Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech at Jagiellonian University in Krakow

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Krakow
Source: Thatcher Archive
Editorial comments:
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2853
Themes: Civil liberties, Conservative Party (history), Economic policy - theory and process, Higher & further education, Elections & electoral system, Foreign policy (Central & Eastern Europe), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Science & technology, Society, Voluntary sector & charity

Four Freedoms

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for inviting me to address you today.

Plagiarism from the words and works of great men cannot be accounted culpable. So I have consciously derived the topic of this address from President Franklin D Roosevelt's famous speech to the American congress in 1941 in which he spoke about “a world founded upon four essential human freedoms” . You will remember that these were: freedom of speech; freedom of worship; freedom from want; and freedom from fear. The four freedoms I would like to set before you today do not exclude those - indeed the first of them is very similar to FDR's. But they define some particular freedoms: freedom of discussion; freedom of political association; freedom to own property; and freedom of national self-expression. There is nowhere more appropriate to speak of freedom than here in Poland. No people, with the possible exception of my own, has a greater love of freedom than the Polish people. And there is nowhere better in Poland to speak of the value of freedom of discussion than in a University - and one as ancient and distinguished, as redolent of Poland's participation in and contribution to Europe's culture, as this.

Freedom of Discussion

All universities have more than one single purpose. As the very word “university” suggests, it has to comprise different faculties, covering different aspects of knowledge, constituting as nearly as possible a “universal” community of scholarship. The most famous English work which describes what a university should be and do remains John Henry Newman Cardinal Newman's Idea of a University. In the 140 years since it was written, universities have, of course, changed in some ways beyond recognition.

Science and more or less vocational courses have a far bigger role - and rightly so. For in a world where industries are science based and where there is intense international competition in the professions, education in a university has to take practical requirements fully into account. It must equip people to excel in a good job. And it must assist the new generation to make its own contributions to the nation's long term progress. But Newman emphasised - in a way which many of his colleagues disliked - that what distinguished a university from any other educational institution was the pursuit of learning for its own sake. In such a university all of those involved in pursuing scholarship - whatever their speciality - should seek to learn from each other and create by discussion a true community of liberal learning. That is a true and timeless insight. Within our universities we must uphold freedom of thought and of discussion. We must debate the burning issues. We must fiercely fight the battle of ideas. And we must do all this in a spirit of good humour, tolerance and mutual respect. Freedom of discussion is something more than just freedom of speech. Discussion requires a willingness to listen as much as a capacity to debate. Through discussion we both teach and learn - and the wider the discussion goes the more likely we are to increase the stock of human understanding. Freedom of discussion may be threatened in several ways. Most obviously it may be deliberately suppressed, discouraged or penalised by the authorities. It may also be reduced as individuals are intimidated out of their beliefs by those subtle and corrupting pressures so well described by Alexander Solzhenitzyn as the “censorship of fashion” . Or it may simply wither - deprived of light and life by a collective desire to pursue a so-called “consensus” at any price, even the price of principle. John Stuart Mill in his famous essay On Liberty wrote: “if all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.” There is also a material loss when a dull uniformity, of the sort which socialism like other totalitarian impulses before it encourages, comes to replace individuality and diversity. A glance at our distinctive history illustrates this. The West attained its economic dominance and now enjoys its high standard of living because there has been a spirit of enterprise and competition to solve technical problems and then to apply the solutions to men's practical needs. That is surely what differentiates our modern European civilisation from those of earlier times. The Chinese discovered the magnetic compass - but there was no economic incentive for them to navigate the world. The Tibetans, I believe, discovered turbine movement: but they were content to use it for the rotation of their prayer wheels. The Byzantines discovered clockwork of a kind - and they used it to levitate the emperor in order to impress the ambassadors of barbarian Europe. But we do not need to reach back so far into the past in order to show how free discussion and economic progress are strongly, if subtly, linked. Just look around you at the economic failure of the Communist command economy. A totalitarian state may manage - as the success of Stalin's Red Army in the '40s showed - to apply force and terror to produce huge quantities of armaments; but the development and application of technology requires argument, reasoned discussion and experiment - minds which can never be satisfied with the limits of present knowledge. That is why the Soviet Union could not match the technology behind America's SDI programme: it is the link between the moral and the military failure of communism. But freedom of discussion has a more direct and equally beneficial application to politics. Once people are able to debate in public the failures of a political regime, they quickly acquire the courage and confidence to reform it.

