Many of the earliest books, particularly those dating back to the 1900s and before, are now extremely scarce and increasingly expensive. Hesperides Press are republishing these classic works in affordable, high quality, modern editions, using the original text and artwork.
Hardcover, 352 pages
November 1st 2008
by Hesperides Press
(first published 1926)
A recent discussion, with a Goodreads friend, of Western socio-economic history and the accompanying socio-economic thought brought to mind this gem of a book, read in my early college days and a germinal influence on my own thought. (In terms of its effect on my thinking, I'd actually rank it as one of the most important books I've read, and I've upped my rating of it from four stars to five to reflect that.) Of course, my own strong personal reaction to the book will give the review below a stA recent discussion, with a Goodreads friend, of Western socio-economic history and the accompanying socio-economic thought brought to mind this gem of a book, read in my early college days and a germinal influence on my own thought. (In terms of its effect on my thinking, I'd actually rank it as one of the most important books I've read, and I've upped my rating of it from four stars to five to reflect that.) Of course, my own strong personal reaction to the book will give the review below a strong element of "reader response" criticism, starting with where I was coming from when I read it.
I was raised (long story!), in a Missouri Synod Lutheran church, which proudly considered itself ultra-conservative both religiously and socio-politically. (In fact, I'm a product of five years of education in the congregation's parochial school --though even then, I was inclined to read a lot outside of class and think for myself.) One theme they harped on was that capitalism as we know it in the modern U.S. --that is, oligarchical, monopolistic, and operating on purely "rational" profit-maximizing lines devoid of ethical content-- is an essential part of "Conservatism" (which is absolutely good, as opposed to the "L" word, which is absolutely evil). A corollary of this was that the poor (with possibly rare exceptions that you could count on your fingers) were so because they're improvident, stupid, and lazy, and that giving them any consideration fostered bad behavior and made the economy unsound. This line of thinking was then sanctified as a tenet of Christianity, "Biblical economics." It would probably be fair to say that a hefty number of people then and now, both inside and outside of the Christian church and the conservative movement (which are not the same thing, though they tend to be lumped together) would define both entities in terms of this thinking. Indeed, in explaining the historical shift in Western Europe, in the Commercial Revolution of the early modern era, to this sort of economic order, replacing an older feudal system that was significantly distinct from it in many ways (and by my high school days, I was aware that a shift HAD occurred, and that the present order didn't date from Biblical times!), modern critics of capitalism tend to finger Protestant Christianity as the villain that caused the whole thing, an argument exemplified in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. (No, I haven't read Weber's classic, but I think I've read --and listened to, in college-- enough about it to fairly represent the gist of it.)
Even as a pre-teen child, though, and even haphazardly reading the Bible once in awhile only in the King James Version (because the newer translations were, according to the church, Satanic counterfeits!), I was struck by the gaping disconnect between the content of the Bible and the content of the preaching/teaching I heard from church and school. As my own beliefs took shape in my teens, I became a Christian; and I also came to identify my own thinking as conservative, in the sense of wanting to conserve both a moral and social order of community and family handed down from long good service in the human past, and an incredibly beautiful and precious natural creation. But I had real questions and doubts about how the whole framework of capitalist "Biblical economics" fitted with this. That (finally!) brings us to Tawney's book.
Unlike Weber, who was a sociologist, Tawney was an academic historian, a world-class expert on the social and intellectual history of 16th and 17th century England, which is the main focus of this study, his best-known work. (He was also, in the words of one recent pundit, "a radical Christian," though, with academic detachment, he doesn't state that explicitly here.) Here, he disputes Weber's one-sided and superficial analysis, by a careful study of the primary sources, starting with the medieval background, continuing through Luther's and Calvin's actual socio-economic teachings, and the responses of the English reformers to the economic questions raised by the Commercial Revolution of their day. His thesis is that the Protestant reformers, no less than the medieval Catholic Scholastics, espoused an economic philosophy based on rejection of materialism and gain for its own sake, acutely concerned with ideas of justice and right and wrong, and explicitly favoring consideration for the poor, for workers, and for customers. (As he points out, this doesn't mean medieval society perfectly embodied these principles; but as he also points out, theory does have some significance for practice in a society, even if not as much as the theorists want it to.) This is true over the entire spectrum of economic issues of that day --enclosure of formerly common land for private profit, price-gouging, usury (an old English word meaning, like its Hebrew equivalent, charging interest on loans --the modern pretense that both words only mean "excessive interest" is the lexical equivalent of saying, "Oh no, silly, 'adultery' doesn't really mean marital infidelity; it just means excessive marital infidelity!"), etc., all of which the Protestant churches opposed as vigorously as the Catholics, and for the same serious religious reasons. When they finally jettisoned this stance in the late 1600s, it was in response to changes that were already accomplished and entrenched in society, and accomplished because the rising wealthy commoners had emancipated their daily behavior from religious authority (an emancipation greatly aided by the break-up of Christian organizational unity --but that wasn't an effect that the Protestant reformers had aimed at.) Tawney doesn't speculate on whether the capitulation was a deliberate ploy to curry favor with the newly rich and powerful, or just an unconscious response to the new "selfishness is good!" zeitgeist of the day (I'd personally surmise that both factors were at work). This is necessarily a summary of 287 pages of text (the rest of the 337 pages are source notes and index); but I checked out and skimmed a copy again to make sure I wasn't oversimplifying or misrepresenting from faulty memory from 40 years ago. Written for average intelligent readers (of course, educated in a more rigorous school system than ours), the style is jargon-free and conversational without being dumbed-down, and I personally didn't find it at all dry or uninteresting in any part.
