Fragments

A Miscellany of Study

Category: R.H. Tawney

Usury

But on the iniquity of payment merely for the act of lending, theological opinion, whether liberal or conservative, was unanimous, and its modern interpreter, who sees in its indulgence to interesse the condonation of interest, would have created a scandal in theological circles in any age before that of Calvin.  To take usury is contrary to Scripture; it is contrary to Aristotle; it is contrary to nature, for it is to live without labor; it is to sell time, which belongs to God, for the advantage of wicked men; it is to rob those who use the money lent, and to whom, since they make it profitable, the profits should belong; it is unjust in itself, for the benefit of the loan to the borrower cannot exceed the value of its principal sum lent him; it is in defiance of sound juristic principles, for when a loan of money is made, the property in the thing lent passes to the borrower and why should the creditor demand payment from a man who is merely using what is now his own? (43-44)

R.H. Tawney | Religion and the Rise of Capitalism

Avarice

The medieval theorist condemned as a sin precisely that effort to achieve a continuous and unlimited increase in material wealth which modern societies applaud as a quality, and the vices for which he reserved his most merciless denunciations were the more refined and subtle of the economic virtues. “He who has enough to satisfy his wants,” wrote a Schoolman of the fourteenth century, “and nevertheless ceaselessly labors to acquire riches, either in order to obtain a higher social position, or that subsequently he may have enough to live without labor, or that his sons may become men of wealth and importance — all such are incited by a damnable avarice, sensuality, or pride.”  Two and a half centuries later, in the midst of a revolution in the economic and spiritual environment, Luther, in even more unmeasured language, was to say the same.  The essence of the argument was that payment may properly be demanded by the craftsmen who make the goods, or by the merchants who transport them, for both labor in their vocation and serve the common need.  The unpardonable sin is that of the speculator or the middleman, who snatches private gain by the exploitation of public necessities.  The true descendant of the doctrines of Aquinas is the labor theory of value.  The last of the Schoolmen was Karl Marx. (35-36)

R.H. Tawney | Religion and the Rise of Capitalism

Secularization in England

Modern social theory, like modern political theory, develops only when society is given a naturalistic instead of a religious explanation, and a capital fact which presides at the birth of both is a change in the conception held of the nature and functions of a Church.  The crucial period is the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  The most important arena (apart from Holland) is England, because it is in England, with its new geographical position as the entrepôt between Europe and America, its achievement of internal economic unity two centuries before France and two and a half centuries before Germany, its constitutional revolution, and its powerful bourgeoisie of bankers, shipowners, and merchants, that the transformation of the structure of society is earliest, swiftest, and most complete.  Its essence is the secularization of social and economic philosophy.  The synthesis is resolved into its elements — politics, business, and spiritual exercises; each assumes a separate and independent vitality and obeys the laws of its own being.  The social functions matured within the Church, and long identified with it, are transferred to the State, which in turn is idolized as the dispenser of prosperity and the guardian of civilization.  The theory of a hierarchy of values, embracing all human interests and activities in a system of which the apex is religion, is replaced by the conception of separate and parallel compartments, between which a due balance should be maintained, but which have no vital connection with each other. (8)

R.H. Tawney | Religion and the Rise of Capitalism