A2 Government & Politics Unit:3b, Topic 3: Conservatism

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Origins of Conservatism

  • UK Cons. - Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France 1790 
  • - Deeply regretted the revoluntionary challenge to the ancien regime 
  • UK cons. drawn heavily upon the ideas of Burke 
  • Willingness here to "change in order to conserve" 
  • Conservatism can be seen as having prospered due to being unwilling to be tied down to a fixed system of ideas like other ideologies e.g. Progression and beginning of New Right 
  • Divided between paternalistic support for state intervention and libertarian commitment to the free market 
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General

  • Cons. portrayed as a negative ideology 
  • People have a clearer understanding of what they oppose than what they favour Seen as having a distaste for rational thought. 
  • Tradition > ration 
  • Cons. is not simplistically pragmatism, nor opportunism, instead based on set beliefs
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Core Themes

  • 1. TRADITION 
  • 2. HUMAN IMPERFECTION 
  • 3. ORGANIC SOCIETY
  • 4. HIERARCHY AND AUTHORITY 
  • 5. PROPERTY  
  • 6. ONE NATION 
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Tradition

  • Natural law - "God-given" practices and customs 
  • Burke - market forces = natural law 
  • Endorsed by Darwin's natural selection 
  • G. K. Chesterton (early 20C) "democracy of the dead" 
  • Santayana - "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" 
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Human Imperfection

  • Cons. is a 'philosphy of human imperfection' - O'Sullivan 
  • Humans are limited and dependent creatures - pessimistic view unlike liberalism 
  • Rely on knowing 'their place' in society 
  • T. Hobbes - people should be willing to sacrafice liberty to preserve social order 
  • Refers to the 'original sin' in the Bible as human's greed 
  • Example of enforcing human imperfection - tougher jail sentences 
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Organic Society

  • Living society - change too quickly will kill it 
  • E.g. Immigration - Enoch Powell 
  • 'Anomie' - Durkheim  (society provides little moral guidance to individuals) 
  • Organicism - Thatcher opposed this with her statement "there is no such thing as society only individuals and families" 
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Hierarchy and authority

  • Meritocracy dismantles class system 
  • John Major's 'classless society' proposal - problematic to this cause
  • Burke - "natural aristocracy"  talent is an innate and inbred quality
  • There must exist leaders and followers 
  • New Right challenges this 
  • Burke - "good order is the foundation of all good things"
  • - Prison works schemes 
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Property

  • Property has psychological and social advantages 
  • THose who have their own property are more likely to respect others' property 
  • Theft is the worst crime 
  • MacMillan's disgust at Thatcher "selling off the family silver" in her privatisation 
  • Thatcher did promote some property - Right to Buy schemes promoted property
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Authoritarian conservatism

  • Joseph de Maistre - defended autocratic rule 
  • Unprepared to accept changes to the ancien regime 
  • Revolution would weaken the chains that bind people together and lead to a descent into chaos and oppression 
  • Authoritarian rule more strong in Europe in 19C 
  • Authoritarianism was more entrenched in Russia
  • --- Tsar Nicholas I "orthodoxy, autocracy and nationality!" 
  • Populist - people wanted tradition but has a link to pragmatism too 
  • Without a ruler - Hobbes - Life would be "nasty, brutish and short"
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USA

  • The USA on the other hand has not been influenced by cons. policies too much in history, instead preferring liberal ideas. Only since around 1970s that conservatism has dominated Republican thinking - e.g. Reagan 
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New Right

  • The New Right possessed a great enthusiasm for the free market, and was economically influenced by liberal ideas
  • 70s radical ideas - challenging Keynesian policies, welfare and orthodoxy 
  • Thathcer and Reagan 
  • Economics - Neo-lib (extreme freedom for the wealthy) 
  • Social - Neo-con (limited gov't, poor made poorer under Thatcher) 
  • "Roll back" on interventionist gov't 
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One Nation (Paternalistic cons)

