New Right Utopias
(in ‘The New Right’
Many commentators have noted that there are two different strands to New Right thinking, economic liberalism and
political authoritarianism. This is clearest in the collection
The Politics of Thatcherism , where most of the contributors make similar assumptions: that Thatcherism exists (a
point disputed by reviewers); that it is not primarily a product of Thatcher herself; that it is a conjuncture of two
elements, whose synthesis is a new and damaging feature of
British political and social life. Thus:
combines the resonant
themes of organic Toryism – nation, family, duty,
autl1ority, standards, traditionalism – with the aggressive themes of a revived neo-liberalism – selfinterest, competitive individualism, anti-statism.
The precise character of Thatcherism is complex.
Two clear elements, however, can be pinpointed.
Firstly, there is a strong emphasis on a more traditional, arguably petty-bourgeois ideology – the virtues of the market, competition, elitism, individual
initiative, the inequities of state intervention and
bureaucracy…. Secondly, Thatcherism has successfully attempted to organise the diverse forces of
the ‘backlash’ in favour of an essentially regressive
and conservative solution embracing such themes as
authority, law and order, patriotism, national unity,
the family and individual freedom…. Thatcherism
thus combines a neo-liberal economic strategy with
reactionary and authoritarian populism.
Crudely speaking ••• Thatcherism = monetarism +
authoritarian populism though the two threads of
this ideology clearly complement each other.
The phrase ‘the New Right’ which is linked in this last quotation to the phenomenon of Thatcherism is as problematic
as the term ‘Thatcherism’ itself. It is by no means clear
that the New Right is a single entity, either socially or
ideologically, nor is it clear that the two strands identifiable within it, neo-liberalism and authoritarianism, are
complementary rather than contradictory – even though
they may lead to similar policies in some areas. Some
writers, notably Bosanquet, use ‘the New Right’ to refer
solely to the neo-liberal, economistic strand within
Thatcherism , and the authors he regards as informing
the New Right are Adam Smith, de Tocqueville,
Schumpeter, Hayek, Friedman and Joseph. The New Right is
based ‘in economics and on ideas about individualism and
markets’ , and is to be contrasted with the Old Right
which ‘was based in political philosophy and on ideas about
tradition and hierarchy’ .
One method of exploring the relationship between these
strands of thought, and whether they have in fact been
synthesised into a new ideology, is to look at the kinds of
society these approaches imply – that is, at the utopias
which can be extrapolated from contemporary expressions
of each strand – and at the forms of legitimation involved.
Extrapolation is of course a problematic method for consider ing the kind of society to which people aspire. In some
cases it is inappropriate because particular policies may be
espoused for pragmatic reasons, without any particular
image of where this might lead to; and used maliciously it
can impute to people aspirations with which they genuinely
would not wish to be associated. It is, however, possible
and justifiable in relation to the New Right, because one
does not need to extrapolate very far; a characteristic of
both strands within the New Right is the confident assertion of the nature of the good society.
This is clearest in relation to the neo-liberal New
Right. In 1949, Hayek claimed that ‘what we lack is a liberal Utopia’ , and he devoted much of the intervening
years to describing one; and the Adam Smith Institute is
currently producing a series of reports, collectively known
as The Omega File, which constitutes a detailed set of
policy proposals to establish just such a utopia .
Bosanquet summarises neo-liberal New Right thinking in
a series of propositions, under two headings, thesis and
antithesis. The thesis refers to the integrating force of the
market within society; producing order, justice, economic
growth and constantly rising minimum incomes: inequality is
the inevitable (and beneficial) outcome of individual freedom and initiative. The antithesis refers to short-term
stresses generated by this long-term progress towards utopia, which produce politicisation and interference in the
The New Right is the seedbed from which Thatcherism has grown and is composed of two rather different strands. There is the revival of liberal political
economy, which seeks the abandonment of Keynesianism and any kinds of government intervention;
and there is a new populism – the focusing on issues
like immigration, crime and punishment, strikes,
social security abuse, taxation and bureaucracy ••••
The real innovation of Thatcherism is the way it has
linked traditional Conservative concern with the
basis of authority in social institutions and the
importance of internal order and external secur i ty,
with a new emphasis upon re-establishing free
markets and extending market criteria into new
workings of the market, in which democracy is a major culprit. Thus
Society is a battle ground between the forces of
light working in the longer term through the economy and the forces of darkness working through the
political process. Choices freely made in the economic sphere will nearly always be in society’s interest – even if they turn out to be wrong they are the
price of risk. But politics presents extreme dangers:
attempts to bring about improvements through conscious design however well intentioned will almost
always go wrong.
The thesis is protected against empirical invalidation
by its emphasis on the long run (which is why Keynes said
that in the long run we are all dead). Schumpeter argues
that ‘since we are dealing with a process whose every element takes considerable time in revealing its true features
and ultimate effects, there is no point in appraising the
performance of that process ex visu of a given point in
time’ , while Hayek says ‘our faith in freedom does not
rest on foreseeable results in particular circumstances, but
on the belief that it will, on balance, release more force
for the good than for the bad’ . This is parallelled by
the present government’s insistence that even if people are
having a hard time at the moment, its policies will, in the
long run, deliver the goods; no amount of visible ill-effects
could demonstrate this to be false, since the claims are
intrinsically impervious to empirical evidence.
The main contemporary exponent of the thesis (the virtues of the market) is Friedman, while the antithesis (the
evils of intervention) is stressed by Hayek. Both writers are
generally opposed to government intervention; both are
opponents of the welfare state, although both recognise the
need for some relief of poverty, Friedman favouring a negative income tax and Hayek a minimum income with
compulsory private insurance schemes . Friedman’s
main objection to intervention is that it limits economic
growth; Hayek fears that any such intervention, including
attempts to redistribute wealth through progressive incoem
tax, will lead not just to less growth, but to increasing
public expenditure, politicisation, and totalitarianism .
