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MARGARET THATCHER’ S FREEDOM LEGACY April 10, 2013

Posted by wmmbb in Democracy, Global Electoral Politics, Modern History, Social Environment.
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Not that I know much, if anything about economics, but it seems to me that there was the Thatcherite rhetoric and an underlying economic problem of stagflation that was not supposed to happen and the recipe was monetarism(1).

Why were Milton Friedman and Margaret Thatcher fans of Augusto Pinochet, even when truth of his terror and barbarity was public knowledge? The economic problem now is one of fundamentally social inequality and deprivation, which is not supposed to happen in a capitalist system. Famously, that is the system that produces the good life for the many, and not just the few. We might reasonably question, bearing in mind global poverty, and the role of western imperialism in creating that poverty, has that ever even been true.

And then there is ideology. Margaret Thatcher may have died but her ideas seem to be very much alive, albeit having survived some experiences. The essence of the ideology might include the notion that the free market, minimal supervening social constraints, is the essence of freedom. What then is freedom? What is unfreedom, and what forms might it take? To replace an economic ideology, as Margaret Thatcher accomplished, to establish new norms and touchstones of the values of public policy making and purposes, is not to end ideology, even if in doing so the political system is apparently unchanged. This case cannot be made for the United States, as Professor Lawrence Lessig makes clear in his TED Talk, We the People and the Republic we must Reclaim.

According to the Drum Wraps, she has a mixed reception in her political life and her death. One problem she did identify was that of global warming.  James West at Mother Jones notes:

Thatcher went to the Second World Climate Conference to heap praise on the then-infant Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and to sound, again, the alarm over global warming. Not only that, her speech laid out a simple conservative argument for taking environmental action: “It may be cheaper or more cost-effective to take action now,” she said, “than to wait and find we have to pay much more later.” Global warming was, she argued, “real enough for us to make changes and sacrifices, so that we do not live at the expense of future generations.”

The Iron Lady’s speech makes for fascinating reading in the context of 2013’s climate acrimony, drenched as it is in party politics. In the speech, she questioned the very meaning of human progress: booming industrial advances since the Age of Enlightenment could no longer be sustained in the context of environmental damage. We must, she argued, redress the imbalance with nature wrought by development.

“Remember our duty to nature before it is too late,” she warned. “That duty is constant. It is never completed. It lives on as we breathe.”

Don’t ask, but whatever happened to the unity of vision of conservation and conservatism?

Margaret Thatcher was expressed contradictory stances on her concepts of individualism and society, but that might be expected when you have different speech writers.  Whatever happened to Margaret Thatcher’s own political philosophy once she gain political power?  I suspect she got caught up in conflict, as you do, and the language of dehumanization, and therefore violence and cruelty. She does not come across as cruel in this interview with William F Buckley:

She starts by outlining what is a major, if not the most important premise of her thinking. Political freedom and economic freedom are interdependent. The more “free enterprise” in an economy will presuppose greater personal freedom. As she sees the world, a Cold War vision, there are two social models in play with variations.  You should opt for a society, much like the US, that creates wealth, allows people to be free, and provides incentive for hard work. She is opposed to group think, which she describes as consensus. You have to have conviction as well as the fortitude to implement your beliefs. She is adamantly opposed to Harold Wilson’s maxim that what the British people want is a bit of peace and quiet. This is a “drag on democracy”. Despite prompting she is not opposed to a social safety net to provide a decent life for people.

Individualism is saved by making corporations political beings, because after all that composed of people, and their shareholders are people. I wonder what the sainted founders of the American Republic, who for the most part as slave owners themselves its seems drew their inspiration and architecture from Ancient Athens, would have had to say if, for example, The East India Company was both a legal and natural person.

Noam Chomsky observes  in  The Common Good: 

“. . .it’s ridiculous to talk about freedom in a society dominated by huge corporations. What kind of freedom is there inside a corporation? They’re totalitarian institutions – you take orders from above and maybe give them to people below you. There’s about as much freedom as under Stalinism.”

The other quotes are also interesting. Corporate capitalism is the perfect example of living in a zoo as a caged animal. Libertarians seemed to have merged with conservatism. Tony Abbots recent address to the Institute of Public Affairs is a recent example.

Amy Goodman, recently observed:

“This is no longer a mainstream media, it’s an extreme media beating the drums for war. I really do think that those who are concerned about war, that those who are deeply concerned about the growing inequality in this country, those who are concerned about climate change, about the fate of the planet, are not a fringe minority — not even a silent majority, but a silenced majority, silenced by the corporate media, which is why we have to take it back.”;

Perhaps these developments were not evident to Margaret Thatcher, since she is British and not American, but she was framing her political ideas and prescriptions in a historical context and against the prevailing norms. She went about implementing public policy with great determination and conviction, but I wonder whether she weighed the effect they would have. Of course, some forms of thinking provide insulation as to social consequences, such as denying the existence of society and therefore social organization. Then there are the methods used. The implementation and reinforcement of structural violence which when unrelated to actions is effectively unseen to lose its’ objective reality. To those who only consider and know profit, loss of soul (whatever that might be) cannot be appreciated. Perhaps her noble cause and the necessary methods of  its execution blinded her. Politicians, unlike soldiers, never suffer Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

1 Via commenter, Newtonian, at John Quiggan.

  • Micahel Hudson & Jeffrey Sommers, The Queen Mother of Global Austerity and Financialization (Michael Hudson) via Truthdig.
  • Simon Hooper, Margaret Thatcher: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (Al Jazeera)

    As one of the defining global figures of the late 20th century, Margaret Thatcher thrived on conflict, relishing the practice of politics and statecraft at home and abroad at its most gladiatorial and never backing down from confrontation with those she called her enemies.

