Was Thatcher a (small-c) conservative?

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Automaton
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It's a common question/topic in A level politics, and I may have to form an opinion on it for the June exam. So was she? I used to think not. First of all, broadly, what is conservatism:

(1) Obviously, it's the desire to conserve rather than reform (unless you "change in order to conserve").
(2) This is based on a morally and intellectually sceptical mindset.
(3) They believe in the organic society.
(4) They believe in tradition.
(5) They believe in natural hierarchy and authority.
(6) Some conservatives are paternalistic, following from Disraeli's "one nation" conservatism.

Those are the foundational beliefs of traditional conservatism. Did Thatcher fit this description at all? Of course, the "New Right", or neo-liberal conservatism, is what Thatcher and Reagan inspired, but the question is whether or not this new right is actually conservative.

I used to say no, because in the case of Thatcher, she reformed . . . a lot. You could argue that she was, in a sense, reforming in order to get things back to how they used to be pre-war, but that would be simply reactionary and not really embracing the core idea of conserving for sake of stability (and, of course, the results of her changes were not always stable).

But lately I've been questioning that judgement. It seems to me that the notion of a free market fits into the conservative belief in scepticism and the organic society. In the first case, a sceptical view of human nature might lead one to conclude that the economy is best left to develop organically (and freely) and not to be interfered with by the government; therefore the (more) free market fits in with scepticism. Secondly, in the case of the organic society, it could be argued that the free market is a natural product of an organic society, and that meddling in it in any way is applying abstract ideas onto a real society (which conservatives oppose). And, of course, she was mostly conservative in social issues, valuing authority and whatnot.

But then, the main point does remain that she did not conserve. I don't know what to think about this question. Of course, it's all semantics, but I feel it's important because it shows where she got her ideological basis.

Opinions?
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Teaddict
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There are a number of problems with what you have written in terms of its factual content and logical flow.

i) Disraeli was most certainly not the first 'conservative' to advocate paternalistic approaches. Edmund Burke is an earlier reference.
ii) You just stated that paternalism is a part of conservatism and then went on to suggest that they should believe in the free market because of scepticism in humanity... these two do not logically follow.
iii) While Thatcher may have been conservative in valuing authority and holding some traditional values, the question is one of balance. It is possible for an all-out socialist to hold some conservative views, that does not make them a conservative.

This PDF will provide a starting point for you. Read as much as you can, and chase up the references within this document: http://www.boyung.net/docs/Ideology_...20ideology.pdf
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Teaddict
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And if you like quotes, this one might be relevant/useful:

“The kind of Conservatism which I favoured would be best described as ‘liberal’, in the old-fashioned sense. And I mean the liberalism of Mr. Gladstone, not of the latter day collectivists" ~ Margaret Thatcher
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Rakas21
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Thatcher herself was quite traditional in her views socially so i'm not sure she was strictly Gladstonian but certainly the party has become more Gladstonian as time has gone on. Most modern Conservative's in my opinion are not truly conservative in the traditional sense. Instead the best description i could put on certainly younger Tories is that they are akin to 'constitutionally conservative classical liberals'.
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I am not finite
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Conservatism isn't resistant to change. It just puts emphasis on gradualism and respect for tradition when making such: let's give the example of Burke who supported the American Revolution. Hardly 'conservative' in the sense that most people imply is it? Not exactly stable either! I agree with you on the whole, her economic views have always struck me as compatible with her social views (which were certainly conservative).
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Automaton
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(Original post by Teaddict)
There are a number of problems with what you have written in terms of its factual content and logical flow.

i) Disraeli was most certainly not the first 'conservative' to advocate paternalistic approaches. Edmund Burke is an earlier reference.
I never claimed he was the first, but as far as I know he was the origin of, or the spark that set off, the "one nation conservative" paternalistic tradition. If not then last year's politics lessons and the textbooks I've read have been lying to me (not saying that's not true, it could be). E.g. in the current book I'm using as revision for my exam (Andrew Heywood's "Political Ideologies: An Introduction") the first sentence under "one nation conservatism" is: "The Anglo-American paternalistic tradition is often traced back to Benjamin Disraeli." In fact, the majority of those two-three pages on one nation conservatism is about him. The other section of "paternalistic conservatism" is that of Christian Democracy, so not too relevant.
ii) You just stated that paternalism is a part of conservatism and then went on to suggest that they should believe in the free market because of scepticism in humanity... these two do not logically follow.
The basis for conservatism is scepticism, that much is (I hope) undisputed; they regard fixed, dogmatic ideology as bad because abstract ideas should not be implemented onto real societies (Kieron O'Hara's book on conservatism expresses this scepticism nicely). Paternalism has also been a large part of conservatism since Disraeli. Paternalism in regards to the free market would involve noblesse oblige, involving the idea of the upper classes (as a result of the free market) acting responsibly. Paternalism doesn't just mean state intervention, there can be (according to conservatives) paternalism in a free market.
iii) While Thatcher may have been conservative in valuing authority and holding some traditional values, the question is one of balance. It is possible for an all-out socialist to hold some conservative views, that does not make them a conservative.
This much I agree with. I'm socially libertarian but I don't call myself a libertarian. The social conservative thing I added on as a small extra sentence; the bulk of my question is regarding economic issues..

