During the 1990s, both the United States and Britain shifted from entitlement to work-based systems for supporting their poor citizens. Much research has examined the implications of welfare reform for the economic well-being of the poor, but the new legislation also affects our view of democracy—and how it ought to function. By eliminating entitlement and setting behavioral conditions on aid, welfare reform challenges our understanding of citizenship, political equality, and the role of the state. In Welfare Reform and Political Theory, editors Lawrence Mead and Christopher Beem have assembled an accomplished list of political theorists, social policy experts, and legal scholars to address how welfare reform has affected core concepts of political theory and our understanding of democracy itself. Welfare Reform and Political Theory is unified by a common set of questions. The contributors come from across the political spectrum, each bringing different perspectives to bear. Carole Pateman argues that welfare reform has compromised the very tenets of democracy by tying the idea of citizenship to participation in the marketplace. But William Galston writes that American citizenship has in some respects always been conditioned on good behavior; work requirements continue that tradition by promoting individual responsibility and self-reliance—values essential to a well-functioning democracy. Desmond King suggests that work requirements draw invidious distinctions among citizens and therefore destroy political equality. Amy Wax, on the other hand, contends that ending entitlement does not harm notions of equality, but promotes them, by ensuring that no one is rewarded for idleness. Christopher Beem argues that entitlement welfare served a social function—acknowledging the social value of care—that has been lost in the movement towards conditional benefits. Stuart White writes that work requirements can be accepted only subject to certain conditions, while Lawrence Mead argues that concerns about justice must be addressed only after recipients are working. Alan Deacon is well to the left of Joel Schartz, but both say government may actively promote virtue through social policy—a stance some other contributors reject. The move to work-centered welfare in the 1990s represented not just a change in government policy, but a philosophical change in the way people perceived government, its functions, and its relationship with citizens. Welfare Reform and Political Theory offers a long overdue theoretical reexamination of democracy and citizenship in a workfare society.
Winner of the 2019 Gita Chaudhuri Prize
Winner of the 2019 Benjamin F. Shambaugh Award
Historian Sara Egge offers critical insights into the woman suffrage movement by exploring how it emerged in small Midwestern communities—in Clay County, Iowa; Lyon County, Minnesota; and Yankton County, South Dakota. Examining this grassroots activism offers a new approach that uncovers the sophisticated ways Midwestern suffragists understood citizenship as obligation.
These suffragists, mostly Yankees who migrated from the Northeast after the Civil War, participated enthusiastically in settling the region and developing communal institutions such as libraries, schools, churches, and parks. Meanwhile, as Egge’s detailed local study also shows, the efforts of the National American Women’s Suffrage Association did not always succeed in promoting the movement’s goals. Instead, it gained support among Midwesterners only when local rural women claimed the right to vote on the basis of their well-established civic roles and public service.
By investigating civic responsibility, Egge reorients scholarship on woman suffrage and brings attention to the Midwest, a region overlooked by most historians of the movement. In doing so, she sheds new light onto the ways suffragists rejuvenated the cause in the twentieth century.
What is the spirit that animates collective action? What is the ethos of democracy? Worldly Ethics offers a powerful and original response to these questions, arguing that associative democratic politics, in which citizens join together and struggle to shape shared conditions, requires a world-centered ethos. This distinctive ethos, Ella Myers shows, involves care for "worldly things," which are the common and contentious objects of concern around which democratic actors mobilize. In articulating the meaning of worldly ethics, she reveals the limits of previous modes of ethics, including Michel Foucault's therapeutic model, based on a "care of the self," and Emmanuel Levinas's charitable model, based on care for the Other. Myers contends that these approaches occlude the worldly character of political life and are therefore unlikely to inspire and support collective democratic activity. The alternative ethics she proposes is informed by Hannah Arendt's notion of amor mundi, or love of the world, and it focuses on the ways democratic actors align around issues, goals, or things in the world, practicing collaborative care for them. Myers sees worldly ethics as a resource that can inspire and motivate ordinary citizens to participate in democratic politics, and the book highlights civic organizations that already embody its principles.