Quakers & Capitalism: A Brief Recap

September 9, 2011 § 5 Comments

It’s been a while since I published an essay in the Quakers and Capitalism series, in which I’ve been digesting a book in progress, a sketchy and rather schematic history of the influence that Friends and capitalism have had on each other. Because of the piecemeal nature of blog posting, I have found myself losing track of my progress and of the arc of the whole; I imagine my readers may have, too. Also, I had fallen behind in creating pdf files of these postings. Thus, before I go on, I’ve decided to offer a brief (well, medium-sized) recap of the project so far.

I have also finished and reorganized the pdf files for each ‘chapter’ in the book. The summary below has links to the respective files and they are also listed as links on the page labeled Quakers & Capitalism—The Book, accessible from the navigation column to the left of the posts. Reading those pdf files in order will give you the main thread of the book. Note that there are several appendices. I’m not satisfied with their style and formatting—I think they’re ugly, in fact, though properly Quaker plain, I suppose—but I did not want to delay while I experiment with style.

I have divided this history of Quakers and capitalism into three main periods: the 1650s, 1700 to 1900, and the 20th century. These are separated by major periods of transition, periods lasting roughly a generation in which external forces collide with forces within Quakerism to transform both capitalist culture and Quaker culture in a symbiotic relationship. During these periods of transition, Quaker fortunes and their relationship with the world around them completely change. Here’s the sketchy outline, with links to their respective essays:

  • Introduction — Introducing John Bellers as perhaps the second most well-known Quaker in history, a man of extraordinary talent and intelligence who had a tremendous impact on Western culture, yet is almost completely unknown among his own Quaker community. Why? Introducing the idea of cultural amnesia regarding economics among Friends, the almost utter lack of meaningful economic testimony (until very recently, at least), notwithstanding our almost indispensable role in creating and developing the capitalist system, and the need for a ministry of teaching and prophetic examination of Quaker economic history.
  • Quakers & Capitalism — Introduction

    • The 1650s — Early Friends (who were mostly yeoman farmers and small trades people) assail the world order with revolutionary fervor in the Lamb’s War, challenging some aspects of economic life, notably in the practices of plain speech and refusing hat honor, but somewhat indirectly, as their focus was essentially religious and aimed primarily at the church. Friends absorb the leaders and members of both the Diggers and the Levellers, more radical egalitarian social movements, but do not absorb their ideas.

    Quakers & Capitalism — The 1650s

      • First major transition (1661 – 1695) — Externally, the persecutions, and internally, the establishment of gospel order, completely transform Quaker culture and Quaker economics. After the Restoration, the state tries to stamp the movement out and seizes vast amounts of Quaker treasure over roughly thirty years. Friends respond to these external pressures by reorganizing—or perhaps organizing would be a better description—instituting structures and processes for internal discipline. Notwithstanding the intense economic assault, however, Friends emerge from this period as a class of wealthy merchants poised to create not quite single-handedly the first truly new platform for creating wealth since the invention of agriculture: industrial capitalism. This extraordinary feat—not just thriving in the face of economic oppression, but ending up in a position to change the world, after all—was a cultural miracle.

    First Transition: Persecution and Gospel Order

    • 1700 – 1900: The Double-culture Period
      • The 18th century — During the 18th century and on into the 19th century, Quakers make many of the indispensable technological innovations upon which industrial capitalism depends, including coke smelting, cast steel, and the railroad. They build many of the key industries, establish many of the most important companies, build its financial infrastructure, develop new modes of organization, and pioneer humane treatment of workers. At the same time that they are engaging the world of business, industry and commerce with incredible energy and invention, they are withdrawing from engagement with the world in virtually every other area of life. Friends maintain this double culture for two hundred years. In England, they become fabulously wealthy; in America, they do pretty well.
      • John Bellers and Quaker responses to Industrial capitalism — Already by 1700, the new industrial economy was creating a new class of the poor: industrial workers, people who had left the land or their village to work in the new urban factories. One extraordinary Friend, John Bellers, saw the problem and proposed a solution: Colledges of Industry. In several pamphlets over 25 years, he brought his ideas to Friends and to Parliament. Both declined to act on them. He made many other significant contributions to Western civilization, as well, only to be virtually forgotten by his own people for two hundred years.

