Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Margaret Thatcher 2

I know that those who admire Margaret Thatcher (and there were qualities to admire) may not like me pointing such matters out, but she did not see herself as a traditionalist conservative.

She said of herself that:
The kind of Conservatism which he [Keith Joseph] and I — though coming from very different backgrounds — favoured would be best described as "liberal", in the old-fashioned sense. And I mean the liberalism of Mr Gladstone not of the latter day collectivists.
Thatcher also referred to herself as a libertarian, albeit one who thought a state was need to uphold law and order:
The first task of the State is to defend its citizens against attack from within and without. It is in this sense that the libertarian insists that government must be strong.
When you look at the politics of the day you get a sense that it was not even that traditionalist conservatism was explicitly rejected, it just wasn't what was being contested. What was being contested was a vision of society being ordered around a constantly expanding welfare state versus a vision of society ordered around freely enterprising individuals and a limited state directed at law and order.

If that's where the debate stays, then we've failed. We've got to open up new debates in which traditionalist values are not kept in the background but become a focal point.


  1. Attacks on Margaret Thatcher for insufficient conservatism might be justifiable in themselves, but they emerge strangely from a blogger who, unless I am much mistaken, remains employed within the Marxist-Leninist-pagan racket known as Australia's "education" industry.

  2. Robert,

    You've got things the wrong way round. We need more conservative teachers not fewer. Otherwise the schools remain biased to the left.

    And we've got to get beyond the attitude that being a conservative means being personally pure but outside of real politics. If we really care about our tradition we'll focus on getting together to persuade people and to build up resources.

  3. Mark,

    You haven't commented yet on how Margaret Thatcher's policies actually battered many white working class communities in the UK.

    The white working class traditionally votes for Labour most of the time. It seems that the old, socialist left was not necessarily anti-white in nature. It's the new left that has the obsession with multiculturalism and equality and all the rest of it.

    Although it is a party in severe decline now, some of the BNP's success during the 2000s was in areas where many people traditionally vote Labour. Is the BNP really a far-right party? In the views of some, it was a party that wanted "socialism for whites only". Which would make it a left-wing ethno-nationalist party.

    Similarly, is Nazism really even a right-wing ideology? National socialism? How can socialism, in any form, be right-wing?

    Do you Mark as a traditionalist conservative care about the working class? I've been thinking a lot about class lately.

    There is the Marxist notion of 'false consciousness', where the working class is said to be directed by the bourgeoisie into the pursuit of interests that are contrary to the true interests of working people. It is claimed that 'racism' can be an example of this 'false consciousness'.

  4. For example if you take a look at this article:


    The areas which are in the 'North' are mostly Labour, the areas which are in the 'South' are mostly Conservative. People in the 'North' felt cheated by the Tories. Yet, they are to a large extent supportive of Labour despite the fact that that party favours multiculturalism and immigration, which is generally not seen as desirable by working class white people.

    Note that the Conservative Party in the UK is, as you have observed, mostly right-liberal and not traditionalist conservative. Must one be middle class in order to be tradtionalist conservative?

    Does the old left (old-style socialism) have some common ground with traditionalist conservatism?

    Different words have different meanings in different places. For example, in places like Norway, Sweden and Germany, 'nationalist' is a dirty word, but it isn't in Scotland. On the other hand, 'conservative' is a dirty word in Scotland. Seriously.

  5. I don't think its correct that "classical liberal" always meant what we call today "libertarian". Burke was a classical liberal, and libertarianism is really a brand spanking new political philosophy, albeit once which tries to claim a long ancestry for itself.

    None of the actual "classical liberals", whether we're talking Burke or Adam Smith or even JS Mill, were on board with the the modern libertarian program of "all people are fungible".

    Libertarianism - I think its redundant to say modern libertarianism - is really a modern offshoot of leftist thought and it shares many traits with leftist thought: elitism, atheism, scientism, anti-nationalism, a veneration of judges and an intense dislike of the democratic process, among other things.

  6. Libertarians accept without question the Marxist position that the world is properly seen as being divided into "labor" and "capitalists" - they just side with the capitalists over labor. But their premises are still drawn from the left. Their Marxist heritage is seen in their rejection of all other forms of identity other than "labor" and "capitalist".

    When you look at the world like that, why wouldn't you want to tear down the worlds borders and claim that a Christian English man and a Muslim African woman are just two interchangeable units of labor?

  7. Severn,

    Classical liberals dealt a blow to natural forms of community from the very beginning when they based their philosophy on the idea of atomised individuals contracting together on the basis of security of life and property.

    Here is Stephen Kautz, who identifies as a classical liberal, trying to sort out issues of communal loyalty and identity:

    "We have been taught by our classical liberal ancestors to think of ourselves as free individuals above all, rather than as children or parishioners or citizens, or as members of a racial or ethnic group - or, indeed, as members of any other communities.

