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On the welfare state

Summary

Nick Spencer makes some important distinctions – between welfare models, and also Christianities.

Summary

Nick Spencer makes some important distinctions – between welfare models, and also Christianities.

Transcript

The relationship between Christianity and the welfare state is a complex one. There is a simple answer to it, say in the UK, 1942, the Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple published a book called Christianity and Social Order. It comes out at the same time as the Beveridge report, which is a template for what became the welfare state. It shares many of the concerns, many of the ideas; Temple and Beveridge were very good friends together. You can see the church, conceptually and certainly in its support, right there at the foundation of the welfare state.

The complicating factor is, there is no such thing as “the” welfare state.  There are different welfare states, or different welfare regimes in the literature. And there’s no such thing as Christianity here – there are different kinds of Christianity. So what you find is that different kinds of Christianity have had different impacts on different welfare regimes.

Three brief examples. In continental Europe, Lutheran Christianity provided, if you like, the foundations and the conceptual framework for what became the social-democratic welfare state that we see in the Nordic countries.

In more southerly continental Europe, Catholicism became a conceptual framework for the Christian democracies and what the scholars call conservative, small c conservative welfare states.

In the US, what you see is the influence of reformed Christianity saying, in actual fact people’s welfare is best served by self-discipline and hard work, not by the state stepping in and helping you. So there you could argue that reformed Christianity, if you like, impeded the development of an extensive welfare state.

The result is that different kinds of Christianity have been tied in culturally and conceptually, mainly, with different kinds of welfare state depending on where in the world you go.