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The Difference between the New Right and Conservatism

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    The post-Thatcherite New Right ideology evolved from a combination of elements of neo-Liberal and neo-Conservative ideologies, and although these are occasionally contradictory in nature, they set the New Right apart from traditional Conservatism. The neo-liberal principles prevalent in the ideology of the New Right includes a laissez-faire view of welfare, strong support for individualism and the rising middle class, and limited government intervention in both the economy, and society as a whole.

    Support for individualism stems in particular from the liberal view that individuals are rational beings – and are therefore the best judges of what is in their own best interests – this leads to the idea that they should be allowed the maximum possible individual freedom to determine their own behaviour (subject to the restriction that their behaviour should not harm others).

    This actually contradicts the neo-conservative aspect of the New Right – which suggest that this kind of individualism is a recipe for disaster, and think that individual freedom, albeit limited, can best be guaranteed via respect for traditional norms, values and institutions. This includes a strong ‘paternalistic’ state in terms of justice, although still relatively ‘loose’ in terms of welfare and economic control.

    This difference however, is exacerbated when we consider the New Right as a whole, coherent, ideology against traditional Conservatism; followers of Margaret Thatcher’s version of liberal conservatism believed that people were naturally competitive, and that private enterprise should be encouraged because it rewarded effort – a liberal meritocracy.

    This propagated radical change in the economy as a necessary step, whilst traditional conservatives were opposed to any form of radical change; and this stemmed from differing beliefs of the importance of the individual – Thatcherites proclaim the individual as paramount, and think that the freedom of the individual, particularly in business, is vital to success in private enterprise, and the economy as a whole.

    However, traditional conservatives are of the view that the needs of all are more important (based upon an organic view of society), and maintain that too much freedom is dangerous, which it is, for their artificially structured some-on-top, some-left-on-the-bottom social ideal.

    The neo-liberal aspect of the New Right also lends its moral viewpoint to the Thatcherite view of state welfare – a belief in the ‘trickle down’ effect; this is the idea that economic efficiency and rising living standards will be best achieved if economies are managed upon laissez faire principles – and that the economic inequalities generated are actually desirable, because they generate financial incentives for people to work harder, to save, and to invest – which will lead to faster economic growth and the benefits of this will “trickle down” to the poorest in society.

    This view however is strongly opposed by traditional conservatives, who, although they lack socialist views of welfarism, believe that a welfare state is necessary.

    The two groups also have differing views in terms of how the state is governed; whilst the neo-conservatives lead support within the New Right for the maintenance, or at most – gradual change, in the existing social order – which implies support for traditional sources of authority, and traditional institutions – and are therefore supporters of strong but limited government, the neo-liberal aspect means that the New Right as a whole are hostile towards trade unions, and to ‘unelected bodies, such as pressure groups’.

    They are also suspicious of local government bodies. Traditional conservatives on the other hand are recognise the importance of trade union support, and are prepared to cooperate and listen to their views, and also support local government, recognising their role in maintaining the state. However, in seeking to marry together the neo-liberal view and the neo-conservative view of the state, Thatcher and her supporter’s beliefs may be summarised as “a free economy and strong state. Both Thatcherism and traditional conservatism propagate a strong state as necessary to maintain law and order and to strengthen the role of central government in the provision of state education – which was believed to be failing to meet the needs of the capitalist economy. Consequently there are areas where the distinctions between the liberal and conservative views within the New Right are more apparent than the differences between that and traditional conservatism.

    In conclusion, whilst there are significant differences apparent – especially in terms of the economy and the individual, there are areas where they are ideologically very similar. It was the neo-liberal influence on Thatcherite beliefs that drew the ideology of the New Right away from that of traditional Conservatism, and drove it in a new, more extreme, direction.

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