There are, of course, purely academic reasons for fresh syntheses of modern British history. The accumulation of new specialist studies must sooner or later compel wholesale revisions of the overall 'story'. But the underlying compulsion is social. There are no 'pure' sciences, and even if there were, history would not be one of them. Thatcherism, if it is to survive, needs to reconstruct our sense of history so as to legitimate itself. Its opponents must struggle towards a better understanding of how Thatcherism became possible. The battle is swung in their favour by the paradox that Thatcherism threatens to destroy the very feeling of deep-rooted continuity and steady evolution in British life which has always favoured conservatism - at least with a small 'c' But the anti-Thatcherite's problem is to construct new perspectives which will make sense of the choices for which they ask, and will counteract that fatalism which is the Thatcherites' best substitute for faith in continuity. How can we revise history so that imitation of the USA and support for US policies does not appear to be the only possible course for a superseded imperial power still on the skids? How can continued emphasis on communitarian values be reconciled with opposition to the state, now exposed as the violent creature that Hobbes claimed it was?
LRB 21 March 1985 | PDF Download