Social policy – general introduction

Terminological points of departure

Policy (political substance) – politics (political process) – polity (political institution)

Going back an the Latin (even of Greek origin) term politia/politiae – state, constitution of a state.

politia is at the same time a term used as title of a book by the Greek philosopher Plato.


Another way to root the term is the connection which can be drawn back (going from the French to the Latin to the Greek) and linking it to police, in French originally used for the civil government.

Links are set to

*   Government

*   Citizen

*   State

*   City

*   Crowd and finally as well

*   Town.


Making clear the two and respectively four dimensions of

*   public versus private


*   regulated versus spontaneous.

Implied are as well links to nearness and distance, immediateness and mediated and the like.


Taking this as granted it is questionable if The Concise Dictionary of English Etymology by Walter W. Skeat (Hertfordshire: Woodsworth Editions Ltd., 1993) states that the term policy, understood as warrant for money in the funds, a contract of insurance is completely distinct from the term policy, going back to police.


In general, we see already here a very general question that follows us throughout the history of social thinking, i.e. the issue that probably most prominent had been spelled out by Sir Arthur Sutherland Maine in the words from status to contract.

Arthur Sutherland Maine    
Ancient Law
from chapter 5: Primitive Society and Ancient Law


The movement of the progressive societies has been uniform in one respect. Through all its course it has been distinguished by the gradual dissolution of family dependency and the growth of individual obligation in its place. The Individual is steadily substituted for the Family, as the unit of which civil laws take account. The advance has been accomplished at varying rates of celerity, and there are societies not absolutely stationary in which the collapse of the ancient organisation can only be perceived by careful study of the phenomena they present. But, whatever its pace, the change has not been subject to reaction or recoil, and apparent retardations will be found to have been occasioned through the absorption of archaic ideas and customs from some entirely foreign source. Nor is it difficult to see what is the tie between man and man which replaces by degrees those forms of reciprocity in rights and duties which have their origin in the Family. It is Contract. Starting, as from one terminus of history, from a condition of society in which all the relations of Persons are summed up in the relations of Family, we seem to have steadily moved towards a phase of social order in which all these relations arise from the free agreement of Individuals. In Western Europe the progress achieved in this direction has been considerable. Thus the status of the Slave has disappeared -- it has been superseded by the contractual relation of the servant to his mater. The status of the Female under Tutelage, if the tutelage be understood of persons other than her husband, has also ceased to exist; from her coming of age to her marriage all the relations she may form are relations of contract. So too the status of the Son under Power has no true place in law of modern European societies. If any civil obligation binds together the Parent and the child of full age, it is one to which only contract gives its legal validity The apparent exceptions are exceptions of that stamp which illustrate the rule. The child before years of discretion, the orphan under guardianship, the adjudged lunatic, have all their capacities and incapacities regulated by the Law of Persons. But why? The reason is differently expressed in the conventional language of different systems, but in substance it is stated to the same effect by all. The great majority of Jurists are constant to the principle that the classes of persons just mentioned are subject to extrinsic control on the single ground that they do not possess the faculty of forming a judgment on their own interests; in other words, that they are wanting in the first essential of an engagement by Contract.

The word Status may be usefully employed to construct a formula expressing the law of progress thus indicated, which, whatever be its value, seems to me to be sufficiently  ascertained. All the forms of Status taken notice of in the Law of Persons were derived from, and to some extent are still coloured by, the powers and privileges anciently residing in the Family. If then we employ Status, agreeably with the usage of the best writers, to signify these personal conditions only, and avoid applying the term to such conditions as are the immediate or remote result of agreement, we may say that the movement of the progressive societies has hitherto been a movement from Status to Contract.



Coming back to policies, politics and polities it cannot developed here how exactly the development took shape, which areas we currently take as part of the public, the state and politics had been originally part of this setting and, on the other hand, which parts successively arrived there from private spheres etc.

For now, it has to be emphasised that today’s constellation is by far not an eternally given one.


For further consideration following two further views back into history are of meaningful.

The first refers to Plato and marks some basic principles of the constitutions of a state – for now (but only for now) we can use terms as state, political system, society, nation stated as interchangeable.

