One of the political giants of the 20th century is gone. Margaret Thatcher has died of a stroke at age 87.
Her passing brings wistful thoughts of the glorious 1980s, when people of honor, vision and determination – Thatcher, Reagan, Pope John Paul II – faced up to the communist tyranny that had destroyed so many millions of lives over the preceding 70 years and knocked the rotting props out from under it. One also recalls with admiration and pride how Thatcher and Reagan defeated the machinations of statists at home, and ushered in a period of unprecedented individual initiative and economic freedom – a time, I fear, that may well prove to have been the Indian summer of liberty. How small and ineffectual the representatives of even their own respective political parties appear to be these days, how ominously ignorant and unserious the electorates that have restored to power the contemporary peddlers of the soul-destroying ideologies that Thatcher and Reagan combatted – and combatted, not with bitterness and anger, but with élan and joy, happy warriors secure in the justness of their cause, and confident in the ultimate wisdom of a genuinely free and self-reliant people.
Some may say that the only serious thing in which they erred was in their belief that the value of individual freedom – and its corollary, individual responsibility – would always trump the false blandishments of the provider state. Others may assert that they didn’t err at all, and that a world that seems to be showing signs of spiritual and cultural exhaustion may yet undergo another renaissance as the age-old truths irresistibly reassert themselves.
I think the real truth is that Thatcher and Reagan understood both the value, and the fragility, of freedom, and that the battle to secure this greatest of social goods is generational and permanent. They did not shrink from doing their duty in the time allotted to them. It is an epitaph we all should aspire to earn.