But Cameron’s reluctance to put the question — any question — to the public underlines a key lesson of recent times, not only in the U.K. but in the rest of Europe, the U.S. and, most markedly, across the Middle East. People are less biddable than they were. They don’t trust the promises of their ruling classes. Even in full-fledged democracies, they don’t accept that governments know what’s best.

Watching European leaders flounder as markets and credit-ratings agencies delivered blow after blow to their plans, or observing U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner’s mission to stiffen the sinews of those leaders for their Dec. 9 summit while his own government’s debt-reduction plans remained gridlocked in Washington, it’s easy to understand such doubts. Along with the benefits of globalization — and, yes, the benefits of the euro — came huge challenges regarding how to reshape institutions and political systems for an interconnected, interdependent age. Those challenges have barely been acknowledged, much less surmounted. And that’s what casts a golden glow over memories of Thatcher. Not everyone agreed with the Lady’s ironclad convictions, but unlike today’s leaders, she more than proved her mettle.