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". What was required was not merely "an open road, but To those who protested that the efforts to establish an equal start would compromise liberty, Tawney responded that real freedom required social justice.

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And I knew why. All Hattersleys were Labour. My allegiance was purely tribal — no different in kind or quantity from the devotion I felt for Sheffield Wednesday and Yorkshire County Cricket Club. The idea that I ought to have reasons for supporting the Labour party never entered my head. My only real ambition was to open the batting for England, but I gradually accepted, without much enthusiasm, that one day I would teach history or English in an old-fashioned grammar school — leather patches on my sports-coat elbows and willingness to help with games on Saturday.

By the time of the general election — in which I worked with a thoughtless partisan loyalty — I had been accepted at Leeds University to read English and Sheffield to read history.

My father made me promise that, during my first year, I "would not get involved in politics". Keeping that undertaking, unlike the promise about girls and alcohol, did not seem a problem. I read Equality during a week spent in a tin hut which we called a holiday bungalow on the Lincolnshire coast. By the time we returned home, my commitment to the Labour party had been transformed from tribal to ideological.

From then on, I had no doubt that the good society was the equal society. I knew, from that summer on, that nothing would satisfy me except a life in politics. And a combination of the old tribal loyalty and the record of the recently defeated Attlee government convinced me that the Labour party provided the best prospect of building the sort of Britain I wanted to see.

I began my long preparation to become a Labour MP by idiotically writing to all the northern universities with the request that they admit me to read economics, and took a copy of Equality with me to Hull. He made serious political philosophy fun and advanced high moral arguments in a way that stripped them of pretension and pomposity. The parable of the frog and tadpoles ridiculed the false hopes that encourage the acceptance of inequality. Some passages in Equality entranced me by their majestic certainty.

The existence of such opportunities in fact, and not merely in form, depends not only upon an open road, but upon an equal start.

Since then infant mortality rates have dramatically declined. But figures published last February by the Office for National Statistics show that the basic inequality remains: the infant mortality rate for "routine occupations and long-term unemployed" was 4. Medical science progresses, but society remains unequal; and inequality — whatever the prosperity of the nation as a whole — squanders talents, depresses aspirations and diminishes the prospects of poor people.

And the lesson changed my life.


How my support for Labour turned from tribal to ideological

He was educated at Rugby School , arriving on the same day as William Temple , a future Archbishop of Canterbury ; they remained friends for life. The experience was to have a profound effect upon him. He realised that charity was insufficient and major structural change was required to bring about social justice for the poor. To fulfil his teaching commitments to the WEA, he travelled first to Longton for the evening class every Friday, before travelling north to Rochdale for the Saturday afternoon class. Tawney clearly saw these classes as a two-way learning process. He was transported to a French field hospital and later evacuated to Britain. The war led Tawney to grapple with the nature of original sin.

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Richard Henry Tawney, fellowship and adult education

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. In place

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