19. Welfare State Building in the Interbellum Period (1914-1940): Defining Years?

Marcel Hoogenboom, Utrecht University, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Christina May, University of Göttingen, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The observation of the development of the “modern” welfare state usually begins with the unparalleled expansion of social policies after the Second World War. However, numerous welfare states have experienced policy implementations decisive for their current appearance well before that. In many respects, the period between 1914 and 1940 is constitutive for the development of European welfare states. Firstly, World War I led to an increased demand of legislative remedies, the loyalty of soldiers and civilians was often traded for more generous social policies and workmen’s compensations. Closely connected was secondly a perceived demographic crises – a “nation without youths” seemed to be unable to compete both militarily and politically. In some major European countries, this led to a stronger focus on policies focusing on families and fertility. Thirdly, the Great Depression starting in 1929 forced policy makers to meet both social and economic challenges which led to the implementation of a substantive amount of social policies. Often this included processes of policy translation and learning; international organizations such as the ILO and transnational epistemic communities of scientists, politicians and civil servants facilitated a vivid exchange of ideas. Consequently the interbellum period was more than just a run-up to the “Golden Age” of the modern welfare state (1945-75). The expansion of European welfare states after World War II – both in quantitative and qualitative terms – is hard to comprehend without substantial knowledge of developments in these defining years.

In this context the stream addresses questions such as:  To what extent do social policy “paths” that were chosen in the interbellum period by Western and Southern European countries still have impact today? And – related: How did former communist countries in Central and Eastern Europe in the 1990s relate back to their pre-communist policy roots? Which impact did transnational policy learning have on national legislations? How can the critical interbellum period help to understand the current crises of the 21st century, for example, how do decisions taken then affect our ways to deal with social, economic and demographic crises today?

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