Essay, Research Paper: Neo-Conservatism


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There are two inter-related spheres, which this paper will explore. The first
one asks what the relative appeal of Neo-conservatism was in Britain and
Germany. The second determines the extent to which Neo-conservative policies
were successfully implemented in the two respective countries. The perspectives
chosen here try to explain Neo-conservatism with theories of social and cultural
change to provide examples of its effects. The New Right is "conceptualized
as populist Neo-conservative reactions to fundamental change in culture and
values in a society. Neo-conservatism reflects a new cleavage based on value
change." Neo-conservatism still fell within the confines of traditional
conservative ideologies, for example, opposition to the welfare state and the
redistribution of income. In this paper the comparison between Britain, a
country with long-standing democratic traditions and a civil society, and
Germany, which has had strong non-democratic traditions, a fascist past and the
recent establishment of a civil society will help to determine to what extent
they has been 'socialized'. Neo-conservative governments came to power in
Britain prior to 1979, and in West Germany to 1982. Prior to their victory,
there was great discontent with certain aspects of the existing social
democratic politics over issues of state-influenced and state intervening
economic policy. Polls taken in Britain prior to the 1979 election likewise
showed "a massive 75% of respondents in favour of a reduction in state
spending." Similarly, "the fall of the West German Social Democratic
Party (SPD) in the 1982 coincided with a dramatic collapse of public confidence
in the Schmidt administration's handling of the economy. Only 17% of voters
considered the SPD the party that guaranteed job security." The lack of
faith in government to solve such economic crises reflected a more general loss
of faith in the political system. This lack of faith was also evident through
the widespread decline in support for the major parties in Germany and Britain.
Further, a deep skepticism was expressed over the capacity of government to
handle economic depression or mitigate its effects. This was most clearly
evident in attitudes to mass unemployment. Surveys conducted in "Britain in
1984 found that 55% of respondents accepted that high unemployment was something
'we'll just have to live with'. In West Germany as well as Britain, majorities
were all recorded in 1984 who believed economic conditions would deteriorate
rather than improve in 1985." This continued to deter the credibility of
the social democrats and other major parties in the views of their constituents.
Between 1980 and 1987 "the SPD were seen as less competent than the
Christian Democratic Union (CDU) on every question relating to the economy:
unemployment, inflation, economic growth and even social security." In
assessing the appeal of the Neo-conservatism one of the first indications would
be the broad shift in social attitudes. An essential part of the strategy of
politicians like Margaret Thatcher in Britain was "to adapt their party's
ideological appeal to perceived social changes in outlook and behaviour while
simultaneously seeking to direct or shape those changes in order to create a
permanent majority for their brand of politics." Thatcher had made serious
inroads into the post-war political culture in Britain, which were based on full
employment, state intervention, and the welfare state. Both Britain and West
Germany had noted severe changes in political behaviour in the 1980s. This
suggested a growing fragmentation of the party system and the diminishing
credibility of the political process as a whole in the eyes of the voters. Along
with economic issues, there were other public concerns such as law and order,
the threat of war and racial issues. In Britain "prior to the election of
conservative governments, law and order came second only to unemployment in
polls of the most pressing political issues among the voting public." This
was further supported by a poll taken in "January 1978, which found that
61% of respondents agreed with Thatcher's televised pronouncement that Britain
was 'in danger of being swamped by people of different cultures'. Her personal
popularity also leaped 11% in the immediate aftermath of the interview."
This behaviour of the general public indicates that the rise to power of
Neo-conservative governments was preceded and accompanied by strong anti-liberal
sentiments anong the general voting public. At this time there was also a deep
crisis of belief in the corporate model of economic management, which was also
expressed as "marked skepticism over continued state intervention in the
economy." Initially, the Conservatives in Britain were committed to
experiment with mixes of private and public sector provision in such areas as
the National Health Service (NHS). The Conservatives sought to make changes to
the NHS so as to allow more private intervention, but the Labor Party saw it as
a threat to the NHS. However, a combination of factors pushed the privatization
programme along further and faster than could have been predicted in 1979. The
first term of the Thatcher administration underlined the difficulty of devising
consistent policies within the public sector for enterprises. Privatization
brought together a number of features of the new blend of Conservatism fashioned
under Thatcher's leadership: "First it reduced the size of the public
sector. Secondly it generated additional income for the government, which it
could use to finance tax cut or a mix of tax cuts and additional public
expenditures. Thirdly, it introduced the market into areas where it had hitherto
not played a conspicuous part in the belief that this would generate greater
economic efficiency and better value for money both for the citizen as taxpayer
and the taxpayer as consumer. Thus there was a mix of pragmatic and ideological
motives involved in the privatization process and it gathered a momentum of its
own over the period 1979-1987." In seeking to curb public expenditure the
Neo-conservatives believed initially that it should be possible to concentrate
services where they were most needed and to encourage a switch from public to
private provision and many thought the tax system could have been used to
encourage greater freedom of choices between the private and public sectors.
