There is so much more to what has traditionally been termed “Thatcherism” than just the distinctive liberal economic policies and style of government with which the British Conservative Party, under the leadership of Margaret Thatcher, was associated. Thatcherism is represented in this course as a struggle for hegemony which opposed the New Right ideologues to post-war collectivists. As historian Hugh S. Thomas puts it, “Thatcherism represents a new libertarian impulse in British politics [as it] signals the reversal of the trend towards paternalistic collectivism.” Describing Thatcherism as “a radical political force,” cultural critic Stuart Hall argues that it eventually challenged the rigid economic hierarchy articulating the interests of corporatist and unionist formations. By challenging the postwar settlement which gave antecedence to full employment and a number of other key classical liberal macroeconomic variables, the Thatcher government introduced a radical break with consensus politics, redefining the state’s responsibilities and adopting new techniques of economic management.
The Thatcher-era monetarist policies and supply-side economics provided viable alternatives to the Keynesian model as critics started to question the latter’s dependability in face of the high inflation rates which persisted throughout the 1960s. In this course, students will study how monetarism and supply-side policies were used to bring the economy back on the fast track to recovery by the implementation of a bundle of programs that were essentially geared towards entrepreneurship and competitiveness. Students will also examine how efforts to modernize the economy during the Thatcher years led to the accretion of government power while popular belief in social democracy as a stabilizing force gradually gave way to anti-statist sentiment.
The study of the “rebirth” of conservatism in the 1970s will be an opportunity for students to explore the populist and nationalist proportions of Thatcherite libertarianism as part of the New Right utopia. They will study how the containment of middle-class discontent and satisfaction with the outcome of the Falklands conflict, for example, helped redeem specific unpopular anti-collectivist regulations and policies, as well as the increased socioeconomic disparities between the petite bourgeoisie and the working classes that left-wing critics attributed to Thatcher’s enforcement of a “pro-capitalist” agenda.
This course invites students to engage in critical analysis of a number of key theoretical tenets and doctrines associated with Thatcherism as a style of political leadership. In accordance with discussion-based pedagogy, students are encouraged to develop the skills required in scholarly conversation, helping them to grow to their full potential as active participants in the production of knowledge.Through problem-solving activities, students will move from reflective thinking to critical dialogue by recognizing and investigating the structural contexts of the ideological and historical developments accompanying the rise of Thatcherism.