Quote of the Day

As God once said, and I think rightly…

-Margaret Thatcher

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

29 thoughts on “Quote of the Day”

    1. “Apocryphal” is a weasel word. It can mean unsourced, hence unclear as to authenticity, or it can connote inauthenticity. Leaving aside how far one cares to trust Berlinski.

  1. I really have very little to say about Margaret Thatcher and almost nothing of a positive nature.

    I would like to say that I don’t see much balance in what people what been saying about her legacy. I haven’t seen a single mention anyplace of the miners’ strike and the consequences of Thatcher’s brutal and mostly illegal breaking of the NUM. Not even in the Manchester Guardian, where I would have expected the coal strike to figure prominently. Neither have I seen any discussion of the poll tax that ultimately doomed Thatcher. Nor any mention of her support for brutal dictators like Pinochet, Suharto and Saddam Hussein (and, of course, there was her active support of the Khmer Rouge).

    Thatcher wanted to crush the working and middle classes beneath her boot-heels and came dammed close to succeeding. She was an evil person who relished the suffering of the people she hurt. Her influence on British society was almost entirely malignant. Her support for evil men like Pinchot and Saddam Hussein and Suharto would have been a stain on her soul, that is, if she’d actually had one.

    1. I’ll have to disagree with you on the miners’ strike, even though I’m no fan of her (and I currently live in Scotland where, between what she did to devolution, and the closing of Ravenscraig, she seems to be pretty much reviled, justly or unjustly [1]).

      This is not to say that I think that she was a force for good; far rom it. The problem was that Arthur Scargill was no prize, either. Here we had two political animals, both intent on putting politics before people, with predictably catastrophic effects on innocent bystanders.

      [1] Unjustly because it’s pretty difficult to pin the fate of Ravenscraig on her; the area was in decline, and her attitude can at worst be described as indifference. Not necessarily a shining example of empathy with the electorate, but not a hanging offense, either.

      1. Arthur Scargill may not have been humanity’s finest specimen but it was Margaret Thatcher called British workers “the enemy within.” The NUM made some serious mistakes but they were as nothing by comparison to the brutality, heartlessness and naked abuses of power which characterized Thatcher’s strike breaking.

        The uses of police and the army as strike breaking goons is well known. There are countless stories of strikers and supporters being brutalized and intimidated by police and army goons.

        MI5 considered the unions to be enemies of the state and openly treated them as such by conducting dirty-tricks campaigns against the union leadership similar to those of the FBI against Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement. There have been many serious allegations of illegal conduct by the security services, for example, that the phones of union leaders were tapped and their homes and offices bugged and that every word was relayed to Thatcher’s people for use in negotiations and blackmail.

        People in other unions or ordinary people who supported the miners have often spoken of being visited by the police or MI5 and warned against supporting “subversives.” Miners who were arrested also reported being interrogated about their politics.

        There have been persistent allegations that MI5 engaged in even more direct “counter-subversion” operations against the union and potential supporters. This is something that was unthinkable during hundreds of years of English history—it’s as bad or worse than what Cromwell did. There is some indication that many of the damaging stories in the press that turned public opinion against the union were not only false but that it was MI5 that arranged for those them to be printed.

        Also, there’s no evidence of it but I have heard people say that the killing of the taxi driver was done by MI5 as part of its “anti-subversion” campaign. As I say, it’s just talk and there’s no evidence but the fact that MI5 took an active role in breaking the strike and also apparently in planting false stories in the press lends some credence that it was a dirty trick that just went too far. It’s entirely in keeping with MI5’s campaign against the union that it infiltrated agents provocateurs to conduct exactly this sort of operation.

        Thatcher used the entire apparatus of state power, often illegally, to grind the workers and their families down and starve them into submission. The suffering and deprivation in these communities was terrible. Families went hungry and cold.

        There’s many even in the South who remember Thatcher for what she was. You’ll notice the evil witch isn’t getting a state funeral. And now, that’s same crowd of rich assholes is back again to wreak the economy and laugh at the suffering of the workers and the middle class.

  2. Out of a spirit of contrariness, I’ll try to say something good about Margaret Thatcher, despite mostly agreeing with Mitch. She had some good taste in hatred.

