Modern State 3.0 (the welfare state)

Note: This semester in my Western Civ classes, I tried to emphasize more about the development of the modern, centralized state. I tried to explain it in three stages, 1.0 (the confessional state), 2.0 (the nation-state), and 3.0 (the welfare state). I’m posting my slightly edited explanations here to get feedback on how accurate and helpful this history is.


Several trends encouraged increased government regulation of countries’ economies:

  1. As we have seen, industrialization and urbanization transformed European society. Cities grew, a new working class was formed, and new political movements like labor unions and socialist parties grew. Socialists were some of the most important critics of the new industrial economy, viewing it as exploitative of the workers.
  2. Progressive liberals, unlike classical liberals, called for greater government involvement in economic matters in order to promote what they viewed as fairness and equality and prevent the abuse of the vulnerable. Hence, they argued for a modified, more regulated version of capitalism. A good example of this was the social insurance program in Great Britain, passed shortly before World War I, patterned on a similar program pioneered by the more conservative German chancellor Otto von Bismarck.
  3. World War I also increased government involvement in economic affairs. As governments mobilized whole societies to fight the war, they geared economies to produce the necessary supplies.
  4. Finally, the Great Depression created an economic crisis as unemployment hit high levels.


What is a welfare state?

If Modern State 1.0 (the confessional state) promised security and Modern State 2.0 (the nation-state) promised identity and citizenship, Modern State 3.0 (the welfare state) promised a certain standard of living to its people.

To achieve this standard of living, welfare states adopt an “interventionist-redistributive” approach. The phrase is a mouthful, but I’m glad that I encountered it in Tarik Yousef’s article on Middle East economies. Interventionism means that the government intervenes in the economy to try to improve it, hoping that increased spending or regulations will produce better economic results. Redistribution means that wealth is redistributed through spending tax money on programs to assist people who are worse-off economically. Sometimes wealth is redistributed on a large scale, as in socialist or communist countries, and other times it is done on a smaller scale, as in democratic welfare states.

We have already seen welfare state programs in Britain and Germany, but now they would become much more widespread and a standard part of the European, American, and eventually global political landscape. Here are some examples:

  • “Pump-priming”: the spending of government money to improve the economy, used in both Nazi Germany and in constitutional governments like the United States and Britain
  • Social security programs that provided unemployment insurance, assistance to the elderly, and/or health insurance
  • Increased workers’ rights pushed by the Popular Front government in France (Hunt et al. 855)
  • Government-provided healthcare services to pregnant women and a “family allowance” subsidy in Sweden, meant to increase the birthrate (Hunt et al. 854)


Types of welfare states

Just as confessional states could be absolutist or constitutionalist and nation-states could be monarchies or republics, welfare states could be administered under different types of governments.

  • Constitutional democracies had their welfare states put in place by elected officials and administered by bureaucracies. Examples include the United States, Great Britain, France, and Sweden.
  • Ultranationalist dictatorships like Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy also offered welfare state benefits to their populations in order to strengthen their nations. At the same time, there was more of an emphasis that the workers and business owners should be on the same page, with both being subservient to the government’s agenda for the country. Also, German policies under the Nazis were clearly targeted at (as they saw it) true ethnic Germans, and the government was openly hostile and eventually murderous to those they saw as enemies of the German people, most obviously Jews and those who dared to criticize the regime.
  • The Soviet Union, the lone communist country in the world until after World War II, undertook the most comprehensive effort to construct a welfare state, seizing total control of the Soviet economy. The Soviet Union’s efforts under Lenin and Stalin massively disrupted and transformed the old Russian economy, and the authorities were also intensely and often lethally hostile to those that were deemed enemies of the people. See this article for an explanation.



Hunt et al. The Making of the West

Kagan, Ozment, and Turner, The Western Heritage

John Gray, “Communism, Fascism, and liberals now,” Times Literary Supplement, January 2, 2013,

Tarik M. Yousef, “Development, Growth and Policy Reform in the Middle East and North Africa since 1950,” Journal of Economic Perspectives, Summer 2004, pages 91-116.

