Quotes[ edit ] 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 An erring colleague is not an Amalkite to be smitten hip and thigh. 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.

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Selections from Equality by R. Most social systems need a lightning-conductor. The formula which supplies it to our own is equality of opportunity. The conception is one to which homage is paid to-day by all, including those who resist most strenuously attempts to apply it. It was formulated as a lever to overthrow legal inequality and juristic privilege, and from its infancy it has been presented in negative, rather than positive, terms. It has been interpreted rather as freedom from restraints than as the possession of powers.

Thus conceived, it has at once the grandeur and the unreality of a majestic phantom. The language in which it is applauded by the powers of this world sometimes leaves it uncertain which would horrify them most, the denial of the principle or the attempt to apply it. It punishes equally the rich and the poor for stealing bread.

Its existence depends, not merely on the absence of disabilities, but on the presence of abilities. It recedes from the world of reality to that of perorations. Keynes, in his brilliant sketch of the phase of economic history which ended in , has seized on the avenues which it opened to individual advancement as its most striking feature. But escape was possible, for any man of capacity or character at all exceeding the average, into the middle and upper classes. But, as a picture of the ideals which ruled the nineteenth century, and of the qualities on which it reflected with pride when it had leisure for reflection, Mr.

It is possible that intelligent tadpoles reconcile themselves to the inconveniences of their position, by reflecting that, though most of them will live and die as tadpoles and nothing more, the more fortunate of the species will one day shed their tails, distend their mouths and stomachs, hop nimbly on to dry land, and croak addresses to their former friends on the virtues by means of which tadpoles of character and capacity can rise to be frogs.

This conception of society may be described, perhaps, as the Tadpole Philosophy, since the consolation which it offers for social evils consists in the statement that exceptional individuals can succeed in evading them. Who has not heard it suggested that the presence of opportunities, by means of which individuals can ascend and get on, relieves economic contrasts of their social poison and their personal sting? Who has not encountered the argument that there is an educational "ladder" up which talent can climb, and that its existence makes the scamped quality of our primary education -the overcrowded classes, and mean surroundings, and absence of amenities-a matter of secondary importance?

And what a view of human life such an attitude implies! As though opportunities for talent to rise could be equalized in a society where the circumstances surrounding it from birth are themselves unequal! As though, if they could, it were natural and proper that the position of the mass of mankind should permanently be such that they can attain civilization only by escaping from it!

It is true, of course, that a community must draw on a stream of fresh talent, in order to avoid stagnation, and that, unless individuals of ability can turn their powers to account, they are embittered by a sense of defeat and frustration. On the contrary, it is only the presence of a high degree of practical equality which can diffuse and generalize opportunities to rise.

Given such equality, opportunities to rise will look after themselves. It is necessary because a community requires unity as well as diversity, and because, important as it is to discriminate between different powers, it is even more important to provide for common needs. Clever people, who possess exceptional gifts themselves, are naturally impressed by exceptional gifts in others, and desire, when they consider the matter at all, that society should be organized to offer a career to exceptional talent, though they rarely understand the full scope and implications of the revolution they are preaching.

But, in the conditions characteristic of large-scale economic organization, in which ninety per cent. Social well-being does not only depend upon intelligent leadership; it also depends upon cohesion and solidarity. It implies the existence, not merely of opportunities to ascend, but of a high level of general culture, and a strong sense of common interests, and the diffusion throughout society of a conviction that civilization is not the business of an elite alone, but a common enterprise which is the concern of all.

And individual happiness does not only require that men should be free to rise to new positions of comfort and distinction; it also requires that they should be able to lead a life of dignity and culture, whether they rise or not, and that, whatever their position on the economic scale may be, it shall be such as is fit to be occupied by men. It is right in insisting on the necessity of opening a free career to aspiring talent; it is wrong in suggesting that opportunities to rise, which can, of their very nature, be seized only by the few, are a substitute for a general diffusion of the means of civilization, which are needed by all men, whether they rise or not, and which those who cannot climb the economic ladder, and who sometimes, indeed, do not desire to climb it, may turn to as good account as those who can.

It is right in attaching a high significance to social mobility; it is wrong in implying that effective mobility can be secured merely through the absence of legal restraints, or that, if it could, economic liberty would be a sufficient prophylactic against the evils produced by social stratification. The antidote which it had prescribed for economic evils had been freedom to move, freedom to rise, freedom to buy and sell and invest -- the emancipation, in short, of property and enterprise from the restraints which fettered them.

In the former, such property is an instrument of liberation. It enables the mass of mankind to control their own lives. It is, as philosophers say, an extension of their personalities.

In the latter, until it has been bridled and tamed, it is a condition of constraint, and, too often, of domination. It enables a minority of property-owners to control the lives of the unpropertied majority.

And the personalities which it extends are sometimes personalities which are already too far extended, and which, for the sake both of themselves and of their fellows, it would be desirable to contract. Thus, in conditions in which ownership is decentralized and diffused, the institution of property is a principle of unity. It confers a measure of security and independence on poor as well as on rich, and softens the harshness of economic contrasts by a common similarity of social status.

