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Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas

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The term “welfare state” in English is of recent origin.
First used during the Second World War, it passed into
general currency only after 1945. There had been
intermittent discussion, however, some of it sophis-
ticated, about the contribution the state should make
to the social welfare of all its citizens from the eight-
eenth century onwards. “It is the duty of a government
to do whatever is conducive to the welfare of the
governed,” the political economist Nassau Senior, one
of the main architects of the new English Poor Law
of 1834, argued in his Oxford lectures of 1847-48. In
the meantime, Richard Oastler, a tory-radical critic
both of early factory industrialism and of political
economy, had advocated in his journal, The Fleet
in 1842 the creation of what he called the
“social state.” This state would seek “to secure the
prosperity and happiness of every class of society”: it
would be particularly concerned, also, with “the pro-
tection of the poor and needy, because they require
the shelter of the constitution and the laws more than
any other classes.”

Oastler was a traditionalist, and his conception of
the “social state” was different from that of Senior,
who believed in a market economy and in the substi-
tution of contract for status in the pattern of social
relations. Yet both men rejected the idea of the
property-protecting “night-watchman state” cari-
catured by Ferdinand Lassalle in Germany (where the
authority of the state was far greater than in Britain).
They both recognized that it was no longer possible
to provide adequate welfare services to support indi-
viduals through the family, the Church, the guild or
private “charity.” They were both aware of the fact
that the rise of factory industry had posed new prob-
lems which demanded urgent solutions. In particular,
they identified, though in contrasting styles, social
contingencies associated with industrialization, partic-
ularly unemployment.

Sickness, old age, and death entail hardships in any
society: poverty was in no sense a postindustrial
phenomenon. Yet the massing of large numbers of
people in factories and in cities changed the language
and content of social and political analysis. As the
nineteenth century went by and, after struggles, new
groups of the population had secured the right to vote,
politics became more directly concerned with what to
do with newly acquired political power. The demand
for the provision by the state of particular social
services—a piecemeal process explicable in terms of
cumulative administrative processes and political
pressures—was accompanied by the articulation of
comprehensive theories of the state which rested on
arguments for positive state intervention. Thus, John
Ruskin, defying the fashionable economic orthodoxy
of the day, urged that the state should ensure that all
its citizens received a living wage and were guaranteed
full employment in the name of social justice. Thus,
T. H. Green, arguing that “citizenship makes the moral
man,” urged the case for “positive liberalism,” and
Arnold Toynbee (1852-83), historian of early indus-
trialization, demanded in a popular lecture of 1882 that
“where the people are unable to provide a thing for
themselves, and that thing is of primary social impor-
then... the state should interfere and provide
it for them.”

These were minority views, even then not always
free from ambiguity. Throughout the nineteenth cen-
tury there were four curbs on effective state action
in Britain, for long the most industrialized society.
First, political economists, even when they refused to
talk in slogan terms of laissez-faire, were skeptical
about the interference of the state with the operations
of the market: at most, they pressed for an abandon-
ment of social laissez-faire while accepting the need
for economic laissez-faire and international free trade.
Second, belief in the importance of individual self-help
or mutual self-help through voluntary organizations
(including the friendly society and the trade union) held
back any effective talk of “reliance” on the state:
people were expected to fend for themselves through
savings and insurance. Action on the part of the state
was deemed to be both expensive and debilitating.
Third, the receipt of help from the state or from local


authorities carried with it a stigma. People who
accepted “relief” were not thought of as full citizens.
The Poor Law of 1834 was based on this assumption:
it was never abandoned even when the operations of
the 1834 Act were refined and mollified. Fourth, the
apparatus of the state was viewed with suspicion not
only by businessmen but by workingmen: they identi-
fied it with unpopular social institutions and coercive
action, and judged it not in terms of purposes which
it might fulfil but in terms of restraints which it
imposed. Instead of looking to the state, they looked
rather to the trade union and instead of seeking direct
political action (or, except when deemed absolutely
necessary, resort to the law), they preferred to work
voluntarily through collective bargaining. There was,
indeed, surprisingly little political talk of the state as
such. As Matthew Arnold put it in 1861, “we have
not the notion, so familiar on the Continent and to
antiquity, of the state—the nation in its collective and
corporate character, entrusted with stringent powers
for the general advantage and controlling individual
wills in the name of an interest wider than that of

