By John A. Moses
What is regarded as an adequate social policy in a given country is largely a question of the ideological commitment of those in power, central to which is their concept of the State and society. In Australia, even before Federation, the egalitarian tradition had given rise to the assumption 'that the State had a responsibility to concern itself in a positive way with the social and economic life of the country'. This did not mean that all Australians were persuaded that the State had an overriding obligation to guarantee the welfare of all citizens from the cradle to the grave. It was the labour movement which gave the higher priority to this concept. Non-Labour parties could not afford to neglect social policy, but as the record shows, they have been more inclined to promote such legislation when in their view the economy could sustain the added burden of expenditure. It would, therefore, be broadly valid to observe that whereas Labour was and is ideologically committed to the implementation of a far-reaching social policy, non-Labour parties treat social welfare legislation as a matter of political expediency.
The modern German experience provides an interesting confirmation of this generalisation. Otto von Bismark, the Prussian Junker who 'founded' the German Reich in 1871, a man of fiercely anti-socialist attitudes, is regarded as the father of German social welfare legislation, but his actions stemmed from political expediency and not from a belief that the State should protect its economically most vulnerable subjects. In fact the Reich Chancellor of the 1880s did not represent much of an advance on the thinking of the enlightened despot, Frederick the Great.
The durability of the Prussian concept of the State was ensured by Bismark through the Reich Constitution which he imposed on the German princes at unification. This is illustrated graphically when the assumptions of that constitution are contrasted with those which replaced it in 1919. And because the German quasi-revolution which gave birth to the Weimar Constitution had failed dislodge the old Wilhelmine power elite, the latter were able by 1933 successfully to repudiate the assumptions of Weimar and lay the foundations for the emergence of a system which the Nazis never tired of comparing with Friedrician Prussia. Certainly, 'human material' was regarded as expendable in the service of the all-demanding State whether it was under the Hohenzollern dynasty of Prussia or the masters of the Third Reich. By contrast, the frustrated architects of the Weimar Constitution had tried to implement a boldly new humanitarian concept of the State in Germany.
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