In the last pages of his monumental Second World War, Winston Churchill ponders on the enigma of a military decision: after the specialists (economic and military analysts, psychologists, meteorologists) propose their analysis, somebody must assume the simple and for that very reason most difficult act of transposing this complex multitude into a simple “Yes” or “No”. We shall attack, we continue to wait… This gesture, which can never be fully grounded in reasons, is that of a Master. It is for the experts to present the situation in its complexity, and it is for the Master to simplify it into a point of decision.
The Master is needed especially in situations of deep crisis. The function of a Master is to enact an authentic division – a division between those who want to drag on within the old parameters and those who are aware of the necessary change. Such a division, not the opportunistic compromises, is the only path to true unity. Let us take an example which surely is not problematic: France in 1940. Even Jacques Duclos, the second man of the French Communist Party, admitted in a private conversation that if, at that point in time, free elections were to be held in France, Marshal Petain would have won with 90 per cent of the vote. When de Gaulle, in his historic act, refused to acknowledge the capitulation to Germans and continued to resist, he claimed that it was only he, not the Vichy regime, who speaks on behalf of the true France (on behalf of true France as such, not only on behalf of the “majority of the French”!). What he was saying was deeply true even if it was “democratically” not only without legitimacy, but clearly opposed to the opinion of the majority of the French people.
Margaret Thatcher, the lady who was not for turning, was such a Master, sticking to her decision which was at first perceived as crazy, gradually elevating her singular madness into an accepted norm. When Thatcher was asked about her greatest achievement, she promptly answered: “New Labour.” And she was right: her triumph was that even her political enemies adopted her basic economic policies – the true triumph is not the victory over the enemy, it occurs when the enemy itself starts to use your language, so that your ideas form the foundation of the entire field.
So what remains today of Thatcher’s legacy today?
[Extract. Appeared in New Statesman, on April 17th, 2013. (full text).]