Philip II’s world

The World Is Not Enough: The Imperial Vision of Philip II of SpainThe World Is Not Enough: The Imperial Vision of Philip II of Spain by Geoffrey Parker

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a good overview of how Philip II thought about his reign. He was devout and also saw himself as a key instrument in God’s design for the advancement of the Catholic faith, identifying his own plans closely with God’s. Parker contends that his empire was so massive that it could not be adequately defended, and that Philip’s absolute belief that his cause and God’s were the same harmed his ability to make realistic plans.

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Modern State 2.0 (the nation-state)

Note: This semester in my Western Civ classes, I tried to emphasize more about the development of the modern, centralized state. I tried to explain it in three stages, 1.0 (the confessional state), 2.0 (the nation-state), and 3.0 (the welfare state). I’m posting my slightly edited explanations here to get feedback on how accurate and helpful this history is.

Roots of the Nation-State

Recall that in Unit I, we looked at the development of the modern state, a political entity that claimed to control all its territory through a central authority, had the nobles and the church firmly under its control, and did not tolerate the existence of private armies in its territory because the central government controlled the country’s military. In the Modern State 1.0 (confessional state) model, countries generally had an official church: France was Catholic, England was Anglican, Russia was Orthodox, and so on.

I hope it’s been clear that the French Revolution opened a new era in European history. The creators of both the constitutional monarchy and the republic shared the idea that some Enlightenment thinkers (including the American revolutionaries) had proclaimed: governments drew their authority from the citizens. The wars that stemmed from the French Revolution and Napoleon’s conquest entrenched the identity of the “nation,” its citizens, and the government (state) as average people were called on to defend their nations from invaders or conquer in their name. Two great examples were the French levée en masse to defend the French Republic in the 1790s against Austria and Prussia and the German “war of liberation” against Napoleon in 1813. Thus, the French Revolution encouraged nationalism (the belief that every ethnic group should have its own state) as the new basis of  political authority, as did the Revolutions of 1848, when average people got involved in nationalist organizations. (Thanks to a student for quoting a passage in The Making of the West about German nationalism that made me aware of this trend resulting from the 1848 revolutions).

Thus, in pre-modern monarchies and confessional states (Modern State 1.0) people were often considered subjects. In the nation-state, people are considered citizens, participants in the life of the nation-state. As time went on, more states would adopt this, and the basis of many European national militaries would be citizens drafted and trained to form the reserves necessary to put huge armies on battlefields.
What Is a Nation-State?

As long as we understand how the words “nation” and “state” are used, they tell us what we need to know:

  • Remember from the explanation of nationalism that a “nation” refers not necessarily to a country but to an ethnic group or a people with a common language and culture. Therefore, as Chapter 22 begins, the German and Italian “nations” were divided among several small and medium-sized states, and the Hungarian, Czech, and Slovak “nations” were all ruled by Austria (and according to German nationalists, Austrians were Germans).
  • Just to make things more complicated, not everyone agrees on who is a member of a “nation.” Were the people of Alsace and Lorraine French or German? Were the Czechs, Serbs, Poles, and Russians part of separate “nations,” or were they all part of the greater Slavic “nation”? Different nationalists answered these questions different ways. For an explanation of how this problem persists in Italy today, see here. (Unfortunately, the article does get the timing wrong on Metternich’s famous quote about Italy being just “a geographic expression.” It was made in 1847, before Italy was a country.)
  • A state is an entity responsible for exercising political power. There are many different types of states, including empires, city-states, and nation-states.

Therefore, a nation-state combines a nation and a state. A nationalist believes that his or her particular nation must have a united, independent state, and often saw the state as the natural expression of this people’s status as a nation.
What were the characteristics of a successful nation-state in the 1800s?

Joseph LaPalombara identifies five problems that a nation must solve, and I am going to adapt them to developments in the 1800s. I have tried to state general trends here, and since people and the countries that they live in are complex, there are probably exceptions to every trend that I have referred to here.


