What is charity? Some thoughts on the political economy of charity and Mohan and Breeze’s The Logic of Charity (2016)

The origins of charity — and the welfare state

Mohan and Breeze start their analysis with a brief historical account of charity in a welfare state. Indeed, the existence of a functioning charity sector can only be understood in relation to the state, as well as the market. We learn that in 1948 98% of British citizens felt there was no ongoing role for philanthropy because the newly-won welfare state had made charity superfluous. As Mohan and Breeze correctly point out, the welfare state ‘is often depicted as the nationalization of charity, at least in relation to health, education and basic welfare’ (p. 5). The extreme of this view is to see the welfare state almost as ‘the great act of British generosity’. Mohan and Breeze report that 60 years later there is still no clear shared understanding of what charity means: kindness and generosity, or something for nothing; there is also no consensus whether it helps maintain solidarity in a complex and individualised society or whether it is a throwback to previous centuries when people depended for their survival on the whims of others.

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George Hoare

George Hoare

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New book: 'The End of the End of History' (Zero, 2021). Other books include 'An Introduction to Antonio Gramsci ' (Bloomsbury).