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To what extent is there continuity between traditional Conservatism and the New Right?

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Introduction

To what extent is there continuity between traditional Conservatism and the New Right? The New Right, a school of conservatism endorsed by both Thatcher and Reagan during the 1980s, was developed through the thinking of New Right pioneers such as Hayek (in his work The Road to Serfdom) and Friedman, who was largely responsible for the economic policies proposed by the New Right. Theorists of the New Right saw flaws in traditional conservatism, and attempted to amend these by reform it. These flaws resided mainly within society, the economy and the role played by authority in an efficient and coherent society. Both the New Right and traditional Conservatism agree fundamentally on the human condition - that is, humanity is intellectually limited, psychologically dependent and innately selfish. For traditionalist, romantic and paternalist conservatisms, humanity has a limited capacity for altruism, usually extending to family, neighbours and friends. We are naturally but not exclusively selfish, and our acquisitive instincts make us potentially corruptible, yet our laziness and liking for the tried and tested tends to limit the reach of such corruption. ...read more.

Middle

Automatic society was one in which society was able to keep itself in check. It still adopted the same view of hierarchy as more traditional conservatism, in which hierarchy was inevitable and desirable, due to the unequal distribution of skills, and the masses' need to be informed by those who know. We can see that as far as society is concerned, there is little continuity between traditional conservatism and the New Right other than that traditional conservatism sees society as a vehicle for progress, rather than the New Right's more liberal take in which society is a framework for self-realisation - the basis for Thatcher's (in)famous "there is no such thing as society" speech. With the implications of such a view on society, a strong authority is required to temper both the individual flaws and the idea of an organic society. Both classical conservatism and the New Right agree that authority is inevitable and desirable, but here the similarities end. Traditional conservatives see authority as a means of engineering and then sustaining the all-important gemeinschaft however possible. ...read more.

Conclusion

This is a clear attempt to engineer society through economic policy. Whilst the New Right doesn't quite subscribe to the liberal belief in Adam Smith's school of laissez-faire economics, it tends to steer more towards Smith than Keynes. Milton Friedman, the father of New Right economics, saw a problem with the liberal view of the economy, arguing that such freedom would lead to chaos. Equally, however, he disagreed with Keynes' view, and said an attempt to micro-manage economy was bound to fail, as Hayek believed with society. Therefore the New Right adopted a neo-liberal take on economic policy, in which similarities to the 'automatic society' can be seen. He proposed a macro-management of the economy, again striving for stability whilst the economy manages itself. Economic uncertainty was the cause of instability in the markets, and Friedman believed eliminating this possibility, twinned with encouragement of economic efficiency, would lead to a more stable economy, which would help society thrive. In society, authority and the economy, we can see a huge divergence between the theories of more traditional Conservatism and the New Right, which leads me to believe there is very little continuity between the two, as evidenced by the factors mentioned in this essay. ...read more.

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