New Right


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New Right

the term applied to a range of ideologies and groups which aim to promote free-market, anti-welfarist, libertarian, and paradoxically sometimes socially authoritarian policies.

Several writers have questioned whether there is such a thing as a New Right, or if it is merely the old right reasserting its dominance. That this is the case in the UK may be indicated by the name of the leading research body, the Adam Smith Institute, as well as by the fact that some ‘New Rightists’ have called for a return to ‘Victorian values’.

However, in another important sense the New Right is new. Its emergence has marked a radical break from the postwar consensus regarding economics and social welfare. The basic argument of this radical right is that the search for egalitarianism, and the equal distribution of resources, has deflected society's efforts away from the goals of individual freedom and economic growth and profit maximization (see also FISCAL CRISIS IN THE CAPITALIST STATE).

It is possible to identify several key values in such radical rightism:

  1. a stress on ‘free-market’ theory and the rolling back of the boundaries of the state, especially the WELFARE STATE;
  2. the efficiency of market-distributed rewards and incentives, compared with any system of bureaucratic planning. According to one of their major ideological sources, the works of Hayek (1944), any level of state economic planning represents the first step on the ‘road to serfdom’. It is the state which impedes individual initiative, the major source of social prosperity;
  3. public spending is seen as parasitic on the private economy which generates wealth. High levels of taxation to fund public programmes lessen incentives to work and mean that the production of goods and services is less than it could be, thereby reducing economic growth. Any social welfare provision must not damage the system of rewards. Indeed, the New Right express a belief in structured inequality as necessary to reward ‘success’ and to provide the incentives necessary for the creation of wealth.

Alongside the radical right described above, a further strand of New Right ideology is the authoritarian right. Such thinkers largely agree with the virtues of free enterprise but argue for a strong state which provides a lead on matters of morals. They argue that the state should concern itself with issues of morals even at the expense of limiting individual freedom. Roger Scruton (1986), for example, has argued that the promotion of a ‘normal’ heterosexual family should underpin state intervention in social policy The influence of the authoritarian right can also be seen in claims that previous state intervention has caused a wide range of social problems, such as promiscuity, divorce and single parenthood. See also MORAL CRUSADE; compare AUTHORITARIAN PERSONALITY, LEFT-RIGHT CONTINUUM.

Several writers have identified what they believe are the key characteristics of the New Right. Gamble (1985) has argued that the New Right is best identified by the emphasis it places on the role of a strong state in sustaining order, discipline and hierarchy In the UK, it is this which explains the paradox of recent governments committed to a reduced role for the state but which have been more rather than less interventionist. Hall (1983) has identified as a main feature of the new right its ‘authoritarian populism’. He argues that this differs from traditional CONSERVATISM, because rather than seeming to limit the political involvement of the masses, it makes a direct appeal to the masses, playing on prejudice. This creates a general climate of opinion which benefits conservative forces at the expense of the left.

Golding (1983) has argued that the most important impact of the New Right has been ideological. It has succeeded in converting LAISSEZ-FAIRE ideology into ‘common sense’ ideas which manifest as public concern surrounding the ‘welfare burden’. See also THATCHERISM.

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