Fellowship of the National Federation of Church Musicians

I have been delighted to receive Fellowship of the National Federation of Church Musicians. The Federation is administered by the National College of Music, It says of the award, “In order to qualify, candidates are expected to demonstrate at least twenty years of fully-documented service in the field of church music in any denomination of the Christian church as an organist, choir director or singer, making the award of the FNFCM a formal recognition of long and distinguished service.”

Posted in Church, Education

Associate Fellowship of the National College of Music

I have been delighted to receive the Associate Fellowship of the National College of Music. The Associate Fellowship was introduced in 2020 and “is designed to recognise professional musicians who have made an outstanding contribution to the musical arena.” The award is reserved “to those who can provide evidence of the highest level of musical expertise during a course of a minimum of ten years. It will therefore be appropriate for conductors, choral directors, recitalists, composers, musicologists and those who have made an exceptional contribution to musical education.”

I was awarded Honorary Fellowship of the National College of Music in 2010, and am very pleased to continue my association with this institution.

Posted in Education

Honours and awards: Medaglia Europea of the Federazione Italiana dei Combattenti Alleati

I have been honoured to receive the Medaglia Europea of the Federazione Italiana dei Combattenti Alleati. FIDCA was founded in 1972 as an association of European ex-combatants and others who were supportive both of the European ideal and of the sacrifices of those who had sacrificed themselves for freedom. FIDCA was recognized as a distinct legal personality in Italy by Presidential Decree n.305 of 9/4/1986, and by means of DPR 27-2-1990, it was placed under the direct patronage of the Italian Ministry of Defense.

The Medaglia Europea, or European Cross, is awarded after nomination from a participating organization both to ex-combatants and to supporters, remembering the service and sacrifice of those who fought not only for Italy but in the Allied cause all over Europe. This has a particular resonance for me since my maternal grandfather was killed in action in Belgium in 1945 while fighting for the Allies in World War II.

Posted in Honours and awards

Honours and awards: Attestation of Honour from the Norman Academy

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Associate Professorship in History and Religion of the International Academy of St George, Wyoming, USA

I have been honoured to receive an appointment of Associate Professor in History and Religion from the International Academy of St George, Wyoming, USA. The Academy is a nonprofit organization specializing in History, Heraldry, Chivalry and Ecumenical Religion.

Posted in Honours and awards

Apostolic Blessing from Pope Francis

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Honours and awards: Knight Grand Cross of the Ordo Supremus Militaris Templi Hierosolymitani

I have been delighted to receive the distinction of Knight Grand Cross of the Ordo Supremus Militaris Templi Hierosolymitani (O.S.M.T.H.) The honour was bestowed by the Italian Magistral Delegation.

The Ordo Supremus Militaris Templi Hierosolymitani (Sovereign Military Order of the Temple of Jerusalem) continues the Templar tradition that was revived in France in 1705, reconstituted under Bernard Raymond Fabré-Palaprat in 1804, and recognized by the Emperor Napoléon I in 1805. It was under the leadership of Grand Master Fernando Campello Pinto Pereira de Sousa Fontes between 1960 and 2018. The present Grand Master is Fra Albino Neves.

The Italian Magistral Delegation maintains a website at http://www.cavalieritemplariosmth.it

Posted in Honours and awards

On marriage

In 2013 and 2014, at the time when the Government was redefining civil marriage, I wrote two essays on the matter that were published on the Libertarian Alliance blog and subsequently included in my collection of talks and essays The Radical Traditionalist Today. Here are those essays, very slightly revised. My conclusion was then and remains that there are now serious obstacles for traditionally-minded Christians (and indeed others who are traditionally-minded) who would want to enter into civil marriage, and my view is that civil marriage as currently constituted in England and Wales does not conform to marriage as that sacrament is understood by traditional Christians.

