‘Warfare state’ or ‘welfare state’: which better describes the British State in the 20th century?
Great Britain has been a witness to many conflicts that had led to a shift in international and regional politics, triggering the onset of policies and programs directed to either war or welfare. As a veteran of the Great Wars and one of the world’s influential hegemons, Britain had succumbed to both victory and immense loss especially in economic and social development. With the trauma caused by the Great Wars to the nation, the British government alongside the monarchy had revised its programs to revive the once dominant British state towards the 20th century. However, experts have argued as to what type of state 20th century Britain is today: whether it is a warfare or militarist state or a welfare state. While Britain can still be considered a ‘warfare’ state due to its active military capability, 20th century Britain is mostly a ‘welfare state’ as it concentrates more on welfare policies to improve social well-being and productivity.
A warfare state or a militarist state is related to the political right, preferring an authoritarian government in order to respond to both war and civil issues. According to Johnson (2013), militarism is often given a negative connotation since the 1860s due to its preference on associating civil liberties with militarist intent and authority. Nonetheless, some experts argue that militarism or being a warfare state is an ideology attributed to the ‘pretension by the military leadership to determine government policy or the state’s economic resource’ . On the other hand; however, a ‘welfare state’ or social-democratic states are states who concentrate on social restructuring, social equality and economic development. According to Heywood (2007), a welfare state aims to restore society to its active state in order to reduce inequality and poverty. Government policies would then introduce programs directed to growth and employment to improve its economic and social competencies. Once this is done, welfare states would improve the lives of its citizens, empowering them to become active members of society and promote equality within societies such as Britain .
With the definition provided, experts have contended as to which state is appropriate in defining the current state of the British state throughout the 20th century. Some experts argue that even up to this point, Britain remains to be a ‘warfare state’ due to its active military capability that enables it to resort to war if necessary. Johnson (2013) and Edgerton (2006) cites that militarist sentiments have reigned throughout Britain since the 19th century similar to Prussia and the German Reich. However, as compared to Germany and Prussia, Britain’s militarist intent was not as strong in the country due to its long history of parliamentary tradition, small but effective army, and the removal of strict conscription to its ranks. The reason for its somehow weak militarist intent is due to the impacts caused by its imperialist stance in the 19th century. With Britain spanning out to other nations for armed and territorial conquest, the country finds itself unable to sustain social and political ills. Despite these concerns, there were also movements such as the Victorian Force and Edwardian paramilitary movements such as the Boys’ Brigade that argued for military expansion to protect the country from growing militarist nations prior to the First World War in 1914. Although observers had stressed that while militarism in Britain should be oppressed, this had been changed since 1918 after the first Great War as experts like Caroline Playne in ‘The Pre-War Mind in Study (1938)’ stressed that Britain is a warfare state much like other European societies as it is a ‘product of imperialism’. Even if the country does not have the same military capability as compared to the quintessential militarist state like Germany, Britain still has the capability to fight without the necessity of flaunting its military capability. Britain had also sustained its power through the American aid from their agreement as members of the Allied Forces through arms lease and military loans paid after the war.
Throughout the post-First World War, Britain’s warfare state continued in many regional conflicts according to Benest (2007), and it would not vanish even up to the present time due to the continuous development on conflict. In these regional conflicts, British militarism showcased the use of minimum force in order to attain its intended goals. Soldiers were trained to decide as to whether or not they would use a particular level of force to stop conflicts. They fought several conflicts throughout South Africa (1900-1902), Amritsar, India (1919), Cyprus (1955-59) and Aden, Yemen (1967). Britain’s capability as a warfare state is also showcased in the Second World War of 1941-1945 when it fought alongside fellow militarist nations France and the United States against Germany . While Britain’s capability is actually able to deter insurrection and support from other nations, it is still unable to stop insurgencies such as the Malay Peoples Liberation Army that had been able to stop the British forces in 1948-1951. Britain continued to train its military despite its setbacks in several conflicts it had joined into, regularly involving itself with distinct conflicts throughout Europe and aid the Americans to protect their relationship .
