Paul Kengor is professor of political science and executive director of the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. These articles are republished from V & V, a web site of the Center for Vision & Values. Paul Kengor is author of God and Ronald Reagan: A Spiritual Life (2004) and The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism (2007). His latest book is The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan's Top Hand (Ignatius Press, 2007).
Well Done, Lady Thatcher - The Passing of the Iron Lady
Margaret Thatcher, one of the greatest leaders of the Cold War, of the 20th century, and of British history, has died at the age of 87.
I've referred to her as one of my Cold War seven: Ronald Reagan, John Paul II, Mikhail Gorbachev, Lech Walesa, Vaclav Havel, Boris Yeltsin, and Margaret Thatcher. They were the seven figures who dissolved an Evil Empire, and only Walesa and Gorbachev still remain with us.
The world dubbed her the Iron Lady, a title that duly fits. Many, however, mistake the Iron Lady moniker as referring solely to her strength in the Cold War. There was much more to it. Consider:
Margaret Thatcher is arguably the most complete British leader of the last 100 years, surpassing even Winston Churchill. Like Churchill, she was tough and successful in foreign policy, taking on and vanquishing totalitarian evil. Churchill warned the world as the Iron Curtain descended across Europe. Decades later, the world celebrated as the Iron Lady helped break the Iron Curtain.
But unlike Churchill, Margaret Thatcher had enormous domestic successes that Churchill couldn't touch, and didn't dare try to touch. When World War II closed, the British people booted Churchill from the prime ministership in preference of Labour leader Clement Attlee, who gave the British populace Keynesian socialism. The masses wanted their welfare state, and Attlee, equipped with promises of "change" and "forward," gave them a fundamental transformation. In no time, Attlee's party was spending money unlike anything Britain had ever seen, nationalizing everything under the sun, including with the progressive left's coup de grace: government healthcare. It was a giant government binge that would bury Britain for decades.
This fundamental transformation to welfare-statism was so thorough, and so imbibed by the electorate, that when Churchill later returned to office for another term (1951-55) the World War II hero couldn't stand up to the sacred cows of Britain's new nanny state. By the late 1970s, the United Kingdom was smothered not only by massive government expenditures and debt, but by the enormous and disastrous government unions that the Labour Party had built and nurtured.
All of this came to a crashing head in the late 1970s, and fittingly under the Labour Party, this time led by Prime Minister James Callaghan. The signature event was the Winter of Discontent (1978-79). The economy was an utter train wreck, debt-ridden and hampered by a prolonged un-recovering "recovery." Things were made far worse by continual work stoppages by striking public-sector unions. Given that the government ran just about everything, thanks to decades of the British left nationalizing everything, there was garbage literally rotting in the streets and dead people not being buried because of striking government refuse workers and gravediggers.
Things got so bad that the British electorate was willing to elect a bona fide conservative to run their government: Margaret Thatcher. This was not some squishy moderate that we in the United States would have called a Rockefeller Republican or (today) a RINO. This was the real McCoy; the genuine article. Here was a new leader who actually understood and could articulate what was wrong with Britain - and had the courage to do something about it.
And so, Margaret Thatcher, Britain's first-ever female prime minister, embarked upon an extraordinary run from 1979-90 that featured three consecutive electoral victories, including the landslide that brought her to power. She then proceeded to take on not just the Soviets abroad, but, at home, the powerful government unions, the Keynesian spending, the bloated cradle-to-grave welfare state, the punitive taxes, the burdensome regulations, and decades of government nationalizations/seizures. As to the latter, Thatcher began a comprehensive campaign of privatization that returned freedom, solvency, and sanity to Britain.
It was an amazing performance. You can now expect a remarkable outpouring of emotion and appreciation in Britain, much like what America saw with the death of Ronald Reagan and what the world witnessed with the passing of John Paul II, her two Cold War partners and kindred souls. And like her two great Cold War allies, she fortunately lived to see the collapse of the Soviet empire.
Lady Thatcher outlived both Reagan and John Paul II. Her health, unfortunately, had been in decline for a long time. I recall that she recorded a video eulogy for Reagan's funeral rather than address the audience live and directly. That was 2004, almost 10 years ago.
I also recall her parting words to Ronald Reagan: "Well done, thou good and faithful servant."
And now, we can second that tribute. Well done, Lady Thatcher.
Ronald Reagan: Same-sex Marriage Advocate?
Patti Davis, Ronald Reagan's daughter, recently speculated on where her father might stand on same-sex marriage. Politico published her thoughts under the headline, "Patti Davis says Reagan wouldn't have opposed gay marriage."
The impact of the article was immediate. A quick Google search yielded multiple follow-up articles and blog posts. Liberals nationwide were off and running with a new same-sex marriage endorsement: this one from Reagan, the conservative's conservative.