That is why - with a few still sad exceptions - the Communist strategy of allowing just a little democracy, in order to hang on to power in the face of demands for reform, has failed in Eastern Europe and the USSR. And when, as occurred at the time of the attempted coup in the Soviet Union earlier this year, the brave democrats and people have access to the outside world through freedom of communications, the power of their example becomes irresistible. Of course, there is more to politics - and a great deal more to running a country - than sitting around, engaging in discussion. Those responsible for the country's well being cannot limit themselves to expounding principles, enumerating problems, and discussing them endlessly. But there is still one thing worse than that - which is to pretend, as the advocates of so-called “consensus politics” do, that there are no clashes of principle and that every difficulty yields a solution to a merely pragmatic approach by experts.

Freedom of Political Association

This reflection leads me on to my second freedom: freedom of political association. Freedom of association itself extends more widely and covers, for example, the freedom to form a trade union. The heroic story of Solidarity covers both of these freedoms, which had to be asserted in the face of Communist dictatorship. Since 1989, you in Poland have, like other countries which have emerged from the dark shadow of marxism, been engaged in establishing political parties. This is the next necessary stage in bringing democracy fully to Poland. The Communist Party, let me say at once, has not been, is not and cannot be a true political party at all. That is why the democrats in Russia and elsewhere in the old Soviet Union have been right to uproot it. The Communist Party is like a monstrous parasite which consumes the flesh of its host and leaves behind a shell, which is designed to conceal the change by which the Party has itself become the State. That is what Lenin and his successors devised the Party to be: and it cannot long function in any other way. Even when it has lost power, changed its name and sought to expunge its record, Communism is not to be trusted by anyone who cares about democracy. Because it has so monopolised the public life of the nations East of the Iron Curtain, Communism inevitably leaves behind it a degree of political disarray. Groups of like-minded people come together to form political parties - but these, necessarily, have no traditions and it is difficult for them to put down roots. There is a temptation, in the first flush of freedom, for so many parties to emerge that common principles are obscured and little gets done.

I believe that electoral systems of proportional representation make these tendencies far worse. Indeed, they can result in giving power not to the majority but to the very few representatives who hold the decisive votes.

My own Party, the Conservative Party, is very fortunate. It is the oldest right of centre party in Europe and undoubtedly the most consistently successful. Britain's history of constitutional continuity has allowed Conservatives to come together around certain broad principles, whose popular attraction has been increased by the patina of tradition. You in Poland also have to build a party system around large issues of principle and philosophy - and you have to distinguish these from all those secondary questions about which party members may and will legitimately disagree. You must be vigorous in defending the notion of party politics against those who denigrate it. In doing so, you may like to remember the words of Edmund Burke, the founding father of conservatism: “Party is a body of men united for promoting by their joint endeavours the national interest upon some particular principle in which they are all agreed. ” But let me also remind you of some words of another great conservative, Benjamin Disraeli: “Party is organised opinion. ” And if the emphasis in what Burke had to say of Party must rest on his use of the word “principle” , the emphasis in Disraeli's remarks should be on the word “organised” . For in Poland you have to build up central and local party organisations. You have to have the means to appeal for support from all like-minded people, not restricting yourselves to a group, interest or region. All this requires great persistence. And if party politics do not always seem to fulfil your highest expectations, please remember that in this you are far from unique. Politics always reflects the character and calibre of those who practise it - and of those who choose them. But democratic party politics alone can prevent the permanent and uncontested imposition of bad government on the people.

The Right of Private Property

Democracy cannot be said to exist without a rule of law - that is a law which is fair, applies equally to everyone (including government) and is administered by an independent and impartial judiciary. Such a law must recognise and protect certain inalienable human rights - two of which I have already mentioned. The third such right I propose to discuss is the right to private property. If anyone doubts that the right to property is indeed fundamental to freedom, he can turn to Article 17 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights where it is so listed. If he is of a religious frame of mind, he can turn to the Old and New Testaments and to the teaching of the Church. And if he has an eye for the lessons of history he will note that where the right to hold, accumulate and pass on private property is extinguished, so is political liberty. Private property gives people independence against the State. When property can be securely held and increased, people have an incentive to work hard. Owning property develops in people responsible habits and attitudes. And the more people who do own property the more stable and prosperous a country will become. In recognition of the immense benefits which wider ownership of property brings with it, we in Britain have pursued policies to create a real democracy of ownership to sustain and strengthen our political democracy. We gave public sector tenants the right to buy their homes at large discounts. Well over a million have done so. And we used our programme of privatising state owned industries, which was necessary in order to improve Britain's industrial and economic performance, to widen share ownership. The number of individual share owners in Britain has approximately trebled since 1979. By ensuring sound money and so safeguarding the value of savings, we helped hundreds of thousands of poorer families to build up something to hand on to the next generation. This is how a country stops being a one generation society.

