A Society without a 'State'?

Political Organization, Social Conflict, and Welfare Provision in the United States Author(s): Theda Skocpol Source: Journal of Public Policy, Vol. 7, No. 4 (Oct. - Dec., 1987), pp. 349-371 Published by: Cambridge University Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4007306 Accessed: 24/10/2008 02:26
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Jnl Publ. Pol., 7, 4, 349-37 I

A Society without a 'State'? Political Organization, Social Conflict, and Welfare Provision in the United States*
THEDA SKOCPOL,
Sociology Harvard University

ABSTRACT Americans lack a sense of the state for many understandable historical reasons. Yet the specific organizational forms that state activities have taken in the United States from the time of the Constitution to the present have profoundly affected the social cleavages that have gained political expression and influenced the sorts of public policies that governments
have - and have not - implemented. As an alternative or supplement to

theoretical perspectives emphasizing the causal primacy of industrialization, national values, or class politics, this state-society perspective can illuminate patterns of American social policy, from distributive social benefits in the nineteenth century to bifurcations between social insurance and public assistance since the New Deal. These American policy patterns are contrasted with the more comprehensive and nationally uniform policies characteristic of certain Western European welfare states.

'State and society' are terms of reference bound to seem out of place in a discussion of the Constitution and governance of the United States of America. As an insightful observer once put it (Pollard I925, 3I), 'Americans may be defined as that part of the English-speaking world which instinctively revolted against the doctrine of the sovereignty of the State and has ... striven to maintain that attitude from the time of the Pilgrim Fathers to the present day.' Citizens of the United States view themselves as fortunate not to be subject to any overbearing 'State.' And foreign observers rightly have trouble identifying elements of con* This article was originally presented at the Institute on 'Foreign Perspectives on the U.S. Constitution,' sponsored by the American Council of Learned Societies at the Wingspread Conference Center, Racine, Wisconsin, on 29 September I987. It draws upon some material presented in the introduction to ThePoliticsof SocialPolicyin the UnitedStates,edited by Margaret Weir, Ann Shola Orloff, and Theda Skocpol (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, I988).

unemployment. Great Britain rationalized a whole array of social services and social insurances around an explicit vision of 'the welfare state. and other causes of insufficient income. I shall argue that we can learn a surprising amount about American society and politics by treating statesociety relationships in more analytical terms.' which would universally ensure a 'national minimum' of protection for all citizens against old age. such programmatic beginnings were elaborated into comprehensive systems of income support and social insurance encompassing entire national populations. as they eventually came to be called. from the I930S through the 1950s. had their start between the i88os and the I920S in pension and social insurance programs established for industrial workers and needy citizens. Instead. however. Primarily. then this constitution has much to tell us about why American social policies have come to be as they are. neither old-age pensions nor social insurance made much headway in the United States before the Great Depression. In contrast to European tempos of welfare state development. American 'social policy' prior to the I930S included state and local support for mass public education. disability and ill health.especially the Scandinavian democracies .350 ThedaSkocpol centrated sovereignty in the American political system .established 'full employment welfare states' by deliberately coordinating social policies.pursued from the nineteenth century to the present day. other nations . and helped to determine the sorts of public policies that US governments have . and then with targeted interventions in labor markets.except. I can illustrate this argument by exploring why US patterns of public social provision differ from those associated with European welfare states. Then. Later. Drawing upon my own current research.and have not . when the USA acts aggressively on the world stage. It is an ethnocentric illusion to imagine that the United States has been a dynamic society and capitalist economy 'unencumbered' by any state. along with generous federal benefits for elderly Civil War veterans and their dependants. Version TheAmerican of PublicSocialProvision Modern welfare states. This article will touch upon historical reasons why Americans lack a sense of the state. perhaps. During the same period. in what has been called a 'big bang' of national . the specific organizational forms that state activities have taken in America have profoundly affected the social cleavages that have gained political expression. In the aftermath of World War II. first with Keynesian strategies of macroeconomic management. If the US constitution is construed broadly to mean not just a document drawn up in I 787-8 but an entire configuration of governance with associated cultural meanings.

a 'State? without A Society legislation (Leman 1977). as old-age insurance expanded to cover virtually all retired employees in the United States. no such explicit joining of 'social' and 'economic' policy developed in the postwar United States. federally subsidized public assistance. Ultimately.' providing benefits to caretakers as well as the children themselves) expanded enormously with a predominately female adult clientele. Assistance for the elderly poor and for dependent children were the most important programs. contributory old-age insurance. Public assistance under Social Security was a set of programs already existing in certain states by the early 1930s. and has become the centerpiece of US public social provision. generally providing the least to the poorest people in the poorest states. methods of administration. retired workers collect benefits roughly gauged to their employment incomes. Unemployment insurance was instituted in I935 as a federal-state system. Labelled 'welfare. the Aid to Dependent Children program (now 'Aid to Families with Dependent Children. and benefits across the states. Meanwhile. the one program originally established on a purely national basis. federal old-age assistance became proportionately less important than it was originally. 35I 1935 the Social Security Act of established nation-spanning social insurance and public assistance programs. but each individual state was left free to decide terms of eligibility and benefits for unemployed workers. coverage. in practice. . Despite efforts in the 1930S and 1940S to nation- alize unemployment insurance and join its operations to various measures of public economic planning. state-run unemployment insurance. and it remained difficult to pool risks of economic downturns on a national basis or to coordinate unemployment benefits with Keynesian demand management.' AFDC has very uneven standards of eligibility. But three major kinds of social provision were included in the 1935 legislation: federally required. for which the federal government would henceforth share costs. Health insurance was omitted from the Social Security Act and later schemes for universal national health benefits also failed. as well as the taxes to be collected from employers or workers or both. Unemployment benefits and taxation became quite uneven across the states. creating a basic framework for US public social provision that has remained in place down to the present. by the I96os. and leaving many impoverished men and husband-wife families without any coverage at all. Over time. and national contributory old-age insurance. Payroll taxes are collected from workers and their employers across the country. All states were induced to establish programs. the states were also accorded great discretion to decide matters of eligibility and benefits and. has usurped the favorable label 'social security' that once connoted the whole. Since I 935. Free to decide whether they would even have particular programs.

