Over at Standpoint there is a perceptive review of The Iron Lady by Peter Whittle. The Thatcher years in England, Whittle observes, “allowed one a feeling of heady relief; one could believe for the first time that the national game was not necessarily up, that decline wasn't the only option open to us, that we should celebrate this, and the fact that there was somebody who instinctively thought and felt the same as us residing in Downing Street.”
Here in the United States, in the run-up to the 2012 presidential election, many of us would love a shot of such “heady relief.” The Obama presidency has produced in a large segment of the citizenry the sense that, on the present course, decline is the only option open to us. The Iron Lady’s portrayal of the life and career of Margaret Thatcher invites the thought that it is a conservative, perhaps even libertarian, understanding of individual liberties and personal responsibility—the very opposite of the soft socialism of Western democratic liberalism—that is most needed to help us out of the current malaise (this, no doubt in spite of the filmmakers’ own political propensities—which is a credit to their art).
I want to pursue this question by bringing Pope John Paul II’s 1991 encyclical, Centesimus Annus, into conversation with the views both of Thatcherite conservatism and its liberal antagonists. My results will take the form of an outline of principles and ideas—a set of notes. Whether they are useful to more than just myself I invite you to let me know.
Caveat: this is not a review essay of Centesimus Annus. For something more along those lines, see
a. George Weigel, Witness to Hope, pp. 612ff.;
b. this revisiting of the encyclical by Weigel last summer in First Things;
c. and this series of articles by Thomas Storck over at The Distributist Review.
1. There is an essential bond between freedom and truth (CA no. 4): freedom that refuses to be bound to truth falls into arbitrariness and ends up submitting itself to the vilest of passions, to the point of self-destruction. Political freedom, economic freedom, must be grounded, above all, in the truth about the human person.
2. Socialism mistakes the truth about the human person; its error is fundamentally “anthropological.” With socialism the individual person is regarded “simply as an element, a molecule within the social organism, so that the good of the individual is completely subordinated to the functioning of the socio-economic mechanism. Socialism likewise maintains that the good of the individual can be realized without reference to his free choice, to the unique and exclusive responsibility which he exercises in the face of good or evil” (CA no. 13).
3. There is an inherent dignity to the worker and to work. As Leo XIII affirmed, work is “personal,” inasmuch as the energy expended is bound up with the personality and is the exclusive property of him who acts, and, furthermore, was given to him for his advantage” (CA no. 6).
4. Human persons have a right to private property—though this is not an absolute right. It must harmonize with its complementary principle: the universal destination of the earth’s goods.