(And those who think it’s impossible to praise them both at the same time are just plain hypocrites)

Twenty thirteen is leaving us behind but before we say goodbye, it’s time to remember the two giants that went away during it. Perhaps two of the most influential political leaders of the twentieth century and certainly two of the most influential freedom fighters the world has ever known left us during this year: Margaret Thatcher and Nelson Mandela. Some will say it’s impossible to compare them or to admire them at the same time. Those on the hard Left will say that Thatcher was an “evil woman” who destroyed humble trade unions, increased social inequality and supported right-wing dictators in her fight against Communism. Those on the hard Right will say that Mandela was a Communist who perpetuated terrorist acts, believed in Marxism and supported left-wing tyrants around the world. Their obfuscation by useless ideological utopias makes them unable to see the ways in which both, Thatcher and Mandela, contributed to individual liberty and human dignity.

Setting the record straight. 

Was Thatcher an “evil woman”? Well, no one with at least the minimum sum of intellectual curiosity will debate his or her opponent by labeling him or her as “evil.” For even when it may be a more sophisticated form of argument, it does not fall too far from throwing at each other rocks. Did she destroy trade unions? Unions are well and alive in Britain, but no question, much less powerful than before Ms Thatcher came to power in 1979. And thank goodness for that. No union master can hold British society at ransom (as they used to do in the 1970s) any longer. Britain’s economic performance after Thatcherism is a testament to that. Did Thatcher support right-wing dictators? There is one dictator she didn’t directly support but was fond of: Chilean General Augusto Pinochet. As we have said it in the past, even when we can see some explanations for this feeling towards Pinochet (the Falklands War comes to mind) there is no justification for it. It was wrong and it’s Thatcher’s darkest spot.

Now what about Mandela? Did he commit acts of terrorism? Yes, he did, at his young age. Even when we can understand the desperation caused by the indignity of apartheid, taking an innocent individual’s life in an act of terror to advance a political cause–no matter how noble that cause is–has no justification. The good–and admirable–thing is that Mr Mandela changed course and, once liberated from prison, sought reconciliation rather than revenge, peaceful democracy rather than armed violence. Was Mandela a Marxist? One could say the young, terrorist Mandela was an admirer of Marxism or, at least, some form of socialism. That belief later morphed into some sort of democratic socialism with many liberal elements on issues of human rights and freedoms. The fact is, during his presidency, Nelson Mandela nationalized nothing, he kept South Africa’s economy open and respected the freedom of speech. In other words, as president, Mandela was pretty liberal. Did he support or admire dictators? Here, as with Thatcher, the answer is yes. He admired Cuba’s dictator Fidel Castro and was also a friend of Libya’s autocrat Muammar Gaddafi. Many on the Left will want this to be forgotten, but he did support tyrants and this is also his darkest spot. So, whenever you hear a leftie say “how can you admire someone who was a friend of Pinochet?,” you should come back with “well, the same away you (and I for that matter) can admire someone who befriended Castro and Gaddafi.”

The point here is: we all have dark spots in our personal stories. No one is spotless. We have to look for the positive aspects these individuals brought to humanity’s journey (unless, of course, we’re talking about mass murderers like Hitler, Stalin, Mao, etc., which neither Thatcher nor Mandela were). Both Thatcher and Mandela advanced the cause of human liberty. Thatcher did so, by liberating individuals at home from the excessive statism which controlled the pre-1980s Britain. A change which, in turn, made way to a more liberal, open and cosmopolitan society. But even if someone disagrees with Thatcher’s economic recipes and results, no one can deny her essential role in the liberation of millions of eastern Europeans from the chains of Communist totalitarianism. The people of eastern Europe will forever be grateful to someone who never backed down to the threats of the Soviet Empire, but who talked to the enemy–instead of warmongering–when that proved to be the key to the collapse of one of the most oppressive dictatorships in the history of humanity.

Mandela advanced human liberty by fighting until the end to secure the demise of an unjust and cruel system of racial segregation and oppression, and most importantly, by doing so through peaceful, democratic means, leaving behind the violent ways of the past, and fostering reconciliation rather than vengeance.  His actions made possible a peaceful transition to a liberal, inclusive democracy, where not only blacks were freed from the chains of apartheid, but also whites were freed from their prejudices and fears towards their fellow countrymen.

Two giants. Two individuals that will forever be remembered in the halls of history. Two human beings that left us in 2013. Two freedom fighters that shall never be forgotten.