was a British
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was the formal name of the United Kingdom during the period when what is now the Republic of Ireland formed a part of it....
Economic history is the study of economies or economic phenomena in the past. Analysis in economic history is undertaken using a combination of historical methods, statistical methods and by applying economic theory to historical situations and institutions...
also noted for his social commitment and desire to improve the living conditions of the working class
Working class is a term used in the social sciences and in ordinary conversation to describe those employed in lower tier jobs , often extending to those in unemployment or otherwise possessing below-average incomes...
Toynbee was born in London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...
, the son of the physician Joseph Toynbee
Joseph Toynbee was an English otologist, whose career was dedicated to pathological and anatomical studies of the ear.He was born in Heckington, Lincolnshire in 1815....
, a pioneering otolaryngologist
Otolaryngology or ENT is the branch of medicine and surgery that specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of ear, nose, throat, and head and neck disorders....
was the uncle, via his brother Harry Valpy Toynbee, of universal historian
Universal history is basic to the Western tradition of historiography, especially the Abrahamic wellspring of that tradition. Simply stated, universal history is the presentation of the history of humankind as a whole, as a coherent unit.-Ancient authors:...
Arnold Joseph Toynbee
Arnold Joseph Toynbee CH was a British historian whose twelve-volume analysis of the rise and fall of civilizations, A Study of History, 1934–1961, was a synthesis of world history, a metahistory based on universal rhythms of rise, flowering and decline, which examined history from a global...
(1889–1975); with whom he is often confused.
Toynbee attended public schools
A public school, in common British usage, is a school that is neither administered nor financed by the state or from taxpayer contributions, and is instead funded by a combination of endowments, tuition fees and charitable contributions, usually existing as a non profit-making charitable trust...
Blackheath is a district of South London, England. It is named from the large open public grassland which separates it from Greenwich to the north and Lewisham to the west...
Woolwich is a district in south London, England, located in the London Borough of Greenwich. The area is identified in the London Plan as one of 35 major centres in Greater London.Woolwich formed part of Kent until 1889 when the County of London was created...
. In 1873 he began to study political economy
Political economy originally was the term for studying production, buying, and selling, and their relations with law, custom, and government, as well as with the distribution of national income and wealth, including through the budget process. Political economy originated in moral philosophy...
at Oxford University
The University of Oxford is a university located in Oxford, United Kingdom. It is the second-oldest surviving university in the world and the oldest in the English-speaking world. Although its exact date of foundation is unclear, there is evidence of teaching as far back as 1096...
, first at Pembroke College
Pembroke College is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in England, located in Pembroke Square. As of 2009, Pembroke had an estimated financial endowment of £44.9 million.-History:...
and from 1875 at Balliol College, where he went on to teach after his graduation in 1878. His lectures on the history of the Industrial Revolution
The Industrial Revolution was a period from the 18th to the 19th century where major changes in agriculture, manufacturing, mining, transportation, and technology had a profound effect on the social, economic and cultural conditions of the times...
in 18th and 19th century Britain proved widely influential; in fact, Toynbee coined, or at least effectively popularised, the term "Industrial Revolution" in the Anglophone world—in Germany and elsewhere it had been brought into circulation earlier by Friedrich Engels
Friedrich Engels was a German industrialist, social scientist, author, political theorist, philosopher, and father of Marxist theory, alongside Karl Marx. In 1845 he published The Condition of the Working Class in England, based on personal observations and research...
, also under the impression of the industrial changes in Britain.
He married Charlotte Atwood, 12 years his senior and a cousin of Harold F. Davidson, the famous rector of Stiffkey.
Toynbee died in 1883, at age 30. His health had rapidly deteriorated, probably due to exhaustion by excessive work .
The Toynbees have been prominent in British intellectual society for several generations (note that this diagram is not a comprehensive Toynbee family tree)
According to Arnold Toynbee, applying the historical method
The English historical school of economics, although not nearly as famous as its German counterpart, sought a return of inductive methods in economics, following the triumph of the deductive approach of David Ricardo in the early 19th century...
Economics is the social science that analyzes the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. The term economics comes from the Ancient Greek from + , hence "rules of the house"...
would reveal how supposedly universal economic laws were, in fact, relative. For example, he argued that, despite commonly held beliefs, free trade
Under a free trade policy, prices emerge from supply and demand, and are the sole determinant of resource allocation. 'Free' trade differs from other forms of trade policy where the allocation of goods and services among trading countries are determined by price strategies that may differ from...
was not generally advantageous in itself, but only under certain circumstances, which should not be considered absolute. Toynbee considered few laws as universally true, such as the law of diminishing returns. Therefore, there were no universal rules as to how strongly the state should interfere in the marketplace; all depended on the situation and varying degrees of regulation could be appropriate.
Another idea Toynbee dismissed was that free competition was universally beneficial to economic and societal progress, especially as reflected in its apotheosis in Social Darwinism
Social Darwinism is a term commonly used for theories of society that emerged in England and the United States in the 1870s, seeking to apply the principles of Darwinian evolution to sociology and politics...