In Germany the position was different. The word
“state” was generally used, and was endowed with a
sense of authority. Moreover, the extension of the
administrative apparatus of the state long preceded the
advent of industrialism. At the same time, belief in the
autonomous market economy was far less strong, and
an influential group of historically minded political
economists argued fervently that national economy
(Volkswirtschaft) had to be converted into state econ-
omy (Staatswirtschaft) with “welfare” as the objective.
Bismarck did not go anywhere near as far as many
of the “socialists of the Chair,” academic protagonists
of a state dedicated to welfare, but through laws passed
in 1882, 1884, and 1889 he introduced compulsory
national insurance against sickness, accidents, old age,
and invalidity. “The state,” it was laid down in his first
unsuccessful bill of 1881, “is not merely a necessary
but a beneficent institution.” In the last years of his
life Bismarck also contemplated insurance against
unemployment and talked with assurance about “the
right to work.” His objectives were, of course, mixed.
He wished to provide an alternative to laissez-faire
liberalism, but he also wished to sap the strength of
the rising socialist movement. The national state was
to become an instrument of welfare within the limits
set by the capitalist system and the traditional frame-
work of the social order: in return the masses, he
believed, would be attached through greater patriotism
to the state. He conceived of social insurance, indeed,
as a form of political insurance, and the kind of society
in which he put his trust was as hierarchical as that
extolled by Oastler.

Other continental countries introduced insurance
schemes without necessarily accepting Bismarck's cal-
culations, and in Australia and New Zealand there were
politicians who believed in what the French called
“socialism without doctrines” and went much further
than any Europeans did in urging in the name of equal
citizenship that “the more the state does for the citizen,
the more it fulfills its purpose... the functions of the
state shall be extended as much as possible.... True
democracy consists in the extension of state activity”
(from a speech by New Zealand politician, W. Pember
Reeves, 1895). The New Zealand Old Age Pensions Act
of 1898 was the first to be passed in a British dominion.
Though it has been described as a “social palliative,”
it marked the all-important beginning of a noncontrib-
utory pensions system.

When in the early twentieth century the British
Liberal party carried a series of social service measures
which have been noted in retrospect as landmarks on
the way to the welfare state, it had both German and
“colonial” experience in mind. At the same time, the
driving force behind three new welfare measures—the
feeding of school children, the school medical service,
and old age pensions—had indigenous motivation. By
contrast, unemployment and health insurance, in par-
ticular, were strongly influenced by Germany, with
Winston Churchill, then President of the Board of
Trade, writing to H. Asquith in 1908 that “the Minister
who will apply to this country the successful experi-
ences of Germany in Social Organisation may or may
not be supported at the polls, but he will at least have
left a memorial which time will not deface of his
administration.” The self-helping activities of working-
class movements were no longer thought to be ade-
quate either by a growing number of socialists anxious
to exert political influence to eliminate “poverty in the
midst of plenty” or by trade-union groups like the
miners and the agricultural laborers who, for various
reasons, could not secure their union objectives (for
example, a shortening of the length of the working day
or a minimum wage) simply through the machinery
of collective bargaining. The charitable efforts of
philanthropists, it was increasingly recognized even by
philanthropists themselves, could not alleviate all the
social problems of an increasingly complex industrial
society. In this recognition the publication of social
statistics played a big part: well-documented poverty
surveys by Charles Booth, Seebohm Rowntree, and
others revealed the continuing extent of poverty in
British cities after a century of economic growth and
relative affluence. Once their statistics had been pub-
lished, wrote the Fabian socialist Beatrice Webb, “the
net effect was to give an entirely fresh impetus to the
general adoption of the policy of securing to every
individual, as the basis of his life and work, a prescribed


national minimum of the requisites for efficient par-
enthood and citizenship” (My Apprenticeship [1926],
p. 239).

