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What America Still Can Learn From the Iron Lady

thatcherby Matt Naham

When Margaret Thatcher passed from this world on April 8, myriad books followed. Consequently, an exclusively eulogistic feel characterizes many of these works. Catalogues of the Iron Lady’s rousing successes, lasting impact, and life story predominate — as is expected and appropriate — the books dedicated to her memory.

Nile Gardiner and Stephen Thompson’s collaborative work, Margaret Thatcher on Leadership: Lessons for American Conservatives Today, effectively explores the success, the impact, as well as the life of Lady Thatcher and, while doing so, goes beyond mere eulogy.

On Leadership not only offers retrospective, but also proposes practical solutions for securing a promising future in the face of clear and present national malady; in its scope, this is a dynamic proposition rather than an insular one. Margaret Thatcher’s principled leadership through times stuck and dire — through bureaucratic slimes, and muck, and mire — proves eerily relevant for America today, and arms the young and growing conservative generation with a valuable reference point.

Socialism, welfare, entitlements, big government, unbridled spending, domestic and foreign unrest alike, and a departure from principles: Does this resonate? This was Britain‘s malaise before it was America’s. Sleeping Britain was ready for change and Margaret Thatcher was eager to conduct that great awakening, which she expressed clearly during a speech in Seoul back in 1992:

For we believed passionately that decline and surrender were just not good enough for Britain. We were confident that the values of the British people, their work ethic, their love of freedom and sense of natural justice could once more be harnessed to promote liberty and make Britain more prosperous and influential.

Americans, at their core, share the same instincts — whether for freedom, true justice, hard work, or national pride.

In Britain, Thatcher’s profound belief brought relief — some perspective: Only seven years after her election as Prime Minister in 1979, Margaret Thatcher diminished inflation from 21.9 percent to 2.4 percent. It is this kind of staggering number that calls for further examination of her principles and their relation to current times.

To that end, Gardiner and Thompson devised this book and divided it into 10 chapters, discussing, among other things, the underpinnings of Lady Thatcher’s political philosophy, the demise of socialism, the great turnaround in Britain, and an assortment of thoughts for America on how and how not to conduct domestic and foreign policy. In addition, the helpful summaries of these points at the end of each chapter ensure that the most important information will not be left unattended by the reader.

The fundamental thesis: Engage all things in reference to your firmly established principles, however unpopular they might be. If there’s one thing Lady Thatcher wasn’t that’s a “preserve the status quo” type of conservative. For her, when all seemed lost, it was reconstruction rooted in principles that was required and not mere conservatism. Thus spake Margaret Thatcher:

It is a well-known fact that restoring values or institutions which are weakened or entirely lost requires a very different approach from just conserving or strengthening them. In a world, or country, in which Socialism has not done its destructive worst you may be able to get away with mere pragmatism.

But when the storm has wreaked havoc, uprooting social structures and distorting economic impulses, a more fundamental reconstruction is called for. That in turn requires the formulation, exposition and implementation of principles.

American conservative circles, with movements like the Tea Party and Libertarianism, are shifting the emphasis from “mere pragmatism” to principles, which is nothing if not an indictment of the miscellaneous ill effects of socialist policy in America. This is encouraging; the wheels are already in motion. There is, however, no one leader with a strong grasp of the steering wheel. The transformation in America, the authors cogently argue, will happen through leadership endowed with Thatcher-like virtues.

Hence, to stay the flood of social, moral, and economic distortion, a good leader must exhibit these essential qualities: the ability to look beyond the status quo toward a higher purpose; leading according to principles; understanding the soul of the nation; being courageous and decisive; being loyal, studied, clear, and optimistic.

All of this seems like common sense, but, as the cliché goes, common sense isn’t so common. In fact, the stuffed shirts and careerist politicians of Washington, D.C. seem to be everything but clear, studied, decisive, courageous, loyal, or optimistic, and they are increasingly out of touch with notions of higher purpose and America’s soul—the 84 percent congressional disapproval rating illustrates the lattermost point well enough. But I digress.

Aimless, unprincipled, consensus politics have eroded the idea that “government is the servant of the people, not its master.” But, as Gardiner and Thompson maintain, it is the rise of strong, principled leadership, ironclad as Margaret Thatcher, which will turn the tide in the opposite direction.

In that endeavor, On Leadership leads the way. This edifying book will interest anyone dissatisfied with the course of 21st century America and looking for reasons to hold that “[we] are not bound to an irrevocable decline.”

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Matt Naham is a writer whose work has been published in the American Spectator. This article was published at Real Clear History.