Thatcher’s Libertarian Leanings


I don’t know enough about Thatcher to write about her life in any kind of detail, and frankly I have no desire to. This is just some off-the-cuff thoughts spurred by some of the comments I’m seeing coming out of the mainstream media and some insight into how an 80’s child, like myself, viewed Margaret Thatcher growing up.

I was a ‘Thatcher’s child’, born in 1980. I remember doing impressions of her distinctive voice at primary school. She was infamous in her prime, even young children knew who she was and how she sounded. No doubt her being a woman played a large part in how well-known she was by young and old, but I can’t imagine David Cameron is known by young children these days or indeed mimicked by them because he’s just so nondescript. He looks like every other politician man. Thatcher was easily recognisable, a real character to us kids. The big hair, the pursed lips. The husky voice.

To my family and friends, and to the rest of the working class of Britain, she was the ‘bad guy’ though, naturally. Perhaps not quite evil, but a big meanie at the very least – and that’s how we youngsters came to see her. She was a heartless and cruel matriarch who ruled with an iron fist. She didn’t care about the welfare of the working man, and she brutally beat back the unions whenever they dared raise their voices. She was the oppressor and we were the oppressed masses. We were the victims. We deserved better. We deserved sympathy because we were the unselfish and honest workers. We were right, she was wrong. Thus the background noise to my early childhood was various profanities directed at the TV whenever the news came on and Thatcher appeared or was quoted. ‘Get Labour in’ was the oft-repeated solution to the Tory bastards. This gave the young me the impression that if Labour could only get into power our lives would be magically transformed and everyone would live happily ever after. Well, Labour eventually did get into power of course, but the magical transformation thing didn’t quite work out.

Stephanie Flanders, economics editor for the BBC, wrote an article yesterday entitled ‘Margaret Thatcher: Economic Legacy of an Iron Lady’, and a comment she made was rather revealing. She said:

“People will debate for a long time what she [Thatcher] meant when she said “there’s no such thing as society.””

This remark shows us that the economics editor of the BBC lacks the reasoning skills to comprehend this simple proposition, which is why she thinks its meaning is a mystery, and furthermore is debatable. It’s neither (which we will show in a moment).

If she had read the other BBC article entitled ‘Thatcher in Quotes’ she could have read the Thatcher quote in full, in which the proof for the proposition is clearly stated.

“There is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families.”

However, even with the proof clearly stated those at BBC News still do not comprehend. This is evidenced by the fact that this quote is listed under the category heading ‘speaking her mind’, as if to suggest this is Thatcher’s opinion. It’s not opinion. It’s a logical truth.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that the economics editor of the BBC can’t (or refuses to) comprehend a simple logical truth. Economics has drifted so very far away from rationality over the last several decades that almost everything now is deemed relative and debatable. And anything goes, economically speaking, as long as you’ve got some mathematical model to support it.

The proposition ‘there is no such thing as society’ is premised on the definition of society, i.e. what society is. Society is a collective term for a group of individuals. There is no entity or thing known as ‘society’ that exists in the same way that a rock exists. This is what Thatcher meant by ‘there is no such thing as society’. So when a politician, union leader, activist or lobbyist declares that what they propose is in society’s best interest, they are talking nonsense because only things that exist (i.e. individuals) can have interests, rights, preferences or needs. What they can only mean is that they believe that the interests of the particular group of people they represent should supersede yours.

Society is the fictional entity that people claim to represent the interests, needs or preferences of whenever they want to use the government to force you to do something (e.g. pay for other people’s educations and medical care) or have you prevented from doing something (e.g. smoke particular plants). The only way to convince people that having force used against them is somehow in their best interest is to make them believe that opposing it is immoral and selfish.

It’s clear that Thatcher had some libertarian leanings and some notion of individual freedom, but these were contradicted and largely negated by her belief in the virtue of violent authority and her desire for power.

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