Life, Hope & Truth

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Margaret Thatcher’s Principles

At London’s most famous address, number 10 Downing Street, the Union Jack hangs resolutely at half-mast today as a nation mourns—the Iron Lady has died. The first woman prime minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Margaret Thatcher held that post for 11 years from 1979 to 1990, exerting tremendous influence both at home and abroad during a very tumultuous era.

Mrs. Thatcher was both revered and reviled; but love her or hate her, she was a leader worthy of tribute. Rather than reviewing her history, I want to honor her memory by reviewing some of her philosophies, as revealed in some of her most famous statements. And yes, I chose these quotes for a reason—Thatcher stood on a foundation of moral absolutism, lived by the courage of her convictions and had a clear-eyed vision of what happens to people and nations when their leaders and citizens lose core principles. Anyone concerned about where the world is heading cannot help but consider how her words apply today, some 30 years later.

Quote No. 1: “Consensus: ‘The process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values, and policies in search of something in which no one believes, but to which no one objects; the process of avoiding the very issues that have to be solved, merely because you cannot get agreement on the way ahead. What great cause would have been fought and won under the banner: “I stand for consensus”?’”

She saw the obvious peril, quote 2: “Standing in the middle of the road is very dangerous; you get knocked down by the traffic from both sides.” That was not her style.

In a rather contentious debate in the House of Commons in 1990, Thatcher didn’t back down from a member of Parliament who shouted this insult at her: “You stupid, negative woman!” Thatcher replied, “I seem to smell the stench of appeasement in the air—the rather nauseating stench of appeasement.” She had little use for appeasement on virtually any issue, which makes you wonder if someone of her forthrightness and opinion could even be elected in today’s moral climate.

So, what might lead you to think she believed that politicians and people would come to value consensus and compromise over principle? On the trouble with politics today, she said, “It used to be about trying to do something; now it’s about trying to be someone.”

Thatcher seemed to revisit this theme quite often. “Do you know,” she once asked, “that one of the great problems of our age is that we are governed by people who care more about feelings than they do about thoughts and ideas.” On another occasion, she said, “If you just set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything at any time, and you would achieve nothing.”

She had little tolerance for weak leadership and once joked, “When I’m out of politics I’m going to run a business. It’ll be called rent-a-spine.” Too bad her store never opened, because the lack of moral backbone today is no joking matter. When it comes to moral issues, we live today in the culture of compromise. But we have only embraced moral compromise because we decided to abandon the idea that absolute truths do exist and have always existed. Fewer and fewer people today would agree with Thatcher’s opinion: “Of course it’s the same old story. Truth usually is the same old story.”

Thatcher was human and made her mistakes; but she was a true visionary who, out of love for her nation and people, fought to keep Britain from the fate she foresaw. She once said, almost prophetically, “Unless we change our ways and our direction, our greatness as a nation will soon be a footnote in the history books, a distant memory of an offshore island, lost in the mists of time like Camelot, remembered kindly for its noble past.”

Remarkable and timely words, not only for Great Britain, but for all nations today.

For Life, Hope & Truth, I’m Clyde Kilough.