Thursday, September 10, 2009

Margaret Thatcher, closet Machiavellian

So Margaret Thatcher, idealized as a champion of freedom by the neoconservatives, was actually a pretty cold-blood realist when it came to international affairs, even going so far as to oppose German reunification on the grounds that it would threaten Soviet security and de-stabilize the international balance of power. That's not to criticize Thatcher - it's easy to see from the vantage point of the year 2009 how wrong she was, hindsight being 20-20 and all that - but the story does underscore two key points about international affairs. Firstly, that nobody really knows ahead of the fact how history is going to play out, and that as we act in a fog of ignorance we should take a small-c conservative approach to making decisions and respond with skepticism to soothing visions of the sort offered by proponents of wild chimera-chasing adventures like the invasion of Iraq. And secondly, that no historical person, or movement, or idea, no matter how much true believers of whatever stripe may wish to embellish their memories of it in the aftermath, is ever "pure" or conforms to simplistic, ideological notions of how history works. For conservatives, this means acknowleding that their tendency to romanticize the past as a simpler time in which democratic leaders were stronger and less afraid to take courageously unequivocal moral stands is problematic, and their tendency to equate circumspection with cowardice in our current generation of leaders, even moreso.

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