Tawney, R. H.
Tawney, R. H.
R . H. Tawney (1880-1962), English social and economic historian, was the son of a distinguished Sanskrit scholar who was principal of the Presidency College in Calcutta. He was educated at Rugby, where he acquired a grounding in the classics and the Old Testament which profoundly affected his prose style, and where he struck up one of the most important friendships of his life— with William Temple, future archbishop of Canterbury. From Rugby he went to Balliol College, Oxford, where he came under the influence of the great tutor and master of Balliol, A. L. Smith, and also of Bishop Gore, whose theological and social doctrines provided the inspiration of his career. In 1903 he obtained a Second in Greats. “I grant you his mind was chaotic,” remarked the master of Balliol, “but his examiners ought to have seen that it was the chaos of a great mind.”
After graduating, Tawney worked first in the University Settlement in the east end of London, where he saw something of the horrors of slum landlordism, and then for the newly founded Workers’ Educational Association, which was to remain one of the chief interests of his career. Given the glaring inequalities of the existing educational system, this was work of the first importance, bringing an opportunity to men and women of lower-class origin to develop their latent intellectual interests.(One of Tawney’s first pupils was a future editor of the Manchester Guardian, A. P. Wadsworth.) In 1913 Tawney was appointed director of the Ratan Tata Foundation for the study of poverty at the London School of Economics, but two years later he enlisted in the infantry, characteristically in the ranks rather than as an officer, and was very severely wounded in 1916. One result of this terrible experience was a notable contribution to the literature of war called The Attack (1953).
In 1918 Tawney was elected fellow of Balliol, but within a year he moved to a readership in economic history at the London School of Economics. The next decade was the most fruitful of his career, as he threw himself into left-wing politics, educational propaganda, teaching, and research. He was involved in the general strike of 1926; he set out his passionate social and political convictions in two brilliant and immediately successful books, The Acquisitive Society (1920) and Equality (1931); he was joint editor of the newly founded Economic History Review for its first crucial seven years; and his output of scholarly works was at its height. From 1931 to 1949 he held the title of professor at the London School of Economics, where he instructed generation after generation of honors students in the social and economic history of Tudor and early Stuart England.
With the outbreak of World War n, Tawney’s services were enlisted as labor attache at the British embassy in Washington, but he was unhappy in this safe administrative backwater and soon returned to the perils and hardships of London. Between 1943 and 1948 he was an influential figure on the University Grants Committee at a time when it had a major role to play in the expansion of higher education.
Writings. The period from 1540 to 1640 is now familiarly known as “Tawney’s century,” a tribute paid by both friends and enemies to his towering position in English historiography. In 1912 he published The Agrarian Problem in the Sixteenth Century in which he tackled the problem of land use in an underdeveloped economy where old social and economic relationships were giving way under the impact of a price revolution and a demographic explosion. His ethical presuppositions may have made him too ready to see all landlords as the rapacious predators they often were, his solution to the problem—to turn customary tenures into freeholds—may have been an oversimplification, but the book opened a new era in historical studies in England and has formed the starting point for a huge amount of subsequent research. A year later he made a pioneer study (1913) of why the landed classes tried to regulate wages and of the practical results of their efforts. In 1924 the three volumes of Tudor Economic Documents were published, edited in collaboration with Eileen Power, which at once made the sixteenth century the best-documented period in the economic history of England. The next year Tawney wrote a long introduction to an edition of an Elizabethan tract, Thomas Wilson’s Discourse Upon Usury. It contains a brilliant analysis of the foreign exchange and internal credit problems of an under-capitalized economy dependent on precious metals for its circulating medium, a vivid description of the new monied classes ruthlessly exploiting their opportunities, and an account of the shifts of official policy towards usury in the light of changing economic circumstances and ideological theories.
In 1926 Tawney published his most popular work, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, in which he used his great knowledge of early seventeenth-century English Puritan literature to reformulate a thesis previously put forward by Max Weber. Tawney argued that it was not so much Calvinist theological doctrines that, directly or indirectly, created the spirit of capitalism as it was individualism and the concomitant ethic of thrift and hard work that created an efficient labor force and a rational organization of industrial activity. The hypothesis was, and remains, controversial, but it has stimulated generations of students to think about the relationship between religion and economics.
The thirties were a fallow period in Tawney’s historical output: his only historical publication (1934) was an analysis of a unique occupational census for Gloucestershire in 1608. He was working on a comprehensive study of the sixteenth-century and early seventeenth-century social scene which in the end was never published, although the skeleton of the work was presented in his Ford lectures at Oxford in 1936.
In the meantime he traveled to China, and the result of his visit was a remarkable pioneer work (1932) on the problems of a country struggling to leap from the fifteenth century to the twentieth, and some concrete proposals for a democratic solution to those problems. Tawney applied to modern China his twenty years of study of preindustrial European societies, using this knowledge to illuminate and give depth to his analysis.