This PDF will provide a starting point for you. Read as much as you can, and chase up the references within this document: http://www.boyung.net/docs/Ideology_...20ideology.pdf
Thank you, I'll have a read.
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Automaton
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(Original post by I am not finite)
Conservatism isn't resistant to change. It just puts emphasis on gradualism and respect for tradition when making such: let's give the example of Burke who supported the American Revolution. Hardly 'conservative' in the sense that most people imply is it? Not exactly stable either! I agree with you on the whole, her economic views have always struck me as compatible with her social views (which were certainly conservative).
I never said it's resistant to change. I said: "it's the desire to conserve rather than reform (unless you "change in order to conserve")".

On the whole, traditional conservatism preaches scepticism towards change, accepting reform when necessary. It's very pragmatic. That's all I meant.
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I am not finite
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(Original post by Automaton)
I never said it's resistant to change. I said: "it's the desire to conserve rather than reform (unless you "change in order to conserve")".

On the whole, traditional conservatism preaches scepticism towards change, accepting reform when necessary. It's very pragmatic. That's all I meant.
You say she's quite reactionary, afaik reactionaries are ironically classified as conservatives (seems stupid to me as well), or wanting to return to a previous state and conserve it. Here's what Thatcher said about the French Revolution: "... a utopian attempt to overthrow a traditional order ... in the name of abstract ideas, formulated by vain intellectuals'" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intellectual from this article). That seems through and through conservative to me.
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Automaton
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I never said she was reactionary. I said that if you argue that she's conservative because she was attempting to get back to a pre-war, pre-consenus economy, then you'd have to admit that that reason is more reactionary than traditionally conservative (even if there is some overlap); I myself don't argue that that is what she was trying to do (I don't know).
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Teaddict
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(Original post by Automaton)
I never claimed he was the first, but as far as I know he was the origin of, or the spark that set off, the "one nation conservative" paternalistic tradition. If not then last year's politics lessons and the textbooks I've read have been lying to me (not saying that's not true, it could be). E.g. in the current book I'm using as revision for my exam (Andrew Heywood's "Political Ideologies: An Introduction") the first sentence under "one nation conservatism" is: "The Anglo-American paternalistic tradition is often traced back to Benjamin Disraeli." In fact, the majority of those two-three pages on one nation conservatism is about him. The other section of "paternalistic conservatism" is that of Christian Democracy, so not too relevant.
I never said he was not the creator of one nation conservatism nor did I suggest he was not the main force behind it.

What I said was: Disraeli was most certainly not the first 'conservative' to advocate paternalistic approaches. Edmund Burke is an earlier reference.

Paternalism doesn't just mean state intervention, there can be (according to conservatives) paternalism in a free market.
If you insist.

I'm socially libertarian but I don't call myself a libertarian. The social conservative thing I added on as a small extra sentence; the bulk of my question is regarding economic issues..
If you are purely regarding economics, then to suggest that Margaret Thatcher is a conservative is hilariously absurd.
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(Original post by Teaddict)
I never said he was not the creator of one nation conservatism nor did I suggest he was not the main force behind it.

What I said was: Disraeli was most certainly not the first 'conservative' to advocate paternalistic approaches. Edmund Burke is an earlier reference.
Fair enough. From what I've read, though, the conservative tradition of paternalism largely takes its origins from Disraeli (even if paternalism in conservatism has been around for longer). Is that incorrect? (I'm not being rhetorical; any information that I could use for my exams would be beneficial).