  • What it means (if it works): Citizens of a nation-state see themselves as members of the larger national community, governed by a single state. This means that their local and regional (and often even religious) identities must either be the same as their national identity or they must be less important. For example, the dominant form of Polish nationalism was identified with Catholicism, which meant that a true Pole was a Catholic. The dominant form of French national identity, on the other hand, tended to be secular, meaning that religion should be private and not brought into public. In some ways, you can argue that the standard religious confession of Modern State 1.0 is replaced by nationalist identity in Modern State 2.0 (this is my synthesis of others’ arguments).
  • How states tried to accomplish it in the 1800s: public education to produce patriotic citizens and spread a certain version of national culture, Russification of non-Russian ethnic minorities living in Russia, grand projects in capital cities to produce national pride
  • Problems that states encountered: anarchists who believed in self-governing communities and rejected national governments, socialists who believed that workers identities should be based on their class, nationalists who believed that their state did not reflect their nationality and wished to have independence (like Polish nationalists in territory ruled by Russia, Prussia, or Austria)


  • What it means (if it works): Citizens of a nation-state see the government itself and its actions as having proper, legitimate authority. In the 1800s, political power would increasingly be seen as coming from the citizens, not from royal blood and by the grace of God apart from the people. This could be justified in a secular way (without reference to God) or with some reference to God (that power coming from the people was God’s will, as often seen in American political culture).
  • How states tried to accomplish it in the 1800s: writing constitutions that allowed for representation and citizens’ rights, expanding the number of people that can vote, public education
  • Problems that states encountered: Russian liberals and radicals that rejected the tsarist claims to absolute monarchy, nationalists who believed that their state did not reflect their nationality and wished to have independence, anarchists and socialists


  • What it means (if it works): The central government of a nation-state enforces its will throughout its whole domain. You may recall that penetration was a major goal of Modern State 1.0, as these states attempted to establish their unquestioned power over nobles, localities, the church, and other groups within their states. Nation-states had even greater tools at their disposal to accomplish this goal.
  • How states tried to accomplish it in the 1800s: bureaucracies to enforce laws that regulated working and living conditions in the industrial cities, public education that sometimes displaced the role of religious groups in providing education
  • Problems that states encountered: ethnic minorities and anarchists that rejected the authority of the central government, churches that resisted governments that wished to take away their traditional roles


  • What it means (if it works): Citizens see themselves as having appropriate input in the making of policy at the national and local levels. LaPalombara names “national legislatures,” bureaucracies open to citizen input, “the birth, growth, and regulation of political parties,” and local and regional governments as institutions that can allow for citizen participation in policymaking.
  • How states tried to accomplish it in the 1800s: writing constitutions that allowed for representation and citizens’ rights, expanding the number of people that could vote
  • Problems that states encountered: Russian liberals and radicals demanded the end of Russian absolutism, ethnic minorities and anarchists that rejected the authority of the central government


  • What it means (if it works): Citizens see the rules that govern the economy specifically and the distribution of valued things in general as fair.
  • How states tried to accomplish it in the 1800s: While classical liberals favored less government regulation of the economy as the surest path to prosperity and progress, governments in the 1800s tended to regulate working and living conditions in the cities in at least some of the ways that workers’ organizations and progressive liberals advocated. Governments also tended to promote industrial development and imperialism to create strong economies and powerful militaries. Part of the goal of public elementary education was to produce educated citizens who could contribute to the economic development of a nation.
  • Problems that states encountered: socialist and anarchist criticisms of unfair economic systems, debates over the proper economic policies

Notice that public education was one of the strategies that states used to address many of these areas. Public education was one of the most important means of spreading nationalism, which often started among elites and was then spread to the population at large by public education. An Italian political, Massimo d’Azeglio, stated the problem acutely: “We have made Italy. Now we have to make Italians.” One answer to this problem was to educate the citizenry through public education (Hunt et al. 714-715; Telegraph, Economist, and Britannica articles below).

Some nations were more successful at the building of strong nation-states than others. Germany, France, and Britain built world powers, while Austria, Russia, and Italy had much more difficulty in these five areas.



Hunt et al.., The Making of the West

Kagan, Ozment, and Turner, The Western Heritage

I have not read Joseph LaPalombara’s book Politics within Nations, but instead excerpts from it in online materials for a course at American Public University called Government and Security in the Middle East, which I took in the summer of 2011. I could not recall or find the name of the instructor. (Links to an external site.) (Links to an external site.) (Links to an external site.)


Modern State 1.0 (the confessional state)

Note: This semester in my Western Civ classes, I tried to emphasize more about the development of the modern, centralized state. I tried to explain it in three stages, 1.0 (the confessional state), 2.0 (the nation-state), and 3.0 (the welfare state). I’m posting my slightly edited explanations here to get feedback on how accurate and helpful this history is.

