Thatcher’s authoritarian personality

Margaret Thatcher died on Monday. In death, as in life, she divides opinion. Personally I think she was the worst thing that happened to this country since the Second World War. All the problems we currently face have their genesis in her premiership. I think the financial collapse of 2008 was a direct result, not just of the economic strategies she initiated but more importantly a way of thinking she promoted. The senior managers and business brains of the banking sector were the Young Turks of the financial industry when she came to power. The mantra of rampant self-interest she espoused and they took too with such vigour is the same “I’m all-right Jack” attitude that made these big bonused bankers do business the way they have and continue to. Her devotees say she was a strong leader. For me she was a “strong leader” only to those who need that kind of guidance. To the rest of us she was nothing more than a bully. I think there was a callousness in her leadership that was nothing short of sadistic. She had a viciousness about her that I see in the “tough decisions” fiscal policy of George Osborne. No to a plan “B”, “C” or “D” is all-right when your worth £4.3 million, have a Notting Hill property worth £1.8 million and a wife who’s father is a life peer. A life peer who interestingly was also a member of Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet. But I digress from the title of this post. Recent entries about Carrion, specifically those regarding Anthony Reiner, have made me realise something about Margaret Thatcher I didn’t understand before now. Her success was due in no small part to her authoritarian personality. At this point it might be a good idea for you to take a look at Erich Fromm’s 1957 article The Authoritarian Personality. (1) I referenced it in posts that grapple with the totalitarian mindset of prohibition and Reiner’s authoritarian personality. Fromm makes some interesting insights into the nature of the authoritarian personality, notably the symbiotic relationship between the passive and active authoritarian. If I were to characterise Reiner as a passive-authoritarian; the individual who belittles himself so that he can, as part of something greater, become great himself. I would characterise Thatcher as the active-authoritarian; the sadist who feels strong because she has incorporated others. To those who say she encouraged people to be free of the state, to go out there and do it for themselves, I say the free market is not freedom. Ask anyone struggling to pay a utility bill or trying to buy a house or even secure a living wage; how free do they feel? Market freedom is only freedom to those who have. If you already have it you’re free to take it somewhere else. What if you don’t? That argument aside, one of the most interesting thing for me in realising Thatcher had an authoritarian personality, is realising how many people have the emotional need to follower her. The irony of her message of self-reliance and freedom is actually a message of subjugation. You must supplicate yourself at the alter of Thatcher or you’re one of “them” and if you’re one of “them” you’re vilified, blamed for everything that is wrong with society; if we get rid of them, things will be better for us. And that people is the dynamic of totalitarianism. Which is perhaps Thatcher’s real legacy. Personally I do not mourn her passing. Unfortunately I have to live in the world she created.

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4 responses to “Thatcher’s authoritarian personality

  1. Roger Tann 11/04/2013 at 7:42 am

    Deadly psychological analysis of a rampamt ego. Thanks Darrin.
    She struck me as a figure from the Seventeenth Century when Britons of conviction slaughtered each other…which no doubt explains some of the fury she provoked in our time.
    Roger Tann

    • Darrin Nightingale 11/04/2013 at 9:42 am

      Thanks for your comment. I think she provokes fury because she laid waist to entire swaths of the country with the single mindedness of the fascist. Unfortunately I think she is as dangerous in death as she was in life. She still has a grip on this country even after a decade of Labour in Number 10. I fear the cult of personality is such that her face will be staring directly at us, eyes watching us, face set against a black background for some time to come. Once again, thanks for your comment. Darrin. 😉

  2. Geoffrey Grey 18/06/2016 at 4:11 pm

    So how did a decade of Blairism ameliorate any of the damage that Thatcher did? To me he was just a closet Thatcherite masquerading as a jolly nice chap and one of the people, although his pusillanimity to the Bush bully boy would have probably branded him as one of the wets in the eyes of Thatcher herself.

    • Darrin Nightingale 20/06/2016 at 2:28 pm

      I don’t disagree. In a relatively recently documentary I heard one of her acolytes boast that she had not only succeeded in changing the Conservative part but had also managed to change the Labour party. I was as optimistic when Blair was elected as I was disappointed by the time he left power.

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