Italians for Maggie

The Circolo Culturale Margaret Thatcher, which wants to institute an Anglo-Saxon Tory party in Italy, has a plan

7 September 2013

9:00 AM

7 September 2013

9:00 AM

Now that the forces of evil have transformed Silvio Berlusconi into a condemned man, there remains just one person on the planet who can save Italy: Roger Scruton.

If the famous philosopher were just to come to Italy to deliver a single speech, his very words would be enough to set in motion la rivoluzione. That at least is the view of the Circolo Culturale Margaret Thatcher, a group whose mission it is to establish at long last, after all those centuries lived without one, a proper Anglo-Saxon Tory party in Italy. So far it has failed, but its members, like all true believers, have not lost their faith.

A year or so ago, Tullia Vivante, the presidentessa of the Thatcher Circle, an effervescent widow in her seventies, decided to enlist my support in getting Scruton to come to Venice. ‘There is no time to lose,’ she said. She had read an article I’d written on how Berlusconi, for all his faults, was Italy’s best hope: the only Italian politician with the charisma, clarity and drive necessary to impose on Italy the key conservative concept of freedom — freedom from the state.

‘I don’t know Scruton,’ I told her. ‘Will Charles Moore do? I know him quite well because he used to be my editor.’

To which she replied: ‘Charles who?’

‘The authorised biographer of the Dama di ferro!’ I explained.

‘Sì, va bene, va benissimo!’

Well, I did try Charles and he agreed in principle. But then in April Lady Thatcher died. That was that: he had even more on his plate than usual.

Anyway, for better or worse, it is Roger Scruton, not Charles Moore, with whom la signora Vivante is besotted, as the invitation she has just sent to the contemporary thinker who perhaps best articulates conservatism testifies. She emailed me a copy of it a couple of days ago because it is my duty, she insists, to use all means at my disposal to convince Scruton to come to Venice. The letter had been translated into English, she said proudly, by professor Marco Morin, one of the most authoritative ‘consulenti forensi di balistica di esplosivistica’ who ‘speaks English, lucky him, perfettamente’.

The letter begins: ‘I am the President of what is, according to Nicholas Farrell, the only cultural association in the world named after Margaret Thatcher.’ Oh God, no! I thought. It may even be true but I never said it. And why on earth mention me? The letter continues: ‘I must confess that since many years ago I am following your activities and that I have read with great interest the Italian translation of your Meaning of Conservatism; I have furthermore been collecting all the newspaper articles I can found on you and your thesis. As a collateral result in Venice everybody knows that you are my great love, politically speaking of course. For a long time, in my small way, I represented with my Circle, and not only in Venice, an embryo of conservatism of Anglo-Saxon fashion.’

Yes, it’ll do. The less than perfect translation, when all is said and done, is probably a plus.

The letter concludes: ‘I am now asking you the great favour to come to Venice, of course at our expenses, and perhaps with a journalist of your liking, to present your Meaning of Conservatism, the Bible of the Tories. This way, here with my association, I can try to hand over, as a patriotic Thatcheritism, the baton of an Italian Tory Party to a leader able to embody the values of the Iron Lady, and, prominently capable to translate said values to the complex Italian society.’

I have tried to tell la signora Vivante that she is wasting her time. For a start neither Scruton nor Moore, God bless them both, is the Messiah — not in Italy at least — because neither is capable of performing a miracle, which is what it would take to found a proper Conservative party in Italy. There is no Anglo-Saxon Tory party in Italy, and never will be, for one simple reason: whereas the British, until contaminated by the European Union at least, believe the smaller the state, the greater the freedom; the Italians believe that only the state can bring freedom. This explains, among other things, why ‘right-wing’ in Italy means fascist, which has always struck me as surreal, given that fascism has far more in common with communism than it does with the Anglo-Saxon right.

When I spoke to the Thatcher Circle in the great hall of palazzo Ca’ Vendramin Calergi on the Grand Canal in Venice last May, I tried to tell the audience all this. I quoted the French anthropologist Gustave Le Bon whose La Psychologie des Foules was a big hit with Europe’s chattering classes when published in 1895.