War had already broken out when Tawney published in two famous articles (194la; 1941b) his interpretation of the relationship between the political events of the 1640s and changes in the English social structure. He argued that in the century before the Civil War various factors, notably different capacities to adjust landed income to the price revolution and different habits of expenditure, caused a shift in the balance of property from the magnates to the medium-sized landlords, labeled respectively “peers” and “gentry”; and that, as James Harrington had pointed out at the time, it was this shift that caused the collapse of the anden regime in 1640 and so opened the way to Civil War and the subsequent abolition of monarchy, aristocracy, and episcopacy. [See Harrington.] Tawney saw the war in terms of a clash between the progressive, capitalist forces and the decaying semifeudal elements in the society. This thesis has since come under bitter criticism, and the truth of the concept of the rise of the gentry remains an open question (H. R. Trevor-Roper 1953; J. H. Hexter 1961). What Tawney certainly achieved, however, was to stimulate interest in the long-term sociological antecedents of the Civil War, and in doing so he provoked a mass of detailed research.
Finally in 1958 he published a study of Lionel Cranfield, the Jacobean cloth exporter and government speculator turned crown economic adviser, who eventually became lord treasurer of England. In this work Tawney once again broke new ground by forcing attention away from the parliamentary opposition, where it had rested for decades, and back to the deficiencies of the central government itself. Since he was a moralist as well as an economic historian, the corrosion of an aristocratic society under the acid of London finance capital was a theme admirably suited to his pen.
Assessment as a historian . The driving impulses of Tawney’s life were his individual brand of radical Christianity, his burning hatred of social injustice, and his profound suspicion of money. He was not merely indifferent to money, he actively disliked it. All his historical writings are deeply affected by these ethical and religious preoccupations. He was always, and unashamedly, concerned with making the world a better place to live in, as well as with advancing the frontiers of knowledge. As a professional scholar his technical equipment was far from ideal. His references were not always accurate; his grasp of statistical method was sometimes imperfect; his appreciation of impersonal economic forces like demographic growth and monetary inflation was obscured by his anxiety to identify personal or class responsibility for the ills of the world. Although he could be a dazzlingly brilliant stylist, there were times when his jewelled sentences tended to collapse under their own weight.
What, then, is Tawney’s claim to greatness? Historiography does not proceed in a smooth line but by a series of sudden jerks. Every now and then a genius emerges who shifts the emphasis of historical interpretation and directs attention to a new aspect of human affairs until then unnoticed and unappreciated. In English historiography there have been only five such giants—William Stubbs, F. W. Maitland, T. F. Tout, Namier, and Tawney. It is Tawney who directed attention to the close relationship between religious ideologies and ethical codes on the one hand and economic growth and government action on the other; Tawney who demonstrated the importance of economic relationships, such as those between landlord and tenant, employer and worker, in determining the character of a society; Tawney who formulated a sociological interpretation of one of the three great revolutions in modern European history; Tawney who published the documentary tools and generated the enthusiasm which has made his chosen period a standard subject of study in most English secondary schools and one of the most flourishing fields of graduate research in recent years. Tawney’s interpretations may ultimately prove to need revision, but it looks as if the problems to which he first drew attention will continue to preoccupy English historians for a long time to come.
[Directly related is the entry History, articles on Economic Historyand Social History; other relevant material may be found in the biography of Weber, Max]
(1912) 1963 The Agrarian Problem in the Sixteenth Century. New York: Franklin.
1913 The Assessment of Wages in England by the Justices of the Peace. Vierteljahrsschrift fur Sozial- und Wirtschaftsgeschichte 11:307-337, 533-564.
(1914) 1937 Bland, Alfred E.; BROWN, P. A.; and Tawney, R. H. (editors) English Economic History: Select Documents. London: Bell.
1920 The Acquisitive Society. New York: Harcourt. → A paperback edition was published in 1948.
(1924) 1953 TAWNEY, R. H.; and Power, Eileen (editors) Tudor Economic Documents: Being Select Documents Illustrating the Economic and Social History of Tudor England. 3 vols. New York: Longmans. → Volume 1: Agriculture and Industry. Volume 2: Commerce, Finance and Poor Law. Volume 3: Pamphlets, Memoranda and Literary Extracts.
(1926) 1963 Religion and the Rise of Capitalism: A Historical Study. Gloucester, Mass.: Smith.
(1931) 1952 Equality. 4th ed., rev. London: Allen & Un-win. → A paperback edition was published in 1961 by Putnam.
(1932) 1964 Land and Labour in China. New York: Octagon Books.
