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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

“There Is No Alternative: Why Margaret Thatcher Matters”, by Claire Berlinski

400 pages, Basic Books, ISBN-13: 978-0465002313

Anyone interested in the future of conservatism ought to read this well-written book. Thatcher is both loved and loathed, and both for good reason. Taking power in Britain at a time when the country was an absolute basket case, the grocer's daughter realized that extreme measures were needed in order to pull Britain off the downward path of socialism and liberate the considerable entrepreneurial energies of its people. She ultimately succeeded, but not without causing dislocations and fundamental changes that, by contrast, make Ronald Reagan's strides forward to "morning in America" look like a cakewalk. Her imperious personality only made her drastic policies seem all the more drastic. There is an important lesson to be learned here: any really profound change away from socialism and towards capitalism will make permanent enemies, so any politician who seeks to make such changes must either be able to ignore the critics or transcend them.

The importance of Margaret Thatcher has only increased over the years. She was one of the main politicians that opposed and fought socialism in all of its forms. After the fall of Communism and more or less general adoption of the main aspects of her policy by most major European parties, it looked like the free-market ideas that she so passionately championed had become completely vindicated once and for all. Unfortunately, in the recent years we have been witnessing the resurgence of those ideas, and it is important now more than ever to be reminded of what sorry life Brittan had led under such policies.

Berlinski interviews both allies and adversaries of Thatcher, including an interesting visit with some former miners whose lives were changed forever in the wake of the failed miners' strike of 1984. Berlinski's sympathies obviously lie with Thatcher, but she gives Thatcher's enemies a fair chance to be heard. I happen to agree with Berlinski's summation that while current geopolitical issues (radical Islamic terrorism, which Thatcher frankly failed to recognize as a big threat) may seem to have little to do with the Cold War milieu in which Thatcher operated, the eternal appeal of the secular religion of socialism (especially when it forms an "unholy alliance" of expediency with Islamic enemies of the West, as detailed by David Horowitz and others) will always make Thatcher's ideas and experiences relevant. This is a thought-provoking book with a very important message.

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