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Traditional Conservatism or Traditional Toryism

Original strand of conservatism.

Key doctrine is the organic theory of the state.

Toryism believes in human imperfection.

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Central Themes of conservatism

1. Private property

2. Tradition

3. Natural hierarchy and authority

4. A static, harmonious class structure

5. Pragmatism

6. Paternalism

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Tory paternalism

This derives from the organic view of society that is inherently anti-egalitarian.

Like socialism, Tories perceive society in terms of class hierarchy.

Unlike socialism, they do not perceive there to be class conflict – but instead a harmonious hierarchy of social classes.

Traditional conservatives believe in one nation, governing responsibly in the interests of the whole.

It is based upon the belief of Noblesse oblige (social compassion) and the belief that “if the cottages are happy, the castle is safe” (Disraeli)

This implies the acceptance of welfarism.

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Tory paternalism

Organic view of society

Based upon the concept of ‘noblesse oblige’

One-nation welfarism

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Tory pragmatism

Traditional political conservatism mistrusts human reason, it therefore dislikes abstract theories and is instead pragmatic.

Pragmatism relies upon practical responses to concrete circumstances.

Some people argue that conservatism is less an ideology than a habit of mind or a way of feeling.

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Ideology of traditional conservatism

1. Belief in property

2. Organic theory

3. Mistrust of human reason

4. Belief in natural hierarchy

5. Resistance to change

6. Reverence for tradition

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There are 2 distinct strands to New-Right conservatism (Thatcherism in the UK):



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New Right neo-liberalism

The origins of New Right conservatism, or Thatcherism, lie in 18th century classical liberalism, but came to dominate across much of Europe and the USA in the 1980s.

It is now called neo-liberalism.

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Key features of New Right neo-liberalism

It is a mechanistic/individualist theory

“There is no such thing as society; only individuals and families” (Thatcher)

It views human nature as rational and self-seeking. This is in contrast with the traditional conservative mistrust of human reason.

It advocates free market economics (negative economic freedom – this contrasts with one nation, paternalist welfarism.

It is principled and doctrinaire – Thatcher “No U-turns” “The lady’s not for turning”.

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New Right neo-conservatism

What is new about the New Right is that, to neo-liberal, laissez-faire economics, it has added a political, social and moral authoritarianism.

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What features does neo-conservatism share with traditional conservatism:

It is an organic/collectivist theory – traditional conservatives and neo-conservatives perceive a natural, static, interdependent hierarchy in society.

It believes in natural hierarchy and authority – headed by natural governors.

It mistrusts human reason – neo-conservatives are especially concerned with the moral imperfection of humans and their capacity for crime.

It believes in private property – it gives people a sense of rootedness in society.

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What features does neo-conservatism not share with traditional conservatism:

Paternalism – neo-conservatives are instead authoritarian, disciplinarian and illiberal.

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The New Right paradox

A primary goal of the New Right is a return to the free- market economy that dominated the classical liberal, Victorian era of the 19th century.

Thus, unlike traditional conservatism, it is both radical and reactionary.


However, it has allied this laissez-faire economic doctrine with an equally reactionary authoritarianism in all other (non-economic) spheres of life.


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The New Right paradox

In the economic sphere, the New Right advocates negative freedom from state intervention.

However, in the social, moral and political spheres the New Right is illiberal and favours a strong and controlling state, especially in law and order.

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Neo-liberalism Neo-conservatism

•Mechanistic theory


•Negative economic freedom

•Equal opportunity

•Limited state

•Organic theory

•Mistrust of human nature



•Strong state

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Paradox or Complementary?

The free market economy of the 1980s and 1990s resulted in growing economic inequalities and social disorder, which required stronger policing and political controls to keep the lid on potential social unrest.


There is an undeniable contradiction between the two strands of New Right ideology, because of their very different philosophical roots.

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Comparisons and contrasts within conservatism

Tories and New Right share 4 main beliefs:

Private property – conservatives believes that private property gives insecure humans a sense of rootedness and identity.

However, the neo-liberal New Right emphasis on the free market is stronger than that of the Tories.

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Comparisons and contrasts within conservatism

Hierarchy – conservatives believe that equality is unnatural and undesirable.

However, the Tory perception of an organic static, class hierarchy differs markedly from the neo-liberal New Right mechanistic, individualistic ladder of meritocracy.

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Comparisons and contrasts within conservatism

Law and order – conservative believe that morally imperfect humans need the guidance and constraint of law.

