The death of Margaret Thatcher this past week marks the end of an era. It heralds the beginning of another. The Iron Lady may be no more but the core convictions for which she was most known must be brought to life again in Britain and across the world, and not least in this country, which she so much admired.
A remarkable woman, a remarkable leader, it’s hard to believe that it is over 20 years since she left 10 Downing Street as Britain’s first female prime minister and the only one in almost two centuries to win three successive general elections. It’s hard to believe that this globe-trotting handbag-wielding force for human good is no more. Her list of accomplishments is staggering. She recreated an economy and gave renewed vigor to an old and tired culture. With “Thatcherism”, she transformed political discourse, giving her name to a philosophy and policies of governance that have had a truly global impact. Along with Ronald Reagan and Blessed John Paul II, she deserves credit for ending the Cold War and bringing down communism. The Iron Curtain was no match for the Iron Lady!
Who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families, and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first.
Her enemies always read into this core conviction of Thatcherism the most evil of designs. Of course Thatcher knew there was good in society and good in government. But people in post-War Britain and much of Europe had become enchained to the ever-increasing powers of government control. It was not just communism in the East that was the problem, but the communitarian temptations in the West as well. Governments are always justifying their hunger for power to regulate in the name of “society” and always by spending greater and greater amounts of money. Thatcher realized that in fact people were selling themselves into slavery, or in the words of her favorite political scientist, “serfdom.” Like her friend and ally, Ronald Reagan, she knew that when the man from the government comes calling at your door promising you the world, there will always be a cost. The true cost of living off the government will be your freedom. The totalitarian temptation is just inherent in government.
Such language will undoubtedly sound outdated to all those on the Left — or the Right — who now clamor for consensus politics and all those politicians of both parties who will so easily compromise their values in order to get themselves re-elected. Thatcher wasn’t one of them: “If you just set out to be liked, you will be prepared to compromise on anything at anytime, and would achieve nothing.”
Thatcher’s core conviction was that individual men and women and their families must be set free to pursue their own interests. Government so often has different interests. Did she think that individuals always succeed in achieving their own or the good of society? No, not at all! But she knew that there was something far worse: letting the government live your life for you, or what is the same thing, telling you how you must live your life. Thatcher’s enduring legacy will be her defense of individual freedoms against the encroachment of government power. And as she herself said, “You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it.” One era is over; a new era dawns. Let the battle begin (again)!
Jon Edney is a former El Centro city councilman.