But, in the conditions most characteristic of industrial societies, its effect is the opposite. It is a principle, not of unity, but of division. It sharpens the edge of economic disparities with humiliating contrasts of power and helplessness -- with differences, not merely of income, but of culture, and civilization, and manner of life.

Economic realities make short work of legal abstractions, except when they find them a convenient mask to conceal their own features. The character of a society is determined less by abstract rights than by practical powers. It depends, not upon what its members may do, if they can, but upon what they can do, if they will. All careers may be equally open to all, and the wage-earner, like the property-owner, may be free to use such powers as he possesses, in such ways as he is able, on such occasions as are open to him, to achieve such results as he is capable of achieving.

But, in the absence of measures which prevent the exploitation of groups in a weak economic position by those in a strong, and make the external conditions of health and civilization a common possession, the phrase equality of opportunity is obviously a jest, to be described as amusing or heartless according to taste.

It is the impertinent courtesy of an invitation offered to unwelcome guests, in the certainty that circumstances will prevent them from accepting it. The day when a thousand donkeys could be induced to sweat by the prospect of a carrot that could be eaten by one …[is] over.

The miner or railwayman or engineer may not have mastered the intricacies of the theory of chances, but he possesses enough arithmetic to understand the absurdity of staking his happiness on the possibility of his promotion, and to realize that, if he is to attain well-being at all, he must attain it, not by personal advancement, but as the result of a collective effort, the fruits of which he will share with his fellows.

The inequalities which he resents are but little mitigated, therefore, by the fact that individuals who profit by them have been born in the same social stratum as himself, or that families who suffer from them in one generation may gain by them in the next. Slavery did not become tolerable because some slaves were manumitted and became slave-owners in their turn; nor, even if it were possible for the units composing a society to be periodically reshuffled, would that make it a matter of indifference that some among them at any moment should be condemned to frustration while others were cosseted.

It is the powers and advantages which different classes in practice enjoy, not the social antecedents of the varying individuals by whom they may happen, from time to time, to be acquired. Till such powers and advantages have been equalized in fact, not merely in form, by the extension of communal provision and collective control, the equality established by the removal of restrictions on property and enterprise resembles that produced by turning an elephant loose in the crowd.

It offers everyone, except the beast and his rider, equal opportunities of being trampled to death. Caste is deposed, but class succeeds to the vacant throne.

The formal equality of rights between wage-earner and property-owner becomes the decorous drapery for a practical relationship of mastery and subordination.

There is inequality of power, in virtue of which certain economic groups exercise authority over others. And there is inequality of circumstance or condition, such as arises when some social groups are deprived of the necessaries of civilization which others enjoy. The first is specially characteristic of the relations between the different classes engaged in production, and finds its most conspicuous expression in the authority wielded by those who direct industry, control economic enterprise, and administer the resources of land, capital or credit, on which the welfare of their fellows depends.

The second is associated with the enjoyment and consumption of wealth, rather than with its production, and is revealed in sharp disparities, not only of income, but of environment, health and education.

Inequality of power is inherent in the nature of organized society, since action is impossible, unless there is an authority to decide what action shall be taken, and to see that its decisions are applied in practice. In practice, therefore, though inequality of power and inequality of circumstance are the fundamental evils, there are forms of each which are regarded, not merely with tolerance, but with active approval.

The effect of inequality depends, in short, upon the principles upon which it reposes, the credentials to which it appeals, and the sphere of life which it embraces.

It is not difficult to state the principles which cause certain kinds of inequality to win indulgence, however difficult it may be to apply them in practice. Inequality of power is tolerated, when the power is used for a social purpose approved by the community, when it is not more extensive than that purpose requires, when its exercise is not arbitrary, but governed by settled rules, and when the commission can be revoked, if its terms are exceeded.

Inequality of circumstance is regarded as reasonable, in so far as it is the necessary condition of securing the services which the community requires-in so far as, in the words of Professor Ginsberg, it is "grounded in differences in the power to contribute to, and share in, the common good". For, if captains and managers command, they do so by virtue of their office, and it is by virtue of their office that their instructions are obeyed. They are not the masters, but the fellow-servants, of those whose work they direct.

Their power is not conferred upon them by birth or wealth, but by the position which they occupy in the productive system, and, though their subordinates may grumble at its abuses, they do not dispute the need for its existence. For different kinds of energy need different conditions to evoke them, and the sentiment of justice is satisfied, not by offering to every man identical treatment, but by treating different individuals in the same way in so far as, being human, they have requirements which are the same, and in different ways in so far as, being concerned with different services, they have requirements which differ.

What is repulsive is not that one man should earn more than others, for where community of environment, and a common education and habit of life, have bred a common tradition of respect and consideration, these details of the counting-house are forgotten or ignored. It is that some classes should be excluded from the heritage of civilization which others enjoy, and that the fact of human fellowship, which is ultimate and profound, should be obscured by economic contrasts, which are trivial and superficial.

