It is one of the underappreciated advantages of the digital age that when certain prominent people pass away, we need not be held captive to amnesiac, white-washing eulogies. So while President Obama lauds the late Margaret Thatcher as “one of the great champions of freedom and liberty,” it only takes a quick spin through The Nation’s archives to recall the magazine’s running critique of Thatcher and her ideology and, more generally, the great complexities in the folds of history now being steamed away.
In 1980, before his move to the United States and to The Nation, Christopher Hitchens profiled life in his native Britain—scornfully dubbed “Maggie’s Farm”—after “one calendar year of neoconservative governance.” Following the economic and social policies of Milton Friedman and Friedrich von Hayek, Thatcher and her fellow Conservatives had begun to tear up the fabric of British life they claimed to be protecting: prices skyrocketed, services were drastically cut, and the rich received massive tax cuts, all in the name of restoring national greatness. “There are no reliable reports on whether or not this enhanced national pride has made the unemployed feel any better,” Hitchens quipped. “Nothing concentrates the mind like a little poverty,” as Hitchens quotes one Conservative official saying.
In February 1985, New Statesman reporter Jane Dibblin wrote about the British miners’ strike, then approaching its one-year anniversary, which was perceived by many, including Thatcher herself, as the ultimate battle between the forces of austerity and the forces of resistance in Britain. Thatcher boasted of having already defeated the “enemy without,” in the Falklands War, and was now going after the “enemy within,” the miners. The strike cost the British government $123 million per week, but as Dibblin noted, that price was seen by Thatcher and her allies as “a worthwhile political investment.” When the miners voted to end their strike just one month later, The Nation editorialized that Thatcher had shown yet again that “her policies can only sharpen divisions, not heal them”—though the hope that her popularity was “finally waning” proved five years premature.
In 1989, Daniel Singer, the magazine’s longtime Europe correspondent, wrote about France’s preparations for celebrating the bicentennial of its 1789 revolution. He noted that Francois Mitterand would play host to the newly-elected President George Bush, Margaret Thatcher, and German chancellor Helmut Kohl—“a party that appears more suited to honor Marie Antoinette than commemorate the storming of the Bastille.” Singer wrote that these politicians and their neoconservative/neoliberal intellectual counterparts, “preach the ‘end of ideology,’” yet “positively ooze their own brand of it.”