Conservatism as a Tension between Paternalism and Libertarianism

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Conservatism as a Tension between Paternalism and Libertarianism There are many different strands of conservatism within the ideology, the most significant of which in modern terms are paternalism and libertarianism. This conflict can be illustrated by the rival traditions of one-nation conservatism and New Right, or in particular neoliberal, conservatism. The basic idea of paternalism is to have authority over people for their own good. Whereas continental conservatives in the nineteenth century opposed any change, an Anglo-American tradition began with Edmund Burke which was more cautious, modest and pragmatic - these type of conservatives were willing to ‘change in order to conserve’. Therefore, those in a privileged position should use their power to help those less well off. These ideas are known as one-nation conservatism, and are often traced back to Benjamin Disraeli, a nineteenth-century British Prime Minister. He based his ideas on supporting social obligation over individualism. At the time there was a lot of economic inequality, and revolutionary upheaval, particularly in continental Europe. His ideas came from the fear that social inequality would lead to upheaval and threaten the established social order - therefore social reform was necessary to consolidate the position of the conservative elites. This is the pragmatic basis of one-nation beliefs, but there was also a moral basis. There is a strong sense of social obligation within paternalistic conservatism - with wealth comes obligations, and the economic inequality in the country leads to an inequality of social responsibilities. This comes from the idea of ‘... ... middle of paper ... ...he liberal new right contrasts completely with one nation principles in that it opposes social welfare, both on economic and moral grounds. The welfare system pushes up taxes and is often inefficient, but also creates a ‘culture of dependency’ by taking away people’s initiative and desire to better themselves. It is also blamed for family break-ups as women do not need to depend on men as breadwinners, and is seen as violating property rights because it involves compulsory redistribution of wealth. Although up until the 1960s conservative governments both in the UK and elsewhere supported paternalistic, one-nation principles, since the 1970s New Right ideas have become much more prominent, and therefore libertarian ideas within conservatism, particularly in economic terms, are more significant in modern conservatism.

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