CALIFORNIA, April 9, 2013 — On April 8, 2013, Margaret Thatcher, the first female prime minister of Britain, died after a stroke at the age of 87. Among many accomplishments, she was an influential force in winning the Cold War, and she helped to arrest the tentacles of socialism in Britain with her inspiring advocacy of the free market-based doctrine of Thatcherism.
Thatcher’s rise from grocer’s daughter to one of the most powerful women in political history is an irrefutable testament to the elevating power of capitalism. As a result of her formidable debating skills, alluring personality, and powerful leadership, Thatcher is one of the greatest prime ministers in British history — and certainly one of the most influential world leaders of the 20th century.
No leader is perfect, and there were some troubling elements to Thatcher’s tenure as prime minister. The immoral sympathy she showed for the racist apartheid regime in South Africa is a glaring, indelible stain on her record. Thatcher notably referred to members of the African National Congress (ANC) as terrorists, for which current British prime minister, David Cameron, has since apologized. Despite working to destroy the immoral Soviet Union, Thatcher helped to prop up an equally immoral system in South Africa.
The African in me vociferously detests Thatcher’s sympathy for the apartheid regime in South Africa, while the free marketeer in me greatly appreciates Thatcher’s remarkable intellectual and political contribution to capitalism. This conflicted sense of Thatcher’s legacy is a microcosm of the personal intellectual battle that many black conservatives in the West fight — that is, agreeing with the political philosophy of conservatism, while being acutely disconcerted by both the subconscious and overt forms of racism that some conservatives promote.
American conservatives can learn a great deal from Margaret Thatcher’s triumphs and mistakes. Thatcher’s support for privatization was inspirational and effective because she clearly explained it in language that people could understand. She not only talked about capitalism abstractly, but she related it to the lives of British citizens. Her ‘Right to Buy’ legislation encouraged people living in council houses to buy and own their homes. She believed that a ‘property-owning democracy’ creates a truly free people and is the key to unlocking the stubborn fetters of government reliance.
By contrast, American conservatives today appear more interested in anathematizing people who are on the lower end of the socioeconomic totem pole than they are in explaining the intellectual and moral superiority of capitalism to other economic systems. They prefer talking derogatorily and demagogically about the 47 percent—as presidential candidate Mitt Romney did during the 2012 election — to advancing comprehensible ideas that are beneficial to the lives of the poor.
Even though her ideological opponents would argue otherwise, Thatcher’s legacy was not cemented because she prattled on endlessly about how much she despised the poor. Rather, her legacy was cemented because she spoke inspiringly about the tangible benefits of the ideology in which she believed, while exposing socialists for their dangerous policies and utopian promotion of egalitarianism. Thatcher understood that bashing socialists was insufficient without the promotion of an alternative, superordinate worldview.
Another lesson that must be learned by American conservatives is that promotion of racism, either tacitly or overtly, is costly. While Thatcher’s sympathy for apartheid did not hurt her politically during her tenure as prime minister, her record is tarnished because of it. Given America’s changing demographics, conservatives need to be much more judicious in this regard. There is no room for error with respect to supporting racism. Conservatives must learn that pro-white is not necessarily right — as well as learn that moral correctness is not arbitrated by skin pigmentation. Showing sympathy for racist regimes is not, has never been, and will never be a philosophically conservative position.
Black people voting Conservative in Britain is as rare a phenomenon as black people voting for the Republican Party in America, even though conservative economic policies are beneficial to all people wherever they are implemented.
Racism is the biggest impediment to minority affiliation with the political right. Racism — both perceived and actual — is the reason why there are so many philosophically conservative black people who want absolutely nothing to do with the conservative movement.
If American conservatives are going to be effective in appealing to minorities and advancing conservative ideas, learning from Thatcher is critically important. Like Thatcher, conservatives must prioritize explaining the benefits of capitalism ahead of sneering at the poor for being poor. Unlike Thatcher, however, they must avoid support for racist regimes — whether tacitly or overtly. When racism is taken off the table, the black resistance to the conservative movement will evaporate.
Baroness Thatcher’s life is worthy of celebration not only because of the milestones she reached for women, but also because of her articulate advocacy of free-market ideas and its liberating impact on regular people. However, conservatives would be remiss to solely engage in banal praise of Thatcher without recognizing how the blemishes on her record are reflective of a broader problem afflicting conservatism today. There is plenty to praise about Britain’s Iron Lady, but there is also plenty to learn — from both her triumphs and her missteps.
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