The Rights of the Poor: taking the long view

McClure, J. (2022) The Rights of the Poor: taking the long view. In: Jensen, S. B.L. and Walton, C. (eds.) Social Rights and the Politics of Obligation in History. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, pp. 29-46. ISBN 9781316519233 (doi: 10.1017/9781009008686.002)

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European society has long been wedded to narratives of progress, and many people believe that, despite increased economic inequality, the basic conditions of the majority have improved and rights have expanded. T. H. Marshall’s claim that political rights developed first and were later followed by socio-economic rights is ingrained in contemporary historiography. Yet, if we lengthen our historical perspective, we see that socio-economic rights predate not only the twentieth century but the entire modern period. From the Middle Ages, poverty was considered not only an economic but also a theological and legal condition. The rights of the poor were socio-economic in nature, encompassing necessities and legal representation. However, these rights were eroded in the sixteenth century, as new power structures and labour relations emerged and capitalism developed. By taking a long view, we see that the history of socio-economic rights is defined not by the inexorable march of progress but by moments of erosion, when the rights of the poor were suppressed, along with the history of poverty as a legal condition.

Item Type:Book Sections
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:McClure, Dr Julia
Authors: McClure, J.
College/School:College of Arts > School of Humanities > History
Publisher:Cambridge University Press
Published Online:11 January 2022
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