The Heroes of Capitalism: Margaret Thatcher

More than a year ago I published an article entitled "The Heroes of Capitalism: Ronald Reagan”[1]. There I postulated one of the most pressing deficiencies of the defenders of the market economy: the lack of myths. In contrast to the left and its romanticization of symbols that were once the incarnation of the most stupendous oppression the earth has ever witnessed, the right and its families are orphaned of intellectual and political referents. Therefore, it is necessary to select and resignify some historical figures that, although we may disagree with certain actions, as a whole serve to embody values that we share.

Margaret Thatcher, also known as "the Iron Lady," was elected prime minister of Great Britain in 1979. Photo: El American.

This is the case of Margaret Hilda Thatcher, also known as "the Iron Lady". The nickname was established by Soviet propaganda when she became leader of the Conservative Party. Like Reagan, Thatcher came from a humble family. Her father, Alfred Roberts, was a sales clerk from the age of 12[2] and later, he combined that job with some sort of low-level civil service position. His store not only sold groceries but was also a franchise post office. Their hours were 8:00 am to 7:00 pm, Monday through Saturday, and both he and his wife, Beatrice (who for many years was a seamstress) took turns in the family business. It is true that, on many occasions, Thatcher played the card of his origins and perhaps exaggerated in terms of economic hardship.

His father became involved in politics, and one of his major obsessions was keeping commodity prices low. He became director of finance at the Chamber of Commerce (a post he held for more than 20 years) and built a reputation as a protector of taxpayers with a special zeal for the misappropriation of other people's capital. Biographer John Campbell postulates that this is precisely where Thatcher would draw her "visceral hostility" to public spending (Campbell, 2009, p. 18). Despite her origins, she managed to get into Oxford (an institution where, for the most part, only a small economic elite has access) in 1943 through a scholarship that was initially rejected. The future Premier graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry.

It was precisely in her university years where she met authors of the conservative-liberal branch, especially, who caused a greater impact on the worldview of the young woman was Friedrich Hayek and his illustrious work "Road to Serfdom" (1944) which, among others, she said the following: "Those books not only provided clear and crisp analytical arguments against socialism, [...] they also gave us the feeling that the other side simply could not win in the end" (Thatcher, 1993, p. 12). His referents were also classical liberals coming from the Scottish Enlightenment, "which produced Adam Smith, the greatest exponent of free enterprise economics up to Hayek and Friedman" (Thatcher, 1993, p. 521).

Thus, from a very young age, she ended up dedicating herself to politics and the Tories. Among many things, it is worth mentioning that she won her first seat in an enclave that had historically belonged to the Labour Party (Dartford), as well as her role in the Ministry of Education, leader of the opposition and her arrival at the presidency, which set a historical precedent as she became the first woman to achieve that position of power and never use that argument to victimize herself (it was around 1979). In fact, almost two decades earlier, on February 5, 1960, by virtue of a speech she made in Parliament asking for the Council meetings to be public, she was interviewed in which she showed gratitude for serving her country in such a prestigious institution. At a certain point, the interviewer asked her if it was more difficult to make such speeches considering that she was a woman, to which she replied sharply, "no, I didn't notice that" to end up praising, elegantly, her audience.

It is already surprising that the modern feminist, that so much bellows to obtain positions of high responsibility in gender parity (not so when it comes to the most infamous jobs that are occupied, mostly, by men), never deigns to mention Margaret Thatcher. She never used her sex to victimize herself in a clearly male political world (just look at the composition of her ministers), and she made her way into that society in a forceful way. Without a trace of wanting to be a martyr (which is the order of the day nowadays), she became a key player in the historical development of the second half of the twentieth century on her own merits.

Of course, beyond her many political achievements, her position, from a very early age, was against taxes, against Europe as an institution, against the concept of society - advocating for individuals -, against the reduction of spending (even in education, when she was a minister - eliminating free milk for school children), her appeal to individual responsibility, as well as her fierce fight against the Soviet Union, for all this, she deserves to be in the liberal Olympus. There is an anecdote that might best describe who Thatcher was and why her figure should be vindicated more forcefully. When she was head of the opposition, in the middle of a Conservative Party meeting, a timid official made some statements about Britain's economic policy, postulating a middle way between Soviet planning and economic liberalism, Mrs. Thatcher interrupted him, stood up, reached into her handbag and took out Hayek's "The Foundations of Freedom" book, showed it in front of her audience, slammed it on the table and said "This is what we believe in!" (Berlinski, 2008, p. 12).

As always, great figures have great detractors, especially from the left. As with Reagan, Thatcher was not considered an educated politician, and the latest criticism that I can recall has come especially from Owen Jones. For those who do not know him, he is a British historian who has devoted himself to political essays with great virtuosity, not because of what he says, but because his books have market share and his ideas, greatly encouraged by Podemos, have achieved some repercussion outside his country. In his book "Chavs" (2011), of dubious originality, he devotes himself to blaming Thatcherism for issues such as the deindustrialization of Britain, the demonization of the working class and the suppression of working-class identity (one might ask the exalted historian if this issue is not related to his postmodern left and its partial struggles rather than to Thatcher). As usual, other intellectuals of the same stripe have devoted themselves to paying their frustrations with specific characters of recent history, examples being David Harvey, Richard Wolff, Martin Barker, etc.

Finally, I have left out many episodes that would give me the opportunity to extend ad infinitum, such as her response to Galtieri's military junta in 1982, her retaliation against the unions and the mining strikes of 1984-85, her iron fist towards the IRA, her international tandem with Reagan, among many others.

So, I would like to end with the phrases that the British Prime Minister uttered when she came to power: 

"Where there is discord, let us bring harmony. Where there is error, let us bring truth. Where there is doubt, may we bring faith. And where there is despair, may we bring hope."

And this is, in short, what we need most today.


Berlinski, C. (2008). There Is No Alternative: why Margaret Thatcher matters. New York: Basic Books.

Campbell, J. (2009). The Iron Lady: Margaret Thatcher: From Grocer’s Daughter to Iron Lady. New York: Penguin Books.

Thatcher, M. (1993). The downing street years. New York: HarperCollins.


[2] He was forced to drop out of school, even though he wanted to become a teacher, but he always cultivated a deep interest in reading. 

This piece was originally published in Spanish in Instituto Juana de Mariana.

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