You might wonder why there’s a software reference in the title of this term, especially from a history professor who knows next to nothing about software. Here’s why: we will be studying different stages of the “modern state” this semester, and this is the first.

Another quick note is that “confessional” in this context refers not confessing one’s sins to God or someone else, but to confessing a certain religious belief. After the breakup of the Western Christian church in the 1500s, leaders of various Christian groups wrote documents, often called “confessions,” that explained what their group believed and what they they did not. The Augsburg Confession (Lutheran) and the Heidelberg Catechism (Reformed or Calvinist) are two of many examples.

The pre-modern state: Of course, political life existed before the modern state. Medieval kingdoms were often patchworks of regions with local laws, privileges, identities, and traditions. Nobles often could govern their local regions and even maintain armies and fight wars. As I explained when discussing the three estates, rights came from one’s membership in a group. Two examples from France given by Michael Burger illustrate this. The city of Béarn in France was exempt from the salt tax, and nobles and clergy in France were exempt from the taille, which was an income or property tax (depending on the region) and the most important tax levied by the king.

Characteristics of Modern State 1.0: We have already noted that one of the reasons for the Crisis of the 17th Century was that kings did not accept this state of affairs, and wanted to impose their authority throughout their entire kingdoms. For example, Louis XIV told the city of Béarn that it had to pay the tax, and sent troops to force them to comply. As Michael Burger writes, this illustrates how taxes funded the more expensive royal armies of the time, and the royal armies also allowed kings to force their subjects to pay the taxes.

Here are the main characteristics:

1. Centralized power: the modern state is a clearly defined territory with a central government that aspires to exercise supreme political power throughout that territory. The nobles and church were clearly subordinated to central government, even if they had their own rights.

The most important powers for these states were the power to collect taxes, enforce laws, and have control of the military and war. This last was critical: few if any monarchs would want to allow nobles to maintain armies and fight each other.

2. A confessional state: as noted before, all European countries had an official church. According to William Cavanaugh, in the 1500s and 1600s, political and religious authorities often cooperated to standardize the religious beliefs and practices of the people of their kingdom, hoping that people would become better Christians and better subjects. This meant sending church and state officials to check in on local churches. This also meant trying to replace at least some local traditions with practices approved by the central authorities.

3. New justifications for the power of governments: the institutional breakup of the Christian church and the political-religious debates and wars that followed, some political thinkers offered new explanations for why governments could hold power.

One idea was divine right absolutism, which meant that the king ruled and was accountable only to God. Louis XIV of France was the most famous ruler to claim this power, but many absolutist rulers did so. This week, you will read an excerpt from Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet’s Political Treatise that defined and defended divine right monarchy.

Another was secular natural law theory, which said that there were certain laws of nature that governed politics. Because of the divisions in the church, writers in this school of thought tried to use nature rather than the Bible or church teachings as their foundation so that they could have a basis on which everyone could agree. For example, Hugo Grotius even argued that people had certain “natural rights” that governments had to respect. These natural laws and rights were said not to be based on any religious authority at all, but only on nature. Natural law theory did not tend to be adopted by rulers, who usually preferred religious justifications for their power in this time.

Some governments did not seem to use either of these. As far as I understand it, constitutional monarchies like England and Poland were based on traditional notions of rights that certain groups had that the king could not violate, along with new agreements like those spelled out in the English Bill of Rights. I’m not aware of the justification for the Dutch Republic’s form of government.

Absolute monarchy and constitutionalism: In Chapter 16, you will read about both absolute monarchies and constitutional forms of government. Modern, confessional states could be either absolutist or constitutional.

Absolute monarchs claimed to have all political power in their kingdoms. As Kagan, Ozment, and Turner point out, they could do all of the things that the centralized governments of the time could do: make war, collect taxes, control the economy and church, and pass laws. The famous (supposed) statement by Louis XIV is a nice summary: “I am the state.” It’s important to remember, though, that absolute monarchs did not have the kind of power that modern dictators like Hitler or Stalin had over their people. The technology did not exist to give them that kind of power.

