Government, the free market, the individual

Government is essential for the preservation of order and stability, but conservatives have differences over how far it should interfere in the private lives of individuals. Ideally, government should be as small and restricted as possible, (limited government)  although it must also take very seriously the defence and preservation of the nation-state. (Robert Nozick) Most conservatives also value the notion of the sovereign nation-state, portraying themselves as the patriotic or national party. Governments are there to protect and promote the nation-state. Many conservatives are thus wary of supra- national bodies such as the EU or international commitments.

■ The free market, private property and a capitalist economic system are vital for a thriving and prosperous economy.(Neo Liberalism)  The resulting inequality in wealth is acceptable and inevitable, though more paternalist and one-nation conservatives would emphasise the duties and responsibilities of the better-off to look after the less fortunate. Neo-liberal conservatives would focus more on the need for individuals to help themselves and to strive and work harder. It is the role of governments to promote the free market, for example by selling off state- owned industries and opposing socialist notions of nationalisation. Only the free market can really boost trade and production, which in turn boosts prosperity. 

There is a significant tension in British conservatism over the EU supporters of free market economics support the idea of the European single market as an economic model, but conservatives who emphasise the sovereignty of the nation state are far less happy about the  impact that has. The EU Referendum 2016 

■ While all conservatives support the idea freedom and choice are important for individuals when it comes to economics, there is a tension with those conservatives who emphasise traditional values and social conservatism.  Individual freedom can be limited to protect social values, which is why most conservatives adopt a relatively tough stance on law and order, supporting the use of longer prison sentences in order to protect society as a whole from harm. Traditional conservatives (especially in the USA) might support the death penalty as the ultimate sanction of the state against the ‘worst’ individuals in society. 

■ Individual freedoms and rights matter, but  an organic  society means that the protection of order and stability means that rights and liberty can be limited.