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An intellectual history of British social policy

An intellectual history of British social policy: Idealism versus non-idealism

John Offer
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    An intellectual history of British social policy
    Book Description:

    The history of social policy is emerging as an area of growing interest to both students and researchers. This topical book charts the period from the 1830s to the present day, providing a fresh analysis of the relationship between social theory and social policy in the UK. Drawing on recent historical research, the book: · reconsiders and challenges many long-held beliefs about the 'evolution' of social policy; · presents a wide-ranging reappraisal of links between social theories and changes in social policy; · pays particular attention to the importance of idealist social thought as an intellectual framework for understanding the 'welfare state' ; · has a distinctive focus on the importance of ideas in the history of social policy.

    eISBN: 978-1-84742-148-7
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Foreword
    (pp. v-viii)
    Robert Pinker

    Professor Offer’s scholarly account of the intellectual history of British social policy is structured around three interconnected themes of enquiry. He begins with a reappraisal of the theoretical contribution of Herbert Spencer and the non-idealistic character of his philosophy of welfare. He goes on to compare the key tenets of non-idealistic and idealistic theories of welfare and the influence they have had on the development of social policies. Lastly, he focuses attention on what we now call ‘informal care’ and Spencer described as the practice of ‘positive private beneficence’. He explains why Spencer attached such significance to this form of...

  2. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    It will be helpful to say something at the outset about how this book came to be written. Some time ago I had formed an interest in Herbert Spencer, and soon realised that his ideas on how liberty, the enforcement of justice, and the growth of altruism in general might advance welfare, developed in the second half of the nineteenth century, were not at all well understood in historical and theoretical studies of social policy. A reluctance to take Spencer seriously on such matters was to a degree excusable. His name was principally associated with the ‘survival of the fittest’,...

  3. ONE ‘Virtue’ and the poor law in Britain and Ireland in the 1830s
    (pp. 11-28)

    It is nearly 60 years since the demise of poor law legislation in 1948, though workhouse buildings (already then designated public assistance institutions) survived longer, sometimes to this day, with new functions within health and social service provision. At least one is a ‘heritage’ icon (Southwell in Nottinghamshire, owned by the National Trust). Within historical studies the poor law still receives reassessment (Brundage, 1978; Digby, 1978; Dunkley, 1982; Neuman, 1982; Crowther, 1983; Mandler, 1990; and Harris, 1992). Within social policy studies, however, the ‘moral defects’ of poor law practice and theory tend to be emphasised, in contrast to the enlightenment...

  4. TWO Spencer and a liberal road to welfare: the eclipse of a vision
    (pp. 29-52)

    This book deals at some length with Herbert Spencer as an example of non-idealist social thought. Since today Spencer’s thought is not generally familiar (his name certainly remains known from his phrase ‘survival of the fittest’) the present chapter begins with a brief outline of his ideas and their context.

    Over a century ago, Spencer was an acknowledged leading light in Victorian intellectual life with a reputation that permeated popular thought. His books were rapidly translated into the major languages, including Japanese. T.H. Green, Henry Sidgwick, A.J. Balfour and G.E. Moore gave his work careful philosophical criticism. As sociology grew...

  5. THREE Free agent or ‘conscious automaton’? The individual in Spencer’s social theory
    (pp. 53-74)

    This chapter is concerned primarily with how Spencer understood ‘social individuals’ and ‘social life’, and to comment in this light on some recent interpretations of Spencer on moral and political ideas. The present book does not seek toadvocatea particular position but to clarify patterns of social thought relating to social policy matters. Nevertheless, to guard against possible confusion, it is necessary to identify problematic facets presented by some of the new interpretations of Spencer, and to make clear my own interpretative stance. Accordingly, the chapter looks in some detail at Spencer’s work on psychology and sociology as well...

  6. FOUR The case of older people: social thought and divergent prescriptions for care
    (pp. 75-94)

    In Britain the years between 1880 and 1910 were something of a cauldron for the production and discussion of ideas about social life, the aims of social policy, and the roles of charity and government (a recent review is Haggard, 2001). While considerable attention has been paid to proposals for old-age pensions, little has been said on other forms of support and care for older people and the social theory that nourished them. This chapter discusses this topic as addressed by Spencer, and by the two reports of the royal commission on the poor laws of 1909. These two reports,...

  7. FIVE Social policy and idealist versus non-idealist thought: the fundamental schism
    (pp. 95-128)

    ‘British Idealism’ had, as a philosophical movement, a fairly short preeminence at Oxford and universities in Scotland — broadly from about the 1880s to the First World War. Key figures include T.H. Green, F.H. Bradley, Bernard Bosanquet and D.G. Ritchie. Attacks on the meaning of its utterances came from G.E. Moore and Bertrand Russell, and later from A.J. Ayer (for a concise discussion see Passmore, 1968). However, if idealism was soon in retreat in philosophical circles, it maintained a cultural hegemony elsewhere, especially in the many areas of social thinking in which philosophers seldom participated.

    In Boucher’s view, exponents of idealist...

  8. SIX Idealist thought, social policy and the rediscovery of informal care
    (pp. 129-148)

    Recent work in the history of welfare has placed question marks beside the status of some conceptual frameworks within sociology and social policy studies regarding the meaning of ‘social welfare’ and the ‘welfare state’. This chapter argues in particular that the marked upswing of interest in informal care in the UK beginning in the 1970s reflected, at least in part, a reaction, itself not so far adequately understood, to some features of the work of Richard Titmuss and ‘traditional social administration’, work that, on examination, reveals a distinctive ‘idealist’ core, unsympathetic to research into familial patterns of caring. Similarities with...

  9. SEVEN Social theory and voluntary action in Britain since 1880
    (pp. 149-166)

    Rethinking the history of welfare and the role of theories of society offers a new perspective on the ‘classic’ ‘welfare state’. Idealist social thought had a dominant, though not unchallenged, influence from the 1880s to the 1970s: some idealists, including Bernard Bosanquet and Charles Loch, found organised charity to be the most ethical and indeed logical way by which to secure idealist social goals, others preferred action by the state. Whether charity or the state was the preferred conduit, reference to enhancing and realising the ‘general will’ of the society was a shared feature. The analysis up to this point...

  10. EIGHT Epilogue: from poor law to Labour’s ‘new idealism’
    (pp. 167-182)

    One matter to which the contrast between idealist and non-idealist social thought serves to draw attention is the persistence of non–idealist thought in policy well into the twentieth century, concealed, as it were, below the Plimsoll line. This was touched on in Chapter Six, but deserves further attention.

    Support for people in their own resolves and thus in exercising their own liberty, rather than subjugation to idealist tutelage, retained a wide appeal. Alfred Marshall (see Chapter Two) acknowledged Spencer’s substantial influence as did parti pris Fabian H.G. Wells who in 1914 felt that we then emerged ‘from a period...