The trouble with gay marriage

I should begin with a simple statement of libertarian principle. The state has no business being involved in any way with marriage. It has adopted that role as a consequence of the compromise Henry VIII engendered when he merged Church and State. Since marriage within the Church of England is governed by the law of the land, and not simply by canon law, it follows that when marriage takes place between persons who are not members of that church, the state must act as registrar in order that those marriages have equivalent legal standing. One simple answer to the matter would be to disestablish the Church of England and thereby reduce marriage to a matter of private contract with an optional religious component, but this is not under consideration at present.

My purpose here is not primarily a discussion of marriage and same-sex relationships in their religious context, nor the case for the disestablishment of the Church of England. Rather, I want to point out that what is being proposed with regard to same-sex marriage has some important implications for those who are already married (ie. for those of the opposite sex) and further that its hamfisted legal construction is setting up a series of wholly avoidable and undesirable problems.

Let us not forget, however, that the institution of civil partnership has already established a position of legal equality between marriage and same-sex partnerships. Before civil partnerships, there were eminently legitimate complaints that the inequalities that existed in respect of inheritance and status as next-of-kin were iniquitous in a free society, and that there should be a means by which this could be redressed. In civil partnership, an institution was created that was distinct from marriage; indeed that was exclusively and completely a same-sex institution. For those same-sex couples who had said that they did not want marriage with its accompanying associations, but instead something that, while equal to marriage in law, was theirs alone to define, civil partnership could not have fitted the bill better, and its popularity since introduction would appear to have borne this out. Moreover, it was open to those churches that wished to do so to bless civil partnerships, and several have done so. Even the Church of England, which officially forbids such blessings, has a number of parishes where the letter of the law is observed but ways around the prohibition have been found through “services of prayer and dedication”[i]. At their most elaborate, such occasions are so close to the service for the blessing of civil marriage that were it not for the sex of the participants it would be difficult to tell the difference[ii].

Now, though, we find our legislators – without any apparent cause other than the Left’s shibboleth of “equality” – contemplating far-reaching changes to the nature of marriage between both same-sex and opposite-sex couples. Marriage as constituted at present has to do with the Christian viewpoint that the primary purpose of marriage is for the bringing of children into the world and their upbringing. Consequently, marriage is construed as a specifically sexual bond between husband and wife. This finds expression in the law in respect of the definition of marriage as a binding contract that is not entered into unless and until the marriage has been consummated. Non-consummation renders the marriage voidable under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, section 12a. Consummation has been defined, both in religion and in secular law, as the “ordinary and complete” act of sexual intercourse, a phrase which needs no amplification.

The problems with regard to same-sex marriage will by now be obvious to the reader. The partners cannot consummate the marriage according to the legal definition of that term. Nor is there any other equivalent sexual act that is universal to same-sex couples. Therefore, the government proposes to create a virtually unprecedented new definition of marriage that has no sexual component to it. Here is the relevant section of the government’s consultation document on the matter:

“2.16 Specifically, non-consummation and adultery are currently concepts that are defined in case law and apply only to marriage law, not civil partnership law. However, with the removal of the ban on same-sex couples having a civil marriage, these concepts will apply equally to same-sex and opposite-sex couples and case law may need to develop, over time, a definition as to what constitutes same-sex consummation and same-sex adultery.”[iii]

In other words, the government can see the problem but has absolutely no idea how to solve it. It therefore proposes to foist the entire matter on to the courts to be resolved sine die.

The implications are interesting. As the law would stand under the proposal, for example, a same-sex married partner cannot commit adultery with another partner of the same sex, since any definition of adultery applies only to heterosexual sexual intercourse. But they can commit adultery against their same-sex married partner with a person of the opposite sex. What will constitute adultery or consummation if a definition needs now to be found that applies both to heterosexual and homosexual marriages? The implication is that acts of a sexual nature that fall short of sexual intercourse and which are not regarded as of paramount significance in such discussions at present may come to be seen in a whole new light. Even without my religious hat on, I cannot see this as in any way being a good thing for our society.

