The Prince, Schumacher and Orwell: more from the College of Woo

In the last post I pointed to the course offered by the Schumacher college in Devon and how the philosophy promoted there is closely linked to Rudolph Steiner and Anthroposophy, “Goethean Science”, and all manner of other woo based on the fundamental idea that environmental problems are a result of a materialistic view of the universe and consequent loss of “spirituality”.

As “S” has pointed out in the comments, one of the champions of this world-view is HRH the Prince of Wales, connected to Schumacher through his Duchy College, where Steiner’s mystic biodynamic agriculture is promoted.

Charles also has a chapter in the Lorimer book A New Renaissance: Transforming Science, Spirit and Society entitled ‘Restoring Harmony and Connection: Inner and Outer’. As mentioned in the last post, the book has several chapters by authors who run courses at Schumacher.

Lorimer is also the author of a book about HRH called “The Radical Prince”; he is also the Chair of the Wrekin Trust, which The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions describes as “A New Age movement established in Britain by Sir George Trevelyan (1906–96), who became an advocate of ‘alternative spirituality’ after hearing a lecture on Rudolph Steiner’s anthroposophy in 1942.”

It is well-known that Charles has a penchant for alternative medicine and various forms of occultism, and this seems to underpin his environmental concerns. Just this week, science writer Simon Singh has said the Prince is “ideologically fixated” with alternative therapies such as homeopathy, and refuses to accept the overwhelming scientific evidence that these treatments do not work.

According to this article by Richard Tyler of the World Socialist Network

Throughout his adult life, the Prince has been prone to make public utterances on topics he knows little about, from architecture to nanotechnology—each time exposing his extremely limited intellectual horizons. But more recently, he is said to have held a series of meetings with David Lorimer, a former Winchester College teacher, who heads the Scientific and Medical Network group, which have informed his thinking. The group describes its mission as “to challenge the adequacy of scientific materialism as an explanation of reality”. The group publishes pseudoscientific articles, such as “Minds Beyond Brains,” claiming to explain telepathy and other supposed parapsychological phenomena

Christopher Hitchens describes HRH in this 2010 article in The Australian:

In his view, materialism and consumerism represented an imbalance, “where mechanistic thinking is so predominant” and which “goes back at least to Galileo’s assertion that there is nothing in nature but quantity and motion”. He described the scientific world view as an affront to all the world’s “sacred traditions”. Then for the climax:

As a result, nature has been completely objectified – she has become an it – and we are persuaded to concentrate on the material aspect of reality that fits within Galileo’s scheme.

Hitchens continues:

We have known for a long time that Prince Charles’s empty sails are so rigged as to be swelled by any passing waft or breeze of crankiness and cant. He fell for the fake anthropologist Laurens van der Post. He was bowled over by the charms of homeopathic medicine. He has been believably reported as saying that plants do better if you talk to them in a soothing and encouraging way. But this latest departure promotes him from an advocate of harmless nonsense to positively sinister nonsense.

The sinister nonsense Hitchens refers to is that of Islamist groups who see Europe as a fertile ground for restoring the Islamist Caliphate and Sharia law- the Prince was in fact addressing an audience at the Centre for Islamic Studies at Oxford University, an institution of which he is the patron.

Closer to home, the racist doctrines of Anthroposophy, and their influence on the environmental movement, might be of more concern to us (although surely Hitch is right that the dangers of Islam should not be underestimated) but how significant is this for the environmental movement really, beyond the whacky Prince and the College of Woo?

Alarmingly, a book published last year was co-authored with HRH by Ian Skelly– who apparently helped write the Prince’s speech to the Center for Islamic Studies- and Tony Juniper– one of “the most effective of Britain’s eco-warriors” according to the Independent, and vice-chair of Friends of the Earth International 2001-8, who also works as a Special Adviser to the Prince of Wales Charities’ International Sustainability Unit.

