Two curious quotes from Margaret Thatcher

Both quotes come from the infamous “there is no society” interview which she gave to a magazine in 1987. Here’s the first:

I think that children, young people, today are longing for some standards by which to live. You have got to have rules by which to live. If you live totally isolated and alone like Diogenes in the tub, maybe it does not mind (sic) but the moment you live in a community, you have got to have some rules by which to live. You have got to say: “These are the rules and we have to live by them!” Of course they will be broken from time to time, but that is quite different from there not being any rules. I mean, you could not begin to play any of the games—this is how I want mostly to explain this to children —how could you play a game unless there were certain rules to it?

And then the famous quote itself is the second one:

I think we have gone through a period when too many children and people have been given to understand “I have a problem, it is the Government’s job to cope with it!” or “I have a problem, I will go and get a grant to cope with it!” “I am homeless, the Government must house me!” and so they are casting their problems on society and who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then also to help look after our neighbour and life is a reciprocal business and people have got the entitlements too much in mind without the obligations, because there is no such thing as an entitlement unless someone has first met an obligation…

What a strange thing to say, only a few minutes after talking about communities and social rules and norms! I mean it’s almost a Freudian slip – a revealing little mistake about how she would like things to be – like she begins walking it back almost as soon as she’s said it, digressing into a discussion of obligations which is more in fitting with her earlier comments about community (community as rational holder of conservative norms??? community as conservative impulse even?).

Between the first and the second quote Thatcher is actually asked a bit about whether the first situation (the dissolution of strong community ties, which she blames on TV) was actually caused by greed. The interviewer says to her, “We seem to have more violence, we have the yuppies of the City sort of violent with money. We have competition and free enterprise and it seems somehow to go together with greed.” To which she responds in disagreement that it isn’t greed causing the problems, on the contrary, she says, “That is the great driving engine, the driving force of life. There is nothing wrong with having a lot more money.” Which is I think just question begging, because it assumes a very different definition of greed from the question asker (who is actually, on the whole, very sympathetic to Thatcher). He doesn’t really pick her up on it.

Anyway, the difference in the treatment of community and society by Thatcher speaks to the point I was trying to make in my previous post.