Margaret Thatcher, Colossus

Margaret Thatcher, Colossus April 12, 2013

Her alma mater may not be thrilled with her politics, but one American university would be happy to claim her. Margaret Thatcher came to Houston Baptist University and I cherish a picture of one of the university founders walking with her into the event held in her honor.

I know from speaking to him the honor he felt: she was America’s friend and ally.

Even my generation glosses over how marvelous the smashing of the Soviet Union was in the 1980’s. Thatcher, Reagan, and the Blessed John Paul applied external pressure of just the right sort, at exactly the right time, in precisely the right places and one of the bloodiest, most tyrannical regimes in human history died.

Where some lost themselves to jingoism and others to moral equivalence, Thatcher understood there was no comparison between British sins and Soviet crimes against humanity — and helped defeat a monstrous tyranny with minimal loss of British lives.

She was right on the great issue of the time — the evils of godless communism — and her steadfast support when 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 at all, 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 repeated attempts, sometimes failed, to make past wisdom relevant. She was no slave to 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.

She conserved what should and could be saved, but she was just one person and the decline of Britain could only be delayed. From Thatcher to Cameron is a loss of intellect, courage, and character, but societies get the leaders they deserve.

Thatcher was often wrong, but she was always principled and her general direction was correct. Major, Blair, and Cameron 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 open to the best of intellectual class. 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. We must be men and women “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. My school, HBU, is getting ready for the long haul.

She may be the last we will see for some time, but she will always be HBU’s prime minister.

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