Margaret Thatcher makes pygmies of many of our present leaders on both sides of the Atlantic. She was brilliant, but not from the normal elites. She was the right leader at the right time, working twice as hard to break through the Old Boys networks, to help defeat the Evil Empire. Even my generation glosses over how marvelous the smashing of the Soviet Union was in the 1980’s. Thatcher, Reagan, and Blessed John Paul applied external pressure of just the right sort, at the right time, in the right places and one of the bloodiest, most tyrannical regimes in human history died.
Thatcher helped defeat a bloody tyranny with minimal loss of British lives. She never was jingoistic, Thatcher knew the United Kingdom was not Utopia, but she knew there was no moral equivalence between British sins and Soviet crimes against humanity. She was right on the great issue of the time, the evils of godless communism, and her steadfast support as other allies wobbled made all the difference.
Her intellect was first-rate and her political skills remarkable, but the same thing could be said about Bill Clinton. And yet, like Grover Cleveland, Clinton is likely to fade over time and be recalled, when he is recalled, twixt Reagan and Obama. Britain has had many peacetime prime ministers, but Thatcher was one of the greatest, greater than Churchill if his wartime tenure were excluded, and will dominate her era.
Thatcher made mistakes, some serious. Her support for some dictators is difficult to square with the big picture and the Cold War did not justify it. But Britain had become weak, overly controlled by unions, and Thatcher broke Britain free. What made Thatcher great was her deep connection to the British past and her attempts, sometimes failed, to make past wisdom relevant. She was no slave bad ideas, some old ideas are just old, and her very success challenged class and sexual barriers. She was a grocer’s daughter from the wrong class to be PM, trained in chemistry not typical for a pol, and a woman leading the Tory party. What was almost unique was that Thatcher could reject the bad without going too far and destroying the good.
Thatcher was often wrong, but she was always principled and her general direction was correct. Major, Blair, Cameron and the string of somebodies since get some details better, but they cling to unreal assumptions about humanity, Britain, and the world. Her world was that of a green grocer’s daughter, science, and history. Their world is driven by assumptions of an academic and entertainment culture increasingly cut off from the Divine order.
One example, and it is a small one, makes the point: Thatcher bravely defended traditional marriage and family, but the limits of politics, limits she accepted, meant her staying action failed. Thatcher reminds Christians that it is better to have the music, television, schools and other cultural institutions than 10 Downing Street.
The British Christian establishment demonstrates beyond possibility of dispute that no compromise with modernity will be enough to stave off decadence. Prime Minister Thatcher’s time as premier shows the limits of political support. The PM may be with you, but if the West-End isn’t, the country eventually becomes like the West End . . . until the unreality cuts down Britain as surely as the fantasies, vice, and injustice described by Dickens caught up with pre-Revolutionary France.
Meanwhile, Christians should follow Lady Thatcher’s example and refuse panic, despair, and cutting ourselves off from a common culture, even when we do not like that culture. Thatcher was never afraid of the interaction, because (as she put it) “this lady is not for turning.” We will need to compromise where we can, but be steady where we cannot. We may even fail in the short term as she did. Our School and College program is ready for the long haul.
Like the Iron Lady, we are not for turning.