Sunday Morning Reflections: When Politicians Matter

 

When I first proposed to write a book about Margaret Thatcher, I had a smaller book in mind. The title I proposed was Coal and Iron. I wanted to look at one episode in Margaret Thatcher’s career: the crushing of the National Union of Mineworkers between 1984 and 1985. To me, this was the most interesting story from her time in power. But publishers did not agree. The proposal was rejected everywhere I sent it; only Basic Books took an interest, but they asked me to broaden my focus. They wanted a proper biography of Margaret Thatcher, which they would sell as part of their series about the significance of various historic figures. The best-known in that series is Christopher Hitchens’ Why Orwell Matters. Thus my proposal became a book titled Why Margaret Thatcher Matters. While it was always clear to me that she was an interesting and significant 20th century figure, I couldn’t bring myself to conclude with certanly that she mattered in quite the same way Orwell did. It was, I thought, too soon to tell; and in the conclusion of the book, I nearly said so:

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I do not propose to appeal to judgments only time can make. No one now asks whether Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Churchill, and Roosevelt were historical figures of enduring significance. They were judged as massive during their lifetimes; these judgments proved correct. But we should remember that a similar assessment was once made of Chiang Kai-shek. He was believed by his contemporaries to be  “the savior of mankind, the greatest person in the whole world, the lighthouse of freedom, the Great Wall of democracy.” He bustled and strutted over the world stage; he was the darling of American conservatives and a fulcrum of great power politics. Nonetheless, professional historians of China apart, no one now thinks of Chiang as one of the pivotal figures of human history. No one today would write a book titled Why Chiang Matters. I assume that quite a number of my readers will need to go to Wikipedia to remind themselves who he was.

Will Margaret Thatcher be placed among the pantheon of politicians with enduring significance? Or will she pass, like Chiang, into the fog of history? I cannot tell you. No one can. I can only tell you why she matters to us now.

Begin with a broader question: What do political figures who matter have in common? Why do some become larger than life? Here is my answer. The political figures who matter have two rare gifts. First, they are able to perceive the gathering of historical forces in a way their contemporaries are unable to do. What do I mean by “the gathering of historical forces?” I mean, they are able to sense the big picture. Lenin was able to discern a convergence of trends in Tsarist Russia — the migration of the peasants, the rise of revolutionary consciousness, the weakness of the Tsarist government, the debilitation inflicted upon Russia by the First World War—and to recognize what this convergence implied: The old order could now be toppled — not merely reformed, but destroyed. Tsar Nicholas II could not perceive this. It is thus that Lenin now matters and Nicholas II does not.

Second, when promoted to power, those who matter are able to master these historical forces. Chiang understood perfectly that China was vulnerable to communism and what communism in China would mean. He perceived the forces of history. But he was unable, for all his energy and efforts, to master them. And so, tragically, he does not matter.

Churchill perceived the forces of history and then mastered them. When Churchill met Hitler in 1933, he wrote immediately in his diary that the Führer was “glittering with intelligence.” It was an astonishingly perceptive judgment. It was at the time singular: Hitler was widely regarded outside of Germany as a buffoon. Thereafter, Churchill was steadfast in his warnings. He perceived the unique danger of Nazism when others could not see it or refused to believe it. When at last Churchill acquired power, he discharged his responsibilities in such a fashion as to gain him immortality.

When politicians matter, they matter because of these gifts.

Thatcher had these gifts. She perceived — as did many of her contemporaries — that Britain was in decline. She perceived that the effects of Marxist doctrine upon Britain had been pernicious. But unlike her contemporaries, she perceived that Britain’s decline was not inevitable. And she perceived too that socialism was not — as widely believed — irreversible.

Simultaneously, she sensed a wider and related tide in history that no other leader in the Western world, apart from Reagan, sensed at all. She understood that the Soviet Union was far from the invulnerable colossus it was imagined to be. She sensed, in fact, that it was unable to satisfy the basic needs of its own population. It was corrupt, moribund, and doomed.

Having perceived the gathering of historical forces, she mastered them. She reversed the advance of socialism in Britain, proving both that a country can be ripped from a seemingly over-determined trajectory and that it takes only a single figure with an exceptionally strong will to do so. She did not single-handedly cause the Soviet empire to crumble, but she landed some of the most devastating punches of the Cold War and, extraordinarily, emerged unbloodied from the fight.

There is an even larger sense in which Margaret Thatcher perceived and mastered the forces of history.

Since the eighteenth century, two views of political life have vied for dominance in the Western world. They are views about the hypothetical state of nature — the condition of mankind in the absence of government. The first view is that of Thomas Hobbes: The life of man in the state of nature, he wrote, is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” The second is that of Jean-Jacques Rousseau: “Man is born free, but he is everywhere in chains.”

Hobbes wrote Leviathan during the English civil wars of the seventeenth century. Such horrors as he had seen, he believed, arose because of the absence of government, and in particular, the absence of a government powerful enough to overawe men who would otherwise be fractious and dominated by self-interest.

