Vital Signs

Government and the Press

In comparison with its modern rivals, capitalism is the most attractive form of socioeconomic organization for conservatives. Capitalism has moved the democratization of society in a conservative direction, because at the same time that the differing wealth and income of individuals ensures that their purchasing power varies, each is a consumer able to make his or her own purchasing decisions. This clement of choice and the need to shape and cater to it have helped to lead to a major shift in political culture, so that in modern Britain, unlike during the late 1940's, there is now little confidence in central planning and state collectivism. Capitalist pressures and possibilities have changed society, leading to a major expansion of the middle class. The percentage of the labor force composed of manual workers fell from 75 in 1900 to 47 by 1974 and 36 in 1991. A capitalist, consumerist, individualist, mobile, predominantly secular and urban, property-owning democracy developed in Britain, and society was far more atomistic than its predecessors. The young, determined not to be younger copies of their elders, were more willing to try different foods, to holiday in different places, to move away from parental religious preferences, to go on to higher education or to purchase property.

Many conservatives, disturbed by these shifts, seek to blame capitalism for the secularism and collapse of deference that worry them. In Britain,...

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