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  • Gitika Mahawar

Green’s Theory Of State Has Contributed To The Establishment Of The Welfare State.

Updated: Feb 3

By Gitika Mahawar


T.H. Green's concept of 'positive' freedom and property serves as the foundation and framework for the welfare state. His explanation of liberalism included a welfare state in the sense that he wished for the dominant political philosophy to shed some of its ancient biases against state action without abandoning its inherent trust in individualism. As a result, he legitimately reflects the philosophical tradition of the social state in the United Kingdom.

Green's positive freedom philosophy was not intended to legitimize state action in any way, but rather to allow the use and limitation of state power for social reform where the social conscience approved of such reform. Despite Green's unmistakably anti-collectivist stance, Melvin Richter (Richter, “Melvin Richter, The Politics of Conscience: T. H. Green and His Age - PhilPapers”) stated Green's generosity stands in stark contrast to Mill and Bentham's egoistic hedonism.

Green is consistent when discussing the common interest or the lack of a common interest. He associates freedom with an individual's ability to realize his dreams and overcome his worries. Green associates’ freedom with an individual's ability to realize his dreams and overcome his worries. (“Thomas Hill Green (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)”) He was a radical who believed that the state had a duty to intervene with individual freedom if societal necessities demanded it. He symbolizes the end of one line of liberal tradition and the changeover to a completely different line of reasoning.

Green maintains that the State is a close approximation of the concept of common good that can be fulfilled via the application of the Rule of Law. (Dagger) Because the state is the most powerful organ of society, it can be more effective in dispersing this 'gift.' Green, unlike Rousseau and Hegel, does not renounce individualism; similarly, unlike Bentham, his individualism does not lead him to underestimate society and downplay the function of the state. Green unmistakably goes toward a welfare state notion. This is the necessary vision of common good maintained by legislation for the common man.

Green is specific in his contrast between society and state, stating that the state is one of the social institutions with the critical distinction of being more successful as a legal instrument for the preservation of rights than others. (“T.H. GREEN : THE FORERUNNER OF THE WELFARE STATE on JSTOR”) His definition of the good life corresponds to the concept of citizen welfare, not in the sense of the greatest benefit for the largest number, as Benthamites perceive it, but in its co-extension with state action. Green offers the philosophical framework for what J.S. Mill implied; in fact, there is no conflict between Millism and Green's view of society. Green's beliefs on the welfare state are typical of the welfare state tradition.

Green was influenced by John Ruskin's unto This Last, which had 3 lessons:

  1. That the welfare of the individual is an integral component of the good of all;

  2. That because both make their living from their job, the lawyer's work is equal to the barber's work; and

  3. That a life of labour, such as that of a tiller of the soil or a bandi craftsmen, is a life worth living.

Green advocated for curbs on the selling of labour, which he claims the economists tell us is a commodity exchangeable like other commodities. And believed that society is "bleakly within its right to limit freedom of sale - so far as our laws, for the hygienic rules, contract for the of factories, workshops, and mines" limit freedom of sale. He also claims that the regulations were meant to help "overworked mothers, ill-housed and uneducated families." (“Mill and Green on the Modern Welfare State on JSTOR”) One can only hope that Green's premise is flexible enough to allow him to expand the scope of state law beyond the security that the state provides for the well-being of his family. Green's introduction of positive state action rendered the concept of the welfare state obsolete. It is up to society to decide what is a common good - or, for that matter, numerous common goods through a fitting arrangement based on the moral beliefs and traditions of a specific society at a particular moment.

According to Green, the common good is ideal, and achieving it is a close approximation of satisfying common hopes and alleviating common concerns. (“T.H. GREEN : THE FORERUNNER OF THE WELFARE STATE on JSTOR”) His approach to private property is governed by the same criterion as in previous examples. Green, labels it 'stealing' when private property conflicts with the promotion of the general good of the people. According to him, any right is meaningless unless it is accompanied by an obligation (A GREEN HISTORY OF THE WELFARE STATE). As a result, the right to property has no other basis than the common benefit.

Green recognized that regulation was essential in any state, and that state regulation adds to the social well-being of the nation as a whole. Green's liberalism was associated with the emerging concept of the welfare state in that he didn’t justify state action regardless of the consequences. In fact, he owes the abuses of the property system to the state's failure to perform those responsibilities that, under a system of unlimited private ownership, are required to sustain the conditions of a free life. One cannot help but notice Green's statement that property should be avoided, if at all possible, when the holder of one man's property conflicts with the possessor of another man's property. His liberalism had a pivotal relationship with the political structure that predates individualism and socialism. Thus, we can see how Green’s Theory of State contributed to the establishment of the Welfare State.


Gitika is a II year student at Symbiosis Law School, Pune (SLSP), Symbiosis International (deemed) University, Pune.