Political Autism?

Here is an old story

from The Independent, July 12, 2006

Sir Keith Joseph, father of Thatcherism, ‘has Asperger’s syndrome’
LONDON, UK: Sir Keith Joseph, the father of Thatcherism whose free market principles are still followed to some extent by Tony Blair, had a form of autism that is reflected in his political philosophy, a psychiatrist believes.
The former Conservative education secretary, who was Margaret Thatcher’s mentor in the 1970s and 1980s, had Asperger’s syndrome, a condition that renders sufferers unable to interpret social situations or to empathise with other people, according to Dr Michael Fitzgerald, professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at Trinity College Dublin.

I know that Professor Fitzgerald has made a study of famous people from the past whom he thinks were autistic and has recently published a book on the subject, The Genesis of Artistic Creativity. But is he really saying that you can diagnose a neurological disorder on the basis of someone’s political beliefs? Not exactly. Because he goes on to describe
Joseph – who died in 1994 – as a brilliant lawyer who served in Harold Macmillan’s government in the 1960s but was prone to eccentric behaviour and errors of judgement that could be attributed to his mental condition,

In the early 1970s, he was urged by friends to challenge Edward Heath for the Tory leadership but he lost any chance of winning after making a speech in Birmingham in 1974 in which he implied that the lower classes should be deterred from having children.

Professsor Fitzgerald said: “That is the kind of comment he would make and mean it from the depths of his heart, but it was absolutely strange. He had a lack of empathy and he was naïve in social situations. Once attending a camping exhibition, he surprised visitors by giving a lecture on Communism. He was regarded as so eccentric that the other members of the Cabinet suspended normal rules of behaviour for him.”

They also shared his political beliefs and no one is suggesting that Thatcher et al had Asperger Syndrome. Autism is the “in thing,” a good peg to hang a story on. Never mind the fall out for real autistic people who are already dealing with public misunderstanding and misinformation.

And here is a new story

from yesterday’s Times suggesting that socialist Gordon Brown shares Joseph’s political autism.

‘Autistic’ Brown loses the plot

Gordon Brown is Labour’s Richard Nixon. That is not to suggest for an instant that he is a crook — far from it — but he has Nixon’s combination of immense political talent and utter clumsiness. The buttoned-up suit, the mouth slightly agape, the physical awkwardness, the alarming smile which seems to appear from nowhere as if a button marked “smile” has been pressed in his head, the nocturnal brooding on imaginary grievances encouraged by a group of chippy cronies — Brown, like Nixon, suffers from a kind of political Asperger’s syndrome. Intellectually brilliant, he sometimes seems socially barely functional: a little bit . . . odd.

Imagine using any other disability as a pejorative explanation of politics. Alzheimers, Schizophrenia anybody? If, like me you are tired of journalists using autism as a metaphor for whatever incompetency they are currently writing about please complain to the Sunday Times.

Letters to: The Sunday Times, 1 Pennington Street, London E98 1ST or via e-mail: letters@sunday-times.co.uk Fax 020 7782 5454. Letters should arrive by midday Thursday and include the full address and a daytime and an evening telephone number. Please quote date, section and page number.

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7 thoughts on “Political Autism?

  1. Conservative or liberal – neither is a valid concept to me because really they are just another form of labeling rife with stereotypes.

  2. I am typically more conservative than liberal (US definitions) – I don’t see supporting human rights as a particularly partisan issue, since neither liberals nor conservatives typically manage to get it right. But of course I don’t fall in step with conservatives perfectly because of this and some other beliefs.

    As for the newspaper article in The Times (the London one, not the NYC one), it’s appalling to see something like this in a paper as well respected internationally (at least in the US) as The Times.

  3. Well i case you did not know Gordon Brown is one eyed as well.

    I have to be careful what I say being one of the party faithful and all, but I remember the days when I gave Kieth Joseph a hard time when he came to speak at Warwick Uni.

    Now yesterday I shook hands with Peter Hain of all people, another ghost from those old days. He had just flown over from Northern Ireland for a constituency meeting.

    Anyway at one point he said. “If there are any hecklers here I have my armed security men with me from Northern Ireland”

    Red Rag to a bull that was :) I replied “They don’t worry me none”

    Anyway maybe there is a new saying on the way, “in the country of the blind, the one eyed man is prime minister”

    There are certainly “interesting” things going on in the party at the moment :)

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