Victorian Values

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in skmurphy, Thought Leadership

In an 1983 radio interview Margaret Thatcher defined Victorian values as  hard work, self-improvement, self-reliance, living within your income, cleanliness, self-respect, a duty to help others, pride in country, and being a good member of your community. Here are some excerpts from an April 15, 1983 radio interview with Peter Allen on The Decision Makers program.

Peter Allen: I would like to begin as well by asking what you meant recently when you talked about Victorian values. What values are they? What do you mean?

Margaret Thatcher: Well, there is no great mystery about those. I was brought up by a Victorian grandmother. You were taught to work jolly hard, you were taught to improve yourself, you were taught self-reliance, you were taught to live within your income, you were taught that cleanliness was next to godliness. You were taught self-respect, you were taught always to give a hand to your neighbor, you were taught tremendous pride in your country, you were taught to be a good member of your community. All of these things are Victorian values. They are also perennial values as well.

From April 15, 1983 Margaret Thatcher interview

These are entrepreneurial values as well. Certainly hard work, self-improvement, self-reliance, thrift,  self-respect, and helping others are.

Allen: They encompass as well work-houses and shocking conditions in industry, all sorts of deplorable things that were also part of the Victorian scene.

Thatcher:  There are some values which are eternal and in fact you found a tremendous improvement in conditions during Victorian times because people were brought up with a sense of duty. I was brought up with a very strong sense of duty. And part of the sense of duty was if you were getting on better, you turned yourself to help others; that as you did better yourself so you had a duty to your community to turn to help others. And so, as you got an increasing prosperity during Victorian times and as you got an immense national pride during Victorian times, so you had a duty voluntarily to help others. And many of the very good things, the improvements that were made, were made voluntarily in those times, for example, people built hospitals, there were voluntary hospitals. Many of the church schools were built during that time. Many people say we simply must do better with the prisons, a better prison system, prison reform but it came from this tremendous sense of reliance and duty. You don’t hear so much about those things these days, but they were good values and they led to tremendous improvements in the standard of living.

From April 15, 1983 Margaret Thatcher interview

The advantage of private charitable actions is that more than solution can be attempted at once. One man’s wasteful duplication of effort is another man’s opportunity to experiment with different approaches.

Allen: So that’s what you’re trying to get back to. That’s what you would like to see happen, a society where we had those sort of values where perhaps the state steps back again then, and individuals get far more involved. What kind of society does that result in if people adopt those values?

Thatcher: If I may say so a very good society if people are self-reliant, self-respecting, if they always lend a hand to others, if they were always to improve themselves and work very hard to do it. If they reckon that they have got to be very good members of the community, not because any one tells them to, because that’s the way we live. If they live within their income and save and that saving is there for investment. If they are prepared to take responsibility for their own actions, and responsibility for their own families and to respect other people’s rights, it seems to me that you have the basis of an excellent society.

From April 15, 1983 Margaret Thatcher interview

No amount of money can alleviate poverty or increase health if the wrong choices are made.

Allen: Can you do anything to help create that excellent society? Do you for instance try to cut back on some areas of State activity so that you generate that kind of atmosphere in which that thing happens?

Thatcher: The state can only take things from people. If people take responsibility for the work they do, for working harder, for living within their income, for looking after themselves and their families, then there might indeed be fewer people who in fact need the help of the state and then everyone could have more of their own money, in fact, to chose how they spend it.

From April 15, 1983 Margaret Thatcher interview

I was struck by how topical this conversation was 32 years later.  The full audio is available at [registration required]

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