Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech to the European Foundation ("Freedom, Economic Liberty and the Rule of Law")

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Britannia International Hotel, London
Source: Thatcher Archive: transcript
Editorial comments: Dinner.
Importance ranking: Minor
Word count: 1971
Themes: British Constitution (general discussions), Conservatism, Conservative Party (history), Public spending & borrowing, European Union (general), Foreign policy (Asia), Foreign policy (Central & Eastern Europe), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Labour Party & socialism, Law & order

Mr. Chairman, it's an enormous pleasure to be here and I am very moved indeed by some of the tributes that have been paid.

It is marvellous to come to a dinner which is called “the Freedom Dinner” . The message still rings loud and clear and still has an attraction the world over. Do we still need it? Oh yes, my friends. There are now 180 nations in the world, as every empire has broken up, in this generation, into component nations—not into new federations, please note: each with their national pride and their national character. But of those 180, there are only 75 that are truly democracies. And so we have a great deal more work to do and we have to do it by defining exactly what it is about the call of liberty, of freedom, exactly what it means in terms of government, rather better than we do.

Winston Churchill, in the post-War period, made the most wonderful series of speeches. He started with one in Fulton, Missouri; I was privileged to speak on its 50th anniversary. And he started there as we would start—democracy, liberty is not just a cry. Our form of government is not just a miscellaneous collection of policies: it is founded on fundamental principles, which Winston called “the title deeds of freedom” . And he said this: “The people of any country have the right and should have the power by constitutional action, by free unfettered elections, with a secret ballot, to choose or change the character of the form of government under which they dwell” . That's choosing the government. He went on even more fundamentally: “Freedom of speech and of thought and of religion should, of course, prevail. Courts of justice, independent of the executive, unbiased by any party, should administer laws which have received the broad assent of large majorities or are consecrated by time or custom. Here” , he said to his American audience, “are the title deeds of freedom which should lie in every cottage home.” Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom to have independent justice by independent judges, freedom to choose your government every four or five years, so that your government is answerable and accountable to the people.

You could not have, in fact, political freedom unless you have economic liberty—in other words, free enterprise—because wealth is not created by government, it is created by the talent and enterprise of individuals in an atmosphere of freedom. They build up the wealth. From that wealth, if we take modestly, we are able to look after the people who need to be looked after. We are able to provide good education. We are able properly to defend our country and it is, of course, the government's task also to keep the finances of the country sound.

This is what our principles mean and we start from those principles. Contrast that with the rival idea, enunciated best by Karl Marx, a refugee from tyranny who came to freedom and wrote in the British Library about a society, a Communist society, which would never have allowed him to write as freely he did in Britain. What were their principles? What was their creed? Yes, I use the word “creed” . They didn't look at the sanctity of the individual. They took all power away from individuals, all freedom away. Everything was to be planned by a pseudo intellectual elite who weren't so elite. Everything was to be planned. You couldn't choose your own job. The state determined what was produced. It determined who should have the jobs. There was no liberty. Religion was the opium of the people. Everything planned, everything decided.

Now, you see the difference. In our system, under our principles, the government is there to serve and satisfy the liberties of the people under a system of sound finance and free enterprise. Under the socialist system the people are the servants of the government, without the fundamental rights of liberty. And never forget that fundamental distinction. Of course, there are differences, there are gradations. But, my friends, the danger with socialism, I will tell you, is that you might lose your liberty little by little, with more and more regulation, with more and more nationalisation, with higher and higher taxation, until you look up one day and find a lot of it has gone. If you look already at the regulation, if you look already at the level of taxation, you find the freest countries, which are the most prosperous and most successful because they have free enterprise and freedom, are countries like the United States where the government takes only 33 per cent of the Gross National Product. They are the most successful, the most creative country in the world, getting the latest ideas, the latest technology into production faster than anyone else.

Who next? We have also Japan, a very different kind of culture, but with a very high income per head. Next comes the United Kingdom. I must tell you, my friends, we lead Europe. We take only 41 per cent. Germany takes 49 per cent, Italy 51 per cent. Once you go over 50 per cent you should be held to account by the people as to why you are taking more than half of the output of the nation. The Netherlands 52 per cent, Portugal 52 per cent, France 53, Norway 54, Belgium 54, Finland 54, Denmark 61, Sweden 65. Now, I think we want a Freedom Dinner in some of those latter countries. It was interesting to note what one German—the head of the German CBI—is reported as saying recently: “The reasons for the present downturn in Germany are obvious. We have too rigid labour laws, too many regulations. We have too high social costs and taxes. We work the shortest working week in Europe. The German government spends 50 per cent of GDP as opposed to 41 per cent in Britain. No wonder” , he said, “Germany has a problem.” So, it is so easy for government to take more and more. And every time someone gets up and demands more public expenditure, the reply should be, “Are [end p1] you going to put your hand more deeply into the pockets of the people so that you determine where they spend their money and not them?” .

