Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech at Monash University (1981 Sir Robert Menzies Lecture)

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Blackwood Hall, Monash University, Melbourne
Source: Thatcher Archive: speaking text
Editorial comments: 1900. MT made holograph modifications to the speaking text (incorporated), some of them responding to Heath’s attack on the Government’s economic policies. That section of the text has been checked against BBC Radio News Report 1800 6 October 1981 (see editorial notes in text).
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 3642
Themes: Civil liberties, Commonwealth (general), Conservatism, Defence (arms control), Higher & further education, Employment, Monetary policy, Trade, Foreign policy - theory and process, Foreign policy (Australia & NZ), Foreign policy (development, aid, etc), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Law & order, Leadership, Race, immigration, nationality, Religion & morality, Science & technology, Society, Famous statements by MT


It is always an honour to be called on to speak in the name of a great man. Sir Robert Menzies was a great statesman.

I shall always remember him with affection and gratitude as the most unaffected of men who offered valuable advice without patronising and with a wit and a simplicity which distilled pure wisdom from a lifetime's experience. It is-

perhaps—because he always focussed on the job in hand, not on his brand image, that his memory remains a guiding star; perhaps—because his convictions were not open to compromise that we recognise in him a true leader;

perhaps—because he did not offer the soft option but the sound solution that he still commands our admiration and respect; perhaps—because he loved people and a good story, that he won and kept our affection. [end p1]

But, of course, there was much more to Bob Menzies than that. When he founded the Liberal Party he said “we were determined to be a progressive party, willing to make experiments, in no sense reactionary but believing in the individual, his rights and his enterprise” .

He was preoccupied with the contribution which the English speaking peoples could make to world affairs. He was a great Commonwealth man. He looked at the Commonwealth as “a common allegiance and a great brotherhood …   . a special association with its roots in history” . How fitting it is that a Heads of Government meeting, of which he attended no fewer than ten, is now being held in this, his City. He saw the Commonwealth as a vehicle for spreading and defending the ideals for which the English speaking peoples stand: democracy, the liberty and responsibility of the individual, the rule of law—in a word, the ideals of freedom. [end p2]

I first encountered Bob Menzies just after leaving university when I went to one of his meetings in London. Some thirty years later, after I had become leader of my Party, I met him here in Melbourne. It was long after he had retired from active politics. He encouraged me to talk about my philosophy of life and the principles which should govern public policy. I think, therefore, that he would have liked me to use this lecture in part to describe those values and the way that they affect my attitude towards national and international issues. I think, too, that he would have been pleased that the first person to deliver this lecture who was not Australian should be British.

Speaking as I am in a university, I am naturally conscious of what some young people think of politicians. They often don't think much of us. We are seen as manipulators of events, usually for our own ends, or as cynical opportunists. Perhaps some politicians are; perhaps every profession has its black sheep. But then it is sometimes said that university common rooms are not immune from intrigue. And compared to some student leaders I have met, I am as innocent as a new-born lamb.

Morever I count myself among those politicians who operate from conviction. [Beginning of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 1800 6 October 1981:] For me, pragmatism is not enough. [end p3]

Nor is that fashionable word “consensus” . When I asked one of my Commonwealth colleagues at this Conference why he kept saying that there was a “consensus” on a certain matter, another replied in a flash “consensus is the word you use when you can't get agreement” ! End of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 1800 6 October 1981.

To me consensus seems to be —the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies in search of something in which no-one believes, but to which no-one objects. —the process of avoiding the very issues that have to be solved, merely because you cannot get agreement on the way ahead.

What great cause would have been fought and won under the banner “I stand for consensus” ?

But these things, Mr. Chairman, touch the emotions of life, and I started my University training as a Scientist— [end p4] a subject where theory can be tested through observation and experiment, secure in the knowledge that the laws of physics and chemistry will be the same tomorrow as they are today; knowing, too, that they cannot be changed by habit or custom or legislation because they are not man-given but God-given.


But we politicians grapple not with unchanging laws but with the unpredictable reactions of human beings where scientific methods of deduction cannot be applied. What sets man above the rest of the living world is his sanctity as a human being, with the ability and the right to choose; to choose what to believe and what to do; above all, to choose between right and wrong, between good and evil. This right to choose, fundamental as it is to human life, is not man-given or government-given, but God-given. It is the foundation of personal liberty. The choice it involves is a moral choice which each person has to make for himself. Nobody can “opt out” . Choice is the basis of ethics. [end p5]

Societies which deny this fundamental right and which substitute a set of rules which have been decided as a matter of political expediency are states where freedom has been extinguished. They are countries which have elevated the ‘State’ above all human rights and above the laws of natural justice. They permit neither opposition to their diktat within, nor escape for their citizens without.