    "But this idea of the free individual is based on a confusion, say its critics: one's deepest attachments to other human beings are not freely chosen, adopted, and then discarded like articles of clothing, but are given prior to such choices and "partly define the person I am" ...

    "Indeed, the human being who overcomes such "constitutive" attachments is not liberated, but is rather, says Sandel, "wholly without character, without moral depth"; an honorable human being must surely "feel the moral weight" of these primary loyalties.

    "All of this is undoubtedly partly true: the liberal idea of the free individual too often, in liberal practice, produces eccentric, passive, lonely individuals. But it is perhaps not exhaustive.

    "Those free individuals who secured for themselves, and for us, the blessings of liberty, even at the price of rebellion against a father or a priest or a prince, are perhaps not wholly "without moral depth," but deserve both our admiration and our gratitude: the truly free human being possesses a moral dignity that at least rivals the dignity of a human life that is animated by love or piety or patriotism."

    We still have the problem of a false concept of freedom here. Kautz as a classical liberal conceives freedom in highly individualistic terms as a freedom *from* communal attachments and identities rather than as a freedom to express these things.

  8. Do you Mark as a traditionalist conservative care about the working class?

    Very much. I've witnessed in my own lifetime the abandonment of loyalties by the Anglo political class to the white working-class - I found it painful to observe happening.

    It's true as well that the early labour union movement in Australia was patriotic. It wasn't until the late 30s or thereabouts that it shifted decisively under the influence of Marxism to a more internationalist position.

    But I wouldn't describe myself as a socialist. In my ideal society, although there might be limited common ownership of certain economic resources, there would be mostly a private ownership (though with the emphasis on smaller, domestic traders - I've written before about the political danger of allowing international business magnates to dominate).

    Second, my preference for keeping working-class living standards high is not via state redistribution of wealth, but by having stable employment for working-class men and by protecting the value of this labour from being undercut by cheaper overseas labour. I think it helps too if you have a stable system of family life, with men occupying a respected role as a provider, in maintaining a more even level of wealth distribution in society.

    One thing I've noticed is that a left-wing nationalism, at least in recent years, tends to be very unstable. The Scottish nationalists, for instance, seem to be quite happy with the idea of open borders. The IRA too, whilst hostile to the rule of the UK in Ulster, seem content with mass, diverse immigration that will forever change Ireland.

    These movements seem to be too closely allied to modernist understandings of politics and political morality. The message seems to be "let's be politically independent but we have to be a non-discriminating, open-to-everyone political entity" - which then defeats the purpose of trying to express particularity.

  9. Mark, you're quite correct that Thatcher had many admirable qualities. But her social and economic policies were destructive. They produced outcomes which fed the Left machine and were ultimately destructive for Britain in the long term. That's not to say that her opponents were right, God knows Britain needed to change, it's just that there were many ways out of the quandary Britain was in and she took the wrong one. (though she did have spectacular short term success). Thatcher directly contributed to the social atomisation of British society. She was individualistic to the core.

  10. I don't see why caring about workers should be exclusive to leftists. They ware really bad at it considering mass immigration.
    Its for that reason I could never support leftist or labour movements in my lifetime.
    Irish nationalists who fight for Irish nationalism but are ok with masses of 3rd world immigrants colonising the country with no historical link is a good example.

  11. No traditionalist?

    This sounds pretty good -- or should have been "traditionalist enough" for you Aussies.

    “I recall one conversation I had with her in her retirement where she said something that was unabashedly racist,” Mr Carr told ABC television.

    “She warned Australia - talking to me, with Helena standing not far away - against Asian immigration, saying that if we allowed too much of it we’d see the natives of the land, the European settlers, overtaken by migrants.

    “She said, ‘I like Sydney but you can’t allow the migrants to take over, otherwise you will end up like Fiji where the Indian migrants have taken over.’ I was astonished.”

    If she said that, she was EXACTLY RIGHT.

  12. On classical liberals, we have to distinguish among figures and also among elements of contemporary liberal thought.

    If we're speaking of the atomization of the individual, then it is undoubtedly correct to attribute this in different ways both to Hobbes and Locke, and also to later, utilitarian thought. Particularly with Hobbes and Locke (though few call the former a liberal, his case is really the origin of much of what comes after) the family is displaced from its Aristotelian place of prominence, as a reality independent of the state and/or individual consent.

    If we're speaking on this issue and considering, say, Burke or the Scots, then the situation becomes considerably more murky, because these figures never accepted what has come to be known as the "economic man." In this respect, Severn is correct; with Hume in particular you find a firm rejection of egoism and voluntarism, and Smith largely follows him in this. We are not just the sum of self-seeking, profit-maximizing impulses.

    On the other hand, I think this latter bunch tended to be a bit too sanguine about the effects of international trade, and the growth and sustenance of what we might call cultural capital. "Libertarian," no, but overly optimistic about commerce, yes.

