Perspectives on Welfare: Ideas, Ideologies, and Policy Debates

By Alan Deacon | Go to book overview

chapter four
chapter
four
Welfare and obligation

The perspective that is discussed in this chapter starts from the premise that people sometimes act out of a sense of commitment. They are not always motivated by either self-interest or altruism. Nor do they necessarily have to be compelled to behave in ways that serve the common good. Instead they may act in a particular way because they feel that they have to do so in order to fulfil an obligation. That obligation may be to their immediate family, to communities of place or faith or to the wider society. It may be rooted in blood ties, emotional commitments, religious or philosophical convictions or simply in an acceptance of the need to reciprocate benefits or services received. What matters is that at least some of the time they are motivated by a sense of duty rather than a desire for betterment or a fear of punishment.

The focus of this chapter is upon those who argue that the central objective of welfare should be to foster and enhance just this sense of duty and of commitment. From this perspective welfare should look primarily to persuasion rather than to compulsion, to encouragement and to moral argument rather than to financial inducements or penalties. Such arguments are associated most closely with communitarianism. As Amitai Etzioni (1998: xii) notes, a prominent theme of recent communitarian writing is that 'much of social conduct is, and that more ought to be, sustained and guided by an informal web of social bonds and moral voices of the community.' These new or so-called 'responsive' communitarians have sought to demonstrate that it is both desirable and possible to 'rely first and foremost on attempts to persuade, rather than coerce, people when seeking to promote pro-social behaviour' (ibid.: xiii).

These claims are examined in this chapter. It begins by outlining some of the central tenets of communitarian thinking, before discussing the work of the best known communitarian writer, Amitai Etzioni. The third and fourth sections provide a brief outline of two recent discussions of communitarian

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