The state – constitutional factors of a differentiated political system

The Republic
The Internet Wiretap Online Edition.

Translated by BENJAMIN JOWETT, M.A.; Late Regius Professor of Greek in the University of Oxford. New York, P. F. Collier & Son; Copyright 1901 The Colonial Press. Prepared by

A State, I said, arises, as I conceive, out of the needs of mankind; no one is self-sufficing, but all of us have many wants. Can any other origin of a State be imagined?

There can be no other.

Then, as we have many wants, and many persons are needed to supply them, one takes a helper for one purpose and another for another; and when these partners and helpers are gathered together in one habitation the body of inhabitants is termed a State.

True, he said.

And they exchange with one another, and one gives, and another receives, under the idea that the exchange will be for their good.

Very true.

Then, I said, let us begin and create in idea a State; and yet the true creator is necessity, who is the mother of our invention.

Of course, he replied.


Now the first and greatest of necessities is food, which is the condition of life and existence.



The second is a dwelling, and the third clothing and the like.


And now let us see how our city will be able to supply this great demand: We may suppose that one man is a husbandman, another a builder, someone else a weaver--shall we add to them a shoemaker, or perhaps some other purveyor to our bodily wants?

Quite right.

The barest notion of a State must include four or five men.


And how will they proceed? Will each bring the result of his labors into a common stock?--the individual husbandman, for example, producing for four, and laboring four times as long and as much as he need in the provision of food with which he supplies others as well as himself; or will he have nothing to do with others and not be at the trouble of producing for them, but provide for himself alone a fourth of the food in a fourth of the time, and in the remaining three-fourths of his time be employed in making a house or a coat or a pair of shoes, having no partnership with others, but supplying himself all his own wants?

Adeimantus thought that he should aim at producing food only and not at producing everything.

Probably, I replied, that would be the better way; and when I hear you say this, I am myself reminded that we are not all alike; there are diversities of natures among us which are adapted to different occupations.

Very true.

And will you have a work better done when the workman has many occupations, or when he has only one?

When he has only one.

Further, there can be no doubt that a work is spoilt when not done at the right time?

No doubt.


For business is not disposed to wait until the doer of the business is at leisure; but the doer must follow up what he is doing, and make the business his first object.

He must.

And if so, we must infer that all things are produced more plentifully and easily and of a better quality when one man does one thing which is natural to him and does it at the right time, and leaves other things.



Then more than four citizens will be required; for the husbandman will not make his own plough or mattock, or other implements of agriculture, if they are to be good for anything. Neither will the builder make his tools--and he, too, needs many; and in like manner the weaver and shoemaker.


Then carpenters and smiths and many other artisans will be sharers in our little State, which is already beginning to grow?


Yet even if we add neatherds, shepherds, and other herdsmen, in order that our husbandmen may have oxen to plough with, and builders as well as husbandmen may have draught cattle, and curriers and weavers fleeces and hides--still our State will not be very large.

That is true; yet neither will it be a very small State which contains all these.

Then, again, there is the situation of the city--to find a place where nothing need be imported is well-nigh impossible.


Then there must be another class of citizens who will bring the required supply from another city?

There must.

But if the trader goes empty-handed, having nothing which they require who would supply his need, he will come back empty-handed.

That is certain.

And therefore what they produce at home must be not only enough for themselves, but such both in quantity and quality as to accommodate those from whom their wants are supplied.

Very true.

Then more husbandmen and more artisans will be required?

They will.

Not to mention the importers and exporters, who are called merchants?


Then we shall want merchants?

We shall.

And if merchandise is to be carried over the sea, skilful sailors will also be needed, and in considerable numbers?

Yes, in considerable numbers.

Then, again, within the city, how will they exchange their productions? To secure such an exchange was, as you will remember, one of our principal objects when we formed them into a society and constituted a State.

Clearly they will buy and sell.

Then they will need a market-place, and a money-token for purposes of exchange.


Suppose now that a husbandman or an artisan brings some production to market, and he comes at a time when there is no one to exchange with him--is he to leave his calling and sit idle in the market-place?

Not at all; he will find people there who, seeing the want, undertake the office of salesmen. In well-ordered States they are commonly those who are the weakest in bodily strength, and therefore of little use for any other purpose; their duty is to be in the market, and to give money in exchange for goods to those who desire to sell, and to take money from those who desire to buy.

