Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A Note on the Passing of the Iron Lady

The passing of Margaret Thatcher produced in news coverage exaggerated encomia. I learned that she had changed the very arch of history and heard other words with much the same meaning. Such hyperbole was possible because she was conservative and her years in power coincided with the collapse of Russian communism. Now it happens that exemplary leaders moved by principled convictions are always present with us in small numbers; but they rarely reach the top or remain long in  power. Mrs. Thatcher was an exceptionally able and admirable figure, very rare in politics. But she did not bend the arch of history. She no more caused the moribund communist structure to collapse than did Ronald Reagan or the blessed free market system. Communism collapsed from within; if an individual must get the credit, that credit belongs to Mikhail Gorbachev; but he probably only needed to give the structure an energetic kick.

The arch of history is quite out of the reach of our leaders. The chief trauma of our age is not even recognized; yet it is causing our gradual decline. It is technology or, to put it more precisely, energy slavery. Actual human slavery produced the fall of Rome. It destroyed that culture’s yeoman farming sector (thus its economy) and caused displaced farmers to crowd into its urban centers. It is impossible to ignore the moral wrong in human slavery; yet it was practiced in this supposedly Christian nation until the Thirteenth Amendment (good number) passed in 1865. Our own case is much more problematical. We see technology and our vast number of energy slaves as the greatest blessing ever to fall into human hands. We see no problem at all. But its effect—as that of vast hordes of imported slaves laboring on latifundia in Roma—is to destroy jobs, livings, and therefore organic social relations. That destruction is still going on. And if one’s interested in the arch of history, say in England, a good source from the trenches are the books of Theodore Dalrymple. But the cause for the conditions Dalrymple describes is not the failure of a too-left ruling class; it’s energy slavery. As for us, we who are, perhaps, the high point in that arch of history, around 44 million living in poverty proclaim that no one is bending the arch—not downward, anyway.

It took a long time for Rome to die; and, in a sense, under the feudal order that rose thereafter slavery lingered in a milder form. You couldn’t sell people, but you could acquire lands to which the peasants were bound as if by chains. Our own case suggests another scenario. Our own arch of history will last just about until the oil runs out. And that day is quite visible already while we’re just laboring on the 237the year of our still nominally republican system.

As for Maggie Thatcher: admirable. Let’s not diminish her principled labors in the vineyard by speaking of history, arches, and other such foolish things.

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