Leviathan is a defense of a central and commanding power in political life. It is sometimes understood, for this reason, as an argument for totalitarianism. A close study of Hobbes suggests little to encourage this view. The form of this central power was to Hobbes largely a matter of indifference. He favored a monarchy, but this is not his key point. His key point is that there is a choice between anarchy and a powerful state. And since, as he could plainly see, anarchy was awful, he chose a powerful state.

This powerful state is the Leviathan, and it is a Leviathan because it possesses — in theory, at least — a monopoly on violence. Leviathan to this day remains a critical justification for the existence and the primacy of the nation-state. This was a primacy Thatcher sought instinctively and ferociously to preserve.

It is perverse that Hobbes is widely seen as providing a defense of absolutism in political life, for the historical trail between his thought and the unspeakable evils of the twentieth century is almost impossible to map. Neither Lenin, nor Stalin, nor Hitler, nor Mao thought in his terms; they did not justify their rule by an appeal to a state of nature in which men would find themselves enemies to one another. These were men, instead, who had read Rousseau.

It is Rousseau’s view of the state of nature, not Hobbes’s, to which the great and awful events that began with the Terror and ended with the Gulag may be traced. In Rousseau’s view, man is born both good and noble; if he finds himself in chains, it is because these chains have been imposed by government. A syllogism is implied. If these chains have been imposed by government, these chains must be snapped. If these chains must be snapped, violence must be employed — otherwise, men would free themselves. If violence must be employed, it must be employed without restraint. Every revolutionary movement from the eighteenth century to the twenty-first has seen the logic of this position: It is inexorable.

I do not believe Margaret Thatcher was a careful student of Hobbes — or of Rousseau, for that matter. To judge from her autobiography, she too misunderstood Hobbes’s point. Raisa Gorbachev, apparently, displayed an interest in the copy of Leviathan on Thatcher’s bookshelf during her visit to Chequers; Thatcher worried this might signify that Mrs. Gorbachev was a particularly hard-line communist. But while she did not properly understand what Hobbes had written, Thatcher was, nonetheless, in instinctive agreement with his views. Political life, she believed, must be organized around nation-states. These states must possess a monopoly on violence. The authority of the nation-state must not be compromised from the outside, by transnational bodies such as the European Union, or from the inside, by groups such as the National Union of Mineworkers.

Thatcher’s career may be viewed as a series of rebukes to those who would seek to diminish the authority of the nation-state and to reduce its monopoly on violence. She is thus not only one of the greatest enemies of socialism the world has known, but one of the greatest enemies of anarchy, as well. Again, she perceived the forces of history, and again, she mastered them.

That word brings me to my next point. Thatcher was enormously prescient. But she was not supernaturally prescient, and it is a mistake to assign to her the status of a secular saint. On some issues, she was simply wrong. Iraq was one of them. By “wrong,” I do not mean the invasion of Iraq was ultimately wrong. I don’t know yet whether it was, and this is not the place for this debate. I mean that she did not weigh properly the real risk that invading Iraq would lead to anarchy, and she did not foresee what would be required to contain that anarchy. In this sense, she got it wrong.

On other issues — critical issues — she was bizarrely oblivious. This is often the case, even among the political figures who matter most. If some politicians are given the gift of seeing into the loom of time, they are rarely given the gift of seeing it whole. Churchill saw with astonishing prescience the danger posed by the Nazi regime; in 1946, he saw with the same prescience the descent of the Iron Curtain. About India, however, he was blind, and he was blind again in thinking the call for social reform in postwar Britain could be ignored.

The world’s attention now is focused on the conflict with radical Islam. Rightly so. But let us be frank: About this, Margaret Thatcher was blind. In this regard, she doesn’t matter. I looked everywhere for evidence that she had even considered the issue carefully. I could not find it.

A final point. She matters now because her battles are not over. For a brief, perishable moment during the 1990s, it was possible to imagine that the great questions of history had been settled. But history did not, as Francis Fukuyama predicted, come to an end. Quite the contrary.

Socialism was buried prematurely. This fact has been little remarked, precisely because the world’s attention has in recent times been focused on the dramatic rise of Islamic extremism. Amid this anxiety it has been forgotten that the appeal of socialism as a political program is ultimately far wider, more seductive, and more enduring than political Islam. To the vast majority of the secular world, Islam is alien and will always be alien. Islamic law is widely and correctly perceived as a recipe for immiseration. This is not so of socialism, a political movement that like fascism embodies the religious impulse in secular form and is thus an ideology destined to rise again and again from the grave.

Wherever men are miserable — and that is almost everywhere — they will be vulnerable to those who promise Utopia, for if Hobbes expressed some portion of the truth, Rousseau expressed some portion of the truth as well. There is no inconsistency between the declaration that life in the state of nature is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short and the declaration that man is everywhere in chains. That this observation is bleak is no reason not to think it correct. If for no other reason, I doubt the promises of socialism will ever lose their capacity to inspire.

She perceived these forces, and for a time she mastered them: This is why she matters to history. These forces are still at work; they must again be mastered.