1934 TAWNEY, A. J.; and Tawney, R. H. An Occupational Census of the Seventeenth Century. Economic History Review First Series 5:25-64.
1941a Harrington’s Interpretation of His Age. British Academy, London, Proceedings 27:199-223.
1941b The Rise of the Gentry: 1558-1640. Economic History Review First Series 11:1-38.
1953 The Attack, and Other Papers. London: Allen & Unwin; New York: Harcourt.
1954 The Rise of the Gentry: A Postscript. Economic History Review Second Series 7:91-97.
1958a Business and Politics Under James I: Lionel Cran-field as Merchant and Minister. Cambridge Univ. Press.
1958b Social History and Literature. Leicester (England) Univ. Press.
Ashton, Thomas S. 1962 Richard Henry Tawney, 1880-1962. British Academy, London, Proceedings 48:461-482.
Hexter, J. H. 1961 Reappraisals in History: New Views on History and Society in Early Modern Europe. Evanston, 111.: Northwestern Univ. Press. → A paperback edition was published in 1963 by Harper. See especially the essay “Storm Over the Gentry,” first published in 1958 in Encounter.
Trevor-Roper, H. R. 1953 The Gentry: 1540-1640. London: Cambridge Univ. Press.
Wilson, Thomas (1572)1925 A Discourse Upon Usury by Way of Dialogue and Orations . . . With an historical introduction by R. H. Tawney. London: Bell; New York: Harcourt.
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Tawney, R. H.
Tawney, R. H. 1880–1962
Richard Henry Tawney, teacher, social scientist, journalist, and political moralist, was born in Calcutta in 1880. Of upper-middle-class origin, Tawney was sent to Rugby School in England, where he developed something of the moral thoughtfulness for which Thomas Arnold (1795–1842) had made that institution famous. After Oxford University, where he attached himself to reform-minded circles, and social work at Toynbee Hall, a settlement house in London, Tawney found his vocation in education. He spent most of his career at the London School of Economics and Political Science and was also pedagogically and administratively active in the adult education movement. An English patriot, Tawney served in both world wars. His childless marriage to Annette Jeanie Beveridge, sister of a prominent Liberal politician, lasted from 1909 until her death in 1958. Tawney himself died in London in 1962.
Tawney’s discipline was history, specifically economic history, a field that he helped to establish. He produced several scholarly monographs, including Religion and the Rise of Capitalism (1926), a study of religious social thought of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and its relationship with emergent economic forces. In a celebrated footnote, Tawney questioned Max Weber’s (1864–1920) thesis of a simple causal relationship between a homogeneous Protestantism and the growth of entrepreneurialism, suggesting instead that the capitalist spirit, as well as being of older vintage, had additional, nonreligious influences. While its arguments and strongly didactic style were themselves controversial, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism became a minor classic that has been translated into at least seven languages.
However, it was in a nonprofessional capacity that Tawney made his greatest mark. He became an important theoretician of the democratic Left, guiding the philosophy and tactics of the Labour Party through books, articles, policy documents, and editorials (principally for the Manchester Guardian ) as well as by an irreproachable personal example. Two works were outstanding in this regard. The Acquisitive Society (1920) challenged the individualism and greed that Tawney associated with the system of industrial capitalism, proposing in their place a society based on principles of cooperation, professionalism, and service. His most important political volume was Equality, first published in 1931 and updated in 1938 and 1952. Here Tawney indicted the maldistribution of resources in Britain and set out a strategy for equality comprising progressive taxation, extensive public ownership, and a generous welfare state.
Another key text is Tawney’s private diary of 1912 to 1914. Unencumbered by the elaborate, irony-laden erudition of his published writings, Tawney’s Commonplace Book (published posthumously in 1972) contains in brilliant aphoristic outline the germs of his mature social philosophy. In particular, it reveals that Tawney’s political idealism was securely anchored in profound Christian convictions. The final entry, for example, identifies an urgent imperative “to make society, when it is at peace, a field in which mere power, ruthlessness, [and] ambition, can not override the merciful and gentle” (p. 83).
Elements of Tawney’s approach have been overtaken by such postindustrial trends as the decline of manufacturing (at least in the developed world) and the coming of a global information society. Nevertheless, the essence of his position—an ethically grounded, scrupulously honest argument for a free, fair, and fraternal society—has remained persuasive to many sections of the moderate Left in Britain, the United States, and elsewhere. The passing of time thus confirms Tawney’s central place in the canon of democratic socialism.
SEE ALSO Socialism
Dennis, Norman, and A. H. Halsey. 1988. English Ethical Socialism: Thomas More to R. H. Tawney. Oxford: Clarendon.
Duff, Alistair S. 2004. The Sickness of an Information Society: R. H. Tawney and the Post-Industrial Condition. Information, Communication and Society 7 (3): 403–422.
