Irish Liberty Forum

The Iron Lady

with 13 comments

“There is no such thing as society only individuals and their families.” Margaret Thatcher

It is amazing how much stick Maggie got for this simple statement of fact. If you do believe that society exists, I would sure like to see a picture of it, or know its address. Individuals quite clearly exist, they can be seen and heard. Sometimes individuals join together to form families, which also clearly exist.

Society is very different. I do not think I need to explain the differences between Society and a family. But just to make it clear, we do not marry everyone else in our neighborhood!

Individuals and families do, of course, cooperate together. They form laws to protect themselves for one thing. They also raise taxes in order to fund certain projects which they feel will benefit everyone. It is a social construction, a good one I may add, but it is nothing more. It does not exist in the same way an individual exists, and therefore should not have the same rights as an individual and certainly should not be able to take these rights away from the individual.

What do people think of this quote?


Written by dermotk

February 8, 2008 at 9:45 pm

Posted in philosophy, politics

13 Responses

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  1. I think that at the time and in the situation that she said it, Mrs. Thatcher was right. Britains were not a society because they refused to think beyond themselves and their immediate families.


    February 8, 2008 at 10:05 pm

  2. Mises deals with this very early on in Human Action. The basic idea is that individuals are the only agents capable of “action” in the Austrian sense, meaning purposeful behaviour. Aggregations of individuals (families, businesses, nations and so on) can act in concert, but it is meaningful to talk of these aggregations “acting” only in the sense that their actions are the outcome of the actions of their component individuals. According to this formulation, the individual’s Ego is the indivisible unit whose actions are the subject of economic science.

    Baroness Thatcher would have understood many of these concepts. I don’t know if she read Mises but she was certainly familiar with the work of Hayek when she became Prime Minister.


    February 9, 2008 at 9:54 am

  3. jonolan, I’m not sure I understand what you mean. Are you saying British people were selfish in some particular ways during the eighties? I’d be curious to know which ones you are referring to. Were they less selfish in later years? I just don’t quite get what you are saying.


    February 9, 2008 at 12:21 pm

  4. Britain was stuck in a depression in the ’80s. People seemed concerned only about their own financial situations, not the nation’s during that time. Riots were common as neighborhoods tried to get more for themselves out of the “Council System.” So yes, I’m saying that during Thatcher’s term as PM the English acted more selfishly than they do today.


    February 9, 2008 at 12:44 pm

  5. Nations, legal tender and marriage are all social constructs, yet they still exist. Anyway, calling society a “social construct” is circular logic.

    By the way, we don’t marry everyone in our family either!


    February 9, 2008 at 1:29 pm

  6. Well spotted! But do you think you have the same responsibility for other peoples’ children, as you do for your own? That is if you have children!

    Jonolan certainly Socialism can be described as selfish, but i think that Thatcher was making a statement of fact, not an observation of Britain at the time.


    February 9, 2008 at 2:10 pm

  7. Fergal just noticed your first point. Certainly the idea of a family was socially constructed, but i would argue that it exists in a far more real way than Society. Socialism and nationalism are trying to create the idea that there is such a thing as a national family. This, i believe, is a dangerous idea. Society should not be allowed to subvert the family.


    February 9, 2008 at 2:20 pm

  8. Of course I don’t have the same responsibility for the children of others as for my own. That hardly proves the non-existence of society. No one thinks that society has the same claims on us as do our families, simply that it does have *some* claims.

    I fail to see how something can be a statement of fact and yet not an observation of reality. If it’s not reflected by reality, it’s not a fact.


    February 9, 2008 at 2:35 pm

  9. “Certainly the idea of a family was socially constructed, but i would argue that it exists in a far more real way than Society”

    This argues that one entity, family, is “more real” than the entity which created it, society. Leaving aside the validity of the term “more real”, this is a confused argument.

    The only doctrine I’m aware of that argues for the existence of a “national family” is fascism. Assigning such a belief to anyone who believes in the existence of society is straw man stuff.


    February 9, 2008 at 2:51 pm

  10. well at the moment you are obliged to pay for others peoples’ children, and other adults, through social welfare. We have to pay for a public health system rather than for our own etc. So it seems that many people do think you have the same obligations to others as to your family. When will these claims end?

    I meant observation as in a judgement. As in she believed society did not exist in Britain, because she judged that people were not acting like a society. They were too selfish or whatever

    I feel that she simply does not believe that society exists.
    hope that clears it up a bit, though i think i have confused myself as well!


    February 9, 2008 at 3:30 pm

  11. Well, a statement of belief is very different from an observation. You can’t, for example, “observe” the existence of god. So all Thatcher was really saying was that she didn’t like the idea of society. But, being the kind of person that she was, she phrased it as a statement of absolute truth, not as a political argument, which is what it really was.

    “many people do think you have the same obligations to others as to your family”

    Who are these many people? I’ve never met one. You’re suggesting that because we are equally obliged to others as to our families in some areas (eg. I’m equally required not to abuse other people’s children or my own) that there’s an equal obligation in all areas. I’ve never met anyone who told me I had to organise birthday parties for every child in the country, or help every child with their homework. This is more straw man stuff, equating the business of government with totalitarianism. There is a difference between a welfare state and North Korea.


    February 9, 2008 at 4:21 pm

  12. the issue of harming someone else is clearly a separate issue. You cannot harm someone else whether they are a family member or not.
    You are also obliged to provide welfare to other people. You may not have to organise children’s parties, but you do have to pay for child benefit. The burden of responsibility is no longer on the individual or the family, but is on Society. This, of course, means that the citizens of the state are obliged to provide the money. The state is becoming, in essence, like our father. It is providing for us and, in conjunction to this, it is controlling us.

    Society is just a word. To me it simply means, a collection of people forming a state with the responsibility of protecting their freedoms. The state should not become our father.

    The business of Government seems to be whatever it wants to be. It seems to have the ability to ban almost anything, and regulate every aspect of our lives. If it has no clear limits, who is to say where it will stop?


    February 9, 2008 at 10:49 pm

  13. dermotk, how do you move from the state providing for us (an arguable contention) to the state ‘controlling’ us.

    Secondly, conservatism has been very very clear to generate notions of a ‘national family’, indeed that’s one of the pillars of conservatism. Now, while I’ll entirely accept that might not be a pillar of libertarianism, it’s fair to suggest that simply suggesting that nationalism and socialism are the only ones to generate a national family – actually a highly dubious proposal as regards many socialist strains – is simply wrong.

    As for Government being able to ban everything and regulate every aspect of our lives and having no clear limits, that’s obviously incorrect. You ignore the point that we have ‘representative’ government rooted in democracy, where legislation is scrutinised by the democratic chambers and there is a written Constitution and body of law which is both publicly available and open to amendment. That’s far from the situation you suggest.


    February 16, 2008 at 8:40 pm

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