Years ago when I was at university, there were still some leading intellectuals who found some attractions in Communist theory. Today, when the fruits of that theory have been seen in practice for over sixty years, it is intellectuals in the Soviet Union who look for their hope and their inspiration to the liberty of the West; they are prepared to suffer degradation, persecution and imprisonment rather than surrender their right to choose. [end p6]


But you will ask who in those societies which hallow choice is to protect the weak against the freedom of the strong? We live in families, neighbourhoods and communities, whose members need rules to enable them to live together harmoniously. These rules or laws must be just, must be backed by authority and administered impartially.

In our legal history the common law was developed by judges, based on what was thought to be right and equitable. Not, note, on what was expedient or convenient for those in authority but on what was right and equitable.

As the Roman jurist, Julius Paulus, put it even earlier:

“What is right is not derived from the rule, but the rule arises from our knowledge of what is right.”
[end p7] Much of that common law exists today. It is perhaps the reason why we have come to regard fair play almost as a religion in itself. Kipling put it best in his poem called “Norman and Saxon” : —set in 1100 A.D. “My Son” , said the Norman Baron, “I'm dying, and you will be heir To all the broad acres in England that William gave me for my share When we conquered the Saxon at Hastings, and a nice little handful it is. But before you go over to rule it I want you to understand this:-
“The Saxon is not like us Normans. His manners are not so polite. But he never means anything serious till he talks about justice and right. When he stands like an ox in the furrow with his sullen set eyes on your own, And grumbles, ‘This isn't fair dealing’, my son, leave the Saxon alone.”

Alas, the society in which we live is growing so complex that it has now become a labyrinth of statute law. [end p8] Nevertheless, the same principles of equity and fairness still pervade our legislation, for the true object of legislators in a free society is not to try to please everyone—for we cannot do that—but to try to see that everyone is treated justly and that the law genuinely safeguards his liberty.

But if that law is to be effective, it must be rigorously enforced. Order, in a free society, means the ability of ordinary men and women to go about their business and their leisure pursuits in freedom and without fear, so long as what they do does not harm or damage others.

The first task of the State is to defend its citizens against attack from within and without. It is in this sense that the libertarian insists that government must be strong. Strong to uphold the rule of law. Strong to maintain order. Strong to protect freedom. This was the truth which our ancestors knew well, but which some of our generation have managed to unlearn. What is freedom if it does not include freedom from violence and freedom from intimidation? [end p9] Government must secure the conditions for freedom to prevail. That is its task. People must live their own lives within these laws. That is their right and their duty.


The right to choose. The rule of law. We need even more than these to promote and protect liberty.

It is not by chance that every free society is fundamentally a capitalist society. For without economic liberty, political liberty will soon die. The converse is not true. Not all capitalist societies are free. Capitalism or free enterprise is a necessary but not a sufficient condition of liberty. I have already described two of the other essential ingredients—the right and responsibility to choose and the rule of law.

Free enterprise has material advantages too. It produces far more wealth than the collectivist society. It creates a standard of living envied by the Communist world. [end p10]

And with economic liberty goes the right to private property. People with property of their own have not only a measure of independence but also have an incentive to preserve that independence from the encroachment of the State. A society which has few property rights has few human rights.

But we cannot discuss economic liberty today without referring to the evils of inflation and unemployment.

The work ethic derived from our Judaeo-Christian tradition was that a man should be entitled to the fruits of his own labour. But when men demand more without producing more, the extra can only be found at the expense of others—Unless the Government prints money not backed by output. That is, dishonest money. And who pays then? Not governments. They never pay anything.

As money floods into the market place the value of every pound or dollar saved, or in circulation, is lowered. It is the thrifty and the savers who suffer and the selfish who gain. The Archbishop of York put it as follows: [end p11]

“[Inflation] is a moral matter. Put simply, so the expert tells us, it is caused by ‘too much money pursuing too few goods’, i.e. it springs out of a desire for more and more which inevitably puts the prices up. It is a moral matter also in the sense that it tends to undermine confidence in the future, it makes people extravagant; it makes future provision for your own family a waste of effort and it excludes whole ranges of our population from the necessities of life, whilst others indulge themselves in the luxuries. It creates bitterness between the classes and magnifies the differences between the rich and the poor. Inflation indeed is not just an economic matter to be alternately restricted or encouraged by economic policies. It strikes at the heart of any civilised society.”