Both essentially espouse (their own interpretations of)
Adam Smith’s view of the role of government:
According to the system of natural liberty, the sovereign has only three duties to attend to: ••• first,
the duty of protecting society from the violence and
invasion of other independent societies; secondly,
the duty of protecting, as far as possible, every
member of society from the injustice or oppression
of every other member of it, or the duty of establishing an exact administration of justice; and thirdly, the duty of erecting certain public works and
public institutions which it can never be for the
interest of any individual, or small number of individuals to erect or maintain, because the profit
could never repay the expenses to any individual or
small number of individuals, though it may frequently do much more than repay it to a great society.
(Hi) From Adam to Omega
The themes elaborated by Hayek and Friedman are also the
central themes in the work of the Institute of Economic
Affairs (lEA), the Centre for Policy Studies, and the Adam
Smith Institute (ASI). The ASl’s ‘Omega Project’ is the most
ambitious attempt to spell out the implications· of neoliberalism for social policy, and thus is the main articulation of the liberal New Right’s utopia. They say
The ASl’s Omega project was conceived to fill a
significant gap in the field of public policy research. Administrations entering office in democratic societies are often aware of the problems ..• they
face, but lack a well developed range of policy
options…. The Omega project represents the most
complete view of the activity of government ever
undertaken in Britain. It presents the most comprehensive range of policy initiative which has ever
been researched under one programme.
It should not be supposed that the proposals contained
in the Omega reports are unlikely to be implemented, since
there are connections between the ASl’s organisers, the
project’s authors, and government. The ASI was set up by
Madsen Pirie and Eamonn Butler, both graduates of St.
Andrews, around the time of the 1979 election, and was
intended to be comparable to the Heritage Institute in
Washington, in which Butler’S brother was working. At
least part of its funding came from British United Industrialists, an organisation which channels company donations
to free enterpr ise causes. The working parties include a
number of MPs (including several newly elected in June
1983 who are also graduates of St. Andrews) . The
New Statesman claims that ‘the Conservative Research
Department ••• received Omega progress reports at every
stage in the last year’ , and that the report on Transport was very favourably received by the appropriate minister . It is very difficult to attribute the proposals in
the reports to particular individuals, or indeed to the ASI
as a whole, since most contain a list of contributors
accompanied by two separate caveats:
The views expressed in this publication are those of
the author and do not necessarily reflect those of
the publisher or copyright owner.
All Omega Project reports are the edited summaries
of the work of many different individuals, who have
made contributions of various sizes over a lengthy
period, and as such their contents should not be
regarded as the definitive views of anyone author.
Nevertheless, the ASI seems, with these reports, to have
established itself as precisely the kind of advisory body to
government that it set out to be. However much it may pay
lip service to the idea of policy options, it is clearly committed to removing restrictions on the l1larket economy,
and, of course, to privatisation, through the propagation of
‘research’. It has, however, charitable status, which has
been upheld in the face of challenge.
(Local) Anarchy, State and Utopia
Major themes throughout the reports are deregulation and
privatisation . Specific policy proposals are supported
by appeals to accountability, efficiency and freedom, although several in fact involve a greater centralisation of
control as a result of removing local government’s power.
Local government is generally criticised on two accounts inefficiency and lack of accountability. Where accountability is concerned, a distinction is introduced between those
who pay for services (ratepayers) and potential beneficiaries. The latter campaign for extensions of services, while
the former ‘vote only for a package of policies and services every few years, and can do little to express their
views on the level or quality of particular services’ .
The elision of accountability to the electorate between
elections, and the section of the electorate which pays
(but, by implication, does not benefit, or benefits less than
those who do not pay) rates, enables them to put their
oppone,nts in the apparent position of being against accountability. Their intentions are clarified in a discussion
of local government finance. The present four sources of
finance (rents and charges, domestic rates, commercial
rates, and the Rate Support Grant) will be reduced to
three, with the abolition of the Rate Support Grant and
the transfer of responsibility for policing and education to
central government. Rents and charges should be raised to
economic levels and provide a greater proportion of income. Domestic rates should be replaced by a simple per
capita tax on all adults consuming local authority services
(not just rateable occupiers) . It is unclear how this
population is to be defined, since it can be argued to refer
to those who live or work in the area; and the report also
suggests that this local tax on adults could be ‘routinely
lumped together and paid by the head of household’ ,
which begs a numnber of questions about the nature of
households and the reciprocal responsibilities of their members. Elsewhere, a tax on all electors is recommended .
The most important proposals relate to commercial
rates, which are described as taxation without representation. It is suggested that increases in these should be limited to increases in the RPI; that the surplus generated by
the simultaneous abolition of the Rate Support Grant and
responsibility for education and policing should be used to
reduce commercial – not domestic – rates; and that a business vote, based on rateable value, should be introduced to
represent the interests of commercial ratepayers . No
similar proposal is made in relation to Scotland , although it is observed that ‘more than sixty per cent of
rates are paid by those who have no vote, while most electors in Scotland pay no rates’ . The argument that
greater accountability can be achieved if the financial
burdens are linked to those who can express their views by
ballot is simply a restatement of ‘no taxation without
representation’, but the extension of ths principle to organisations rather than individuals would be a step towards
representation in proportion to taxation and the disenfranchisement of those unable to pay rates or taxes. Reference elsewhere to ballots of ratepayers and to rights
of ratepayers to petition through the courts for the compulsory sale of council property , reinforce the impression that accountability is to those who pay.
