(Swans - March 24, 2014) That Dartington Hall School should have become a finishing school, albeit a creative one, for the rich and powerful should come as no surprise. Take for example, the Elmhirsts's other major pet project of this time, the capitalist planning think tank that went by the name Political and Economic Planning (PEP), a think tank that was initially conceived to design a "'capitalist' plan of national reconstruction" to "pre-empt or forestall the appeal of socialist planning by moulding the attractive new concept [of state planning] to fit existing social and economic arrangements." (1) Founded in 1931 by a group of Tory dissidents led by Max Nicholson and Gerald Barry, PEP's first report entitled "A National Plan for Great Britain" was drafted by Nicholson in February 1931. Although this important report was couched in a language designed to emphasize the continuity between PEP's ideas for planning and bourgeois certitudes...
... beneath these arguments, 'industrial self-government' was clearly designed as a radical departure, meant to halt the secular trend towards state interference in the economy. This was best captured in one of Nicholson's early drafts. 'It cannot be too much emphasised,' he wrote, 'that the whole trend of the Plan, far from favouring State and Municipal "Socialism", is to strip the State and Local Authorities of the many functions of chronic interference ... in commerce and industry which they have usurped, and to hand them back to commerce and industry after making these fit to regulate themselves.' Such militant rhetoric was toned down in the published version... (p.149)
Within a month of the National Plan's publication, regular meetings began in earnest to develop its germinal capitalist ideas. A broad assortment of intellectuals were drawn to this Tory fight-back against equality, including a group who had already been meeting for a few years "to discuss current domestic and imperial affairs at the house of Sir Basil Blackett, a governor of the Bank of England and former Indian Chancellor of the Exchequer." Counted among the Plan's select discussion group were influential writers such as Julian Huxley and his brother Aldous, while other equally prestigious recruits for political discussions included the likes of Israel Sieff (the vice-chairman of Marks and Spencer), and Leonard and Dorothy Elmhirst, whose "financial contributions were to keep [PEP] ... afloat for much of the next twenty years." (2)
Considered collectively, the politics of the newly established PEP were "to the right of centre," and "Nicholson note[d] that, but for the self-destruction of the Liberal party after 1929, most would have been Liberals." With this clear, the group that counted some some fifty individuals among its ranks was formally launched on 29 June 1931, helping introduce the concept of national planning into the Tory lexicon, and thereby preparing the way for diehard Tories' reluctant and temporary acceptance of Keynesian economics. In later years PEP would go on to become well known as an important "independent" think tank, drawing up the blueprint for what became the National Health Service and the Race Relations Act. (3)
Appropriately, the few Labourites who'd initially supported PEP "soon followed Ramsay MacDonald into the 'National' alliance with the Conservatives." (4) So given that the Elmhirsts were such important supporters of PEP, it is ironic, but perhaps fitting, that the Labour Party's post-war manifesto (Let Us Face the Future) was drafted at Dartington Hall by soon-to-be Deputy Prime Minister Herbert Morrison and former PEP director Michael Young (also known as Lord Young of Dartington). (5) Likewise, considering the present environmental trajectory of Dartington, it is consistent that PEP cofounder, Max Nicholson, went on to play a central role in the founding of a conservative conservation movement in Britain, serving first as the founding director-general of Nature Conservancy, and then working closely with Julian Huxley and the Duke of Edinburgh to chair the initial organizing committee for the World Wildlife Fund (now the Worldwide Fund for Nature). Leonard Elmhirst similarly supported such royally "green" initiatives and served as the president of the Royal Forestry Society, while Dartington itself has maintained Leonard's spiritual and green legacy: a duty which was fulfilled in 1991 when Dartington set up the Schumacher College -- which has since become an influential international centre for sustainable education of a deep-ecological bent, whose origins will be problematized in good time.