This is not the first time liberals have rushed to recast Reagan according to their policy preferences. Immediately after his death in June 2004, he was trotted out as a poster-boy for embryonic stem-cell research.
Please, not so fast.
In Davis' defense, she starts with a crucial point about her father, one liberals had utterly refused while the man was alive: "He was a very tolerant person."
Indeed, Reagan was tolerant - on religion, on race, on ethnic differences, on differences of opinion on many things, and also toward gays. As Davis notes, "He did not have prejudices against gay people." Davis gives just a few of many examples.
But she then goes where I don't think we should. She states of her father and same-sex marriage:
I don't think he would stand in the way of it, at all. I don't think he would stand in the way of two people wanting to make a commitment to one another.
Davis then uses an argument that is libertarian (which Reagan was not), and which fails to understand the essence of conservatives' objection to same-sex marriage:
I also think because he wanted government out of peoples' lives, he would not understand the intrusion of government banning such a thing. This is not what he would have thought government should be doing.
The problem with that statement, applied to the same-sex marriage debate, is this: Conservatives object to the federal government rendering unto itself the unprecedented ability to redefine marriage. Such is a massive step toward government intervention (one that should worry libertarians), toward powerful government, toward big government - not restrained and limited government.
It is a step that breaks entirely new ground in not only American history, but human history, one with unimaginable and extraordinary effects yet to come on the family, the culture, the economy, government services and (among others) the court system.
The essence of conservatism is to preserve and conserve time-tested values that have endured for good reason and for the best of society and for order. Conservatives - which is what Reagan was - aim to conserve. By their nature and definition, conservatives do not rush into radical changes or what they fear may be another fad or fashion or popular demand. They also, by their definition, ground their ideals in both natural law and biblical law.
I know that secular liberals don't want to hear religious arguments against same-sex marriage, but, if we're talking about Reagan (and conservatives), we cannot exclude them.
Contrary to the image of him as president, Reagan was very religious and would not have so easily consented to a culture suddenly demanding the right to redefine what the scriptures (Old Testament and New Testament) say clearly about a man and a woman leaving their parents and coming together to form one flesh in marriage.
Reagan's religious roots were deep, inculcated by his mother, an extremely devout, traditional Christian, and others who profoundly influenced him in Dixon, Illinois, in the 1920s. He said that "everything" he learned about the values that shaped his life and presidency he learned back in Dixon. It was his "inheritance," one that never left him. Needless to say, Reagan did not learn to support same-sex marriage in Dixon.
Moreover, Reagan was unwavering in his conviction of the importance of a father and a mother raising children and the next generation of American citizens and understood marriage as a vital bond between a man and a woman.
To cite just one example from the final days of his presidency (January 12, 1989), Reagan insisted that:
We must teach youngsters the beauty of the loving, lifelong relationship between husband and wife that is marriage.
Yes, Reagan was tolerant of gay people - as is everyone I know who opposes same-sex marriage - but that in no way means he would have advocated redefining marriage. Toleration of something certainly does not automatically translate into advocating its legalization.
We could list innumerable things that we tolerate - including from friends and family and loved ones - but wouldn't argue legalizing. Even then, that's not quite the issue. The issue, after all, isn't whether homosexuality should be legal (no one objects to that) but whether marriage will now begin a long process of continual redefinition.
It's a form of intellectual laziness for liberals/progressives to reflexively assume that anyone who disagrees with them on redefining marriage is a recalcitrant bigot with no possible legitimate reasons.
After all, same-sex marriage opponents are adhering to the prevailing definition of marriage according to its literal and ancient roots; they believe in the cross-cultural norm that humanity has adhered to since the dawn of humanity, to a human understanding as old as the Garden of Eden. It's remarkably shortsighted to dismiss them as hopeless bigots.
That brings me back to Ronald Reagan.
It's funny, people on the political left spent eight years calling Reagan a bigot. When liberals weren't denouncing him as an unregenerate racist - the single most unfair charge unceasingly flung at Reagan - they were saying that he didn't like gay people and did nothing about AIDS because he was happy to let gays die.
Davis remembers this well, as she does the vicious accusation that her father was a nuclear warmonger. To say that liberals were unhinged in their nastiness to Reagan is insufficient. Now, in his death, they'd like to remold him in their own image, crowning him a poster boy for same-sex marriage.
The simple truth is that Reagan was a committed and principled conservative who had thoughtful and firmly grounded reasons for his positions. That, too, ironically, is a fact that liberals ignored, caricaturing Reagan as an idiot, a simpleton, an "amiable dunce," as Clark Clifford famously called him.