It could be argued that, under their proposed rating
scheme, the terms ratepayer and elector are synonymous as
regards individuals. This is partly because they do not make
detailed proposals here about low income groups, except to
note that some form of exemption or rebate system will be
necessary . However, the concern with commercial
ratepayers casts serious doubt on the interchangeability of
these terms and thus upon their commitment to the existing
A major omission from the reports so far seen is any
extended consideration of even the minimal need for the
relief of poverty conceded by Friedman and Hayek. There
is some discussion in the report on Health policy, where the
principle of income support to enable recipients to
purchase goods and services is affirmed. However, it is
suggested that welfare recipients should also carry a ‘medicard’ entitling them to free basic health care; non-essential
treatment would have to be paid for. They do raise the
question here of hew the welfare state can be restricted
on market principles without some of the most needy slipping through the net. But, they continue,
We must not underestimate our ability to deal with
it at the time…. It was the rhetoric, not the details, of the new social security regulations which
first persuaded people that a welfare state was both
moral and highly desirable. It is the desirability and
superior morality of better health systems which
should commend them ••••
Some problems are, therefore, reduced to a matter of
detail, although the principle of income support is apparently conceded.
The main arguments for transforming the health service
are an increase in public choice and efficiency, but (more
surprisingly) demand limitation; it is argued that free
health care (which is substantially life-enhancing rather
than life-saving) creates an infinite demand . It is suggested that charging would limit demand to what people
are prepared to pay for – although it is also surmised that
without the NHS ‘people in the UK would probably have
devoted more resources to health care, as they have in
other countries” .
The main proposals for reform of the Health Service
begin with the abolition of Regional Health Authorities,
contracting out of services, and charging for non-essential
ambulance journeys (medicard holders can use public transport); non-essential drugs (including tranquillisers and appetite suppressants, free to no one); visits to GPs; ‘hotel and
general’ services in hospitals, amounting to l5 per day for
such ‘inessentials’ as cleaning, laundry and food; and treatment for injuries sustained while engaging in dangerous
sports. Eventually, a comprehensive system of compulsory
private insurance is proposed.
Things go better with education
Accountability is also a central theme of the report on
education. It is proposed to finance State schools through a
per capita grant to the school from the LEA , to encourage parents to move to the private sector by means of
tax rebates, since education vouchers seem to be politically
unacceptable; and to increase the system’s responsiveness
to consumer demand by a system of school boards, chosen
by and from parents, who would determine the school’s policy and allocation of funds (including teachers’ salaries).
Parents would also be free to start new schools if they
wished. A central inspectorate would be maintained to ensure adequate standards and lack of bias within a core curriculum, but beyond this there would be little control save
that of market pressures. This is argued to facilitate innovations, such as shift systems (which require fewer teachers), charging for non-essential subjects, the use of teachers and parents to perform ancillary tasks on a voluntary
basis and so on. Both for existing and new schools, a system of matching funds is suggested, whereby funds raised
by parents will be supplemented by an equal amount from
State funds. It is further suggested that local businesses
may be allowed to allocate State funds to schools of their
choice, or to make donations to schools tax-deductible
. These proposals would, of course, lead to far greater
inequalities of opportunity within the education system.
However, a further issue which is never explicitly confronted is who constitutes ‘the consumer’. In the case of
higher education, it is made quite clear that the student is
the consumer, notwithstanding the recognition of the research role of uni versi ties . In the case of schools, the
accountability to the consumer means primarily parents,
and secondarily employers. The interests of pupils are subsumed under those of their parents, in a footnote of most
doubtful validi ty:
It is worth emphasising that parental choice effectively means family choice. The family, including the
children, normally discuss and decide on educational
matters, though the parents as legal guardians make
the actual decision.
Proposals for the reform of teaching-training amount to its
deprofessionalisation . Non-parents are not ‘consumers’
of education and ‘it is remarkable that a single person or
childless couple should pay higher taxes in order to educate
other people’s children, when their interest in doing so is
marginal’ . An idealised view of the family means children’s interests need not be considered separately from
parents. Accountability, then, is to parents (who also constitute a source of free or cheap labour), to employers, and
to the State inspectorate.
: Regarding the treatment of servants of the State
It is assumed that greater accountability will always ~e
achieved by limiting the role of local government. For thIS
reason it is argued that local and national government
emplo;ees should be debarred from organizing and st~nding
in public elections. This is to prevent the coerCIon of
junior employees to assist in campaigns and because government employees have a vested interest in the outcome ‘thus, the tendency of government to grow out of contr~l
because of increasing numbers who are dependent upon It
will be partially checked’ . It is similarly necessary to
limit the power of teachers over the education system,
since they have a vested interest in obtaining more reward
for less effort . Privatisation also contributes to
It must be remembered that independent providers
are nearer to public demand than local authorities
can ever be •.• their perpetual search for profitability ••. stimulates them to discover and produce what
the consumer wants…. In this sense the market sector is more genuinely democratic than the public
sector, involving the decisions of far more individuals and at much more frequent intervals.
The main justification for privatisation, though, is that it is
more efficient; where it does not obviously seem to be so,
this is because of the accounting practices of local authorities, or their failure to choose the right contra~tor. A
vast list of services are candidates for contracting out,
including catering, cemeteries, emptying cesspools, snowclearance, management of libraries, museums, pest control,
provision of residential homes, refuse c~llectio~, schools
meals and transport, and the sale of councIl hOUSing. Some
of these would in fact be compulsorily sold, since local
government would not be permitted to provide non-essential
services if they involved spending ratepayers’ money; and
even essential services which could not be made profitable
would be contracted out on a least subsidy basis. Local
authorities could either retain a small kernel of professional staff to monitor the system and ensure contracts were
kept, or they could contract out this task itself ~4-8>! Standards and guidelines for tendering would be laId down by
the Audit Commission (one quango plainly not on the ASl’s
‘quango death list’ <4-9», which would also investig~te
complaints. Again, the abolition of local government involves centralisation of power. This is true also of the
transition which is to take a mere five years, during which
the Secre~ary of State is to specify the rate at which local
government services are to go out to tender. Local au~h?r
ities would also be required to withdraw from the prOVIsIon
of non-essential services, and any organisation which believes it can undertake an existing service at lower cost
than the local authority will have the right of appeal to
the Secretary of State, the object being to help 'local
tradesmen who feel that they are being unfairly crowded
out by local authorities' .