I note, incidentally, that Ben Summerskill, chief executive of the gay rights organization Stonewall, thinks that “This focus on consummation, in particular on the sexual element of it, seems to exercise heterosexuals more than most lesbian and gay people.”[iv] He does not seem to realize that the reason why this exercises heterosexuals is because we, too, are to be significantly affected by the proposed legislation, and in ways that are as yet impossible for anyone to quantify or anticipate with any accuracy. As such, this is a leap into the unknown. There is still time to pull back from the brink.

[i] http://inclusive-church.org.uk/about/church-services-after-civil-partnerships

[ii] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1026599/Rector-faces-sack-holding-Britains-gay-wedding-Anglican-church.html

[iii] http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/publications/about-us/consultations/equal-civil-marriage/consultation-document?view=Binary

[iv] http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/dec/10/legal-definition-consummation-gay-marriage

The new marriage and conscience

The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 is one of the most divisive pieces of legislation to have been passed for many years. While the most obvious aspect of this law – that it permits homosexual couples to contract civil marriage – has been widely publicised, there are further aspects whose significance is likely to prove extremely far-reaching.

In preparing this legislation, the Government appears to have considered that, in respect of those religious groups that object to homosexual marriage, it has been sufficient to allow those groups an opt-out, which it assures us is unlikely to be capable of legal challenge. The veracity of the latter claim is currently under test by Barrie and Tony Drewitt-Barlow, who intend to sue in order to compel the Church of England, to which they belong, to solemnize their marriage.

While the legislation takes account of religious groups that have an objection to same-sex marriage, it makes no provision for those people who are not religious but likewise object to same-sex marriage. They are expected and indeed encouraged to enter into civil marriage regardless of the fact that said civil marriage has been profoundly redefined by this law. Both they and members of religious groups that are officially opposed to same-sex marriage (including the Church of England and the Church in Wales, many Jews, almost all Muslims, some Buddhists, Zoroastrians and Bahá’is) are now placed in an extremely difficult position. This was, furthermore, something of which Parliament was clearly warned during the legislative process and that it chose to disregard in its rush to embrace the “equality agenda”.

The historical position of English law has been to define civil marriage according to Christian understanding, and in so doing to promote a position which is common to the Abrahamic faiths. That position is based on definitions of consummation (and thereby the validity of marriage), and of adultery (which constitutes grounds for divorce). A couple of the opposite sex who contracted civil marriage before 2013 could have that marriage blessed in a religious ceremony in the knowledge that they had not, in entering into civil marriage, engaged in a contract that contradicted the teachings of their religious faith. With the abandonment of consummation as a test of the validity of marriage, and the non-universality of adultery (since its definition applies only to members of the opposite sex), it can no longer be said that civil marriage for heterosexual couples does not involve the implicit acceptance of concepts that run directly counter to much religious teaching on the nature of marriage.

I will speak particularly of the Catholic faith here, since it is that with which I am most familiar, and I am aware that my remarks will have applicability to other faiths as well. In Catholicism, marriage is defined as a sacrament instituted by Christ. As such, definitions of marriage before the time of Christ, ie. in Jewish law, or in pre-Christian societies where the state undertook a role in marriage, are disregarded as irrelevant. The only definition of marriage that matters today is that which Christ gave us, and it is His standard by which other commentaries on marriage are to be measured.

Catholic doctrine holds that the state of marriage is opposed to all forms of unnatural, homosexual behaviour[i]. It is unambiguous on this point. While the Catholic Church does not permit divorce, it holds nevertheless that extramarital acts – of which adultery would be among the most serious – are to be seen as a violation of justice. It can therefore be concluded that adultery is highly germane to an understanding of the boundaries of Catholic marriage.