ensuring more standardized benefits. public social provision in the United States also includes many federal measures undertaken to further the wellbeing of broad sectors of the populace. 'Welfare' became an explicit area of US political controversy and policy innovation only during the I960s.were established or significantly expanded in the aftermath of World War II.' these policies often rely upon indirect means of governmental action. Still. Without carrying the explicit label of 'welfare' or 'social policy. had nevertheless become reasonably generous in the benefits offered to retired people of the working and middle classes. 'social security' grew in coverage and benefits. were launched in the New Deal. as a way to encourage the provision of goods or services to favored groups or to members of the citizenry at large. For the first time since 1935. In I972. Others .such as educational aid to military veterans and grants to localities to encourage hospital construction . such as private businesses or associations or local governments. Equally important. federal subsidies flow to third-party providers. when higher peacetime revenues became permanently available through the extended federal income tax. moreover. and even federal programs to house the poor have relied on regulatory breaks and subsidies to private real estate developers. such as 'tax expenditures' (that is. the United States. the much larger AFDC program remained federally decentralized . such as agricultural price supports to shore up the incomes of commercial farmers. Both federal mortgage insurance and the deductibility of mortgage interest payments from federal taxes have spurred widespread private home ownership. Properly understood. and then benefit levels were repeatedly raised by Congress. In other cases. uneven and often inadequate in the help provided to unemployed and dependent people. incentives in the form of forgiven tax payments) rather than direct public expenditures. and for retirees in need of medical care in I965. By the I970s. when the 'War on Poverty' and the effort to create a 'Great Society' were declared. for disabled workers in I956. US housing policies especially exemplify the use of indirect instrumentalities. including middle-strata employees and small property-owners. additional programs were added under this contributory insurance rubric: for surviving dependants in I 939. major new programs of needs-tested public assistance were established in the form of in-kind aid through Food Stamps and Medicaid. After 1935. as more and more employees and categories of employees were incorporated during the 1950s.and standards for other benefits such as medical care are often tied to this uneven standardbearer . old-age and other assistance programs (originally established as federal programs under Social Security) were nationalized.352 ThedaSkocpol with some redistribution toward the low-wage contributors to the system. Some of these measures.

and some . which witnessed the passage of the Social Security Act. and symbolically separated from one another. the programmatic structure and modes of implementation of US social provision also require explanation. a number of features of US social provision require explanation. In turn. . Unlike the situation in Britain since the Beveridge reformsinstituted after World War II. Existing Explanations and theirShortcomings Among many of those seeking to understand the development of social policies in the United States. We need.' Equally. to better understand why the twentieth-century United States developed nota Western European-style welfare state but a much more disjoint system of public social provision. as always. on the other. The public assistance and social insurance programs established under the Social Security Act have remained disjoint and nationally uneven. there has been little coordination of US social policies with nationally rationalized public interventions in the macroeconomy or labor markets.A Societywithout a 'State'? 353 of the American 'welfare' system. in ways that can be briefly indicated.have never been instituted at all. and these programs operate in conjunction with a variety of indirect federal incentives and subsidies that provide scattered social benefits outside of any comprehensive vision of the goals or effects of an American welfare state. in short. both institutionally and symbolically separate from national economic management. Core welfare-state policies such as old-age pensions and social insurance were much slower to emerge in the United States than in Europe. We also need to make sense of the two major periods of explicit social policy innovation at the national level in the twentieth-century United States: the New Deal of the I930s. various social benefits remain operationally. We need to know why America's initiation of such modern social policies was (by international standards) so belated. and from non-means-tested programs benefiting regularly employed citizens. and they are all kept quite apart from other things the national government may be doing in relation to the economy and society. And 'social security' has remained firmly bifurcated. which included new programs for the poor. both institutionally and symbolically.such as national health insurance . from 'welfare. Each offers important insights but falls short of offering a satisfying explanation. on the one hand. in contrast to 'full-employment welfare states' in Scandinavia. welfare remains. several approaches currently hold sway. In the United States. fiscally. In sum. national standards have not been established in the United States for public benefits (not even the direct ones). Aside from matters of historical phasing. and the Great Society and Nixon era reforms of the i960s and early 1970s.