Le Bon, who defined his époque as ‘The Era of the Crowd’, wrote: ‘For the Latin peoples the word “democracy” signifies more especially the subordination of the will and the initiative of the individual to the will and the initiative of the community represented by the state… Among the Anglo-Saxons and notably in America this same word “democracy” signifies, on the contrary, the intense development of the will of the individual, and as complete a subordination as possible of the state.

‘A Latin crowd, however revolutionary, or however conservative it be supposed, will invariably appeal to the intervention of the state to realise its demands. It is always distinguished by a marked tendency towards centralisation and by a leaning, more or less pronounced, in favour of dictatorship. An English or an American crowd, on the contrary, sets no store on the state, and only appeals to private initiative.’

Such words were not what the Venetian disciples of Roger Scruton, so passionately determined to spread the Anglo-Saxon Tory gospel at long last to Italy, wanted to hear at all, and la signora Vivante simply switched off my microphone while I was in mid-flow.

The baton, therefore, now passes to Professor Scruton and also, let us pray, to Charles who?

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  • D Whiggery

    Errr, I’m confused. Didn’t Scruton champion traditional conservatism rather than Thatcherism?

    • David Lindsay

      Exactly what I was thinking.

      It doesn’t seem to be online, but do see if you can find a copy of Edward Norman’s Church Times obituary of Margaret Thatcher. A proper marmalade dropper.

      As Enoch Powell said, when told that his work had influenced her, “She cannot have understood it, then.”

  • Michael P. Tremoglie

    This Nicholas Farrell is somewhat idiotic. Why accept an invitation to talk about and teach conservatism and then tell the audience their genetically incapable of practicing it.

  • Peter Stroud

    Perhaps we should begin by trying to form a real Conservative Party here in the UK.

  • E Hart

    There ought to be no trouble getting Scruton to Venice. He loves art, architecture and beauty. Indeed, his work on this is exemplary. The others are right, though, the rub is – he is a conservative not a Thatcherite.

    The incongruity of Thatcher and Venice in the same sentence, shouldn’t be lost on you: one, the product of small-minded, parsimonious asceticism, the other, spelling-binding dynamism and grandeur. It’s true, they both lifted themselves out of a swamp, the lagoon and Grantham, respectively, but Venice did it better.

    Why would they [the Italians] choose to put another stone in their own shoe?

    • tastemylogos

      bit harsh on a woman who, for all her faults, actually had the balls to stand up to the estabishment and turn this country around from the basket case ran by unscrupulous unions that she found it in, to an economically competent state with its international reputation enhanced by the time she left. things the spineless 3 amigos of callaghan, heath and wilson couldnt do.

      if you want inspiration when looking to turn your country around, look no further than thatcher. just be aware that there’ll be a mess along the way.

      • E Hart

        She definitely had guts, I’ll give you that. She was also, until the latter part of her premiership at least, a much better leader than the ‘three amigos’. She definitely led and stamped her presence on everything.

        That’s the problem, though, I’m not sure her legacy, which is after all why we are where we are, stands up to much scrutiny. Is this country more economically competent? Is our international reputation more enhanced? It seems to me that Maggie and her old mate Ronnie bequeathed most of us something of an economic mess.

        • Guest

          > I’m not sure her legacy, which is after all why we are where we are, stands up to much scrutiny.

          i dont understand. to suggest that thatchers reforms led to the 08 crash is vacuous. its a bit like blaming the person you bought your house fro. for having an oven included which led to the house burning down. the oven wasnt faulty, you just the chicken in there.

          well obviously the country was in s better economic state in 1992 (ERM srecession or not) than it was in 1979. obviously. even her detractors coudnt disagree. more diversified and more productive. fact.

          if you wish to detract thatchers role in the dying days of communism then that is your prerogative. eastern europeans would beg to differ.

          thanks for your reply though.

