Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Iron Lady of the Western World

It contains no magic formula or lavish promises. It is not a recipe for an easy or a perfect life.

A bizarre beginning for an election manifesto, isn’t it? Magic formulas and lavish promises are exactly what politicians are routinely bestowing upon the masses. Bread and circuses, the communist paradise, the thousand-year Reich, the New Deal, the New Frontier, Great Society and Hope and Change - we’ve heard enough of this. But this time, the voters were offered something different:

It sets out a broad framework for the recovery of our country, based not on dogma, but on reason, on common sense, above all on the liberty of the people under the law.

The guiding principle of Margaret Thatcher’s 1979 election manifesto is common sense. The emphasis put on reason is a relic of the rational Enlightenment worldview. Unlike the left, she didn’t use Enlightenment rhetoric as a fa├žade for savage and primitive nonsense. She meant it. Unlike much of the American right, she based her ideas on reason, not on barbarous religious faith.
Common sense means a staunch commitment to reality. That means: no compromise:

If you just set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything at any time, and you would achieve nothing.

Thatcher had a profound distaste for pragmatism and consensus:

To me, consensus seems to be: the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values, and policies in search of something in which no one believes, but to which no one objects; the process of avoiding the very issues that need to be solved, merely because you cannot get agreement on the way ahead. What great cause would have been fought and won under the banner ‘I stand for consensus’?

She knew that socialism and collectivism could only be defeated by firm allegiance to fundamental principles, not by stealth, fraud, evasion, and horse-trading:

For my part, I favour an approach to statecraft that embraces principles, as long as it is not stifled by them; and I prefer such principles to be accompanied by steel along with good intentions.

In another display of her principled stance, Thatcher commented on whether she would repeat Prime Minister Edward Heath's "U-turn" (a policy change from free-market economics to statism):

To those waiting with bated breath for that favourite media catchphrase, the U-turn, I have only one thing to say: You turn if you want to. The lady's not for turning.

When at a conservative party meeting an apparatchik suggested following a pragmatic middle-of-the-road policy, Thatcher triumphantly held up a copy of Hayek’s Constitution of Liberty and said: “This is what we believe!” The party cadre were taken aback.

What matters is that her free-market convictions were not based on pragmatic or utilitarian considerations, like those of 19th-century Benthamite “radicals” (Jeremy Bentham, James Mill, John Stuart Mill). Nor were they based on the moronic conservative view that “selfish” and “greedy” capitalism is inevitable because of man’s inherently fallible and wicked nature. She knew that capitalism was morally right. Moreover, it is the only moral political system. It is socialism that is morally corrupt. Thatcher did not succumb to the view, held by many, that capitalism is right in terms of economics but somewhat rotten in ethical terms. In 1977 John Hoskyns, a policy advisor to Thatcher, sent her a memo saying the following:

Voters must feel a deep moral disgust with the Labour-Trades Union alliance and its results - a “sick society” (disappointment with material results is not enough).

Thatcher’s pro-capitalist mindset was not so much a product of the Austrian School or Chicago School but of the rich British common-sense tradition that goes back centuries:

Let me give you my vision. A man's right to work as he will. To spend what he earns. To own property. To have the state as servant and not as master. These are the British inheritance.

This inheritance has been almost banished from metropolitan areas but remained in small towns like Thatcher’s Grantham in Lincolnshire. Here, in this small oasis of Merrie Englande next to an ancient Roman road that had brought civilization to local tribes, Isaac Newton, the father of modern physics, went to school, while Thatcher’s antithesis, radical proto-socialist Thomas Paine, resided here for a while. Not far from here, in the nearby Nottinghamshire’s Sherwood Forest, Robin Hood - the idol of socialists - used to “spread the wealth around.” Here she was raised in her common-sense father’s grocery shop, inculcated with what is misleadingly referred to as “small-town virtues” or “a philistine, petty bourgeois mindset” but is really the fundamental values of the Western civilization:

My policies are based not on some economics theory, but on things I and millions like me were brought up with: an honest day's work for an honest day's pay; live within your means; put by a nest egg for a rainy day; pay your bills on time; support the police.

Her wholesale repudiation of collectivism is the core tenet of the Western way of life:

There is no such thing as society. There is living tapestry of men and women and people.

Thatcher’s radical individualism and moral integrity were remarkable but there are some “buts.” Though religion was not the basis of her convictions, in contrast to some American conservatives, she did have religious convictions and sometimes erroneously connected them with capitalism. Though she was not inclined to compromise, she had to do that in some cases because politics is the “art of the possible.” Moreover, eventually her principled stance clashed with political reality, which was the reason of her downfall. Though she was an implicit advocate of egoism, she didn’t fully get rid of altruist prejudices. 

Thatcher was neither an economist nor a philosopher and therefore could not be fully consistent in her common-sense views. She did not have sufficient expertise for that. After all, it wasn’t her job. Since she was not a profound theoretical thinker, she could only make cosmetic changes to the world around her and was unable to make a major contribution to stopping our civilization’s cultural collapse.

However, she still matters. She matters because her life demonstrates that the West, despite its cultural disintegration and ongoing death throes, is still capable of producing people who stand for its initial values of reason, individualism and liberty under law - people who possess moral integrity, common sense and an indomitable spirit. Thatcher is a resurrection of what the West used to be, must be and, hopefully, will be again.

1 comment:

Reasonsjester said...

Awesome, awesome writing, my friend.

Recently I was re-thinking Reagan's significance in the nearly relentless succession of statist presidents since the beginning of the last century.

Though Reagan stood for founding principles, there are some disturbing aspects to his thinking, such as his dabbling in pragmatism and his reverence for FDR. Like Thatcher, Reagan was no "profound thinker."

Unfortunately, his strong rhetorical skills could only temporarily re-vitalize capitalism and the ideals of America. His policies became speedbumps for the state-led train heading for a tremendous wreck.

Today's politicians, in both parties, are spineless statists. True men of principle have been rendered obsolete by today's carnivalistic political atmosphere.