but introduces a major modification to explain why some nations.354 Theda Skocpol One school of thought can be dubbed the 'logic of industrialism' approach (e. Rimlinger I971. most notably the United States. delayed behind the pace of policy innovation that would be expected from the tempos of urbanization and industrialization alone. The answer. the argument goes. Cutright I965. 1973.. well into the logic of industrialism schema. or with dependent elderly relatives unable to earn their keep. Another school of thought . Collier and Messick Flora and Alber I98I). Street. and cultural factors also influenced the shape and goals of new policies when they emerged. Before the I930S the United States is an awkward outlier. say proponents of this approach (e. Wilensky and Lebeaux I965. Social demand for public help grows. or with major episodes of illness.g. King. one of the ablest proponents of the national values approach.. while others. and Suttles 1978). because it posits that all nation-states respond to the growth of cities and industries by creating public measures to help citizens cope with attendant social and economic dislocations. initiated modern social policies at relatively early stages of urbanization and industrialization.let's call it the 'national values' approach accepts many underlying dynamics posited by the logic of industrialism argument. social insurance. and other modern welfare measures. Thus Gaston Rimlinger. Not incidentally. and all modern nations must create policies to address these basic issues of social security without forcing respectable citizens to accept aid under the demeaning and disenfranchising rules of traditional poor laws. 91) that early German social insurance policies were facilitated by the weakness of liberalism and the strength of 'the patriarchal social ideal' and 'the Christian social ethic' in . Cultural conditions could either facilitate or delay action by a nation-state to promote social security. yet 'lagged' far behind other nations (even much less urban and industrial ones) when it came to instituting public pensions. and Wilensky I975: ch. argues ( I971.g. Plausible as this sounds. recent cross-national studies on the origins of modern social insurance policies have demonstrated that urbanization and industrialization (whether considered separately or in combination) cannot explain the relative timing of national social insurance legislation from the late nineteenth century to the present (cf. lies in the values and ideologies to which each nation's people adhered as urbanization and industrialization gathered force. Once families are off the land and dependent on wages and salaries. The United States in particular does not fit I975. they cannot easily cope with disabling accidents at work. unemployment. Gr0nbjerg. for this country was one of the world's industrial leaders. 2). Kaim-Caudle I973. such as Bismarck's Imperial Germany in the i88os. proponents of this perspective have tended to include data for 'the US case' only when doing cross-national analyses for the period after I935.

laissez-faire liberal values were extremely strong and a 'commitment to individual achievement and self-help' led to a 'tenacious' 'resistance to social protection. These innovations came under the auspices of the British Liberal Party. Under modern urbanindustrial conditions. too. including workers' compensation (i906).. despite the availability of liberal rationales for it just as good as those put forward for unemployment and old-age insurance? And why did the public assistance programs subsidized under Social Security actually cement the dependence of many individuals on the arbitrary discretion of state and local authorities. why couldn't American progressives do the same? In both Britain and the United States sufficient cultural transformation within liberalism had occurred to legitimate fledgling welfare states without resort either to conservative-paternalist or socialistjustifications (see Orloff and Skocpol I 984 for further elaboration of this argument). when American New Dealers of the 1930S at last successfully instituted nationwide social protections justified in 'new liberal' terms. Then. and unemployment and health insurance (i 9I I). The unusual strength and persistence of American liberal values explain why social insurance measures failed to be instituted before the I930s.. however.' (Rimlinger I97I. the 'new liberals' argued. positive governmental means must be used to support individual security. pensions (i 908). If British Liberals could use such ideas to justify both state-funded pensions and contributory social insurance this way in the second decade of the twentieth century. and they were intellectually and politicallyjustified by appeals to 'new liberal' values of the sort that were also making progress among educated Americans around the turn of the century. Yet general deductions from national values simply cannot give us the answer to many crucial questions about the timing and programmatic structure of American social provision. for 'it was only when the Great Depression revealed in a shocking manner the utter defenselessness of the citizen in the American industrial state that the still potent individualistic tradition could be overcome' (Rimlinger I 97 I. 62) .A Societywithout a 'State'? 355 nineteenth-century Germany. Laissez-faire liberal values were in many respects more hegemonic and popular in nineteenthcentury Britain than they were in the nineteenth-century United States. In the United States. rather than furthering individual dignity and the pre- . and this must be accomplished without undermining individuals' dignity or making them dependent on the state. I 93). why did they end up with the specific array of policies embodied in the Social Security Act? Why was health insurance left aside. as a couple of historical examples can readily dramatize. yet in the years before World War I Britain enacted a full range of social old-age protective measures. Arguments like Rimlinger's offer a credible general gloss on what happened.

As part of this trend.once enacted . Its proponents have failed to demonstrate convincingly that genuine groups or categories of US capitalists .and this creates problems for the welfare capitalism thesis (see the full discussion and references in Skocpol and Amenta I985). including policies for stabilizing and planning employment and protecting the social welfare of loyal employees. two sorts of class politics perspectives have been applied to American social politics.and the labor-management practices of American corporations. Proponents of the welfare capitalism approach (e. For example. Prominent 'welfare capitalists' then pressed their ideas upon policy intellectuals and public officials. Quadagno I984) take for granted that corporate capitalists have dominated the US political process in the twentieth century. Ferguson I984. During the last decade. and they look (in various ways) for economically grounded splits between conservative and progressive capitalists as the way to explain social policy innovations. why did the New Deal as a whole fail to achieve proposed measures to guarantee jobs for everyone willing to work? Arguably. however. Early in this century. Domhoff I970.. But business groups originally opposed the passage of the Social Security Act. many American corporations accommodated nicely to Social Security's contributory old-age insurance program. many historians and social scientists have analyzed the political contributions of capitalists and industrial workers in shaping patterns of social policy in the capitalist democracies.g.as opposed to a handful of maverick individuals not represen- . as well as the passage of most other federal and statelevel social and regulatory measures favorable to workers . the argument goes. especially after World War II. meshing it with their own retirement benefits systems. one highlights the initiatives of 'welfare capitalists' and the other stresses 'political class struggles' between workers and capitalists. This perspective has served as a good lens through which to view the complementarities that have often developed between public social policies . so that public social insurance measures in key states and at the federal level were supposedly designed to meet the needs of progressively managed business corporations. the social security measures that were achieved were less in accord with longstanding American values than governmental commitments to full employment would have been. Berkowitz and McQuaid I980. Arguments stressing the impact of either industrialism or national values on social policy development tend to downplay political struggles and debates. Radosh 1972. certain American businesses preceded the public sector in evolving principles of modern organizational management.356 Theda Skocpol dictable delivery of citizen benefits as a matter of 'rights'? A final query is perhaps the most telling: Given the clear value-priority that Americans have always placed on individuals getting ahead through work.