Our question now is whether a member of the Roman Catholic Church can in good conscience contract civil marriage in the light of the 2013 law. In so doing, the civil marriage that they would now contract is far from being opposed to all forms of unnatural and homosexual behaviour. Rather, it considers that behaviour to be on an equal footing with marriage. The Pastoral Letter “The Narrow Gate” of the Archbishop of Westminster on the passage of the 2013 law says,

“The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act has changed the legal definition of marriage in this land. No longer does this definition assume or support the complementarity of male and female, or expect sexual fidelity between the married couple, or see marriage as oriented towards conceiving and nurturing of children. The titles ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ are now officially gender neutral. This is the deconstruction of marriage as it has been understood for millennia. In effect, this Act completes the privatisation of marriage, so that its central content is whatever the couple wish to construct. Marriage is no longer a truly public institution, at the basis of society.”[ii]

This issue is more complex that it might seem. It should not be thought that the Roman Catholic Church advocates that its members should contract civil marriage in isolation from religious marriage. Rather, the Roman Catholic Church in practice requires that marriages take place in church and are solemnized by a priest, but also that the priest should hold a certificate or license to solemnize marriages from their local Superintendent Registrar. Failing this, it is required that a registrar should be present at the service and should simultaneously complete the necessary paperwork for civil marriage. Under either situation, a Roman Catholic priest effectively performs the marriage service on behalf of the state, under an arrangement that was first agreed in 1895. Whether he should continue to do so given the changed legal position has already been the subject of some discussion.

The present situation requires the acceptance of a moral contradiction that could not be more stark. The acceptance in conscience of civil marriage which directly opposes Catholic teaching on the nature of marriage is a matter of great seriousness. The registrar is taking from the words the priest says during the service those elements that fulfil the requirements of civil marriage as currently constituted. The priest and the couple marrying are therefore actively colluding in the act of civil marriage and not merely treating it as incidental (as would be the case, for example, in France, where church and state are separate, and the registration of a marriage is merely a bureaucratic act). In so colluding, they are forced into a position of the gravest moral compromise.

It may be responded that without civil registration, our Catholic couple would have no standing as married persons in law. Their marriage would be valid in Catholic canon law, but for civil purposes their standing would be as cohabitees. My personal view is that this is now becoming the only route for Catholics that would not involve moral compromise as to the principles of their faith. It would involve a degree of sacrifice – for the legal recognition of marriage brings with it a number of important rights that are not extended to cohabitees – but that is nothing new for Catholics in this country. It would also require the agreement of the Catholic hierarchy, which for all its vocal opposition to the 2013 legislation has tended to take the view that once a law is passed, it must be complied with. While no-one would advocate that Catholics should break the law, there is an important issue as to whether a law that has a distinctive moral element that is opposed to Catholic teaching may be the subject of conscientious objection whereby that law is shunned on those grounds.

It should be mentioned that the existing status of a number of Muslim marriages in England and Wales is of relevance. The Muslim marriage contract or nikah is not automatically recognized as a marriage in English law (in contrast to most Muslim countries, where it is so recognized), and the couple need to contract a civil marriage in order to be recognized as other than cohabitees. The situation is further complicated by the fact that the nikah may be polygamous.

Those Muslims who contract the nikah, and those Christians or others who contract a religious marriage that is not recognized by law, may feel that their religious contract is sufficiently binding in conscience as to constitute all the marriage that they would need. They will need to make additional safeguards in their legal arrangements to ensure that their spouse is treated in the way that they believe is fitting to them, rather than assuming the legal benefits that civil marriage confers, but this may well be an acceptable price for them to pay in order to avoid the moral compromise now involved in contracting civil marriage.

Couples who cohabit have already had to evolve private contracts that serve as alternatives to civil marriage, on whatever terms they may agree. It seems that those who hold religious beliefs that do not equate homosexual partnerships with heterosexual marriage may now be compelled to do likewise. Effectively, we have indeed seen the end of marriage as a public institution in our country, and its aftermath will be one of increasing fragmentation.

[i] See Fr. John Hardon SJ, “Marriage” in  Modern Catholic Dictionary, consulted at http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/dictionary/index.cfm?id=34750

[ii] http://www.catholic-ew.org.uk/content/download/38192/291236/file/the-narrow-gate-reflection-abp-nichols.pdf

Posted in Church, Talks

“Ordinary morality is only for ordinary people” – Another perspective on Aleister Crowley

This essay was originally published by the former Libertarian Alliance in April 2014 and subsequently collected in my book “The Radical Traditionalist Today”.

