UNDERSTANDING what Margaret Thatcher means to Richard Dawkins is the key to understanding what society means to him. Misunderstanding his relationship to her is the basis of a widespread misreading of his place in the political scheme of things. One way and another, the woman has haunted him since she and he rose to prominence in the mid-1970s.
Their ascents were not unconnected. Dawkins took the opportunity to begin what became The Selfish Gene during power cuts that ensued from disputes between the coal miners' union and the Conservative government, led by Edward Heath. These struggles eventually led to Heath's electoral defeat, which then led to his replacement as Conservative leader by Thatcher in 1975, the year during which Dawkins completed his book.
Ever since then, the two have been linked by observers who have perceived a deeper connection between the fortunes of the biologist and the former chemist. 'At the same time that Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher preached that greed was good for society, good for the economy, and certainly good for those with anything to be greedy about, biologists published books in support of those views', writes the primatologist Frans de Waal. 'Richard Dawkins's The Selfish Gene taught us that since evolution helps those who help themselves, selfishness should be looked at as a driving force for change rather than a flaw that drags us down.'1 For de Waal, then, The Selfish Gene was a tributary to the great current of neoliberal ideology that swept through the world in the last quarter of the twentieth century.
Dawkins has also been presumed to share Thatcher's antipathy