    Quakers & Capitalism — The Double-culture Period

    Quakers & Capitalism — Quaker Contributions to Industrial Capitalism

      • Minor transition (1800 – 1828) — Two new ideologies, or domains of western thought, are born as fraternal twins around 1800— evangelical theology and the new ‘science’ of political economy. Thomas Malthus, in particular, was both an evangelical minister and one of the first progenitors of political economy; in his work, the two are fused into one approach to wealth and poverty. Evangelical political economy dominates economic policy in competition with classical economics; Malthus, the evangelical minister, and David Ricardo the investor, (and married to a Quaker, though a Jew converted to Unitarianism himself), embody this rivalry in the early 1800s, though they are personal friends. Joseph John Gurney and Thomas Chalmers make the most influential connection between evangelical Friends and evangelical political economy; these hugely influential figures also are friends.
      • The 19th century — Quakers fragment under the influence of evangelicalism and some evangelical Friends partially reengage with economic/social issues, notably becoming leaders in the philanthropical movement that is the signature response to capitalism’s collateral damage in the Victorian period.

    Quakers & Capitalism — Evangelicalism and Political Economy

      • Major transition (1895 – 1920) — A number of external forces combine with new trends in Quakerism to end the double-culture period and usher in the spirit of liberal engagement with the world that characterizes much of Quaker culture in the 20th century. Quakers had cut a deal with the powers that be: leave us alone and we’ll leave you alone. Now the deal was off.

    Second major transition: The Corporation, the Great War, Liberalism and the Social Order

    This last transition period is a complex one and deserves a little more treatment. For one thing, the fragmentation of Quaker culture in the 1800s means that the forces unleashed at the turn of the century affect different communities differently. You can’t really tell just one story, as I have been trying to do so far. And these forces are so many and so complex that it’s hard to treat them properly in a format like a blog. But here goes:

        • The rise of corporate capitalism — The laws governing the limited liability corporation are finally settled definitively in the 1890s in both America and Britain and the modern corporation is born—a business owned by shareholders rather than private families and so big as to require management. Over time, this innovation deconstructs the great Quaker fortunes in Great Britain.
        • The emergence of the social sciences, including the science of economics — New kinds of thinking are brought to bear on social problems. The Quaker Benjamin Seebohm Rowntree of the Rowntree chocolate dynasty plays a central role in proving scientifically that the poor are not poor because of poor character but because of structural inequities in capitalism itself. In England, the rise of New Liberalism gives birth to a new political party and inaugurates the welfare state, in which, for the first time, government tries to protect the citizenry from capitalism’s downside.
        • Classical economics takes the field — Classical economic theory eclipses evangelical political economy, which was already in decline. However, the spirit of evangelical political economy—the blame for poverty on character (sin), the reliance on private and faith-based solutions for social ills, and the dread of government intervention—lies dormant.
        • The rise of liberalism — The Richmond Conference in America in 1887 and the Manchester Conference in England in 1895 mark the beginning of ‘liberal’ Quakerism, in which ‘liberal’ ideas, especially the scientific study of the Bible, transform and galvanize British Friends and the Hicksite branch of American Quakerism. FGC and FUM (then Five Years Meeting) are born. Rufus Jones introduces a new historiography of Quakerism in which the faith is recast as “mystical” and Fox’s phrase “that of God in everyone” is understood anew as a kind of neo-Platonic divine spark; it becomes over time the central tenet of liberal Quakerism.
        • The Great War — For the first time in two hundred years, Friends are persecuted for their convictions of conscience. This helps to decisively pull Quakers, especially young adult Friends, back into engagement with the world. AFSC is born.
        • The rise of ‘social concerns’ — London Yearly Meeting explores the relationship between war and the social order and, in 1918, approves the Foundations of a True Social Order, a decisive departure from the hands-off attitude toward the social order maintained during the double-culture period and a fairly radical indictment of capitalism as one of the factors leading to the Great War. The document and the debate are carried forward into the first Friends World Conference in 1920 in London. Quaker culture enters the modern era.

    I’ve not yet written one of these transition essays, on the rise of liberalism. I have a lot of new notes from recent research that I need to digest first. And I’ve only just begun to research the economic history of Friends during the twentieth century. In a subsequent entry, I do want to outline the subjects and the people who I think figure prominently in 20th century Quakerism, and I invite any readers who know any of these subjects or people in some depth to contribute. It’s going to take me a while, a long while, to finish this project alone. I welcome collaboration.

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    § 5 Responses to Quakers & Capitalism: A Brief Recap

    • youth sports says:

      Thats an all ’round good piece!!