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As time passes, I am inclined to suspect her achievements mattered less than I had thought. Jeremy Corbyn may well be elected head of the UK Labour Party next month. If so, it doesn’t seem an exaggeration to say that Thatcher’s achievements did nothing more than slow Britain’s inexorable decline; they most certainly didn’t end the debate.

In an interview with The Independent on Sunday, following the launch of his environment manifesto, Corbyn reveals that he wants to reinstate Clause Four, the hugely symbolic commitment to socialism scrapped under Tony Blair 20 years ago, in its original wording or a similar phrase that weds the Labour Party to public ownership of industry.

In surveying our presidential aspirants — from, Jeb, Walker, Fiorina and Marco to Hillary, Trump, Warren, and Sanders —  I look for such things as a fluent mastery of facts and policy, for the quality of being impeccably well-briefed. These, at least, should be the most minimal of qualifications for the office; when absent they suggest to me a candidate’s laziness, a contempt for the office he or she proposes to hold, and a frightening lack of awareness that the job they propose to do is difficult and serious — that the world’s future will depend upon them.

But I look as well for something more difficult to measure: Do any of these candidates seem to have a gift for perceiving the gathering of historical forces? For discerning which ones are truly important? Are they are able to grasp the big picture? If so, do they have the ability not only correctly to appraise, but to master those forces? Do they realize how much the world is changing, and how quickly — and do they understand why? Do they inspire in me confidence that they will know which battles are the ones to pick — and that they have what it takes to win them?

Do you see those abilities in any of the candidates, be they Republicans or Democrats?

There are 47 comments.

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  1. Lance Inactive
    Lance
    @Lance

    I was thinking on this last night, though with far fewer words and significantly less eloquence. My thoughts were that forces were aligning and yet we lack the politicians with the particular skills necessary to transcend the small picture and rise to the big. Trump taps into the appetite, but offers offers candy for the hungry instead of meat. And to be honest, Trump merely is making the most of the opportunity he’s presented with. As any good operator in business does. As any good operator in politics does. Will anyone else? The problem is that the opportunity was only available for the first comer to take it. All others who try to take it up will be seen as Bandwagoners. Hard to be leader when you prove yourself to be a follower.

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  2. Mark Thatcher
    Mark
    @GumbyMark

    Your post reminded me of something Yaacov Lozovick wrote after Thatcher’s passing about the tour he gave her of Yad Vashem where he was archivist at the time:

    In those days I used to meet all sorts of prominent folks and give them tours; I met presidents, prime ministers, and many lesser luminaries. None of them left the impression she did. Her intelligence was so fierce and unusual it was like a physical force, knocking over whatever wasn’t solid enough to withstand it. I don’t remember exactly what it was I showed her – it must have been assorted interesting documents, some Nazi, some Jewish, that was the sort of thing I normally showed in such cases. She saw the essential significance in each of them well before I had finished explaining what they were, and tied them into her understanding of the world. I vividly remember thinking at the time that being one of her aides or ministers must have been unusually demanding, since if you didn’t have total control of whatever it was you were presenting to her she’d have made you feel like an idiot.

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  3. Concretevol Thatcher
    Concretevol
    @Concretevol

    Sheeze Claire it’s Sunday morning!  :)  You want people to think when some of us are drinking coffee recovering after getting back late from Bristol?  (that’s a race Claire) hehe

    Seriously though, thanks for the morning read and discussion.  I think some of the field have potential to grasp when important events are growing in the world.  I’m not sure how much of that is attributed to intellect and how much to instincts and vision.  Of course many times events drive the man not the other way around.  Rubio, Cruz, possibly Walker and Perry?  All we can judge now is their grasp of issues since instincts will be proven over time.

    Ok, back to coffee……

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  4. Mark Thatcher
    Mark
    @GumbyMark

    “As time passes, I am inclined to suspect her achievements mattered less than I had thought.”

    In that sense, can’t one say the same of Churchill?  What would he think of the U.K. today?  Was he a failure?

    Do we expect too much if we look beyond whether a politician can take care of at least one or two of the big problems immediately confronting us?  Who can predict what 20, 30 or 40 years down the road will bring?

    As Paul Simon sang:

    It’s a turnaround jump shot
    It’s everybody jumpstart
    It’s every generation throws a hero up the pop charts

    On the other hand, I would appreciate a candidate who gave indications of taking care of a couple of issues I feel important.  Even with that I’d have to accept that they’ll also make some big mistakes – I just ask that they not do lasting damage.

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  5. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive
    Ball Diamond Ball
    @BallDiamondBall

    Note that all of your doubtless category are World War II figures, with the exception of Lenon, the sole World War I figure, whose actual claim to fame is in forcing an abandonment of that war to start a new one at home. And winning.

    There are two kinds of Presidents: wartime and not wartime. Opportunities to the latter are incredibly circumscribed. How great is a man who fiddles with policy?