[From his book “The Ten Commandments” .]

Inflation is also a major cause of the great contemporary misery of unemployment. Is unemployment something that governments can cure quickly or easily? I can assure you that on grounds of common humanity if we could, we would. Further may I point out, there is no electoral advantage in widespread unemployment, so every politician wants to reduce it. [end p12]

We are often told that all we have to do is reflate. But we know full well that real jobs are not created that way. Printing money without more output causes price rises. Keynes knew that—for Keynes was no Keynesian! At any rate, I do not think he would recognise some of the proposals put forward today in his name.

So slowly, painfully, we have to persevere in dragging inflation down and bring about the conditions in which real jobs are created. In so doing we shall strengthen both that economic liberty and that human dignity of which I spoke earlier. [end p13]


The desire for freedom and dignity is present in every human being. It demands to be respected and in the end must surely be satisfied. Governments are bound to take account of it in their dealings with each other, just as they are with their own citizens. They may accept it; they may try to deny it; but they must reckon with it.

Countries, as members of the international community, must respect each other's independence. Two principles must guide them. First, each nation is free to determine its own destiny; secondly, none should interfere in the internal affairs of others. On these two principles depend the conduct of relations between governments. They are the more important because there is no international authority to enforce law between nations. It is essential that states should exercise responsibility and self-restraint in their policies towards each other. [end p14]

One of the most pernicious aspects of the policy of the Soviet Union since 1917 has been the absence of that restraint. The Soviet Union, acting either directly or through national Communist Parties, has interfered in the internal affairs of states all over the world. Not only that. It has denied, and is denying, the right of self-determination to many states—the most recent of which is Afghanistan.

And of course the Soviet Union deprives its own citizens of their freedom. That, too, is something which other governments must take into account. We do not interfere in the Soviet Union. But we cannot ignore what goes on there. Non-interference is not the same thing as indifference. We care about our fellow human beings, about the Sakharovs, the Orlovs, the Shcharanskys and the hundreds of others whose names we do not know.

Democratic governments have to maintain relations with many governments of whose actions and policies they disapprove. [end p15] But that does not mean that members of governments, or for that matter heads of government, should refrain from exercising moral judgement.

Let me give some examples of what I mean. I cannot accept that any government is justified in pursuing policies which are based on discrimination against one citizen as opposed to another on grounds either of race or religion. It is a basic principle of civilised society that all citizens are equal before the law. A system based on apartheid cannot be defended. Nor can systems, whether clerical (as in Iran) or anti-clerical (as in the Soviet Union), which deny freedom of worship to some or all of the population.

Nor do I believe that governments are justified except in extraordinary circumstances in the arbitrary or prolonged suspension of the rule of law; or in denying to their citizens freedom of expression. [end p16]

Let me add a final point. Societies which are free are best able to satisfy men's aspirations. For that reason, they are also the most stable. The denial of responsible choice to the people in any country will lead eventually to upheaval—it is a threat to peace. As such it affects us all, inhabitants of a shrinking world, in the most direct way.


So does the issue of nuclear defence. It is giving rise to particular controversy in Europe. Many of those demonstrating in favour of unilateral nuclear disarmament are undoubtedly well intentioned and sincere. But they risk increasing the very dangers which they hope to avoid.

First, let us be clear about what is at stake. It is the very survival of freedom and the rule of law. And the alternative? A society where fundamental rights are denied to all men and women and where tyranny prevails. [end p17]

Believing as I do in our way of life; believing that man was not called into existence just to exist, but to use his qualities and talents in a way that directs his life to higher purposes; observing the lack of both freedom and dignity in the alternative society, I am prepared to defend to the utmost the things in which I believe.

Of course I want to see nuclear disarmament. Indeed I should like to see general disarmament. I shrink from the horrors of war, nuclear or conventional. But the steps towards disarmament should be taken only by agreement, verifiable agreement. Should we more easily get the Soviet side to the negotiating table if we had already renounced nuclear weapons? Of course not. Why should they come when we had already laid down our arms? Would they follow our example? I doubt whether there are many unilateralists in the Kremlin. [end p18]

But the more fundamental question is whether the unilateral renunciation of nuclear weapons would in fact make war less likely. It would not. Indeed it would increase the risk. If the West as a whole were to abandon nuclear weapons unilaterally, we should be left with only conventional weapons. We should be vulnerable to every pressure, every threat. We should have to choose between surrender, and embarking upon a war with no hope of victory and no certainty of avoiding nuclear destruction.

