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Has Conservatism been more concerned with social stability or economic freedom?

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Has Conservatism been more concerned with social stability or economic freedom? Traditionally Conservatism has generally focussed on both social stability and economic freedom, believing that the two are inherently intertwined. The central theme of Conservative thought, namely "the desire to conserve", is closely linked to the emphasis placed on respect for tradition, established customs and institutions that have endured the "test of time". Conservatives fervently believe that tradition reflects the accumulated wisdom of the past, and that institutions and customs which have been tested by time, should all be preserved for the benefit of the living and for those still to come. In this way, tradition is believed to have the virtue of promoting stability and security within society as it provides individuals with a sense of social and historical belonging. This is underpinned by the conservative's pessimistic view of human nature, believing humans to be naturally dependent and security-seeking creatures, drawn to the familiar and desiring to live in safe and orderly communities. Conservatives have traditionally viewed society as an organic whole or a living entity whose parts work together in the same fashion the brain, heart and lungs do in a human body. If society is organic, its various institutions have been shaped by natural necessity and forces so as to provide security and social cohesion. ...read more.


For example, although the working class do not enjoy the same standard of living as their employers, they do not have the livelihood and security of many other people resting on their shoulders. Freedom thus demands a willingness to accept ones social obligations and ties. Where a parent instructs their child how to behave, for instance, they are not infringing their liberty, but providing guidance for the benefit of their child. Arising from the principles of organicism, hierarchy and duty is a belief in paternalism, which can be traced back to the writings of Benjamin Disraeli. In a climate of growing industrialisation, economic inequality and revolutionary upheaval in continental Europe, Disraeli warned against the dangers of Britain becoming divided into two nations: the Rich and the Poor, He feared that an oppressed working class would not simply accept their pitiable existence, but revolt in the hope of bringing about change in their interests. Disraeli therefore urged the privileged that reform from above was more favourable than revolution from below, thereby stressing that wealth brought responsibility towards those less fortunate. He appealed to the principles of duty and social obligation manifested in the feudal principle of 'noblesse oblige', the idea that the aristocracy should be honourable and generous. Duty is thus the price of privilege; the privileged must look after the poor in the interests of maintaining social stability and preventing revolution. ...read more.


The New Right's commitment to 'rolling back the state" in order to promote economic freedom also meant curbing the welfare state, which was criticised for having created a "culture of dependency". The New Right advanced a form of individualism, expressed most clearly in Margaret Thatcher's assertion that "there is no such thing as society, only individuals and their families", and revived ideas of self-help and individual responsibility. The Victorian era was largely called upon to provide inspiration for how to behave within society, and in some respects how to maintain stability within society by placing the family at the centre. "Victorian values" thus provided the basis for curbing growing social problems, in particular those brought about by rigorous economic policies such as high unemployment, by encouraging people to help themselves before claiming benefits. Conservatism has been concerned with both social stability and economic freedom over the years. The measure of importance given to each concept has alternated from time to time depending on the dominant mood at different points in time and the prevailing circumstances. Conservatives have adapted their policies to suit current demands, whilst ensuring that "economic freedom" and "social stability" have remained central tenets of conservative thought throughout history. At some time one concept has been more dominant than the other and vice versa. Nonetheless, Conservatives believe that the tw2o are very much intertwined and that there can be no social stability without economic freedom. Tessa Jones ...read more.

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