Last week’s news hit me like a heavy wind – a rough and sudden gust of history blowing out from the drizzling sprawl of London. It rushed across soil still chilled by a discontented winter, over the churning Manche and up the Bosphorus to my desk with news that the Iron Lady had died.
Beneath this gust of history, a wave of responses – commiserations; condemnations; celebrations; moments of silence; street parties – gathered speed. The wave burst up from the cold, silent shafts of closed-up mines and roiled over bustling crowds jumping on and off trains along the Wharfs of London’s Docklands.
The Iron Lady has died. Baroness Thatcher – with her graceful, well-dressed, imperturbable politics of uncompromising recalcitrance towards any authority but her own – has left Britain irreversibly changed. Her disciples laud her achievements as remarkable. Her opponents decry the same for how they struck the spirit and community of our nation.
It isn’t so long since we lost a titan of the political Left. Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías died in early March after years of fighting cancer. Thus far, the same cannot be said of his movement. Chávez’ death, too, took a world accustomed to his own perennial recalcitrance by surprise. He stood staunchly against the zeitgeist. And – whatever we might make of his efforts – we know his name.
Of course, people will disagree with – abhor – the politics of Baroness Thatcher and Comrade Chávez. There exists a clash of ideologies here, one of countless clashes between countless ideologies. The stalwarts of ideologies become their figureheads. They personify their own viewpoints; in some ways, define them.
Thus the lives of both Thatcher and Chávez became both the lives of individual human beings and the chapters of history which they play a part in shaping. Their departures mark the close of both an individual human life and a chapter of history.
Now, great thinkers are to be found on both sides of this particular political schism. So – unless you think yourself wiser and more knowledgeable than a vast number of fellow commentators – it is reasonable to assume that the question of how history will judge either Thatcher or Chávez is as yet unsettled. History, in its own time, may answer it.
In the meantime, what are we to say at the death of these titanic, contentious figures? We could unleash insults and invidious commentaries. That might work for the ego of the commentator, but it is hardly enlightened.
I humbly suggest that none of us have hard evidence that we’re on ‘the right side’. I suggest, also, two other things: firstly, that it is an impressive and redeeming feature of our civilization that we pay respects to the dead. Secondly, that both these individuals spent their lives shaping our world, albeit according to their own philosophies. We live in their wake. People would do well to remember that when writing their obituaries.