The book is called Harmony- A New Way of Looking at the World and the publisher’s website tells us:

For the first time, HRH The Prince of Wales shares his views on how our most pressing modern challenges—from climate change to poverty—are rooted in mankind’s disharmony with nature, presenting a compelling case that the solution lies in our ability to regain a balance with the world around us

With its holistic approach, this provocative and well-reasoned book takes the discussion of sustainability and climate change in a new direction. Prince Charles shows how the solutions to problems like climate change lie not only in technology but in our ability to change the way we view the modern world.

What is a prominent environmentalist doing so closely associated with such a load of woo? How much of it might he believe himself? To what degree do these occultist beliefs influence FoE strategy and campaigns, such as the anti-science opposition to Genetic Engineering (also shared by the Prince) and nuclear power – and other projects Juniper is involved in such as the appalling 10:10 campaign against climate change?

I have not read the book myself, but am told it refers to Steiner as ‘a philosopher’ and praises the Transition Town Movement, presumably because he feels it is a good example of what the Prince believes in.

Right: Transition Towns Llandeilo present HRH Prince Charles with a Walnut Tree

What then of Schumacher himself, widely regarded as one of the Godfather’s of the environmental movement? On the last post, Nick Nakorn suggested that the Schumacher estate no longer want anything to do with the college that takes the economists’ name; but E.F. Schumacher himself seems to me to have clearly shared similar beliefs of anti-modernism and wistful, romantic views of the past and how we should return to it- or at least, deter the undeveloped peoples of the world from following the same path we have, lest their precious traditional cultures be soiled by exposure to the gains and benefits of the modern world, science and reason.

Schumacher was suspicious of modern technology and held romantic views of the poor:

…the present consumer society is like a drug addict who, no matter how miserable he may feel, finds it extremely difficult to get off the hook. The problem children of the world – from this point of view and in spite of many other considerations that could be adduced – are the rich societies and not the poor.

This view of wealth as being a greater problem than poverty is pervasive in contemporary environmental views also; but it is exactly backwards: the reality is, while subsistence farming and village crafts might look superficially appealing to the wealthy who are disillusioned with their office job but have time to travel, the problems of the wealthy- while real enough and often quite novel- are trivial compared to the problems of the poor.

His ideas on our relationship with nature have also informed much of the modern environmental movement:

Modern man does not experience himself as a part of nature but as an outside force destined to dominate and conquer it. He even talks of a battle with nature, forgetting that, if he won the battle, he would find himself on the losing side.

But this idea, key in modern environmentalism, ignores the reality that survival for ALL species- not just humans- has always been a “battle” against the rest of nature, played out throughout the eons as the process of natural selection; Schumacher makes the mistake that all romanticists and Deep Ecologists make, failing to acknowledge that humans really are different from other species, that we alone have the capacity to develop technology that can overcome natural limits, and that can even, as it improves, help ameliorate some of the problems it had created in earlier stages.

Martin Durkin – controversial producer of the climate skeptics’ film The Great Global Warming Swindle, sees Schumacher as part of a tradition of environmentalism rooted in socialism and a preference for state control to solve environmental problems:

E. F. Schumacher, in his classic green text Small is Beautiful, advocates, in place of capitalist free markets, a ‘national plan’ imposed by ‘some central agency’. And he reminds us, in sinister tones, ‘Planning (as I suggest the term should be used) is inseparable from power’. National planning by a central agency would, he says, give us ‘a more democratic and dignified system of industrial administration’. And, with topsy-turvy logic, he equates State control with freedom, ‘private ownership of the means of production is severely limited in its freedom of choice of objectives, because it is compelled to be profit-seeking, and tends to take a narrow and selfish view of things. Public ownership gives complete freedom in the choice of objectives and can therefore be used for any purpose that may be chosen.’ How free they must all have felt in the old Soviet Union!

For Durkin, it is not so much that state control is the preferred- or only- way to address environmental problems, but rather that environmental scare-mongering is the preferred way to install more centralised control:

are the Greens looking after the dolphins, or are the dolphins looking after the Greens?

