R. H. Tawney

English philosopher (1880–1962)

Richard Henry Tawney (30 November 1880 – 16 January 1962) was an English writer, economist, historian, social critic and university professor and a leading advocate of Christian Socialism.

R. H. Tawney.
See also: The Acquisitive Society

Quotes edit

  • Because men are men, social institutions - property rights and the organisation of industry, and the system of public health and education – should be planned...to emphasise and strengthen, not the class differences which divide but the common humanity which unites them.
    • Equality (1931)
  • The wage-earner is as much entitled as the property-owner to claim equitable consideration for his established expectations...and that workmen have precisely the same right to be satisfied that organization is efficient, and management up to date, as management has that workmen are earning their wages.
    • Equality (1931)
  • Democracy is unstable as a political system as long as it remains a political system and nothing more, instead of being, as it should be, not only a form of government but a type of society, and a manner of life which is in harmony with that type. To make it a type of society requires an advance along two lines. It involves, in the first place, the resolute elimination of all forms of special privilege which favour some groups and depress other, whether their source be differences of environment, of education, or of pecuniary income. It involves, in the second place, the conversion of economic power, now often an irresponsible tyrant, into a servant of society, working within clearly defined limits and accountable for its actions to a public authority.
    • Equality (1931)
  • ...To abolish all advantages and disabilities which have their source, not in differences of personal quality, but in disparities of wealth, opportunity, social position, and economic power. It is , in short . . . a classless society, which does not mean a society without differentiated groups, but one in which varieties of individual endowment , not contrasts of property, income and access to education, are the basis of differentiation.
    • "The Choice Before the Labour Party" in The Political Quarterly Magazine, Vol. 3, No. 3 (1932). Quoted in William Howard Greenleaf, The British Political Tradition: Volume Two, The Ideological Heritage". London, Routledge, 2013, (p.460).
  • An erring colleague is not an Amalkite to be smitten hip and thigh.
    • "The Rise of the Gentry: A Postscript," The Economic History Review, Vol. 7, No. 1 (1954)

Secondary Education For All (1922) edit

  • Transference from the primary school to higher education should depend solely upon whether it is likely to be for the benefit of the children concerned.
  • In England it is not ungentlemanly to steal halfpennies from children, and industrial interests, it may be assumed, will oppose any reform which interferes with the supply of cheap juvenile labour.
  • In place... of "elementary" education for nine-tenths of the children and "secondary" education for the exceptionally fortunate or the exceptionally able, we need to envisage education as two stages in a single course which will embrace the whole development of childhood and adolescence up to sixteen, and obliterate the vulgar irrelevances of class inequality and economic pressure in a new educational synthesis.
  • The number both of pupils and school places in 1922 is... all too small. But, inadequate as they are, they represent something like an educational revolution compared with the almost complete absence of public provision which existed prior to 1902.
  • The full comedy of the situation was revealed in 1900, when, nearly a century after France and Germany had laid the foundations of a public system of secondary education, the Court of Appeal virtually decided that there was no Public Authority in England with legal power to establish and maintain secondary schools.
  • England has not yet imitated the example set by America and by most of the British Dominions in making public secondary education free.
  • Even before 1918 we had traveled far from the doctrine of 1870, that "elementary" education was the education of a special class which would obtain no other — what the Committee of Council called in 1839 education "suited to the condition of workmen and servants" — and secondary education that of their masters.
  • The primary school is like the rope which the Indian juggler throws into the air to end in vacancy; that while in the United States some twenty-eight per cent, of the children entering the primary schools pass to high schools, in England the percentage passing from elementary to secondary schools is less than ten.
  • Apart from the children of the well-to-do, who receive secondary education almost as a matter of course, and whose parents appear usually, though quite mistakenly, to believe that they pay the whole cost of it, secondary education is still commonly regarded as a "privilege" to be conceded only to the exceptionally brilliant or fortunate.
  • It is still possible for the largest education authority in the country to propose to erect inequality of educational opportunity into a principle of public policy by solemnly suggesting, with much parade of philosophical arguments, that the interests of the community require that the children of well-to-do parents, who pay fees, should be admitted to public secondary schools on easier intellectual terms than the children of poor parents who can enter them only with free places, and that the children who are so contemptible as to be unable to afford secondary education without assistance in the form of maintenance allowances shall not be admitted unless they reach a higher intellectual standard still!
  • They would very strongly advise that in selecting children for higher education care should be taken to avoid creating, as was done, for example, in India, a large class of persons whose education is unsuitable for the employment they eventually enter.
  • Defined by its purpose, its [education's] main aim is not to impart the specialized technique of any particular trade or profession, but to develop the faculties which, because they are the attribute of man, are not peculiar to any particular class or profession of men, and to build up the interests which, while they may become the basis of specialization at a later stage, have a value extending beyond their utility for any particular vocation, because they are the condition of a rational and responsible life in society.
  • Its desire is that what is weak in the higher education of the country should be strengthened, and that what is already excellent should be made accessible to all.
  • Labour can claim with some confidence that it is both voicing the demands of nearly all enlightened educationalists and working for the only organization of education which will enable the community to make the best use of the most precious of its natural resources — the endowments of its children.
  • The organization of education on lines of class, which, though qualified in the last twenty years, has characterized the English system of public education since its very inception, has been at once a symptom, an effect, and a cause of the control of the lives of the mass of men and women by a privileged minority. The very assumption on which it is based, that all that the child of the workers needs is "elementary education" — as though the mass of the people, like anthropoid apes, had fewer convolutions in their brains than the rich — is in itself a piece of insolence.
  • Those who have hitherto governed the nation, believing, and believing with justice, that ignorance and docility go hand in hand, have taken care to ration the education of the workers in doses small enough to be innocuous to the established order.

