In the 1790s, scientific progress, the promise of an international economy, and the revolutions in France and the United States inspired political thinkers such as Thomas Paine and Antoine-Nicolas Condorcet to argue that all citizens should be protected against the hazards of economic insecurity. In An End to Poverty?, Gareth Stedman Jones revisits this founding moment in the history of social democracy and examines how it was derailed by conservative as well as leftist thinkers. Tracing the historical evolution of debates concerning poverty, Stedman Jones makes the case that contemporary social democracy should revive this important, but forgotten strain of progressive thought. He also clearly shows how current discussions about economic issues-downsizing, globalization, and financial regulation-were shaped by the ideological conflicts of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
Whether poverty is a social ill, an individual failing or an unavoidable byproduct of economic progress is a still-roiling controversy. This engaging study examines the unfolding of the debate in Europe from the late 18th century to the beginning of WWI. Cambridge University political scientist Jones grounds his treatment in the ideas of Adam Smith, whom he wishes to reclaim from free-market fundamentalists. Influenced by Smith's writings and emboldened by the French Revolution, Jones contends, visionaries Thomas Paine and Antoine-Nicolas de Condorcet offered groundbreaking proposals for universal social insurance and public education that they felt would eradicate poverty and strengthen the equality and personal independence Smith's free, commercial society demanded. Reactionary opponents of social equality and liberal enthusiasts of industrial capitalism invoked Smith against such proposals, Jones observes. Malthusian theorists, for instance, argued that social insurance encouraged improvidence and overbreeding among the poor, and laissez-faire economists objected to efforts to shield workers from competition and mechanization as obstacles to progress and prosperity. In reconstructing this debate, the author hopes to furnish a respectable non-Marxist rationale for modern social democracy. Whether or not the hitherto obscure Paine/Condorcet tendency inspires present-day social democrats, Jones offers a lucid, erudite exploration of a fertile topic in European intellectual history. (Nov.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.