Constitutionalism meant that power was somehow divided. In a constitutional monarchy like England or Poland, kings shared power with Parliament (in England) and the Sejm (in Poland). In the Dutch Republic, the Estates General elected the stadholder as an executive power. Constitutionalism came only after a struggle between Parliament and kings who wanted to be absolutists.


Burger, The Shaping of Western Civilization

Hunt et al.., The Making of the West

Kagan, Ozment, and Turner, The Western Heritage

Huppert, After the Black Death

Strayer, The Medieval Origins of the Modern State

Cavanaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence

Wiesner-Hanks, Wheeler, and Ruff, Discovering the Western Past

The emergence of the modern state

Note: This semester in my Western Civ classes, I tried to emphasize more about the development of the modern, centralized state. I tried to explain it in three stages, 1.0 (the confessional state), 2.0 (the nation-state), and 3.0 (the welfare state). I’m posting my slightly edited explanations here to get feedback on how accurate and helpful this history is. This post shows how I tried to set up the background.

As we begin the course, we find Western Europe in a tumultuous state. Europe in the 1500s was going through a critical period of transformation for three reasons:

  1. Rulers continued to attempt to increase their power over their territories. Their efforts were most successful in England, France, Spain before 1650, and Austria after 1648. There will be more explanation of this trend as we go.
  2. European exploration of Africa, Asia, and especially the Americas meant that European countries began to build global empires that allowed for worldwide trade. Spain and Portugal were most successful at first, and England and France eventually built great empires as well. This allowed for the rise of the Atlantic economy described in Chapter 17.
  3. The Protestant Reformation led to the fracturing of the Western European Christian church into the Roman Catholic Church led by the pope and bishops and different groups of Protestants like the Lutherans, Reformed (Calvinist), Anabaptists, and the Church of England (Anglican). Two important consequences of this period stand out for our purposes:
    • The division of the church led to the “denominations” of Christianity that we now take for granted.
    • It also made an important political development possible. Rulers had long sought power over the church in their territories, sometimes quite successfully. The division and weakening of the Catholic Church meant that rulers, whether Catholic or Protestant, had an even greater opening to become the senior partner in the relationship between church and state in their kingdoms. Both Catholic and Protestant rulers tended to exercise great control over the church in their kingdoms.

Thus, the increasing power of rulers, European exploration, and the breakup of the Christian church were all part of important changes in Western Europe. These new developments helped to bring important changes to the political, economic, and religious landscape of the European continent.

All of these things contributed to what historians sometimes call the Crisis of the 17th Century. Here’s how:

Centralization of power:

Kings and emperors in various countries had been attempting to establish centralized control over their kingdoms for a long time. While we might think that kings automatically had all the power that they wanted, that’s not actually the case. Local nobles often wanted to control their their own lands as much as possible, and preferred that their kings be distant figure that they could respect from a long way away. They wished to provide justice, collect dues from their peasants, and even wage war against each other if they wanted to.

During the High and Late Middle Ages (roughly 1000-1500), the English, French, and Spanish kings began to expand their power over their kingdoms. They claimed the rights to collect taxes and to provide justice to their subjects. They also maintained royal armies and cracked down on nobles who challenged their authority.

The rulers who notably failed to do this were the emperors of the Holy Roman Empire (a huge entity in central Europe made up of what we now call Germany and some other countries). In the Holy Roman Empire, local rulers were able to maintain their own rights and attempt to build their own lands into smaller centralized kingdoms.

Having more power sounds good in theory, but there were problems.

  1. It turns out that centralization was expensive. Hiring soldiers (often mercenaries) for the royal army and officials to help the kings judge cases and collect taxes takes a lot of money. This meant that there was a constant effort to collect taxes, which meant that subjects sometimes revolted against their kings. At a smaller scale, peasants sometimes revolted against nobles who were taxing them more heavily.
  2. Also, the nobles often resisted the king’s plans. One incentive for German nobles in the Holy Roman Empire to become Lutherans and French nobles to become Huguenots (Calvinist Protestants) was that the Catholic Holy Roman Emperors and the Catholic kings of France desired to expand their power. (This wasn’t the only reason to convert, of course.)