  • Traced back to Benjamin Disraeli 
  • Draws attention to the danger of UK being two nations: "the Rich and the Poor" 
  • Growing social inequality contrains the seed of revolution (quite Marxist) 
  • Reform would therefore be sensible and in the interests of the rich 
  • Society is naturally hierarchical and the powerful must shoulder the responsibility of the poor - "noblesse oblige" 
  • Disraeli - "more for the working class in five years than liberals have in fifty" - e.g. the Second Reform Act 1867 (giving WC right to vote and improving housing conditions and hygiene 
  • Can be seen as a form of Tory Welfarism 
  • 1950/60s Keynesian social dem.- goal of full employment and support of welfare
  • Based on non-ideological 'middle-way' credited to MacMillan, "planned capitalism" mix between laissez-faire economics and socialist state planning 
  • Desire that the poor is no longer a threat to social order 
  • E.g. - Michael Heseltine and Kenneth Clarke 
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Christian Democracy

  • Paternalistic society, tradition of Catholicism 
  • Stressed balance/organic harmony over competition 
  • Commitment to the social market and qualified economic intervention 
  • Largely European endorsed - favour decentralisation 
  • Pragmatic economists - Friedrich List 
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Libertarian cons

  • Esp. Classical lib ideas 
  • Burke and Adam Smith (economic) 
  • Liberty (in negative terms!) - laissez-faire economics, Friedrich von Hayek 
  • Desire for weath 'love of lucre' = human nature 
  • Laws of the market = natural laws 
  • People would suffer more if the 'natural course of things' were disturbed 
  • 'getting gov't off the back of business!' 
  • Pessimistic view of nature
  • Strong state is required socially to ensure public order and that authority is respected
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Key Figures / Examples

  • Coalition Cons not allowed to destroy HRA '98 due to LDs 
  • T. Hobbes - social contract theory (strong gov't) 17C
  • E. Burke - Pragmatism - main figure in UK Cons 18C
  • F. von Hayek - Laissez-faire economics 20C 
  • M. Oakeshott - "Humans prefer the familiar to the unknown" tradition 20C 
  • R. Nozick - Minimal welfare 20C + collective ownership is "legalised theft" 
  • R. Reagan - Soviet Union "evil empire" 20C 
  • S. Huntington - Reinforce USA's "benevolent global hegemony" 1996
  • N. Tebbitt - Opposed immigration in interest of organic society 20C 
  • Dr L. Fox - Wanted for money for defence - resigned 21C 
  • T. Blair - Quite cons. Iraq 2003 
  • M. Thatcher - NR, Falklands 1981 + "no such thing..." 
  • G. Osborne - £25 billion more cuts, demonisation of "scroungers" - 21C 
  • D. Cameron - "compassionate con", also harsher cuts/less taxes, 45% tax reduce planned for top earners, also pragmatism Same Sex Marriage Act 2013
  • M. Friedman - "natural rate of unemployment" beyond gov'ts power 
  • C. Murray - Welfare breaks tradition as women become more independent of men and increase of single mothers as a result 
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Other

  • "Creeping collectivism" lead to development of anarcho-capitalism in some parts of the Cons. party 
  • Freedom can only be achieved by 'rolling back' of the state
  • Trickle down economy - Thatcher, more liberty for the rich 
  • Cons can be considered anti-feminist, breaks trad. of family unit, M. Thatcher "Victorian values" 
  • Wilsonianism - spread US style democracy around the world e.g. after 9/11 2001 
  • Washington Consensus - "stablise, privatise, liberalise" followed by Thatcher 
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Contrasts/Tensions

PATERNALIST CON.....................................................................LIBERTARIAN CON 

Pragmatism..................................................................................Principle 

Traditionalism...............................................................................Radicalism 

Social Duty..................................................................................Egoism 

Organic Society............................................................................Atomistic individualism 

Hierarchy.....................................................................................Meritocracy

Social Responsibility....................................................................Individual Responsibility

Natural Order...............................................................................Market order 

'Middle way' economics................................................................Laissez-faire economics

Qualified welfarism.......................................................................Anti-welfarism 

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