If you are purely regarding economics, then to suggest that Margaret Thatcher is a conservative is hilariously absurd.
Well, that's what I used to believe, but the more I've started to look into conservatism, the more I've realised that it's more than can be defined in one small definition (such as opposing rationalism and radical change, and supporting a pragmatic approach to change, for example). There's more to it than that. Back to my original point in my OP (again, I'm not saying she was economically conservative, I'm just asking for discussion on my points, more than just saying it's "hilariously absurd"), here are the main points for discussion:

Small-c conservatives view humans as morally and intellectually imperfect, and this influences their "ideology" or, rather, mindset. Burke believed that the free market is natural and necessary, as the desire for wealth fits in with the human desire for "power after power" (as Hobbes said). He saw intervention in this arena as a way of causing more suffering than the free market itself provides. This view also holds in with the conservative belief in the organic society, because the free market develops naturally and tampering with it could harm or destroy the organism. Remember that Burke was a supporter of Liberal economics as advocated by Adam Smith, and thought that liberal economics could be reconciled with a conservative ideology.

Back to the OP and the core foundations of conservatism:
1) Is this view consistent with the desire to conserve, or with organic change in order to conserve?
— Quite clearly not. Thatcher changed too much too quickly, and was not pragmatic but ideologically driven.
2) Is this view consistent with moral and intellectual scepticism?
— Yes. Moral and intellectual scepticism can lead (as traditional conservatives like Burke believed) to the conclusion that interference in the market can be harmful, and it is therefore prudent to simply let it develop naturally.
3) Is this view consistent with the belief in an organic society?
— Yes. The free market developed naturally and without abstract planning, as an organism would. Tampering with it is the same as treating it as a machine that can be moulded, which they do not believe it is.
4) Is this view consistent with the belief in tradition?
— Yes, but perhaps in a radical or reactionary sense. At the least, we can say that it is consistent with traditional conservative ideals, but we may question whether or not the differences in the past couple of centuries have negated the relevance of such ideals for conservatism.
5) Is this view consistent with the belief in a natural hierarchy (perhaps even a "natural aristocracy"), and in authority?
— Yes. Traditional conservatives believed in the need for class divisions and the need for "knowing one's place", and the functionalist interpretation of groups, classes and institutions renders such divisions as useful. Hierarchy is produced by class inequality, which is a result of the free market; authority (and also responsibility) comes from this hierarchy.
6) Is this view consistent with paternalism?
— Maybe. I'm still undecided.

So, if responding, please respond to the above paragraph and points.
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Teaddict
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(Original post by Automaton)
Fair enough. From what I've read, though, the conservative tradition of paternalism largely takes its origins from Disraeli (even if paternalism in conservatism has been around for longer). Is that incorrect? (I'm not being rhetorical; any information that I could use for my exams would be beneficial).
Your exam will accept Disraeli as an answer even if it is wrong. Something you learn when you get to University is that your A Level knowledge is borderline useless.


Well, that's what I used to believe, but the more I've started to look into conservatism, the more I've realised that it's more than can be defined in one small definition (such as opposing rationalism and radical change, and supporting a pragmatic approach to change, for example).
The implementation of neo-liberal economics was a very radical proposal, no 'conservative' would have done it. In order to tolerate the social equilibrium, the Conservatives throughout the 1940s-1970s accepted the Keynesian consensus. Traditionally, the conservatives have always opposed free trade. Hence why free trade advocates such as Friedman have often attacked conservatives. The free market operates on the basis of the rational human actor, or Homo economicus. How does this rational choice theory square with your suggestion that adopting the free market was 'opposing rationalism'?


Burke believed that the free market is natural and necessary, as the desire for wealth fits in with the human desire for "power after power" (as Hobbes said).
Not entirely sure where you got this idea from. Firstly, we should remember that while we associate conservatism with some of Burke's ideas, he was NOT a Tory. He was a Whig. In terms of the free market, if memory serves me well, he advocated the repeal of the corn laws - nothing more.

I am also not entirely sure you have understood the notion of the organic state. The free market operates on the level of individuals. Much with New Right philosophy, it is defined by individualism. The organic society holds that society is more important than individuals, something which some would argue is incompatible with free market philosophy.

5) Is this view consistent with the belief in a natural hierarchy (perhaps even a "natural aristocracy"), and in authority?
— Yes. Traditional conservatives believed in the need for class divisions and the need for "knowing one's place",and the functionalist interpretation of groups, classes and institutions renders such divisions as useful.
Be very clear, traditional conservatives believed in knowing one's place. That extends to the upper classes maintaining power, and the working classes staying where they are. The free market allowed the working classes and the middle classes to become powerful. Why do you think conservatives opposed industrialisation? Because it made middle class industrialists who could challenge the power of the aristocracy.
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Automaton
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Thanks for the replies. I'm starting to realise that I maybe shouldn't just accept what I read in a textbook :')

(Original post by Teaddict)
Your exam will accept Disraeli as an answer even if it is wrong. Something you learn when you get to University is that your A Level knowledge is borderline useless.
This is kind of annoying, because I'm interested in learning about this stuff in general, as well as outside of my exams, and so any books that I've got (or articles that I've read etc.) were for more than just my exam.

