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Study Notes

Neo-Liberalism (Conservatism)

AQA, Edexcel

Last updated 19 Jun 2020

Neo-liberals are principally concerned with free-market economics and atomistic individualism.

The distinction between neo-liberalism and the New Right is relatively straight-forward. As the term implies, neo-liberalism represents a modernised form of the classical liberal tradition. In contrast, the New Right school of thought belongs within the ideology of conservatism. To some extent, a relationship exists between neo-liberalism and the New Right due to their shared common ground.

This is most notable in the field of economic policy, with both schools of thought highly supportive of laissez-faire capitalism. Frankly, there is no discernible difference in terms of the economic policies advocated by neo-liberals and the New Right. Indeed, during the 2010-15 coalition government, right-wingers within the Tory Cabinet and Orange Bookers in the Liberal Democrats co-operated over austerity measures and the need for a flexible labour market.

There is also strong opposition amongst neo-liberals and the New Right towards egalitarian measures. Both strands of thought claim that socialism represents the sacrifice of the individual for collectivist goals. They claim that Britain is over-governed via state intervention within the economy and the nanny state within the personal realm. The former Conservative Minister Keith Joseph succinctly encapsulated this view when he argued that “inequality of income can only be eliminated at the cost of freedom.”

Having said this, there are major differences between neo-liberals and the New Right. Such divisions reflect the traditional points of departure between liberals and conservatives such as law and order, multiculturalism, constitutional reform and morality. A liberal society is built upon mutual tolerance of diverse lifestyles, and all liberals (including neo-liberals) adopt a position of moral relativism. Liberalism represents an atomistic society and will always oppose the stifling conformity of social mores. In stark contrast, conservatism adopts a stance of moral absolutism.

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