Speaking Ill of the Dead

Following the death of Christopher Hitchens last weekend, there has been much discussion on how to speak of the dead, and whether you should criticise them while their family is still mourning.  Hitchens himself was famous for slagging off Mother Theresa after she died (“a fanatic, a fundamentalist and a fraud”) and for being very rude about the Evangelical preacher Rev. Jerry Falwell.

Glenn Greenwald, in an article eviscerating Hitchens’ unwavering support for the Iraq War, makes a distinction between the lives of political figures, who are famous precisely because of the policies they enacted while in power, and ordinary individuals.  The death of such a person (Greenwald cites Ronald Reagan) is precisely the right time to evaluate a person’s achievements and actions, both good and bad.

This week on Liberal Conspiracy, Sunny linked to a petition demanding that Margaret Thatcher’s funeral be privatised.  This is an odd request, as I don’t believe Prime Ministers are routinely offered State funerals.  Yes, Winston Churchill had one, and the Duke of Wellington had one, but these were leaders during a time of existential war. Margaret Thatcher, transformational though she was, does not qualify on by this metric.  Any suggestion that a State Funeral will be given to Mrs Thatcher is wishful thinking on the part of Tory fanboys – Not even the Queen Mother had a State funeral!

Rumours regularly circulate that Mrs Thatcher has died, and left-wingers speculate about how they will celebrate.  As Glenn Greewald reminds us, this would be to miss the point.  When Margaret Thatcher dies, the policies she enacted will still have happened, and the consequences will still be present.  Her death would be nothing like as symbolic as the demise of a leader in power (Kim Jong-Il and Colonel Gaddafi both died this year) or someone who is politicially active, like Jerry Falwell, where the negative effects of their politics and policies do actually dissipate as they pass away.

‘The Death of Mrs Thatcher’ discussion is a hardy perennial, and every time it is discussed it makes Left Wingers and Liberals look bad, and allows Tories to take on a sanctimonious air.  I wish we would learn not to take the bait.

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