After the death of Ronald Reagan, the former United States president, Christopher Hitchens wrote a vicious attack that stood in glaring contrast to the reverential tone of U.S. media coverage, which in turn reflected the respectful, if not outright sombre mood of the nation. It did not matter whether Americans were Republicans or Democrats, they generally adhered to the prohibition against speaking ill of the dead.
Mr. Hitchens, on the other hand, wrote of Mr. Reagan, "He was as dumb as a stump… An obvious phony and loon." He went on to describe his one encounter with the president thus: "I was looking at a cruel and stupid lizard." In 2004, however, Mr. Hitchens, who has himself since expired, was exceptional for his nastiness. The death of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher last week has seen an entirely different phenomenon, a much broader culture of loathing, infused by a nostalgic rage.
There have been street parties to celebrate Mrs. Thatcher's death, a leftish celebrity tweet pile-on, a drive to push "Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead," a song from The Wizard of Oz, to near the top of the British music charts, and a soccer crowd chanting, "Let's all do the conga, Thatcher is a gonna." There are threats even that her funeral today will be disrupted. It is more than a mere lack of civility, but an active, resentful incivility and a smirking debasement of the code of behaviour on which Britain once prided itself.
There is no doubt of the effect of Mrs. Thatcher's policies on pseudo-industries that were being propped up by British taxpayers. For some, the Conservative reforms were devastating, if desperately needed for the good of the country. And there is no doubt of the sincerity of some of the lingering resentment. Nobody would suggest that Mrs. Thatcher's old opponents now should go into mourning, or that they change their views, just that they observe the usual rules of social correctness.
But many of the celebrants are people who were not even alive when Mrs. Thatcher governed, and who have only benefited along with their countrymen and women from her reforms. The ferocity can only be false, although their assertion of ill manners is no doubt sincere.