Korpi I983. Thus. the historical evidence is overwhelming that they have regularlyfiercely opposed the establishment of public social policies in the first place. this approach underlines the relative weakness of US industrial unions and points to the complete absence of any laborbased political party in US democracy. Castles I978. Until very recently. Just as the political class struggle approach would have it. The second class politics perspective takes for granted that capitalists everywhere tend to oppose the emergence and expansion of the welfare state. agricultural interests in . and afterwardsthrough the liberal wing of the Democratic Party . then the Social Democratic perspective on political class struggles is insufficient in several ways. Only occasionally . Myles I984. This 'Social Democratic' or 'political class struggle' approach has predominated in recent cross-national research on the development of social policies in Europe and the United States (cf. US unions have frequently supported extensions of public social provision. Given these weaknesses of working class organization.most notably during the New Deal. Political processes other than the initiatives of capitalists have nearly always been the causes of US social policy innovations. However adaptable American capitalists have proven to be after the fact.actually supported mandatory public pensions or social insurance. US capitalists have been unusually able to use direct and indirect pressures to prevent governments at all levels from undertaking social-welfare efforts that would reshape labor markets or interfere with the prerogatives or profits of private business. Strict attention to political conflicts of interest between capitalists and industrial workers deflects our attention from other socioeconomic forces that have intersected with the US federal state and with decentralized American political parties to shape social policymaking.have American workers or unions been able to muster sufficient strength to faciliate some innovations or expansions of public social provision. Certainly this emphasis on political class struggle between workers and capitalists helps to explain why the United States has not developed a comprehensive full-employment welfare state. Bjorn 1979. Shalev I983. policies more similar to those of Sweden probably would have come about in the United States had American workers been as highly unionized or had the modern Democratic Party been a truly socialdemocratic party based in the organized working class. Nevertheless. Esping-Andersen I985). if our intention is not merely to contrast the United States to Europe but also to explain the specific patterns of modern American social policy. To explain why American public social provision commenced later and has not become as generous as European public social provision. I982.a 'State'? without A Society 357 tative of any class or industrial sector . Stephens 1979. while business groups have opposed them.

and also because mobilization for both the World Wars of the twentieth century relied heavily on the organizational capacities of large business corporations and trade associations (Cuff I973. involvements in wars. nationspanning collectivities. a locally entrenched standing army and bureaucracy. when the United States took on global imperial functions. Wars have never had the same centralizing effects for the US state as they have had for many European states. whose forms and timing have varied significantly across capitalist-industrializing countries. or recurrent mobilization for land warfare against equal competitors.as well as the effects of that state's institutional structure on the goals. ethnic. . But. of course. and bureaucratization .large-scale historical processes. electoral democratization. the American colonies forged a federalist constitutional republic and (after some years of continued sparring with Britain) the fledgling nation found itself relatively geopolitically sheltered and facing toward a huge continent available for conquest from militarily unformidable opponents. namely centralized and bureaucratized states with parliamentary parties dedicated to pursuing policy programs in the name of entire classes or other broad. For much of Europe.358 Theda Skocpol the South and West were crucial arbiters of congressional policymaking. nourished by the first persistence into peacetime of substantial direct federal taxation. the existence of such features of political organization has given substance to the presumption that the industrial working class may translate its interests into social policies. in part because America's greatest war was about itself. the United States has never had a centralized bureaucratic state or programmatic parliamentary parties. whenever 'its' party holds the reins of national power over a sustained period. and racial divisions. andtheLimitsof SocialProvision StateFormation American 'State formation' includes constitution-making. And struggles over social welfare or labor market interventions have often involved regional. the United States did not have a premodern polity characterized by monarchical absolutism. did a federal 'military-industrial complex' emerge. In sharp contrast to many European nations. Only after World War II. Political class struggle theories have been argued with certain state and party structures in mind. Thus the American case highlights the importance of bringing much more explicitly into our explanations of social policymaking the historical formation of each national state . capacities. in short. and alliances of politically active groups. Vatter I985). We need a mode of analysis that will help us understand why these conflicts have been equally or more telling than industrial class conflicts in the shaping of social provision in the United States. Instead.

as in Britain after the English Revolution. the President.' as the loci of fundamental sovereignty. however. and the forces of localism. and distrust of government activism never disappeared even in the North. yet at the same time maintain informal hegemony for gentlemen holding civic ideals of disinterested republican virtue (Wood I987). while Europe developed a differentiation of functions and a centralization of power. or in an official bureaucracy built up under absolute monarchy. then the founding fathers sought to cement a precarious national unity by designing a new federal government. the powers of the states and the central government were carefully divided and balanced against one another in a 'compound' arrangement (Scheiber I978) that left many ambiguities for the future. Only during the Civil War did a Republican-run crusade to save a Northern-dominated nation temporarily transfer the locus of sovereignty to an activist federal government.' While neverending rounds of legislation in Congress and the states expressed shifting sets of special interests. Under the Constitution adopted in I 788. and a system of courts. 'America perpetuated a fusion of functions and a division of power. early American political factions converged on a shared language of 'constitutionalism' to articulate sharply conflicting ideals about the scope of governmental authority.' because 'people knew that without the Constitution there would be no America. Americans looked to 'the Constitution' and 'the rule of law. the sovereign ideals of constitutionalism and the rule of law could reign impersonally above an economically expansionist and socially diverse country. In Samuel P. the sponsors of the Constitution aimed for a governmental system that would protect against executive arbitrariness and check selfish interests in the state legislatures. After years of political skirmishes between colonists and royal governors.whether focused in a supreme parliament. Within a decade after ratification. Especially in pre-Civil War America. while the new rules for the federal government spread cross-cutting responsibilities among Congress.without a 'State'? A Society 359 The American Revolution was a revolt not only against the British Empire but also against any European-style notion of concentrated political sovereignty . Henceforth. each contending faction argued that it was correctly implementing the Constitution's provisions.' Skeptical of the desirability of any one center of authority acting in the name of the national good. But even the Civil War did not generate an autonomous federal bureaucracy. as in much of Continental Europe. Huntington's words (i 968. divisions of powers. these functioned as a 'roof without walls' in the apt words of John Murrin (I987). a confederation of thirteen colonies separated Americans from Britain. iIo). Antifederalists were even more distrustful of centralized authority and almost defeated the proposed Constitution. as 'a substitute for any deeper kind of national identity. The .

