By Barry Rubin
Margaret Thatcher’s autobiography, The Path to Power (NY: HarperCollins, 1995) is a remarkably timely book for Americans, as well as for her own country today. Many of the problems the United Kingdom faced in the 1970s and 1980s–economic crisis and decline, high spending, expanding government, eroding individual rights, immigration, etc.–are once again hotly debated.
In 1976, for example, Thatcher’s rival, Labour Party leader and Prime Minister Jim Callaghan admitted, “We used to think that you could just spend your way out of a recession” but it didn’t work and actually increased unemployment. That was 34 years ago, yet there are still those who think….
Or how about when, in the late 1970s, Thatcher urged limits on immigration to the United Kingdom along with full rights for all existing citizens regardless of religion or background. Thatcher wrote:
Do you think Cubans are fighting for healthcare or freedom from Communism?
“Nothing is more colour-blind than the capitalism in which I placed my faith for Britain’s revival. It was part of my credo that individuals were worthy of respect as individuals, not as members of classes or races…. ” (p. 406)
In response, she was demonized as an alleged racist hater and inciter to violence. Thatcher responded:
“Now matter how much the socialists mismanaged the economy, cut Britain’s defences or failed to uphold law and order, they were at least able to guarantee a sympathetic hearing by condemning their opponents as bigots.” (pp. 406-407)
Leaving all that aside–since these are issues I don’t write about–what fascinated me is a passage on international affairs. She is discussing how her views differed from those of her factional opponent in the Conservative Party, Prime Minister Edward Heath. Although both of them supported the United Kingdom’s entrance into the European Union, Thatcher explained that they did so from different perspectives (pp. 134-135):
“Ted, to my mind, had swallowed a good deal of the fashionable interpretation of what had gone wrong in the world between the [two world] wars. For him…the evil genius of those times was nationalism. Consequently, Britain now had a duty to help create a Europe-wide structure which would supplant the nation state, provide an alternative focus for loyalties and so prevent war….I saw the principal cause of the conflict as being the appeasement of dictators….”
This is a very revealing point. Implicitly or explicitly, many in the West have seen the problem as nationalism. Therefore, they have done everything possible to eliminate their own nationalism (in American parlance, patriotism might be a more appropriate word) and sense of peoplehood. Multiculturalism is the approved antithesis as well as virtually uncontrolled mass immigration without a continued effort at assimilation (or acculturation, if you prefer).
Yet nationalism in America, France, or Britain did not cause World War Two. Actually, one might suggest that stronger nationalist feeling in London and Paris in the 1930s might have done more to avoid the war but a wave of pacifism, appeasement, and anti-patriotism encouraged and aided the enemies of democracy.
This is, however, a complex question that should probably be left for another time and a larger space.
At any rate, the campaign against nationalism and even national identity in the West has been overwhelming. Campaigns against racialism, imperialism, militarism and intolerance have been successful. But here’s the rub: You can do away with your own nationalism, identity, and willingness to fight rather easily. You can make yourselves a better, more tolerant people, too. The problem is that this in no way diminishes the power of all of these characteristics in those who would destroy you.
Thatcher is right on this issue. While the European Union has been a good thing–up to a point I’ll leave to you to decide–the main threat in the world, the main danger facing liberty, the most likely aggressors are not the United States or Britain or France. On the contrary, the West is the main defender of freedom, as it was during the Cold War (despite errors and shortcomings).
Weakening Western resolve, subverting patriotism and identity in its countries, making concessions to dictatorships, refusing to stand up for the superiority of Western civilization (now also adapted in such non-Western places as India and Japan) apologizing to–and for–terrorists and dictators is, to use Thatcher’s phrase, the “evil genius” of our time.