For me, this book was an intellectual catalyst that took my inchoate doubts and misgivings and gave them a concrete voice. I came to see that there IS a tradition of serious, intelligent Christian thought on socio-economic questions which actually reflects and applies the teachings of the Bible in concrete and practical ways; and that moral criticism of capitalist abuses can be based on this tradition, not drawn from outside of it. (Also, I came to realize for sure that the "selfishness is good" school is not, historically, a natural ally of the kind of conservatism I believe in; rather, it's a natural enemy.) And finally, though Tawney's analysis basically covers only the early modern era, it gave me an interpretive key to understand the desire of the wealthy capitalist class to free itself from moral and religious restraint as a broad, ongoing process that continues to shape Western intellectual and economic history --a process that explains the whole elevation of first Hume and then Darwin to thrones of unquestioned authority in Establishment thought, that explains the horrors of slavery and the Industrial Revolution, that explains today's twisted "globalism", and much else. I'd recommend this book to any reader who wants to understand the genesis of the modern world....more
Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, 1926. R.H. Tawney. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, 1905. Max Weber
Both are classics in the literature of economic social science.
Tawney was born in 1880 in Calcutta (now Kolkata) and in 1960 was buried at Highgate Cemetery, North London, today a de facto nature reserve. He wore many hats: economic historian, social critic, ethical socialist, Christian socialist, and was influential in all of them. Add to that his great passion for adult eduReligion and the Rise of Capitalism, 1926. R.H. Tawney. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, 1905. Max Weber
Both are classics in the literature of economic social science.
Tawney was born in 1880 in Calcutta (now Kolkata) and in 1960 was buried at Highgate Cemetery, North London, today a de facto nature reserve. He wore many hats: economic historian, social critic, ethical socialist, Christian socialist, and was influential in all of them. Add to that his great passion for adult education after joining the Workers Educational Association, and finding that charity was not enough. The downtrodden needed education to gain social justice. His education followed the usual route for boys of his ability and class: Rugby and Balliol College at Oxford. During the first war he served in the Royal Army as a sergeant, having turned down a commission because of his political beliefs.
In studying Christian religion, he found a fissure developing between traditional Christian teachings and the pursuit of material goods, and this comment reflects that view: "A society which reverences the attainment of riches as the supreme felicity will naturally be disposed to regard the poor as damned in the next world, if only to justify itself for making their life a hell in this." This echoes Max Weber.
Weber (1864-1820) also had interest in the connection between Capitalism and religion. Born in Erfurt Germany, he studied law at the University of Heidelberg and at 50 accepted a commission during the First World War, soon becoming disenchanted with the Kaiser's expansionist policies and unrestricted submarine warfare. He died of Influenza, a postwar epidemic forgotten today and known in Germany as the Spanish flu, and perhaps in Spain as the German flu. In those years children skipped-rope to this:
I had a little bird, Its name was Enza. I opened the window, And in-flew-enza.
In The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Weber held that capitalism was fostered by the Protestant work ethic, albeit as an economic force, which began unplanned and uncoordinated. Like topsy, it grew. Weber cites Benjamin Franklin, who coined "Time is money." Weber points to a common ethos among Protestants, the stress upon individual responsibility, as distinct from communal sharing. The Protestant Work ethic figured into this. Work not shirk, duty, not lazy. To feel saved, you could not just lie down, for sloth was Satan. Weber found in Calvin and his followers an example of this. Calvin taught double predestination, some were already damned, others blessed. With this view, how could one tell if he or she were chosen? No way was possible except by belief in outward manifestation. Quavering and fear reflected doubt, so self-confidence was needed instead. Self-confidence replaced the Catholic priests who gave comfort before The Reformation. The individual will, not the church, became central, and the success of the will was measured by material achievement.
