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An End to Poverty?: A Historical Debate by…

An End to Poverty?: A Historical Debate

by Gareth Stedman Jones

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The Roots of Social Democracy

Long before Marx, debates about improving the human condition and elimination of poverty were carried out through enlightened thinkers such as Thomas Paine and Antoine-Nicolas de Condorcet. In "An End to Poverty?", Cambridge Policital Scientist, Gareth Stedman Jones contextualizes the most important 18th and 19th century philosophical works into a concise debate over the social inequalities of the post-revolutionary period.

Essentially Jones is arguing that the major debates and resulting proposals by Condorcet and Paine "derived from a unique juncture between the rationalist optimism of the Enlightenment, the impact of democratic revolutions and an exhilarating sense of the possibility of marrying Smith's conception of the potential of commercial society with a modern republican form" (p.235). The idea of marrying social security with citizenship had emerged from this school of thought. By the twentieth-century, however, the extremes of laissez-faire individualism and Marxist socialism took hold mostly due to the influences of Adam Smith and Thomas Malthus.

"An End to Poverty?" is meticulously researched, based entirely on the primary sources of such philosophers as Thomas Paine, Antoine-Nicolas de Condorcet, Thomas Malthus, Adam Smith, Jean-Baptiste Say, J.S. Mill, Edmund Burke, Karl Marx, and others. I'm not a philosophy major, however, Jones' conclusions based on the writings of Paine and Condorcet that education and emancipation of labour are cornerstones to the elimination of poverty are fundamentally rational.

In reading "An End to Poverty?", one cannot stop from thinking about the growing inequality crisis we face today and the endless debates over what to do. We have solutions, the ideas are as old as the American Revolution of 1776. We have concrete strategies in place today such as the Millennium Development Goals to eliminate poverty by 2015. In my opinion, the problem is largely structural, that a "culture of poverty" exists whereby poverty is institutionalized. It is the paradox that the cycle must be broken by the powerful few who have no incentive to alter it.

Anyone who has pondered the "Social Question" should read this book to better understand what the philosophical foundations of the major contemporary solutions are based on. ( )
  bruchu | Aug 21, 2008 |
Reviewed by Martin McIvor for Catalyst here:


Reviewed by Stein Ringen for the TLS here:


Reviewed by Frank Trentmann for History and Policy here:


With a reply by GSJ here:

  chrisbrooke | Dec 22, 2005 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0231137826, Hardcover)

In the 1790s, for the first time, reformers proposed bringing poverty to an end. Inspired by scientific progress, the promise of an international economy, and the revolutions in France and the United States, political thinkers such as Thomas Paine and Antoine-Nicolas Condorcet argued that all citizens could be protected against the hazards of economic insecurity. In An End to Poverty? Gareth Stedman Jones revisits this founding moment in the history of social democracy and examines how it was derailed by conservative as well as leftist thinkers. By tracing the historical evolution of debates concerning poverty, Stedman Jones revives an important, but forgotten strain of progressive thought. He also demonstrates that current discussions about economic issues -- downsizing, globalization, and financial regulation -- were shaped by the ideological conflicts of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Paine and Condorcet believed that republicanism combined with universal pensions, grants to support education, and other social programs could alleviate poverty. In tracing the inspiration for their beliefs, Stedman Jones locates an unlikely source-Adam Smith. Paine and Condorcet believed that Smith's vision of a dynamic commercial society laid the groundwork for creating economic security and a more equal society.

But these early visions of social democracy were deemed too threatening to a Europe still reeling from the traumatic aftermath of the French Revolution and increasingly anxious about a changing global economy. Paine and Condorcet were demonized by Christian and conservative thinkers such as Burke and Malthus, who used Smith's ideas to support a harsher vision of society based on individualism and laissez-faire economics. Meanwhile, as the nineteenth century wore on, thinkers on the left developed more firmly anticapitalist views and criticized Paine and Condorcet for being too "bourgeois" in their thinking. Stedman Jones however, argues that contemporary social democracy should take up the mantle of these earlier thinkers, and he suggests that the elimination of poverty need not be a utopian dream but may once again be profitably made the subject of practical, political, and social-policy debates.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:43 -0400)

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Columbia University Press

2 editions of this book were published by Columbia University Press.

Editions: 0231137826, 0231131720

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