Neocontradictions: The politics and ideology of American welfare state decline
This study historically investigates the circumstances – economic, political, and ideological – out of which the American political culture would shift to the right and become hostile to welfare. It is in part a genealogy of contemporary welfare reform discourse, which is comprised by the synthesis of varied and contradictory components of conservative philosophy about family, work, responsibility, and the role of government. This study also contextualizes that discourse within the development of a conservative politico-ideological apparatus. Today’s conservative movement in the United States is the fusion of other sub-strands of conservatism and has successfully defined the parameters of acceptable discourse around the issue of welfare. It has developed a large pool of resources, become adept in the arena of activist and electoral politics, built a vast infrastructure for the production and deployment of ideas, and established a resilient presence in the everyday lives of Americans. Therefore a study of the erosion of the American welfare state must trace the development of these ideas and the means by which they became policy orthodoxy.
Argued here is that the conservative movement’s success in affecting welfare reform can be attributed to two factors. Firstly, it can be attributed to the consolidation and organization of libertarian and traditionalist conservatism and to the mastery of ideological production by a conservative politico-ideological apparatus or policy planning network. Secondly, it can be attributed to the emergence of varied conservative ideas on work, family, equality, and personal responsibility as a new policy consensus which was itself a consequence of important transformations in social and economic conditions. The post-war conservative movement has been dynamic and has managed its own ideological tensions by continually refining its argument and perfecting its methods of framing issues. It has contributed to altering the political culture in relation to the welfare state and related issues. The subjection of welfare state programs to ongoing critique has enabled the social safety net to become vulnerable to reforms which have gradually altered them to be more consistent with the shifting requirements of the economic system and elite preferences.
0630: Public policy