The queen of the Anglosphere is dead. In death, as in life, there is no middle ground where Maggie Thatcher is concerned: leftists dance in the streets, celebrating her demise, while conservatives mourn the passing of the “Iron Lady.” The irony is that she was never guilty of the alleged crimes attributed to her by the former, just as she never really earned the approbations of the latter.
British leftists are dancing a jig because they believe Thatcher introduced the politics of “austerity,” victimized the poor, and was a relentless reactionary to the end: the truth is that her timid and gradualistic approach to dismantling the British welfare state failed, and failed spectacularly, as Murray Rothbard pointed out at the time here, here, and here. The “Thatcher revolution” had the same success rate as the “Reagan revolution,” i.e. it never succeeded in rolling back the advancing role of the State in British society, only in slowing its galloping onset to a brisk trot. As British libertarian Sean Gabb points out, as Prime Minister she was a corporatist, rather than an advocate of free enterprise. Worse, from a libertarian point of view, she was a dedicated enemy of civil liberties whose depredations against traditional British respect for individual rights paved the way for the current Orwellian control freaks who have turned Merrie Olde England into Airstrip One.
My own take on the Thatcher Era, as they’re calling it now, comes at the Iron Lady from a somewhat different angle: her role as cheerleader for and hectoring advocate of America’s post-cold war bid for global hegemony. When George Herbert Walker Bush told her he was allowing a single Iraqi ship to violate the embargo in the run up to Gulf War I, she told him: “Remember, George, this is no time to go wobbly.”
When Bush II invaded Afghanistan and prepared the nation and the world for the conquest of Iraq, Lady Thatcher came out with some “Advice to a Superpower,” as her New York Times op ed piece was entitled. Citing Milton’s Areopagitica – “Methinks I see in my mind a noble and puissant nation rousing herself like a strong man after sleep and shaking her invincible locks” – she likened Islamism to the threat of “Bolshevism” and issued a call to arms: after 9/11, she averred, “America will never be the same again,” and “consequently, the world outside America should never be the same again.”
A bizarre statement, to be sure, because what it means is that America must be the measure of all things: if any harm comes to America, it must mean the world – the whole world outside our borders, presumably including Britain – must suffer. While this attitude of unmitigated narcissism was well nigh universal in the States, it was rarely said so explicitly: what’s odd is that it was given voice by a British Prime Minister. Yet not really all that odd, come to think of it: that’s been the role played by the British government ever since the end of World War II – actively lobbying for a more interventionist American foreign policy, and berating its former colony whenever Washington threatened to “go wobbly.” From Winston Churchill’s “iron curtain” speech to Maggie’s op ed exhortations, the Brits have taken it upon themselves to goad a “noble and puissant nation” to greater feats of world-saving. The British empire may be long dead and buried, but the Anglosphere, through its American extension, still carries the White Man’s Burden on its back.
As Britain sank into the quagmire of socialism, exhausted by war and socio-political anomie, Kipling’s heirs deposited the burden of empire onto the backs of their American cousins. Noting this passing of the torch, the libertarian polemicist Frank Chodorov, writing in 1947, characterized America as a “Byzantine Empire of the West“:
“Even now, while the British Empire is hardly laid away, the outlines of a new imperialistic picture are clearly discernible. In the West a lusty heir apparent is flexing his muscles, while the ponderous bear in the East is bellowing his ferocious lust. It looks like another Armageddon is coming down the line.”
However, as Chodorov pointed out, the Byzantines, issued from the loins of Rome, did not fare as well as their Western predecessors, either in terms of longevity or global expanse. As America walks the road taken by our British forebears, we are moving at an accelerated pace, burning fuel – resources, both economic and human – faster than Cecil Rhodes ever did. The British captured their empire over the course of centuries, while ours was bequeathed to us in one large windfall. This fatal legacy will be our undoing.
In the days before 9/11, it looked as if that “noble and puissant nation” might avoid the fate of all empires and start attending to its own business, but it was not to be: the terrorist attacks were a clarion call to those who pined for American “global leadership.” It was the perfect cover for reconstructing the cold war atmosphere of constant crisis and perpetual war, and conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic jumped at the chance. Thatcher explicitly likened the new enemy to the old one: Islamism, like “Bolshevism,” is an “armed doctrine,” the province of “fanatics” bent on destroying the Western Way of Life. Nothing less than “an extensive military commitment” will do as a response. And it wasn’t just Osama bin Laden and his boys who were to be targeted, according to Thatcher: the “rogue states” of Iran, Syria, and Libya may have been critical of Al-Qaeda, denouncing the 9/11 attacks when they occurred, but they still constituted a “menace” because they opposed “Western values” and “backed terrorism.” They, too, must feel American wrath. Oh, and don’t forget North Korea – “as mad as ever.”
As mad as the North Koreans may be, are they any crazier than our very own neocons, whose world-conquering agenda Thatcher applauded? Welaugh at Kim Jong Un, who unconvincingly threatens to bomb Austin, Texas, in response to provocative military exercises a few miles from the Demilitarized Zone: yet no one laughed when the neocons (and Maggie) told us we had to go after Saddam Hussein in response to 9/11.