    She hated the British class system: deeply and truly. She hated inherited status, although she wasn’t above a bit of nepotism, fat lot of good it did her son. Thatcher being Thatcher, this hatred took peculiar forms: philistinism, philo-Semitism, and worship of self-made businesscritters (especially uncultured Jews?) Considering that today is the day that Chelsea Clinton announced that she hadn’t ruled out a career in politics, I can spare one good thought for Margaret Thatcher. But probably not two.

    1. Uncultured Jews? Keith Joseph?
      Her fierce meritocracy had one big blind spot: she did nothing to promote other able women.

      1. I think it’s just a typo by Ebenezer. I’m sure he meant to say “uncaring”. Which would be an excellent description of that ever so cultured bastard. Sir Keith Jospeh was as nasty and unfeeling a man as ever walked this earth. If there’s any justice, the portion of the circle where he’s currently suffering is one which is perpetually experiencing a “managed rundown.”

        1. Thanks Mitch, but I wrote the words I intended to write. (Typing is not one of my failings.) I guess I could try to wriggle out by distinguishing Thatcher’s idols from her mentors. Keith Joseph, after all, was a bit of a toff himself, despite being a Jew. But I won’t; James nailed me on my silly parenthetical.

  3. Back in the day, the UK’s turn came to chair the EU Council of Ministers, which meant speeches and questions at the European Parliament, which meets in Strasbourg as well as Brussels. The tiny British Permanent Representation to the Council of Europe was roped in to provide logistical support, and my late first wife Patricia was hired as temporary staff a few times as dogsbody. Margaret Thatcher arrived in a plane full of Bernard-type assistants, all ready to draft her (routine) speech. When Pat was given it to type, it was in Thatcher’s longhand. Edith Cressson among other imitators made the mistake of thinking that Thatcher’s secret was swinging her handbag; it was hard graft.

    BTW, does anybody share my negative reaction to the framing device of the “Iron Lady” film, shot as flashbacks from her old age with Alzheimer’s? Both the dramatic irony and the tear-jerked empathy are cheap shots. We all, if we are lucky and reach old age, end up doddery and helpless in one way or another. The fact doesn’t say anything coherent about the way we have lived our different lives.

    I’ve been watching the BBC’s good extended obituary. It turns out that the “iron lady” epithet was a Soviet press jibe from the 1970s. Good talent spotting.

    1. “Hard graft”? Is that British for “iron butt”? (Or to use a perhaps mutually intelligible language: sitzfleisch?)

      1. As I understand it from use on the BBC, “hard graft” means “hard, strenuous work”, with implications that the person using the term is working class and possibly from the north of England, or is aping those traits.

        1. My take exactly. Margaret Thatcher appealed politically overwhelmingly to the Southern English middle class; but she came from Grantham, a market (not an industrial) town in the North.

          1. Grantham is in the Midlands, not the North (though the UK’s elites often act as
            though there’s nothing but sheep and haggis north of the M25, so it may be a
            distinction without a difference).

    2. I agree that it is a cheap shot. I believe in judging (or not) people by their actions. People quite clearly judge Thatcher rather differently.

      For my part, politics are by definition high-stakes, but when one is choosing to let people be tortured by a third party to advance a different country’s ambitions, well, don’t. this is because nobody knows where this is going. I admit that I get confused when “conservatives” want to take insanely risky gambles. NK’s silliness is an echo of the cold war. Anyone who claims to know how this will work out probably has a speaking engagement they’d like to sell you – anyone who read Schelling’s work understands how risky that was.

      That said, she was a world mover. I’d really like to be don’e with Thatcher and Reagan references before I die, but see little hope of it.

      1. “That said, she was a world mover.” So was Nero.

        Evil people who are successful do more harm than those who are not. Why is this a mitigation of their evil?

    3. I agree with your point about the film, although I think the whole thing was a hagiographic whitewash. But, there’s also a certain unfairness in making a film like that with a political point of view when it feels wrong to attack her because of her illness. I felt much the same way about criticizing Ronald Reagan once his illness became known.

      It isn’t logical but that’s the way I’ve always felt. I don’t think I’d have written a single word about Thatcher except for the bombardment of hagiography obits that’s been bombarding me all day. There’s another side to the Thatcher story and it needs to be told.

      All that Thatcher cared about was power and her rise to the top. Who she hurt along the way didn’t matter to her at all. She punished the weak for the sin of being weak; she exalted the rich and powerful because she thought that was the way to get them to share some of their wealth and power with her. Thatcher deserves to be remembered as an awful person who callously destroyed a great many lives in her rise to power.