, which promoted laissez-faire capitalism. Toynbee did not equate "a struggle for mere existence and a struggle for a particular kind of existence."
From the very beginning of history, he argued, all human civilization was essentially designed to "interfere with this brute struggle. We intend to modify the violence of the fight, and to prevent the weak being trampled under foot."
Although economic competition does have its advantages, being the driving force behind technical progress, these were "gained at the expense of an enormous waste of human life and labour, which might be avoided by regulation."
Toynbee suggested a differentiation between competition in production on the one hand, and competition in the distribution of goods on the other:
[...] the struggle of men to outvie one another in production is beneficial to the community; their struggle over the division of the joint produce is not. The stronger side will dictate its own terms; and as a matter of fact, in the early days of competition, the capitalists used all their power to oppress the labourers, and drove down wages to starvation point. This kind of competition has to be checked; there is no historical instance of its having lasted long without being modified either by combination or legislation, or both. In England both remedies are in operation, the former through Trades Unions, the latter through factory legislation.
In itself, a market based on competition was neither good nor bad, but like "a stream whose strength and direction have to be observed, that embankments may be thrown up within which it may do its work harmlessly and beneficially"
. However, in the early phase of industrial capitalism "it came to be believed in as a gospel, [...] from which it was regarded as little short of immoral to depart"
For Toynbee, early industrial capitalism and the situation of the working class in it was not just a subject of ivory-tower studies; he was actively involved in improving the living conditions of the proletariat
The proletariat is a term used to identify a lower social class, usually the working class; a member of such a class is proletarian...
. He read for workers in large industrial centres and encouraged the creation of trade union
A trade union, trades union or labor union is an organization of workers that have banded together to achieve common goals such as better working conditions. The trade union, through its leadership, bargains with the employer on behalf of union members and negotiates labour contracts with...
s and co-operatives. A focal point of his commitment was the slum of Whitechapel
Whitechapel is a built-up inner city district in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, London, England. It is located east of Charing Cross and roughly bounded by the Bishopsgate thoroughfare on the west, Fashion Street on the north, Brady Street and Cavell Street on the east and The Highway on the...
, in east London, where he helped to establish public libraries for the working class population. Toynbee also encouraged his students to offer free courses for working class audiences in their own neighbourhoods.
Inspired by his ideas, Samuel Augustus Barnett
Samuel Augustus Barnett was an Anglican clergyman and social reformer particularly associated with the establishment of the first university settlement, Toynbee Hall in east London in 1884....
and Henrietta Barnett
founded the first university settlement in 1884, shortly after Tonybee's death; it was named Toynbee Hall
Toynbee Hall is a building in Tower Hamlets, East London which is the home of a charity working to bridge the gap between people of all social and financial backgrounds, with a focus on eradicating poverty and promoting social inclusion....
in his honour. A centre for social reform, Toynbee Hall was on Commercial Street, Whitechapel. It remains active today. The concept was to bring upper and middle class students into lower class neighbourhoods, not only to provide education and social aid, but to actually live and work together with their inhabitants. This soon inspired a worldwide movement of university settlements. The idea was to help members of the future elite understand the problems of British society; this was especially important at a time when class divisions were much stronger, social mobility was minimal, and the living conditions of the poor were completely unknown to many members of the upper class. Toynbee Hall attracted many students, especially from Oxford's Wadham College and, Balliol College, where Toynbee had taught.
In 1916, the Arnold Toynbee House
in New York was founded by a group of young adults who were part of the Stevenson Club at Madison House and with the help of philanthropist Rose Gruening. Eight years later, the settlement house was renamed Grand Street Settlement
Grand Street Settlement is an historic social service institution on the Lower East Side in New York City and was founded in 1916 in response to the needs of waves of immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe who were settling in the area...
Views on Industrial Revolution
According to Toynbee, "the essence of the Industrial Revolution" was "the substitution of competition for the medieval regulations which had
previously controlled the production and distribution of wealth." Among its components were an "agrarian revolution" that produced "the alienation
between farmer and labourer" and in the manufacturing world, the appearance of a "new class of great capitalist employers." "The old relations between masters and men disappeared, and a 'cash nexus' was substituted for the human tie." Summing up his interpretation, Toynbee wrote, "the Wealth of Nations
and the steam-engine...destroyed the old world and built a new one." For Toynbee, this coupling seemed self-evident. Steam-powered factories, the Wealth of Nations
, competition, the cash-nexus and the rise of pauperism formed part of a single phenomenon.
In response to this bleak scenario, Toynbee proposed a test for when the state should become involved in the regulation of an economic or social sphere of society to even the balance between industry and labor. He proposed the "Radical Creed," which, "as I understand it, is this: We have not abandoned our old belief in liberty, justice, and Self-help, but we say that under certain conditions the people cannot help themselves, and that then they should be helped by the State representing directly the whole people. In giving this State help, we make three conditions: first, the matter must be one of primary social importance; next, it must be proved to be practicable; thirdly, the State interference must not diminish self-reliance. Even if the chance should arise of removing a great social evil, nothing must be done to weaken those habits of individual self-reliance and voluntary association which have built up the greatness of the English people."