The Foundations of a True Social Order text was approved by London Yearly Meeting in 1918 – a few months before the end of the first world war.
It had been prepared and revised by the War and Social Order Committee, in a process that included the whole Yearly Meeting. The War and Social Order Committee was set up by Yearly Meeting in 1915 – the first time Yearly Meeting met after the war broke out. Originally thirty-six strong, it eventually had over fifty members – which wasn’t unusually large for Quaker central committees at that time.
It was asked to investigate issues of “war and the social order”, not specifically to produce a corporate statement. The text that eventually became Foundations emerged as the concluding “Message to All Friends” from a conference organised by the committee.
- Much material similar to the Foundations is in Maurice Rowntree’s book ‘Co-operation or Chaos?’ – which was printed and publicised by the Committee.
- Many of the members of the War and Social Order Committee had very interesting lives, and a wide range of qualifications for their work (they included specialists in history, education, theology, economics; several COs and several suffrage campaigners; Bristol’s first female City Councillor; the first British Communist MP…). As with most Quaker texts, the names of the writers and contributors do not appear on the Foundations, and it is very difficult to work out who contributed what!
- Foundations was intended for the Yearly Meeting’s own use – it was not distributed as a public statement…
- …unlike, say, the “Yearly Meeting Message” of 1917, which appealed to all people of goodwill to bring about a swift end to the war, and was distributed internationally.
- Approving the text, Yearly Meeting minuted that accepting the Foundations “should be no formal act… we should continually test our life, individual and corporate, by the principles embodied in them”.
- After the war, the War and Social Order Committee continued to “hold” the Foundations text and to publicise it among Friends– organising conferences and speakers about it, encouraging Meetings to discuss it…
- …and meanwhile, Foundations was given a very prominent place in the revised Books of Discipline in the 1920s.
- In 1945, the War and Social Order Committee’s successor body (the Industrial and Social Order Council) produced a statement of “Social Testimony”, which includes many of the ideas in the Foundations.
- Introducing the statement to Yearly Meeting, they said they felt strongly that “while there was a generally accepted Peace Testimony, the Society has not yet adopted a testimony which is fundamental to the preservation of peace, since without a just and true economic order there can be no lasting peace”.
- They had experimented with revising and updating the language of the Foundations, but it was felt that what was actually needed was a more practical approach. Many leaflets were published in this discussion (despite ongoing paper shortages – which meant that those not selling well were also pulped), but no overall direction seems to have emerged.