Beatrice Webb was prominent in the campaign
which accompanied and followed the meetings of the
Royal Commission on the Poor Laws (1905-09) to
substitute new welfare policies for the Poor Law of
1834, policies which would remove the stigma attach-
ing to the receipt of public money. She claimed that
the introduction of these policies would not only mark
a new stage in the history of citizenship but would
constitute a return to older theories of the relationship
between the individual and the community. “The
whole theory of the mutual obligation between the
individual and the state, which I find myself working
out in my poor law scheme, is taken straight out of
the nobler aspect of the mediaeval manor. It will come
as a new idea to the present generation—it is really
a very old one that has been thrust out of sight in order
to attain some measure of equality in political rights.
There are some who wish to attain to a socialist state
by the assertion of economic equality—they desire to
force the property-owners to yield to the non-property
owners. I prefer to have the forward movement based
on the obligation of each individual to serve” (Our
London [1948], p. 385). Political affinities
have often been traced between the Fabian socialists
and the Benthamites who played such a big part in
initiating and implementing the Poor Law of 1834:
it is interesting to note that in this statement Beatrice
Webb was echoing rather the kind of arguments used
by Oastler, though in a very different kind of language.

Yet the socialists, Fabian or otherwise, were less
important in the introduction of new welfare measures
than the Liberals, some of whom called themselves
“new liberals” and rejected all arguments in favor of
laissez-faire. Their theories, well set out, for example,
by J. A. Hobson, were reinforced by other sets of
statistics besides those collected by Booth and
Rowntree. Statistics released in the aftermath of the
Boer War concerning ill health and malnutrition raised
fundamental questions about “national efficiency.” So,
too, did later figures concerning rural distress. It was
for reasons embedded in British history, therefore, that
after 1906 a Liberal government with a large majority
introduced legislation, much of it controversial, to
extend welfare services. The Education (Provision of
Meals) Act, 1906, permitting the provision of free
meals at school for needy children, was the first of a
number of measures which entailed direct intervention
on the part of the state in an activity previously falling
entirely within a sphere of family responsibility. Old
Age Pensions followed in 1908, though the Act was
hedged round with qualifications limiting the right to
receive pensions. In 1900 trade boards were set up to
deal with conditions and wages in sweated industries,
where collective bargaining was ineffective, and in
1911, in face of Fabian as well as Conservative criti-
cism, national insurance was introduced. The term
“welfare state” was not used, but much of the language
of parliamentary and public debate centered on the
issue of state provision of welfare. “A new spirit was
disclosing itself,” wrote R. B. Haldane, a Liberal min-
ister of the year 1906. “It is not about details that the
people care or are stirred. What they seem to desire
is that they should seem to have something approach-
ing to equality of chance of life with those among
whom they live.... There was earnestness about state
intervention to be seen everywhere” (R. B. Haldane,
Autobiography [1929], p. 213).

The measures initiated largely by Lloyd George and
Churchill after 1908, culminating in the insurance acts,
represented a major achievement. They were explicitly
nonsocialist—they left the profit system intact—but
they introduced a greater note of responsibility into
social politics and a firmer basis of collective orga-
nization. They were pushed even further as a result
of the First World War when Lloyd George, in a
different capacity, talked of creating “a land fit for
heroes,” and a Ministry of Reconstruction turned to
new proposals for change. “The public,” a committee
of 1918 reported, “not only has its conscience aroused
and its heart stirred, but also has its mind open...
to an unprecedented degree.” Immediate postwar re-
forms did not go far to meet the high hopes of the
war years, but the Unemployment Insurance Act of
1920, passed with little criticism, greatly increased the
numbers of people insured under national schemes, and
the Housing Act of 1919 not only required local
authorities to survey housing needs but offered govern-
ment subsidies to help them to provide houses. Refer-
ring to this act, the National Housing and Town Plan-
ning Council commented that “it has needed the
earthquake shock of war to bring the nation to the
recognition of the truth... that it is the duty of the
community... to take the necessary action, however

The process of extending the social services con-
tinued in Britain between 1919 and 1939 with public
provision of housing constituting the major postwar
innovation. Yet there was little doubt in Britain, as in
other European countries and in the United States, that
large-scale involuntary mass unemployment following
the world depression of 1929 constituted a major
watershed. Heavy unemployment strained poor law,
social service, and above all insurance systems beyond
the limit. Insurance benefits, limited to contributions,
were stringently restricted, and while there were fierce
arguments between socialists and nonsocialists about
the imposition of a “means test” on those in receipt


of unemployment relief, an Unemployment Board,
founded in 1934, was providing a second-line income
maintenance service, centrally administered. Keynesian
economic policies to eliminate unemployment were
rejected by the government in power, but the social
consequences of unemployment were studied carefully
by advocates of a more active social service policy.