Until we negotiate multilateral disarmament, we have no option but to retain sufficient nuclear weapons to make it clear to any would-be aggressors that the consequences of an attack on us would be disastrous to them. Freedom is not an easy option. The cost of keeping tyranny at bay is high. But it must be paid. [end p19]


Of course political tyranny is not the only enemy of freedom. The fetters placed on freedom by poverty can be just as binding. The wretchedly poor, lacking food or shelter, have little chance to realise their potential. The free world must help them to do so.

Last year, in the United Nations, an International Development Strategy for the 1980s was agreed. Its opening paragraphs set out a fundamental principle, namely that “the primary responsibility for the development of the developing countries rests upon those countries themselves” .

In recalling these words I do not seek to evade the responsibilities of the richer countries of the world. In 1979 we in Britain provided as much aid to the developing world as did the entire Soviet bloc. But we must also be clear where the different responsibilities lie.

Clarity will not be aided by empty rhetoric. There have been too many slogans, too many catch phrases. [end p20]

Instead we need to recognise the interests which we have in common and to make practical arrangements to meet them. Of these shared interests, the most important is trade. The flows of trade are many times greater than those of aid. But too often, the politicians, for instance in Parliament at Westminster, who propose more aid are the same as those who, by calling for more protection, are proposing less trade.

The majority of developing countries in fact base their development on their own efforts and can finance their investment through the existing markets. Others, the poorest—through no fault of their own—cannot afford to finance investment in that way. For them development assistance will remain a necessity. A sense of responsibility, as well as of self-interest, should make this a central concern for the governments of the developed countries. [end p21]


I have spoken this evening, as I am bound to do, as an ordinary citizen, as a Member of the Mother of Parliaments and, of course, as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

It is a mistake to believe that those three roles are contradictory; on the contrary, in all three capacities, whether at home or abroad, whether in matters great or small, I dare to hope that I am guided by the same convictions.

I believe in the essential importance of PERSONAL responsibility; in PERSONAL free choice; and I disagree fundamentally with those who seek to replace that personal freedom with the presumed superior wisdom of the state.

Where freedom to exercise personal choice exists, I seek to expand it; where it is under attack, I shall defend it; where it does not exist, I shall try to create it. [end p22]

I believe that the best hope for the survival of mankind is that we should all recognise that representative democracy (for all its faults) is not only the fairest system of government, but the one least likely to lead to war. In this century, can anyone point to two democracies at war with one another? In the struggle for the continuance of democracy, we are undertaking the real struggle for peace.

I believe that man's brief journey on earth will be enriched if statesmen have the wisdom—(1) to recognise the limits within which governments can and ought to act for the good of their citizens; (2) to ensure that the laws to which the people are subject are just, and consistent with the public conscience; (3) to make certain that those laws are enforced firmly and impartially; (4) to make the nation strong for the defence of its way of life against any enemy without or within; (5) and—not least—to preserve an honest currency. [end p23]

I believe that, despite our growing inter-dependence, the day of the nation state is not over; that such states still have their contribution to make to the development of the human story.

And I believe, too, that the worth of a nation depends, in the last resort, on the worth of the citizens who compose it; and that a state which seeks to dwarf its citizens, in order that they may become more docile instruments in its hands, will find that, with small men, no great thing can be accomplished. [John Stuart Mill]

Others often say of me, usually in a critical tone, that I pursue the politics of conviction. As you will already have gathered, it is a charge to which I plead guilty. It is one, indeed, in which I glory. The burden of public life is a heavy one. I would see no point in it, if I were not borne up by the conviction that the goals I pursue are morally right justifiable. Personal ambition would be a tawdry and inadequate substitute. [end p24]

Bob Menzies felt the same way. Throughout his uniquely long and successful career he was guided by firmly held inner convictions. He did not wear them on his sleeve. But those convictions were plain to those who knew him well. I like to think that they were not dissimilar to my own. That is why I have been so deeply appreciative of the opportunity to deliver this lecture in his honour. I feel that I have met him afresh, sharing with you the values in which he believed and renewing, with you, our joint resolve that those values shall endure.