Margaret Thatcher, transformative conservative

Margaret Thatcher died today at age 87. We hear plenty of talk these days about transformative leadership. The assumption of those doing the talking is that such leadership must be “progressive,” i.e., that it will take the followers leftward.

Yet the two great transformative leaders of my lifetime — Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher — were also restorative in many ways. Though not reactionary, both relied heavily on their nation’s traditional norms to launch a devastating counterattack on a status quo that had strayed from those norms. By doing so, they transformed the status quo and pulled their nation back from the brink.

Bill Kristol calls Thatcher, Reagan, and Pope John Paul II “three who saved the West.” He’s referring to their role in winning the Cold War, and that is a key element in Thatcher’s transformative conservatism. But she and Reagan also helped “save the West” through transformative domestic policies. As Kristol puts it, their leadership was about the “defense and renewal of civilization.”

Kristol adds an important caveat when he says that these three saved the West “at least for now.” Nothing is forever, and with the passing of the decades, the U.S. and Britain once more are on the brink.

But an entire generation — my generation — was able to make their way and raise their family in the world that Reagan or Thatcher restoratively transformed. And future generations have the inspirational model of their transformative conservatism.

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