The Bishop gets it wrong over “there is no such thing as society.”
The Bishop of London, Rt Rev Richard Chartres, had mixed reviews for his funeral sermon. The original report on the Daily Mail website accused him of ‘talking through his beard’ and introducing a ‘sour note’ because he had the temerity to point out that the Tolpuddle Martyrs were, like Lady Thatcher, brought up as Methodists. At the time of writing, no one has protested that it was an insult to the Tolpuddle Martyrs, but no doubt that will happen.
Where the Bishop pleased Lady Thatcher’s admirers was with his explanation of why she said that “there is no such thing as society.” The phrase has been “misunderstood”, he said and “refers in her mind to some impersonal entity to which we are tempted to surrender our independence”
But this is not right. Thatcher’s theme was not self-reliance, but responsibility – or rather the lack of it, in adults who have children but do not want to cope with parenthood. And it was not a comment that slipped out by mistake: she actually made the assertion twice in one interview.
Speaking to Woman’s Own on 23 September 1987, she said: “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!”
The actual, much-quoted phase came out a few sentences later, when she added: “If children have a problem, it is society that is at fault. There is no such thing as society.” The full text is here.
We can all agree that adults who have children should care for them: they should not expect others to do it for them. But, sadly, there will always be some children brought into the world by parents who are willfully irresponsible or incapable of bringing them up, and if “there is no such thing as society” to take care of them either, what do Thatcherites suppose will happen to those children?
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