Margaret Thatcher’s passing at the age of 87 is a great loss for Britain and for freedom. Lady Thatcher played a pivotal role not just in reversing Britain’s post-war economic stagnation, but as a powerful and articulate voice for human liberty and free enterprise around the world.
As the daughter of a Linconshire grocer, Mrs. Thatcher saw first-hand how building a business was about more than money; it was an act of faith and a labor of love. She also saw how public policies could stifle entrepreneurship, and how government failure was as pernicious a threat as market failure. Her government came to power in 1979 on the heels of the inability of the Labour government to control either inflation or public employee unions, to the point where garbage was going uncollected and human corpses were stacking up as gravediggers went on strike.
Perhaps most admirably, Mrs. Thatcher’s 11 years as prime minister were rooted in a commitment to ideas, not political expediency. One great story illustrates this: In 1975, as the newly elected Tory leader, Mrs. Thatcher interrupted a speaker urging the Conservatives to take a “middle way” on a variety of policy issues. She pulled a copy of Hayek’s “The Constitution of Liberty” from her briefcase and slammed it on the table, exclaiming, “This is what we believe!” As I wrote recently in the journal “National Affairs,” Hayek’s examination of the role of government in “The Constitution of Liberty” is something conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic would do well to remember today.
Mrs. Thatcher was a political pugilist, but she fought for the ideas of freedom and human liberty. She had a preternatural understanding of how to make the moral case for free enterprise — and why a big and growing state threatened both entrepreneurship and human virtue.