A Social Laboratory for Modern France: The Musée Social and the Rise of the Welfare State

Duke University Press
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As a nineteenth-century think tank that sought answers to France’s pressing “social question,” the Musée Social reached across political lines to forge a reformist alliance founded on an optimistic faith in social science. In A Social Laboratory for Modern France Janet R. Horne presents the story of this institution, offering a nuanced explanation of how, despite centuries of deep ideological division, the French came to agree on the basic premises of their welfare state.
Horne explains how Musée founders believed—and convinced others to believe—that the Third Republic would carry out the social mission of the French Revolution and create a new social contract for modern France, one based on the rights of citizenship and that assumed collective responsibility for the victims of social change. Challenging the persistent notion of the Third Republic as the stagnant backwater of European social reform, Horne instead depicts the intellectually sophisticated and progressive political culture of a generation that laid the groundwork for the rise of a hybrid welfare system, characterized by a partnership between private agencies and government. With a focus on the cultural origins of turn-of-the-century thought—including religion, republicanism, liberalism, solidarism, and early sociology—A Social Laboratory for Modern France demonstrates how French reformers grappled with social problems that are still of the utmost relevance today and how they initiated a process that gave the welfare state the task of achieving social cohesion within an industrializing republic.
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About the author

Janet R. Horne is Associate Professor of French at the University of Virginia.

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Additional Information

Publisher
Duke University Press
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Published on
Jan 11, 2002
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Pages
368
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ISBN
9780822383246
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Best For
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Language
English
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Genres
Political Science / Comparative Politics
Political Science / Political Ideologies / Communism, Post-Communism & Socialism
Political Science / Public Policy / Social Services & Welfare
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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The Possibility of Politics explores the power of political reform, specifically reform of the modern welfare state. Can reform be effective if limited to cautious and piecemeal interventions that avoid radicalism and revolution? Can it also avoid unwanted consequences? Will the welfare state survive in the future?

Stein Ringen views the welfare state as a large-scale experiment in political reform. To ask if the welfare state works is to ask if political reform is possible at all. By its nature, the welfare state is reform on a grand scale, for it attempts to change the circumstances individuals and families live under without changing and disrupting society itself. But is it realistic to believe a population can get together, set goals and then try to meet these goals through collective actions, specifically public policies, without causing unintended consequences and destroying the state in the process? The welfare state attempts, idealistically, to redistribute welfare without reshaping the economic processes that cause inequities in the first place. Ringen considers how well redistribution has met the test in terms of political legitimacy, its intended effects on poverty and inequality, as well as its undesired and unintended effects on economic efficiency and the quality of private life. Ultimately, does the welfare state work? Further, is the welfare state a good thing?

In considering these questions, The Possibility of Politics should be of particular value to academics and advanced students interested in political theory, public economics, social administration, and political sociology.

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