Last week following Acton’s seminar on morality, virtue, and Catholic social teaching with a group of financiers, bankers, and other business executives in London, I was invited to attend a private eulogy service organized by the Freedom Association for the late Lady Margaret Thatcher.
The eulogy service was organized in “proper British fashion” while sharing memories and more over ales at a pub—The Pavilion End—located right behind St. Paul’s Cathedral where Britain’s conservative elite gathered for formal prayer, hymns, and a sermon given by the Bishop of London at Margaret Thatcher’s elaborate state funeral.
I joined this unique opportunity, of course, to pay my own international respects as an adopted American son of Britain’s great Mother of Liberty. It was during my 1980s Catholic conservative upbringing that I gained immense respect for the Iron Lady, who joined forces with our own President Ronald Reagan and Rome’s John Paul II. In the end, this powerful triumvirate won the Cold War and effectively rolled back the Iron Curtain to inspire unprecedented economic growth and human flourishing in the modern world.
The many prestigious speakers (which included parliamentarians from London and Brussels, academics, activists, and several Ciceronian-trained orators) roundly praised Margaret Thatcher’s legacy of individual moral responsibility, passionate distrust of the Orwellian Big Brother state, wasteful welfare spending, ongoing corruption, and inefficiency of government institutions in the British Isles and throughout continental Europe.
Dan Hannan, the popular Euroskeptic and Conservative member of European Parliament, reminisced of Lady Thatcher’s deeply spiritual and practical roots in Methodism and loathing of wasting time watching television. Hannan, however, reminded all of us at the pub of the one show the former Prime Minister did make time for and tuned in to on the BBC just before she passed—“Songs of Praise”, a program dedicated to the kind of traditional religious hymns and choir music she grew up with going to church three times a day on Sundays.
Hannan said he was particularly delighted by the funeral service in which the Anglican Bishop of London and old friend of Lady Thatcher, Richard Chartes, delivered an inspiring sermon (see full text and video). Bishop Chartes, in fact, gave a telling account of personal anecdotes and articulated to the world Margaret Thatcher’s special synthesis of Christian faith and Hayekian economics into her political worldview.
Chartes said her Methodist theology and Austrian economic philosophy influenced profoundly her beliefs on human liberty and dignity, virtue as moral capital, as well as how she saw the political ends of democratic society:
She was very aware that there are prior dispositions which are needed to make market economics and democratic institutions function well: the habits of truth-telling, mutual sympathy, and the capacity to cooperate. These dispositions are incubated and given power by our relationships. In her words, “the basic ties of the family are at the heart of our society and are the very nursery of civic virtue”. Such moral and spiritual capital is accumulated over generations but can be easily eroded. Life is a struggle to make the right choices and to achieve liberation from dependence, whether material or psychological.
This genuine independence is the essential pre-condition for living in an other-centered way, beyond ourselves. The word Margaret Thatcher used at St Lawrence Jewry was “interdependence”. She referred to the Christian doctrine “that we are all members one of another, expressed in the concept of the Church on earth as the Body of Christ. From this we learn our interdependence and the great truth that we do not achieve happiness or salvation in isolation from each other but as members of Society.” Her later remark about there being no such thing as “society” has been misunderstood and refers to some impersonal entity to which we are tempted to surrender our independence.
Because of Thatcher’s classical liberal training in Austrian free market economics and traditional Christian social teachings, Dan Hannan reminded us how Thatcher rescued her country from “sheer [the] awfulness . . . of price policies, trade union barons, . . . power cuts, . . . shortages” and, in general, economic and moral “calamity” at the end of the 1970s “when Britain was reduced to begging, borrowing, and praying until the North Sea Oil receipts came in”.
Nowadays, Hannan said, there seems to be a “collective amnesia” for the Lady’s legacy of goodness and caring for the well-being of Britain, a once ailing nation she raised to back good health—from “the sick man of Europe” to being one of the world’s most powerful industrial nations in by the close of 1980s.
Matthew Sinclair, CEO of Britain’s influential Tax Payers’ Alliance which lobbies to reduce wasteful public spending in parliament and city councils, agreed that Thatcher’s legacy should not be thrown to the wayside by unappreciative masses discontent with today’s social and financial crises.
Sinclair said that her greatest legacy was teaching Britons that however “grim, corrupt and lost [in] relative decline . . .” they are nowadays, “no one should ever see [it] as inevitable.”
According to Sinclair Thatcher’s other great legacy, was her fundamental fiscal wisdom, namely that “there is no such thing as public money.” He said that this philosophy, like her other controversial statement on social values (i.e., “there is no such a thing as society”) is “really saying the same thing.”
“There is no society that is going to step in and solve our problems. There is no society which is going to turn things around. It’s us. It’s us doing what we can to support ourselves, support our families, support our communities, support our nation. And now that is what we have to try and do again. . . as we face disastrous mistakes . . . which have put this country again in a position of decline,” Sinclair said.
One of other speakers, an Oxford University academic named Adrian Hilton, spoke of the Iron Lady’s unbreakable Christian faith. He recalled the liberal British politician, Florence Anderson, saying two yeas ago that Lady Thatcher “was going to hell”.
“That’s the problem with socialists,” Hilton said. “They are not content with ordering our lives in the local town hall. They [further] presume to play God and tell where peoples’ souls are going to end up!”
Hilton, whose research is educational reform and school choice policy, said the late prime minister was an absolutely committed Christian and was not afraid to put her neck on the line when running against the tide of secular socialist ideology that had inculturated her country.
“She was a non-conformist revolutionary because Jesus was a non-conformist revolutionary. She spoke up for the ordinary individual and against the privileged elites because her Savior did precisely that.”
Regarding Thatcher’s controversial statement “there is no such a thing as society”, Hilton said her words were not that of a godless anarchists, but were inspired by a deep sense of personal and responsible love for her neighbors and commitment to the classical Christian social teaching of subsidiarity.
“Society is made up of individuals who are individually accountable before God for their actions. These individuals make up families. Those families make up communities. That is the society [Lady Thatcher] believed in.”
What a wonderful way to say goodbye. God be with ye, m’Lady!
Watch the full eulogies below delivered by Dan Hannan, Matthew Sinclair and Adrian Hilton.