The main theorists of large-scale intervention were
to be found not in Britain but in Sweden and in New
Zealand, with spokesmen of the New Deal in the
United States urging if not the creation of a “welfare
state” the extension of “welfare capitalism.” In
Sweden, where a social democratic government came
into power in the wake of the world depression (in
Britain the Labour government went out of power)
a series of welfare measures was introduced based on
the assumption, as Gunnar Myrdal put it, that the state
must achieve certain social goals: a high standard of
nutrition, full employment, and social welfare for all
its citizens. In New Zealand a Labour government,
which took office in 1935, placed in the center of its
program proposals which had been set out since
1919: sustenance payments instead of relief work (the
right to work was proclaimed); a national health
service as free as education; state housing and a statu-
tory minimum wage. The 1938 Social Security Act
marked “a radical and far-reaching effort to place the
claims of welfare before those of wealth.”

In the United States the position was more complex.
There had always been Americans who had urged the
need for state action in welfare matters. Thus, the
institutional economist Richard T. Ely had argued in
the late nineteenth century that the state was “an
educational and ethical agency whose positive aim is
an indispensable condition of human progress” and that
“the doctrine of laissez faire is unsafe in politics and
unsound in morals and... suggests an inadequate
explanation of the relations between the state and the
citizens.” More than 1500 labor laws were passed by
different American states in the decade after 1887. Yet
American society had been shaped more by market
forces than any other society in the world, and there
were far more critics of state interference than there
were supporters, both in periods of affluence and in
periods of recession. There were over thirteen million
unemployed when F. D. Roosevelt became President
in 1933 and one of the objects of his New Deal was
to widen the concept of social justice in the course
of dealing with economic emergency. The policies of
the New Deal were derived from many different
sources, but they all entailed increasing state interven-
tion. No comprehensive national structure of social
security was introduced, but steps were taken to raise
low incomes (through the Fair Labor Standards Act
of 1938), to offer aid to the disabled (through the
important Social Security Act of 1935), and to reduce
unemployment. Roosevelt's policies, eclectic in char-
acter, have been hailed as landmarks in the history of
the welfare idea and in the evolution of empirical
collectivism. They certainly generated enough bitter
opposition to account for the fact that when the term
“welfare state” began to be used after 1945 it was
almost always used in the United States in a pejorative
sense, even after a number of new welfare provisions
had been introduced both in individual states and by
the federal government. Yet it is certainly difficult to
call the United States of the 1930's a “welfare state.”
At best it was a society where a series of improvisations
reduced the extent to which the market dictated the
living conditions of individuals and families and where
social and political gospels were publicly expressed.

What was true of the United States was true, indeed,
of most countries in 1939, with the possible exception
of New Zealand and of the Soviet Union where there
was no problem of relating a network of state social
services to a market-based and privately owned indus-
trial system. Russian social services were regulated
rather in terms of the assessed exigencies of “socialist
development,” and there was no theory of welfare
outside the framework of Marxist-Leninist analysis. In
Britain, too, it was clear in 1939 that the network of
social services which had been created during the
nineteenth and twentieth centuries did not constitute
a system. The services were financed separately,
covered only limited sections of the population, and
were restricted in duration and scope. They had cer-
tainly not proved adequate to deal with the brute facts
of poverty and malnutrition, social insecurity and mass

The great turning point came during the Second
World War which was sufficiently protracted in length
and extensive in its influence on the lives of the masses
of the population everywhere to promote talk of a
“better world” when the war ended. There was no
shortage of such talk in the occupied countries and
even in Nazi Germany itself, and in Britain, where the
powers of the state were greatly extended after 1939,
the belief was widely held that, in the words of an
official paper on social security policy published in
1944, “in a matter so fundamental, it is right for all
citizens to stand in together, without exclusion based
on differences of status, function or wealth.” The argu-
ment was not just that administrative processes affect-
ing the operation of the social services would be
simplified if structures were “comprehensive” or “uni-
versal,” but that through universal services, “concrete
expression would be given to the solidarity and unity
of the nation.” What had been achieved in war could


be achieved in peace “in the fight against individual
want and mischance.”

