The Sympathetic State: Disaster Relief and the Origins of the American Welfare State

Paperback | November 30, 2012

byMichele Landis Dauber

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Even as unemployment rates soared during the Great Depression, FDR’s relief and social security programs faced attacks in Congress and the courts on the legitimacy of federal aid to the growing population of poor. In response, New Dealers pointed to a long tradition—dating back to 1790 and now largely forgotten—of federal aid to victims of disaster. In The Sympathetic State, Michele Landis Dauber recovers this crucial aspect of American history, tracing the roots of the modern American welfare state beyond the New Deal and the Progressive Era back to the earliest days of the republic when relief was forthcoming for the victims of wars, fires, floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes.
 
Drawing on a variety of materials, including newspapers, legal briefs, political speeches, the art and literature of the time, and letters from thousands of ordinary Americans, Dauber shows that while this long history of government disaster relief has faded from our memory today, it was extremely well known to advocates for an expanded role for the national government in the 1930s, including the Social Security Act. Making this connection required framing the Great Depression as a disaster afflicting citizens though no fault of their own. Dauber argues that the disaster paradigm, though successful in defending the New Deal, would ultimately come back to haunt advocates for social welfare. By not making a more radical case for relief, proponents of the New Deal helped create the weak, uniquely American welfare state we have today—one torn between the desire to come to the aid of those suffering and the deeply rooted suspicion that those in need are responsible for their own deprivation.
 
Contrary to conventional thought, the history of federal disaster relief is one of remarkable consistency, despite significant political and ideological change. Dauber’s pathbreaking and highly readable book uncovers the historical origins of the modern American welfare state.

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Even as unemployment rates soared during the Great Depression, FDR’s relief and social security programs faced attacks in Congress and the courts on the legitimacy of federal aid to the growing population of poor. In response, New Dealers pointed to a long tradition—dating back to 1790 and now largely forgotten—of federal aid to victim...

Michele Landis Dauber is professor of law and (by courtesy) sociology and the Bernard D. Bergreen Faculty Scholar at Stanford University.
Format:PaperbackDimensions:378 pages, 9 × 6 × 1 inPublished:November 30, 2012Publisher:University Of Chicago PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0226923495

ISBN - 13:9780226923499

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Extra Content

Table of Contents

List of Figures and Tables
Acknowledgments
Dedication: A Human Contrivance

INTRODUCTION / Disaster Relief and the Welfare State

ONE / Building the Sympathetic State
TWO / Innovations
THREE / The Spreading Delta
FOUR / Crafting the Depression
FIVE / The Bomb-Proof Power
SIX / The Well-Beaten Path
SEVEN / We Lost Our All

POSTSCRIPT / Living in a Sympathetic State

Appendix
Notes
Bibliography
Index

Editorial Reviews

“In her fascinating analysis, Dauber . . . trace[s] the way disasters are defined initially as deriving from natural causes outside the control of human beings, such as fires, floods, hurricanes, and so on, and then she brilliantly documents how welfare advocates succeeded in expanding that definition to include economic emergencies for which there appears to be no ‘natural’ cause. . . . There is much to admire about The Sympathetic State. . . .  It is a new and valuable way to think about welfare policies and the American state, and it is written in a clear, concise, and readable style. It will enhance the perspectives for everyone seeking to explain American political development, constitutional law, the New Deal, and welfare provision as a continuing though not last step in this endeavor.”