One of the towering figures of my youth has died. Margaret Thatcher has passed away from a stroke at the age of 87.
Born in the era between the wars, Thatcher originally studied chemistry and had a successful career in the field before going into politics. She eventually worked her way up through the Conservative Party ranks until, in 1979, she became the first female Prime Minister and the longest-serving PM of the modern age.
While in office, Thatcher was known for disempowering the trade unions, privatizing industries, helping to end the Cold War, bolstering morale at home, and waging a war abroad, retaking the Falkland Islands after Argentina’s ill-advised invasion. She helped bring the United Kingdom out of the doldrums of the “ex-empire” era and to a huge extent laid the groundwork for what the modern country has become.
I only feel so qualified to talk about her. I’m not British, after all, and wasn’t an adult during her time in office. So I’ll quote from Andrew Sullivan’s obituary of the Iron Lady.
To put it bluntly: The Britain I grew up in was insane. The government owned almost all major manufacturing, from coal to steel to automobiles. Owned. It employed almost every doctor and owned almost every hospital. Almost every university and elementary and high school was government-run. And in the 1970s, you could not help but realize as a young Brit, that you were living in a decaying museum – some horrifying mixture of Eastern European grimness surrounded by the sculptured bric-a-brac of statues and buildings and edifices that spoke of an empire on which the sun had once never set. Now, in contrast, we lived on the dark side of the moon and it was made up of damp, slowly degrading concrete.
I owe my entire political obsession to the one person in British politics who refused to accept this state of affairs. You can read elsewhere the weighing of her legacy – but she definitively ended a truly poisonous, envious, inert period in Britain’s history. She divided the country deeply – and still does. She divided her opponents even more deeply, which was how she kept winning elections. She made some serious mistakes – the poll tax, opposition to German unification, insisting that Nelson Mandela was a terrorist – but few doubt she altered her country permanently, re-establishing the core basics of a free society and a free economy that Britain had intellectually bequeathed to the world and yet somehow lost in its own class-ridden, envy-choked socialist detour to immiseration.
Regardless of ones’ politics, Thatcher’s place in the annals of history cannot be denied. She was a force of nature that will be sorely missed.