However, before moving on to examine Schumacher College's New Age curriculum, it first makes sense to briefly survey the credentials of some of the people who run Dartington Hall Trust (it having been generously endowed by the Elmhirsts in 1931) and the Dartington Hall Trust's relatively recently launched School for Social Entrepreneurs. To begin with, reflecting Dartington's long-standing focus on the arts -- it was at Dartington where the idea for the British Arts Council was conceived (with John Maynard Keynes serving as the Arts Council's founding chairman) (6) -- we might observe that the Barbican Centre's director, Sir Nicholas Kenyon, currently serves as a trustee of both Dartington and of the Arts Council. Likewise Dartington's current chairman, Sir David Green, is a king-pin of the art establishment, as he is the former director-general of the UK's premier cultural relations organisation, the British Council, and the chairman of Prince Charles's School for Traditional Arts. Moreover, when Sir David resigned from his position at the British Council (in 2009) his temporary replacement was none other than fellow Dartington trustee, Gerard Lemos. (7) This brings us neatly to Dartington's School for Social Entrepreneurs, which Lemos formerly headed; it being a uniquely-placed business school that works with the British Government's Office for Civil Society to translate their Big Society agenda into practical policies.
To contribute towards the ruling class's longstanding aim to undermine state welfare provisions, Dartington's School for Social Entrepreneurs was founded in 1997 by former PEP Director cum community-care specialist, Michael Young; he being the man who coined the dubious phrase "social entrepreneur." In this case, Young was returning to the place of his early childhood, as he had lived in Toynes with his foster parents, and had attended Dartington School where Leonard Elmhirst had acted as his guardian. (8) Young had then gone on to serve as a trustee of Dartington Hall Trust from 1945 until 1995. Of note, the School for Social Entrepreneurs' founding chairman was the late James Cornford (1935-2011), who just prior to his death had been the chair of Dartington Hall Trust, previously serving as one of their trustees in the 1960s. Having been a ruling class policy wonk for decades, Cornford had acted as the first director (1989-94) of the New Labour think tank, the Institute for Public Policy Research -- the very think tank that helped provide the intellectual fodder to allow the Labour Party to dispatch with its working-class roots. Another significant former trustee of the School for Social Entrepreneurs is Vaughan Lindsay, who became the CEO of Dartington Hall Trust in 2004 after leaving an illustrious career in the corporate world, where most recently he had worked for McKinsey and Company. Lindsay, like many of his colleagues at Dartington, has plenty of experience of working within the upper echelons of the non-profit-industrial complex. And here one could do no better with another example than through the personage of Charlie McConnell -- a former CEO of the Carnegie UK Trust, who recently retired from Dartington's senior management and from his position as the director of their affiliated Schumacher College.
When Dartington Hall School finally gave up the ghost in 1987, (9) it was clear that it would only a matter of time before a new Utopian experiment in education would be launched from the well-heeled Dartington estate. Building upon the New Age zeitgeist that had established firm roots in the locality -- which owed much to Dartington's strong connections with the bohemian counterculture (10) -- it was entirely fitting that Dartington's next project would seeks to reinvigorate its commitment as a center for alternative cultural experimentation. With three schools in the vicinity already catering for junior-level New Age educative requirements, Dartington Hall Trust thus decided to extend its longstanding commitment to adult education (which had always taken place alongside the work of their school), and in 1991 helped found Schumacher College as a center dedicated to teaching ecological and holistic science.
One should recognize that in many ways the immediate precursor for Schumacher College was the nearby Sharpham estate, which had been set up in the early 1980s by the former Chair of Dartington Hall Trust and son-in-law of the Elmhirsts, Maurice Ash (1917-2003). (11) The roots of this project had actually been quite controversial at the time, as Ash had actually resigned as Dartington's chairman to work full-time at Sharpham because of the spiritual vacuum he perceived to exist at Dartington.
Instead, inspired by E.F. Schumacher's 'lifeboat theory', he devoted his time to developing Sharpham as 'something of a model, if you like, for how life might be reordered within a disintegrating society'. So, like Dartington itself Sharpham became a second, smaller scale 'utopian' experiment which was motivated by Ash's concerns of ecological and economic collapse, allied with Ash's personal interest in demonstrating that there was a spiritual core to rural life. (12)
One notable initiative that evolved on the Sharpham estate was "the first bio-dynamic farm in the area, run by Richard and Judy Smith," while another significant project was the establishment of the Sharpham North Buddhist community, which was set up on the first floor of his house.