    . . . some critics are not yet ready to consign Thatcherism to the past, seeing continuity from the Thatcher era to the UK’s current economic problems, and parallels with the current Conservative-led government’s socially divisive policies that include cuts to public services and welfare benefits and the selling off of state assets.

    “Her free market economics in many ways paved the way for the current economic crisis,” said Tatchell. “She was light on regulating the financial and business sectors. She gave them free rein saying that monetarism was the most important ideology and that people had to be sacrificed for the greater good.

  • Corey Robin, The Lady’s Not for Turning (Crooked Timber, via John Quiggin) – not the untrammeled individualism, as might be imagined, but “the archipelago of private governments”, hierarchical  perhaps authoritarian, institutions, and “belated feudalism”, with a predominant, culturally specific, Common Law. No so much The City of God, but makers and takers. As the interview with William F Buckley illustrates there were, and perhaps are, more extreme neoliberals in the US.
  • Guy Rundle, Margaret Thatcher dies, but the fiction of Thatcherism lives on (Crikey, paywalled) – a somewhat jaundiced, even bitter account of what was lost, due significantly to the failings  of her opponents, but which can be seen in comparison to the social and political reality in other parts of Europe.
  • Ira Stoll: How Margaret Thatcher Brought Economic Freedom to Britain (reason.com)
  • Margaret Thatcher ‘hated because she won’ (itv.com)
  • Margaret Thatcher and Feminism (nationalreview.com)

POSTSCRIPT:

The following quote from the Women’s Own interview (via The New York Times) represents the philosophy of selfishness and reciprocity, but equally separateness, loneliness, and powerlessness within the democratic process. This is the world view we subscribe too, and Mrs Thatcher states it plainly with its implications. Some of us become angry at her for that. As she says there is no other way.

“I think we have gone through a period when too many children and people have been given to understand ‘I have a problem, it is the government’s job to cope with it.’ Or ‘I have a problem, I will go and get a grant to cope with it.’ ‘I am homeless, the government must house me.’ And so they are casting their problems on society, and who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families, and no government can do anything except through people, and people look to themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then also to help look after our neighbor, and life is a reciprocal business, and people have got the entitlements too much in mind without the obligations because there is no such thing as an entitlement unless someone has first met an obligation, and it is, I think, one of the tragedies in which many of the benefits we give, which were meant to reassure people that if they were sick or ill there was a safety net and there was help, that many of the benefits which were meant to help people who were unfortunate — ‘It is all right. We joined together and we have these insurance schemes to look after it.’ That was the objective, but somehow there are some people who have been manipulating the system, and so some of those help and benefits that were meant to say to people: ‘All right, if you cannot get a job, you shall have a basic standard of living.’ But when people come and say: ‘But what is the point of working? I can get as much on the dole.’ You say: ‘Look, it is not from the dole. It is your neighbor who is supplying it, and if you can earn your own living then really you have a duty to do it, and you will feel very much better.'”

More from this interview at the Margaret Thatcher Foundation. »

What is interesting, say in contrast with Augustine’s City of God based on the brief and summary reports I have read, is that there is no sociological or historical, or for that matter more contemporaniously scientific context for these assertions. Nor is there the elementary political analysis, cui bono?

And then I commented at Lavatus Prodeo:

Funerals are inherently symbolic, state funeral especially.

Mrs Thatcher’s experience with dementia in her final years is a reminder of how sad that affliction is for many people. Thatcher was a divisive and ruthless political leader illustrating how thoughts translate into action, often as cruelty, although the motivation was claimed to be noble.

Mrs Thatcher’s is apparently to have a Falkland’s War theme, evoking her statement in relation to the miner’s strike:

“We had to fight the enemy without in the Falklands. We always have to be aware of the enemy within, which is much more difficult to fight and more dangerous to liberty.

The language speaks for itself.

Elsewhere, Bob Ellis is not charitable, ascribing her onset of dementia to heavy drinking – so maybe I am wrong about PTSD. JC encouraged his followers to love their enemies, one the sound basis that enmity does more harm to those who feel and express it than it could to the dead. How are political leaders to be held accountable? She must have had the support of her party colleagues to pass legislation and execute policy -and then there is the media. Unions are also, or can be, hierarchical and authoritarian structures, similarly premised on enduring and winning conflict.

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