LONDON – Margaret Thatcher was Britain’s greatest twentieth-century peacetime prime minister. In the 1980’s, the near-simultaneous crisis of communism in the East and social democracy in the West gave her the opportunity to do great deeds. But it required a great leader to take advantage of it.
Her relationship with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev opened up the way to ending the Cold War; her privatization policies showed the world how to dismantle state socialism. The neo-liberal revival of the 1980’s will always be known as the Reagan-Thatcher revolution.
She was also the most divisive British prime minister of modern times, admired and reviled in equal measure, owing as much to the self-righteous way she pursued her policies as to the policies themselves. She rightly described herself as a “conviction politician.” A conviction is a settled belief that brooks no argument. And she did not deign to conciliate, instead dividing the political world into “us” and “them.” “Where there is error, may we bring truth,” she announced on her entry to No. 10 Downing Street, quoting Saint Francis of Assisi.
“In victory, magnanimity,” Winston Churchill advised. Thatcher was brave and resolute, but she was not magnanimous. She won famous victories, but showed no generosity to the defeated, in word or deed. As a result, she failed to create harmony out of discord.