    I do think that the drive to obliterate Bush’s accomplishments was a primary factor in much of the Obama progressive machine’s early direction. Iraq and Afghanistan had to fall, or else the American hawks would have been proven correct with huge implications for foreign policy for the next century.
    And the good guys lost.

    • #5
  6. Quinn the Eskimo Member
    Quinn the Eskimo
    @

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: Do any of these candidates seem to have a gift for perceiving the gathering of historical forces? For discerning which ones are truly important? Are they are able to grasp the big picture? If so, do they have the ability not only correctly to appraise, but to master those forces? Do they realize how much the world is changing, and how quickly — and do they understand why? Do they inspire in me confidence that they will know which battles are the ones to pick — and that they have what it takes to win them?

    Does it count if there are candidates who have the gift of perceiving historical forces and are choosing to take us in the wrong direction?

    • #6
  7. Capt. Aubrey Inactive
    Capt. Aubrey
    @CaptAubrey

    Wonderful topic! I think it is also worth noting and wondering to what extent a transformational leaders life cicumstances play a role in that vision. Thatchers experience as the daughter of a small business man must have given her a more visceral understanding of capitalism than many. Reagans experience with SAG maybe. So it appears to me that Rubio perhaps more than the others has this quality that his life’s experience as well as his education could play a role in his vision and leadership but it’s too soon to be sure.

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  8. King Banaian Contributor
    King Banaian
    @KingBanaian

    Great post. There’s a passage I’ve looked for since reading this from an interview with Milton Friedman, who was asked if we had ended the debate over price controls, government ownership, etc. His answer was that opposition to those things that were popular in the 1970s developed out of our experiences with their disastrous consequences. As that generation dies off and a new one ascends, the lesson is forgotten and socialism’s time comes back around. Perhaps this is such a moment.

    I am also mindful of Daniel Yergin’s series “The Commanding Heights”, which is basically an economic history of the 20th Century. The last hour of 6 shows what appears to be a rearguard by a few union leaders, ‘anarchists’, etc., against WTO and globalization. I’ve recently started asking classes to whom I show the film how they’d end the movie now. Most sympathize with the rearguard and argue they are ascendant. They’re not wrong.

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  9. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive
    Ball Diamond Ball
    @BallDiamondBall

    Depressing, KB.

    • #9
  10. Capt. Aubrey Inactive
    Capt. Aubrey
    @CaptAubrey

    The post Cold War period does seem to be all about the inevitable primacy of market forces and the hatred for those forces by the political class. I pray that Obama’s will come to be viewed as a failure in this light.

    • #10
  11. James Gawron Inactive
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    Most Gracious Dr. Berlinski,

    It is a pleasure and an honor to comment on your erudite post. I shall try my best to do justice to your marvelous efforts.

    First, I can only go forward disclosing my own philosophical point of view. You have made this very easy as your two philosophers are foundational ones. They are essentially both pre-moderns in that the sophistication of their analysis has not reached the technical extremes invariably connected to Modern Philososophy (post Enlightenment). However, as you have described them I would extend your analysis into the Modern by a simple formula.

    Hobbes becomes Hume

    Rousseau becomes Hegel

    Without getting into a absurdly complex philosophical discussion it is enough to say that the philosophers that Hobbes and Rousseau become are playing the role that you have laid out. They play the role in a much more technically intellectually sophisticated manner but it is the same functional role.

    In surveying our presidential aspirants – from, Jeb, Walker, Fiorina and Marco to Hillary, Trump, Warren, and Sanders — I look for such things as a fluent mastery of facts and policy, for the quality of being impeccably well-briefed.

    Now that I have made my philosophical disclosure I’ll attempt to answer your question.

    Cont.

    • #11
  12. James Gawron Inactive
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    Cont. from #11

    Jeb: Impeccably well-briefed is Jeb. He is a the consummate professional. Unfortunately, he has appeared completely tone deaf to the big picture. To imagine that he can enter the lists to do battle and not make a clearer defense of his brother’s foreign policy is ridiculous. Jeb doesn’t recognize the vicious political climate that got Barack Obama elected and has insulated BHO for 6.5 years. In domestic policy he doesn’t recognize the Gruberism, bad faith presentation of massive national domestic programs, so he has fallen victim to Obamaschool (Common Core). I doubt he would fight Obamanet and he probably wouldn’t repeal Obamacare. Jeb doesn’t get the big picture at all. All his capability, which is prodigious, will be wasted.

    Scott Walker: Scott Walker is the guy you underestimate. The Unions tried to kill him in Wisconsin (a blue state) over and over again using the dirtiest tactics. I had never really heard him speak until the first debate. He was calm and direct, completely in control of himself as he faces issues head on. This guy doesn’t flinch. There is no way to predict with him. Yet my gut says that I would take a gamble on him. I think we can do a lot worse.

    Carly Fiorina: She is very talented and very likable. She is well prepared and can think on her feet. I don’t know how much farther it goes but I am willing to listen. She doesn’t have governmental experience, the executive experience is valuable but again I don’t know how far it goes. I’d like to see more before I render any judgement.