Religion and the Rise of Capitalism (1926) edit

  • Practically, the Church was an immense vested interest, implicated to the hilt in the economic fabric, especially on the side of agriculture and land tenure. Itself the greatest of landowners, it could no more quarrel with the feudal structure than the Ecclesiastical Commission, the largest of mineral owners today, can lead a crusade against royalties.
    • Part I, Ch. 3
  • If preachers have not yet overtly identified themselves with the view of the natural man, expressed by an eighteenth-century writer in the words, "trade is one thing and religion is another," they imply a not very different conclusion by their silence as to the possibility of collisions between them. The characteristic doctrine was one, in fact, which left little room for religious teaching as to economic morality, because it anticipated the theory, later epitomized by Adam Smith in his famous reference to the invisible hand, which saw in economic self-interest the operation of a providential plan. ...
The existing order, except in so far as the short-sighted enactments of Governments interfered with it, was the natural order, and the order established by nature was the order established by God. Most educated men, in the middle of the [18th] century, would have found their philosophy expressed in the lines of Pope:

Thus God and Nature formed the general frame,
And bade self-love and social be the same.

Naturally, again, such an attitude precluded a critical examination of institutions, and left as the sphere of Christian charity only those parts of life which could be reserved for philanthropy, precisely because they fell outside that larger area of normal human relations, in which the promptings of self-interest provided an all-sufficient motive and rule of conduct.
  • Part III, Ch. 3
  • In every human soul there is a socialist and an individualist, an authoritarian and a fanatic for liberty, as in each there is a Catholic and a Protestant. The same is true of the mass movements in which men marshal themselves for common action.
    • Part IV, Ch. 2
  • There was in Puritanism an element which was conservative and traditionalist, and an element which was revolutionary; a collectivism which grasped at an iron discipline, and an individualism which spurned the savorless mess of human ordinances; a sober prudence which would garner the fruits of this world, and a divine recklessness which would make all things new.
    • Part IV, Ch. 2
  • Virtues are often conquered by vices, but their rout is most complete when it is inflicted by other virtues, more militant, more efficient, or more congenial.
    • Part IV, Ch. 2
  • Too often, contemning the external order as unspiritual, [the Puritan] has made it, and ultimately himself, less spiritual by reason of his contempt.
    • Part IV, Ch. 3
  • Convinced that character is all and circumstances nothing, [the Puritan] sees in the poverty of those who fall by the way, not a misfortune to be pitied and relieved, but a moral failing to be condemned, and in riches, not an object of suspicion … but the blessing which rewards the triumph of energy and will.
    • Part IV, Ch. 3
  • What in Calvin had been a qualified concession to practical exigencies appeared in some of his later followers as a frank idealization of the life of the trader, as the service of God and the training-ground of the soul. Discarding the suspicion of economic motives, which had been as characteristic of the reformers as of medieval theologians, Puritanism in its later phases added a halo of ethical sanctification to the appeal of economic expediency, and offered a moral creed, in which the duties of religion and the calls of business ended their long estrangement in an unanticipated reconciliation.
