In his MPIfG lectures, Francesco Boldizzoni addresses a central issue of our time from a historical perspective. The evolution of welfare systems in the Western world has been the product of cultural variables and material forces. The former include deep-seated attitudes toward poverty and concepts of the state that can be traced back to the early modern period. The latter are intrinsic to capitalist development inasmuch as it rests on Marx’s and Weber’s mechanical foundations. The interaction between the cultural and the material is itself problematic. It is largely responsible for the sense of instability that dominates our societies and, at the same time, warns the social scientist against the temptations of crystal-ball prediction. While history provides no guidance to the future, it can help make sense of this dynamic complexity.
The idea of rights and duties associated with citizenship is certainly a product of the Enlightenment but consensus among Enlightenment philosophers did not extend beyond the recognition of formal entitlements. The aspiration to substantive equality is something specific to continental political thought. On the other hand, it was the first industrial revolution, rather than any intellectual break from tradition, that introduced an element of discontinuity in British social policy.