Looking back at history, we have a tendency to impute values to welfare state arrangements that were not necessarily part of the motivation of political actors when they designed and implemented social policy. For instance, for many people the first and foremost association with the welfare state concerns values such as equality, solidarity, and social justice. And surely, socialists used to underpin their reform proposals with references to these values. For others, however, the welfare state is primarily about collective solutions to social needs and misery, and about social order. And indeed, many of the liberal, conservative, and Christian social reformers saw themselves as pragmatic politicians experimenting with social laws that would substitute for charity and other traditional forms of social security. Still others tend to stress the social control and discipline that are exerted through social legislation. And yes, the rich did see poverty and deficient urban sanitation as threats to their own safety and health, and they did fear the revolting masses and hoped to quiet them down with social policy. Such considerations can be seen as social actors’ motivations or as important effects and forms of modern social policy in the welfare state.
With the benefit of hindsight and with better theoretical understanding of developments in various nations, we may be able to capture what we propose to call the rationales or logics of the welfare state: a conscious reconstruction by us as researchers of what we consider to be the main motivations, driving forces, considerations, values, and causal mechanisms behind welfare state development. With the idea of a rationale or logic, we do not claim any historical specificity or possibility of social scientific generalization. Rather, we introduce a heuristic device that can help us reveal and stylize analytically the complex political interconnections between the motivations of social and political actors (ideas, interests, power, etc.), driving forces (demographics, democratization, globalization, etc.), public policy considerations (security, health, efficiency, affluence, etc.), values (equality, solidarity, freedom, autonomy, etc.), and causal mechanisms (power mobilization, elections, policy learning, etc.). With these logics, we can sketch the broader context of the political opportunities and constraints of welfare state reform and answer the first big question: why did we need a welfare state in the first place and how did we get it?