24) that America certainly did have a state. 270). yet as the nineteenth-century progressed they carved out a more authoritative role than the Founders had envisaged or than British courts enjoyed. to leave the matter here. They could take advantage of their countrymen's regard for the Constitution and legal procedures as common points of reference in a polity wracked with jurisdictional disputes. and they had to fend off various movements to codify the laws and reduce judicial discretion. valued. the state was essentialto socialorderand social in nineteenth-century America(Skowronek development I982.and judges and party politicians were the crucial 'officials in action' . where fundamental issues regularly required adjudication. 19. 'which does not sooner or later turn into ajudicial one.securednew territories. [and] court proceedings determined the meaning and the effect of the law itself' (Skowronek i982. early Americanjudges and lawyers needed to adjust English common law precedents to US circumstances. Along with courts. 27). And there was no national civil bureaucracy that could compete with the courts by promoting 'the national interest' in a more substantive fashion. I9). Stephen Skowronek has placed the totality of early American political arrangements in a framework that helps to highlight their distinctive features.that made up the American state in the nineteenth century (Skowronek I 982. borrowing from Commons I 968 [I924]). it foughtwars.Despite the absenceof a sense of the state.' observed Alexis de Tocqueville (I969 [I850]. stipulating that Europeans had concentrated sovereignties and a sense of'stateness' while Americans had neither. 'There is hardly a political question in the United States. and recurring modes of behavior within and among institutions': an integrated The earlyAmericanstate maintained legalorderon a continental scale. this early American state was not a set of locality-penetrating bureaucracies headed by a monarch or a parliament. Yet these elites and the courts through which they operated also enjoyed important advantages. Rather. courts and parties were the key organizations . Courts were not very prominent in the original debates over Constitutional design. and aided economic development. It will not do. Skowronek points out (I982. both in the sense of 'an organization of coercive power' and in the sense of 'stable. political parties and vocationally specialized . expropriated carriedon Indians. in Skowronek'stelling phrase it was a 'state of courts and parties.' Operating across state and federal levels.360 Theda Skocpol American 'Tudor polity' (Huntington I968) re-emerged full force after the Southern states rejoined the union in the I870s. 'Party procedures lent operational coherence to the disjointed institutions of the governmental apparatus. relations with other states. 24. however. To be sure.' To be sure.

a 'State'? A Society without 36I partisan politicians became the pivots of the nineteenth-century American polity. public office-holders were highly motivated to contribute portions of their salaries and their time to foster the popularity of their party. Certainly the party organizations were not . both of national and of state governments. The opportunity to control the allocation of public offices inspired party cadres and allowed national and state party brokers to offer local loyalists influence over appointments allocated from their levels of government. the parties and their managers proved remarkably resilient. 6). stimulated by incessant rivalry.. 473). 6). and national offices. American parties. . The regular American parties of the nineteenth century managed the complex. In turn. and have passed more completely under the control of a professional class' (Bryce I893. 'have been organized far more elaborately than anywhere else in the world.' throughout the nineteenth century (Keller I977. 3).. to a remarkable degree.. given that the Founders disapproved 'the baneful effects of the spirit of party' (George Washington. 'The party organizations in fact form a second body of political machinery existing side by side with that of the legally constituted government . Party conventions became the typical means for nominating candidates. reached across the nation as a whole. from the Jackson era through the end of the century. yet party effortssimultaneously spanned localities within states and. Otherwise. has turned many provisions of the Constitution to unforseen uses. McCormick I986). neverending processes of nominations and elections for local. The local roots of the parties sunk deep into particular neighborhoods. The government counts for less than in Europe. For only if their party won the next election would theirjobs be safe.' such that 'the whole machinery. Bryce noted. 5) observed in the I88os that in 'America the great moving forces are the parties. is worked by the political parties' (Bryce I893. as quoted in Wallace I968. dominating US politics and knitting together the branches and levels of the 'Tudor polity. . state. Administrative staffing through patronage was complementary to the intensified electoral activities of the new political parties.. Crucially. the parties count for more. James Bryce (I895. and the nineteenth century's frequent elections required that party supporters be kept in a high state of enthusiasm and readiness through canvasses and rallies. Foreign observers of the actual workings of American government noticed the increasing centrality and distinctiveness of US parties... this happened even though the Constitution made no mention of them. Ironically. Once in place by the I840s. the opposite party and all of its appointees would claim the spoils of office.' 'A description of them is therefore a necessary complement to an account of the Constitution and government' since 'their ingenuity. parties also controlled the staffing and functioning of public administration in the United States (Shefter I978).' (Bryce I895.