    • Part IV, Ch. 3
  • Laborare est orare. [To work is to pray.] By the Puritan moralist the ancient maxim is repeated with a new and intenser significance. The labor which he idealizes is not simply a requirement imposed by nature, or a punishment for the sin of Adam. It is itself a kind of ascetic discipline, more rigorous than that demanded of any order of mendicants—a discipline imposed by the will of God, and to be undergone, not in solitude, but in the punctual discharge of secular duties. It is not merely an economic means, to be laid aside when physical needs have been satisfied. It is a spiritual end, for in it alone can the soul find health, and it must be continued as an ethical duty long after it has ceased to be a material necessity.
    • Part IV, Ch. 3
  • By a kind of happy pre-established harmony, such as a later age discovered between the needs of society and the self-interest of the individual, success in business is in itself almost a sign of spiritual grace, for it is a proof that a man has laboured faithfully in his vocation.
    • describing the Puritan view, Part IV, Ch. 4
  • To countless generations of religious thinkers, the fundamental maxim of Christian social ethics had seemed to be expressed in the words of St. Paul to Timothy: "Having food and raiment, let us be therewith content. For the love of money is the root of all evil." Now, while, as always, the world battered at the gate, a new standard was raised within the citadel by its own defenders. The garrison had discovered that the invading host of economic appetites was, not an enemy, but an ally. Not sufficiency to the needs of daily life, but limitless increase and expansion, became the goal of the Christian's efforts.
    • Part IV, Ch. 4
  • The shrewd, calculating commercialism which tries all human relations by pecuniary standards, the acquisitiveness which cannot rest while there are competitors to be conquered or profits to be won, the love of social power and hunger for economic gain—these irrepressible appetites had evoked from time immemorial the warnings and denunciations of saints and sages. Plunged in the cleansing waters of later Puritanism, the qualities which less enlightened ages had denounced as social vices emerged as economic virtues. They emerged as moral virtues as well. For the world exists not to be enjoyed, but to be conquered. Only its conqueror deserves the name of Christian. For such a philosophy, the question, "What shall it profit a man?" carries no sting. In winning the world, he wins the salvation of his own soul as well.
    • Part IV, Ch. 4
  • A society which reverences the attainment of riches as the supreme felicity will naturally be disposed to regard the poor as damned in the next world, if only to justify itself for making their life a hell in this.
    • Part IV, Ch. 4
  • It is probable that democracy owes more to Nonconformity than to any other single movement.
    • Part IV, Ch. 4
  • The foundation of democracy is the sense of spiritual independence which nerves the individual to stand alone against the powers of this world.
    • Part IV, Ch. 4
  • Mankind may wring her secrets from nature, and use their knowledge to destroy themselves.
    • Conclusion
  • The certainties of one age are the problems of the next.
    • Conclusion

Disputed edit

  • Freedom for the pike is death for the minnow.

