-respect, and, on the other, a superabundance of morbid sensibility. Are they common in America? They certainly are in New Zealand, where an absurd importance is attached to the opinion of strangers who give themselves the slightest air of distinction. If such persons praise the colonists, be it with ever so little discrimination, they are readily praised in return out of all proportion to their attributes. But to the stranger who ventures to criticise them, however justly, the colonists’ behavior is strikingly different; him they are certain to depreciate and disparage with a ferocity which is sometimes little less than wolfish. All this shows, surely, that whatever else may have come to stay where it is manifest, the spirit of cosmopolitanism in matters of opinion still lingers in the distance.

Then in America as in New Zealand there would seem to be an identical juvenile tendency to run into extremes in regard to such matters as literary criticism. It is said that in America “ the critics suggest the idea of a community of monthly nurses cooing and cackling over a succession of incomparable literary births; in New Zealand, the comparison suggested is that of a pack of incorrigible terriers watching for so many rats or rabbits to leave their holes.” If this is a true bill, then, apparently both countries exhibit, under different aspects, a singularly similar want of artistic insight and judicial discrimination ; on the one hand, childishness, on the other, savagery.

Yet what, after all, are these exuberances but the froth on the fringe of the ocean, the spray of the wave ? They surely are but as dust in the balance against the fact that principles prevalent in the greatest of all democracies have been, and still are, leavening social and political development in the most radical British colony in the southern hemisphere, and that the process is cordially recognized as a factor in the promotion of international brotherhood and democratic comradeship between the mighty people of America and the kindred races inhabiting the Australasian colonies and all British lands.

John Christie.