Dr Gabb has recently posed to us the questions “Was Crowley a sort of national socialist, or a sort of libertarian? Was he a sex-obsessed libertine, or did he preach absolute self-control?”[i] He suspects that all these questions have the same answer, and that such an answer does not reflect well upon the self-styled Great Beast. I hope I can propose to him a rather more nuanced appreciation of this complex and enduringly fascinating – though hardly entirely admirable – character.

An understanding of Crowley – and by that, I mean an understanding of what Crowley himself intended by his work and actions rather than the various re-interpretations and smoke-and-mirrors exercises that even he indulged in, should start from the context of the revival of interest in Western esotericism in which Crowley became a pivotal figure. The key to this revival is that it was by nature anti-modern; its proponents were counter-Enlightenment conservatives who sought to recapture the wisdom and ways of the ancients. Their models of spiritual belief were hierarchical and retrogressive at a time when the demos was in its ascendancy; they proposed not only an aristocratic replacement for modern ecclesiastical structures, but furthermore that progress towards the upper echelons of this enlightened aristocracy would involve exposure to and understanding of progressively more advanced ritual practices and the results thereof, bringing about the growth of the soul and rewards that were to be expressed beyond the present world.

The most direct influence upon the way that Crowley approached this, and indeed most other aspects of his life, was the Decadents and particularly Swinburne; from his Cambridge years onwards, Crowley wrote poetry in the Swinburnian mould, including significant erotic verse. Whereas Swinburne’s moral turpitude was largely the product of his imagination, for Crowley those degenerate aspects which attracted him became a practical way of life. It is not entirely true to suggest that Crowley was obsessed by sex; rather that he attached a high spiritual importance to sex, necessitating it as an aspect of his religious ritual and practice of ceremonial magick, and was frank about discussing it in a way that was unusual for his time and was held by many to be immoral. As he opined, “part of the public horror of sexual irregularity so-called is due to the fact that everyone knows himself essentially guilty.”[ii]

From Blavatsky to Leadbeater to Crowley and myriad other teachers and methods that fall within the Western esoteric tradition, there are constant themes: the material world is illusory; the spiritual world is omnipresent; connexion between mankind and the spiritual world is essential but only possible for the initiate; and that the given method of spiritual training offers such initiation with the promise of resultant enlightenment if its disciplines and rituals are correctly observed by a pupil of sufficient aptitude.

The appeal of the esoteric tradition to the West lies precisely in the failure of Western spirituality – in the wake of the disasters of Protestantism and the First Vatican Council – to offer a true spiritual connexion with eternal principles, and in particular its development in the direction of dogmatic centralization so as to enshrine a false rather than a genuine tradition. The search for the perennial philosophy – that which is held to be present in a degenerate form in the fundamental principles of the major religions – led to an inevitable quest towards the ultimate source of this wisdom in the oldest of human spiritual traditions. The parallel between Western esotericism and Eastern modes of belief is obvious and was explicit in a number of syncretic schools, notably Theosophy, as a form of renewal of the West from without. Crowley’s own peregrinations led him from Egypt and Algeria through India and to China, climbing mountains, indulging in opium and performing magical rituals all the while.

The esotericists are radical decentralizers, and yet they are not quite the individualists or anarchists that some would have us believe. Each has a school, a method, and seeks to teach from the perspective of experience and (so they would assert) achievement. And at the top of each of those schools we find one or more individuals who will assert that they have some form of intercourse with the divine and the supernatural, most commonly in the form of spirit guides and the practice of various forms of magic and clairvoyance. Each such entity is a pyramid in shape, and depends for its continuation not only upon the magus at the top but upon the desire of others to gain access to his wisdom – a prize for which many will pay dearly.

