Watching the current installment of Uncommon Knowledge with Charles Moore, on Margaret Thatcher, I thought of Thatcher’s slogan: There is no alternative. Claire Berlinski took it as the title of her account of Thatcher, There Is No Alternative: Why Margaret Thatcher Matters.
It wouldn’t be a bad slogan for the Republicans. It certainly captures what we’re thinking. There is no alternative to a return to limited government and free market economics other than the stasis, socialism, insolvency, inflation, and incipient penury that are the fruit of the Obama administration at home. Abroad Obama brings us the national decline that perfectly complements his domestic ambitions and accomplishments.
She had abundant luck, but it was her personal qualities that largely accounted for her success. She was unmistakably smart, and it is in trying to pin down what allowed her to dominate the country that Berlinski’s book contributes to our understanding. The author is herself slightly shocked at the ferocity of Thatcher’s moral disapproval of socialism. I have no doubt, however, that her moral profile was central to her success. It is remarkable how little most politicians stand for, but Thatcher stood for moral independence and a contempt for dependence. She not only admired courage, but had plenty of it herself. She regarded socialism as a school for self-pity and mediocrity. She did not speak with forked tongue, and many people admired exactly that stimulating directness.
Defending her as genuinely conservative, Shirley Letwin argued, in The Anatomy of Thatcherism(1993), that her basic aim was not to transform Britain but to restore to its historic place in British culture the vigorous virtues that had been so lost in all the waffle about tolerance, compromise, and compassion. Thatcher hated thinking of the British as a bunch of vulnerable victims needing government handouts.
Another element in her success has been a sense of humor, so that while she could indeed be intense, relentless, and argumentative, she could also detach herself and be amused. The idea that people with strong opinions are less quarrelsome than people who talk endlessly about being open-minded is, of course, profoundly wrong, and Thatcher and Reagan alike illustrate this. They had no trouble negotiating with those whose opinions they disliked. A sense of humor is an important component of intelligence. Those who thought that Thatcher was no intellectual were certainly right, but only at the cost of not recognizing that her political intelligence was remarkable. Her profound political and moral love of freedom gave her an unusual angle on most political questions. It also helped her choose the right moment for combat; she generally held fire until she thought she could win.
There is much more in Berlinski’s book and Minogue’s review, all of it worth reading.