    On Thatcher: I'm surprised no one has yet raised the old story concerning her saying "there is no such thing as society." Now she was speaking at the time to the liberal impulse to grab everything and anything one could by using this term promiscuously as an excuse. Still, no genuine conservative could utter such a thing.

  13. "If that's where the debate stays, then we've failed. We've got to open up new debates in which traditionalist values are not kept in the background but become a focal point."



    Many people who call themselves conservatives are pleased that the ABC is at last considering alternative viewpoints by giving airtime to the IPA. I say it's dangerous as it frames the debate as left-liberal vs. right-liberal. The entire anti-left movement in Australia is being co-opted by libertarians.

    The only role for true conservatives in the debate is to be the subject of ridicule - e.g. Tony Jones referring to Cory Bernardi as the Liberal party's "comedian".

  14. Heh,

    I saw that comment by Carr. I've no reason to think it's not true. But the question is if Thatcher believed this, why did she not push it more as policy within the UK itself. Although immigration was kept lower than under Blair during her tenure as PM, the proportion of overseas born residents of the UK continued to rise steadily.

    I don't know the answer, I can only speculate about all this. Perhaps, for instance, Thatcher thought that the Asianisation of Australia would lead us to detach from the Anglo-American sphere and attach instead to China (which does seem to be underway).

    Perhaps Thatcher had, formally, a right-liberal politics but also maintained some more genuinely conservative instincts (evidence for this is that she listed both right-liberals like Hayek but also more conservative figures like Powell as intellectual mentors).

    Perhaps some of these political figures, like Thatcher, would be more focused on the traditionalist aspects of their beliefs if the larger political currents in society allowed it or encouraged it (a colleague of Thatcher, Keith Joseph, once expressed concern about the "stock" of the country and this was enough to wreck his leadership ambitions; if liberals weren't able to police political debate so much perhaps the traditionalist side of some of these right-wing politicians would be brought out more.)

    But the conclusion remains the same: traditionalism won't have much effect if, on the right, the formal beliefs are framed around right-liberalism, leaving traditionalist values to be expressed occasionally as private concerns.

    (But well done to Thatcher for raising this with Carr - Carr's reaction, that he couldn't believe someone being concerned about race replacement - shows just how denatured the man is.)

  15. On Thatcher: I'm surprised no one has yet raised the old story concerning her saying "there is no such thing as society." Now she was speaking at the time to the liberal impulse to grab everything and anything one could by using this term promiscuously as an excuse. Still, no genuine conservative could utter such a thing.

    I think that's a fair summary. Thatcher was right that a lot of lefties in the 1980s used to blame "society" for problems of their own making.

    I remember being frustrated with some of my friends for exactly this reason. I remember a girl I knew blaming society for her unhappiness and I wanted to shake her and tell her that she was unhappy because she drank beer for breakfast, cheated promiscuously on her boyfriend, got talked into doing a blue collar apprenticeship she had no interest in by feminist friends and avoided confronting any of this by taking drugs. She had made her own life a mess but we all had to listen to her rants about society.

    But it's true as well that a trad would be unlikely ever to come up with the response "There is no such thing as society" - it sounds radically individualistic even given its context.

  16. You nailed it, Mark. Thank you for your posts about Thatcher

  17. This is exactly right - Thatcher was very much in the Whig classical-liberal tradition. That said, the mores of the time were very different from today, after thirteen years of hardcore cultural Marxist re-engineering of society under New Labour, and her social values would be considered traditionalist in the Britain of 2013.

  18. It's easy to call Thatcher a right liberal or a libertarian because of the legacy of her government and ignore her conservative instincts. She wrote in her memoirs that she regretted not pursuing a policy she called "Social Thatcherism" which involved strengthening the family and the non-economic, social institutions (which, she believed, capitalism needed to properly function). Her conservative instincts were always there, she just regarded the need to get Britain's house in order and fix the economy as the immediate priority for her government. Someone (forgot who) said that she wanted a country with her father's morals (a Methodist pastor) but got one, through no fault of her own, with her son's.

    Basically, the Right isn't cleanly divided into right-liberals and traditionalists; there is a huge overlap, which includes people Margaret Thatcher, and myself, who see society as more than its economy, but still regard the free market as non-negotiable for the happiness and wellbeing of society.

  19. "Classical liberals dealt a blow to natural forms of community from the very beginning when they based their philosophy on the idea of atomised individuals contracting together on the basis of security of life and property."

    Who were these "classical liberals" you speak of? The fact that libertarians like to call themselves "classical liberals" does not mean that the actual liberals of the 18th and 19th centuries thought as our modern libertarians do.

  20. We have been taught by our classical liberal ancestors to think of ourselves as free individuals above all

    And which particular "classical liberal ancestors" taught us that? Timothy Leary? John Lennon? This business of each of us being "free individuals above all" is of very recent vintage. Essentially nobody in the English speaking world thought this way until the 1960's. If Kautz believes otherwise then Kautz, like all libertarians, is historically illiterate.