The picture that is implied here of small local firms
being ‘crowded out’ by the monopolistic. po~er of large
authorities is of course misleading; organisations such as
Pritchards who have benefited from the privatisation programme are neither small nor local. It is of some interest
to note that the MP involved in the particular report also
imanages his own public relations firm, one of whose
clients is Pritchards’ .
A principle which is invok~d her.e, and in other. r~ports
(on transport, housing, educatIon), IS that of SubSidies to
individuals rather than to services. The proposed alternatives to raising rates or reducing services rely entirely
upon the presumed greater efficiency of private industry an article of faith – but nominally includes ‘interauthority
agreements, worksharing, contracting out, franchises,
vouchers and grants to needy individuals to buy services in
the market place, (and) volun~e~rs’ . This is mentioned
again in the context of prOVIding transport tokens for the
poor and removing transport subsidies , but stressed
particularly in relation to the deregulation of the housing
market. In an ideal world, the allocation of housing, like
any other commodity, would be subject to the interaction
of supply and demand; the problem is that in the public
sector ‘individual choice is arbitrarily limited by the imposition of politically inspired notions of “need'” , and the
subsidy on council housing causes demand to exceed supply.
Discounts on the· sale of council housing would therefore be
increased, and the rent structure on any remaining housing
stock adjusted to reflect the demand for different types of
housing. Local authorities would only be permitted to
undertake new building or renovation of old property for
the provision of sheltered housing, and then only if they
could demonstrate that this could not be contracted out
. In the private sector, two sets of changes are proposed. Firstly, an increase of subsidy by the abolition of
stamp duty and the removal of the upper limits on mortgage tax relief, and, secondly, the removal of rent control
and the abolition of security of tenure for all new tenancies . This is not merely a device for increasing the
supply of privately rented accommodation (which might well
occur), but for giving the tenant greater choice – ‘those
current and future tenants who wish to avoid the economic
and other costs of the restrictions should be allowed to do
so if they choose’ .
Deregulation is to affect not just the housing market,
but most areas of social organisation, including planning
and the labour market. It is argued that the whole philosophy of planning rests on the principle. that owners do not
HdV~I:II~ rigHt: to uo
~1I~lr OWII lJ~O~
erty without the permission of the community; that thIS IS
not a just principle for a free society; and that it does not
work, that planning is ineffective . Controls would be
retained for conservation areas and green belt land, but
otherwise their role would be better carried out by a combina tion of economic forces acting to locate processes in
the most appropriate areas, private institutions which
would spring into being, and the law of nuisance (argued to
be more effective than attempts at prior restraint) .
Even building regulations would be abolished. since it is ‘not
necessary to prohibit private buildings of lower standard
so that cheaper housing is available for those who need it’
, adequate control can be exerted through compulsory
public liability insurance. ~~cep~ in restric~ed z~ne~ ~hich
would be under direct minIsterIal protectIon, indiVIduals
would be specifically permitted to use residential or other
property for any new purposes, unless and until a complaint
was upheld that this use created a nuisance; otherwise, the
only restrictions would be m~nimum standards. (~ot
specified) for safety and publIc health.
covenants might be used to enable property owners,
“I don’t think you’re supposed to eat the rind”
individually and collectively, to control the use of their
own and ad joining property .
Deregulation of the labour market is also proposed as a
solution to the problem of unemployment. Much of the
report on employment policy is concerned with limiting the
power of trade unions, including removing the right to
strike from public employees . It also recommends the
virtual abolition of the MSC and the introduction of training vouchers, although these could be phased out ‘as the
economy picks up and the quality of schooling improves’
. Almost all employment protection provisions should
be removed at least from employees of small firms (i.e.,
those with less than 100 employees) . The problems of
unemployment are attributed to trade union activities,
which artificially raise wage levels, especially those of the
young; the regulation of the housing market, which diminishes mobility; government regulation of working conditions,
compulsory redundancy payments, and minimum wage legislation; and the fact that wages ‘cannot drop below the
level of the benefit floor plus the premium necessary to
induce people to work’ . There are no proposals in the
report relating to the benefits system, although there is an
indication that the need for it should diminish. In arguing
for the redundancy of the MSC, its payment of interview
and relocation expenses to the unemployed is argued firstly
to apply only at the lower end of the market (since most
companies pay such expenses themselves), and secondly to
be likely to become increasingly unnecessary as the housing
market and transport systems are themselves subject to
The three themes of accountability, efficiency and
freedom which are used to legitimise the proposals in the
reports involve very specific interpretations of these
appealing ideals. Accountability means accountability to
those who pay, particularly business interests – although
they are at times deemed to deserve influence as ‘consumers’ of education even when they are not paying.
Efficiency is conceived of as meeting effective demand,
not in terms of effectiveness in meeting needs; indeed,
needs which are not translated into effective demands can
only be politically defined, and are thus regarded as inadmissable. Freedom is entirely negative freedom, the absence of restraint, deregulation – although ironically many
proposals involve an increase in centralised power, and an
increasing reliance on legal procedures for those who can
afford them. Freedom is also seen in entirely economic
terms, as ‘economic freedom is the essence of personal
freedom’ . Criticism of the proposals needs to concentrate not just on the practical outcomes of such measures,
but on the interpretation of these legitimating formulae.
Accountability and efficiency, however, are key words only
for the neo-liberal New Right.
Authority defies logic
The authoritarian element which is noted in The Politics of
. Thatcherism, and which Bosanquet regards as the Old
Right, is not particularly concerned with accountability and
efficiency, and attaches a quite different meaning to the
term ‘freedom’. This corresponds to a view of the good
society which differs in significant respects from the neoliberal view. To illustrate this, one can turn to the views
outlined in Conservative Essays, which explicitly oppose
economic liberalism, and to those of Roger Scruton, one of
the most vociferous representatives of the authoritarian
New Right .
