Title: The New Zealand Project
Author: Max Harris
Publisher: Bridget Williams Books
Reviewed by: NIDHA KHAN
When I first properly laid eyes on The New Zealand Project, I was sitting at my kitchen counter thinking: “What did I get myself into?” “Did I really agree to review this book? And in my spare time too?”
As you’ve deduced by now, it didn’t make a great first impression. The cover and title just screamed ‘dry’ and ‘theoretical’. I expected a book that would bear no direct connection or relevance to my everyday life or the life of other young people. But, as much as it hurts to type this cliché, don’t judge a book by its cover.
Harris is able to break down some of our deepest social, cultural, political, and economic problems and potential solutions in a digestible way, but isn’t patronising. He isn’t talking to us from the ivory towers of academia, but as a normal person. He avoids the jargon and keeps it fresh by weaving together complex theories and concepts with current examples that young people connect with, such as Black Lives Matter, social media, and climate change.
The goal of the book is to make you think, to not simply accept what is being laid out in front of you, and instead challenge you to form your own opinions about the state of our politics. There were several moments where I did exactly that: read, pause, and reflect. For example, Harris calls for the re-emergence of values-based politics, specifically the values of care, community, and creativity. All of this resonated with me, but I was caught off-guard at the suggestion to infuse aroha (love) into politics. To have political action that is “motivated by love”, “have love as a virtue that we appreciate in those participating in politics”, “that political action should express love”, and that “love is the end-goal of politics”.
In hindsight, the idea isn’t bizarre and it’s one that I’d like to see being implemented. But given the political upheaval the world has recently been through – Trump, Brexit, Marine Le Pen – combined with the general perception of politics being intertwined with deception, made Harris’s suggestion seem jarring. It just seemed that love and politics wouldn’t fit together, like two different pieces of a puzzle. It’s a sad indication of the state of politics and an important reminder that we need to work towards a society where seeing the words ‘aroha’ and ‘politics’ in the same sentence doesn’t take people by surprise.
On the note of the current political climate, I was disappointed that Harris didn’t delve into the growing discrimination against Muslim, Middle Eastern, and South-East Asian communities. It’s an issue that requires attention, but is virtually untouched by many of our politicians and mainstream media. An idea for your next book, Harris?
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