Ormrod, David, ed. 1990. Fellowship, Freedom and Equality: Lectures in Memory of R. H. Tawney. London: Christian Socialist Movement.
Tawney, R. H. 1972. R. H. Tawney’s Commonplace Book, eds. J. M. Winter and D. M. Joslin. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.
Terrill, Ross. 1973. R. H. Tawney and His Times: Socialism as Fellowship. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Wright, Anthony. 1987. R. H. Tawney. Manchester, U.K.: Manchester University Press.
Alistair S. Duff
"Tawney, R. H.." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/tawney-r-h
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Richard Henry Tawney
Richard Henry Tawney
The British economic historian and social philosopher Richard Henry Tawney (1880-1962) was an in fluential Fabian socialist and an adviser to governments.
Richard Tawney was born in Calcutta, India, on Nov. 30, 1880, the son of a distinguished civil servant and Sanskrit scholar. Educated at Rugby and Balliol College, Oxford, he graduated in classics in 1903 and then lived and worked at Toynbee Hall settlement in London. From 1906 to 1908 he lectured in economics at Glasgow University and then was a pioneer teacher for the Oxford University Tutorial Classes Committee until the outbreak of war in 1914. He was wounded at the Battle of the Somme in 1916.
Tawney was an ardent supporter of the Workers' Educational Association, serving as a member of its executive (1905) and president (1928-1944). His adult teaching, especially at Rochdale, is now legendary. His first seminal work of scholarship was The Agrarian Problem in the Sixteenth Century (1912), dedicated to his tutorial classes, in which he traced the impact of commercialism on English agriculture and society.
In 1918 Tawney became a fellow of Balliol. The following year he was appointed reader in economic history at the London School of Economics; he was professor of economic history there from 1931 to 1949. He was a founder member and later president of the Economic History Society and, for 7 years, joint editor of its Review. His editions of economic documents became standard sources for students, as did his two studies of economic morality and practice in Tudor and Stuart England: his edition of Thomas Wilson's Discourse upon Usury (1925) and his classic Religion and the Rise of Capitalism (1926). Like his other major works, including The Rise of the Gentry (1954), Religion and the Rise of Capitalism was substantially criticized by later scholars, and its conclusions were later modified. Nevertheless, its power and seminal influence were universally recognized, so much so that the 17th century is often described as "Tawney's century." In 1958 he published his long-awaited study Lionel Cranfield: Business and Politics under James I, which was generally acclaimed by scholars.
Throughout Tawney's life, scholarship and action were interconnected. His 1914 monograph on wage rates in the chain-making industry led to his presidency of the Chain-Making Trade Board (1919-1922). In 1919 he was a leading figure on the Sankey Coal Commission, and subsequently he served as adviser on educational matters to the Labour party, member of the Consultative Committee of the Board of Education and the Cotton Trade Conciliation Board, and Labour attaché at the British embassy in Washington during World War II. His ideas exerted a profound influence on the philosophy of the British left. His expanded Fabian Society pamphlet The Acquisitive Society (1922) and his essay "Equality" (1931) contained severe moral condemnations of the capitalist economic and social system.
Tawney possessed a rare combination of qualities: humility, personal asceticism bordering on eccentricity, exceptional literary skills, deep scholarship, and a rare capacity to inspire his fellowmen with ideals of humanity and social justice. He died in London on Jan. 16, 1962.
There is no book on Tawney's life and work. A chapter on him by W. H. Nelson is in Herman Ausubel, J. Bartlet Brebner, and Erling M. Hunt, eds., Some Modern Historians of Britain (1951). Tawney is also discussed in W. H. B. Court, Scarcity and Choice in History (1970).
Terrill, Ross, R. H. Tawney and his times: socialism as fellowship, London: Deutsch, 1974.
Wright, Anthony, R.H. Tawney, Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1987. □
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Tawney, R. H.
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Tawney, Richard Henry
Richard Henry Tawney (tô´nē), 1880–1962, British economic historian, b. Calcutta (now Kolkata). He was professor at the Univ. of London from 1931 to 1949. A leading socialist, Tawney helped to formulate the economic and ethical views of the British Labour party through his many essays and books, and he participated in numerous government bodies concerned with education, trade, and industry. As a scholar Tawney was a foremost expert on early modern capitalism. His works include the classic The Agrarian Problem in the 16th Century (1912), which describes the creation of capitalistic modes of production, of an enclosure movement, and of a vigorous rising gentry in rural England. Religion and the Rise of Capitalism (1926) examines the relationship between the Protestant ethic and early capitalism. Among his other significant volumes are The Acquisitive Society (1920), Equality (1931, 4th ed. 1952), and Land and Labour in China (1932).
See R. Terrill, R. H. Tawney and His Times (1973).
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