Whereas the Omega File can be regarded as a utopianproposal, corresponding to that utopia deriving from the
systematic application of the idea of free economic competition (and whose existence even as utopia Utley denies
<69», conservatism finds it more difficult to appeal to a
utopian future. Casey argues that 'it is characteristic of
conservatism that unlike liberalism· it does not aim to transcend history' . Mannheim, who pointed to the tendency of conservatives to utopianise the past as manifested
in the present rather than the future , would doubtless
The conservative, unable as he is to appeal to a
utopian future, or to any future that is not, as it
were, already contained in the present and past,
must avail himself of conceptions which are both
directly applicable to things as they are and at the
same time indicative of a motivating force in men.
And this force must be as great as the desire for
‘freedom’ and ‘social justice’ offered by his rivals.
Thus ‘no utopian vision will have force for him compared to
the force of present practice’ .
The nature of this immanent utopia is nevertheless
made quite explicit. The freedom of the market is not regarded as the lynchpin of the good society, although it is
not in itself attacked. Freedom as individual liberty is more
explicitly opposed. Scruton claims that ‘the value of individual liberty is not absolute, but stands subject to another
and higher value, the authority of established government’
, while Worsthorne argues that ‘social discipline ••• is a
much more fruitful ••• theme for contemporary conservatism
than individual freedom’ . Indeed, Worsthorne goes so
far as to say that ‘the urgent need today is for the State
to regain control over “the people”, to re-exert its authority, and it is useless to imagine that this will be helped by
some libertarian mish-mash drawn from the writings of
Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, and the warmed-up milk of
nineteenth century liberalism’ . Society is regarded as
an organism, and power is an acceptable means, not to
achieve justice, equality or freedom but, to ‘maintain existing inequalities or restore lost ones’ , or even ‘to command and coerce those who would otherwise reform or destroy’ .
The concepts which are appealed to in relation to this
utopia are authority, allegiance and tradition (Scruton
<79»; authority and tradition (Casey <80», national identity and national security (Cowling <81»; and, overwhelmingly, 'nature'. Scruton explicitly rejects support for liberal
ideals or the minimal state , and, far from supporting
the view that individual freedom should be curtailed only if
this can be shown to be for the general good, argues that
there should be constraint unless it can be shown that its
removal will do no harm, thus reversing the burden of
proof. In contrast to Hayek, who posits the existence of a
protected domain of private life into which governmental
authority should not intrude , a view apparently shared
by Mount , he argues that it is legitimate for the law
to intrude into ‘any area of social life which is vital ••• to
the strength of the social bond’ . This makes it inevitable that there should be ‘family law, planning laws, laws
which regulate the days and times when men may work,
drink, or seek recreation, even laws which control the
nature of permitted intoxicant’ . This is in tension
with the ASl’s proposals to de regulate the labour market
and abolish planning constraints, and also with Scruton’s
own statement that ‘sections of local government must be
simply eliminated – including most social service, planning,
advisory, cultural and para-educational departments’ .
____~/21—.— .- .
The priority of maintaining the social (i.e. national) bond is
paramount. Cowling argues that ‘the only permanent claims
(on loyalty or attention) are those which arise from the
national interest defined in terms of sovereignty, historic
continuity and national identity, and beyond these no other
focus of loyalty is either necessary or desirable’ . He
stresses the threat from within to national security; this is
repeated in Scruton’s claim that it is not an ‘insuperable
defect’ for a law of sedition to allow for ‘imprisonment
without a trial, a reduced judicial process, or summary execution’ . (Just as Utley’s main anxiety is about industrial unrest, Scruton has argued that Scargill is guilty of
sedition .) For Scruton, the allegiance of citizen to
state takes the form of a transcendent bond, akin to that
between parent and child, thus giving the State the authority, responsibility and ‘despotism’ of parenthood . A
corollary of this is that the family is central to maintaining
the State, since it is the main social institution in which
the habits of allegiance are acquired . In the same
way, Burke argued that:
To be attached to the subdivision, to love the little
platoon we belong to in society, is the first principle, the germ as it were, of public affections. It is
the first link in the series by which we proceed
towards a love to our country and to mankind.
Casey argues that the State must not merely attract, but
claim allegiance. He refers to Aquinas’ concept of pietas,
which he describes as ‘forms of respect that arise from the
individual’s sense of his relation to something which comprehensively sustains and supports him’ , including parents, country and State. Pietas combines with tradition to
produce loyalty, since an individual’s sense of self is dependent upon the objectification of that self in the existing
social institutions .
Blood thicker than brain
In relation both to the bond between child and parent and
that between citizen (or subject) and State, the principal
legitimations are appeals to nature and to intuition. Berry
argues that a particular view of nature is fundamental to
the conservative position:
The family is ••• necessarily a hierarchic authority
structure, and this, as a natural consequence of the
dependence of the human infant, is an integral component of a conservative vision •••• Though the family
is the prime source for authority and hierarchy, its
very naturalness inclines conservatives to translate
this model into other institutions. Hierarchy is the
order of nature, and as such is ubiquitous.
Or, as Scruton puts it:
The family ••• shares with civil society the ••• quality of being non-contracted, of arising ••• out of
natural necessity. And ••• it is obvious that the bond
which ties the citizen to society is likewise not a
voluntary but a kind of natural bond.
Human nature, the foundation of conservative politics, also
underlies a connection between family and property. Private property is an ‘absolute and ineradicable need’, a
knowledge derived fron ‘intuition ••• which ••• lies at the
very centre of the social sense of man’ . Prejudice is a
natural counterpart of allegiance and of the desire for the
company of one’s own kind . Conservatism itself is
natural, since ‘instinct and self-interest coincide in the
judgement that existing arrangements should be preserved’
. Or, more extremely:
There is a natural instinct in the unthinking man •••
to accept and endorse through his actions the institutions and practices into which he is born. This
instinct is rooted in human nature.