This want, then, creates a class of retail-traders in our State. Is not "retailer" the term which is applied to those who sit in the market-place engaged in buying and selling, while those who wander from one city to another are called merchants?

Yes, he said.

And there is another class of servants, who are intellectually hardly on the level of companionship; still they have plenty of bodily strength for labor, which accordingly they sell, and are called, if I do not mistake, hirelings, "hire" being the name which is given to the price of their labor.


Then hirelings will help to make up our population?


And now, Adeimantus, is our State matured and perfected?

I think so.

Where, then, is justice, and where is injustice, and in what part of the State did they spring up?


Economy as complex social relationship rather than a process of production of goods

In a second step I want to give a brief insight into something what will – explicitly but even more implicitly – employ us throughout any investigation of social policy, namely the supposedly counterpart of economic policy. Here I want to go back to the original meaning of the term behind it, namely oikonomia. This goes back to oikos – the house – and nemein – manage, lead, distribute.

I quote in some length from another ancient philosopher.


Economic writings     
Talk on the Management of a Household (own rough translation)


I, Socrates answered, if you are talking about me, I don’t need lager property – I think I am rich enough. But you, Critobolous, are very poor in my view and sometimes – by Zeus, I have pity with you.

Critobolous laughed and said By the Gods, how much would you get if you tried to sell your property and how much would I get for mine?

I think, finding a good purchaser, I could get easily 5 mines for my house and all my property. But I am sure that yours would bring 100 times more than that.

Nevertheless, knowing this you think that you do not need more and you have pity with me, suggesting that I am poor?

What I have is sufficient to provide me with that what I need. But for showing the wealth, you have around yourself and for making up with all your reputation even the threefold of your current property would hardly be sufficient.


[Socrates makes his point, elaborating the necessity for Critobolous of making sacrifices to keep the Gods on his side, to invest in war provisions and to make good for losses, Critobolous has due to the fact that he follows his leisure favourites.]

Critobolous answered: I can hardly question this, Socrates. But now it is up to you to guide me in a manner that you finally don’t have to have pity with me.

Socrates, hearing this, said Critobolous, don’t you think yourself that your behaviour is strange? Just before, when I claimed to be rich you laughed about me as if I would not know at all what wealth is. … But now you are asking me to guide you to avoid complete impoverishment.

Socrates, I recognise that you understand in a certain way to produce wealth, surplus value. And knowing how to get something out of the little you have I trust you will know how to make a fortune out off the plentiful I already have.

The principle of a good management of an household in accordance with this approach consists on the combination of the following elements

*   an autarkic, sustainable system, in which activities aim on the production of utility values;

*   a hierarchic system in the frame of which the mutual dependencies are respected and utilised for the “benefit of all”;

*   the constitution of a clientelistic system, in which on the one hand the client is obliged to provide certain work; however, on the other hand, s/he is not at the mercy of the patron. Rather, the patron is obliged to fulfil the duty of care against the client.

Capitalism as fundamental change of welfare provision

A fundamental upheaval of such a system arises with the initial accumulation, by which the production is finally split between the production of the utility value on the one side and the exchange value on the other side. By this, i.e. basically the orientation on the production of added and surplus value and its private appropriation the fundamental split between the two classes, namely the bourgeoisie and proletariat is unavoidable.

Karl Marx
Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy [1859]    

In the social production of their life, men enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will, relations of production, which correspond to a definite stage of development of their material productive forces. The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which rises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness.

The mode of production of material life conditions the social, political and intellectual life process in general. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.

At a certain stage of their development, the material productive forces of society come in conflict with the existing relations of production, or – what is but a legal expression for the same thing – with the property relations within which they have been at work hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters.

Then begins an epoch of social revolution. With the change of the economic foundation the entire immense superstructure is more or less rapidly transformed. In considering such transformations a distinction should always be made between the material transformation of the economic conditions of production, which can be determined with the precision of natural science, and the legal, political, religious, aesthetic or philosophic – in short, ideological forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out. Just as our opinion of an individual is not based on what he thinks of himself, so can we not judge of such a period of transformation by its own consciousness; on the contrary, this consciousness must be explained rather form the contradictions of material life, from the existing conflict between the social productive forces and the relations of production.

