Study Notes

Consensus Theories - New Right

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Last updated 31 May 2018

Another consensus theory that often gets considered alongside functionalism is the New Right. Not everyone agrees that the New Right is a consensus theory (there is no consensus on it!). The ways in which it is a consensus theory are very similar to functionalism.

Exam Hint: If you get a question about consensus theories, you can talk about the New Right, but to question the extent to which it is one would be considered a good analysis.

The New Right combines neo-liberal economics (free markets and minimal government intervention) with more traditional conservative views on social issues (such as a traditional view on family life, school discipline and law and order).

The New Right, in many ways, shares the views of functionalists with the main difference being that they argue that, in the late 20th century in countries like the UK and the USA, society became dysfunctional: the necessary consensus broke down. The New Right argument is that a range of government policies, most notably those associated with the welfare state, undermined the key institutions that create the value consensus and ensure social solidarity.

An example of this is the family. The New Right argues that liberal left politicians and welfare policies have undermined the traditional nuclear family, particularly by creating a large increase in lone-parent families. They argue that this has led to inadequate socialisation, particularly for boys with no father figure. Charles Murray argues that this has led to the creation of an underclass.

New Right ideas were instrumental in changing modern conservatism in the 1970s and were highly influential on both Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. It would be possible to argue that the New Right is a political movement rather than a sociological theory; its observations on those groups in society with very different and conflicting norms and values can lead some to question whether it is a consensus theory. However, the New Right support a society like that envisaged by functionalists and support government policies which to try and change society in that way (such as tax breaks to encourage traditional nuclear families).

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