Universal Conscription, the Military, and Welfare State Development in Europe

Contrary to the standard account of the emergence of the Western welfare state this project argues that the beginnings of social policy and education legislation in Western Europe were significantly shaped by military interests and the power ambitions of governments. The military origins of these policy areas and the related role of the military have hitherto been widely neglected by comparative welfare state research. The spread of universal conscription and the rapid progress in military technology during the second half of the 19th century created the crucial causal links between the military, power politics and state intervention. Both developments coincided with advancing industrialization and demographic transformations and gave rise to the age of industrialized mass warfare. Against this backdrop, the size and educational level of the population as well as public health issues gained importance for the combat power of the military and national power ambitions. Military concerns in terms of the quantity and quality of the so-called human material are regarded as triggers for social and educational reforms. A comparative analysis of Western European countries over the period from ca. 1860 to 1930 will be employed for testing this argument empirically.

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The “Activating Welfare State” – a Political and Social History of German Social Policy, 1979-2017
Research Team: Nikolas Dörr (Head of project); Wanda Schwarze-Wippern; Christof Wittmaack

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