But what is the link between this leftist politics and the occult?
A friend sent me this quote from George Orwell, suggesting that Orwell should be essential reading for environmentalists:

How do Yeat’s political ideas link up with his leaning towards occultism? It is not clear at first glance why hatred of democracy and a tendency to believe in crystal-gazing should go together. Mr Menon only discusses this rather shortly, but it is possible to make two guesses. To begin with, the theory that civilisation moves in recurring cycles is one way out for people who hate the concept of human equality.

If it is true that “all this”, or something like it, “has happened before”, then science and the modern world are debunked at one stroke and progress becomes for ever impossible. It does not much matter if the lower orders are getting above themselves, for, after all, we shall soon be returning to an age of tyranny. Yeats is by no means alone in this outlook. If the universe is moving round on a wheel, the future must be foreseeable, perhaps even in some detail. It is merely a question of discovering the laws of its motion, as the early astronomers discovered the solar year. Believe that, and it becomes difficult not to believe in astrology or some similar system.

A year before the war, examining a copy of Gringoire, the French Fascist weekly, much read by army officers, I found in it no less than thirty-eight advertisements of clairvoyants. Secondly, the very concept of occultism carries with it the idea that knowledge must be a secret thing, limited to a small circle of initiates. But the same idea is integral to Fascism. Those who dread the prospect of universal suffrage, popular education, freedom of thought, emancipation of women, will start off with a predilection towards secret cults. There is another link between Fascism and magic in the profound hostility of both to the Christian ethical code.

While Orwell is here discussing Fascism (Yeats moved towards totalitarian sympathies in his later life), he was equally concerned of course with Stalinism: they both involve extreme levels of State control of the population, and to achieve this, they both may involve compliant populace, unfettered by the modernist attributes of secular reason and critical thinking.

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  1. As always some excellent points. I too have never been in favour our socio-political culture being run by a central planning agency though I do think that some aspects of our shared environment could be planned centrally through democratic processes. In light of the sometimes undemocratic processes of the EU in determining environmental and agricultural policy there is clearly much room for improvement in the nature of participation; perhaps via electronic voting. But, the problem of democracy is not merely concerned with voting mechanisms but with ensuring public opinion is informed. E.F. Schumacher, for all the faults refered to here, did, in my view, contribute a great deal to raising awareness of the problems of (so called) free-market capitalism and its environmental and social impacts. He also advocated sound science and sound statistical anaysis in the tackling of the problems themselves. But, over the decades since Small is Beautiful was published, the standard of numerical literacy seems to have dropped, even within our further-educated population, to the point where numbers have become unintellible to a great many of the ‘great and the good’ and a large dose of instant-gratification-woo has replaced the thoughtful interpretation of real data (think government Vs Dr. David Nutt, for example). So while E.F. Schumacher is much loved and revered by the purveyors of mystical greeness, it is a mistake to think that EFS ever suggested displacing hard science with anything other than thoughfully applied hard science; whether by ‘commonwealth’ companies such as Scott Bader (a science-based chemical company that was as the cutting edge of glass-reinforced resins) or by distant ‘central planners’.

  2. Reblogged this on Arrancat's Blog and commented:
    A lovely article about Schumacher College in Devon, Prince Charles, and how this might just be the perfect match for my PhD, especially given my Steiner background! I was approached today by a potential PhD Supervisor who works with both Plymouth University and Schumacher College, and I’m very excited about a potential thesis that encompasses everything that makes me who I am and across all subjects. An holistic PhD – who’d have thought it eh! I’ve had other offers on the table for a while, but they just aren’t exciting me yet, but this one has massive potential and looks like I won’t have to squish myself into one tiny box to keep my supervisor happy whilst paying his wages for the next four years. Will spill more thoughts later.

  3. Durkin also had an interesting post titled “NAZI GREENS – An Inconvenient History” ( His arguments seem solid to me. I could not find any logic fallacies.


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