Postwar Welfare State

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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The establishment of the postwar welfare state: A measurement to control the collateral effects of the World War Two After the uncountable catastrophes that occurred during the Second World War, the belief that life was meaningless permeated around Europe. When the level of misery is so aggravated, people are more susceptible to accept drastic solutions. In order to prevent this from happening, many Western European governments decided to establish public welfare systems to control desperation and avoid any radical approach.

Albert Camus, a French author, journalist and philosopher, depicts the hopelessness of the population in his novel “The Myth of Sisyphus.

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” Through his writing, we can better comprehend the society’s values and beliefs at this time, which led to the creation of the welfare state. Its achievements in terms of economic efficiency and redistribution during a time of desperation are unquestionable.

Nevertheless, when looking at the current situation of many, one can argue that the system failed to prevent the growth of inequality. Yet the welfare state is massively responsible for the post-war reconstruction. Overall, the European scenario after World War Two demanded government interference to control desperation and the welfare state managed to avoid any drastic solution. Among successes and limitations, one can say that it was a viable and thorough approach to respond to the many social and economic issues of the time. Above anything, the welfare state provides a safety net that protects all sections of society.

Through social programs, the government ensures a minimum standard of living for everyone. After the World War Two, many were living in miserable conditions and the state interference was necessary. In Britain, for instance, from 1945 to 1951, the Labour Government introduced measurements to take care of their population “from the cradle to the grave.” The welfare state of Britain focused on tackling the Five Giants- disease, want, squalor, ignorance, and idleness. A variety of reforms were implemented to address each issue. Similarly, around Western Europe, many governments used comparable approaches to repair a society that had been destroyed both physically and emotionally after World War Two.

However, creating social programs to establish welfare-state policies is an expensive process. Yet most Western European nations were able to afford it. This was due to the United States contribution for their military defense. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), an intergovernmental military alliance, took care of the Western European defense and thus freed up national revenue for social services. With that being said, the United States is greatly responsible for the European stability after World War Two. However, this alliance generated suspicion for the Russians, who viewed NATO as the Western European preparing to invade them. This animosity sets the stage for the Cold War. Nevertheless, the support of financial and military programs like NATO, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund are greatly accountable for Europe’s regrowth. In his novel, Camus provides an insight to the importance of giving hope to society to escape from more radical ends. He opens his essay with the claim “there is only one truly serious philosophical problem: suicide.” (270)

This bold statement and his further development on it, helps us justify the establishment of the welfare state as a measurement to avoid any drastic action. Camus ultimately rejects suicide as a rational approach, but he tries to understand why a human might even consider such thing. He explains that in a world with no illusions and lights, man can turn to radicalism. This depicts the European scenario after World War Two. The lack of prospect and vulnerability that was inherited in this society could trigger a drastic approach any minute. The establishment of the welfare state came to give them guidance and support to control radicalism. Therefore, when applying Camus view on suicide to the welfare state, one can better understand the how guaranteeing basic needs to a society can prevent extremism. The welfare state also created many job opportunities. The post-war reconstruction effort urgently demanded labor force and the industries that were in most shortage were considered “women’s work.” This provided many women the chance to enter the work environment and begin to build their own careers. Although jobs were still strictly segregated by gender, this enabled them to construct a female image outside of domesticity. Many women joined a variety of industries for the first time.

They enjoyed economic independence and once introduced in the work force, they began to fight for their rights. Although this was not instantaneous, the welfare state provided them the opportunity to work and, in long term, they started to question issues like gender equality. Only a few years after the war, we begin to see the discussion for women’s right. For instance, in 1949, Simone de Beauvoir challenges women to take action on their own behalf to gain full equality through her study “The Second Sex.” She explains that “the adolescent girl does not think her self responsible for her future,” and this belief will defeat women. (280) Instead, she encourages women to model themselves upon their dreams and the welfare state enables them to do so by providing them job opportunities. With that being said, the introduction of welfare state was central to the women’s movement. Fast-forwarding to the present, we can see the long-term results of the welfare state.

Although it helped the Western Europe’s population to recover after the World War Two, it failed to prevent the growth of inequality. The system ensured the whole population with access to free schooling, health care and decent standard of housing, but it wasn’t successful at fully clearing the gap between rich and poor. Nowadays we are still working to achieve equality. Nevertheless, it would be unfair to disregard the accomplishments of the welfare state completely.

After the World War Two, the warfare state successfully protected their society by significantly reducing insecurities. With that being said, the weakness of the welfare state lays on the fact that its effectiveness is limited. Therefore, although it was a key component of the postwar economic management paradigm, it wasn’t enough to impede the development of inequality. Yet the social programs successfully brought minimum security for society during a desperate time and minimized the collateral effects of the World War Two. Overall, the welfare state was a viable measurement to control desperation and avoid dramatic solutions. Minimal state intervention in economic and social issues wasn’t practicable after the physical and economic destruction caused by the Second World War. The war demanded radical change of how society worked and made it more acceptable the idea of state control policies. This was only possible with the support of organizations like NATO, IMF, and World Bank, which provided financial and military support to Western Europe. This system stabilized Western Europe and avoided any drastic escape. Like Camus explains in his writing, people often look for extremism when there isn’t any hope.

The welfare state, however, provided society with a safety net and gave them the support they needed to prevent radicalism. Furthermore, it was also essential to the development of the women’s movement. It provided the female population with job opportunities and enabled them to see beyond domesticity. Once they were in the work force, they began to raise issues like equal pay. Overall, the establishment of the welfare state was crucial to the regaining of stability in Western Europe after the disasters of World War Two. Although in long-term it wasn’t as successful in preventing the growth of inequality, it was the key component to the reconstruction of Western Europe.

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Postwar Welfare State. (2021, Mar 27). Retrieved from