It is, I think, unfair to Crowley to suggest that he had no fixed ideas. His work was, after all, experimental in nature – as a ritual magician it could hardly be otherwise – but it was also dedicated to synthesis: to the exploration of diverse spiritual paths and to the distillation of the results into what he believed to be the end product of that process. The ensuing religion, Thelema, may have a single central fixed principle in the Will, but that is not to imply that it does not also have its own recognizable codex, practices and lore. Thelemites are, for all their tendency to fall out spectacularly with each other, nevertheless recognizable as a group with common beliefs and a common culture, and these rest securely upon Crowley’s writings, most notably the Holy Books of Thelema, and the rituals of the Ordo Templi Orientis.

Above all, Thelema is an anti-modernist school of thought; it is oriented towards the primal and in this aspect forms an interesting analogue to the rediscovery of paganism that was going on at the same time – Gardnerian Wicca owes its impulse and some of its content to Crowley’s decision to entrust Gardner with the revival of the O.T.O. in Britain. It directs itself to those who find in the modern and the material only an emptiness that is far divorced from human potential and human instinct. But in its reversion it also abandons what Crowley construed as bourgeois constraint. His libertinism was a mixture of hedonism for its own sake, particularly in drug-taking, and hedonism with an ulterior ritual purpose – all of his various relationships included the practice of sex magick, and in the case of his homosexual partnerships ritual rather than pleasure appears to have been the main objective, since his primary sexual attraction was to women. His magical work was disciplined and assiduously documented, whatever the chaos that persisted externally. He was a prolific writer, and in a number of works wrote spontaneously, attempting to access unconscious or supernatural impulses. It would be misleading, I think, to dismiss Crowley simply as a bad writer. He certainly has his own style, and there is something crude and elemental about it that can disturb the reader with its ferocity.

There is, of course, the strong suggestion that a certain amount of Crowley’s behaviour was simply designed to shock, an aim in which it succeeded in generous measure, but he was also committed to the exploration of physical and spiritual extremes as part of what he saw as his mission; he himself was the testing-ground for much of his practical work, and as such inevitably the focus became his own ideas, reactions and experiences rather than those of others – a focus that could easily spill over into egotism and arrogance. His biographer Laurence Sutin refers to Crowley’s “courage, skill, dauntless energy, and remarkable focus of will”[iii], but on the other hand, Crowley also had a great capacity for physical and mental cruelty and little time for those who disagreed with him.

Nevertheless, and for all that he participated willingly in his own demonization in the press, it is inaccurate to label Crowley as either a nihilist or a Satanist. Crowley did not worship Satan precisely because he rejected the Christian worldview in which Satan exists. Thelema has a specific code of ethics, entitled Duty, that sets out the role of the Thelemite in relation to self, others, mankind and all other beings and things. This code, amongst other observations, designates crime as a violation of the True Will, calls for the laws of the land to promote the maximum liberty for the individual, and exhorts the Thelemite to promote the enlightenment of others and to avoid the wanton destruction of humans, animals or the environment. This is not to suggest that Thelema is necessarily a socially acceptable religion, but it should be enough to quash suggestions that it is one that is purely destructive, or, as has been suggested in certain rather excitable quarters, that it prescribes human or animal sacrifice. In 2009, Thelema was recognized as a religion by the Courts Service for the purpose of administering an oath for a juror who was a Thelemite.

A revealing side to Crowley remains his counter-establishmentarianism. Having entered an organization, Crowley sought to mould it to his own ends; where this proved impossible, he then used what he had learned to create what he regarded as a superior body of his own. The dissent that surrounded his promotion in the Golden Dawn – in which Crowley remained loyal to the order’s autocrat, Mathers, while feuding with other members, notably Yeats – was the springboard for Crowley to develop the A.:.A.:. from the Golden Dawn rituals with the addition of Thelemic elements.

