From the 1940s to the 1960s, in most developed nations, social democracy appeared to be designing the future. Laissez faire ideas had died with the depression and then the war as social conservatives turned their boats to a political tide whose destinations were other than those for which they had previously aimed. Even where Right-wing parties continued to be strong (USA, UK, Germany) the initiative seemed to lie with the Left; and although ‘consensus’ is too facile a description of post-WWII society, the skirmishes between Right and Left rarely erupted into all-out war. By the 1970s social democracy suffered from an excess of failure and of success: the failure to maintain a delicate balance between opposing economic forces; the success of creating new sociocultural relations whose members were rapidly outgrowing the post-1945 settlement. And while destabilising itself social democracy also succumbed to a series of economic shocks and political challenges. By the 1980s the initiative lay with a Right-wing determined to mould the world into an image whose shape would subsequently be made to appear inevitable and unavoidable. This final transformation has arguably been accomplished by social democrats who, faced with the same choice that conservatives had faced a generation earlier, eventually came to play the characters that had been authored by others. The years of and since the 1990s have therefore been curious. Right-wing ideas have dominated and yet the Right itself has sometimes appeared to lack confidence in its domination, convinced that the manoeuvres of the cultural Left (postmodernists, relativists, the politically correct) are subtly undermining the moral values of capitalism.1 The Left, meanwhile, regained its voice(s) but not without discord between those who would and those who would not echo the economics of deregulation and privatisation.The story of the 1990s is too vast to be told in a single chapter and we will return, throughout this book, to many of the fronts along which Right and Left continue to clash. The intention below is to sketch some of the recent manifestations in the long-running ideas of Right and Left under the respective headings of ‘modern conservatism’ and ‘social democracy’. I will say more about the Right, partly because it has made most of the running and partly because the next chapter will be dedicated to some recent developments in Leftist thought.
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