From belief in the individual both Tawney and Weber trace the arising juggernaut of Capitalism. For Weber, worldly success became one measure of self-confidence. For Tawney, among other causes, the root lay with the individual "as absolute master of his own," who thereby had the "right to pecuniary gain," which led to the view that the "theory of property" must be "accepted by all civilized communities."
For Tawney, though, the source does not arise just from the individual as individual, but from a a world view that compartmentalized society, that believed things could only get better. Call it progress. This, as offset by the retreat of Christian churches with their community and charity in the face of the Capitalist juggernaut....more
The business of God ... is business 28 December 2012
It is interesting to chart the rise of the modern state, which in a way began back in the Renaissance and the period in European history known as the Babylonian Captivity (when the Papacy was moved from Rome to Avignion) to the modern day, and to see how all of the events are interconnected with each other. This book, though, probably should have the title of Protestantism and the rise of Capitalism, namely because it was through the ProtestantThe business of God ... is business 28 December 2012
It is interesting to chart the rise of the modern state, which in a way began back in the Renaissance and the period in European history known as the Babylonian Captivity (when the Papacy was moved from Rome to Avignion) to the modern day, and to see how all of the events are interconnected with each other. This book, though, probably should have the title of Protestantism and the rise of Capitalism, namely because it was through the Protestant Reformation that the individual gained the freedom to make their own choice as to how and where to (and whether to) worship God.
I don't necessarily believe that Capitalism is in and of itself a Christian concept, and in particular the Capitalism that is practised today is far from it. The Bible constantly exhorts us to consider and help the poor and the disadvantaged, and Jesus even says 'what you do for the least of these you do for me'. It is hard though, living in a wealthy and industrialised society, yet being a member of the middle class where we still need to work and we have to save for all the goodies that we want, to actually understand the plight of the poor in the developing world.
What the Reformation did though was to break us from the rules and the strictures of the Catholic Church, and one of them was the rule against lending at interest. However, it was not lending at interest that was bad, but lending at interest to a fellow Christian (which is what usury is). In the same way it is not bad for a Muslim to sell alcohol, just not sell it to a fellow Muslim.
What the removal of usury did was to create a means for individuals to be able to borrow funds to invest in business projects, though in those days the risk was still very high. For instance, there was a film I saw a while ago called Rob Roy where a Scottish farmer borrows money to trade livestock, only to have the baron from whom he borrowed from set him up so that he would lose all of the livestock and then land up in debt.
While such dubious schemes were not done away with immediately, what the Protestant religion has done is that it has influenced Western society to make us think more about acting ethically and consciously for the good of others. William Wilberforce brought an end to slavery in the British Empire, which had a knock on effect in the United States. While the French revolution was purely a secular event (since the French had nipped the Reformation in the bud during the St Bartholemew's Day Massacre) this revolution had a knock on effect in England where Parliament was forced to continue to reform.
The same goes with many of the left wing agitators in Britain and Germany, which forced the conservative government to invest in private education and healthcare, and when the Russian revolution occurred, this strengthened the Unions and the Labor parties to encourage their own countries to provide better services for the underpriviledged classes so that there would not be a similar revolt here.
However, I would not say that Capitalism is itself Christian, and in a way it is moving from the days where people were forced to change or die back to a feudal system when governments are sidelined and corporations are taking the role of the new lords. A man borrows money from a bank to start up an enterprise, only to discover that the corporate lords have raised the barriers to entry. In fact, family businesses are being destroyed by low cost retail, and many of these people who would live comfortably on their own business are being forced into bankruptcy and then into the ranks of the poor.
Also many Christians are taking the mantel of personal responsibility on board suggesting that if somebody is in trouble then they must have done something wrong to do that. Further, there is also the idea of dependency, such this meme:
The idea is that we cannot help the poor because if we help the poor, they will only become a greater burden to us, and thus they must pull themselves up by their own effort, particularly if another has managed to do that.
