Lady Margaret Thatcher (1925-2013) “was the first woman to become prime minister of Britain and the first to lead a major Western power in modern times. Hard-driving and hardheaded, she led her Conservative Party to three straight election wins and held office for 11 years — May 1979 to November 1990 — longer than any other British politician in the 20th century. The strong economic medicine she administered to a country sickened by inflation, budget deficits and industrial unrest brought her wide swings in popularity, culminating with a revolt among her own cabinet ministers in her final year and her shout of “No! No! No!” in the House of Commons to any further integration with Europe. But by the time she left office, the principles known as Thatcherism — the belief that economic freedom and individual liberty are interdependent, that personal responsibility and hard work are the only ways to national prosperity, and that the free-market democracies must stand firm against aggression — had won many disciples. Even some of her strongest critics accorded her a grudging respect.” (New York Times, April 8, 2013). She spoke of the principles of individual liberty and economic freedom on a visit to the United States twenty years ago. Following are excerpts from her speech “The Moral Challenges for the Next Century” given at Brigham Young University on March 5, 1996.
Liberty, that great political idea—sanctifying freedom, and consecrating it to God; teaching men to treasure the liberties of others as their own; to defend them for the love of justice and charity more than as a claim of right—has been the soul of what is great and good. (Quoting Lord Acton)
America, my friends, is the only country in the world actually founded on liberty— the only one. People went to America to be free. The Founding Fathers journeyed to this country across the perilous seas not for subsidies—there weren’t any—not to make a fortune even, but to worship God in their own way and by their example to perpetuate freedom and justice more widely….They believed, each and every one of them, in the sanctity of the individual. That, after all, is our faith: that each and every person matters equally, and that each of us is accountable to his God for his actions and for the use of his talents.
Those Pilgrim fathers came with the faith that infused the whole nation. Yours is the only nation founded on liberty. And you’re founded on liberty because of that faith.
Indeed, Sir Edward Gibbon, who also wrote The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, wrote tellingly of the collapse of Athens, the birthplace of democracy. What he wrote has great meaning for us—we should heed it. He said, speaking of the Athenians: In the end, more than they wanted freedom, they wanted security and they wanted a comfortable life. And they lost it all—security, comfort, and freedom. The Athenians finally wanted not to give to society, but for society to give to them. When the freedom they wished for most was freedom from responsibility, then Athens ceased to be free. That should be an object lesson to us all.
There can be no freedom or liberty without a rule of law because otherwise, as you know, it would be the freedom of the strong to oppress the weak. There is something very unique in the character of the people of Britain, and they brought that uniqueness here and added many other things to it— right from the year 1215, when we had the great Magna Carta, when the barons squared up to a king because he was taxing them and taxing them. They said, “We’re not going to pay you monies unless you first redress our grievances.” And they didn’t.
It is now an election time, I gather, over here. I say this to you: Expediency and pragmatism are never enough. When I had to pull Britain around, we worked out our principles, once again renewed them, worked out our policies from our principles, and then implemented our programs. And they were all of a piece because we had the faith on our side, and we knew that what we were doing was fundamentally right.
I should perhaps say also, not only are pragmatism and expediency not enough, but followership isn’t enough either. You know, some people look at their opinion polls. I never did. I thought I was better off without them. But some people practice followership. There was in the last century a politician in France, Ledru-Rollin, who had his own definition of leadership. After a big meeting in an open square one day, he went back to his office, saw a group of his own people moving away, and said to his companion, “There go my people. I must find out where they’re going so that I can lead them there.” No, if you are going to chart the way into a better future, you must have a compass of enduring values and principles to steer by.
What about capitalism and free enterprise? When I first came into politics, we used to hear the left wing denigrating free enterprise. They suggested that a command and centrally controlled economy maximizingthe powers of government and minimizing those of the people would produce better results—because, after all, government knew best and could plan everything….Now that is the ideological battle of this century. But I think those of us who believe as passionately as we do in a free society should put the case of capitalism much more positively than that it merely performs better. Capitalism is economic liberty. It is a vital element in the network of freedom. It is a moral quality, for it reflects man and his right to use his God-given talents.
You get the best results by men and women exercising their God-given talents and working together and responding to the needs of the market in a community of work. Of course, the market’s never been unfettered. It requires a framework of law, regulations about weights and measures, regulations about accurate description, and so on. This will change with the circumstances, but these laws must never stifle the spirit of enterprise.
Many years ago, Edmund Burke, the great commentator, philosopher, and member of Parliament, had it right when he criticized measures to secure economic equality. He said this: “It is the character of egalitarian measures that they pull down what is above. They never raise what is below. Beware dependency on the state.” This was in 1770. Beware dependency on the state. Once used to such support, people would never be satisfied to have it otherwise.
But, my friends, freedom has responsibilities as well. As we look ahead, some people are taking the freedom and leaving the responsibilities. This is giving us one of the most serious problems, one of the most acute problems, of the future. The values and virtues we prize are honesty, self-discipline, a sense of responsibility to one’s family, a sense of loyalty to one’s employer and staff, and pride in the quality of one’s work. All these flourish in a climate of enlightened politics. But these qualities are threatened in the West by a lack of respect for the rights, freedom, and property of others—and thought for others. This manifests itself in two ways: in rising crime and violence, as people go and take what they want and have no sense of morality towards others, and also in the breakdown of the family arising from a vastly increased number of children born to single parents.
No government at any level, or at any price, can afford, on the crime side, the police necessary to assure our safety unless the overwhelming majority of us are guided by an inner, personal code of morality. And you will not get that inner, personal code of morality unless children are brought up in a family—a family that gives them the affection they seek, that makes them feel they belong, that guides them to the future, and that will build continuity in future generations….Indeed, I would say, the greatest inequality today is not inequality of wealth or income. It is the inequality between the child brought up in a loving, supportive family and one who has been denied that birthright.
Now, my friends, we must never be complacent. We must never think that there will be perpetual peace. That is what they thought after World War I. We must be vigilant to see that we are fully and strongly equipped should anyone dare to, or want to, attack us. Dictators are frightened by the strength of others. They are attracted by weakness. Let us be vigilant to ensure that the great heart, as Winston would have put it, has his sword and armor to guard the pilgrims on their way.
May I finish with the words from a great hymn [we used to sing it in school]
I vow to thee, my country—all earthly things above—
Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love...
And there’s another country, I’ve heard of long ago,
Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;
We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;
Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;
And soul by soul and silently, her shining bounds increase,
And her ways are ways of gentleness and all her paths are peace.
[“I Vow to Thee, My Country,” music by Gustav Holst and words by Cecil Spring Rice]