        • tastemylogos

          > I’m not sure her legacy, which is after all why we are where we are, stands up to much scrutiny.

          i dont understand. to suggest that thatchers reforms led to the 08 crash is vacuous. its a bit like blaming the person you bought your house from for having an oven included in the sale, which led to the house burning down. the oven wasnt faulty, you just the chicken in there.

          well obviously the country was in a better economic state in 1992 (ERM srecession or not) than it was in 1979. obviously. even her detractors coudnt disagree that industry was far more productive.

          if you wish to detract thatchers role in the dying days of communism then that is your prerogative. eastern europeans would beg to differ.

          thanks for your reply though.

          • E Hart

            Nah, sorry. She precipitated this crash. The house wasn’t great, I grant you, but raising it to the ground was none too clever. She didn’t quite understand that knocking out the principal, would reverberate all the way down the supply chain with disastrous consequences. That’s one of the reasons why manufacturing now stands at 11% of GDP. Also, she managed to whack up unemployment to over 4m, frittered away North Sea Oil revenues on benefits and didn’t lift a finger or offer funds for the regeneration of the former steel and mining areas, when EU funds would have underwritten half of any investment. As for industry being more productive, a lot of it was conspicuous by its absence. Instead, her government waited for B&Q, Homebase, Blockbuster Video and Comet – and those other providers of high skilled, well-paid employment – to fill the vacuum. Similarly, she skewed the tax system so that it disproportionately favoured the wealthy.

            On Eastern Europe she did what any UK politician would have done – railed against it.


          • tastemylogos

            you say manufacturing is at 11% but it is also the 6th largest manufacturing industry in the world.

            blaming thatcher for the events of 2008? i mean, good grief, i really dont know what bush’s scrapping of glass-spiegal had to do with thatcher. this is bizarre. thatcher is to blame for brownian 3% deficits during 3% periods of growth? nonsense. utterly ludicrous. you merely unclothe the garments of guilt that are worn by others. they fit your dislike of thatcher, after all.

            anyway, we digress. there are three positions to hold here. you can IF YOU WANT pretend she didnt do anything worthwhile or that what she did was ultimately countered by error. i find this position intellectually redundant. you can also suggest perfection, this too is nonsense. i take a middle way, that the reforms undertaken were necessary and that these reforms were devastating but as i say, there was no way out of undertaking them.
            your final washing away on her role in ending the cold war (gorbochevs words) reveals the extent to which it is a pointless conversation. you -on principle – dislike her. no matter the evidence, some sophistry willbe employed in alleviating the necessty to offer credit where it is due. it hurts your head ess to therefore not even countenance the idea that thatcher wasin any way a success for this country.

            i am well aware of her faults, of the costs of her reforms on society yet you refuse to give credit for seemingly anything. its childish, student politics. pointless.

          • E Hart

            Deregulation was a disaster in the UK and US. Oh, and it’s Glass-Steagall. The UK had its own deregulation after the Big Bang. You need to look at ONS figures on UK debt relative to GDP for the periods concerned. Bubbles burst all the time – that’s true – and she encouraged the creation of two of them. She had two recessions during her period of government. As for the tax situation, you need to do a bit of research on marginal taxation. The fact of the matter is that higher marginal rates of taxation coincided with higher rates of growth (look at the historical record both in the US and UK). There is no point unveiling the usual nonsense about lower taxes leading to all boats being raised – it’s utter indefensible cock – that’s raised nothing but expectations. There is no evidence for it whatsoever.

            Brown/Blair was just a continuation of the malaise, disguised by a similar credit-fueled boom all the while that the productive part of the economy such a manufacturing continued to atrophy.



          • tastemylogos

            thats android auto correct for you. apologies over the numerous mistakes, sure you will allow them.

            1) neither recession was primarily caused by a boom. one was a natural consequence of reckless and far too rushed an economic reform and the second was due to ERM regulation (sterling couldnt devalue), yet global commodity price increases made inflation a certainty, hence eventual devaluation… neither were booms.

            2) you seem to believe that only deregulation can cause banking crises. did the 1975 secondary bonking crisis (before thatcher) not happen? what was that due to? you cant blame thatcher this time.

