On Thatcher’s ‘Defeat’
Near the end of John O’Sullivan’s review of the new Margaret Thatcher biopic (“The Lioness in Winter,” January 23), I was struck by the reference to “her defeat by Michael Heseltine, which triggered her downfall.” I remembered some details of that “defeat” — I was a college student spending the semester at the London School of Economics during that fall of 1990 — and thought they merited a bit more attention.
While it is undoubtedly correct that the Conservative-party leadership contest between Thatcher and Heseltine ended Thatcher’s eleven-year run as British prime minister, Thatcher never lost to Heseltine. In a head-to-head contest, she whipped him, roughly 55 percent to 40 percent.
I say “roughly” because the margin was actually just shy of 15 percentage points, the margin Thatcher needed to win the race on the first ballot. Advised that she was unlikely to win on the second ballot, Thatcher withdrew from the leadership battle and paved the way for the election of John Major.
Why bring this up? It’s hard to picture any present-day American politician giving up a powerful post because “only” 55 percent of his colleagues endorsed his leadership. He would be much more likely to complain about voting rules that ignored the majority’s will. As that thought sifted through my mind, I couldn’t help but recall the previous article in the issue, Daniel Foster’s chronicle of the death of shame in America.
Rothbard, Economy, and State
In 1995, after reading Bill Buckley’s R.I.P. (ripping?) of libertarian economist Murray Rothbard, I wrote him a letter suggesting that he should have focused on Rothbard’s tremendous positive contributions to Austrian economics rather than his crank politics. Now I see Kevin D. Williamson has made the same mistake in his “Courting the Cranks” (January 23).
I was hoping that Rothbard’s peevish politics would gradually disappear and his profound breakthroughs and popularization of Austrian economics would naturally rise to the surface. Unfortunately, it appears that some distorted form of Gresham’s Law is taking place: Bad politics drives out good economics.
Kevin D. Williamson Replies: I haven’t repeated WFB’s mistake — he didn’t make one in regards to Murray Rothbard. Mr. Rothbard’s undiscriminating, kitchen-sink brand of politics — which had him mourning the passing of David Duke’s moment in the sun — is still very much with us. Compare what the Ron Paul movement is — not what its partisans wish it were, but what it is — with what it ought to be, and you’ll see Mr. Rothbard’s handiwork. And on this point I am happy to be corrected if necessary, but it does not seem to me that Mr. Rothbard contributed much of anything original in the field of economics: What does Man, Economy, and State contain that was not contained in Human Action? It seems to me that Mr. Rothbard’s main value is not as an economist but as a historian — and, it should go without saying, as the author of “Mozart Was a Red.”