This reliance on nature and instinct is antagonistic to reason. Berry argues that the location of the cohesiveness of
the family ‘in instinct, feeling or affection ••• means undercutting ••• claims ••• for the self-sufficiency of reason’
, and Scruton certainly elevates intuition and instinct
over thought. In a Channel Four debate on capital punishment, he spoke in favour of its reintroduction. Most of the
debate had centred on the issue of whether or not capital
punishment is a deterrent to murder. He argued that the
deterrent effect is irrelevant, as even if there is none, it
remains the case that death is still the punishment which
we all know to be the just and proper retribution; and he
suggests elsewhere that in such matters, analysis and
rational investigation are positively harmful:
It is useful that we do not substitute analytical rigour ••• for the immediate perception of the horror of
murder, for the prompt response to an insult, to an
injustice, to an act of tyranny or violence. Mercifully most people do not go around thinking analytically about these responses. They arise out of our
common human nature ••••
The authoritarians of the New Right are not alone in
their appeal to nature. There are explicit and implicit
assumptions about human nature underpinning the work of
Hayek and of the neo-liberals. There is also, of course, a
version of a right-wing utopia contained within sociobiology, consisting substantially of claims about what is
natural. Yet nature is in fact used here in very different
ways. Liberal economics assumes rationality (or at least
economic rationality) on the part of the individual actor.
This is why they are able to claim as a regrettable ‘fact’
that wages ‘cannot drop below the level of the benefit
floor plus the premium necessary to induce people to work’
; of course, this supposition of rationality is belied by
the fact that in practice people do choose to work, even
for wages lower than their benefitentitlement. The rationality of the economic competition favoured by neo-liberals
and the genetic competition posited by sociobiologists is
remarkably similar. The conservative use of. nature and intuition, especially in Scruton’s case, is in contrast, mystical
rather than ‘scientific’. Scruton shares with sociobiology an
extreme sexism, and adds his own contempt for feminism.
But whereas the sexism of sociobiology is underpinned by
claims of genetic causation and natural selection, his is
rooted in a pseudo-religiosity. It is
••• one of the fundamental thoughts on which civilisation depends, the thought that there is a profound,
mysterious, and beneficial difference between
women and men. The thought that I exist as an individual independently of my sex, is one with the
thought that my sex might have been chosen.
Sexuality, he claims, is reduced to an attribute rather than
an essence, and ceases to determine the relations between
men and women, which thus lose their clarity. ‘Much passes
from the world when sexuality takes on this aspect’ .
This loss is part of the loss contained in secularisation; a
firm established Church is what is needed, and ~the restoration of the Church may well become a serious political
Hayek also uses nature as a legitimation, but in a different way. He too relies on intuition in relation to our
sense of justice, which derives from complex rules which
we follow but are unable to express in words. True law, as
opposed to legislation, involves the codification of these
intuited truths. Nevertheless, these evolved rules seem to
. be socially learned rather than instinctive . His dismissal of socialism is partly on the grounds of its atavism:
socialism ‘is simply a reassertion of the tribal ethics’ whose
passing made modern society possible . This morality
was instinctive, but had to be restrained to make development possible, so that ‘we often rebel against these new
restraints and yearn for the easy socialism of the past
. At least some of the time, Hayek’s utopia is a
triumph of culture over nature. It is, though, hardly a
triumph of rationality, since he argues against institutional
change because existing arrangements contribute to social
order in a way that is beyond our understanding, so that
‘the only guide we have in what has worked in the past’
; the complexity of society is such that it is fundamentally unknowable and cannot be planned .
Thatcherism reflects both the authoritarianism and
appeal to intuitively held (Victorian) values which Scruton
represents, and the free market approach of the ASI. Our
ini tial question, however, was how far these doctrines are
complementary, in terms of polides or electoral support.
The problems caused by the term ‘freedom’ are recognised by at least some of the New Right, and were discussed in an article in The Salisbury Review . Here it is
argued that ‘the individualism which reached its apogee in
the sixties ••• could prove as inimical to Mrs Thatcher’s
purposes •.. as the collectivism she so strenuously opposes’
. The idea that the pursuit of individual freedom
leads to the general good was never very plausible, and
more importantly, it is quite antithetical to Mrs Thatcher’s
views. Referr ing in particular to the family policy documents leaked to The Guardian in February 1983, the author
points out that Thatcher has no taste for the freedom from
social bonds implied in individualism, but rather seeks for
‘a mode of freedom that is compatible with virtue’ .
The stress on the role of the family here is very similar to
that outlined above; freedom is redefined to coincide with
Thatcher’s view of a good (i.e. virtuous) society – a view
of freedom which is in sharp contrast to that implied by
liberalism and free market economics . At the heart
of the problem is the minimalist/maximalist distinction between those who support State intervention and those who
reject it. For the mobilising myth of Thatcherism is ‘freedom’, both economic and political, and those who support
present policies out of commitment to reducing government
could, in theory, desert when the goods are not delivered.
The Falklands, of course, provided a diversion from this by
substituting the myth of nationhood, which is closer to
Cowling’s themes. It is at least arguable that the need to
escalate the Cold War and the arms race are in part an
attempt to keep nationalism at centre stage in order to
marginalise the minimalist implications of the myth of free”dom. This certainly creates difficulties for the ASI, who
are, of course, committed to free trade, but see a conflict
between these principles and the ‘enemy’ status of Eastern
Trade with Eastern bloc countries raises questions
that go beyond those of economic efficiency. Even
from a myopic national point of view, it could be
dangerous to become dependent· on imports from a
potential enemy or to supply it with goods that
increase the threat.
Tension between Min and Max
Enough has been said to show that there is a logical inconsistency between the two strands of New Right thinking. This does not in itself refute the claim that they have
been synthesised into a new ideology. For the power of an
ideology does not depend upon logical consistency, but on
its relationship, at the level of myth and at the level of
practice, to the interests and potential actions of the
social groups at which it is directed . At the level of
myth, the inconsistencies of meaning in the term freedom
are a positive advantage, and one of the strengths of
Thatcherism is the truly ideological use of language to obscure contradictions. Inconsistencies are only of consequence if ,they are translated into conflicts over particular
policies which cause dissension in the ideology’s social
What holds it up?
