All that is iron comes to rust

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"She is fallen! She is fallen!  Babylon the Great is fallen!"  These were the words shouted by historian, Christopher Hill, as he ran across the quad of his Oxford college in 1990, on hearing that Mrs. Thatcher had resigned.  His studies of religious radicalism and his dialectical materialism exploded in an exuberant moment of (over-realised) eschatological fervour worthy of Harold Camping.

I once saw Hill, an upper class (weren't they all?) Marxist, interviewed on the BBC, denying that there had been any famines in Stalin's Russia, all evidence of the same being part of the West's imperialist conspiracy to discredit the Soviet paradise.  Like Heidegger and Sartre, sometimes the most brilliant minds can also be the most immorally idiotic.  You malign buffoon, I thought.  And still do.

Thankfully, it was Thatcher, not Hill, who ruled the roost in Britain in the 80s.  She beat the Argentinians (ok, there is legitimate disagreement over the moral value of that, but at the time it was like a taste of heaven to a fourteen year old English schoolboy); she beat inflation; she beat that bombastic Stalinist Precambrian, Scargill (and thus settled the old score from '74); and she spoke with blunt common sense.  More than that, she radicalised Britain and put the Establishment under such scrutiny and strain that she made the left drifting Labour Party look, well, conservative in comparison.

Americans loved her.  The English have a more nuanced view, the kind that derives from proximity. Because of her, and her alone, I joined and then abandoned the Conservative Party.  I was attracted by her forthrightness and her willingness to take on the unions; I was ultimately repelled by her failure to match her rhetoric on Europe with consistent action.  Signing the Single European Act was the Rubicon moment from which the rest of the Eurononsense flowed; her stridency about Europe after that seemed somehow more rhetorical than real, though it took some of us a few years to grasp that fact.  I still voted for her in 1987.  Britain -- and Europe -- now lives with the consequences of a policy built on shoddy economics, wishful thinking and not even the most basic understanding of how cultures, communities and nations ultimately interact.  I do, though, still faithfully read The Spectator every week, one habit I picked up in the Thatcher years which has stayed with me and served me well.

Yet she is dead.  The woman who defined the teenage years of many of us -- and we all live a lot of our lives in our teenage years -- has gone.   As I thought of Hill today, I also thought of the film, The Iron Lady, an elegy to the erosion of power and of life itself that aging brings with it.  The powerful woman laid low by old age.  Her story beckons us all.  When Thatcher ruled the waves, I was a teenage boy; and like all teenage boys, I thought I would live forever.  Now, approaching the age Mrs T was when she became Tory leader, I am not so sure of my immortality any more.   This is the land of lost content. 

Posted April 8, 2013 @ 7:23 PM by Carl Trueman

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