Conservatism As A Tension Between Paternalism And Libertarianism

929 words - 4 pages

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 ‘noblesse oblige’ -
under the feudal system landowners were seen as having a paternal
responsibility for their peasants.

Disraeli believed in an organic society held together by duty and
responsibility, and was responsible for the Second Reform Act which
gave the working class the vote and also improved housing conditions
and hygiene. This is often seen as a form of Tory welfarism. One
nationism reached its peak in the 1950s and 1960s when conservative
governments in the UK promoted social welfare, in stark contrast to
later, New Right conservative governments such as the Thatcher
Government (1979-90). In the 50s one-nation conservatism was seen as a
‘middle way’ between ‘laissez-faire’ liberalism and socialist state
planning. Therefore, paternalistic conservatism could be seen as the
way of moderation.

Libertarian conservatism is very different. Libertarianism sees

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