Many people think life without the welfare state would be chaos. In their minds, nobody would help support the less fortunate, and there would be riots in the streets. Little do they know that people found innovative ways of supporting each other before the welfare state existed. One of the most important of these ways was the mutual-aid society.
Mutual aid, also known as fraternalism, refers to social organizations that gathered dues and paid benefits to members facing hardship. According to David Beito in From Mutual Aid to the Welfare State, there was a "great stigma" attached to accepting government aid or private charity during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Mutual aid, on the other hand, did not carry the same stigma. It was based on reciprocity: today's mutual-aid recipient could be tomorrow's donor, and vice versa.
It was kind of like insurance. In fact, when I was a child my mother carried our life insurance through a company called Woodmen of the World, which billed itself as a "fraternal benefit society".
The Army Mutual Aid Association, now the Army and Air Force Mutual Aid Association, is an insurance company, but its name tells you how it started. The history goes a little deeper. From their web site:
The Army Mutual Aid Association was established in 1879 after the Battle of Little Big Horn, or "Custer's Last Stand." During frontier times when an officer died, the remaining soldiers would literally "pass the hat" to raise money for the surviving family. This system collapsed, however, with the Battle of Little Big Horn. There were too few survivors to pass the hat, thus leaving the deceased soldiers' families in need. To remedy this situation, Army officers established the Army Mutual Aid Association.Voluntary associations. Conservatives don't want toss grandma off the cliff or have the sick dying in the streets, we just feel there are more compassionate ways of helping people help themselves. We also believe in charity.