Mon, 08 Apr 2013 13:26 CDT
The dictate that one 'not speak ill of the dead' is (at best) appropriate for private individuals, not influential public figures
© Don Mcphee
News of Margaret Thatcher's death this morning instantly and predictably gave rise to righteous sermons on the evils of speaking ill of her. British Labour MP Tom Watson decreed
: "I hope that people on the left of politics respect a family in grief today." Following in the footsteps of Santa Claus, Steve Hynd quickly compiled
a list of all the naughty boys and girls "on the left" who dared to express criticisms of the dearly departed Prime Minister, warning that he "will continue to add to this list throughout the day". Former Tory MP Louise Mensch, with no apparent sense of irony, invoked precepts of propriety to announce
: "Pygmies of the left so predictably embarrassing yourselves, know this: not a one of your leaders will ever be globally mourned like her."
This demand for respectful silence in the wake of a public figure's death is not just misguided but dangerous. That one should not speak ill of the dead is arguably appropriate when a private person dies, but it is wildly inappropriate for the death of a controversial public figure, particularly one who wielded significant influence and political power. "Respecting the grief" of Thatcher's family members is appropriate if one is friends with them or attends a wake they organize, but the protocols are fundamentally different when it comes to public discourse about the person's life and political acts. I made this argument at length last year when Christopher Hitchens died and a speak-no-ill rule about him was instantly imposed (a rule he, more than anyone, viciously violated), and I won't repeat that argument today; those interested can read my reasoning here