    Marco Rubio: You know before Henry V fights and defeats the French at Agincourt, Shakespeare takes us on a tour of his youth. We see that the young lion cub must mature. Rubio’s trajectory has been this. He seems to instinctively have the big picture from the get go. He is a hard worker and he is well prepared. He knows what battle to pick and he has gained the maturity to win them.

    Hillary: Talking bout my generation. My generation, without the experience of the Depression & WWII, wanted to break free of norms and experiment. This is not necessarily a bad thing especially when the norms appear very artificial. However, the ferment was so broad and obvious that it bred a kind of lazy manipulator that was expert at riding the tide of youthful rebellion and little else. HRC & Bubba exemplify this type. It’s 1962 forever and Chubby Checker is introducing the twist. When so much of this stock nonsense goes south they never seem to learn and why should they. They just keep playing us all for suckers and take the money and run. Forget it.

    Cont.

    • #12
  13. James Gawron Inactive
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    Cont. from #12

    Trump: When it comes to marshaling support and riding right through a combative media, nobody does it better than the Donald. However, it really is a complex and dangerous world. The approach would be to have the Donald smash into the World head first and let Gd sort it out. Not that this isn’t appealing, as I have had a low grade headache for months from the Iran Deal, but it is our duty to try to do better. (Somebody knew somebody and the Donald let us use Mar-A-Lago for the fundraiser for the synagogue one year. Man the white wine was cold and the glass was huge and..what am I saying.. duty Claire duty!)

    Elizabeth Warren: If anything says decadence this candidacy says it. It is incredible that this dimwitted fraud is a Senator of the United States much less a Presidential Candidate. Are the young, the media, academia, the entertainment industry so corrupt that they can stomach this? Don’t answer the question. Truly the SJW Nero.

    Bernie Sanders: Am I supposed to laugh or cry. With Hillary I could say we were all 19 years old once but now we should know better. With Bernie it’s more like we were all 11 years old once but if we don’t know better by now we should be committed.

    Dr. Berlinski, I hope I have been of some use to you.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #13
  14. Mike LaRoche Inactive
    Mike LaRoche
    @MikeLaRoche

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:I do not propose to appeal to judgments only time can make. No one now asks whether Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Churchill, and Roosevelt were historical figures of enduring significance. They were judged as massive during their lifetimes; these judgments proved correct. But we should remember that a similar assessment was once made of Chiang Kai-shek. He was believed by his contemporaries to be “the savior of mankind, the greatest person in the whole world, the lighthouse of freedom, the Great Wall of democracy.” He bustled and strutted over the world stage; he was the darling of American conservatives and a fulcrum of great power politics. Nonetheless, professional historians of China apart, no one now thinks of Chiang as one of the pivotal figures of human history. No one today would write a book titled Why Chiang Matters. I assume that quite a number of my readers will need to go to Wikipedia to remind themselves who he was.

    This reminds me of a story involving two coeds a few years back.  One day while I was sitting in my office at my university, a couple of coeds were hanging around just outside my door in the hallway quizzing one another to prepare for a World Civ exam they were taking later that day. When the subject of modern Chinese history came up, the following exchange occurred…

    Coed #1: “Who was the president of Nationalist China?”

    Coed #2: “Ching Chong-check!”

    • #14
  15. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    James Gawron: Scott Walker: Scott Walker is the guy you underestimate. The Unions tried to kill him in Wisconsin (a blue state) over and over again using the dirtiest tactics. I had never really heard him speak until the first debate. He was calm and direct, completely in control of himself as he faces issues head on. This guy doesn’t flinch. There is no way to predict with him. Yet my gut says that I would take a gamble on him. I think we can do a lot worse.

    That’s interesting because Claire’s article got me thinking about Scott Walker, and how his behavior on the tax-funded sports arena shows that maybe he doesn’t get the big picture.  His support for that arena is going to undermine the potential for good he could have done in cleaning up corporate welfare and reducing our government’s reach to a more reasonable scope.

    He’s still on the list of people I’d vote for, but everything a politician does now positions him for what he can or cannot accomplish in the future.

    • #15
  16. James Gawron Inactive
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    The Reticulator:

    James Gawron: Scott Walker: Scott Walker is the guy you underestimate. The Unions tried to kill him in Wisconsin (a blue state) over and over again using the dirtiest tactics. I had never really heard him speak until the first debate. He was calm and direct, completely in control of himself as he faces issues head on. This guy doesn’t flinch. There is no way to predict with him. Yet my gut says that I would take a gamble on him. I think we can do a lot worse.

    That’s interesting because Claire’s article got me thinking about Scott Walker, and how his behavior on the tax-funded sports arena shows that maybe he doesn’t get the big picture. His support for that arena is going to undermine the potential for good he could have done in cleaning up corporate welfare and reducing our government’s reach to a more reasonable scope.

    He’s still on the list of people I’d vote for, but everything a politician does now positions him for what he can or cannot accomplish in the future.