    1. She was never liked by the British in the way Americans liked Reagan. Maybe a contrast between the strict schoolmarm and the avuncular rancher?

      At the end of her career, when few sympathised with her departure from power, she may have felt this keenly.

      1. As you know, only a handful of people in one constituency actually vote for the person who becomes a prime minister, whereas tens of millions of Americans’ votes are needed to become president. That makes being widely liked much more important.

    2. The Conservatives under Thatcher got 43.9% in 1979, 42.4% in 1983, 42.2% in 1987.

      So it wasn’t just that she didn’t court popularity: she wasn’t popular, period.
      At its peak, her vote share was about 3% lower than Mitt Romney’s.

      She happened to have the good luck to rise to leadership at a time when the center-left
      opposition was horribly divided, first with Labour and Liberals, then the SDP split off
      leaving Labour further weakened. And under the UK’s first-past-the-post system,
      with 3 substantial parties, getting a hair over 40% of the vote was enough to have a
      big majority in Parliament and the power to ram through big changes.

      So you wonder why she isn’t popular now. And the simple answer is, she was *never* popular.
      Unlike, for example, Reagan, who got roughly 51% and 58% in his two elections (also
      reflecting the existence of “Reagan Democrats” who liked Reagan without much liking his party.
      There was never any such thing as a “Thatcher Labourite” – the very idea is absurd).

    3. Digging back further, all Thatcher’s predecessors had larger vote shares in their first
      Macmillan 1959 49.4%
      Wilson 1964 44.1% (and 1966 48.0%)
      Heath 1970 46.4%

      Thatcher’s two claims to fame are:
      1) She won three elections. Largely thanks to the SDP/Labour split in 1981 …
      2) She made big policy changes, e.g. privatization, breaking the NUM, the poll tax.
      those were a very mixed bag

      Personally I think her first and last term were fairly disastrous – the early-80’s
      recession was savage, the Falklands War was a huge waste, and the poll tax was an
      entirely predictable debacle. Callaghan and Kinnock would have probably done better.
      Michael Foot might well have done worse.

  4. I remember the phrase ‘British disease’. And Mrs Thatcher cured it. With a lot of pain for the nation, but the prior path was unsustainable. There’s the old fable of the scorpion and the frog – ‘I couldn’t help it. I’m a scorpion. It’s what we do.’ Unions seek more for their members. They blow right past what an observer might think is somehow the ‘right’ level of compensation. I don’t think the Brits necessarily have it right now, but it seems they are likely closer to right than before Mrs Thatcher.

    We’re having internal struggle in US about unions, and right level of power for them. Scott Walker has successfully gotten most of the voters in Wisconsin into opposition to the public employee unions, even gotten backing from private-sector union members in large numbers. Ohio’s Kasich has been rebuked by his voters. One way to look at charter schools is that we are undertaking a highly wasteful process of discarding many public schools because we can’t muster the will to make meliorative changes which will keep parents willing to send their kids to the existing unionized public schools. The Germans seem to have made some kind of miracle deal which allows national competitiveness and decent workplace conditions, with union participation. Official unions seem to be generally fraudulent tools of factory owners in China, and they are getting resistance from the workforce.

    Workers in foreign-owned auto factories in the South regularly vote down the UAW, and the quotes I’ve seen from workers express fear of work rules which would make their output uncompetitive.

    1. She had her good and bad points regardless of your point of view. For one, she decentralized the British economy, but centralized its politics.

  5. A quick web search attributes the witticism also to Field Marshall Bernard Law Montgomery, the British Military Commander of the Second World War.

  6. You cannot underestimate how English Thatcher was, as opposed to British. In fact, she was an old-fashioned English leader, not a British one, even in some ways a Little Englander.

    The social dislocation of her days in office, her obvious view of Scotland as a sort of colonial outpost (typified by the contemptuous use of the country as a poll-tax guinea pig), and actions like her patronising “Sermon on the Mound” to the Scottish Kirk ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sermon_on_the_Mound ) destroyed the Scottish Conservative Party and opened the way for the ascent of the Scottish Nationalists. If Scotland does become independent, it will have Mrs Thatcher (among others) to thank.

    In Northern Ireland, she diluted the Union by making the Anglo-Irish Agreement with the Republic of Ireland, another concession to realpolitik like the swift and unceremonious handing over to China of Hong Kong. Despite the Falklands, Mrs Thatcher was no dewy-eyed fantasist of the days of Empire.

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