In such statements, as in the writings of Sir William
Beveridge who did much to propound and to publicize
this philosophy, there was a significant shift from the
idea of a social service state, improvising and extending
welfare networks for people in misfortune, to that of
a “welfare state” providing a basic minimum for
everybody. There were other shifts too. As Richard
Titmuss, the historian of British social policy during
the war has remarked, “it was increasingly regarded
as a proper function or even obligation of government
to ward off distress and strain not only among the poor
but among all classes of society. And because the area
of responsibility had so perceptibly widened, it was
no longer thought sufficient to provide through various
branches of social assistance a standard of service hith-
erto considered appropriate for those in receipt of poor
assistance” (Problems of Social Policy [1950], p. 506).
In other words, the standards of provision on the part
of the state were expected to rise. “The deep desire
of men to free themselves from the fear of want,” a
desire identified in the deliberations of the Interna-
tional Labour Organisation Conference at Philadelphia
in 1944, was a foundation of policy, but welfare policy
would be expected to fulfill further aspirations also.

It was perhaps in relation to unemployment, how-
ever, the social scourge of the 1930's, that the war
produced the greatest transformation of attitudes. The
virtual disappearance of unemployment in war condi-
tions suggested that it could be kept to a very low
figure in peacetime. Sir William Beveridge, who had
written his first study of unemployment as early as
1909, argued in his influential Full Employment in a
Free Society
(1945), which was strongly influenced by
Keynes, that “it must be a function of the state...
to protect its citizens against mass unemployment, as
definitely as it is now the function of the state to defend
the citizens against attack from abroad and against
robbery and violence at home” (p. 25). The doctrine
received less general assent in the United States, al-
though it was strongly supported by a number of
economists, including Alvin H. Hansen, and in 1946
an important Employment Act laid down that it was
“the continuing policy and responsibility of the Federal
Government to use all practicable means... to pro-
mote maximum employment, production and purchas-
ing power [and] to co-ordinate and utilize all its plans,
functions and resources for the purpose of creating and
maintaining, in a manner calculated to foster and pro-
mote free competitive enterprise and the general wel-
fare, conditions under which there will be afforded
useful employment opportunities, including self-em-
ployment, for those able, willing and seeking to work.”

Soon after the Employment Act was passed, the term
“welfare state” began to be used on both sides of the
Atlantic. It was the program of the British Labour
government, brought into power at the general election
of 1945, which, in particular, focussed international
attention on welfare policies and stimulated both its
critics and its supporters to sum up its objective as
the creation of a “welfare state.” In this connection,
the National Health Act of 1947 was of central impor-
tance. “Homes, health, education and social security,
these are your birthright,” exclaimed Aneurin Bevan,
its architect. The act provided a universal and com-
prehensive health service “without any insurance
qualifications of any sort”: “it is available,” Bevan
pointed out, “to the whole population, and not only
is it available to the whole population freely, but it
is intended, through the health service to generalise
the best health advice and treatment.” The Act was
more strongly attacked in the United States, where
there was no state-provided “medicare,” than in
Britain, and it did much to stimulate debate on the
merits and pitfalls of a “welfare state.”

