Ideological Disagreement over the Welfare State

Topics: Liberalism, Sociology, Socialism Pages: 8 (2688 words) Published: January 31, 2011
Political Ideologies

Two major bases of ideological and conceptual disagreement over the contemporary welfare state.

Since its emergence in the late 19th century, the notion of welfare state has largely been evolving (especially from the second part of the 20th century) and has been an object of conceptual and ideological disagreement in the field of political thought. As a system of government where the state within its social protection remit, a set of social policies, aims to guarantee a minimum level of economic and social well-being to its citizens, the contemporary welfare state is based on the principles of equality of opportunity, equitable distribution of wealth, and public responsibility for those unable to avail themselves of the minimal provisions for a good life. Its main concern is to provide a minimum of income security and essential services to the entire population. According to Asa Briggs in The Welfare State in Historical Perspective (1969), a welfare state is a state in which organized power is used deliberately to alter the play of market forces in three directions ; first, by ensuring a minimum income for people and families regardless of the value of their work or property ; second, by reducing insecurity by enabling individuals and families to cope with some difficult circumstances (such as disease, old age, unemployment) ; and third, by ensuring that all citizens, whatever their class or social status, receive a number of quality social services. Thus, here, we comprehend the welfare state as a state in which the power is deliberately used to modify the free play of economic and political forces in order to effect a redistribution of income. and not according to Fine's conception of a “positive government”, i.e., a government whose prerogatives are extended further than its alleged natural role of maintenance of civil order and national defense. In this meaning, the welfare state seems to benefit essentially to the lower middle class and the working class (even though it is theoretically designed for everybody as it is institutional). Synonym of progress and cure for social insecurity or freedom-inhibiting factor, the concept of welfare state is very debated and comes up against tensions between ideological perspectives and an ever greater theoretical questioning. Most policies have a number of differing justifying rationales and supporting arguments in their favour. Policies can be regarded as embodying ideas about society, the economy, the state, citizens and relations between these. They embody views about justice, equality and individual responsibility. As far as ideologies describe, explain and justify, they provide a more or less coherent understanding or interpretation of some aspect of social reality. Ideologies tend to be action-guiding, they influence people's behaviour. With respect to the topic of welfare, one can identify a number of broad traditions of political and social thought, there is a range of competing ideologies. The main, the most extreme disagreement is between liberalism and socialism. We will analyze the perspective of these two ideologies on the concept of welfare and the contemporary welfare state to identify their main points of disagreement.

Advocacy of extensive "welfare state" programs was at first associated mainly with leftist socialist movements in particular because of the traditional socialist motto : “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs”. To Pinker, “socialism is inevitably associated with collectivist welfare policies.” Let us consider more precisely the relation of socialism to the welfare state. Socialism is associated with the development of a kind of economic system and society based on capitalist industrialism. The key socialist values are collectivism, empowerment and egalitarianism - the 'liberty, equality, and fraternity' of the French revolution, interpreted in collective and social terms. Key social...

References: :
Atherton, C. R.. (1989). The Welfare State: Still on Solid Ground. The Social Service Review, 63(2).
Freeden, M. (1996). Ideologies and Political Theory: A Conceptual Approach. Oxford.
George, P. (1985). Towards a Two-dimensional Analysis of Welfare Ideologies. Social Policy & Administration, 19(1).
George, V., Wilding, P. (1994). Welfare and ideology. Harvester Wheatsheaf.
Pierson, C. (2006). Beyond the welfare state. Cambridge: Polity.
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