This paper interrogates the idea of the 'active society', a design for social policy recently proposed by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. First, it compares the active society with an earlier organising principle for public policy, the welfare society. Whereas the welfare society governed populations by dividing them into workers and various categories of non-worker, the active society makes participation in paid employment the norm for most social groups. Second, the paper can be read as a contribution to a genealogy of social policy. For the active society challenges the logic of social security: it stakes the welfare of individuals upon their ability to constantly work on themselves, through practices like lifelong learning, to become or remain employable.