The Legacy Of Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher

Now that the dust has settled two weeks after her death, perhaps it is time for a more general reassessment of Baroness Thatcher - of her administration by itself as well as her legacy and historical significance. Few politicians within living memory aroused such different and passionate reactions during or after their lifetime. As we know, for the omniscient progressives and socialists she is regarded as the destroyer of the idyllic post-war Keynesian welfare state in which all people, however humble of origin or abilities, were being taken care of, and economics was still the science of how to spend wealth, not of how it is produced. It is no exaggeration to say that for many on the right she was a kind of long-awaited messiah who would finally come to overthrow the neo-totalitarian order of the welfare state, and thus reverse the trend toward ever more centralization, state control, and thus economic and cultural decline. Some even went so far as to proclaim her the greatest statesman of the twentieth century, both in terms of moral greatness and of influence on the course of historical events. Of course, we can immediately brush aside the by now incredibly childish socialist accusations directed toward Thatcher in the press these days; but in this commentary I would like to analyze the phenomenon of Thatcher in the light of conservative aspirations and objectives. Was she really a “great politician”, in both senses? Did she accomplish as much as she is so often credited for by right and left alike? And: What did she achieve in the long run for the right in Europe and America?

There is a lot of confusion these days about what constitutes “greatness” in a politician. My definition would be that political greatness is a combination of moral and strategic consciousness in the direction of one’s country. The moral aspect is the defense of the values which have formed a country and made it great; without prolonging the pursuit of these principles, sooner or later the polity in question will lack internal coherence and will, in the long run, considerably weaken in the face of external threats. But the strategic aspect is just as essential, because there certainly is little use in maintaining a country on moral lines while running the risk to see it invaded or assaulted from without: therefore, defense and foreign policy also belong to the main concerns of the model politician. Everyone will have noticed that any statesman who does not act on either of these two principles, is doomed to failure and is also to be regarded as a hopeless political failure; but also a politician who sticks to one of these principles to the detriment of the other, is in the best case only half-effective and half-great. With the decline of western influence and western ideas around the world today, we are increasingly witnessing the replacement of politics by geopolitics by many so-called emerging nations: an obsession with short-term strategic gains in the international power game, without paying any attention to what should always be the prime standard of judgment in politics: the rights of the individual. What, in the long run, is the value of strategic gains when the people within the country are in chains or oppressed to a lesser degree? The other extreme is to be found in the European Union and more recently in the United States under the Obama administration, where the strategic position of western democracies is increasingly being endangered by an unwillingness to confront external or internal threats. 

In the sense I have outlined above, Margaret Thatcher was undoubtedly a great politician, even if Britain was already past its prime as a world power: she combined an acute awareness of the internal problems of England with an infallibly understanding of what had to be done to ensure the survival of that western civilization to which Britain belonged. It is often overlooked that in her advocacy of free-market principles, Thatcher was in fact hearkening back to the world of mid-Victorian England, a world not spoiled by collectivist misconceptions and utopian visions that would make such headway in the following century. Victorian society was a society that laid stress on the independence of the individual and his infinite capacity for self-help and self-betterment; thus it was the exact opposite of the post-war entitlement culture of the west. This was exactly the legacy Thatcher wanted to revive when she said there was no such thing as society, but only families. More is involved here than merely a statement of conservative principles or the guideline that had ensured Britain’s success in the last century; perhaps unwittingly, Thatcher also formulated an eternal historical truth. Societies and civilizations inevitably are always either rising, declining or falling, because the condition of a group of human beings is always in the eye of the beholder. Fixating on the perfection of society, as the modern welfare state does, is doomed to end in misery, since no aspect of society can ever be perfect to every one of its members. Therefore, we must conclude that the only useful standard of value is indeed the individual and by extension the family; and the mission of good government should invariably be to ensure the basic rights of individuals and the rule of law: only thus will a polity not be derailed by chasing seemingly innocent, but in the long run destructive utopian visions. Trough a delicate balance of conditions, this view of governments’ role prevailed until the late Victorian period, when it was subverted by the creeping machinations of what may be called a radical lower-middle class, without roots in any of the achievements of the British nation, governmental or economical. The Fabians were the most vocal representatives of this segment of opinion, but it was to the quite large body of their supporters, mostly half-educated and very self-conscious persons, that Britain eventually owed its decline in the last century. Gradually, and especially after the Second World War, their influence grew so that they came to represent the mainstream of English culture in the seventies: even the nobility was progressive by those years. In the main, this current was motivated by the delusion of the “collectivized good”; the simple misconception that what is a value for an individual, must  therefore also be a value for a collective when the state uses force to extend that value to the whole of society. Needless to say, this obsession with the restructuring of society according to certain wishes and imperatives was not restricted to the economic sphere, but extended to moral and ethical questions as well. 

Seen in the light of her contribution to the defense of the free world against the Soviet threat and her backing of America in confrontations with Islamic rogue states, Thatcher’s moral contribution to the survival of conservatism cannot be overestimated: she tried to halt the seemingly inevitably march of the welfare state and symbolized a renewed resistance against its basic assumptions. But at the same time, we must not be too enthusiastic about following in her footsteps, in the hope that trough her methods and visions conservatism or classical liberalism can once again gain the ascendancy in the west. We must, above all, not be deluded by the pitiful moaning of the progressives, who consider every statement of disagreement with their doctrines, every reversal however small of elements of the welfare state, as an assault on their principles and indeed on their very life. On closer examination, of course, we must admit that in the history of the twentieth century, Thatcher’s administration was only a drop in a socialist and collectivist ocean. Her ultimate influence on the course of events was negligible, and bearing this simple observation in mind, I believe the conclusions to be drawn from the experience of Thatcherism are less hope-inspiring than many conservatives think.

