Social Benefits: A Conservative Idea?

In this Speech on the Law for Workmen’s Compensation, the Chancellor of the German Empire, Otto Von Bismarck, is grappling with questions about the role of the government or the “state” in both the private sector and the individual lives of its citizens; “does the state have the responsibility to care for its helpless fellow citizens, or does it not?” (422). He ultimately argues that yes, it is the state’s role, at least to some degree, and he goes on to give examples on what that impact might be on the private companies and citizens as well. Bismarck is appealing to those who might otherwise turn toward Socialism, arguing that socialist leaders grow more powerful when there are more dissatisfied workers. In fact, he points to France’s failures to legislative protections for its poor workers as the reason for their “social conditions” being “unsettled” (423) and he predicts that it is unavoidable for France to continue on the same path of “distance[ing] themselves so far from socialism that poor laws do not exist at all” (423). In the vast majority of my experience, the ideas being proposed by Bismarck, for a larger governmental role in the lives of citizens, are usually found on the left side of the political spectrum, have you had the same experience? How do you evaluate these ideas coming from a conservative figure opposed to a progressive one? What are the key distinctions to be made with the changes that Bismarck is proposing compared to others we have looked at in the past?

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