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Neo-Conservatism Essay, Research Paper

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.

Smith, 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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