The implementation of neo-liberal economics was a very radical proposal, no 'conservative' would have done it. In order to tolerate the social equilibrium, the Conservatives throughout the 1940s-1970s accepted the Keynesian consensus. Traditionally, the conservatives have always opposed free trade. Hence why free trade advocates such as Friedman have often attacked conservatives. The free market operates on the basis of the rational human actor, or Homo economicus. How does this rational choice theory square with your suggestion that adopting the free market was 'opposing rationalism'?
Bolded: I genuinely didn't know that. I'm getting most of my information on conservatism from this book:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Political-Id...cal+ideologies
(which has, by the way, been recommended by many on TSR).
In that book it says that libertarian conservatism (and economic liberalism in conservatism) isn't new to the tradition, rather it dates back to the late 18th century, and is a rival tradition to the paternalistic conservative tradition (albeit maybe with paternalistic conservatism having more weight behind it).

As for your question at the end: "How does this rational choice theory square with your suggestion that adopting the free market was 'opposing rationalism'?"
— I guess that's a point for debate: individualistic rationalism vs. statist rationalism. In Kieron O'Hara's book, he starts off forming a "knowledge principle" which is a basis for conservative scepticism, based on a collaboration of various key traditional conservative thinkers and theories. This principle is: Because society and its mediating institutions are highly complex and dynamic with natures that are constantly evolving as they are co-constituted with the individuals who are their members, both data and theories about society are highly uncertain. How would the free market fit in with this principle? Well, it would suggest that we should be sceptical of any top-down running of the economy (as the economy is "highly complex and dynamic with a nature that is constantly evolving"). If an individual forms a decision as to what to buy and trade etc., then that is a lesser form of rationalism than a top-down statist enforcement of an entire theory or system (not to mention the consequences are more limited).


Not entirely sure where you got this idea from. Firstly, we should remember that while we associate conservatism with some of Burke's ideas, he was NOT a Tory. He was a Whig. In terms of the free market, if memory serves me well, he advocated the repeal of the corn laws - nothing more.
Well, again, from that book on political ideologies. Here's a couple of pictures of what it says (highlighted text):
http://oi59.tinypic.com/w220ip.jpg
http://oi60.tinypic.com/24pmlqo.jpg
I'm kind of annoyed if it is just flat-out false, because like I said it was recommended, and it's also not a book aimed at those taking their A levels (though it is good for that, too).

I am also not entirely sure you have understood the notion of the organic state. The free market operates on the level of individuals. Much with New Right philosophy, it is defined by individualism. The organic society holds that society is more important than individuals, something which some would argue is incompatible with free market philosophy.
Yes, I can understand this view. But I can also see it from this perspective: the free market developed entirely naturally, and organically, during and after industrialisation; it was only when tampered with by governmental bodies that it became less of a free market; this tampering goes against what conservatives believe that you should do with an organic society (on the whole). An organism may have many individual parts that all do their own thing, and then come together for the good of the whole organism (operating under the illusion of individualism), so I don't really think that individualism in the economy is of any threat to the notion of an organic society.

Be very clear, traditional conservatives believed in knowing one's place. That extends to the upper classes maintaining power, and the working classes staying where they are. The free market allowed the working classes and the middle classes to become powerful. Why do you think conservatives opposed industrialisation? Because it made middle class industrialists who could challenge the power of the aristocracy.
Good point. But now that we are in a post-industrial society, where the market is largely capitalist, surely it is better for hierarchy for there to be more of a free market than less of a free market; yes, the free market allows for climbing the class ladder and stronger lower classes, but so does Keynesianism, and in the former case the boundaries become more defined.
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I am not finite
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(Original post by Automaton)
Thanks for the replies. I'm starting to realise that I maybe shouldn't just accept what I read in a textbook :')


This is kind of annoying, because I'm interested in learning about this stuff in general, as well as outside of my exams, and so any books that I've got (or articles that I've read etc.) were for more than just my exam.


Bolded: I genuinely didn't know that. I'm getting most of my information on conservatism from this book:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Political-Id...cal+ideologies
(which has, by the way, been recommended by many on TSR).
In that book it says that libertarian conservatism (and economic liberalism in conservatism) isn't new to the tradition, rather it dates back to the late 18th century, and is a rival tradition to the paternalistic conservative tradition (albeit maybe with paternalistic conservatism having more weight behind it).