He would not have merrily hopped on the same-sex marriage bandwagon without first carefully considering how the issue fit with his understanding of the laws of nature and nature's God, of the first things and first principles that conservatives of Reagan's generation spent years discussing at great length in their books and publications and conferences.
Could we at least agree on this much?
Reagan was silent on same-sex marriage, as was everyone of his generation. He, like all liberals of his time, could not have conceived of same-sex marriage, and he, like the entirety of the Democratic Party just a decade or two ago, unwaveringly supported traditional marriage.
Preserving Hugo Chavez
The gushing, almost angelic praise for Hugo Chavez by the left in America and around the world has been shocking to behold, but hardly surprising. I will not bother repeating the litany here. Rather, I'd like to focus on another surreal aspect of Chavez's death - namely, the rush to preserve and display his body, so the faithful may pilgrimage and pay homage for decades to come.
Here again, I'm sadly not surprised. The far left has never been shy about venerating its heroes. This is supremely ironic, given that many of the subjects of veneration, as well as those doing the venerating, were not merely agnostics and atheists but militantly so. Recent examples include Asian Communists Mao Tse-Tung and Ho Chi Minh, but the best example remains Vladimir Lenin.
Upon his death in January 1924, Lenin's body was embalmed and preserved in a tomb, actually a shrine, in Red Square, whereby the faithful could forever honor the Great One. Etched in the marble holding the Bolshevik godfather's body is this inscription: "Lenin: The Savior of the World."
For an atheist state angrily committed to a war on religion, this would seem odd. In fact, however, it is precisely what we came to expect from Communist regimes. In short order after Lenin's death, poems and songs were written in praise of the "eternal" Lenin who "is always with us." Yuri Gagarin, the first Soviet cosmonaut, visited Lenin's mausoleum immediately before his flight so he could meditate over Lenin's rotting flesh and draw strength for his mission. Later, Gagarin returned to the sacred site to report to Lenin on his mission.
The "Leninization" of the Soviet state's spiritual life quickly took flight. Throughout the USSR, "Lenin Corners" were established, modeled on the Icon Corners of the Russian Orthodox Church. These mini-shrines included icon-like paintings of Lenin along with his words and writings.
A "secular religion" was established, one that, as noted by Dmitri Volkogonov, Lenin's biographer, demanded "unquestioning obedience" from its disciples. So certain was the Party of Lenin's infallibility that in 1925, one year after his death, the Politburo established a special laboratory to remove, dissect, and study Lenin's inactive brain. The purpose, said Volkogonov, was to show the world that the man's great, infallible ideas had been hatched from an almost supernatural mind.
This nonsense (if not blasphemy) continued for decades. Just ask any former Soviet citizen who suffered through the extended nightmare. A Ukrainian citizen, Olena Doviskaya, once told me: "Everywhere you went, there were statues everywhere of Lenin. They wanted you to worship Lenin."
Most curious about this Lenin reverence and mysticism is the fact that Lenin himself considered any worship of a divinity an outrage. Lenin blasted the notion of "god-building." He thought the most horribly unimaginable things about religion, calling religion "abominable" and "a necrophilia." A vicious, hateful man, Lenin might have hastily shot those responsible for deifying him.
Nonetheless, Communists and certain elements of the far left have engaged in such behavior for a long time, readily placing their faith in (leftist) men and replacing traditional religion - Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, etc. - with a Marxism or socialism that they essentially treat as a religion. Brian Lowe of the University of Virginia notes that in the Soviet system, Marx was the Messiah, the Party was the Church, the Proletariat was the Elect, the Revolution was the Second Coming, and more. The Communist Manifesto was accorded a level of sanctity approaching Holy Scripture. Marx and Lenin and Stalin were deemed other worldly.
All of which brings me back to Hugo Chavez and his enshrinement - and its paradoxes.
Chavez comes from a Roman Catholic country, whereas Lenin came from a Russian Orthodox country. In both the Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox traditions, presumed saints - people who lived uniquely holy lives - have been placed in special tombs for purposes of veneration and to see if their dead body is ultimately incorruptible, divinely protected on earth even in death.
The Bolsheviks turned this upside down. They created atheist museums where dead priests/saints were displayed with worm-holes and other decay. They attempted to pose this in contrast to Lenin's incorruptibility, even as the jaundiced Lenin consistently required removal and re-embalming and re-waxing.
And so, is the left currently in the process of enshrining Hugo Chavez's body as a form of saintly veneration? Will he become a symbol of the left's sacred cows of collectivism, wealth redistribution, and nationalization?
Don't ever let anyone tell you that secular/atheistic progressives and socialists don't have saints and martyrs. They're every bit as faithful as the most Bible-thumping fundamentalist. And with the death and preservation of Hugo Chavez, they might be preparing themselves a new saint. *