What, then, is Thatcherism’s social base, and how does it
relate to the minimalist/maximalist contradiction? Ross has
recently argued that the Tory party is comprised of, financed by, and rules in, the interests of the established
upper classes; that Thatcher’s governments are no different
in this respect; that the electoral support for the party of
certain geographically distinct sections of the skilled working class is itself traditional, and that Thatcher’s landslide
victory is a ‘fake’, in that it is hardly a hiccup in a long
term decline in Tory support, since the percentage of the
vote gained by them in the 1983 election was only two per
cent more than when they lost disastrously in 1945 .
If Ross were right, then to talk about the New Right, at
least in relation to Thatcherism, would be nonsensical; it is
just the Old Right. Yet this view is misleading in several
ways. The analysis is economistic, and gives no attention to
the role of ideology, and thus ignores the fact that the
political terrain involved may vary between elections. And
however true it may be that the Tory Party serves the interests of the ruling class, there are interesting questions
about the homogeneity of those interests, as well as the
sustaining of enough of a hegemony to persuade others to
support it. What is new about the New Right, in both its
strands, is not that the ideas themselves are new, but that
they are articulated in tandem, and with a confidence that
those ideas will be implemented. They are also articulated
by a different social group, for Ross is wrong to claim that
the current composition of the Tory Party in Parliament is
unchanged. The social background of the new Tory MPs in
1983 was significantly different from the traditional public
school/Oxbridge/director mould, with a greatly increased
input from grammar school/small business backgrounds
. Thatcher, Tebbit, and Parkinson all went to grammar schools (as did Scruton), although both Thatcher and
Parkinson married into wealth. The ASI men are graduates
of St. Andrews, not Oxbridge. Many of the new MPs had
also had experience in local government, although it does
not seem to have increased their enthusiasm for this institution.
The division between minimalists and maximalists, at
least among the ideologues, does not seem to be clearly
class-related. Scruton and the St. Andrews· clique are not
socially dissimilar, are at opposite poles of the minimalist/maximalist distinction, and share, above all, an arriviste
arrogance. This is not to reduce the New Right to a style,
for such assertiveness is bound up with the real opportunities for implementing their ideas. The new Tory MPs are
maximalists on law and order issues; most voted to restore
capital punishment . And the Omega Reports involve
a transfer of power to central government in order to establish a de regulated market, combined with an increased
vote for the judiciary in resolving disputes between individuals. Indeed, the centrality of the law and legal procedures
to both positions is an important link between them. The
question is whether it is possible for the State to ‘be
strong in enforcing the rule of law and recovering and
strengthening a sense of national identity’ while resisting
the temptation ‘to meddle incessantly in the economic and
commercial activities of its subjects’ , and whether
the rhetoric of freedom will encourage demands for the
preservation of individual liberty within and beyond the
One of the strange features of the phenomenon of
Thatcherism and the New Right is that notwithstanding the
appeal of the rhetoric, one would have expected its translation into policy to have already exposed contradictions in
a way which would alienate support. (For example, women
have become less free as a direct result of recent policies
– not to mention the present level of unemployment.)
Perhaps, despite Thatcher’S re-election, this is in fact so.
Recent research shows that even in 1983 there was surprisingly little support for the social policies for which people
appeared to be voting 1 If the electorate does not
want (either of the) New Right utopias, the more clearly
these are outlined, the better. Thatcher’S support would
appear to be contingent upon the sustaining of a myth the myth of freedom – for it is the contrasting meanings
given to this that form the link between the two utopias.
And one of the problems for the Left in articulating the
real aspirations of ordinary people is going to be the repossession of our language.
Addendum to Levitas article page 44
S. Hall and M. Jacques (eds.), The Politics of Thatcherism, London,
Lawrence and Wishart, 1983.
S. Hall, ‘The Great Moving Right Show’, ibid., p. 29.
M. Jacques, ‘Thatcher ism – Breaking Out()fthe Impasse’, ibid., p. 53.
I. Gough, ‘Thatcher ism and the Welfare State’, ibid., p. 1~
A. Gamble, ‘Thatcher ism and Conservative Politics’, ibid., pp. 113,
N. Bosanquet, After the New Right, London, Heinemann, 1983.
ibid., p. 1.
Cited in E. Butler, Hayek, London, Temple Smith, 1983, p. 164.
The Omega File. A series of reports published by the Adam Smith
Institute, 1983-4, on Defence; Transport; Agricultural Policy;
Scotland; Local Government, Housing and Planning; Education;
Communications; Employment; Trade. Other reports are still to be
Bosanquet, Ope cit., p. 7.
Cited in Bosanquet, p. 13.
Cited in Butler, Ope cit., p. 27.
M. and R. Friedman, Free to Choose, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1980,
Butler, Ope cit., p. 27.
A. Smith, The Wealth of Nations, Bk. IV, Chapter ix.
This passage appears at the beginning of the foreword to each report.
See, for example, Omega File: Trade Policy, Adam Smith Institute,
1984, p. iii.
D. Wade and J. Picardie, ‘The Omega Project’, New Statesman, 29
July 1983. See also Labour Research, February 1984, Vol. 73, No. 2,
D. Wade and J. Picardie, Ope cit., p. 8.
‘Miscellany’, New Statesman, 27 January 1984, p. 5.
Omega File: Communications, p. ii (for example).
ibid., pp. iii-iv.
See especially Omega File: Local Government, Planning and Housing,
ASI, 1983, and the report on Employment Policy.
Omega File: Local Government, Planning and Housing, p. 1.
ibid., pp. 24-25.
ibid., p. 25.
Omega File: Scottish Policy, p. 17.
Omega File: Local Government, Planning and Housing, p. 26.
Policy for Scotland is treated separately, in the Omega File: Scottish
Policy, a report which includes proposals for the denationalisation of
ibid., p. 17.
OiTiega File: Local Government, Pianning and Housing, pp. 25-27.
ibid., p. 27.
