Many Libertarians were introduced to their position through reading the works of great thinkers and economists such as Hayek, Rand and Rothbard. However some of us came to the ideas of freedom through politicians and what they achieved.
Many of us do not start out as Libertarians some of us start out as being Conservatives or Socialists and a number of other different political positions. I first became convinced of the ideas of free markets and individual liberty through Margaret Thatcher. This towering figure wanted to free the UK economy and allow the conditions for a more prosperous society one not dominated either by the aristocracy or the workers collective.
She wanted people to think of themselves as individuals with their own dignity and lives to lead and not as pawns or cogs in a socialist central plan or peasants to be patronised by grand men with big houses and funny titles. I do not need to go into the details on how many areas Libertarians would disagree with Margaret Thatcher there are far too many to go into in detail.
However I think there is something interesting that can be observed from Libertarian criticisms of Thatcher.
Whilst many are well argued and heartfelt and most of these I would probably agree with I think there is something less academic in some critiques of Thatcher. This is only my personal feeling and I may well be wrong but it appears to me that some Libertarian critiques of Thatcher are not in fact critiques of her but critiques of other Libertarians who show admiration and support for her.
This might be part of some Libertarians need for purity. If one shows support for not just a politician but a Conservative politician then this shows that you are in some way not a true Libertarian and are willing to sell out just to be on a winning team.
I think this is incredibly wrongheaded. Libertarians forever talk about the role of ideas and many will claim that the battle of ideas and the ‘climate of opinion’ are far more important than the realm of party politics. Whilst I agree that this is very important I think Libertarians tend to overestimate how much of an impact this can have in real world public policy. Often it is the personalities and determination of politicians as well as circumstances that have the most impact.
In the UK there is no major Libertarian party or large block of Libertarian voters it is difficult to empirically measure the impact we are having. We cannot measure how much our manifesto has been implemented or how many votes and MP’s we have.
Because of this look to the media, public opinion polls and a series of ad hoc policies that seem to have a Libertarian flavour.
The truth as I see it is that Margaret Thatcher did more to change the climate of opinion in Britain and make our everyday lives freer than has anyone else in the last hundred years. She was of course influenced by Hayek and the role of think tanks in the run up to her election was vitally important, but as I and many Libertarians would be quick to point out she did not come close to implementing a Hayekian policy prescription. She was influenced by these figures and organisations not in thrall to them.
However consider Britain in 1990 compared to 1979. Now think of what is considered politically acceptable today. We no longer face the threat of full scale socialism. This is not called the post Hayek consensus it is the post Thatcher consensus. It is she who is responsible for defeating what we would consider almost totalitarian control over the economy and it she who has paved the way for others to advocate in public debate and in parliament a radically freer economy and extend freedom to the personal sphere as well.
I used to consider myself a Thatcherite in the full sense including support for a strong military, stricter immigration controls and conservative opposition to drug legalisation. My mind began to change when I interned at one of her favourite think tanks the Institute of Economic Affairs. I debated friends and colleagues and found myself continually wrong and re- examining my positions. I began to explore the rich ideas in economics and philosophy which led to my conclusion that Libertarianism not Conservatism was the superior political philosophy.
Although I would now be polls apart from Margaret Thatcher on many probably most issues today, I will always be grateful to her for introducing me to the ideas of free markets and a free society. I will also thank her for making our everyday lives today better. Directly as a consequence of Margaret Thatcher we live in a freer and more prosperous country. I am Libertarian today in part because of Margaret Thatcher not in spite of her and will always consider her time in office one of the greatest fight backs for freedom Britain has ever seen.