    Ret,

    I agree. However, if you attempt to disqualify with a microscope than you may wind up with either no candidates or with the candidate that has the most money. We already know who has the most money and we also know he has the most disqualifications.

    A paradox yes. Perhaps we need to apply The Buckley Rule.

    Buckley Rule

    The Buckley Rule is often misquoted. William F. Buckley first used his assertion during the 1964 Republican primary election that featured Barry Goldwater and Nelson Rockefeller. Debate within the Republican party led Buckley to state his support for “the rightwardmost viable candidate.” It is often misquoted and misapplied as proclaiming support for “the rightwardmost electable candidate” or simply the most electable candidate.

    According to National Review’s Neal B. Freeman, “It meant somebody who saw the world as we did. Somebody who would bring credit to our cause. Somebody who, win or lose, would conservatize the Republican party and the country. It meant somebody like Barry Goldwater.”

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #16
  17. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    Hi Claire,

    There is a lot here, so I will go back and re-read. First comments are, I am not sure I would read a book called Coal and Iron, but the title “Why Margaret Thatcher Mattered” made me curious why she mattered. I knew little about her until I read your book and was blown away. I don’t think certain large historical figures thrust into leadership at critical periods in history are even fully aware, but sense “the gathering storm” soon enough. In her battle with socialism and Reagan with communism, when threats are so large, they pick their battles – so they may not focus 100% on all, but get what matters at the time. Good thing others can take their turn in history to take up the next ball.

    George W. Bush saw the horizon, but did not want to run – he saw what a burden it is on a family, but it kept nagging him. Read the pre-911 inaugural address from 2001:

    http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=25853

    That is foresight if I ever heard it.  There is a fine line between a Hitler and a Churchill – both commanding presence, but one is evil. Trump is commanding presence – its not enough.

    You also have a gift to discern – it’s obvious in “Menace in Europe”.  I think when evil rears its ugly head, God sometimes brings the least likely among us to the forefront to sound the alarm and fight great battles.

    • #17
  18. Steve C. Member
    Steve C.
    @user_531302

    Thatcher was the necessary medicine. While a majority of the patients recognized the need for a healthy dose of cod liver oil, that didn’t make it taste any better. It’s fair to say she was a hard nosed woman who cared little for popularity. Results were her concern. I think in large part she was a product of the times. Britain needed a Thatcher, regardless of gender.

    Her achievements were won at a high cost. She went against the grain of post war Conservative “go along to get elected”. Her rapid ascent violated the unspoken rules of who and how one becomes a force in British politics.  Unlike our Presidents, who have independent authority and power, British leaders depend on popular support from their rank and file.

    Thatcher was a consequential Prime Minister. She will always be remembered for her accomplishments. Whether or not she is a popular historical figure is a separate question. Not being one of the anointed is one strike. Displaying a hard political edge is another. That she was a woman, a conservative and a success, is the unspoken mortal sin.

    • #18
  19. derek Member
    derek
    @user_82953

    McConnell and Boehner are on a wave and are fighting it. They will be forgotten.

    Obama rode a wave then made himself petty and small, and will leave a trail of disasters that will characterize the next four at least presidencies.

    Harper in Canada is a consequential politician, now up for election. The political space in Canada has a pre Harper and post Harper story. When the post happens is still undecided. By the way, a smart Republican would study what he did. He dismantled the political party that presumed to be the government either in waiting or in.

    Walker has the potential, but hasn’t hired well. The Republican who allies himself with a brilliant strategist will win. The usual Republican consultants are worse than useless. I don’t see one yet. Consultants see the past, poorly. There are multiple issues if done well could catapult a candidate, Trump is finding them, everyone else is scrambling.

    I would summarily fire anyone working on my campaign who even breathes the idea that Trump will self destruct, or that the democrats will. The first candidate that does it publicly may be the one who runs away with it.

    • #19
  20. Sabrdance Member
    Sabrdance
    @Sabrdance

    On Thatcher:  All any of us are, is dust in the wind.  Did Achilles matter?  Did Hector?  Was not the burning of Ilios fore-ordained?  In the moment, she did better than many of us would have done, and we agree with her.

    On Hobbes: I think the connection between Hobbes and Rousseau is closer than you give it credit.  Both men see government as a means for liberating men, but they differ in the method.  Hobbes wants us to give all our will to a single man (the Arbiter) who, because of his ownership of the people will look out for them, as the shepherd does for his flock.  Rousseau wants to give all our will to the people, who, because they are the people, will protect themselves.  Hobbes’ arbiter will no more kill a man for no reason than a man would cut off his own arm.  Rousseau’s people the same.  Both of them founder on the problem that the “people” and the “arbiter” cease to be abstract individuals when they become real, and such people will substitute their own will for the General Will, their own interest for the National Interest -and they will kill people for no reason.  And thus it became an imperative for Marx that history create men and institutions that produce a people whose personal will is the General Will.

    Which we know is impossible because mankind is fundamentally broken and flawed.

    On candidates: I hope for Walker, but only cautiously.