Like Dartington, a Trust was set up to manage and administer the estate and its activities. Education in the form of workshops, conferences and talks became a regular feature of Sharpham and a Buddhist college was later launched in 1996 whilst a Buddhist retreat centre, the Barn, was also established. (13)
Here, no doubt, Maurice Ash's new project was informed to some degree by the spiritual influence of Etonian New Age mega-star, John Michell (1933-2009), who perhaps more than anyone else helped place Dartmoor (which backs on to Dartington) firmly onto his "ley line"-inspired esoteric maps. (14) Either way other more tangible influences are evident, and as Dartington chairman Sir David Green notes:
The creation of Schumacher College in 1991 marked a point of renewal for The Dartington Hall Trust with a fresh focus on values and a 'big idea'. In the wider world, on the one hand were the emerging interrelated systemic disciples of Complexity theory, Chaos theory and Gaia theory, and on the other an emerging spiritual understanding of ecology represented in the philosophies of Gandhi, Tagore and Deep Ecology. The coupling of ecology and the sacred within Schumacher College was and remains a purposeful and powerful response to the damage being caused in the world by the prevalence of materialism. (15)
Anne Phillips, who served as the director of the Schumacher College from 1993 until 2006, adds that the "new vision that came to be described as the 'new paradigm' or an 'ecological and spiritual worldview'" that was institutionalized at the College had received direct inspiration from Thomas Berry's book The Dream of the Earth (Sierra Club Books, 1988). "Berry's call to action," Phillips points out, "expressed the urgency felt by those inspired by the new ecological and spiritual worldview." It was thus in response to society's "deep crisis" that Satish Kumar "made his original proposal to the Dartington Hall Trustees to set up a Green University to explore the roots of the vision that had brought society to this point, and to look at alternative possibilities for ways towards a more creative future." To this day, Kumar maintains a leading role at Schumacher College, continuing his long collaboration with Dartington that began in the 1960s when he was first invited by Maurice Ash to contribute his eco-mystical ideas to Dartington's evolving New Age community. (16) Notably, when Kumar was invited to design the first holistic study programme for Schumacher College his first port of call was his friend James Lovelock, whom he recruited to lead the College's first five-week long course on Holistic Science. (17)
As a sign of the strange postmodern times we now live in, in 1998 Schumacher College launched a Masters programme in Holistic Science accredited by the University of Plymouth no less. The initial tutors on this weird Masters programme were Dr Stephan Harding and the retired theoretical biologist, Professor Brian Goodwin (1931-2009). Harding, however, was the only scientist who had been involved in helping to set up Schumacher College, having previously completed a doctorate in behavioural ecology at Oxford University. Harding is also the author of the Jungian-inspired book Animate Earth: Science, Intuition and Gaia (Green Books, 2006). His involvement at the College is significant because over the years Harding has worked closely with James Lovelock, such that in 2007 their long-lasting friendship and scientific collaboration culminated in their joint appointment as Chair holders of the Arne Naess Chair in Global Justice and the Environment at the University of Oslo.
Bizarrely, as proof of the mystical powerful nature of Gaia, Harding posits that nothing else could possibly explain planet earth's "remarkable ability" for maintaining habitable conditions for life for so long. This then leads him to make the thoroughly unscientific claim that: "To think that her relatively stable temperature could have been maintained over such immense periods [3.5 billion years] purely by luck is tantamount to a highly unscientific belief in miracles." This of course is nonsense, but it is nonsense that helps pave the way for his own miracle, which he sees as a "more rational" explanation based upon Gaia's "innate tendency for planetary self-regulation..." We thus apparently need to "develop sensitivity" -- via intuition and Jungian metaphysics -- to "other styles of non-human sentience every bit as important as out own" in order to come to truly understand "the complex planetary intelligence that has run our world without our input for the last 3.5 billion years." (18) This is truly the type of anti-modern education that the ruling class are so wedded to, and the sooner we oust them from the world's decision-making apparatus the better for us all.