European exploration:

You probably know that the voyages of Christopher Columbus (beginning in 1492) allowed Europeans to begin establishing colonies in the Americas. It seems that a larger population in Europe and huge amounts of silver and gold that were plundered and mined under Spanish authority seemed to cause a rise in prices (inflation). This made it harder for average people to afford food and other items, and made it harder for kings and emperors to pay for soldiers and officials discussed above. This is discussed in Chapter 15 of The Making of the West.



The breakup of the Christian church:

Nobles in Germany and France were not the only ones to convert to forms of Protestantism. Some kings, like Henry VIII of England and the kings of Sweden and Denmark, became Protestants. While most Western Europeans were still Catholic, many Dutch, English, northern German people (along with others) became Protestants.

These religious changes within the kingdoms of France, England, the Holy Roman Empire, along with the quest for rulers to gain more political power, set off wars between various factions within these countries. The French Wars of Religion and the Thirty Years’ War in the Holy Roman Empire are discussed in Chapter 15, and the English Civil War is covered in Chapter 16.

Religious differences between different kingdoms also played into the wars between England and Spain, the Eighty Years’ War between Spain and its Dutch subjects, and the entry of the kings of Denmark and Sweden into the Thirty Years’ War to protect Protestants.

At the same time, there were other factors besides religion at work in these wars. For example, Catholic France sometimes allied with Protestants in order to hurt the Habsburg dynasty that ruled both Spain and the Holy Roman Empire.

Historian Joshua Cole summarizes different views of the crisis here:

So the Crisis of the 17th Century involved wars between countries, civil wars within kingdoms, food shortages, high prices and taxes, and the religious concerns of people great and small. What would emerge from this crisis? This we will see as we continue with the class.



James Gelvin, The Modern Middle East: A History

Joshua Cole (above video for Norton History)

Hunt et al.., The Making of the West

Kagan, Ozment, and Turner, The Western Heritage

Huppert, After the Black Death

Strayer, The Medieval Origins of the Modern State

Cavanaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence

Wiesner-Hanks, Wheeler, and Ruff, Discovering the Western Past

Sunshine, Why You Think the Way You Do

A chronicle of favela life

Child of the Dark: The Diary of Carolina Maria de JesusChild of the Dark: The Diary of Carolina Maria de Jesus by Carolina Maria de Jesus

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Carolina Maria de Jesus lived for many years in a favela (shantytown) called Canindé outside of Sao Paulo, Brazil. On paper that she gathered from the trash (mostly to sell), she wrote a diary describing her life. Needless to say, this isn’t the kind of source that we get very often. Her descriptions of living a life of dire poverty and raising three children as a single mother are really compelling. When the diary was published, it made her famous for a time, though she unfortunately died in poverty and obscurity.

Here’s a brief passage from one of her reflections that shows how life in the favela shaped her thoughts:

When I have a little money I try not to think of children who are going to ask for bread. Bread and coffee. I sent my thoughts toward the sky. I thought: can it be that people live up there? Are they better than us? Can it be that they have an advantage over us? Can it be that nations up there are as different as nations on earth? Or is there just one nation? I wonder if the favela exists there? And if up there a favela does exist, can it be that when I die I’m going to live in a favela? (43)

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Belief, belonging, and behavior in the ancient Christian church

Change of Conversion and the Origin of ChristendomChange of Conversion and the Origin of Christendom by Alan Kreider

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While reading Kreider’s contribution to Constantine Revisited, I noticed that he had written this short book on the church’s changing conception of conversion over the first six centuries of Christian history. Kreider argues that the pre-Constantinian church differentiated itself from the non-Christian world by bringing its members through a rigorous process:

  • evangelization
  • catechesis that taught believers how to behave like Christians (interestingly, before they were considered fully a part of the Christian community) and give up careers considered to be sinful – including those, like soldiering, that involved killing enlightenment in Christian beliefs in preparation for baptism
  • administration of baptism and the Lord’s Supper to new converts, which meant that they belonged to the Christian community (in the 300s, mystagogy was added as a stage that explained baptism and the Lord’s Supper)

Kreider argues that the conversion of Constantine that brought more members and a new relationship with the empire meant that the church struggled to teach distinctive beliefs, behavior, and belonging to its members.
From a historical perspective, it’s a fascinating study. It does raise some questions, though. What would have been the right way to handle Constantine and the increased numbers? How were children of believers handled with this model in place? Does participation in government really always mean participation in “the world” in a sinful sense?

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