America's nineteenth-century patronage a for democracy had strong proclivity widely distributing benefits (McCormick 1979). were receiving regular pensions from the federal government.This system fuelled the late nineteenth-century expansion of de facto disability and old-age benefits for those who could credibly claim to have served the Union forces during the Civil War.362 ThedaSkocpol top-down hierarchies.decades after electoral democratization and well after capitalist industrialization had created private corporate giants operating on a national scale . bureaucratic-professional transformations happened piecemeal through reform movements spearheaded by the new middle classes. Congress. legislatures.did the US federal. some 28 per cent of all American men over 65 years old. Fiorina I977.making the United States. state. with its strong roots in state and local political establishments. al. the surviving structures of patronage democracy and elite perceptions of 'corruption' in the Civil War pension system discouraged US progressive liberals from imitating the pension and social insurance innovations of their English contemporaries (Orloff and Skocpol I984). i987)! Yet once American government finally began to bureaucratize and professionalize. the fragmentation of political sovereignty built into US federalism and into the divisions of decision-making authority among executives. they successfully linked local to state politicians and kept state politicians in touch with one another and with whatever national office-holders their party might have. rather they were ramified networks fuelled by complex and shifting exchanges of favors for organizational loyalty. Skowronek I982). Patterson I 967. With the greatest changes coming first at municipal and state levels. however. As the various levels of government were thus partially reorganized. and courts. was reproduced in new ways throughout the twentieth century. a precocious welfare state for a privileged generation (Skocpol et. Huntington I973. and in many localities and states the major parties uneasily combine patronage-oriented and interest-group oriented modes of operation. Within the federal government. and local governments make much headway in the bureaucratization and professionalization of their administrative functions (Shefter I978.even during periods of strong executive initiative such as the New Deal and the World Wars and the Cold War (Grodzins I 960. in a sense. has remained pivotal in national domestic policymaking . As such. By the early twentieth century. The patterns of US state formation just summarized have conditioned the rhythms and patterns of social policymaking from the nineteenth century to the present. . Amenta and Skocpol I988). Not until the twentieth century . and over a third of elderly men in the North. American political parties have remained decentralized in their basic operations.

During the New Deal and in its aftermath. By analyzing ways in which America's distinctive state structure has influenced possibilities for collective action and for political alliances among social groups.did not overcome congressional and local resistance against initiatives that might have pushed the United States toward a nationalized full-employment welfare state. American national mobilization for World War II . Because in the United States white manhood suffrage and competing patronage parties were in place at the very start of capitalist industrialization. Subsequently. this pivotal war enhanced federal fiscal capacities and created new possibilities for congressionally mediated subsidies and tax expenditures. and congressional mediation of contradictory regional interests ensured that national standards could not be established in most programs. Nevertheless. we can improve upon arguments that simply highlight struggles of capitalists versus industrial workers. and Martin Shefter (I986) have spelled out the situation for I985) workers in a series of important publications. Ira Katznelson (i 98 I. but did not permanently enhance public instrumentalities for labor market intervention or executive capacities for coordinating social spending with macroeconomic management (Amenta and Skocpol I 988). including public assistance and social insurance measures. the Social Security Act was rooted in prior state-level laws or legislative proposals under active debate in the I930s. or failed to gain. Basic structural features of the US state have thus powerfully set overall institutional limits for social provision in the United States. within the US state and political party systems. Yet fundamental patterns of state formation are only the starting point for analysis. political struggles and their policy outcomes have been conditioned by the institutional leverage various social groups have gained. Instead.without a 'State'? A Society 363 America's governmental 'responses to industrialism' during the Progressive Era were primarily local and state regulatory laws that often established agencies to take over functions from the courts. the United States finally launched a kind of modern welfare state. andSocialGroups American PoliticalInstitutions America's precociously democratized federal polity has made it difficult for either capitalists or industrial workers to operate as a unified political force in pursuit of class projects on a national scale. In addition. American workers learned to separate their political participation as citizens living in ethnically defined localities from their workplace struggles for better wages and employment conditions.a mobilization less total and centrally coordinated by the state than the British mobilization for the same war . No encompassing 'working class .

In localities where they did have considerable political clout. For not only does US federal democracy impede unified working class politics. and even benefit from the policy results after the fact. American workers tended to gain advantages on ethnic rather than class lines. In addition.' In part. Only during and after the New Deal was this situation modified. reshape. Particular Democratic politicians put together unique constellations of supporters. persistent class politics as US federal democracy has always been. and US corporate interests have always found it difficult to provide unified support for national initiatives that might benefit the economy as a whole on terms favorable either to most sectors of business or to economically dominant sectors. or to a new bureaucratic agency . Although the US polity has thus hardly served as a tool of broadly defined working class interests. and American trade unions developed no stable ties to a labor-based political party during the period around the turn of the century when European social democratic movements were forged. including generous and comprehensive social policies. it is perhaps not . Understandably.or back to the legislatures. Within the ranks of business as well as beyond. sometimes including certain unions and sometimes not.even though most businesses have proven able to accommodate. the losers can always 'go to court' . while unions retained the option of supporting friendly Republicans as well as Democrats. Within a state structure so discouraging of unified. American workers were left without the organizational capacities to push for a social democratic program. this is their understandable response to a long-democratized polity prone periodically to throw up moralistic reform campaigns challenging the prerogatives of large-scale property holders.for another round of battle in the interminable struggles that never seem to settle American policy questions. as it usually is.in the apt phrase of David Vogel (1978) . Nationally. as alliances developed in many places between urban-liberal Democrats and industrial unions. Conflicts within the ranks of American business are readily politicized. it also gives full play to divisions within business along industrial and geographical lines. especially where government intervention in the economy is at issue.'distrust their state. for American capitalists the US state has seemed neither coherent nor reliable. National episodes of democratic reform leading to strengthened state interventions have been resisted with the aid of any coalitional allies at hand . therefore. American capitalists nevertheless .364 Theda Skocpol politics' emerged. it reflects the frustrations that American capitalists recurrently experience in their dealings with this or that part of the decentralized and fragmented US state structure. Yet the Democrats and the unions never went beyond flexible and ad hoc partnerships.