            3) you clearly disregard the 1979 banking act as further regulation. what was it then?

            4) the 2130 pages of the banking act of 1987 supplemented the 79 oct… is this lest regulation too?

            5) the 1987 regulations imposed complexity ranging from the vetting (THE VETTING! such deregulation) of private individual shareholders, to the need to report to the BOE if it entered into a transaction as a result of which, risk exposed the institution to 10% of capital. furthermore, it forced intitutions to SET UP A DPS. thats right, a DPS. this is not deregulation; on what planet do you have to be on to suggest THAT is.

            6) The FSA was set up in this time too… ANOTHER regulatory system… this deregulation? really? not how i recognise deregulation to look like.

            7) the evidence i have just provided suggests you are wrong (As is NYT/BBC and big statists everywhere). it is complexity that is the issue rather than this vacuous claim sold by our governments and elements of the left wing media. you bought this hard sale and in the process you are letting government off the hook.

            8) 90% tax on earnings of (The equivalent inflation allowed for today) £100k would, in 1975, equate to a marginal rate of 60%. SIXTY! you are being ironic if you feel that is a refletion of a balanced tax system. ive done my research on marginal rates thanks and pre thatcher rates were utterly corrosive to the aspirations of middle managers up and down the country.

            your reply was thought provoking, much appreciated.

          • E Hart

            It is difficult to read. When I read that Britain had a ‘bonking’ crisis, I thought, that’s the least of our worries. I take your point on the ERM. I can remember the mortgage going up 21%, Lamont insisting that everything was fine and George Soros making a killing from the bonfire of sterling used to pay for it. It was a dumb decision, though, rather like being part of the euro area. The other thing to consider is that unemployment through the Thatcher and Major period was a considerable drag on the economy.

            The evidence on tax just doesn’t support your argument. Whoever it is – Diamond and Saez, Bernake, Reich… Most of it indicates that the influence on investment is wildly overplayed and that it actually contributes to higher growth in the economy as a whole. I’m not sure it is good idea to run an economy for middle managers. That’s what we seem to have at the moment. We’s lost the redistributive element in the economy and replaced it with low wages, credit and job insecurity. That’s banana republic economics which doesn’t encourage saving and diverts money into the service economy where it contributes to our balance of trade deficit.

            Banking crises tended to be singular or limited rather than systemic. What’s more the mixing of investment banking with domestic banking, with its higher attendant risks, put whole institutions at risk rather than just their merchant arms. That’s the difference and it was investors (usually) who took a haircut not the taxpayer. I’m very aware of what preceded the Great Depresson, so I know that bank regulation came after the fact not before it.

          • tastemylogos

            indeed! a bonking crisis would at least be quite fun if a little morally vacuous. aaah the days of greece.

            back on to a PC, so should be easier to follow.

            please remember that it was thatcher who only went into the ERM due to threat of resignation by half of her cabinet,hesseltine, clarke, howe etc. shed already forced nigel lawson to resign because she refused two years earlier… her doubts over the ERM weer proved right.

            unemployment was a drag and it could have been mitigated to some degree if she wasnt hell bent on forcing reforms that could have taken an extra two years to implement. there we find common ground. but lets not pretend that unemployment was a ncessary evil in shifting our economy from unproductive manufacturing industry to services.

            on your position vis a vis tax: look, it is arrogant to suggest that ‘proof’ finds you correct. no it doesnt, your evidence is highly disputable. you can quote your authors and i can quote mine (reynolds, joseph, Madrick, Rebelo, Stokey, etc). that is a discussion for another day as it requires 500 words at least. if we run out of argument (highly unlikely!) im sure we can go there.

            having an economy run for middle managers is not the point, the idea is to incentivise them to become more productive in the mould of keynes’ ideas. telling them there is no point in earning more as the state will take more than 1/2 from it is economics for the imbecile. never mind the soul destroying nature of it.

            why do you suggest that banking crises HAVE to be singular rather than systemic? its a nonsense. nothing is innately systemic. systemic risk comes with complexity (taleb) and size (keynes) and little else.

