The morality of Tory ideals
Sir, In my Iain Macleod Memorial Lecture, I advised my audience of Young Conservatives to read Adam Smith for themselves at first hand or run the risk of being misled by second-hand versions, not least from his denigrators. From what he writes, the Vicar of Harwell and Chilton (July 11) seems to have ignored a large part of Adam Smith's work. Smith was a moral philosopher of some standing before he turned his attention to the study of economics which placed the whole world in his debt. He had devoted his main inquiries to the place of man in society. In his economic studies he certainly did not exclude the moral and social dimensions, on the contrary.
I shall not attempt to rehearse all Smith's arguments in the space of a letter. Suffice to say that setting out from a philosophy which recognized human motivation as mixed, Smith argued that were we to depend solely on the benevolence of our fellow-men we should receive short shrift. However by harnessing men's natural impulse to improve their own condition and that of their families as well as to deserve the approbation of their fellow-men, the market economy visibly brought great benefits to the greater number.
Smith never suggested that self-interest alone was sufficient to bring the Good Life, or that man can live by bread alone. By contrast, Marx 's dialectical materialism gave pride of place to economics. Marx expressly argued that economic change has underlain all other change throughout human history, that religion, politics, ethics, the arts and letters are nothing but “superstructure” conditioned by the basic economic realities. Perhaps the Vicar will again read Marx for himself after he has laid down Smith. He appears to believe that Marx stood for equality, as well as for benevolence and other Christian virtues. Surely, then, he must have asked himself how, if this be so, can it be that wherever Marxist rule is imposed, as it is on a third of suffering mankind, it leads visibly to cruelty, misery, callousness, selfishness, new crying inequalities. Shall Marxism not be known by its fruits?
I have never claimed that my views or those of my Party are the sole interpretation of Christian truth into social terms. I stated that Conservatives came into politics as a Church Party and that concern for the application of Christianity to politics underlay much of the political debate throughout a large part of our party's three centuries old existence. This is a matter of historical fact.
There are those who draw other conclusions from the Gospels; so be it, dialogue takes us closer to truth.
But when Christians find themselves justifying causes or ideas which not only extend man's inhumanity to man into new fields, but which preach atheism and pitilessly persecute Christian Churches, surely they should stop and ask if their zeal has not somehow led them astray.
Ms Sandra Pontac (July 11) rightly questions why some people should have to work out their own salvation in a slum. Yet beware of being patronizing. For millions on millions have worked out their salvation in every sense of the term from such beginnings, just as others have wasted their opportunities. I look forward to a day when there will be no slums. But I believe that we shall achieve more by helping people to help themselves than by trying to relieve them of their own responsibilities and thereby of their own dignity and self-respect.
In my lecture, which will be published with other speeches in the autumn, I dealt with some of the misapprehensions regarding Victorian times. The miseries which Ms Pontac mentioned antedated the Victorian era. Precisely because the Victorian conscience found them intolerable and sought means of remedying them with philanthropy and self-help, the abuses have come to be associated with that period. This is a poor return to a great reforming age, whose zeal we should do well to emulate in terms of our own age and its needs.
The letter by Richard Bull, Vice-Chairman of the Greater London Young Conservatives (July 14), encourages me to believe that our work in reaffirming the essential interdependence of individual and collective responsibilities as the core of Conservative philosophy is bearing fruit. What better memorial could there be to Iain Macleod? Yours faithfully, Margaret Thatcher, House of Commons July 14.