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Michael Barker is an independent researcher who currently resides in the UK. In addition to his work for Swans, which can be found in the 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013 archives, his other articles can be accessed at michaeljamesbarker.wordpress.com. Please help fund his work. (back)
1. Daniel Ritschel, The Politics of Planning: The Debate on Economic Planning in Britain in the 1930s (Clarendon Press, 1997), p.145. "The popular socialist charge in the 1930s that 'capitalist planning' was but a thinly veiled attempt to introduce the 'Corporate State' in Britain has been treated by historians as a symptom of the inflated socialist rhetoric in the post-1931 period, quite unrelated to the true nature of the non-socialist planners' proposals. Yet the campaign for the Self-Government for Industry Bill in the mid-1930s was not far from this mark." (p.182) Notably, this bill, which eventually failed to be implemented, was: "Sponsored by PEP and the Industrial Reorganisation League and supported by Conservative back-benchers and influential sections of the business community..." (p.182) Ironically, this bill came under attack from the far right who "linked the planners with the New Fabian Research Bureau as part of a Marxist-Zionist conspiracy to introduce communism in Britain." (p.205) (back)
3. Ritschel, The Politics of Planning, p.152, p.154. Sir Basil Blackett was elected Chairman of PEP, and Kenneth Lindsay was appointed its Executive Secretary. In 1933 Israel Sieff then succeeded Blackett as Chairman.
PEP's 1937 proposal for the creation of a National Health Service was later taken up in the Beveridge Report (published in 1942). At the time the Conservatives -- running scared of a powerful work-class labour movement whose power they sought to undercut -- on purely pragmatic grounds supported the creation of the NHS. The ruling class, however, had no intention of allowing the newly-erected Welfare State to impinge on capital's ability to exploit the working class for longer than necessary. Thus in recent years, after successfully weakening the trade union movement, we can observe how New Labour (now devoid of socialism -- Clause Four) and the Conservative Party (now in a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats) are eagerly working to dismantle the NHS. See Allyson Pollock, NHS plc: The Privatisation of Our Health Care (Verso, 2006). (back)
4. Ritschel, The Politics of Planning, p.152. It is interesting to point out that some of the founding members of the PEP had formerly been Labour Party members, such as Kenneth Lindsay. "As another member later recounted, none of PEP's Labour sympathizers were 'Clause Four men': 'I can recollect no-one advocating public ownership of production and exchange; we were all after all, a Group which believed in private enterprise.' Indeed, PEP's Labourites soon followed Ramsay MacDonald into the 'National' alliance with the Conservatives." (p.152) (back)
6. For useful criticisms of the harmonizing role that the Arts Council fulfills for capital, see Corporate Watch (UK), "Refining Dissent: The Arts Council and Radical Arts," June 2009; and Raymond Williams, "The Arts Council," The Political Quarterly, 50 (2), April 1979.
Dorothy Elmhirst's son, Michael Straight (1916-2004), would likewise have an illustrious career in guiding the arts, serving as the deputy chairman of the US National Endowment for the Arts from 1969 to 1977. Prior to this, Michael had run The New Republic, and strangely enough had been exposed as being a spy for the Soviets. (back)
8. "Ably directed by John Cornford, who for Michael became an invaluable colleague, [the School for Social Entrepreneurs] played a leading part in a seven-partner consortium, the Foundation for Social Entrepreneurs, which bid successfully against powerful competitors for a £100 million Lottery Fund grant from the Millennium Commission. The shared mission of the consortium is the same as that of the School -- 'to invest in individuals as a driving force to regenerate social capital across the UK'." Asa Briggs, Michael Young: Social Entrepreneur (Palgrave Macmillan, 2001), p.328.