And so we start from principles. Our way of life is producing the freedom, the political freedom and a much better standard of living than the alternative. In your time and my time we have, in fact, seen the collapse of communism as a creed. It is very interesting that in this century, of the tyrannies we have had, the tyranny of Nazism and fascism we had to defeat in war, that we were able to bring down communism by the Cold War—by very strong defence on our side of the line and also because on the other side of the Iron Curtain we had many friends in the enemy camp who were fighting freedom's battle. Among them so many from Poland, which I visited in 1988. I went to see Lech Walesa, went to the church and as I entered they were singing a hymn longing for freedom, their second national anthem. I went to the shipyard at Gdansk and I went to see Jaruzelski afterwards and I said, “Look, this isn't a trade union movement, this is a movement of the whole people and they will be free” . You could not deny them, they would be free. One saw the harshness in Romania, very harsh indeed. I went round one communist country to another and one was applauded because they recognised what we in Britain stood for and they longed for it. We managed to bring down that communism by a Cold War, because it collapsed from within. It collapsed because of the people but it collapsed for another reason. People could see that the propaganda they were told did not accord with the conditions they saw around them. They were told that everything was very good in their country—that was not what they saw. And so we brought it down. We owe a very great deal to those people.

What now? We have been used to freedom for a long time. You know we can't have freedom without a rule of law. This is a thing I'm always saying to countries who come out of tyranny. You can't have unconstrained freedom, you have to have a rule of law. And you know, my friends, the most difficult thing is to explain what a rule of law is, as distinct from just an oppressive law. They say, well we've got a lot of regulations, the government makes them, the government dictates to us. That's not what a rule of law is, I say. It's having wise judges who decide fairly and whose decisions are taken and honoured. It's having your laws made in a parliament which is accountable to the people and which you know are going to be honourably administered. That's why we don't just call it law, we call it a rule of law. You cannot have freedom without a rule of law, and that is the most difficult thing, I think, to get into countries that have never known it. And if you don't have it, what you tend to get is corruption and that is death to freedom, it's death to truth, it's death to honour, it's death to democracy. We need to bring over to the West people from countries who have not known a rule of law, who have not known independent judges, who have not known the free debate that we have, we should bring them over so that they can, in fact, see what happens in this country.

I know that during the war, when Winston had to have an alliance with Stalin, Winston was tackled in Parliament. “What are you doing?” , they said to Winston, “We thought you called communism a pestilence” . He did, in 1919. It didn't take Winston long to discover that—a pestilence. Long before Ronald Reagan called it the Evil Empire, it was a pestilence! “What are you doing, sending Northern Convoys to support Stalin?” “Oh” , said Winston, “if Hitler had invaded Hell, I would have made a very favourable reference to the Devil” . And he was right, he had to do that.

When it comes to China, I had to negotiate with Deng Xiao Ping, about Hong Kong and the reason I had to is because the lease of the land on which Hong Kong stands terminates in 1997. So the land goes back and we wanted freedom for the people. What they have done there is that Deng Xiao Ping saw that free enterprise, the economic side of liberty, produced a far higher standard of living than anything else in the world, and so he said, “Right, we will have free enterprise, you can start up in business on your own” . And we all know the Chinese are born traders and so, in fact, they are doing very well with smaller businesses even though they still have far too much nationalised industry. But as yet they are still not allowed political or personal liberty.

My friends, the history of the world is such. Once you have learned to have the economic liberty, you must have a say in making the laws that in fact cover your economic liberty and, gradually, the political and personal liberty will follow.

We are assisted now in our day by the fantastic advances of science, fantastic advances of communications, which means that governments find it difficult to stop the message of freedom from getting in. And so the people will want it more and more. And during your lifetime, if not during the lifetime of some of us here, we shall have a third great economic centre of the world and, I hope, one of political freedom. Not only Europe, as the land and area where political freedom started; not only the United States where it reached its zenith; but also in the area of Asia Pacific where we have so many friends, so many members of the Commonwealth—Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia, and, of course, India, the largest democracy in the world. And they say to me about China, “Oh, China's too big, we can't have democracy here” . I say, “Haven't you heard of India?” . 920 million people, democracy, free enterprise society; they're a little bit too socialist but they are turning the right way now.

And so, my friends, I promised my husband I would speak only for ten minutes but my minutes do last rather longer than sixty seconds sometimes. I say this to you—we have in this country, and in Europe, and in America, in the Commonwealth countries in Africa and in Asia, we have a good heritage. May I finish with a quotation from Goethe, a wonderful German writer: “That which thy fathers bequeathed to thee, earn it anew if thou wouldst possess it” . That is our task, to practise and earn anew the freedom that we have and which we wish to extend more widely to the whole world.