Social security is a case in point. This area of spending was anticipated to
attract government concern for the fact that "social security accounts for
nearly 30% of public expenditures." This meant that 'any government
desirous of curtailing the latter must devote considerable attention to the
former'. Germany is an organized-capitalist country that has relied on a network
of small and large businesses working together. Rather than having a
relationship of state versus market, the public and the private sector have
interpenetrated. This relationship is neither free-market nor state dominant.
However, it is referred to as the Social Market Economy. This concept refers to
"a system of capitalism in which fundamental social benefits arte essential
to the workings of the market." Market system is the major principle behind
the social market economy. The reason why group-oriented outcomes were
beneficial for the major social forces in the FGR was due to high wages, high
social spending, and the necessity to keep German goods competitive on the world
markets. Due to such methods, Germany has been able to avoid instability, unlike
what was caused between the laissez-faire and the state led economic policy that
have characterized Britain. The crisis of economic growth from 1974-75 boosted
the 'new' Conservatism in Germany led by CDU against the SPD. Neo-conservatism
offered new solutions to both the economic and the cultural crisis of capitalist
democracies. In economic policy, "it promoted a free-market-led
acceleration of industrial capitalist growth towards [a] new utopia."
German conservatism underwent a remarkable change of thinking with respect to
its ideological traditions. The Neo-conservative concept required a strong state
not only to maintain the economic and social order, but also to dismantle the
social democratic welfare state. They wanted to promote "the coming boom by
drastic cuts in business taxation, welfare expenditure, and by the removal of
regulations restraining employment. This [implied] a substantial change of the
relationship between the state and the economy…in post-war West Germany."
The success of economic modernization also depended on simultaneous social
reforms. The family functions operated as the heart of a Neo-conservative
modernization of society: "The fate of the family is decisive for the
future of our society." This type of modernization recognized that
"under changing economic-technological and sociocultural conditions the
family could only perform its old functions in new forms." More than that,
"this Neo-conservative willingness to reform might be of economic use,
because the challenges confronting a modern and human industrial nation can
hardly be mastered without the expertise and the creativity of women."
Under the given premise, not only the distribution of roles within the family
will have to change, but also its social context within which it operates. Those
functions formerly: "provided by relatives should now be executed within
neighborhoods, by free associations, private initiatives, and self-help groups.
They should replace the bureaucratic welfare state thereby relieving the public
budgets: They help to cure the structural causes of the welfare state's fiscal
crisis'." In sum, the modernization of the economy and society were some of
the keystones of Neo-conservative ideologies in West Germany in the 1980s. The
goal of the Neo-conservatives was to build something new. In general, state
intervention into the economy had to be reduced and the Free Market Economy had
to be strengthened. The "Conservative-liberal coalition had planned to
strengthen business profits; the consolidation of public budgets; the
reorganization of the welfare state by concentrating public social expenditure
on 'the truly needy'; and the removal of 'excessive regulation' to increase the
dynamics and flexibility of the capitalist market economy." With this
programme, German Neo-conservatism seemed to have gained importance, not only
ideologically but also politically for the first time since World- War II.
Neo-Conservatism has concentrated on price stability and growth, even when the
cost is a high level of unemployment. In general, the trade-off has proved
acceptable to a majority of the electorate in Britain. The period of Thatcher's
leadership of the British Conservative party had seen a number of important
changes both in the general character of party politics and in their
policymaking. "The political influence of the Neo-conservative project has
been restricted not only by the political weakness of West German
neo-conservatism but also by various institutional restrictions in the party
system and state structure." Germany's political economy and development
has shown that a greater degree of institutional stability has existed since
World War II. Part of the reason for this stability has been the ability to
dominate economic and political leaders to retain a balance between the private
and public sectors. Britain has had a tighter control over its economy than
Germany. However, presently it is in a better position that it was under the
Neo-conservative ideologies. I don't feel Germany has been affected much by
Neo-conservatism. It has always put the people as well as the social programs
first, which has seemed to operate in an orderly manner without causing any
major discrepancies in its economy. It has also managed to keep its economy
stable and keep its goods competitive in the world markets. The German model of
economic growth has proved remarkably durable through almost all of the postwar
period and it continues to so presently.

BibliographySmith, Allen (1995). Politics in Transition. New York. Swanson Press Roth,
Gavin. (1985) Contemporary Conservatism. USA. S&P Publications Gunther, S.
(1990) The Right. London. Saturn Press Stevens, M. (1993). The New Right. NY.
Western Publications
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