R. H. Tawney, fully Richard Henry Tawney

R. H.
Tawney, fully Richard Henry Tawney

Indian-born English Economic Historian, Social Critic, Ethical Socialist and proponent of Adult Education

Author Quotes

The perversion of nationalism is imperialism, as the perversion of individualism is industrialism... because the principle is defective and reveals its defects as it reveals its power. For it asserts that the rights of nations and individuals are absolute, which is false... their sphere itself is contingent upon the part which they play in the community of nations and individuals... It constrains them to a career of indefinite expansion, in which they devour continents and oceans, law, morality and religion, and last of all their own souls, in an attempt to attain infinity by the addition to themselves of all that is finite.

The world reaps in war what it sows in peace.

To expect that international rivalry can be exorcised as long as the industrial order within each nation is such as to give success to those whose existence is a struggle for self-aggrandizement, is a dream which has not even the merit of being beautiful.

When... the meaning of industry is the service of man, all who labor appear... honorable, because all who labor serve, and the distinction which separates those who serve from those who merely spend is so crucial and fundamental as to obliterate all minor distinctions based on differences of income.

The phraseology of political controversy continues to reproduce the conventional antitheses of the early nineteenth century; "private enterprise" and "public ownership" are still contrasted with each other as light with darkness or darkness with light. But, in reality, behind the formal shell of the traditional legal system the elements of a new body of relationship have already been prepared, and find piece-meal application through policies devised, not by socialists, but by men who repeat the formul‘ of individualism, at the very moment when they are undermining it.

The... surplus normally passes neither to the managers, nor to the other employees, nor to the public, but to the shareholders. Such an arrangement is preposterous in the literal sense of being the reverse of that which would be established by considerations of equity and common sense, and gives rise (among other things) to what is called "the struggle between labor and capital."

To what can one compare such a society but to the international world, which also has been called a society and which also is social in nothing but name?

While an equilibrium between worker and manager is possible, because both are workers, that which it is sought to establish between worker and owner is not. Their proposals may be excellent: but it is not evident why they are where they are, or how, since they do not contribute to production, they come to be putting forward proposals at all. As long as they are in territory where they have no business to be, their excellence as individuals will be overlooked.

The interest of those who own the property used in industry... is that their capital should be dear and human beings cheap.

The possibility that one aspect of human life may be so exaggerated as to overshadow and... atrophy every other, has been made familiar... by... "Prussian militarism." ...political institutions and social arrangements and intellect and morality and religion are crushed into a mold made to fit one activity, which in a sane society is a subordinate activity... but which in a militarist state is a kind of mystical epitome of society itself.

There are many, of course, who desire no alteration, and who, when it is attempted, will oppose it. They have found the existing economic order profitable in the past... They... ask, like the French farmer-general: "When everything goes so happily, why trouble to change it?" Such persons are to be pitied, for they lack the social quality which is proper to man. But they do not need argument; for Heaven has denied them one of the faculties required to apprehend it.

Under the impulse of such ideas [upon which an Acquisitive Society is based] men do not become religious or wise or artistic; for religion and wisdom and art imply the acceptance of limitations. But they become powerful and rich. They inherit the earth and change the face of nature, if they do not possess their own souls; and they have that appearance of freedom which consists in the absence of obstacles between opportunities for self-advancement and those whom birth or wealth or talent or good fortune has placed in a position to seize them.

The magnificent formul‘ in which a society of farmers and master craftsmen enshrined its philosophy of freedom are in danger of becoming fetters used by an Anglo-Saxon business aristocracy to bind insurgent movements on the part of an immigrant and semi-servile proletariat.

The practical thing for a nation which has stumbled upon one of the turning-points of history is not to behave as though nothing very important were involved, as if it did not matter whether it turned to the right or to the left, went up hill or down dale, provided that it continued doing with a little more energy what it has done hitherto; but to consider whether what it has done hitherto is wise, and if it is not wise, to alter it.

There are, in theory, five ways by which the control of industry by the agents of private property-owners can be terminated. They may be expropriated without compensation. They may voluntarily surrender it. They may be frozen out by action on the part of the working personnel, which itself undertakes such functions... Their proprietary interest may be limited or attenuated to such a degree that they become mere rentiers... but who receive no profits and bear no responsibility for the organization of industry. They may be bought out.

Unless it [a nation] is to move with the energetic futility of a squirrel in a revolving cage, it must have a clear apprehension both of the deficiency of what is, and of the character of what ought to be... It must, in short, have recourse to Principles.

The master builder, who owns the capital used, can be included, not qua capitalist, but qua builder, if he surrenders some of the rights of ownership.

The practical thing for a traveler who is uncertain of his path is not to proceed with the utmost rapidity in the wrong direction: it is to consider how to find the right one.

There is all the difference between maintaining a standard which is occasionally abandoned, and affirming as the central truth of existence that there is no standard to maintain.

We have been witnessing... both in international affairs and in industry... the breakdown of the organization of society on the basis of rights divorced from obligations.

The meaning of a profession is that it makes the traitors the exception, not as they are in industry, the rule... subordinating the inclination, appetites and ambitions of individuals to the rules of an organization which has as its object to promote the performance of function.

The prevalent insistence upon rights, and prevalent neglect of functions, brings men into a vicious circle which they cannot escape, without escaping from the false philosophy which dominates them. But it does something more. It makes that philosophy itself seem plausible and exhilarating... not only for industry... but for politics and culture and religion and the whole compass of social life.

There is no inconsistency between encouraging simultaneously a multiplication of peasant farmers and small masters who own their own farms or shops, and the abolition of private ownership in those industries... in which the private owner is an absentee shareholder.

We shall close these channels through which wealth leaks away by resuming the ownership of minerals and of urban land... We shall secure that such large accumulations as remain, change hands at least once in every generation, by increasing our taxes on inheritance till what passes to the heir is little more than personal possessions, not the right to a tribute from industry which, though qualified by death-duties, is what the son of a rich man inherits today.

The merits of nationalization do not stand or fall with the efficiency or inefficiency of existing state departments as administrators of industry.

Author Picture
First Name
R. H.
Last Name
Tawney, fully Richard Henry Tawney
Birth Date
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Indian-born English Economic Historian, Social Critic, Ethical Socialist and proponent of Adult Education