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 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.

The procedure by which, whenever any section of workers advance demands which are regarded as inconvenient by their masters, they are denounced as a band of anarchists who are preying on the public may be a convenient weapon in an emergency, but... is logically self-destructive.

There is no more fatal obstacle to efficiency than the revelation that idleness has the same privileges as industry, and that for every additional blow with the pick or hammer an additional profit will be distributed among shareholders who wield neither.

We shall treat mineral owners and land-owners... as Plato would have treated the poets, whom in their ability to make something out of nothing and to bewitch mankind with words they a little resemble, and crown them with flowers and usher them politely out of the State.

The most conservative thinkers recognize that the present organization of industry is intolerable in the sacrifice of liberty which it entails upon the producer. But each effort which he makes to emancipate himself is met by a protest that... efficient service is threatened by movements which aim at placing a greater measure of industrial control in the hands of the workers.

The purpose of industry is obvious. It is to supply man with things which are necessary, useful or beautiful, and thus to bring life to body or spirit. In so far as it is governed by this end, it is among the most important of human activities. In so far as it is diverted from it, it may be harmless, amusing, or even exhilarating to those who carry it on, but it possesses no more social significance than the orderly business of ants and bees, the strutting of peacocks, or the struggles of carnivorous animals over carrion.

These things should be done steadily and continuously... not in order to establish a single form of bureaucratic management, but in order to release the industry from the domination of proprietary interests... vicious in principle, because they divert it from the performance of function to the acquisition of gain. If at the same time private ownership is shaken... by action on the part of particular groups of workers, so much the better. There are more ways of killing a cat than drowning it in cream... But the two methods are complementary, not alternative, and the attempt to found rival schools on an imaginary incompatibility between them is a bad case of the odium sociologicum [sociology of hatred] which afflicts reformers.

Wealth in modern societies is distributed according to opportunity; and while opportunity depends partly upon talent and energy, it depends still more upon birth, social position, access to education and inherited wealth; in a word, upon property. For... property... is the sleeping partner who draws the dividends which the firm produces, the residuary legatee who always claims his share in the estate.

The most obvious and fundamental of all rights was property?property absolute and unconditioned?and those who possessed it were regarded as the natural governors of those who did not.

The purpose of the [WEA-Worker?s Educational Association] association is to provide for men and women who want to take their bearings on the world, opportunities of co-operative study, in congenial company, with a leader who knows enough of his business to be not only a leader but a fellow student.

They [nationalism and individualism] rose together. It is probable that, if ever they decline, they will decline together.

What gives meaning to economic activity... is... the purpose to which it is directed. But the faith... that riches are not a means but an end, implies that all economic activity is equally estimable, whether it is subordinated to a social purpose or not.

The motive... is not the attempt to secure the fulfilment of tasks undertaken for the public service, but to increase the opportunities open to individuals of attaining the objects which they conceive to be advantageous to themselves.

The real economic cleavage is not... between employers and employed, but between all who do constructive work, from scientist to laborer, on the one hand, and all whose main interest is the preservation of existing proprietary rights upon the other, irrespective of whether they contribute to constructive work or not.

They destroy religion and art and morality... and having destroyed these, which are the end, for the sake of industry, which is a means, they make their industry itself what they make their cities, a desert of unnatural dreariness, which only forgetfulness can make endurable, and which only excitement can enable them to forget.

What gives unity to any activity, what alone can reconcile the conflicting claims of the different groups engaged in it, is the purpose for which it is carried on.

The object in purchasing land is to establish small holders, not to set up farms administered by state officials; and the object of nationalizing mining or railways or the manufacture of steel should not be to establish any particular form of state management, but to release those who do constructive work from the control of those whose sole interest is pecuniary gain, in order that they may be free to apply their energies to the true purpose of industry, which is the provision of service, not the provision of dividends.

Author Picture
First Name
R. H.
Last Name
Tawney, fully Richard Henry Tawney
Birth Date
Death Date

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