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December 24, 2009

There is no Alternative

Why Margaret Thatcher Matters
Claire Berlinski - ISBN - 9780465002313

The title references Thatcher's oft repeated slogan that despite some problems with capitalism "there is no alternative." Socialism simply cannot work, and there is no Third Way. Said she: "The economic success of the Western world is a product of its moral philosophy and practice. It is superior because it starts with the individual, with his uniqueness, his responsibility, and his capacity to choose. . . . Choice is the essence of ethics: if there were no choice, there would be no ethics, no good, no evil; good and evil have meaning only insofar as man is free to choose."

Reagan is noted for his comment: "tear down this wall." Thatcher, asked by Gorbachev how she made sure the British people got enough food, tartly replied: "I don't. Prices do." She took a sledgehammer to her own command economy and tore it down.

Theodore Dalrymple, a noted conservative essayist, remarked that the book is probably "as powerful a defense of Thatcher's record as will ever be written." The WSJ noted it to be "a pleasure to read in part because of its unflinching judgments." Berlinski is certainly no fawning acolyte.

The author is quite skilled: delicate yet persistent. She interviewed numerous people--supporters and antagonists--exchanges with whom are some of the book's highlights. She quotes extensively from recordings made at the time of her interviews, and often encourages interviewees to say things they'd probably have preferred not to have on the record.

Thatcher was attractive, articulate, intelligent and as single-minded as it is possible to be. The same might be said about Berlinski. Her reportage is unsullied, original and very well constructed. Over hundreds of pages she proved that Thatcher remade Britain, and to a remarkable extent the world, which is why I am an acolyte of both Reagan and "The Iron Lady.")

More than any politician in history--including Reagan--Thatcher was able to convey a particularly devastating message about socialism. It is not just that socialism is economically inefficient. In the form of the Germany, Russia and China it was responsible for drenching the world in blood. It is, in all of its permutations, morally corrupting and thoroughly contemptible. It turns good citizens into bad ones; strong nations into weak ones, and promotes vice while destroying virtue. It transforms hardworking and self-reliant people into whining, weak and flabby loafers. Socialism is not a fine idea misapplied, it is inherently wicked.

"That was Thatcher's signal contribution to the debate." And she emphasized it repeatedly. Reagan was relaxed and genial. Thatcher was intense and wrathful. Both were effective, yet the latter conveyed a "scorn and fury of Old Testament proportions."

At the height of Pax Britannica a quarter of the world's population and land mass were under British rule. For good or ill Britain was the most powerful nation on the globe. She had long been the world's leading scientific and intellectual power, and was the financial center of the world. She was the world's preeminent naval power, controlled the world's raw materials and markets, and was the leading merchant carrier. Britain invented Common Law and modern parliamentary democracy. The list could continue for pages. During the 19th century she was ahead of all nation states in every category of economic, military and political endeavor.

Though decline had followed the WW I Britain was still powerful, but after WW II she was no longer the greatest power, or even, perhaps, a great power, though she still had considerable influence. By the mid 1970's she was an economic basket case. She was disgraceful, having sunk to begging, borrowing and stealing.

The year before Thatcher came to power, Britain--the upon who's empire the sun never set--endured the Winter of Discontent. Labor unrest shut down all public service and paralyzed the entire nation for months on end.

"The Iron Lady" conveyed by word and action that Britain's decline was not an inevitable fate, but a punishment--not for the sin of imperialism, but for the sin of socialism. The good and gifted men and women of Britain had chosen a wicked path. It could be reversed, but it would take commitment, courage and time. She would restore it to virtue, and make it once more worthy of greatness.

She achieved things no woman before her had ever achieved, and did so whilst retaining her femininity. She turned every conventional expectation of women upside down, refuting a thousand years worth of assumptions about women, power, and women in power. She was important, she was interesting, and she passed into mythological status even before her death. She captured the imagination of the world as she presented her case and exhibited her transformative effect.

She authored a revolution. Over daunting odds she turned Britain around in fewer than 10 years. It was bloody and intense, but she rewrote the book, achieving things no other living politician could claim. And she did it with Labor in full throated, brutal opposition. She won. Britain thrived and prospered.

Labor had driven the country into the tank, nearly achieving third world status. She reversed it, but now they're back in power, doing it all over again.

She matters because she proved that moral redemption is possible, and that it is possible to change a country. Unfortunately, in the aftermath it has been proven that without care and attention the likes of Tony Blair and socialism can revisit it all--as can and will Barack Obama if we let him.

Read it and cheer--read it and weep--but read it you must. It is a truly extraordinary book. I've reread much of it already. It's that good! She was magnificent. Berlinski leaves no doubt about that. America needs someone just like her--right now.

Posted by Curmudgeon at December 24, 2009 12:13 PM