    • #20
  21. Manfred Arcane Inactive
    Manfred Arcane
    @ManfredArcane

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: It has been forgotten that the appeal of socialism as a political program is ultimately far wider, more seductive, and more enduring than political Islam. To the vast majority of the secular world, Islam is alien and will always be alien. …. This is not so of socialism, a political movement that like fascism embodies the religious impulse in secular form and is thus an ideology destined to rise again and again from the grave. Wherever men are miserable — and that is almost everywhere — they will be vulnerable to those who promise Utopia, …., I doubt the promises of socialism will ever lose their capacity to inspire.

    Very well summarized, Good Lady.

    ISIS and their ilk are like a suporating abscess on exterior limbs, localized effectively negated by the body’s immune system.

    Socialism is much more dangerous, best viewed as sort of an auto-immune disease, internal, pervasive, like:

    HIV ( Infection that causes destruction of the immune system leading to damage to several organ systems and tissues), or

    Sepsis (Sepsis occurs when chemicals released into the bloodstream to fight the infection trigger inflammatory responses throughout the body. This inflammation can trigger a cascade of changes that can damage multiple organ systems, causing them to fail), or

    Gangrene (necrosis or death of soft tissue due to obstructed circulation, usually followed by decomposition and putrefaction).

    Socialism, like these diseases, has its weaknesses though.  It, for example, denies self-determination (think taxes) for those of higher incomes.  The cure begins here.

    • #21
  22. Leigh Inactive
    Leigh
    @Leigh

    The only one I would say with certainty has both the qualities you describe is Walker… in Wisconsin.  He had both the “big picture” vision, the sense of the moment, and a grasp of the policy details that enabled him to implement effective policy and effective politics.  He chose his battle well, fought it well, and won.

    I have never heard so many ordinary people talking about local politics as I did in Wisconsin.  Nobody in Virginia knows or cares much what happens in Richmond.  Walker inspired intense loyalty and intense hatred on actual substance: not personality, not populist rhetoric, but a vital question of state policy.  It reshaped the state’s politics and emboldened his fellow Republicans to enact one substantial reform after another.  Unless national politics renders all state reforms irrelevant, the movement Walker has led in Wisconsin will still matter a generation from now.

    Nationally?  I don’t know, yet.

    He is not as philosophical as his friend Paul Ryan, who could probably discuss Hobbes and Rousseau, but he has the big picture.  He knows the Left as perhaps no one else in this field does.  He has not shown yet the fluent grasp of national policy in detail.  He can handle domestic policy.  On foreign policy, he has yet to prove it.  He is very, very cautious and says less than he knows.  I believe he has the basic judgment.

    • #22
  23. Leigh Inactive
    Leigh
    @Leigh

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: If for no other reason, I doubt the promises of socialism will ever lose their capacity to inspire.

    This is true, and I am afraid conservative internal debates often miss completely how powerful the appeal of socialism truly is.  Conservatives do not lose because our politicians are not outspokenly conservative enough, or because they are too cautious, or stupid, or because of money, or the millions of other excuses made — though all those things can matter at the margins in some races.  We lose because the opposing argument appeals to something deep in human nature.

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: Jeremy Corbyn may well be elected head of the UK Labour Party next month.

    He may win the contest, but I do not believe he will become Prime Minister — or even that he will necessarily remain leader.  He will not have the confidence of the parliamentary party.

    • #23
  24. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Leigh: Claire Berlinski, Ed.: If for no other reason, I doubt the promises of socialism will ever lose their capacity to inspire. This is true, and I am afraid conservative internal debates often miss completely how powerful the appeal of socialism truly is. Conservatives do not lose because our politicians are not outspokenly conservative enough, or because they are too cautious, or stupid, or because of money, or the millions of other excuses made — though all those things can matter at the margins in some races. We lose because the opposing argument appeals to something deep in human nature.

    You may be right.  I seem to be immune to whatever it is in socialism that provides inspiration. It’s like watching cockroaches mate.  It seems to be important to them, but I don’t get the excitement.

    However, I am not immune to whatever it is that repels people from not-socialist industrialism, sometimes to an extent that they are driven in desperation to socialism.  But socialism as an inspirational force?  It’s out there and I don’t get it.

    • #24
  25. Manfred Arcane Inactive
    Manfred Arcane
    @ManfredArcane

    The Reticulator: But socialism as an inspirational force?  It’s out there and I don’t get it.

    Socialism’s motive, animating force, its engine, is the appeal of ‘fairness’.  That none should have to struggle whilst others have it easy.