Meanwhile, historians and sociologists as well as
socialists and anti-socialists were connecting the poli-
cies of the British Labour government between 1945
and 1950 with earlier landmarks in the history of the
social services and looking for “origins” and strands
of continuity and “development.” Different metaphors
were employed. Hitherto, T. H. Marshall wrote in
1949—concerning himself less with the increased
powers of the state than with the changing fabric of
citizenship—social service policy had always been
thought of as a remedial policy dealing with the base-
ment of society and ignoring its upper floors. Now the
purpose was being extended. “It has begun to re-model
the whole building,” and it might even end by
“converting a skyscraper into a bungalow” or at least
into a “bungalow surmounted by an architecturally
insignificant turret.” The “welfare state,” to use a
different metaphor, was seeking to provide a fence to
ensure that people do not fall over a cliff, whereas the
older social-service state provided an ambulance at the
bottom of the cliff to carry away for treatment all those
who fell.

Between 1947 and 1960 the term “welfare state”
reached its peak currency. Two new developments took
place. First, the term began to be used everywhere,
even in relation to the policies of nonindustrialized
societies like India. It was very fashionable in newly
independent countries which were formerly part of the
British Commonwealth, and where the British Colonial
Office after 1945 had emphasized the need for framing
comprehensive welfare programs. The International
Labour Organisation spotlighted its universal implica-


tions. In an ILO report of 1950, for example, it was
stated that “the transformation of social insurance is
accompanied by the absorption of co-ordination of
social assistance, and there begins to emerge a new
organisation for social security, which we can only
describe as a service for the citizenry at large. This
new organisation now concerns society as a whole,
though it is primarily directed to the welfare of the
workers and their families. It tends, therefore, to be-
come a part of national government, and social security
policy accordingly becomes co-ordinated closely with
national policy for raising the standard of welfare and,
in particular, for promoting the vitality of the popula-

Second, most “advanced” countries introduced sub-
stantial welfare legislation. Scandinavia led the way
both in ideas and in scope of provision, but countries
like France and Germany, which had inherited very
different patterns of provision, developed new systems,
particularly of social security, which by 1960 provided
more generous benefits in real terms than those offered
in Britain. The British “welfare state” survived the fall
of the Labour government in 1951, but it was before
that fall that the costs of providing certain services
under the national health scheme forced the govern-
ment—with Bevan resigning in protest—to impose new
direct charges. Britain ceased to lead the way in wel-
fare legislation after 1951, although nothing was done
to dismantle existing structures, and in a period of
increasing prosperity there was no danger of the prob-
lems of the 1930's repeating themselves in a new ver-
sion of economic and social crisis. In all countries
unemployment, the main catalyst of prewar discontent,
was kept well below its prewar figures.

The term “welfare state” itself lost its initial force
during the 1960's, when “welfare” issues were rede-
fined, particularly in the United States. The Economic
Opportunity Act of 1964 launched a “war on poverty,”
but the difficulties of dealing adequately (locally or
federally) with poverty, in a society where the problem
was inextricably entangled with ethnic questions,
explicitly directed attention to the “values” underlying
the approach to all welfare issues. They also led to
a more searching examination of the basic economic
and social structures which most, though not all, of
the sociologists and historians of the “welfare state”
had disposed of far too easily. New slogans emerged,
and it became plain that the circumstances which had
led to the coinage of a lively new term after the end
of the Second World War had radically altered.

Given the difficulties of carrying over into historical
analysis a term used in recent if not in current politics,
it is possible nonetheless to identify descriptively what
a “welfare state” seeks to do. It is a state in which
organized power is deliberately used (through politics
and administration) in an effort to modify the play of
market forces in at least three directions: first, by
guaranteeing individuals and families a minimum in-
come irrespective of their work or their property;
second, by narrowing the extent of insecurity by
enabling individuals and families to meet certain “so-
cial contingencies” (for example, sickness, old age, and
unemployment) which could lead otherwise to indi-
vidual or family crises; and third, by ensuring that all
individuals as citizens without distinction of status or
class are offered the best services available in relation
to a certain agreed, if never finally fixed, range of social