Omega File: Scottish Policy, p. 17.
Omega File: Local Government, Planning and Housing, p. 25.
Omega File: Health Policy, p. 3.
ibid., pp. 14, 9.
ibid., p. 14.
Omega File: Education Policy, p. 6. This contradicts the proposals in
the Local Government report for transferring education finance to
ibid., pp. 20-21. A similar proposal, attributed to Digby Anderson,
appears in the report on Scottish Policy, p. 29.
ibid., p. 28.
ibid., p. 5.
ibid., pp. 23-24. It is proposed that teacher training should consist of
much less theory, and an apprenticeship system of one year’s halfload with half-pay, followed by one year’s full load on two-thirds pay.
It is also suggested that outsiders (local businessmen, union officials,
doctors, lawyers) should be invited into the schools (in the case of
doctors, to talk about basic health care), on the grounds that general
experience is more important than teaching experience.
ibid., p. 15. Besides the non-recognition of social interdependence,
there is an idealised model of the family implied in the assumption
that only (some) couples have children and single persons are childless.
Omega File: Local Government, Planning and Housing, p. 27.
Omega File: Education Policy, pp. 1-3. This ‘problem’ is r~ferred to
as ‘producer capture’.
Omega File: Local Government, Planning and Housing, p. 13.
ibid., pp. 4-5.
ibid., p. 5. Quango Death List is a publication available from the ASI.
ibid., p. 11.
51 Labour Research, Vol. 73, No.2, February 1984, p. 8.
52 Omega File: Local Government, Planning and Housing, p. 3.
53 Omega File: Scottish Policy, p. 27, and Omega File: Transport Policy,
54 Omega File: Local Government, Planning and Housing, p. 52.
55 ibid., p. 57.
56 Ibid., pp. 50 H.
57 Omega File: Scottish Policy, p. 22.
58 Omega File: Local Government, Planning and Housing, p. 35.
59 ibid., pp. 39-40.
60 ibid., p. 42.
61 ibid., pp. 42-45.
62 OiTiega File: Employment Policy, pp. 16-21, esp. p. 19.
63 ibid., p. 12.
64 ibid., p. 29.
65 ibid., pp. 1-3.
66 ibid., p. 9.
67 “‘”6ITiega File: Scottish Policy, p. 1.
68 M. Cowling (ed.), Conservative Essays, Cassell, 1978.
69 T. E. Utley, ‘The Significance of Mrs Thatcher’ in Cowling, Ope cit.,
70 J. Casey, ‘Tradition and Authority’ in Cowling, Ope cit., p. 82.
71 K. Mannheim, ‘The Utopian Mentality’, Ideology and Utopia, London,
RoutJedge and Kegan Paul, 1936, pp. 206-215.
72 R. Scruton, The Meaning of Conservatism, Harmondsworth, Penguin,
1980, p. 27.
73 ibid., p. 36.
74 ibid., p. 19.
75 P. WOt”sthorne, ‘Too Much Freedom’ in Cowling, Ope cit., p. 150.
76 ibid., p. 149.
77 Cowling, Ope cit., p. 9.
78 ibid., p. 25.
79 ibid., p. 27.
80 Casey, Ope cit.
81 Cowling, Ope cit., pp. 16-17.
82 ibid., p. 33.
83 Butler, Ope cit., p. 31.
84 F. Mount, The Subversive Family, London, Jonathan Cape, 1982.
85 Scruton, Ope cit., p. 80.
86 loco cit.
87 R. Scruton, ‘Abolish Council Elections Too’, The Times, 18 October
1983, p. 13.
88 Cowling, Ope cit., p. 16.
89 R. Scruton, The Meaning of Conservatism, p. 91.
90 Utley, Ope cit., pp. 48-49; R. Scruton, ‘King Arthur’s Real Crime’, The
91 Scruton, The Meaning of Conservatism, p. Ill.
92 ibid., p. 36.
93 Cited in Mount, Ope cit., p. 172.
94 Casey, Ope cit., p. 99.
95 ibid., pp. 99-100.
96 C. Berry, ‘Conservatism and Human Nature’ in r. Forbes and S. Smith
(eds.), Politics and Human Nature, London, Francis Pinter, 1983, p. 61.
97 Scruton, Ope cit., p. 31.
98 ibid., p. 99.
99 ibid., pp. 68-69.
100 Cowling, Ope cit., p. 11.
101 Scruton, Ope cit., p. 119.
102 Berry, Ope cit., p. 57.
103 R. Scruton, Politics of Culture, p. 167.
104 Omega File: File: Employment Policy, p. 2.
105 R. Scruton, The Meaning of Conservatism, p. 174.
106 loco cit.
107 ibid., p. 175.
108 Butler, Ope cit., p. 22.
109 ibid., p. 36.
110 loco cit.
111 ibid., p. 19.
)12 ibid., p. 67.
113 I. Crowther, ‘Mrs Thatcher’s Idea of the Good Society’, The Salisbury
Review, No. 3, Spring 1983, pp. 41-43.
114 ibid., p. 41.
115 ibid., p. 42.
116 See also I. Crowther, ‘The Politics of Restoration’, The Salisbury
Review, No. 7, Spring 1984, pp. 10-14.
117 omegaFile: Trade Policy, p. 23.
118 For an expansion of this point see R. Levitas, ‘The Social Location of
Ideas’, Sociological Review, Vol. 24, No. 3, August 1976, pp. 545-557.
119 J. Ross, Thatcher and Friends, London, Pluto, 1983.
120 ‘Tory MPs: The New Breed’, Labour Research, August 1983, pp.
121 loco cit.
122 ~he Significance of Mrs Thatcher’, Conservative Essays
(op. cit.), p. 51.
123 See especially M. David and T. Wells, ‘Nice Girls say No’, New Internationalist, No. 133, March 1984, pp. 26 ft.
124 R. Jowell and C. Airey (eds.), British Social Attitudes: The 1984
Report, Gower, 1984.