However, the paternalistic Tory, Dixon of Dock Green image of the ‘bobby on the beat’ contrasts sharply with the militaristic, New Right, Robocop version of policing.

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Comparisons and contrasts within conservatism

Christian family values – UK conservatives look to the Christian Church for moral guidance.

However, the paternalist compassion of Toryism contrasts with the authoritarian discipline of neo-conservatism.

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Traditional conservatism New Right




•Mistrusts human nature



•Natural governors











•Mistrusts human nature



•Natural governors



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Comparisons and contrasts within conservatism

Although all conservatives share a few common beliefs, there seems to be more in common between traditional conservatism and neo-conservatism, than between neo-liberalism and neo-conservatism.

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The UK Conservative Party before 1979

The Conservative Party is the oldest of the 3 main parties in the UK, and its origins lie in the Tory faction of late-17th century monarchists.

It began calling itself the Conservative Party in 1824 but in its modern form it dates from 1834, when Robert Peel’s Tamworth Manifesto combined a defence of traditional institutions with a programme of moderate reforms.

The party was split by the repeal of the Corn Laws – free trade v.s protectionism – in 1846.

It regained strength in the 1870s under Benjamin Disraeli. It was in power almost continuously from 1886 until 1905, defending the union with Ireland until 1922.

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The UK Conservative Party before 1979

The Conservative-led coalition under Churchill triumphed in WW2, but meanwhile the Conservative Party neglected domestic policy and its own management and fund-raising – hence Labour landslide defeat by Labour in 1945.

In the post-war period until the 1970s, the Conservatives pursued Harold Macmillan’s ‘middle-way’.

Under Edward Heath, the Conservatives took the UK into the EEC in 1973.

However, traditional Tory pragmatism has alternated with phases of deep ideological division that invariably weakened the party.

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Conservative prime ministers after 1945

Winston Churchill, 1951-55

Anthony Eden, 1955-57

Harold Macmillan, 1957-63

Alec Douglas-Home, 1963-64

Edward Heath, 1970-74

Margaret Thatcher, 1979-90

John Major, 1990-97

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The UK Conservative Party 1979-2005

The philosophical foundations of the British Conservative Party were stable until the triumph of Margaret Thatcher and the New Right from 1979.

The New Right came to the fore in the UK in the 1970s for a variety of reasons:

Economic recession seemed to prove that Keynesian state intervention had failed.

Many Conservatives perceived a growing culture of welfare dependency, which they rejected.

They also rejected the permissive society of the 1960s and 1970s.

UK membership of the EU since 1973 seemed to threaten national sovereignty.

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The UK Conservative Party 1979-2005

Thatcherism was the UK variant of New Right conservatism, also known as the radical right.

It combined free-market economics, privatisation of public services and cuts in taxation and welfare with authoritarian social, moral and law-and-order-policies.

Thatcher won 3 general elections but became increasingly unpopular due to high levels of unemployment, the 198-85 miners’ strike , the poll tax and growing tensions over European policy.

Margaret Thatcher was ousted by her own party in 1990.

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Conservative leaders and policies since Thatcher

•1990-97: John Major

•1997-2001: William Hague

•2001-03: Iain Duncan Smith

•2003-05: Michael Howard

•2005-: David Cameron

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The UK Conservative Party today

Three consecutive general election defeats, and a fourth leadership succession in as many years, resulted in the 2005 election of David Cameron as party leader.

A moderniser – apparently anti-Thatcherite, despite his previous New Right credentials.

The Conservative Party modernisers are largely moderate social liberals.

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David Cameron’s priorities are, apparently two-fold:

1. To pull the party back towards a more centrist and moderate ideological stance.

He has, for example, downplayed tax cuts and instead emphasised economic stability and the protection of public services.

He has also opposed compulsory national identity cards, contrary to Thatcherite neo-conservative illiberalism.

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2. To transform the composition and image of the party by including more young, female and ethnic minority candidates and members.

This involved imposing more diverse candidates on local party branches – a move resisted by some party activists.

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Current Conservative Party problems

1. New leader David Cameron has found it difficult to put ‘clear blue water’ between the Conservatives and Labour.

2. Many party members and activists have seemed reluctant to follow Cameron’s ideological lead.

3. Cameron’s early leadership appeared more style than substance.

4. The party was stuck in a damaging controversy, along with the Labour Party, about receiving dubious donations and secret loans in return for honours.