Such a definition points to some of the historical
considerations which must always be emphasized. First,
the concept of “market forces” sets the problems of
the “welfare state” within the context of the age of
modern political economy. In societies without market
economics, the problem of “welfare” raises quite sepa-
rate issues. Second, the concept of “social contin-
gencies, is strongly influenced by the experience of
industrialism. Third, the idea of using organized power
(through politics and administration) to determine par-
ticular patterns of welfare services rather than relying
on other agencies must be set within particular
chronological frameworks. It was only with the advent
of or the threat of democratic politics and with the
introduction of administrations which included or
employed experts that power could be deployed in this
manner. Fourth, the range of agreed social services
must be a shifting range, with both economic and
political factors influencing the scope and scale of
constituent itesm. Fifth, the idea of offering not
“minima” but “optima,” at least in relation to some
specified services, represented the major historical shift,
from “the social service state” to the “welfare state.”
Sixth, the definition leaves out motives and values. For
some advocates of a “welfare state,” like Archbishop
William Temple, one of the first people to use the
phrase in 1941, the “welfare state” rested on a moral
ideal. For others it crystallized as a set of expedients.
For others it emerged as the product of inexorable
political pressures over a long period of time.

It follows from this historical account that the term
“welfare state” even in its heyday has usually been used
vaguely rather than precisely, and that it has been
employed more frequently in political debate, often
as a slogan, than in social and economic analysis. Most
usually, it has been identified through contrast rather
than through explicit definition—through contrast with
a “laissez-faire” state or more recently with a “power
state” or a “warfare state,” and little attention has been
devoted to the different social and political structures


or institutions in the different societies to which the
label has been attached. Socialist critics of the concept,
like Richard M. Titmuss, have talked of going “be-
yond” the welfare state, drawing attention not only
to its limits (in terms of redistribution of incomes and
the implementation of economic planning) but also to
the uneven efforts of its operations (for example, in
satisfying the middle-class demand for health and edu-
cation more completely than the working-class need
for health and education). They have agreed, indeed,
that the term hinders rather than assists an under-
standing of “what is actually being done in different
societies.” From a nonsocialist vantage point, Jacob
Viner claimed in 1962 that “the welfare state is at best
a hastily improvised system having characteristics
stretching all the way through the range from near-
statism to near-anarchy. It is an unplanned response
to a host of historical forces and of political pressures
which has not yet acquired and may never acquire,
an internally coherent and logically formulated philos-
ophy. It is undergoing constant change, and its move-
ments forward, backwards and sideways, are not guided
by any clear and widely accepted consensus as it knows
where it is going or where it should go from here”
(p. 226). Since 1962 the most interesting studies of the
term have concentrated on persisting patterns of
stratification, and on differences of values within the
same society. The “consensus” of the wartime years
helped to generate the dream, and the reality of the
“welfare state” has itself passed into history.


There is a useful collection of articles and papers in
S. P. Aiyer, ed., Perspectives on the Welfare State (Bombay,
1966). There is no adequate history of the term or of the
institutions associated with it, but M. Bruce, The Coming
of the Welfare State
(London, 1961) deals with British expe-
rience as a whole, and B. S. Gilbert, The Evolution of
National Insurance in Great Britain: the Origins of the
Welfare State
(London, 1966) and idem, British Social Policy,
(London, 1970) examine fully some of the critical
chapters. T. H. Marshall, Citizenship and Social Class
(Cambridge, 1949) is a basic analysis. See also B. Kirkman
Gray, Philanthropy and the State (London, 1908); G. Myrdal,
Beyond the Welfare State (New Haven, 1958); R. M. Titmuss,
Essays on “The Welfare State” (London, 1958) and idem,
Income Distribution and Social Change (London, 1962);
W. G. Runciman, Relative Deprivation and Social Justice
(Berkeley, 1966); J. B. Condliffe, The Welfare State in New
(New York, 1959); S. B. Fry, “Bismarck's Welfare
State,” Current History, 18 (1950); C. W. Pitkin, Social
Politics and Modern Democracies,
2 vols. (New York, 1931);
H. L. Wilenski and C. N. Lebeaux, Industrial Society and
Social Welfare Services in the United States
(New York,
1958); J. Viner, “The United States as a Welfare State,”
in S. W. Higginbotham, ed., Man, Science, Learning and
(Houston, 1962); M. L. Zald, ed., Social Welfare
(New York, 1965).


[See also Economic History; Economic Theory of Natural
Liberty; Social Welfare; Socialism; State; Utilitarianism.]