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Mrs. Thatcher’s Ghost

In response to:

Mrs. Thatcher's Revenge from the March 21, 1996 issue

To the Editors:

To be vulgarly abused in a foreign publication [NYR, March 21] is a form of recognition I could do without. Mr. Buruma condemns me as “crass” (i.e., stupid, gross, coarse) “eccentric” (i.e., deviating from convention in a bizarre manner) and “Jewish.” The only relevance of his intrusion of my Jewishness seems to be as support for personal denigration, since he provides no other evidence for his aspersions apart from my guilt by association with Margaret Thatcher and my juvenile flirtation with communism which ended nearly fifty years ago. I have had the pleasure of never meeting him. He shows no sign of ever having read anything I have written (or published) either under my own name, ghosted for Keith Joseph and Margaret Thatcher or through the Centre For Policy Studies, which I co-founded with Joseph.

The impression that prior emotive hostility to me precludes his actually reading my writings prior to denouncing them is reinforced by his claim that I “fed her [MT] a churning brew of Hayek, Popper, Ludwig von Mises, and Milton Friedman.” Now though I respect these writers (and actually knew two of them personally) my writing is not indebted to them, nor did I quote them. On the contrary, my writing, “ghosting” and publication dealt with the British scene empirically from practice to theory. Our main point was that socialism in any form, including “Butskellism” does not work, by its adherents’ criteria no less than by anyone else’s. Yet, socialism in one form or another continues to attract support; that is the predicament which the Thatcher interlude leaves unchanged.

For Mr. Buruma to make a contribution to your readers’ understanding of British affairs, he would need more knowledge, even a little scholarship, intellectual curiosity, less stridency and better intellectual manners. He would need to read some of what we wrote, and to define his terms. For instance, what does he mean when he describes me as a “Thatcherite intellectual”? To dub someone “Keynesian,” “Kemalist” or “Marxist” denotes their intellectual or ideological provenance; does he imply that I derived my ideas from Margaret Thatcher?

He would also need to give up his ubiquitous obsession with the Jewish connection. We Jews are spread out along the whole political spectrum; our only common denominator is dedication to various deities. We thereby epitomize the human predicament.

Alfred Sherman
London, England

Ian Buruma replies:

Not eccentric? Not crass? I didn’t feel the need to spell it out in my article, but if Mr. Sherman insists, here are a few pointers. It was surely eccentric of him to invite Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the extreme right-wing French National Front, to speak at the Conservative Party Conference in 1988. It was eccentricity, bordering on crassness, to state, as he did the year before, that “the SS were as much victims as the Jews were. Without Hitler, they would have been decent young men but they were turned into monsters and they died.” And the crassness of his stand on recent Bosnian affairs lacks all the charm of eccentricity: “I’m going to Bosnia to advise Karadzic,” he told the Daily Telegraph in 1993. “We are in the first throes of the Third World War against Germany. But [John] Major is on the side of the Germans.” As for the Jewish angle. I only mentioned Mr. Sherman’s background to point out that Mrs. Thatcher’s intellectual boosters were as likely to be Jewish as Catholic. In other words, Jewishness per se was not the issue. It was Sherman who wrote that Jewish voters approved of Margaret Thatcher’s stand on the need to curb further immigration more tightly. I don’t know about Jewish voters, but this is certainly Mr. Sherman’s own view. He wrote (Sunday Telegraph, September 11, 1979) that “the relationship between indigenous Britons and this country is inherently different from that of Asians and most other migrant stock. Hence, there are unassailable moral no less than political grounds for embodying these differences in law and practice wherever necessary.” An eccentric, not to say crass view for a Jewish thinker to take.

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