His Freemasonry further illustrates the point; having been initiated into a clandestine Lodge in Mexico, he was then accepted as a member of a Lodge which had been chartered by the Grande Loge de France, and eventually received numerous esoteric Masonic authorities from the Masonic scholar John Yarker. This was not enough; he desired acceptance by “regular” English Freemasonry, and specifically to join the Royal Arch, and so presented his credentials to Great Queen Street, but was informed by the Secretary that he would not recognize him. In a gesture of unabashed defiance, Crowley immediately walked into another room in the building and took his seat as a Past Master in “one of the oldest and most eminent Lodges in London”. Moreover, the authorities that Crowley received from Yarker provided the foundation for the O.T.O., which Crowley perceived as a consolidation of “bodies of initiates” into a single system. He was no longer interested in being a part of Freemasonry as an organization, but rather in taking its forms, rituals and arguably its secrets for his own ends, and forming a body that he and other members regarded as more highly evolved than the original and thereby superior to it.

Another theme in Crowley’s life was his fascination with the status of the aristocrat. He was uninterested in the mundane aspects of the aristocracy, but merged the concept of aristocratic status with his work as an occultist, purchasing Boleskine House on the banks of Loch Ness and proclaiming himself as the Laird of Boleskine – or sometimes, rather less accurately, as Lord Boleskine. What was certainly the case at that time was that Crowley had a sufficiently generous inheritance to live an independent lifestyle and indulge his passions; indeed he may have embraced hedonism with such vigour not least because he viewed it as part and parcel of the aristocratic outlook. Had these passions been rather more moderate, he would doubtless not have run through his funds as he did; but Crowley was never a man of moderation. His descent into addiction to heroin and cocaine, along with the general breakdown of his health, made his financial problems terminal, and by this point his notoriety was such that – even had he wanted to – it seems unlikely that he could have secured a conventional means of income.

If we see Crowley as part of a traditionalist worldview, then it is plain that he sought the overthrow of the present way of things. He hoped that Germany under the Third Reich and the Soviet Union would adopt Thelema as their religion, and despised democracy. Equally, he was an active agent for British intelligence operations during the First World War and worked to destabilise the pro-German lobby. However, Crowley’s practical progress was not through political or revolutionary action, but rather through the spread of ideas and the setting of an example in his own person and through his teachings. Like others of his time, he saw in Enlightenment thought – and indeed in Western, that is to say, Christian, civilization – only decay and the denial of the human spirit. That spirit was to be liberated only if it could be allied to the true expression of the Will. It could not be found in conventionality, in employment, or in industrial life in general. It was expressed, for Crowley, in a hierarchical, ritualistic social organization in which he was the prime instigator and magus, and where his time was spent not merely communing with human beings but with occult forces whose powers were far in excess of his own and whose willing instrument he had become. At his happiest, at the Abbey of Thelema on the island of Cefalu, he lived a life of simple observance among like minds interspersed with painting, writing, drug-taking, teaching and sex – the last two being inextricably intertwined. Here was his ideal, his “aristocratic communism” lived out before, inevitably, practical considerations intervened and the Italian government expelled him.

Aspects of Crowley’s libertinism were, as many have pointed out, a kind of precursor to the hippy movement of the 1960s, but the context was altogether different. Crowley was not concerned with the Age of Aquarius but with the Aeon of Horus; a time in the affairs of mankind in which man would take increasing control of his destiny, and that had followed upon previous aeons that had been respectively maternalistic and paternalistic. In the new aeon, paternalistic religions such as Christianity, Islam and Buddhism would come to be supplanted. Thelema had been codified in order to replace them, while at the same time being rooted in the teachings of the ancients. It offered its adherents the transcendence that they sought but had failed to find in the mundane. It is perhaps unsurprising that several prominent children of the New Age, including guitarist Jimmy Page (who bought Boleskine House) and the late Peaches Geldof should have become interested in Thelema after having explored a number of mainstream religious beliefs, though one suspects that for some adherents the hedonistic aspects are of greater appeal than spiritual disciplines. We might note, moreover, that the O.T.O. remains the only religious organization to send its members a letter of congratulations when they leave – for in deciding to do so they have exercised their Will.

