In the 1790s, for the first time, reformers proposed bringing
poverty to an end. Inspired by scientific progress, the promise of
an international economy, and the revolutions in France and the
United States, political thinkers such as Thomas Paine and
Antoine-Nicolas Condorcet argued that all citizens could be
protected against the hazards of economic insecurity. In An End
to Poverty? Gareth Stedman Jones revisits this founding moment
in the history of social democracy and examines how it was derailed
by conservative as well as leftist thinkers. By tracing the
historical evolution of debates concerning poverty, Stedman Jones
revives an important, but forgotten strain of progressive thought.
He also demonstrates that current discussions about economic issues
-- downsizing, globalization, and financial regulation -- were
shaped by the ideological conflicts of the late eighteenth and
early nineteenth centuries.
Paine and Condorcet believed that republicanism combined with
universal pensions, grants to support education, and other social
programs could alleviate poverty. In tracing the inspiration for
their beliefs, Stedman Jones locates an unlikely source-Adam Smith.
Paine and Condorcet believed that Smith's vision of a dynamic
commercial society laid the groundwork for creating economic
security and a more equal society.
But these early visions of social democracy were deemed too
threatening to a Europe still reeling from the traumatic aftermath
of the French Revolution and increasingly anxious about a changing
global economy. Paine and Condorcet were demonized by Christian and
conservative thinkers such as Burke and Malthus, who used Smith's
ideas to support a harsher vision of society based on individualism
and laissez-faire economics. Meanwhile, as the nineteenth century
wore on, thinkers on the left developed more firmly anticapitalist
views and criticized Paine and Condorcet for being too "bourgeois"
in their thinking. Stedman Jones however, argues that contemporary
social democracy should take up the mantle of these earlier
thinkers, and he suggests that the elimination of poverty need not
be a utopian dream but may once again be profitably made the
subject of practical, political, and social-policy debates.
Subjects: History, Political Science, Economics, Sociology
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