Essentially, Thatcher was the first and last example of a meaningful and peaceful reaction to the reversal of values that had set in with the coming of socialism to the West. It is no coincidence she appeared in  England, the birthplace of parliamentary democracy and traditionally the country were political differences were always resolved in the most peaceful and civil manner; together with the United States, it was probably the only country were a peaceful counter strategy could hope to achieve anything. But ultimately, it dismally failed. In the long run, Thatcher could never have the ability to curb the power of the state, simply because she became prime minister in a system that had already been fashioned by several decades of collectivization; nothing short of dictatorial powers would have sufficed to drain this political swamp. The circumstances in which she tendered her resignation are very revealing as well. While it is often said that she had simply outlived her time and had become more of a nuisance than a benefit to her party, I believe England would have benefited greatly from some more years of Thatcherism: notably, she opposed accession of Britain to the EMS, but was pushed aside by her own party members. They were perfectly aware that joining this scheme would wreak havoc with the British economy, and that further reforms in the direction of a free market would have been very beneficial to the country: nevertheless, they ousted Thatcher mainly because her principles went against the flow of ideas; in other words, collectivism had certainly not been defeated or even weakened as the main ideological current;  probably on the whole it even gained strength during the eighties. 

The corollary of the collectivist apparatus of state is the domination of culture by progressivism, in the form of socialism and political correctness. Progressive culture is a blame-culture, because its basic tenet is utopian: perfect society can be achieved through fitting policies, so by implication, every government under which perfection is not reached, can be vilified at heart’s desire, and the progressive individual has no responsibility whatsoever toward respecting order in this non-perfect society, since it is corrupted and immoral in his eyes. The discourse is wooden and threadbare, but extremely effective: blame your enemy for everything that is not perfect in society; and if it is a socialist or progressive government that fails to deliver the promised perfection of the socialist paradise, let the minority of conservatives take the blame. Perhaps the argument is so effective because it cannot be falsified: as long as the right exists in a certain political system, they can always be pointed to as the ultimate cause of all misery. The ultimate message is clear, and it is exactly the same message as was delivered by Lenin when the communists took power in Russia: the class of “fascist” conspirators must be eliminated as soon as possible, so that classless society can be achieved. Only today this part of progressive culture is presented to us in a sugar coating, in the subtle jargon of seemingly reasonable welfare state ideals.  

Attentive readers will have noticed that the ethics of progressivism and progressive culture bear great resemblance to the ethics of fascism and of Islam: morality is no longer defined by objective standards, but by interests of specific groups, be they a social class, a nation, or a race. This type of ethics is probably the greatest obstacle to any peaceful reversal of the current order, because it also entails the rewriting of history: not only political ideas, but also historical facts now differ according to which people evaluate them. The simple truth that you cannot spend a pound that does not exist, that wealth is not a cake that has always existed in its present form and simply needs to be divided by politicians to create economic progress, is no longer valid for the progressives: to paraphrase Hegel, they say: ‘if truth is contrary to our economic interests and our high-sounding ideals, then that’s all the worse for the truth.’  So it is not surprising that in many ways Thatcher was a godsend for progressivism because she made an exquisite scapegoat for all that went wrong in the United Kingdom. Social disintegration, in reality a consequence of divorce, “sexual freedom”, and immigration, was blamed on Thatcher’s “atomistic” view of society; the loss of jobs in obsolete sectors of the economy and the privatizations that would have occurred under every government, and much that has gone wrong in England or even Europe ever since, even if the connection to Thatcherism was nowhere to be found, was blamed on her as well. 

The fact that a remarkable and energetic personality such as Margaret Thatcher, supported as she was by the new free market-oriented economists of the seventies and eighties, and with truth so obviously on her side, - contrary to the current situation in the West - did not even come near to changing dominant political discourse in the long run, must of course lead to sombre predictions concerning the future of our civilization. Let us take note Thatcher’s ultimate goal was the “contrary of a revolution”, namely the return to past wisdom and sound values,  to the old order that had been submerged by the progressive revolution. But Thatcher’s reaction to creeping and destructive progressivism was not the only, and not even the most common reaction in the twentieth century; mostly, it takes the form of a counterrevolution: the old order has to face the truth that it somehow cannot cope with the menace of revolution, and in the end comes to adopt certain strategies and characteristics of the revolutionary ideology in order to repulse the menace more effectively. The result, however, even if the counterrevolution wins, is not a return to the old order, but in the best case a very diluted version of it, and in the worst case a copy of the originally repellent revolutionary totalitarianism, be it with certain different overtones. The last case is of course that of fascism; the cause of fascism is not nationalism, or any other inherent vice of the homo occidentalis, as the progressives tend to believe, but the previous overwhelming rise of communism, as after the October Revolution, or today, the suffocating cultural dominance of progressive discourse to the practical exclusion of every dissenting voice. It is often said that fascism is once again on the rise in Europe in twenty-first century, and I wholeheartedly agree. It is on the rise because our political and cultural elites ignore the woes and complaints of the majority of the population and brand every complaint against the dominant politically correct, multicultural order as racism and intolerance, and employ every means to prevent sensitive topics to be discussed in a genuinely democratic way; indeed it is in such circumstances that fascism arises. In previous articles on TBJ it has been suggested that the brutal Oslo attacks of 2011 were a manifestation of fascism and a fascist system of values: this is a correct analysis if we add that it was the inevitable result of the absence of any useful and open-hearted discussion of the immigration problem. In short, it is trough the vilification and suppression of peaceful protest movements, representative of the majority of society, such as Thatcherism – the progressives also seem to have forgotten the inconvenient fact that she was elected three times-  by the leftist culture of blame and hatred, that a new cult of blame and hatred will rise like boiling lava out of the exasperation and frustration of the lower ranks of society.