As for your question at the end: "How does this rational choice theory square with your suggestion that adopting the free market was 'opposing rationalism'?"
— I guess that's a point for debate: individualistic rationalism vs. statist rationalism. In Kieron O'Hara's book, he starts off forming a "knowledge principle" which is a basis for conservative scepticism, based on a collaboration of various key traditional conservative thinkers and theories. This principle is: Because society and its mediating institutions are highly complex and dynamic with natures that are constantly evolving as they are co-constituted with the individuals who are their members, both data and theories about society are highly uncertain. How would the free market fit in with this principle? Well, it would suggest that we should be sceptical of any top-down running of the economy (as the economy is "highly complex and dynamic with a nature that is constantly evolving"). If an individual forms a decision as to what to buy and trade etc., then that is a lesser form of rationalism than a top-down statist enforcement of an entire theory or system (not to mention the consequences are more limited).



Well, again, from that book on political ideologies. Here's a couple of pictures of what it says (highlighted text):
http://oi59.tinypic.com/w220ip.jpg
http://oi60.tinypic.com/24pmlqo.jpg
I'm kind of annoyed if it is just flat-out false, because like I said it was recommended, and it's also not a book aimed at those taking their A levels (though it is good for that, too).


Yes, I can understand this view. But I can also see it from this perspective: the free market developed entirely naturally, and organically, during and after industrialisation; it was only when tampered with by governmental bodies that it became less of a free market; this tampering goes against what conservatives believe that you should do with an organic society (on the whole). An organism may have many individual parts that all do their own thing, and then come together for the good of the whole organism (operating under the illusion of individualism), so I don't really think that individualism in the economy is of any threat to the notion of an organic society.


Good point. But now that we are in a post-industrial society, where the market is largely capitalist, surely it is better for hierarchy for there to be more of a free market than less of a free market; yes, the free market allows for climbing the class ladder and stronger lower classes, but so does Keynesianism, and in the former case the boundaries become more defined.
Hello again, protectionist policies were usually pursued by conservatives in Britain. American conservatives however have always supported free trade (you may quote Jefferson's objection to corporations, but I think he's explicity talking about monopolies here that can exercise power over government). Maybe this is what the book is suggesting?
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Teaddict
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(Original post by Automaton)
Thanks for the replies. I'm starting to realise that I maybe shouldn't just accept what I read in a textbook :')

This is kind of annoying, because I'm interested in learning about this stuff in general, as well as outside of my exams, and so any books that I've got (or articles that I've read etc.) were for more than just my exam.
Textbooks are good for an introduction, but really you want to read journal articles.




Bolded: I genuinely didn't know that. I'm getting most of my information on conservatism from this book:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Political-Id...cal+ideologies
I am not familiar with this book. If the book has not given any indication to this, then I doubt the scope of this book.

In that book it says that libertarian conservatism (and economic liberalism in conservatism) isn't new to the tradition, rather it dates back to the late 18th century, and is a rival tradition to the paternalistic conservative tradition (albeit maybe with paternalistic conservatism having more weight behind it).
Hmm I would have to read the particular chapter to understand the argument being made.


Well, again, from that book on political ideologies. Here's a couple of pictures of what it says (highlighted text):
http://oi59.tinypic.com/w220ip.jpg
http://oi60.tinypic.com/24pmlqo.jpg
I'm kind of annoyed if it is just flat-out false, because like I said it was recommended, and it's also not a book aimed at those taking their A levels (though it is good for that, too).
Well this book does not appear to be purely focused on British politics which would explain some of the issues. As noted earlier, Edmund Burke was a Whig not a Tory. Adam Smith, on the other hand... not sure I can see how he is considered a Conservative.

Yes, I can understand this view. But I can also see it from this perspective: the free market developed entirely naturally, and organically, during and after industrialisation; it was only when tampered with by governmental bodies that it became less of a free market;
Well if we accepted Adam Smith's argument, we didn't have a free market economy. He wrote the Wealth of Nations as a criticism to merchantilism.

Good point. But now that we are in a post-industrial society, where the market is largely capitalist, surely it is better for hierarchy for there to be more of a free market than less of a free market; yes, the free market allows for climbing the class ladder and stronger lower classes, but so does Keynesianism, and in the former case the boundaries become more defined
Traditional conservative policies didn't really allow for that.

Either way, if you can make a very strong argument, go for it. In University, that is encouraged. A Levels? I am not so sure.
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