The New Puritanism: The Resurgence of Contractarian Citizenship in Common Law Welfare States

AuthorPhilip M. Larkin
Publication Date01 June 2014
Date01 June 2014
ISSN: 0263-323X, pp. 227±56
The New Puritanism: The Resurgence of Contractarian
Citizenship in Common Law Welfare States
Philip M. Larkin*
In common law jurisdictions, legislative reforms to their welfare states
are frequently framed in terms of their innovative nature. However,
such legislative reforms, on the contrary, may be representative of a
more historical `puritan' view of welfare and citizenship, the doctrines
of which originate in the aftermath of the sixteenth-century Protestant
Reformation, and which developed in the following centuries. The core
values of this era have always remained within welfare legislation and
policy in common law states, and appear to have experienced a
resurgence in recent times. These puritan values manifest themselves
within welfare legislation under certain distinct themes, which will be
expanded upon. The extent to which values of puritan Christianity
renders welfare legislation in common law welfare states distinct from
that of other welfare states is also a theme which is examined. In
addition, the utility of this `puritan' approach towards welfare law and
policy is also discussed.
In recent decades a central focus for reform of many Western governments
has been welfare legislation and the social security system. For example, the
British Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer have announced
plans to withdraw automatic entitlement to key benefits, such as jobseeker's
allowance and housing benefit from unemployed under-25-year-olds.
Instead, this sector of the unemployed will be compelled to engage in
*Brunel Law School, Brunel University, Uxbridge UB8 3PH, England
The author would like to thank Emeritus Professor Nick Wikeley, University of
Southampton, Professor Bob Watt, University of Buckingham, Professor Terry Carney,
University of Sydney, and the independent reviewers of this journal for their invaluable
comments and suggestions on earlier drafts. All responsibility for any errors, and the
views expressed in the article, rest with the author.
ß2014 The Author. Journal of Law and Society ß2014 Cardiff University Law School
prescribed work in return for sustenance.
This is unsurprising: in the light of
world economic recession, government will seek retrenchment in public
expenditure, and the welfare budget constitutes one of the largest items of
state outlay. However, in many respects the legislative reforms go beyond
fiscal retrenchment, and are aimed at the fashioning of `virtuous' citizens out
of benefit claimants. The central aspect of modern citizenship which this
article will focus upon is that of social citizenship in a number of key
common law jurisdictions, and its relationship with their social security
legislation. These common law states have been selected for analysis since
their welfare policies originate from a common source, and they develop
these in line with the idiosyncrasies of national conditions and traditions,
especially in recent decades with the implementation of the much vaunted
`Third Way' in both the United Kingdom and the United States.
One such
inspiration was the work of Lawrence Mead, whose work has been
influential in providing a theoretical basis for domestic welfare reform in
centrist governments throughout the common law world.
Similarly, the
previous Labour government of the United Kingdom acknowledged the
Australian model of contracting out job-brokerage services as an inspiration
for welfare reforms enacted in 2009.
Most of the common law welfare states
have their genesis in the Poor Law reforms enacted in England and Wales
during, and after the early-modern Elizabethan era.
This article will argue
that current policy developments and reforms in common law welfare states,
far from being a novel approach to poverty, are simply a throwback to an
older, regressive, view of citizenship, containing echoes of the influences of
the sixt eenth- centu ry Prote stant re format ion.
The form o f purit an
Protestantism referred to here is not that of the socially and politically
radical seventeenth-century sects such as the Levellers, Diggers or Quakers;
rather, it refers to that sector of the English population, which:
1 `Conservatives to withdraw key benefits from unemployed under-25s' Guardian, 2
October 2013.
2 Perhaps the purest exposition of the `Third Way' theory is contained in A. Giddens,
The Third Way: The Renewal of Social Democracy (1998).
3 For example, see L. Mead, The Social Obligations of Citizenship (1986), and L.
Mead, Government Matters: Welfare Reform in Wisconsin (2004). See, also, `How
Britain's New Welfare State was born in America' Observer, 7 November 2010.
4 D. Freud, Reducing Dependency, Increasing Opportunity: Options for the Future of
Welfare to Work. An Independent Report to the Department for Work and Pensions
(2007) 82. Many of the legislative welfare measures adopted in the United Kingdom
by New Labour governments were adapted from Australia. See B. Cass and D.
Brenna n, `Comm unitie s of Suppo rt or Commu nities o f Survei llanc e and
Enforcement in Welfare Reform Debates' (2002) 37 Aust. J. of Social Issues 247.
5 See, for example, A. Digby, British Welfare Policy: Workhouse to Workfare (1989).
See, also, G. Esping-Anderson, The Three Worlds of Welfare-Capitalism (1990).
6 See C. Hill, `Recent Interpretations of the Civil War' in his Puritanism and
Revolution (1986) 13±41.
ß2014 The Author. Journal of Law and Society ß2014 Cardiff University Law School

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