Maggie Thatcher, the Nazi

Don’t know about you, but I find our political taxonomy imprecise, misleading and generally tedious. By way of illustration, both Adolf Hitler and Margaret Thatcher are routinely described as extreme right-wing.

Since that implies a great degree of similarity, let’s compare the two – keeping our minds as open as possible without letting our brains fall out.

Hitler was a Nazi, with all that this nomenclature entails. Hence, to test our terminology, let’s dress Lady Thatcher in that dashing Hugo Boss uniform complete with a swastika armband and see if it fits.

Hitler believed in an omnipotent totalitarian state run by fiat, controlling every aspect of life and allowing next to no freedom to the individual. Thatcher believed in a small state run by parliament and ruled by law, with the individual given maximum freedom to run his own life. Hitler was a dictator accountable to himself only. Thatcher was a constitutional democrat accountable to parliament and therefore the people.

Hitler believed in economic corporatism, with enterprise remaining private only nominally. In fact, the owners were turned into managers, doing what the state ordered them to do. It was the state that told them what and how much to produce, how much to pay their employees and how much to charge for their products. It was socialist nationalisation in all but name.

Thatcher believed in private enterprise, unbridled initiative, denationalisation and a state acting only as a referee in the economic game, not a player.

Hitler despised international law and was a nationalist. Thatcher upheld international law and was a patriot. Hitler was a militant atheist who hated religion. Thatcher was a Christian, guided by her faith in most aspects of her life and work.

And so on, ad infinitum. Anywhere we look, Hitler and Thatcher aren’t just different but diametrically opposite. Thus, if the same term puts them both into the same political category, there’s something wrong with the term.

This also goes for the word ‘liberal’ and all its cognates. Lady Thatcher’s political beliefs – minimum power to the state, maximum power to the individual – would have been described as liberal in the 19th century. Yet today’s liberals preach exactly the opposite: burgeoning state power, with the corresponding diminution of individual liberty.

National liberation, when applied to, say, the Ukraine, means defending the country’s sovereignty in the face of evil aggression. When applied to, say, Uganda, it means a transitional stage between colonialism and cannibalism. In Australia, ‘liberal’ means conservative. In the US, it means socialist.

‘Conservative’ doesn’t fare much better. Both Stalin and Churchill were conservatives in that they sought to preserve as much of the existing order as possible. Yet few are the intrepid individuals who would see them as ideological twins.

In Britain, the word ‘conservative’ has acquired a typographic definition, to distinguish a real, lower-case, conservative from a member of the Conservative party. That’s a tacit admission that the party is these days known by a misnomer. Incidentally, the Liberal Democratic Party is neither liberal nor democratic in Britain and downright fascist in Russia.

The upshot of it is that politics is too fickle to inspire any sound taxonomic system. Right and left converge too often to lend the two concepts to any sensible definition. Sometimes they converge within the same breast and at the same time. Thus Hitler was a right-wing extremist in his jingoism and racism. Yet in his political dirigisme and economic centralism, he was a rank socialist, which is to say left-wing.

Any classification should earn its keep by elucidating both similarities and differences. If it doesn’t do that, it’s in default of its remit and should be dismissed with contempt. Yet some classification is essential to understanding and proper discourse, as long as it isn’t based on the two meaningless and widely misleading poles of right and left.

With those, we ought to consider the source. The term goes back to the French Revolution, when the Jacobin faction in the National Assembly sat to the left of the aisle, and the Girondins to the right. Both were revolutionary parties, typologically presaging the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks in the Russian revolution. In each case, the difference wasn’t qualitative: it was in more or less of the same thing.

The classification I proposed in my book How the West Was Lost treated politics as only a subset of the real division, and not the most significant subset either. Rather than talking about political movements, I talk about the dominant sociocultural, or civilisational types.

I distinguished between two overarching ones, which I called Westman and Modman. That dichotomy was based on historical observation and analysis. These led me to believe that one type built the house of Western civilisation, while a totally different one, hostile to the first, inhabits it now.

In fact, the energy that ousted the first and produced the second was mainly negative and destructive. Modernity was brought to life by the urge to annihilate, ideally without trace, the traditional Western civilisation, starting with its religious and philosophical foundation.

A creative impulse also existed but, unlike the destructive one, it was rather nebulous, only expressible in vague slogans, along the lines of liberté, égalité, fraternité. None of the constituents of that unholy trinity would withstand five minutes of casual examination, never mind scrutiny. But it did nicely as the inspiration and vindication of mass slaughter and destruction.

Westman lost his dominant status in our civilisation, but individual Westmen still survive, just as some royalists survived the French revolution and some anti-Bolsheviks the Russian one. And the traditional Western ethos, though marginalised, hasn’t been expunged.

That’s why my classification is still useful. For example, I’d describe both Hitler and Stalin as nihilist Modmen, while, say, Biden and Starmer as philistine ones. This would highlight both the convergence of ultimate goals and the divergence of immediate means.

If Hitler is a nihilist Modman, then Thatcher is a residual Westman. Suddenly, we no longer run the risk of lumping them together into the same taxonomic category. But, say, Starmer and Sunak do belong together – both are philistine Modmen, as distinct from nihilist ones, such as Putin or Corbyn.

There exist any number of nuances, impossible to cover in a short article – which is why I wrote a longish book on the subject. Yet one point is indisputable: anyone is in for a let-down who hopes to understand modern politics, or modernity in general, by pondering such categories as left and right, or liberal and conservative, or even democratic and authoritarian.

Those terms have lost whatever meaning they ever had, which wasn’t much. New ones are needed, and I’ve done my bit.

7 thoughts on “Maggie Thatcher, the Nazi”

  1. First, Modman uses Nazi to mean, “in opposition to my views”. Westman only uses it to describe the ruling party of Germany in the 1930s and 40s.

    Second, “some classification is essential to understanding and proper discourse” is a phrase Modman does not understand and would never use. “Understanding” to him means agreeing with him on all points. “Proper discourse” means shutting up and letting him shout down all dissent.

    1. “National liberation . . . When applied to, say, Uganda, it means a transitional stage between colonialism and cannibalism. ”

      And with the former to be preferred over the latter.

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