No social order ever perishes before all the productive forces for which there is room in it have developed; and new, higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have matured in the womb of the old society itself. Therefore mankind always sets itself only such tasks as it can solve; since, looking at the matter more closely, it will always be found that the tasks itself arises only when the material conditions of its solution already exist or are at least in the process of formation.

On this basis there is no “need” anymore for clientelistic care. The whole ethical foundation of welfare provisions change; they develop from

*   the clientelistic system to

*   the charity, based on good will in the framework of different religious systems finally to

*   the fulfilment of functional provisions due to the requirements of maintaining the system.

Interim Recapitulation

Recapitulating from here we have the following four starting point for developing in the further arguments social policy:

*   The development of societies in a sense of an increased differentiation – even if a variety of theories and different arguments had been build around this we can basically, although with caution argue that this development is about the replacement of status by contract.

*   Plato: constitution of states, born out of

Ø     Necessity

Ø     and power relationsships on grounds of factual authority, knopwledge and charisma

*   The economy not simply as a matter of production of goods; rather it can be only grasped as a matter of social interaction, as a social relationship. As such it determines a complex and at the same time contradictious area: On the one hand it is an open system, in which different actors can be found, relating to each other. As such it is a system of which the total is more than the sum of its individual parts. However, being an internally open system this does not mean that roles are interchangeable. On the contrary, the positions are more or less strictly defined – first by status, later by contract; the solidarity is initially mechanic and later organic (Durkheim). In other words again we find a process of civilisation: taking certain actions out of immediate individual control, bringing them under a mechanism of psychologically internalised control allow the development of ever longer chains of action, thus enhancing the societal control by consciously making use of interdependencies (cf. Norbert Elias: Process of civilisation).     
NB: From here the mechanisms of control are interesting as a matter of quality: It has been Emile Durkheim who elaborated in particular in his studies on La Division du travaille and even more in his analysis of Le suicide the mismatch between individual, social and societal control and who showed the mechanism of anomie as an important – and at times as good as unavoidable – consequence of the widening gap.

*   Structuration of society and class division


From here we have to look at

*   the actors in the social system and their interests and

*   the mechanism of empowerment and des-empowerment respectively.

Appropriation is a core issue at stake since it allows the analysis of two dimensions. Basically the term goes back to French and Latin origins, namely apropriare. Propre, proprium have the meaning of one’s own, peculiar, suitable. This means first and foremost the constitution of a relationship of nearness.

From here we can grasp the two dimensions, already alluded upon can be seen. We find

*   the dimension of technically lead action and

*   the dimension of the entire utilisation, i.e.

Ø     the control of the interaction with the material – including the control of the planning of the process of production

Ø     the control of the interaction with other – involved and/or effected – people and

Ø     the control over the product and the use made of it.

What basically is reflected here is the existence and overcoming of the division between use respectively utility value and the exchange value. Only in this way, at least, the opportunity for participation, i.e. for a full membership in society can arise. This would define citizenship as constitution of a sovereign actor. Such a definition of citizenship links to a positive realisation of participation, pars capere with the twofold meaning of

*   Taking a part from the whole and

*   taking part in the whole, i.e. taking part in the activities – communications and decisions – of the entire society – which makes such a communication a mutual process with an equal distribution of power.

It is a difficult question now to interpret citizenship as a real matter, as a structural condition, defined by various means (as e.g. discussed by Tom Marshall and as a process of daily life.

Marshall highlights political, economic and social rights (sequence) as evolving system to grant full citizenship. At the first glance, there is no problem with this. However, a more detailed look raises doubts insofar citizenship cannot be conceptualised as a gradual status. Rather, citizenship is a meaningful concept only if it is grasped as process, i.e. as something, which allows an active intervention into political, economic and social existence on the individual and social level. Furthermore, the concept of citizenship makes only sense if it is bound to an absolute standard. There cannot be anything like “a little bit citizenship”. This can be highlighted by looking at the origins of the idea of citizenship in its current understanding, tracing it back to the era of enlightenment and the bourgeois revolution.