The Idea of the Welfare State

Donald Moon

in The Oxford Handbook of the History of Political Philosophy

Published in print May 2011 | ISBN: 9780199238804
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191728365 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Philosophy

 The Idea of the Welfare State

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  • History of Western Philosophy
  • Social and Political Philosophy


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The welfare state rests upon a commitment to equality, such that the provision of services, and the type and quality of services that are provided, are not differentiated by class or other markers of unequal status. This article outlines the history of welfare state theorizing, beginning with a discourse that is likely to be most familiar to Anglophone audiences, which view the welfare state as emerging from a critical, and largely internal, interrogation of liberalism, with its commitment to juridical equality, individualism, and liberty. In much of continental Europe, where liberal ideas were less established, the idea of a welfare state emerged from a critical, and again largely internal, interrogation of socialism—more particularly, Marxism—with its commitment to solidarity, science, and positive freedom. Although discourse about the scope and structure of social policy continued to engage large issues of political philosophy, social scientists began to raise narrower and more technical questions about the effectiveness of the policies and programs of the welfare state.

Keywords: Marxism; welfare state; political philosophy; social policy; equality; liberalism; socialism; positive freedom

Article.  6490 words. 

Subjects: History of Western Philosophy ; Social and Political Philosophy

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