This dissertation argues for the democratic potentials of political struggles over social welfare policies and institutions, potentials neglected by currently dominant approaches in democratic theory. I contend that critics underestimate the welfare's state's democratic significance because they conceive of political economy strictly in terms of instrumental mastery and technical calculation. This conception forms the implicit backdrop for deliberative-democratic defenses of the welfare state, which present it as the victory of universal solidarities over market imperatives and socioeconomic risks, as well as for radical-democratic critics, who present the welfare state as the consummation of the regulatory effects of modern state power. In place of these dominant approaches, I advance an understanding of welfare institutions as worldly mediators between economic needs and public action. Engaging with the thought of Max Weber, Martin Heidegger, Hannah Arendt, and Jürgen Habermas, the dissertation both diagnoses the assumptions that lead contemporary democratic theory astray and develops an alternate view of welfare institutions. I then turn to the histories of exemplary struggles over the welfare state, showing that my approach better illuminates the possibilities for democratic engagement with welfare institutions that these movements practiced. The dissertation begins by examining the socio-theoretic underpinnings of Weber’s thought and the influence of his thought on subsequent democratic theories of the welfare state. In the second chapter, I turn to Weber’s historical and political context to recover the forms of democratic engagement with welfare institutions occluded by his thought. In particular, I reconstruct two competing visions of the social in nineteenth-century Germany: an integrative, liberal vision articulated by thinkers such as Lorenz von Stein, Gustav Schmoller, and Max Weber, and a working-class vision forged in the political struggles of the SPD. I next look to aspects of Heidegger and Arendt’s thought to develop my approach to welfare institutions as what I call worldly mediators. Finally, through examinations of Habermas’s theory of late capitalism and feminist political struggles focused on welfare institutions, the final portion of the dissertation examines how a view of welfare institutions as worldly mediators can expand our understandings of democratic political struggles seeking to overcome domination.




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