Economic historian, democratic socialist, educator, and British labor party activist, R. H. Tawney touched many worlds. His life, too, spanned great distance and change. When he was born in Calcutta in 1880, Gladstone, Tennyson, and Queen Victoria were flourishing and the British Empire was approaching its height. By the time of his death in 1962, the Empire had shrunk to a few tourist islands, and socialism, once so shocking, was now commonplace.
Ross Terrill, in this absorbing first study of Tawney’s thought, view his subject within three related contexts. The first is Tawney, the man. Terrill makes skillful use of unpublished materialthe early diary, speech and lecture notes, letters, interviews with friends and associatesto tell the story of Tawney’s life in relation to his times. Second is social democracy. Tawney was one of its most influential philosophers and prophets, and this book argues for the continuing validity of his socialism as a path between capitalism and communism. Third is British politics. From Edwardian liberal “consensus” to mid-century collectivist “consensus,” Tawney’s long career, often at odds with prevailing orthodoxies, offers a window on British political culture.
Four key ideas are found in Tawney’s political thought: equality and the dispersion of powerthe “shape of socialism”; function and citizenshipthe “life of socialism.” These ideas, and indeed the life of the man himself, Terrill believes, are summed up in socialism as fellowship. “As long as men are men,” Tawney said, “a poor society cannot be too poor to find a right order of life, nor a rich society too rich to have need to seek it.”
This book is a blend of biography, history, and the study of political ideas. It provides a striking portrait of a remarkable man and a panorama of changing ideas and situations in the society where he tried to realize his socialist vision. It offers many glimpses of Tawney’s associates, among them Beveridge, the Webbs, Laski, A. P. Wadsworth, Temple, Margaret Cole, and Leonard Woolf; and surprising snippets, like the fact that Tawney used the phrase “private affluence and public squalor” in 1919.
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Table of Contents
Introduction: An Approach to Tawney
A Saint But Not a Thinker?
The Significance of Style
Political Thought and British Politics
PART ONE: Tawney's Life
1. Moral Quest, 1880-1914
India, Rugby, Balliol: In a World He Never Made
Charity and Slums
He "Finds Himself" in Workers' Education
2. Socialist Politics, 1915-1931
War: "I Suppose It's Worth It"
Public Figure: Miners and Bishops
The London School of Economics, with Distractions
3. Squire of Houghton Street, 1932-1942
Teacher, Colleague, Watchdog of Education
4. Sage, 1943-1962
War a Springboard for Socialism?
Academia: Hood, Knife, Pen
"The Roots Are Loosened"
PART TWO: Tawney's Socialism
Aspects of Equality
Equality and Equal Worth
Equality and Self-Fulfillment
Equality and Social Function
The Fruits of Equality
6. Dispersion of Power
The Threat of Authoritarianism
The Nature of Power
Power Must Be Dispersed
Purpose and Power
7. Social Function
The Basis of Rights
A Place in the House or a New House?
Departure from a Victorian Tradition
Education, Myth, and Citizenship
A Socialist Way of Life
Trusting the People
Up From Liberalism
Interlude of Possibility
The Key Is Fellowship
Within Reach of Each Other
PART THREE: Tawney Today
The Problem of Common Ends
Britain and the World
Marxism's Changed Position
Politics, Rationality, and Institutional Change
Reduced Role of Christianity
11. Tawney's Importance
The Case Against Capitalism
Combating Unbridled Capitalism and Authoritarianism
The Challenge of Collectivism
Christianity and Socialism
Tawney's Place in British Socialism
Bibliography of the Published Writings of R. H. Tawney
What People are Saying About This
I have read it, enthralled, at a single sitting.