Thursday, April 18, 2013

Disarray legitimises dictatorship

Two of the arguments most commonly deployed in defence of the late Baroness Thatcher over the past week have been 1) What a god awful mess the lefties had made of the country before she came in and sorted it all out and 2) that in spite of the short-term pain felt in certain segments of society, the imposition of liberal economic policies and values was ultimately in everyone's best interests. 

That neither can be sufficient for truly getting to grips with Thatcher's legacy on a personal or political level, is evidenced by the fact that both arguments can just as easily be used as apologia for her old friend General Augusto Pinochet. 

Further comparisons would of course take us into the realms of the absurdly overstretched. 

Thatcher, for example, did not have the nation's leading literary light extinguished (probably), and then send a bunch of jackbooted thugs to ransack his house and burn all 8000 books in his library. Etc. 

Yet we all know that even Hitler can chalk up VWs and dangerous roads in his plus column. 

The fact is that strong, manipulative and ultimately abusive government tends to emerge out of periods of disfunction. Look back through the last few hundred years of history and when you find an authoritarian you can nearly always find the clusterfuck that immediately preceded them. Disarray legitimises dictatorship. 

Historians are often tempted to characterise the emergent leader as a sort of aberrant opportunist (right place, right moment etc.), but perhaps there is nothing more natural than a system finding a way to unclog itself after it has become a bit bunged up under a previous configuration.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Maggie, Maggie, Maggie...

There are politicians (Cameron is one of them, yet so too were many of the left wing politicians who opposed Thatcher) whose platform is essentially the notion that if you let them run society in the interests of people just like themselves, it will all work out for the greater good in the end. 

Thatcher was not really one of this ilk. That she didn't appear to have hatched from either the aristocratic of technocratic (both essentially male) spawning pools of traditional conservatism made her, and still makes her, especially scary and repellent to many people that grew up in 'ordinary' British communities, because she seemed on some levels to be one of them. 

She was not a politician like Reagan, who adopted a set of ideas that were 'out there'; her ideology was in fact almost impossible to separate from her personality. (I think Blair came to power with a massive majority in 1997 in part because the electorate mistook him for an everyman who would transcend the old problem, only to later discover that he was also driven by peculiar, somewhat over-robust inner convictions.) 

In terms of legacy, much will depend on how the deconstruction of the local manufacturing bases in certain western nations is ultimately viewed by historians. The latter will tend to be more dispassionate/callous about the victims of structural changes that can ultimately be scored as positive, especially as the temporal distance increases. 

Yet similar policies undertaken by Reagan and Bush senior are already coming under closer scrutiny for the long-term weakness and decline they may have helped set up, in spite of the short-term turnarounds they undoubtedly achieved. 

Thatcher's economic reforms also fostered greater income inequality, but had to do so within the context of the sacred safety net of the British welfare state and the NHS. 

I also suspect that historians may come to realise that Europe missed an opportunity to evolve into a different kind of entity in the eighties and early nineties, and that should in part be put down to the way she poisoned the atmosphere during her terms as Prime Minister.