for example. incapable of any permanent institutionalization . during the New Deal of the mid. the impact of the Townsend Movement on the old-age provisions of the Social Security Act would be a case in point. or rework social policies. What is more. coalitions that crystallized during nationally perceived 'crises' widely understood to call for positive governmental solutions.and very soon undone by conservative backlashes that drew on localist plus business and other resistance to enhanced state power in the United States.I930s. The American federal state with its decentralized and nonprogrammatic political parties has provided enhanced leverage to interests that could associate across many local political districts.A Society without a 'State'? 365 surprising that social policy breakthroughs have clustered in widely separated 'big bangs' of reform:during the Progressive Era of about I906 to I920. fragile.have obstructed or gutted proposed national social policies. widespread federations . agricultural classes have proven to be important political allies of urban-industrial groups that would either promote or resist enhanced state interventions. during and right after the 'Great Society' I960s period.including organizations of farmers from the Grange to the American Farm Bureau Federation.especially those involving commercial farmers and small businessmen prominent in many communities . In turn. a product of disparate plans previously pursued by networks of policy intellectuals (perhaps buttressed by voluntary associations or particular governmental bureaux) rather than by any political party or nationwide economic group. and not only because there have always been large numbers of family farmers in American society. during the early New Deal of I933 to I935. Each cluster of new policies was heterogeneous. More often. In the United States agricultural interests have been even more pivotal than elsewhere. Thus. especially as proposals have had to make their way through the House of Representatives in Congress. In the histories of many modern welfare states. Occasionally. or obstruct. Such widespread 'federated' interests . this meant . each cluster of policy innovations was put through by coalitions of groups in touch with sets of elected legislators. and certain professional associations including the National Education Association and the American Medical Association have been ideal coalition partners for any more nationally focused forces that might want to promote. federal agricultural policies had the not fully intended effect of strengthening interest-group association among commercial farmers across the disparate crop-areas of the South and Midwest (Finegold and Skocpol I984). But in each episode the coalitions favoring new social policies were temporary. and between the midand the mid-I970s. such widespread federations have spurred the passage of national social policies. along with locally rooted businessmen linked to the Chamber of Commerce.

the South's role cannot be understood without underlining the class structure of Southern cotton agriculture as a landlord-dominated sharecropper system from the late nineteenth century through the I930S (Alston and Ferrie I 985). nor were its social mores typical of the nation. Nor could we possibly ignore the explicit racism that ensured minority white dominance over black majorities in all sectors of economic and social life. to pressure congressional representatives against one liberal New Deal social welfare proposal after another. This prevented the often contradictory orientations of the two wings from tearing the national party apart.a role that certainly rivals that of either capitalists or the industrial working class. To be sure. Above all.at the same time that the capacities of other interests. magnified the capacities of Southern economic and social elites to affect national policies . including the Chamber of Commerce. The influence of Southern agricultural interests in the New Deal depended on the insertion of their class power as landlords and their social power as white racial oligarchs into federal political arrangements that from the I89os to the i 960s allowed an undemocratized single-party South to coexist with competitve two-party democracy in the rest of the national polity (Key I949). and by the 1930S this region was not very weighty in the national economy as a whole. In short. from 1936 onwards. 7).366 Theda Skocpol that the American Farm Bureau Federation was better able to ally with business organizations. ch. Pinpointing institutional leverage through Congress also helps us to make sense of the special role of 'the South' in modern American social policymaking . taken together. Thus socioeconomic factors and generalized references to racism will not alone tell us why Southern politicians had so much leverage during and after the New Deal that they could take a leading role in congressional alliances opposed to national welfare standards and any strong federal presence in economic planning. along with the operations of the New Deal party system. including those sections of organized industrial labor allied with . Southern leverage was registered through a congressionally centered legislative process in Washington that allowed key committee chairmen from electorally 'safe' districts to arbitrate precise legislative details and outcomes. From the New Deal onward the 'national' Democratic Party used congressional committees to broker the internal divisions between its Southern and urban-liberal Northern wings (Bensel I984. the US state structureas it had been formed by the I930S and 1940s. but at the price of allowing the enactment of only those social policies that did not bring the national state into direct confrontation with the South's nondemocratic politics and racially embedded systems of repressive labor control. Yet the South was militarily defeated in the Civil War.

