The Authentic Tawney: A New Interpretation of the Political Thought of R. H. Tawney by Gary Armstrong and Tim Gray

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The Authentic Tawney: A New Interpretation of the Political Thought of R. H. Tawney by Gary Armstrong and Tim Gray

Category: Politics and Society
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Bone
Reviewed by Jill Bone
Summary: An excellent companion to the work of an important left wing thinker.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 250 Date: February 2011
Publisher: Imprint Academic
ISBN: 978-1845402242

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The Authentic Tawney takes a fresh look at the political writing of R H Tawney, a left wing academic whose works were a big influence on the huge program of postwar reform engineered by the Labour Party, particularly the provision of universal secondary education. The authors assert that Tawney's ideas changed markedly through the course of his life and that they lack the consistency that other interpreters have erroneously attributed to them. They reject the notion that his writings have an essential unity, which is philosophically interesting - don't we tend to assume that an intellectual's life's work will contain a central 'core' of ideas? Discussion of an important pioneer in democratic socialism also seems relevant at a time when Labour has 'lost its way' and evolved into a watered down version of the Conservatives.

The book deals with Tawney's work chronologically, beginning with 'The Commonplace Book', based on personal diary entries he wrote as a young man. Previous commentators have said that this very religious work provides the key to understanding Tawney's political thought and have cherry picked from his later works to justify that opinion. Armstrong and Gray argue that by adopting a chronological approach, one can clearly see Tawney's ideas of social reform evolve through his lifetime into a secular, humanistic vision with the Labour Party as the most suitable engine for change rather than the Christian Church (as was suggested in 'The Commonplace Book').

The arguments put forward in The Authentic Tawney are convincing and the book has helped me understand an important part of recent British history. However, as a critique of critiques it has the feel of a PHD thesis and may seem a bit peripheral to people without an enduring interest in the subject matter. The book probably works best as a companion to Tawney's original work rather than something to be read on its own.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Further reading suggestion: No Turning Back: The Peacetime Revolutions of Post-War Britain by Paul Addison

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Buy The Authentic Tawney: A New Interpretation of the Political Thought of R. H. Tawney by Gary Armstrong and Tim Gray at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Authentic Tawney: A New Interpretation of the Political Thought of R. H. Tawney by Gary Armstrong and Tim Gray at Amazon.com.


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