Chris Trotter wrote a review of Speaking Truth to Power (edited by Laurence Simmons, AUP: 2007) in a March edition of the Independent Financial Review. In the review (entitled ‘The power of speaking truth’) he salutes the all those individual and isolated intellectuals 'kicking against the pricks'. He also takes issue with the idea that New Zealand’s anti-intellectualism is deeply ingrained, instead arguing that it’s a ‘prejudice requiring constant maintenance and reinforcement’ by rightwing forces. [Read more below]
Trotter argues that NZ has at times shown it’s more intellectual side: ‘Before the fall of the Liberals in 1912, New Zealand enjoyed an international reputation as a highly literate and intellectually vigorous, almost experimental, culture.’ The argument put forward by Trotter is essentially that National governments throughout the 20th century (including their conservative predecessors, the Reform and United governments) effectively pushed the country in an anti-intellectual direction:
The "closing of the New Zealand mind" began with the crushing of organised labour by the Massey Government in 1912-1913, and the subsequent consolidation of rural- conservative power during World War 1 and the 1920s - the period historian James Belich refers to as "The Great Tightening." Massey's "tightening" was repeated by the Holland Government after the defeat of the Labour government in 1949. The waterfront lockout of 1951, enforced by the infamous "Emergency Regulations" ushered in a regime of censorship and political intimidation which remained in place until the early 1970s…. The election of Rob Muldoon in 1975, in response to the political "loosening" of New Zealand life under the Kirk/Rowling Labour government, provoked yet another round of tightening.
Trotter argues that National governments are threatened by the critical thinking that intellectualism encourages and therefore the rightwing ‘goes to such extraordinary lengths to ensure that public intellectuals are feared and vilified.’ This is essentially another version of Trotter’s No Left Turn thesis about NZ’s history being the struggle between egalitarian values and private wealth. The problem for Trotter in both No Left Turn and his book review is that existence of the Fourth Labour Government which clearly carried out the work of the Establishment in the 1980s. How can he explain that the Labour Party (which he generally paints as being on the side of good, egalitarianism, and the struggle for intellectualism) was now doing all the things he would accuse National governments of doing? Trotter says that Labour was hijacked by the neoliberal Rogernomes, and that ‘Massey's "Cossacks" and the Rogernomes bore a strong family resemblance.’ And the Fourth Labour Government was pushed to do the work of the Establishment because the prior ‘Increasing union militancy, the Springbok tour protests, second-wave feminism and the burgeoning Maori "renaissance" had terrified the right into again reaching for the screws.’
But against these recent and current conservative governments, Trotter is impressed that the type of people interviewed in Speaking Truth to Power still have ‘the unwavering faith in the power of ideas which keeps these isolated (and often vilified and despised) individuals kicking against the pricks.’