Quotes about Tawney edit

  • I read R.H. Tawney's book, The Attack, which is a series of pieces written over the course of his life... Reading it, I realised that the right wing of the Labour Party, that is to say the Croslands and the Hattersleys, have really stolen Tawney and made him their apostle, whereas when you actually read what he had written you find he was an intensely radical man. I have been asked to write a preface for the new issue, and I intend to try to get him reinstated as the spokesman for the mainstream, democratic, Christian socialist left... The more I read Tawney, the more I become convinced that his words would be helpful and comforting to us now and would assist in preventing the so-called Social Democrats from breaking away from the Labour Party.
    • Tony Benn, diary entry (7 February 1981), quoted in Tony Benn, The End of An Era: Diaries 1980–90, ed. Ruth Winstone (1992), pp. 83-84
  • It was the quality of life, not the quantity of possessions, that was the justification for him of a socialist programme. He showed his dedication to this ideal not only in his writing but also in his life, and it seems to me that in raising the question of the quality of life, as a corollary of the overwhelming change in sheer quantity brought about by the Industrial Revolution, Mr Thompson is restoring as a genuine concern of economic historians the spirit of what I understand the Tawney tradition to be.
    • J. D. Chambers, 'The Tawney Tradition', The Economic History Review, Vol. 24, No. 3 (August 1971), p. 369
  • With great regret I am coming to think increasingly that there is not a single work which Tawney wrote which can be trusted. I think that in all his work he was so dominated by his preconceptions, unconsciously (well, partly unconsciously), that everything he wrote was written to a propaganda purpose. And the result has been very drastic. People won't believe this, but when the historian comes to write – if an historian still comes to write – an intellectual history of the early twentieth century, Tawney will be one of the figures he will really have to concern himself with. Not Toynbee, whose influence is neither here nor there (not in this country at any rate). Not Maitland, who carried very little influence in the public mind, even indirectly. But Tawney, who wrote for a purpose – wrote beautifully, and wrote history which was in great parts – I am looking for a polite word – in great parts mistaken. And it was mistaken because he meant it to be so, though he didn't know this. He was proving a point.
    • Geoffrey Elton, The Future of the Past: An Inaugural Lecture (1968), in Return to Essentials: Some Reflections on the Present State of Historical Study (1991), p. 86
  • Tawney's Socialism...derived from a Christian inspiration. Tawney's Socialism, thanks no doubt to his memories of the First World War, comprised a full-blooded defence of the way Britain must be physically defended... Tawney's Socialism was also inextricably soldered with his democratic faith; the two together so that no one could ever put them asunder. Tawney's Socialism could not be traced solely to William Morris...but Morris's ideas and idealism were woven into the rich pattern of his political faith... His writings were read and loved – it is not too much to say – by one generation of Socialists after another.
  • I always think of him as the Democratic Socialist par excellence.
    • Hugh Gaitskell, speech to the memorial service for Tawney in St Martin-in-the-Fields (8 February 1962), quoted in Michael Foot, Loyalists and Loners (1986), pp. 95-96
  • The entrenched left cannot identify with Tawney in honesty for several reasons: The patriotic old wounded soldier from the Somme was always contemptuous of those of us who were in CND, and he strongly supported Gaitskell's "fight, fight and fight again" speech; Tawney never accepted that conference decisions should overrule the judgment of the Parliamentary Labour Party or individual conscience... He did not accept majorities based on what he considered the total non-democracy of the block vote... The right would hesitate to vote for Tawney's ghost because his commitment to Clause 4, to extensive public ownership, to his philosophical attack on the sanctity of private property... The ghost of Tawney, the whole Tawney, would shake them all.
    • Lena Jeger, letter to The Guardian (c. June 1981), quoted in Michael Foot, Loyalists and Loners (1986), pp. 93-94
  • Tawney the politician barred the way to Tawney the scholar. Time which he might given to studying history was devoted instead to the Fabian Society and the Labour Party, and he tended to see the world past and present in terms of socialist dogma. Hence his wholly untrue picture of early capitalism as cruel and greedy, destructive alike of social welfare and true spiritual values. No one would wish to deny that Tawney was a great man, but this greatness caused him to lead whole generations of history students into grievous error.
    • Eric Kerridge, Agrarian Problems in the Sixteenth Century and After (1969), p. 15
  • Service, not profit, should be the motive force of economic activity, Tawney declared in The Acquisitive Society; and Tawney's doctrine was repeated, with varying degrees of eloquence and emphasis, from a thousand Labour platforms. This doctrine is, of course, inherently at variance with the basic assumptions of Keynesian economics, one of which is that the profit motive is the engine of economic progress.
    • David Marquand, The Progressive Dilemma: From Lloyd George to Blair (1991; rev. edn. 1999), p. 62
  • More important...was the evidence that the "passion of labour...to make the world a better place for the people who inhabit it" was reciprocated by many outside the movement. They found their justification in R. H. Tawney's Acquisitive Society, published in 1920. This was a persuasive indictment, blandly self-confident and witty, of the system in which industry was not directed to the service of the community and in which the rights of property existed quite apart from any contemporary justification. The system was not merely unjust but morally wrong and socially absurd.

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