Forward to the Past—The Conservative Revival

Michael Freeden

in Ideologies and Political Theory

Published in print April 1998 | ISBN: 9780198294146
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191599323 | DOI:
 Forward to the Past—The Conservative Revival

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The strong revival of conservatism in the 1980s, both as a governmental force and as a body of political thought, is frequently portrayed as a flowering of beliefs and attitudes attached to new theoretical frameworks, meriting the designation New Right or neo‐liberal conservatism, as distinct from plain neo‐conservatism. Those frameworks, it is often asserted, have substantially reformulated conservative doctrine and launched a cohesive set of positive ideas matching progressive ideologies in sophistication and breadth. The contemporary study of conservatism is thus confronted with two conundrums: is there now in evidence a new type of conservatism, breaking with its past incarnations and embarking on a programme of change so active that it may no longer be conservatism; and moreover, is there an unbridgeable rift between two concurrent conservative creeds, neo‐liberal and traditional? It is argued here that late twentieth‐century conservative thought occupies fundamentally the same semantic field as its predecessors, granted that the cultural constraints within which its network of concepts is decontested have been considerably transformed; consequently, conservatism appears to be attached to an innovatory range of substantive ideas and policies. The five sections of the chapter are: (a) Thatcherism as conservatism; (b) The subservience of economics; (c) ‘Who is the fiercest of them all?’; (d) Recent American conservatisms; and (e) The unity of Thatcherite ideology.

Keywords: American conservatism; British conservatism; conservatism; decontestation; ideology; neo‐conservatism; neo‐liberal conservatism; New Right; political thought; Thatcherism; traditional conservatism

Chapter.  12715 words. 

Subjects: Political Theory

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