Webbs on the Web bibliography

Sidney Webb : utilitarianism, positivism, and social democracy

Bevir, Mark (2002) Sidney Webb : utilitarianism, positivism, and social democracy. Journal of Modern History, 74. pp. 1-62. ISSN ISSN: 0022-2801; E-ISSN: 1537-5358

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Sidney Webb is often represented as a descendent of the utilitarians. Social democracy and the welfare state thus stand as the continuing development of Enlightenment rationalism. Alternatively, Webb appears as the representative of a new managerial and administrative class. Social democracy and the welfare state here stand as the elitist and bureaucratic expressions of the power of this class. In contrast to these conventional views, this paper locates Webb in the context of a radicalism, peculiar to the 1870s, composed of ethical positivism and evolutionary sociology. He became a socialist because of his positivist ethic. He defined his socialism in relation to an evolutionary philosophy. And he later adopted collectivism as a result of turning to positivist sociology. Webb’s collectivism, however, provided little assistance in dealing with the dilemmas of the inter-war years. His ethical positivism and evolutionary sociology led him to turn to solutions apparently offered by the Soviet Union. This reinterpretation of Webb suggests a new view of social democracy and the welfare state. We should see them as the changing products of particular ideational and political contexts such as those of the 1870s and 1930s.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: Full text available at official URL. Series: UC Berkeley Previously Published Works.
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HX Socialism. Communism. Anarchism
N Fine Arts > NX Arts in general
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
Date Deposited: 06 Nov 2015 13:06
Last Modified: 06 Nov 2015 13:07

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