Though I have noted some of the classical conservative tendencies that persist today, much of contemporary conservative discourse and policy making bears little resemblance to the outlook just described. In the decades following the Second World War, conservative political thinking changed drastically. The Reagan-Thatcher revolution in the 1980s saw a particularly pronounced shift away from classical conservatism (see section 3.4 Neoliberalism for privatization timeline). Classical conservatism could be called socially conservative in that it prioritized protecting society from threats to long-standing institutions and practices. It was not, however, economically conservative in the way that phrase is used today. Classical conservatives were generally not opposed to state intervention in the economy whenever such intervention could strengthen social bonds or promote the common good. Writers in Canada’s high Tory conservative tradition particularly emphasized this point.
Under the political leadership of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (1979–1990) and American President Ronald Reagan (1981–1989), conservatives moved more fully in the direction of free markets, deregulation, and a business-first approach to statecraft. Most political problems were understood to arise from an excess of government regulation and activity, so the overriding policy aim of the Thatcher and Reagan governments was to unleash private market forces to areas previously under the purview of government oversight. President Reagan perfectly encapsulated the governing philosophy of the Reagan-Thatcher Revolution in his first inaugural address on January 20, 1981: “Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.” Listen to President Reagan’s inaugural speech below (skip to 4:00 to hear quote).
Modern conservatism retains some hints of classical conservatism but combines them with elements of classical liberalism, most notably the emphasis on limiting state interference in economic matters. Modern conservatism is also notably more ideological and rationalist than its classical counterpart. There are many different perspectives and outlooks in the New Right, but two important versions of modern conservatism will be considered here: libertarianism and neoconservatism.