    • brasfutebol says:

      Wonderfully well written read

    • Emily says:

      I don’t believe you need be an evangelical to believe in genuinely doing good.
      Doug Gwynn quoted from Galatians 2:20, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” to prove that only the evangelicals, only those who feel Christ’s crucifixion can feel the need to give, and are the only truly Christians.
      Was that what Christ asked of us? Paul earlier had advised the Galatians (5:13) to simply “by love be servants of one another.” This harkens back to the actual words of Jesus when he praised a centurion for having a faith which he’d never before seen, a faith that was evidenced by the centurion to act as the servant of his own slave when that slave needed healing, pleading for Jesus to heal his servant. This plea made in deep humility in spite of his own enormous power. The faith Jesus sensed in the centurion came from the centurion’s energetic love, not faith in the Bible, which the centurion hadn’t read. The centurion had also not experienced Christ’s crufixion; the centurion did not speak of any covenant with God; he felt was a covenant with his servant.
      Joseph Sturge, a moderate reformist Quaker suspicious of Quakers of both the Evangelical and Unitarian bent, wrote of rules in Quaker meetings having become so strict that “Christ himself would not have been permitted to join.” Is that what we want?

    • Emily says:

      Quakers did absorb many of the ideas of the Levellers. If you consider Thomas Paine to be a Quaker (as he himself did, along with many others; his father was a Quaker, disowned for marrying an Anglican, he was raised with Quaker principles, and as a child oftentimes dressed as a Quaker), espoused many of the ideas of the Levellers in “Agrarian Justice.” Quaker opposition to wealthy landownership, which constantly appeared reflects basic Leveller principles.
      In the 1880s, many Quakers heeded Henry George, whose basic principles of economic justice through taxation of land, which belongs to all humans follows the principles of the Levellers. George, through his speeches and his international bestseller Progress and Poverty, galvanized many Quakers into joining Quaker socialist movements in the 1880s (George was not a socialist however; he believed that property that one creates should belong to the creator). Drew Harris, a Quaker and former director of a Henry George School, once wrote that he was 16 before he realized that not all Quakers routinely discussed Georgism at dinner. Elizabeth Magie Phillips, director of a Henry George School, had many Georgist Friends, who together developed the Landlord Game.

      Anspach, Ralph. The billion dollar Monopoly swindle: during a David and Goliath battle, the inventor of the Anti-Monopoly game uncovers the secret history of Monopoly. (American printing, 1998)

      Davidson, J. Morrison. Concerning four precursors of Henry George and the single tax, as also “the Land Gospel” according to Winstanley “the Digger.” (Kennikat Press, 1899, 1971)

    • Emily says:

      Quakers did respond to Bellers. Quakers made at least three attempts to put Bellers’ ideas into place.
      Clerkenwell, which opened under Quaker management in 1702.
      New Lanark, “started” in 1816, when socialist Robert Allen delivered a speech at his factory in New Lanark marking “the new millennium” whereby the factory would become some kind of new utopia with school. 3 Quakers were on the board of the New Lanark project;
      Lindfield, begun under the management of Quaker pharmacist William Allen in 1824. Allen had been on the board for New Lanark; he spent a good deal of thought and time on researching the Lindfield project.
      All three of these experiments failed, for various reasons.
      The fact that these projects failed, and that Bellers’ ideas for a work commune were intended for a rural economy, not today’s urban economy, may be why he’s been forgotten.
      It’s ironic that the USSR should remember him so strongly, since Bellers strongly opposed state oversight, which certainly was a major definition of the USSR; it’s also possible he was so widely popular because the USSR did, in its beginnings, have a very rural economy.

      Belasco, Philip S. “John Bellers.” (Economica, June 1925)
      Bernstein, Eduard. Cromwell and communism: socialism and democracy in the great English revolution. (Schocken, 1963)
      Chapman-Huston, Desmond and Ernest C. Cripps. Through a city archway: the story of Allen & Hanbury’s, 1715-1954. (John Murray, 1954).
      Darley, Gillian. Villages of vision. (Architectural Press, Ltd., 1975; revised and updated 2007). (The 1975 edition of the book is chiefly illustrations, while the 2007 edition is sparsely illustrated.)
      Hutton, Richard. Richard Hutton’s complaints book – The notebook of the Steward of the Quaker workhouse at Clerkenwell, 1711-1737. http://www.british-ac.uk. Available from the British Historical Society.
      Nicolle, Margaret. William Allen: Quaker Friend of Lindfield, 1770-1843 (Smallprint, 2001)
      Zepper, John T. “John T. Bellers—educator of Marx?” (Science and society, Spring, 1979)

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