However, while 20th century Britain also exhibits instances of being a warfare/militarist state, its current policies are actually more directed towards social improvement that promotes the welfare of its people. According to Castles and Leibfried (2010) the welfare states of Europe had long begun since before the 20th century as states like Germany, Denmark, Sweden and England had practiced parliamentary democracies that offered social security especially for the middle and lower classes. There was a growing need in Europe to have state administrations that answered to the growing and developing labor movement and the necessity to improve social liberties such as suffrage, health care and quality shelter. Industrialism had triggered the necessity to improve the labor market and shift the costs of expenses. Social policies were seen as the motivations needed to improve the position of the working class and to improve Britain’s economic and social position. In this remark, Britain had been hailed as a pioneer in the introduction of a ‘modern welfare state’ in comparison to their other European counterparts as the country already imposed workers' compensation through the beginning of the 20th century. Britain offered pensions (1908), health insurances (1911) and unemployment insurance (1911) to its people, ensuring a strong civil service programs that supported the British cause. The British Liberal government had also provided policies such as the National Insurance Act of 1911 to protect embryonic welfare for the people, while the pension law was amended as the Widows, Orphans, and Old Age Contributory Pensions Act of 1925 . These policies continue to fuel the vigor of the British labor market even at the present.
After the Second World War in 1945, political parties had called for a consensus to push for the foundation of the welfare state. Lowe (1990) and Briggs (2006) stated that, with the end of the war in the 1940s, they realized the necessity to improve its economic and social policies that had been proven under the Beveridge Report, listing the flaws of the previous administrations and the impact of the war. The Beveridge Report was met originally met reluctance in the Churchill administration, but with the pressure from the public, he declared that he is willing to improve the economic and social capability of the country for reconstruction. The political consensus within the country emphasized the war-weariness of the public ensured the advocacy of nationalization and reconstruction that would aid economic growth . Jefferys (1987) added that the Labor Party stressed the necessity for social policy to improve reconstruction. The Conservatives, on the other hand, tried to stall social reform. Through the Beveridge Report, both the Conservatives and the Labor Party agreed on specific policies that would usher social change in the country that would boost national insurance policies, medical reform, and employment or the ‘Beveridge reform’. The national minimum for national insurance was reduced and programs for medicine improvement and employment ensured subsistence. For medical reform, the coalition knew it was crucial to sustain is development to ensure individual freedom, and entice voluntary effort from the public without the necessity for the use of force .
Alcock (2008) further adds that with the ideology of the Labor Party now laying the foundations of a more powerful social-democratic thought, British society was further enamored to continue social welfare development through the influence of experts such as T.H. Marshall, Richard Titmuss and Anthony Crosland. Marshall stressed that improving social rights would ensure an egalitarian status within British citizens to improve their position in the labor market. Titmuss emphasized that British welfare state would provide all the needs necessary in the society to survive as a united front. Crosland, on his end, supported the Labor Party’s intent to push for public ownership and economic growth to ensure its equal distribution. As the 1960s came in, Britain found itself experiencing new social movements to cover issues on gender and sexuality. With the onset of the Middle Eastern conflicts such as the Arab-Israeli war, the British government found itself in an economic slump and unemployment. In order to improve the situation of the country, radical movements emerged to cover other aspects of the social policy of the country. Ethnicity, culture, and ecology also became important aspects to UK social policy as it would introduce equality for all persons and opportunity .
With the international and regional environment around Britain continuously changing, the necessity for the government to have a specific goal is crucial to ensure the British people’s continuous development and safety. On the one hand, Britain’s warfare state position enables it to protect the country’s security and at the same time, protect its international interests should it be threatened by any actor. On the other hand, however, Britain should be mostly seen as a welfare state in the 20th century because of the impacts brought by war and the necessity to ensure that society continues to function provided that its citizens are provided with their needs. While being a warfare state protects it from threats, the necessity for social progress and development is also crucial because, without a strong and determined citizenry, warfare efforts would not persist. In this end, Britain remains an excellent nation that fosters social equality for the people and still remains as a crucial actor in international politics through its military.
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