Friday, April 12, 2013

Corey Robin on that Thatcher quotation

As the heat around Margaret Thatcher's death begins to cool a bit, I thought I would post something that addresses some larger questions around her career. Here is what Corey Robin had to say about the famous quotation about the nature of society.
Left critics of neoliberalism—or just plain old unregulated capitalism—often cite Margaret Thatcher’s famous declaration “There is no such thing as society” as evidence of neoliberalism’s hostility to all things collective. Neoliberalism, the story goes, unleashes the individual to fend for herself, denying her the supports of society (government, neighborhood solidarity, etc.) so that she can prove her mettle in the marketplace.
But these critics often ignore the fine print of what Thatcher actually said in that famous 1987 interview with, of all things, Woman’s Own.  Here’s the buildup to that infamous quote:

Who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families…
It’s that last phrase (“and there are families”) that’s crucial.  Contrary to popular (or at least leftist) myth, neoliberals are not untrammeled individualists. In many ways, they’re not that different from traditional conservatives: that is, they see individuals embedded in social institutions like the church or the family or schools—all institutions, it should be said, that are hierarchical and undemocratic.
Thatcher isn’t alone in this.  For all their individualist bluster, libertarians—particularly those market-oriented libertarians who are rightly viewed as the leading theoreticians of neoliberalism—often make the same claim.  When these libertarians look out at society, they don’t always see isolated or autonomous individuals; they’re just as likely to see private hierarchies like the family or the workplace, where a father governs his family and an owner his employees.  And that, I suspect (though further research is certainly necessary), is what they think of and like about society: that it’s an archipelago of private governments.
To my eyes, the connection between this and Ron and Rand Paul is pretty clear.
Image: in "A man's home is his…"  That's "a MAN'S home!"


  1. I've always thought the two most destructive lies of the late 20th Century (certainly post Viet Nam) were Regan's declaration that "Government can't solve your problems, government is the problem" and that quote from Thatcher (I remember seeing video of it at the time, though I recall it differently, and my head nearly exploding). There should be no questioning the link between Thatcher and the two Pauls. Theya re all cut from the same Libertarian cloth that would eliminate government because it is an immoral institution ("taxation is theft" "welfare is slavery" etc.), never mind that it would consign millions of people in Britain and the US to miserable poverty, make impossible any sort of collective benefit, from national parks to the NHS, and basically kill lots of people. If people die because taxes are eliminated, well, that's their own fault and certainly not the governments, because they, and not the government, should be responsible for themselves.

    I get sick just thinking about Thatcher.

  2. In England, there seems to be a profoundly confused and ass-backward idea of what "individualism" means. Individualism is the principle that all individual human beings must me regarded, respected, and treated as social and political equals, and they must never be manipulated, exploited or sacrificed in the name of some collective purpose by self-declared superiors or aristocrats. The correct conceptual alignment is individualism-egalitarian vs collectivist-aristocratic. NO CONSERVATIVE IS, EVER HAS BEEN, OR EVER WILL BE AN INDIVIDUALIST. Conservative values are collectivist, pure and simple: the desire to create a caste society with an aristocracy on top and peasants and slaves at the bottom. These are values IDENTICAL TO THOSE OF COMMUNISTS, which is why the utopian focus of modern aristocratic and Conservative power is now China, where the Communist Party is delivering their ideal caste society. The modern Conservative movement is simply a replay of the Communist movement, saying anything and everything to accomplish the goal of creating the traditional pyramidal society that has plagued humanity throughout history.

  3. how to define one's self...

    What is the "ism" of the week?