Cnut’s Successors

Ruth Butterworth
Vol 18, Number 2, p.146
There are two Cnut stories. One is the myth of King Canute which is nowadays deployed as a metaphor to counter public scepticism in face of claims for the unalloyed benefits of such nostrums as marketisation and re-structuring. The fact of Cnut as opposed to the metaphorical Canute is more complex. After a merry and successful youth of pillage, Cnut found himself, somewhat unexpectedly, king of the English. In charge of a people with advanced laws who had considerable skills in the arts of stonemasonry and poesy not to mention agriculture, Cnut proceeded to govern in accordance with local custom. He disciplined his followers, resisted their urge to further pillaging and read them a lesson on the seashore about the arts and limits of governance and the folly of hubris. Both the myth and the history have some resonance for this analysis of the contest in the last decade in New Zealand over the control and character of the country’s system of tertiary education.