Mrs Thatcher, of course, was a great economic liberal. Her approach to economics, guided by Smith, Hayek and Friedman, stressed the importance of individual endeavour. Remove the dead hand of state control and Britain could flourish again .. And she was right ..
.. Margaret Thatcher’s economic libertarianism (if it can so be called) would eventually advance the cause of social libertarianism as well. That she would have disapproved of this matters little; it is part of her legacy too ..
For it stands to reason, surely, that if the individual should be freed in the economic realm then individuals should be granted greater liberties in their own lives as well. But the economics come first. When the state retreats from commanding the economy (thank god), logically, it should also retreat on the social front. It loses the power to command and control. People, told they can make their own economic choices and that these will, in aggregate, be better than the state’s decisions, demand to make their own social choices too. There is an invisible hand at work here too ..
If libertarianism means anything it means freedom from state coercion and the freedom to be who you wish to be. It may seem paradoxical that an era in which inequality increased and in which the bonds of “community” were said to fray should also be an era in which Britain became a kinder, more tolerant, more open society but I suspect that it is not and that economic advancement and personal freedoms are in fact two sides of the same coin that, by definition, can scarcely be separated.
.. it is surely a mistake to presume that these economic battles would not have spill-over effects in other parts of society. The blessed victory of economic liberalism has helped marginalise social conservatism ..
In these ways, then, Margaret Thatcher proved herself an accidental libertarian heroine. She might not have welcomed all these developments – indeed she would have opposed many of them – but they are part of her legacy too. And, I would say, they are parts that are as welcome as they were unintentional. Three cheers for that.