However the idea is trumped by the statement that these people don't need a handout (and many of them do not want a handout) but rather a hand up. In many cases the only reason the poor are forced to rely on handouts is because nobody is there to give them a hand up. As cuts are made to healthcare and education, many people are getting left further and further behind. People are caught in Westernised slums where they cannot get a job because of the belief that all people from that area (such as Elizabeth in South Australia) are all the same and are not employable. To be honest, one of the major aspects as to whether you get an interview or not is your postcode....more
As I dip into early modernism, these sort of sweeping analyses that work in a great deal of history are just the kind of slog I need. Part economic history and analysis social psychology, Tawney certainly implicates Puritan secularization of politics and economics and valorization of economic individualism in the rise of capitalism. It's not the sole factor: he notes that crucial banking systems were developed in Catholic countries, technologies of navigation allowed for increased supply of $ &aAs I dip into early modernism, these sort of sweeping analyses that work in a great deal of history are just the kind of slog I need. Part economic history and analysis social psychology, Tawney certainly implicates Puritan secularization of politics and economics and valorization of economic individualism in the rise of capitalism. It's not the sole factor: he notes that crucial banking systems were developed in Catholic countries, technologies of navigation allowed for increased supply of $ & luxury goods, and so on. But he explicitly rejects technological determinism in the formation of capitalism. The revolutionary secular individualism of Luther and Calvin's naturalization of business and trade as part of the life of the Christian ares the straw that stirs the drink (or whatever other metaphor). Puritanism helps to break Papal dominance of the European money market and authorizes traders and prosperous farmers to work against things like "just price" and acts seeking to slow rural depopulation caused by, among other things, enclosure of common lands. Anyway, that's one shitty thumbnail of the book. Useful also in contrasting Medieval systems of mutual obligation versus early modern forms of individualism and what this means in regard to who is responsible to the poor and in what ways. This was first published 1926--will be on the alert for what he gets wrong, what sticks in the discourse going forward. Also, on a basic level, struck by the obvious but easy to overlook fact that religion can powerfully mediate attitudes RE: economics. Kinda like the political theology thing. Can't understand the Right w/o it....more
A classic if now perhaps dated evaluation of man's economic drives. it was and still an influential explanation of motivation for the accumulation of wealth and the wish for prosperity; although nowadays simple naked greed seems more convincing with no veneer of any philosophy or religion to justify what drives the already unbelievably wealthy to steal more.
My old-guys-burnt-out-lefty book club read this one. As usual, being behind, I didn't read it until after we had discussed it. I had read it once before,45 years ago, little of it stayed with me. Not an easy read as it has those 19th century English long sentences, many quotes in Latin sprinkled here and there. A reader needs to be able to concentrate to get through it. That said, this is, in my view, a great book, a genuine `classic' in its field. The sections on Luther and Calvin - and how theMy old-guys-burnt-out-lefty book club read this one. As usual, being behind, I didn't read it until after we had discussed it. I had read it once before,45 years ago, little of it stayed with me. Not an easy read as it has those 19th century English long sentences, many quotes in Latin sprinkled here and there. A reader needs to be able to concentrate to get through it. That said, this is, in my view, a great book, a genuine `classic' in its field. The sections on Luther and Calvin - and how they did and didn't relate to the rising capitalist economy of their day is as good - and I believe as clear - as it gets, - this despite the long sentences. The interaction between religion and politics - a timely contemporary subject in another context - is usually complex, but important to understand. ...more
Definitely on the academic side - more so than Popular Delusions - lots of references to and citations of other literature on the subject. A lot of it covers the question, "How did the Catholic Church get so wealthy?" Covers Western Europe mostly ... a significant amount of the book deals with how the Catholic Church (and protestant sects once they're established) deal with the issue of interest ... is it usury and a sin against God or is it okay? Another issue is pricing of goods with the aim oDefinitely on the academic side - more so than Popular Delusions - lots of references to and citations of other literature on the subject. A lot of it covers the question, "How did the Catholic Church get so wealthy?" Covers Western Europe mostly ... a significant amount of the book deals with how the Catholic Church (and protestant sects once they're established) deal with the issue of interest ... is it usury and a sin against God or is it okay? Another issue is pricing of goods with the aim of profit....more
this is a very very very good book. covers much the same ground as weber's the protestant ethic. but the rise of cap. is more interested to show how capitalism/protestantism arose in sharp contrast to medieval ethics/economics. lots of cool references. goes way beyond like john locke & st. augstine.
There were parts of heavy slogging onwards, but as always with Tawney patience and effort finds a reward. Very beautiful in its thinking and sentiments, but I'm also an avowed fan of the author and medieval views on usury, so take it as you will.
“Granted, I should love my neighbor as myself, the questions which, under modern conditions of large-scale organization, remain for solution are, ''Who precisely is my neighbor?'' and ''How exactly am I to make my love for them effective in practice?''... It had insisted that all men were brethren. But it did not occur to it to point out that, as a result of the new economic imperialism, which was begging to develop in the 17th century, the brethren of the English merchant were the Africans whom he kidnapped for slavery in America, or the American Indians from whom he stripped of their lands, or the Indian craftsmen whom he bought muslin's and silks at starvation prices. Religion had not yet learned to console itself for the practical difficulty of applying its moral principles by clasping the comfortable formula that for the transaction of economic life no moral principles exist.”