Is conservatism merely a ruling class ideology? A ruling class ideology as defined by Karl Marx is “the class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production… the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it”, in other words a ruling class is the social class that decides and sets governmental policy.
Traditionally conservative supporters have originated from upper and middle class backgrounds and its core themes such as the need to conserve and ownership of private property suggest that is in fact a ruling class ideology. For conservatives a fundamental theme is to conserve or tradition, tradition leaves the ruling class in its superior position. However in the past conservatives have allowed some reform, such as the emancipation acts throughout the 18th and 19th centuries that finally allowed all men; the employer, the employee or the unemployed the right to vote.
This puts forward the idea that conservatism is not or was not a ruling class ideology as the newly emancipated included working class men who may favour other political parties in elections, however it may also be said that the passing of these acts may have had populist effects that benefited the conservatives and gained them more support, this is most likely to have been an intended result. A second theme of conservatism is its attraction to private property.
Conservatives feel similarly to liberals who believe that property is earned through meritocracy, by hard work a person can achieve greatly. Conservatives feel that private property, particularly a home, offers them security, protection and respect of others property and that it promotes social values. This central theme of conservatism favours the wealthy and thus the ruling class whom can afford private property, however a conservative policy, the Housing Act 1980 allowed poorer people in council owned property the chance to purchase their home, the ‘right to buy’.
This was a massive reform for conservatism that had many repercussions such as negative equity on some houses and some people not being able to afford the mortgage in later years which lead to repossession of their homes. It left the less wealthy worse off. A further theme in conservatism is their belief in a hierarchical society, conservatives believe in a concept of ‘accident of birth’, they feel that inequality should be accepted, this helped the idea of natural aristocracy, where leadership is an inbred quality that annot be acquired, be accepted by classical conservatives such as Edmund Burke. A hierarchical society benefits the ruling class completely, it permits those that are wealthy or have fallen into a place of high status be it a leader of a political party or a manager of a factory the opportunity to rule those beneath or less wealthy than them. None the less some conservatives believe in the idea of paternalism, where power and authority is exercised in over others with the intention of preventing harm, for ‘their own good’.
Secondly that those in power are taking on a burden for the working class who do not have to worry about the livelihoods and security of many other people and thus a hierarchical society benefits the working class too. As conservative supporters traditionally come from a wealthy background, it seems a given that the conservative ideology favours the wealthy and thus they would want to protect it. However, under Margaret Thatcher a new right conservatism emerged.
The new right although advocates a small state and held a policy of privatisation where many state owned services such as gas and electric were sold to private owners benefiting their personal wealth and perhaps increasing support of the conservative party from wealthy people, nevertheless the money raised from this was used to help fund welfare services; redistributing wealth from the wealthy to those less fortunate and reforms in education to include the working class.
This suggests that conservatism is not a ruling class ideology as it is looking out for the interests of the poor, although it could also be said that this is evidence of the opposite as moral of the working class effects the ruling class, low moral may lead to an uprising or revolution where the ruling class are overpowered, this is in fact an idea prophesied by Karl Marx who believed that revolution would lead to a state controlled by the proletariat also known as the working class and eventually would ‘wither away’ to a classless society, evidently this is a result that conservatives greatly wish to avoid.
Furthermore the new right promotes a free-market; a free-market is a trade market with little to no state intervention. This could result in low taxation less expensive prices on consumer goods as a state free market would no longer have government determined prices. In a sense this is a sign that conservatism does not only favour the ruling class as these conditions benefit those less wealthy. On the other hand this can be seen to advance the interests of the ruling class, as the low tax rates llow the wealthy to stay wealthy and the non-government defined prices may be more expensive than pre-determined, thirdly a free-market allows for competition between businesses for the best quality, the rich will be able to afford the best quality and most expensively priced services and goods. In conclusion conservatism is a ruling class ideology because its core themes favour those that are wealthy or powerful.
It appears that the conservative ideology, particularly traditional or classical conservatism is made up of policies and ideas that only benefit the ruling class illustrated by the idea that equality is a myth and could never be achieved, an ideology could not be a non ruling class ideology if it held the belief that equality did not exist as their elections and governments would never be completely democratic.
New Right conservatism seems to have taken the working class into consideration however the idea that their policies could be seen as merely populist taints this. It could be said that the reason New Right conservatism emerged was because traditional conservatism was outdated, as society changes ideologies have to change with them in order to remain relevant.