November 1, 2015


Margaret Thatcher Versus The Intellectuals (PAUL JOHNSON, November 2015, Standpoint)

Such is the richness of the documentation of Margaret Thatcher's premiership that Charles Moore has been obliged to renounce his original intention of describing it in two volumes, and written three instead. Volume Two now deals with the central period, between 1983 and 1987, in both of which years she won smashing electoral victories, her party being returned with majorities of more than 100 seats. The book, of some 800 pages, is so full of facts, many of them new, as to pose problems for reviewers. I have decided, therefore, to deal chiefly with one aspect: Mrs Thatcher and the intellectuals, about which this volume is particularly instructive. 

Intellectuals, whom I define as those who think ideas are more important than people, are notorious for getting politics wrong, nowhere more strikingly so than in the case of Mrs Thatcher. [...]

Mrs Thatcher is the point at which all snobberies meet: intellectual snobbery, social snobbery, the snobbery of Brooks's, the snobbery about scientists among those educated in the arts, the snobbery of the metropolis about the provincial, the snobbery of the South about the North, and the snobbery of men about women.  [...]

By trying to portray her as an ignoramus in the arts, the intellectuals simply dug themselves into the mud of ignorance, and thus got things wrong. Julian Barnes remarked fatuously, in June 1987, "The chief function of this election is to turn out Mrs Thatcher and her spayed [sic] Cabinet, whose main achievement in the last eight years has been the legitimisation of self-interest." Can he really have believed this? Intellectuals are so strongly guided by their emotions, as opposed to their minds, that it is almost impossible for them to judge politics accurately. Even so, their performance throughout Mrs Thatcher's nearly dozen years in office was unusually dismal. 

Charles Moore, in his preface and acknowledgements, gives a detailed and meticulous account of what he has done to create this book. I have read through both of these very carefully, and am immensely impressed by the amount of work he has accomplished. Margaret Thatcher was a first-rate prime minister who was distinguished by her purpose and thoroughness and the amount of detailed concentration she packed into each day in office. It was all hard going, and there is no doubt in my mind that it shortened  her life.

As against this, there is equally no doubt that she transformed the country in many ways, and profoundly. We should all be grateful to her. By concentrating on how she was perceived by the intellectual elite, we can see how foolish it is to look to them for guidance on serious matters. Charles Moore has laid it all before us, elegantly, crisply and clearly. He has so far devoted 18 years of his life to the task, but it has been worth it. A great national leader is being given the biography she deserves. 

...what greater honor is there than to be despised by the Intellectuals?

Posted by at November 1, 2015 7:20 PM