Nevertheless. For all of the twentieth century until the I 96os. the United States was a regionally bifurcated federal polity: a mass two-party democracy in the East. who were irreversiblyenfranchised by the I 830s. because except briefly during Reconstruction and its immediate aftermath most blacks in the United States could not vote until after the migrations from the South after the 1930S and the Civil Rights upheavals of the I 96os. it is taking place in the context of the configurationof social policies inherited from the New Deal.and indeed of the entire disjoint configuration of social and economic policies with which the United States emerged from the political watersheds of the New Deal and World War II . Only since the I96os. The New Deal certainly brought social policy innovators to the fore through the newly active federal executive. It also energized urban-liberalforces and created new possibilities for political alliances through the electorally strengthened and partially realigned Democratic Party. It was the first for white males. in the end. and on new terms into the national electorate and the Democratic Party. 'social security' for the stably employed majority of citizens had become by the I 96os institutionally and symbolically bifurcated from 'welfare' for the barely deserving poor . to understand major developments in social policies since the New Deal. These are processes whose effects have been tumultuous .both the 'first' and the 'last' to democratize its electorate among the longstanding capitalist democracies. Finally. and West. America's federal state and regionally uneven democracy placed severe limits on the political alliances and policies that could prevail as the original foundations were laid for nationwide public social provision in the United States. Yet the incorporation of blacks into the national polity has not been happening in a social policy vacuum. Many features of the New Deal Social Security system . and on political alliances concerned with policy alternatives from the Great Society to the present. it is crucial to remember that the United States was paradoxically . and has two-party electoral competition made headway in the deep South. The Civil Rights revolution of the I96os began the process of mobilizing blacks into the Southern electorate. through major transformations that are far from completed. Within this configuration of policies.a 'State'? A Society without 367 urban Democrats in the North were simultaneously enhanced by the same US state structure and party patterns. North.both on agendas of debate over social policy. have American blacks been mobilized into US national democracy. coexisting within the same national state with a single-party racial oligarchy in the South. and it became the last for all citizens.can be understood by pinpointing the social interests and the political alliances that were able to gain or retain enhanced leverage through the longstanding federal and congressional institutions of the US state.

benefits that these groups have eagerly accepted and politically supported. and since the 1970S conservative forces hostile to enhanced public social provision have found renewed sources of strength within and beyond the Deocratic Party. as they were two centuries ago when the Constitution was framed. But it would be wrong to suggest that Americans have ever been a people 'without a state' either in fact or in fancy. Liberal Democrats tried to use welfare extensions and new 'anti-poverty' programs to incorporate blacks into their . increasingly isolated in national politics.otherwise undisturbed . And for socioeconomic and political reasons alike. During the social policy reforms of the I960s and early i970S. and slow to perceive the good things that a responsible national state can do for all citizens. And it has left 'welfare' programs more vulnerable than ever to attacks by those who question the US federal government's role in providing for support for vulnerable citizens. allowed the elaboration of many public benefits for the broad working and middle strata . They are quick to see the ills that government can inflict.368 Theda Skocpol (Skocpol I988). Americans remain ambivalent about concentrated political authority. As long as we are prepared to specify the peculiar sets of institutions that have added up to America's distinctive versions of the modern state in different historical periods. The nineteenth-century American 'state of courts and parties' presided over the widespread distribution of economic and social benefits. nevertheless. Yet this twentieth-century American state has. who could now vote in greater numbers. working-age blacks were disproportionately clients of the vulnerable 'welfare' components of US social provision. This has left impoverished people. even when it . we can identify the way in which political officials have shaped policies and the ways in which state structures have patterned the conflicts and alliances of major social groups. including the Civil War pensions that served as de facto disability and old-age pensions for many around the turn of the century. National politics underwent a sea change. But many social policy reforms of the I96os and I970S soon backfired to disturb rather than reinforce Democratic coalitions. welfare clients temporarily benefited from the widespread recognition that the New Deal system of social policies had not adequately addressed issues of poverty or responded to the needs of blacks. America's unevenly bureaucratized and democratized federal state discouraged class politics and placed severe limits on comprehensive provision for the poor and unemployed.national political coalition. In the twentieth century. including many blacks. abouttheRoleof theState A Continuing Ambivalence Down to the present.

Sectionalism i88o-ig8o. Amenta. Berkowitz.Journalof Economic History65. Sadly. Ferrie (I985). . Edwin and Theda Skocpol (r988).A Society without a 'State? 369 means paying visible federal taxes as in the case of social security's contributory retirement insurance. andAmerican PoliticalDevelopment. Edward and Kim McQuaid (I980). NJ: Princeton University Press. economic growth. Creating Bjorn. Redefining the New Deal: World War II and the development of social provision in the United States. Richard Franklin (I984). most Americans probably still agree.and strong doses of 'rugged individualism' for the minorities who cannot! I doubt that this was quite what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they wrote a Constitution meant to guard against the tyranny of majorities. and Joseph P. Madison.comfortable men of the propertied classes that they were . and loyalty in southern agriculture: a constraint on the growth of the welfare state. continuing American ambivalence about the role of the state in social provision focuses most acutely on public programs for the poor and for blacks. REF ERENC ES Alston. moreover. Instead. then. and redistribution in five capitalist democracies. But. Comparative-historical studies of modern welfare states teach us that vulnerable groups do best when bureaucrats and national political parties have worked together to build universal systems of public social provision. stretching from the upper middle classes to the poor. and Theda Skocpol (eds. American political arrangements have recurrently facilitated political efforts to provide generous social policies for those in the American majority who can help themselves . 95-117. Lars (1 979). WI: University of Wisconsin Press.would probably have been willing to sacrifice the gains that the less privileged could make from a European-style state.New York: Praeger. the Founders were men imbued with a sense of history.). US state structures have rarely allowed such coalitions to shape social policies. Lee J. the Welfare State. Bensel. In Margaret Weir. In the final analysis. from the nineteenth century to the present. SocialResearch Comparative 2. Labor costs. The Politics of Social Policy in the UnitedStates. Labor parties. paternalism. as well as the abuses of sovereigns. the Founding Fathers were so obsessed with frustrating the tyranny of concentrated sovereignty that they . Ann Shola Orloff. And that is why grievous problems of racism and poverty will likely remain festering dilemmas of American social provision for many years to come. This should not be surprising. given what we have learned about historical processes of American state formation and the effects of political institutions on the political leverage of different social groups. 93-128. Princeton. To the present day. and they must have understood that American politics would not always work out as they hoped and planned. As we have seen.

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