Contrary to popular perceptions on both the Right and Left today, Margaret Thatcher didn’t want to abolish state welfare but to return it to the original vision of its principal author – William Beveridge. Talking to UnHerd as part of a series of video clips we are publishing this week, her official biographer Charles Moore claims that her interpretation of the landmark report that the great British Liberal wrote in the middle of World War II – 1942’s Social Insurance and Allied Services – was that state provision should always seek to support and strengthen, rather than in any way supplant the best agents of social progress and solidarity – namely, as provided by a job and by voluntary organisations, most notably the family. In their superb book on civil society from 1977 – To Empower People – Peter Berger and John Neuhaus introduced the expression “people-sized institutions” to describe what fraternalists like Beveridge most likely had in mind. These institutions are close enough to individuals and in regular enough contact to be able to assess needs and to educate, inspire and correct in ways that one-size-fits-all state-based provision (especially when controlled by remote, centralised government – transgressing what Catholic Social Teaching refers to as “subsidiarity“) never could.
Remembering Ronald Reagan, Henry Olsen – author of a new book on the former president’s philosophy – struck a similar note. While Mrs Thatcher’s transatlantic soulmate during the 1980s wanted to advance economic freedom and did, he repeatedly talked of social obligations, too – but is overwhelmingly remembered for the former rather than the latter. This is unfortunate because he worked with Democrats across the political aisle to build a consensus on key entitlement programmes and had, on occasion, to fight fellow conservatives who disagreed with his support for the tax rises necessary to sustain those programmes.
In the fourth clip of this interview, to be published tomorrow, the two authors will discuss the gaps in the thinking of Thatcher and Reagan – especially in terms of relevance to the challenges of globalisation that we face today.
For all clips in the series click here.