Academic journal article Canadian Social Science

From Public Charity to Regulatory Interventionism in the Spanish "Social Question" (1822-1920)

Academic journal article Canadian Social Science

From Public Charity to Regulatory Interventionism in the Spanish "Social Question" (1822-1920)

Article excerpt


The aim of this paper is to analyze the various measures related to the question of social assistance, taken from the perspective of political economy, in Spain during the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century. It studies the replacement of the old system of religious and private charity belonging to the ancient regime with the liberal State social assistance system based on public charity. Consequently, it studies the political and legal measures aimed at addressing the so-called "social question" and at replacing charity with social security. To this end, it recognizes the process of transition begun with the creation of the Commission of Social Reforms in 1883 and put into practice in 1900 with the approval of the first social security. Finally, it outlines the policies carried out in the first decades of the twentieth century, regarding protection, health care, social prevision and social security, and the process of creation of the first organizations charged with managing the labour laws and the social security: the Institute of Social Reforms and the National Institute of Prevision.

Key words: Spain; Charity; Liberal state; Social prevision; Labour laws

The labour legislation emerged to respond, from the political power, to the problems generated by the fundamental change in the world of work. With this, they try to exceed the solutions established by the social Darwinism of laissez-faire. At the end of the nineteenth century the transition from the liberal Public Charity to social prevision, characteristic of the Welfare State, begins. Public Charity had its origin in charity, and social services in solidarity. They were moving towards


During the nineteenth century, the new poverty, generated by the industrialisation and the new organization of work, cast shadows over the economic development. In England, the problem was tried to be alleviated by the Poor Laws, a system of "legal charity" which linked aid for the poor with compulsory work in subhuman conditions in workhouses (Fideler, 2006; Mcintosh, 2005; Innés, 1999). It was a national centralized system financed by public funds which enabled the transition from commercial to industrial capitalism, mobilizing an unskilled labour force towards the industry (Polanyi, 1989). In France there was no public debate on the issues of poverty and work until 1848. The perception of the "plague of pauperism" as a threat to the political and moral order and with the capability of disturbing it became the main economic and political obsession. It was not until the last decades of the Nineteenth and the beginning of the Twentieth Century that the obligatory insurance substituted voluntary insurance, and the foundations of the future social security were laid (Castel, 1997).

In the 18th century Spain, the charity system covered by religious establishments and the network of protection formed by guilds and corporations was dismantled in large part (Callahan, 1978; Pan-Montojo, 1999). The Church lost part of its traditional dominion of charity and the State took part actively in the creation of social assistance institutions. The problem of poverty was considered as a question of public order, and not a question of charity. Charity was aimed at converting the poor into a productive subject, useful to society (González, 2000). The social assistance policy of the Enlightenment, oscillating between fear and compassion, would combine repression and tutelary measures: confinement as a prophylaxis and work as a therapeutic tool (Soubeyroux, 1982; Melossi, 1987; Geremek, 1998). In pre-industrial Spain, charity and "confinement" were intertwined with the ultimate objective of strengthening the ethic of work, which became a mechanism of socialisation and training for factory discipline. The liberal State dismantled the religious system of Charity and the guild mutualism as a form of prevision, and initiated the transition to Public Charity. …

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