During the 1980s James Cornford chaired the Southern African Advanced Education Project "which organised placements for ANC members in the UK to prepare them to take over the reins of power." For a discussion of the role of such "humanitarian" groups in overseeing the transition from apartheid to neoliberalism, see Michael Barker, "George Soros and South Africa's Elite Transition," Swans Commentary, May 31, 2010; and Michael Barker, "Human Rights Watch Brings Neoliberalism to Africa " Swans Commentary, May 3, 2010. (back)
9. Dartington Hall School was shut in 1987, meaning that for a short while the only other center of alternative education in the area was the South Devon Steiner School, which had been set up in Toynes in 1979 and is now one of the largest Waldorf schools in England. Thereafter two new school were formed (each building upon the same Dartington philosophy), these being Sands School (in Ashburton) and Park School (in Dartington). Both schools are supported by former Dartington School student cum bourgeois organic farmer, Alice Astor, who is the daughter of the highly influential liberal reformer, David Astor. In 2000, Alice along with Michael Young co-founded the Phoenix Education Trust to promote special, ostensibly democratic, educational projects. On the farming side of her life, Alice presently helps manage the Organic Research Centre (Elm Farm) -- which was founded by her father -- and which until recently was run by her husband, Lawrence Woodward. (Woodward is a past board member of both the Soil Association and of the New Economics Foundation, the leading think tank promoting green Keynesianism.) One especially notable person working with Alice at the Organic Research Centre is David Wilson, who in addition to being a former board member of the Soil Association, is the farm manager of Prince Charles's organic business, Duchy Home Farm. (back)
10. In addition to the existence of Dartington Hall School, Noel Longhurst writes: "A second (and perhaps more) significant driver -- in terms of the countercultural milieu -- was the Dartington College of Arts. Cox (2005) dates the formal start of the College of Arts as September 1961 but it built on a much longer history of Arts tuition and training. The College started by providing two courses focused on teaching music education in primary and secondary schools. Through the decade and into the 1970s the College continued to grow both in numbers and the scope of its work. By 1972 there were more than 200 students studying at the College." (p.168) In 2010, the College of Art was moved from Dartington to Falmouth. Dartington Hall also "acted as an important node in the Countercultural networks of the era, bringing ideas and actors to South Devon. Some of these projects were influential such as the support that the Yarner Trust gave to local organic growers and 'back-to-the-landers'. The wealth of Dartington also supported some of the other activities that were not directly instigated by the Trust such as the Totnes Natural Health Centre and South Devon Organic Growers Co-operative." (p.174)
Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) "practitioners began to proliferate in the area during the 1970s. The Dartington Solar Quest centre opened in 1974 and the Totnes Natural Health Centre opened in 1978 providing self-help groups free access to therapies and a donation based system. This was one of the first centres of its kind in the UK. During the 1980s a number of other centres opened or relocated to the area including The Self Heal Association (1981), the Totnes Birth Centre (1982), the Devon School for Shiatsu (1985) Karuna Institute (1987) and the Arcturus Clinic (1995). Totnes has since become recognised as a site of CAM activity (Andrews 2003)." "Western Buddhismpractice was supported through the establishment of the Sharpham North Buddhist community (c.1982) and Gaia House (1983). Some prominent Buddhist writers are based in the area and both Sharpham and Gaia House are part of the global retreat networks." In addition, the Transition Town movement started in Totnes in 2006. Noel Longhurst, Twinned with Narnia? The Postcapitalist Possibilities of a Countercultural Place, Ph.D. Thesis, University of Liverpool, 2010. This thesis adopts an appropriately chosen post-structural theoretical approach; for criticisms of this bizarre theoretical trend, see Peter Dews, Logics of Disintegration: Poststructuralist Thought and the Claims of Critical Theory (Verso, 2007). (back)
11. Maurice Ash served as the founding chairman of the environmental lobby group the Green Alliance (1978-83), and chairman of the Town and Country Planning Association (1969-83) -- an association whose influential Bulletin of Environmental Education was edited for ten years by well-known anarchist, Colin Ward. (back)
14. During the 1960s John Michell had famously hosted the influential London Free School in the basement of his house, and then played a central role in promoting mumbo jumbo with his first two (of many) books, The Flying Saucer Vision: The Holy Grail Restored (1967), which was then followed by The View Over Atlantis (1969), the latter of which brought new found spiritual fame to both Glastonbury and Dartmoor. It is noteworthy that Scottish esotericist R. Ogilvie Crombie (who was a major inspiration for the founding of the Findhorn Foundation) gets a mention in the acknowledgments to Michell's text The View Over Atlantis. (back)
15. Sir David Green, "Foreword," In: Anne Phillips, Holistic Education: Learning from Schumacher College (Green Books, 2008), p.7. The chairman of Dartington Hall Trust during the late 80s and early 90s was sustainable building developer, John Pontin. (back)