Freeman Dyson on Thatcher Hate
April 11, 2013, 02:19 AM
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When I reviewed the Meryl Streep-as-Maggie-Thatcher biopic in Taki's last year, I quoted Thatcher's contemporary Freeman Dyson, the great physicist, on one source of the endless hatred for Thatcher:

In England there were always two sharply opposed middle classes, the academic middle class and the commercial middle class.…I learned to look on the commercial middle class with loathing and contempt. Then came the triumph of Margaret Thatcher, which was also the revenge of the commercial middle class. The academics lost their power and prestige and the business people took over. The academics never forgave Thatcher….

The only thing I'd add is that in reality, a commercial middle class usually breeds its own critics. And I'm using "breeds" literally. Consider the perhaps the most prestigious clan in the history of the British academic middle class — the Darwin-Galton-Wedgwood-Benn-Keynes agglomeration. 

This was, in a way, an outgrowth of the Lunar Society of Birmingham that met during the full moon in the early decades of the industrial revolution. According to Wikipedia:

... fourteen individuals have been identified as having verifiably attended Lunar Society meetings regularly over a long period during its most productive eras: these are Matthew BoultonErasmus DarwinThomas DayRichard Lovell EdgeworthSamuel Galton, Jr.James KeirJoseph PriestleyWilliam SmallJonathan StokesJames WattJosiah WedgwoodJohn Whitehurst and William Withering.[8]


Watt was the chief inventor of the steam engine, Boulton was Watt's millionaire business partner, Erasmus Darwin was the most celebrated doctor in England, Samuel Galton was a merchant, Priestly was the great chemist and radical intellectual, Josiah Wedgwood was the owner of the famous dinnerware factory and still valuable brand name. The next generation of Darwins, Wedgwoods, and Galtons intermarried, providing the fortune for grandsons Charles Darwin and Francis Galton to be gentlemen scientists.

The heirs of the Lunar Society continue to be prominent.

For example, one of Margaret Thatcher's archrivals was Labour Party star Tony Benn, the grand old man of the left. "Tony Benn" is, however, the proletarianized version of the name ultimately adopted by Anthony Neil Wedgwood Benn, formerly 2nd Viscount Stansgate. From Wikipedia:

Benn was born in London on 3 April 1925.[6] Benn's paternal grandfather was John Benn, a successful politician who was created a baronet in 1914, and his father William Wedgwood Benn was a Liberal Member of Parliament who later crossed the floor to the Labour Party. He was appointed Secretary of State for India by Ramsay MacDonald in 1929, a position he held until 1931. He was elevated to the House of Lords with the title of Viscount Stansgate in 1941; the new wartime coalition government was short of working Labour peers in the upper house.[7] From 1945 to 1946, he was the Secretary of State for Air in the first majority Labour Government.

Both his grandfathers, John Benn (who founded a publishing company)[8] and Daniel Holmes, were also Liberal MPs (respectively, for Tower Hamlets, Devonport and Glasgow Govan).[9] Benn's contact with leading politicians of the day dates back to his earliest years; he met Ramsay MacDonald when he was five,[10] David Lloyd George when he was 12 and Mahatma Gandhi in 1931, while his father was Secretary of State for India.

Benn's mother, Margaret Wedgwood Benn (née Holmes) (1897–1991), was a dedicated theologian, feminist and the founder President of the Congregational Federation. She was a member of the League of the Church Militant, which was the predecessor of the Movement for the Ordination of Women – in 1925 she was rebuked by Randall Thomas Davidson, the Archbishop of Canterbury, for advocating the ordination of women. His mother's theology had a profound influence on Benn, as she taught him that the stories in the Bible were based around the struggle between the prophets and the kings and that he ought in his life to support the prophets over the kings, who had power, as the prophets taught righteousness.[11]

Benn went to Westminster School and studied at New College, Oxford, where he read Philosophy, Politics and Economics and was elected President of the Oxford Union in 1947. In later life, Benn attempted to remove public references to his private education from Who's Who; in the 1975 edition his entry stated "Education—still in progress". In the 1976 edition, almost all details were omitted save for his name, jobs as a Member of Parliament and as a Government Minister, and address; the publishers confirmed that Benn had sent back the draft entry with everything else struck through.[12] In the 1977 edition, Benn's entry disappeared entirely.[13] In October 1973 he announced on BBC Radio that he wished to be known as Mr Tony Benn rather than as Anthony Wedgwood Benn, and his book Speeches from 1974 is credited to "Tony Benn".

Tony's son Hilary Benn was a Labour cabinet minister under Blair and Brown.

Somewhat similarly, in New England, some merchant families such as the Eliots got out of business around 1820, and then went into religion, academia, and writing. (In 1818, the Royal Navy began to suppress the slave trade — did that have something to do with the Eliot clan's career shift into uplift?). The old commercial wealth funded the careers of worthies such as Harvard president Charles Eliot, Harvard historian Samuel Eliot Morison, and poet T.S. Eliot.