    The moral sentiment in Victor Hugo’s dedication to his ‘Les Miserables’ below eloquently captures the outrage and longing behind socialism’s appeal:

    “So long as there shall exist, by reason of law and custom, a social condemnation which, in the midst of civilization, artificially creates a hell on earth, and complicates with human fatality a destiny that is divine; so long as the three problems of the century–the degradation of man by the exploitation of his labor, the ruin of woman by starvation, and the atrophy of childhood by physical and spiritual night–are not solved; so long as, in certain regions, social asphyxia shall be possible; in other words, and from a still broader point of view, so long as ignorance and misery remain on earth, there should be a need for books such as this. –1862″

    • #25
  26. John Hendrix Thatcher
    John Hendrix
    @JohnHendrix

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: But I look as well for something more difficult to measure: Do any of these candidates seem to have a gift for perceiving the gathering of historical forces? For discerning which ones are truly important? Are they are able to grasp the big picture? If so, do they have the ability not only correctly to appraise, but to master those forces? Do they realize how much the world is changing, and how quickly — and do they understand why? Do they inspire in me confidence that they will know which battles are the ones to pick — and that they have what it takes to win them?

    Do you see those abilities in any of the candidates, be they Republicans or Democrats?

    Thank you for such a superb essay, Claire.

    I always thought Gingrich intuitively perceived these historical forces. Unfortunately he was too flawed to get elected and–I worry–too flawed to do the job well should he be elected President. But he might have been a magnificent world leader. We will never know.

    It takes a lot to get removed from the speakership by a coup. But Gingrich managed to do it.  I’ve always regarded that as a warning.

    Regarding your questions: in terms of geopolitical savvy–and in no particular order — I have the most regard for Perry, Cruz, and Rubio. I like Walker but I wonder if he can transfer his prowess at state politics to the global arena?  I don’t know. I like Carly because she’s saying all of the correct things, but I don’t know about her ability to discern historical forces and those other considerations you listed.

    I think the best way to verifying that a leader is capable of discerning historical forces is his demonstrated ability to point them out when it is unpopular to do so.  Churchill did this.

    But voluntarily making unpopular public statements can also be the mark of a crank.

    But how can you identify those gifted with the ability to discern historical forces when today’s s threats are mounting to such heights that they’re blindingly obvious to anybody who won’t avert their gaze.  Put another way, it doesn’t take a Churchill to know that Iran cannot be allowed to become a nuclear power–even if it comes to war.

    It was the same when Reagan was running in 1980.  Carter had turned our geopolitical situation into a shambles and that was obvious to everybody; it didn’t take a geopolitical genius.  In 1980 I knew Reagan was the best option but I had no inkling of Reagan’s apprehension of historical forces. After he was out of office it was clear that both he and Thacher had it.

    Clearly one of my deficiencies is my inability to single-out historic world leaders before they change history.

    • #26
  27. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Manfred Arcane:

    The Reticulator: But socialism as an inspirational force? It’s out there and I don’t get it.

    Socialism’s motive, animating force, its engine, is the appeal of ‘fairness’. That none should have to struggle whilst others have it easy.

    The moral sentiment in Victor Hugo’s dedication to his ‘Les Miserables’ below eloquently captures the outrage and longing behind socialism’s appeal:

    “So long as there shall exist, by reason of law and custom, a social condemnation which, in the midst of civilization, artificially creates a hell on earth, and complicates with human fatality a destiny that is divine; so long as the three problems of the century–the degradation of man by the exploitation of his labor, the ruin of woman by starvation, and the atrophy of childhood by physical and spiritual night–are not solved; so long as, in certain regions, social asphyxia shall be possible; in other words, and from a still broader point of view, so long as ignorance and misery remain on earth, there should be a need for books such as this. –1862″

    That helps explain what’s repellent about not-socialism.  But it doesn’t explain the attraction to socialism.

    • #27
  28. Manfred Arcane Inactive
    Manfred Arcane
    @ManfredArcane

    The Reticulator: That helps explain what’s repellent about not-socialism.  But it doesn’t explain the attraction to socialism.

    Aren’t these the same things?  If you are repelled by the absence of socialism, well then, you must needs be attracted to socialism, no?

    • #28
  29. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Manfred Arcane:

    The Reticulator: That helps explain what’s repellent about not-socialism. But it doesn’t explain the attraction to socialism.

    Aren’t these the same things? If you are repelled by the absence of socialism, well then, you must needs be attracted to socialism, no?

    I’m not repelled by the absence of socialism, but by those things that aren’t socialism.

    • #29
  30. Leigh Inactive
    Leigh
    @Leigh

    John Hendrix: I think the best way to verifying that a leader is capable of discerning historical forces is his demonstrated ability to point them out when it is unpopular to do so.  Churchill did this. But voluntarily making unpopular public statements can also be the mark of a crank.

    Yes.

    The Reticulator: That helps explain what’s repellent about not-socialism.  But it doesn’t explain the attraction to socialism.

    Perhaps it would be better to say that it has a different appeal to different people.  To some, it is the appeal of compassion — that we cannot allow this suffering, and that only the state can stop it.  To others, it is the security that comes from trusting that the ground won’t fall out from under you.  To still others, it’s the idea that things run more smoothly under the carefully planned and organized control of an efficient government, rather than the chaos of the market.  To some, it’s the idea that socialism takes care of the mundane things and frees individuals to achieve and be whatever they want, regardless of their income or background.

    Of course, it’s all utopian.  It doesn’t work.  But the promises appeal.

    • #30
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