Socialism & the Welfare State

Socialism & the Welfare State

The welfare state represents easily the most appealing program socialists have ever offered. Its success in alleviating both the specific costs and existential anxiety of industrialization, together with its proven compatibility with liberal democracy, make it an ideal basis for a coalition capable of appealing both to industrial workers and to the middle sector of the self-employed, small entrepreneurs and service employees with hopes of independence. A broadly conceived program of social security, covering employment security, and medical services as well as old-age pensions, housing, transportation, and municipal services—though perhaps not under the name of “welfare,” in deference to American sensibilities—is clearly the most effective program democratic socialists can present in the United States.

Yet it is well to remember that the welfare state is not uniquely socialist. Its earliest, purposeful practitioner was, after all, Chancellor Bismarck. At his behest, welfare-state legislation was passed, together with a law banning the Social Democratic party—and for the specific purpose of taking the wind out of social democratic sails. Bismarck, hardly an appealing man but a consummate politician, saw the welfare state not as socialist but as a safe alternative to socialism.


Socialist thought provides us with an imaginative and moral horizon.

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