A remark I recently overheard on FOX News captured a key difference between Sir Alfred Sherman, whose assessment of the Thatcher years I now have in my hand, and those minicons who float on and off of FOX. Commenting on the visit of Prince Charles to the United States, one of the news interpreters began grousing that the English have royalty. This complaint went beyond noting the dangerously stupid remarks that the Prince of Wales had made about Bush’s failure to show a proper appreciation for Islam.
The minicon’s censure boiled down to this: By perpetuating monarchy, the British are negating the democratic ideal that “nobody should be born into a higher position than anyone else.” I wonder where this “conservative” has been living. Certainly not in the United States, where the children of rap artists (assuming they have them) and politicians have vastly more influence and visibility than I do. At least monarchy permits such privilege in return for real responsibility. And if one can point to the questionable intelligence of the present British royalty, one can also cite the sterling intellectual and moral qualities of today’s Habsburgs and those of at least several Balkan claimants to unoccupied thrones.
An attribute that shines through Sherman’s Paradoxes of Power: Reflections on the Thatcher Interlude is the loyalty displayed and embodied by this octogenarian author, whom I visited in his London apartment two years ago. Born on London’s East Side in 1919, the scion of Russian Jewish immigrants to England, Sir Alfred (who was knighted during the Thatcher years) is effusively loyal to the prime minister he advised (and also gently scolded). He believes that her attempts to dismantle the welfare state did not go far enough but considers her run as prime minister (1979-1990) the last point at which something might have been done to turn around the English managerial state and to reduce its clientele. From the time that Thatcher was being groomed as a Tory leader, Sherman had been her confidant, and his Centre for Policy Studies, organized in 1974, became the think tank she consulted after taking the reins of parliamentary power. That she abandoned this advisor for other voices and that Sherman’s longtime associate and the Tory minister of education, Sir Keith Joseph, moved away from his former hard-line critical stance toward the entitlement state were jolts experienced by Sir Alfred. He argues doggedly that the opportunity for a breakthrough in undoing the managerial revolution in England was gone by the early 80’s.
Although there are other problems that Sherman wished that Thatcher had engaged frontally, particularly cultural and immigration crises, he does view her as a friend and patron who criticized the direction of the welfare state and emphasized its radical incompatibility with older British institutions. Even more importantly, Sherman expresses his devotion to those aspects of British life to which the history of his country is bound: her monarchy, the Anglican Church, and her social standards. He often sounds like a classical conservative, even while advocating a free-market economy—and despite the fact that he continues to defend the Republican left in the Spanish Civil War. In fact, Alfred may be the only person alive who will energetically justify the czarist empire as a bulwark against Islamic expansion (and against Habsburg and 19th-century British Tory complicity in this process) and then unexpectedly insist that General Franco overthrew the lawful government of the Spanish Republic. (I confess to being on the opposite side of both issues.)
Needless to say, this attachment to murderous Spanish leftists, who had suspended anything resembling civil liberties in their country before the uprising of insurgent generals, tells us nothing about the speaker’s overall orientation. For many decades, he has been an outspoken anticommunist and anti-socialist; and, after a brief conversation at a gathering in Scotland of the Mont Pelerin Society in 1976, I met him for the second time on a visit of scholars invited to Chile in the late 80’s—sponsored by Chilean conservatives, among them presumed supporters of the Pinochet regime. At that time, I was impressed by how fluently Alfred spoke Spanish (as well as a half-dozen other languages, including French, which he speaks at home with his French-speaking Portuguese wife). It turned out that my high Tory travel companion had fought on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War while a fervent communist; and, although he has since changed his political opinions fundamentally, he continues to favor that side in the Spanish upheaval for which he risked his life.
This may have something to do with Sherman’s loyalty to persons. Contrary to those lunatic German youth who march to express their endorsement of the Anglo-American forces that firebombed their cities and ancestors in 1945, Sherman is loyal to his comrades and relatives, even when they fought for a cause that is incompatible with the things he now believes. These are conservative loyalties, however implausible this may seem, because their objects are comrades, kinsmen, and national communities as opposed to abstract ideals. I suspect that such loyalties might also require an English monarchist to cover up his future king’s ravings, provided they are not turned into government policy. After all, monarchism is not about ideology but, like feudalism, about personal ties. It also assumes, according to Hegel, that the monarch represents in his person a distinct, self-conscious people. Would it be in the interest of an English nation, or anything Alfred Sherman might recognize as such, to welcome Muslims in order to accommodate a dotty monarch? The English are not likely to face such a problem, seeing that they have stripped their royal family of effective power. Their plunge into multicultural self-destruction, as Sherman explains, is the work of their political class and of an expanding managerial state. FOX News would do well to focus its criticism on Prime Minister Blair instead of raging against a powerless future king.