Past paper questions and short answers

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Short Answers
1. How do traditional conservatives and the New Right differ in their views of society? (Jan 2002)
Traditional conservatives believe in an organic society, arguing that society is best understood as a living entity
rather than an artefact or machine. Amongst the implications of this view are that social change should be
resisted unless it is 'natural'; that traditional institutions should be preserved because of their role in sustaining
the social whole; that society is more important than the individuals or groups who compose it because the whole
is more than a collection of its individual parts; that duty and social obligation are vital in upholding the fragile
fabric of society; and that hierarchy is an unavoidable feature of society.
By contrast, the liberal New Right's view of society is of atomistic individualism, reflected in the Benthamite or
Thatcherite belief that there is no such thing as society only the individuals who compose it. This view implies that
individuals are more important than society; that individual rights and freedoms should take priority over duties
and social obligations; that social institutions are merely instrumental in that they are fashioned through
contractual agreements in order to satisfy mutual interests; and that society should be characterised by equality
of opportunity, allowing individuals to rise and fall on the basis of merit.
The conservative New Right, on the other hand, subscribes to a traditional, organic view of society. Key
discriminating factors include the strength of the conceptual distinction between organicism and individualism;
the extent to which the implications of the two views are highlighted; and whether or not reference is made to
differences between neo-liberalism and neo-conservatism.
2. Why, and to what extent, do conservatives value tradition? (Jun 2002)
Conservatives value tradition for a variety of reasons, including that it provides the surest guide to action, being
'tried and tested' by history; that it engenders stability and rootedness because it is familiar; and that it reflects
God's will, being an expression of natural law.
However, the liberal New Right rejects tradition, in that it believes in reason and tends towards radicalism,
although the conservative New Right re-emphasises the importance of tradition, especially in the form of
traditional values.
3. Why have conservative's feared moral and cultural diversity? (Jan 2003)
The conservative fear of moral and cultural diversity is rooted in assumptions about society and human nature.
For conservatives, society has an organic character in that the whole is more than the collection of its individual
parts. Society is thus bound together by a fragile network of relationships and institutions. Order and stability
within such societies is promoted by shared values and a common culture; moral and cultural diversity therefore
threaten conflict and even social breakdown.
Moreover, as human beings are limited and dependent creatures, shared values and a common culture are the
vital source of rootedness and belonging, helping to engender a stable and secure sense of identity. Cultural and
moral diversity are thus also associated with rootlessness and personal insecurity.
4. Distinguish between a socialist and a conservative view of human nature. (June 2003)
Socialists view human nature in broadly positive terms. In particular they believe that there is a social core to
human nature, inclining people to be co-operative, sociable and gregarious. This also, however, encourages them
to stress nurture over nature, and to recognise the extent to which people's attributes and characters are shaped
by the social environment. Socialists thus highlight the prospects for personal and social development, associating
individual fulfilment with social solidarity and equality. Social democracy has nevertheless diluted this collectivist
vision through a partial accommodation with individualism and the need, for example, for material incentives.
Conservatism has, by contrast a broadly negative view of human nature. Human beings are psychologically
imperfect in that they are limited and dependent creatures. They are morally imperfect in that they are ruled by
base urges and non-rational instincts, an assumption that reflects the conservative emphasis on nature over

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They are also intellectually imperfect in that human rationality cannot fathom the infinite complexities of
society and the world in which we live. Neo-liberal conservatives nevertheless stress that human beings are
rationally self-interested creatures with a considerable capacity for self- reliance.
5. Why has the New Right advocated rolling back the state? (June 2003)
The New Right advocates 'rolling back the state' for a variety of reasons.…read more

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Traditional conservatives believe that society has an organic nature. This implies that, as with an organism, the
whole is more than a collection of its individual parts, being sustained by a fragile set of relationships between or
amongst its parts which, if damaged, threatens the life of the whole. This further implies, that, as with organisms,
society's various parts or institutions have quite different roles or functions, creating a hierarchy amongst them
that make social equality absurd and impossible.…read more

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The liberal view of authority suggests that it arises `from below', being a product of the
recognition by individuals that peaceful and orderly existence would be impossible without a framework of
authority expressed through the mechanism of law. Social contract theory is based on such a belief. In this view,
authority exists to benefit the individual and should always be rationally based. This implies that, though essential,
authority should be as minimal as possible, since it always limits freedom and autonomy.…read more

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New Right conservatives have nevertheless embraced an essentially liberal view of property based on individual
rights and economic incentives. In this view, the right to property is based on hard work or just transfer
(inheritance). This view differs from the traditional conservative view in that it suggests that property is merely a
right and never an obligation (for example, it does not entail duties towards the larger society or later generations
­ `the family silver').
17.…read more

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First, conservatives have traditionally viewed human beings as psychologically imperfect, as limited and
dependent creatures who seek, above all, security .This implies a resistance to change and helps to explain why
conservatives value tradition.
Second, human beings are morally imperfect in that they are greedy and selfish creatures motivated by
non-rational impulses and desires. This implies that order can only be established by a strong state and firm law
and order policies, disorder residing within the individual and not society.…read more

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The rise of the New Right, and particularly neo-liberalism, has resulted in greater concern with economic freedom,
in some respects at the expense of social stability.
The libertarianism of neo-liberal conservatism derives from its emphasis on free market economics and rugged
individualism. The restless dynamism of the market and the dismantling of welfare supports arguably threaten the
stable organic structure of society.
5. To what extent have conservatives preferred pragmatism to principle? (Jan 2004)
Conservatives have traditionally supported pragmatism over principle.…read more

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Why, and to what extent, have conservatives been committed to tradition and continuity? (June 2005)
Tradition encompasses ideas, practices or institutions that have been passed down from one generation to the
next, establishing continuity through time and, in particular, between past generations and the present
Respect for tradition and continuity has been one of the core features of conservatism, most clearly represented
in so- called traditional conservatism.…read more

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In this view, there is no such thing as society, and therefore no such thing as
community, outside of family groups at least. In social and economic terms this leads to a desire to roll back the
state in the interests of the free market and rugged individualism. The conservative New Right, however, retains a
fondness for community, in emphasizing, for example, the importance of traditional morality and national
11.…read more

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Third, tradition helps to uphold social stability, generating a sense of identity for both society and the individual.
In this view, the benefit of tradition is that it is familiar and reassuring. For the individual it generates 'rootedness'
and belonging; for society it generates cohesion and a common culture.
Neoliberal trends within modern conservatism have departed from traditionalism, however.…read more


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