But there is another right which cannot be separated from the right to own property - and one which is somewhat less popular. This is the right to be unequal. People have different talents and different opportunities to apply them. But as long as the rules under which wealth is acquired are fair - and as long, of course, as those who genuinely cannot cope are cared for - inequality is not only just, it is necessary to freedom itself. If envy prompts policies of confiscatory taxation against the successful, everyone loses. Talent flees the country. Wealth generation slows. And a gloomy, mean spirited socialism poisons public life. Wealth and property bring responsibilities. All the good things of this life are held in trust for future generations. We shall be held to account for how we used our talents, our opportunities and our advantages. And, of course, some people will misuse their wealth. But in the words of my own favourite English theologian, John Wesley: “The fault does not lie in money, but in them that use it. ”

Moreover, I am constantly struck when I go to the United States that the spirit of liberty seems to engender a spirit of generosity. And it is surely no coincidence that Americans are at the same time the freest, the most charitable and the least envious people on earth.

The Right of National Self-Determination

The fourth and last freedom which I want to mention is the right to national self-determination. And there is nowhere better than Poland, with its fervent patriotism, to talk about that! It is an extraordinary fact that there has been a good deal less rejoicing at the assertion of national identity by the former Communist countries than there was when the former colonies demanded and obtained their independence. It is as if there is a kind of nostalgia for the diplomatic convenience of dealing with a few Communist leaders, where now a larger number of democratic national leaders are in charge. Yet, as Article I of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights reminds us: “All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development. ” National self-determination is a basic human right. Of course, it is sometimes possible for dictators to exploit national consciousness: and there will always be demagogues of left or right anxious to do so. But put nationalism at the service of true democracy - as in Poland - and you have the most powerful force for freedom that the world has seen. Moreover, the instability, which diplomats traditionally fear, is most likely to occur when attempts are made to hold together artificially constructed states and empires. It is when national identities are suppressed and national culture forcibly expunged that resentment grows and violence erupts. It is supra-nationalism not nationalism which lies behind so many problems in the old Soviet Union and today's Yugoslavia. And all of these have, of course, been infinitely worsened by Communism itself - with its brutal repression and economic failure. I firmly believe that the assertion of national identity - as long as it is in conjunction with a commitment to democracy and the rule of law - is to be welcomed as both morally right and politically beneficial.

The Life of Freedom

Ladies and gentlemen, the four aspects of freedom which I have set before you today are only parts of a greater whole. And it is only when freedom progresses beyond its minimum conditions and becomes a way of life that it is most secure. Socialism is a dangerous, but undeclared, enemy of freedom - and I do not just mean the socialist command economy but all those attitudes which socialism fosters: dependence, passivity, conformity, envy, lack of personal responsibility and lack of initative. The battle against socialism is more than the attempt to replace economic error by economic truth. It is a battle for moral and spiritual values. It is precisely socialism which promotes universal dependency on the State and the neglect of all primary duties. In place of the culture of dependency we must emphasise the moral rightness of enterprise and the absolute value of responsibility. We must encourage people to take charge of their own lives, and to live honestly and openly, fulfilling their duties and respecting the rights of others. More: we must encourage people to see that they are the property of no earthly master, not even of the State; that they are answerable for what they do in a Higher Court than the courts of this world, and that every attempt to relieve them of the burden of responsibility and to treat them like cattle in a comfortable collective farm, is an act of spiritual insolence. Ladies and gentlemen, I began with one Roosevelt and I shall end with another - President Theodore Roosevelt - who told an audience almost a century ago: “I wish to preach, not the doctrine of ignoble ease, but the doctrine of the strenuous life. ” The life of freedom requires effort, commitment, sacrifice - sometimes the ultimate sacrifice. The martyrs to Polish liberty, among whom Father Jerzy Popieluszko will always hold a special place, testify to this. We must be worthy of them. As was said by the poet Byron of the prisoners bound by fetters in the Castle of Chillon: “Their country conquers with their martyrdom

And freedom's fame finds wings on every wind” .

We too must build our hope on the imperishable glory of their example.