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Abstract

Discussion between liberal apologists for the "welfare state" and their radical critics has tended in recent years to focus on the question of "social control." In this area the corporate liberals and social democrats (the "welfare statists") are weak. They talk of the "welfare state" as if, at least in principle, it represented the collective assumption by society of responsibility for the basic needs and dependencies of its members. Insofar as "social control" is relevant for them, it has to do with society's exercise of restraint over the selfish pursuit of private profit.1 Radical critics of the "welfare state," on the other hand, point to its controlling and system-maintenance functions, but often neglect the real benefits it provides. They have exposed the police officer, the guard, or (to use the old Wobbly term) the head-fixer behind the caring smile of the social worker, the teacher, and the therapist. Even the provision of material benefits--social security, public welfare, health and housing subsidies--is seen as reinforcing or regulating market forces in the interests of order and efficiency, rather than modifying them to meet human need. Where conservatives have seen "creeping socialism," radicals have seen the intervention of the capitalist state to stabilize and reinforce the system.

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