            in that light, how would ring-fencing have stopped lehman brothers from collapsing, they had no retail branches. northern rock didnt have an investment arm, neither did fannie mae, dumfermline, bradford & bingley, et al. ring fencing wouldnt have stopped RBS making the most stupid acquisition in ABN Amro. whether or not they had a retail arm the markets still would have refused to lend them money. this is the most ridiculous argument of them all actually. reality disproves this theory sold to us by governments needing to get off the hook, something you are allowing them to do.

            banking regulation was sown up in the 16th amendment in 1913, the creation of the central bank in the US and the forcing of uniformity. cleary, regulation therefore preceded the ’29 crash. ie, it isnt deregulation itself that causes systemic risk.

          • E Hart

            On marginal taxation here are few sources:




            I’d forgotten about the ’70s and Keyser Ullman, Johnson Matthey and later BCCI… This was remiss of me as I have inside knowledge on one of these failures, which involved staff taking commission on unsecured (bad) loans over the counter. As for the other stuff. Well, yes, you’ve got a point. The state does carrying the can for allowing these banks to get so large. However, this rather lets the banks off the hook with regard to their own corporate governance, particularly their abuse of cheap money. I’m not sure that “sorry”, the most frequently quoted word immediately post-2008, quite conveys or characterises the extent of this failure. It wasn’t my intention to lump them all together because I know full well that some of them didn’t have an investment arm but where instead offering 125% mortgages on absurd salary multiples (e.g. Northern Rock and Bradford and Bingley). To cut a long story short, whether it was leveraging, debt dealing, derivatives or poor banking practice, they all managed to exceed some or all of their assets, liquidity and capitalisation. When I referred to it as systemic I meant the failure not the individual reasons for that failure, which, of course, differed in type from Lehman Bros through GM and AIG to Northern Rock.

  • ClausewitzTheMunificent

    Altro che Scruton, qui ci vuole Maroni, dai Lega!

  • Mario_Ferretti

    May I, as an Italian, offer a comment? As far as I understand, Farrell is quite right on one point: most Italians have a different idea about the role of the state, and
    that makes them very wary of individual freedom, particularly in the field of
    economics. That appears to be a fact, yet certainly not e genetic one, as
    someone here seems naively to believe. It’s rather a deep cultural feature, built on the experience of some two thousands years of servitude, when the vast
    majority of Italians came to accept as natural and inevitable that they have to
    live as clients, depending on the protection and whims of some powerful one.
    Actually, your ideal is that your patron should be showing loving “solidarity” to you, spontaneously showering you with the good things of life for free. But you are realistically aware that this is not often the case — few overlords are actually the good altruistic people they are theoretically supposed to be — and so you mainly spend your life craftily cheating (and sometimes robbing) your way around the arbitrary powers that be. That’s what your liberty chiefly amounts to in your own eyes. Yet, you are understandably wary of your neighbours practicing the same art. So, when it comes to constitutional principles, you prefer (cheatable) authority to a risk-prone life of actual freedom and responsibility far all.

    Will this ever change? I think it will, sooner or later, if nothing else because of its
    disastrous economic inefficiency. Yet it will require time and sustained exposure to the available cultural alternatives. Indeed, Italy’s Risorgimento of the nineteenth century may be seen as a first attempt at just that, by a small middle-class and internationally-minded minority (strongly influenced by Britain). But that attempt foundered on the mass culture brought to power by universal suffrage. The immediate result was Fascism. Then — as that failed with WW2 — people turned to a peculiar mixture of Marxism and Catholic social doctrine. But that is failing too, as testified by Italy’s current predicament. So maybe conditions are ripening, with a little help from our friends.

    • ” It’s rather a deep cultural feature, built on the experience of some two thousands years of servitude, when the vast majority of Italians came to accept as natural and inevitable that they have to live as clients, depending on the protection and whims of some powerful one.”

      Of course it is only cultural – look at the Italian Americans. They don’t seem to be lacking in enterprise and individualism.