What is important is not that all men should receive the same pecuniary income. It is that the surplus resources of society should be so husbanded and applied that it is a matter of minor significance whether they receive it or not. The phenomenon which provokes exasperation, in short, is not power and inequality, but capricious inequality and irresponsible power; and in this matter the sentiments of individuals correspond, it may be observed, with the needs of society.

What a community requires is that its work should be done, and done with the minimum of friction and maximum of co-operation. Gradations of authority and income derived from differences of office and function promote that end; distinctions based, not on objective facts, but on personal claims -- on birth, or wealth, or social position -- impede its attainment.

They sacrifice practical realities to meaningless conventions. They stifle creative activity in an elegant drapery of irrelevant futilities. They cause the position of individuals and the relation of classes to reflect the influence, not primarily of personal quality and social needs, but of external conditions, which offer special advantages to some and impose adventitious disabilities upon others.

Such advantages and disabilities are, in some measure, inevitable. Nor need it be denied that the area of life covered by them is narrower to-day than in most past societies. It would be difficult to argue, however, that their influence on the destinies of individuals is trivial, or their effect on the temper of society other than deplorable. They create an inequality which, so far from arising from differences of service, is maintained in spite of them.

They do not increase the real income of the nation, but diminish it. For they cause the less urgent needs of the minority to be met before the more urgent needs of the majority. Incomes from personal work obviously stand in a different category from incomes from property. But, even in such incomes, there is normally an element which is due less to the qualities of the individual than to the overruling force of social arrangements. We are all, it is a commonplace to say, disposed to believe that our failures are due to our circumstances, and our successes to ourselves.

It is natural, no doubt, for the prosperous professional or business man, who has made his way in the face of difficulties, to regard his achievements as the result of his own industry and ability. But, the less homogeneous the group, and the greater the variety of conditions to which its members have been exposed, the more remote from reality does such an inference become. If the rules of a game give a permanent advantage to some of the players, it does not become fair merely because they are scrupulously observed by all who take part in it.

In reality, as has often been pointed out, explanations which are relevant as a clue to differences between the incomes of individuals in the same group lose much of their validity when applied, as they often are, to interpret differences between those of individuals in different groups. If the weights are unequal, it is not less important, but more important, that the scales should be true. The condition of differences of individual quality finding their appropriate expression is the application of a high degree of social art.

While, therefore, the successful professional or business man may be justified in assuming that, if he has outdistanced his rivals, one cause is possibly his own "application, industry, and honesty," … that gratifying conclusion is less than half the truth.


How my support for Labour turned from tribal to ideological

Tawney was a noted economic historian, democratic socialist and educator. Here we make a brief assessment of his contribution as an adult educationalist — and his strong belief in fellowship. At Rugby R. At Balliol, he deepened his appreciation of social moralism and joined the Christian Social Union. He joined the Fabians in and left to work at the University of Glasgow as an assistant in economics. There he began work on his first work of social history: The Agrarian Problem in the Sixteenth Century. The Foundation had been funded by a wealthy Indian benefactor and sought to further research and policy formulation to combat poverty.


R. H. Tawney Quotes

Liberty and Equality Liberty and equality have usually in England been considered antithetic; and, since fraternity has rarely been considered at all, the famous trilogy has been easily dismissed as a hybrid abortion. Equality implies the deliberate acceptance of social restraints upon individual expansion. It involves the prevention of sensational extremes of wealth and power by public action for the public good. If liberty means, therefore, that every individual shall be free, according to his opportunities, to indulge without limit his appetite for either, it is clearly incompatible, not only with economic and social, but with civil and political, equality, which also prevent the strong exploiting to the full the advantages of their strength, and, indeed, with any habit of life save that of the Cyclops.


R. H. Tawney

Selections from Equality by R. Most social systems need a lightning-conductor. The formula which supplies it to our own is equality of opportunity. The conception is one to which homage is paid to-day by all, including those who resist most strenuously attempts to apply it. It was formulated as a lever to overthrow legal inequality and juristic privilege, and from its infancy it has been presented in negative, rather than positive, terms. It has been interpreted rather as freedom from restraints than as the possession of powers. Thus conceived, it has at once the grandeur and the unreality of a majestic phantom.



Tawney did not believe that the principle of equality of opportunity was inherently wrong; on the contrary, societies only maintained their vitality by drawing on a fresh stream of talent, and exceptional contributions should receive their due. However, the concept had been contaminated by capitalism, transformed from a liberating idea that removed the dead hand of the feudal aristocracy to a justificatory platitude to maintain the predominance of the industrial plutocracy. Such exceptions should not disguise the fact that social outcomes are conditioned by circumstances. The massive inequalities that characterised the capitalism, with the working classes denied an adequate education, unable to access effective health care and housed in slums meant that equality of opportunity was nothing more than a cruel jest, the "impertinent courtesy of an invitation offered to unwelcome guests, in the certainty that circumstances will prevent them from accepting it".

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