It’s Easter Sunday and I hope the more secular readers of ConservativeHome will forgive a dollop of Christianity for today’s ToryDiary.
The Cornerstone Group has posted an excellent Margaret Thatcher speech from 1978 on to its website. The speech is a great insight into Mrs Thatcher’s early thinking and includes some powerful references to a proper Conservative and Christian concern for the poor in Britain and overseas. The speech lauds the superiority of private welfare over state welfare and contains warnings against utopianism and big government.
One theme of the speech – the morally mature citizen – is the main subject of this post, however. Mrs Thatcher understood that all societies are ultimately sustained by the virtue of their citizens. Few conservatives expressed this permanent truth better than the great Russell Kirk:
“It has been said by liberal intellectuals that the conservative believes all social questions, at heart, to be questions of private morality. Properly understood, this statement is quite true. A society in which men and women are governed by belief in an enduring moral order, by a strong sense of right and wrong, by personal convictions about justice and honour, will be a good society—whatever political machinery it may utilise; while a society in which men and women are morally adrift, ignorant of norms, and intent chiefly upon gratification of appetites, will be a bad society—no matter how many people vote and no matter how liberal its formal constitution may be.”
Mrs Thatcher refers to the Collect for Peace in the Book of Common Prayer and its reference to service of God as ‘perfect freedom’:
"O God, who art the author of peace and lover of concord, in knowledge of whom standeth our eternal life, whose service is perfect freedom; Defend us thy humble servants in all assaults of our enemies; that we, surely trusting in thy defence, may not fear the power of any adversaries, through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."
"My wish for the people of this country, Margaret Thatcher says, "is that we shall be "free to serve"". Some conservatives believe that morality is perfectly sustainable without religion but Peter Hitchens used Thursday’s YourPlatform to argue that "no proper conservatism can be divorced from religion and the morality and self-discipline which are founded on it." My guess is that morality is certainly harder to sustain if people feel no accountability to a higher power. The Christian thinker Os Guiness believes that freedom requires virtue… that virtue requires faith… and that faith requires freedom.
I’ll end with a quotation that hopefully brings all ConservativeHome readers together again. We may disagree with the role of belief in God in sustaining civilisation, and in countering entropy, but we can all agree with Revd William Boetcker in this classic statement of the importance of encouraging, and never suffocating, the vigorous virtues:
“You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift.
You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.
You cannot help small men by tearing down big men.
You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich.
You cannot lift the wage-earner by pulling down the wage-payer.
You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than your income.
You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatred.
You cannot establish sound security on borrowed money.
You cannot build character and courage by taking away a man’s initiative and independence.
You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves.”
Boetcker’s Ten Cannots (wrongly attributed to Abraham Lincoln by Ronald Reagan) are my favourite statement of conservatism. They point to our goals – helping the poor, building character, creating prosperity – and they salute the virtues of personal initiative, thrift and courage as the routes to those goals.