The deeper issues

Lawrence M. Mead, Christopher Beem

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

1 Scopus citations


WELFARE REFORM represents a sea change in American and British domestic policy. This volume demonstrates that political theory offers valuable resources for understanding that change and the controversy surrounding it. Each of our authors appraises the shift and asks how it affects our understanding of citizenship and democracy. Here we identify eight issues that seem to cut to the heart of the debate, and we summarize what our authors say about them. These disputes seem to capture what is most deeply at stake in welfare politics. They explain why it is so profoundly divisive for political actors and interpreters alike. Seven of the issues are fairly specific, but crosscutting them we find a deeper question-the meaning of citizenship. Some of our authors see the citizen as the autonomous self of liberal theory, in which individuals make demands on government. But obligations from either government or society are minimal and arise only out of pragmatic agreement. Others assert a more ambitious, communitarian vision in which citizens are defined not only by their rights, but also by their obligations toward others. In the first conception, rights come first because justice comes first. In terms most clearly defined by John Rawls, individuals must agree about what justice requires before the state can make any demands for individual behavior. This also means that concerns about equality before the law, about the equal enforcement of those rights, become paramount. Welfare, therefore, is about protecting the rights of society's most marginalized individuals. In the second conception, good behavior is grounded in facts about the human condition that transcend the social and political fabric.1 Certain civilities are deemed essential before human beings can even associate. Therefore these virtues must be required first. Only after human community is possible does justice become an issue. Welfare then is about what is due to the poor, and what can be expected from them, as a result of their membership in society. We take up our seven more specific issues starting at the broadest and ending with the narrowest. We suggest places where further inquiry might help to resolve the differences or, at least, understand them more fully. Some of these directions involve empirical research and some theoretical reflection. By these means, theorists and policy analysts alike may pursue welfare politics to a deeper level. At the end, we return to the core issue of citizenship, which appears throughout.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationWelfare Reform and Political Theory
PublisherRussell Sage Foundation
Number of pages21
ISBN (Print)0871545950, 9780871545886
StatePublished - 2007

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Social Sciences


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