Dear Habermas Logo A Jeanne Site

Law Class, Fall 1999

California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Latest update: December 11, 1999
E-Mail Curran or Takata.

Black Letter Definition of Modern Welfare State
Definitional Essay on Modern Welfare State
Questions to Spark Ideas
Statistics on Welfare Spending
Contributed by Kelley Webb, CSUDH, Law, Fall 1999

Black Letter Law Concept: "Modern Welfare State"

The term "modern welfare state" is pejorative as used by Quinney. In the pejorative sense it refers to a system of justice that expresses primary concern for individual achievement with enough emphasis on community only to provide a social setting in which individual achievement can be supported. The "modern welfare state" does not share the peacemaker's concern for "a socialist vision of social order."

Reference: Richard Quinney, "The Prophetic Meaning of Social Justice," at p. 76-7, in Bruce Arrigo, ed., Social Justice/Criminal Justice, West/Wadsworth, 1999.

Modern Welfare State as Used by Quinney

Definitional essay by
Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata
In response to Diana Dominguez and Priscella Avila
Part of Teaching Series
Copyright November 1999. "Fair Use" encouraged.

Diana and Priscella wrote on December 4, 1999:

What does Quinney mean by "a modern welfare state?"

"As we understand it, 'a modern welfare state' is a society which provides all individuals a fair distribution of the basic resources necessary to maintain a good standard of living."

Jeanne and Susan responded on December 4, 1999:

Very good that you limit your responsibility for the interpretation with "As we understand it".

You've got part of this right. That is what is meant by the term when it is used in an apologetic theory, i.e., a theory that explains why, even though things may not be perfect, they're the best anyone could manage under the circumstances. Or, in other words, we should accept as reasonable and good the "status quo."

But Quinney is a critical theorist, and is more likely to criticize the status quo. So let's see if we can find the difference between a defense of the status quo and a critical response:

  • The reference to providing distribution of resources for ALL individuals is in line with critical analysis, for critical theory stresses humaneness and the importance of the community of all persons.

  • A problem arises with the words "fair distribution." Recall that some theoretical perspectives are opposed to the minimum wage, bringing into focus the definition of fair, and by whom, and for whom, and for what.

  • You've kind of defined fair distribution in your own statement as the "basic resources necessary to maintain a good standard of living." Problem with that is that you make the assumption that a "good" standard of living is the standard to be maintained. Modern welfare states generally use a standard that is minimal. So I think Quinney would agree with your standard; but I don't think modern welfare states would. Here's why:

  • What Quinney means when he uses the term "modern welfare state" is a state that ascribes to humanitarian values enough to provide minimal resources for survival to all, but views the provision of such minimal resources as a gift provided by the "successful" to the "unsuccessful" who have failed in the social system to which they all belong. Power, success, and the right to make such decisions is reserved to the "successful." Critical theorists, especially peacemaking theorists, see such a definition as structurally violent, harmful to the identity of the "unsuccessful" who receive this "bounty". So, for Quinney, the term "modern welfare state" is pejorative. He believes that resources should be fairly distributed as one of the basic goals of any community, not because some people are "unsuccessful" and therefore must be fed and clothed.

  • The fundamental difference between Quinney's perspective and that of the "modern welfare state" is one of human dignity and the meaning of community and its responsibility to all.

    Questions to Spark Ideas and Comments:

    1. What is the underlying philosophical issue in the concept of the modern welfare state?

      The philosophical issue I see as most important is the tension between the individual and the community. In a system that values individual freedom more, the modern welfare state will provide minimal assistance to those who fail in the system. In a system that values the less tangible social relationships of the community, the modern welfare state will provide for the overall needs of the community without regard to individual success or failure, which, in any event, will be defined differently in the differing communities. Habermas recognizes this underlying tension between individual freedom and community needs as continuing issue for public discourse.

    2. Why do we need welfare anyway?

      Because in any social system there will be mistakes, losses, catastrophes in which the individual is unable to cope. Welfare is the term we use for intervention in individual lives at this point. However, the same process intervenes for groups and corporations; but we do not call that "welfare." A situation which confuses us, as it leads us to misconstrue the situation, believing that only individuals fail. Not so.

      Statistics on Welfare Spending

      by Kelley Webb, CSUDH, Law, Fall 1999
      Part of Teaching Series
      Copyright November 1999. "Fair Use" encouraged.

      Kelley wrote on December 9, 1999:

      Hi Jeanne

      I found a good example to further explain Quinney's "modern welfare state". Speaking of providing a minimum of resources, the federal government spends twelve billion two hundred million dollars(one percent of federal spending) on Aid to Families with Dependent Children per year. The government pays corporations (capitalists) one hundred sixty-seven billion dollars per year.

      Jeanne responded on December 10, 1999:

      Cool. Give me the source citation. I'll put it up. jeanne

      Kelley responded on December 10, 1999:


      I found the statistics for welfare vs. corporate federal spending in an article/interview in the magazine, The New Yorker, Feb. 26 and March 4, 1996. The article is called "DEVIL WOMEN: With a little imagination, poor women can be blamed for just about everything", by Katha Pollitt. She interviewed two Republicans, a Congressman and a Congresswoman, who are opposed to welfare.

      When Pollitt asked them to comment on the federal spending statistics, they replied, "Money invested in corporate well-being creates wealth. Money given to poor mothers and children creates poverty". It's a very interesting interview. I'll bring it in next week.         


      Jeanne responded on December 11, 1999:

      Good job, Kelley. Everybody, please notice, Kelley wasn't surfing the Net for this information. Librairies and hard copy are not things of the past. The Net is a supplement. Nice that it's only a click away, but don't forget all the resources that have preceded it.