Why should we concern ourselves with Crowley? To be occupied only with his excesses of behaviour and weaknesses of character seems to me to short-change him. The answer surely comes in his dominant influence upon the development of Western esoteric thought and in turn the influence of that thought upon twentieth-century and contemporary culture. He has left a tangible legacy in terms of those who define themselves as Thelemites and are members of the O.T.O. There is also a much wider legacy defined both in terms of those who have absorbed some of Crowley’s ideas and those who have reacted in sometimes extreme ways against them, either to reassert those belief systems that Crowley so comprehensively rejected, or to promote further directions in occultism that differ from his own. Whichever viewpoint one takes, it is hard to ignore Crowley. Even were one not to be at all concerned with the outcomes of his spiritual work, his life is nevertheless a source of interest in itself, and has been subjected to everything from hagiography to excoriation – and that simply among those who knew him!


[i] “Sean Gabb on Aleister Crowley” http://thelibertarianalliance.com/2015/01/22/sean-gabb-on-aleister-crowley/

[ii] Crowley, The Confessions of Aleister Crowley, chapter 50, 1929: http://www.thelema.ca/156/Confessions/chapter50.html

[iii] Laurence Sutin, Do What Thou Wilt: A Life of Aleister Crowley, New York, St Martin’s Press, 2000, p. 148.

Posted in Uncategorized

Trump and liberty

On 18 February 2017, I spoke at the inaugural meeting of the Ludwig von Mises Institute UK in London. This is the text of my speech.

When Donald Trump was mounting his presidential campaign, nothing he said struck me as more significant than his pledge that he would drain the swamp. By this phrase, President Trump has signified several things. Immediately, he has announced ethics reform for Washington lobbyists. But more generally, he has embarked on a course of action that those interested in liberty, and specifically those who believe that the modern bureaucratic state is an obstacle to liberty, should take a close interest in.

Much has been made of President Trump’s status as an outsider. No-one has exploited that status more successfully than he has himself. He is not a politician, but an anti-politician. As such, he has established himself with great vigour and courage as a crusader on behalf of the ordinary voter and as an opponent of the Washington machine. Indeed, that machine has since expanded to pit him against forces that arguably include the whole of the Federal government of the United States.

President Trump is not interested in doing things the way the political and civil service establishment are used to doing them. He has established that this is not, for him, an effective way to achieve his aims. As a businessman, he wants to run the United States of America like a business. For him, that means that he as the CEO sets out the overall principle and vision, others develop strategy based on this, and then further down the hierarchy others yet are charged with the practical enaction of that strategy.

Those of us who are interested in liberty are likely to agree that the elimination of the modern state is a development that would undoubtedly lead to greater freedom for society, for business and for individuals. It is the state that seeks to regulate activity that could and should be the subject of private contract solely so that it can extract profit from it and preserve its own favoured interests. It is the state that takes from the citizen the money that he has earned by force in the form of taxation. It is the state that represents the coalition of powerful vested interests and lobbies who with justification believe that it is they, not the ordinary voter, who own government. In electing President Trump, the people of America have served notice on the state that they will not any longer see those vested interests prosper at their expense, and that they will no longer put up with their public relations justifications for their failure and underperformance. They, like President Trump, have told those bodies “you’re fired”.

I do not suppose that President Trump is a libertarian in that he espouses any given libertarian theorist or that he is advised by particular libertarian groups, although it is heartening to see that some libertarians are certainly playing advisory roles in his administration. I certainly do not think he would have any time for the Libertarian Party as represented so abjectly by Gary Johnson. But I do see in his plans and policies a good deal that was prefigured by Dr Ron Paul in his memorable candidacy in the last Presidential election. President Trump’s political philosophy is not driven by theory but by functionality, and in that respect it is a philosophy of business. He has the capacity to envision an end result and articulate this as an accessible vision. The question of how we get to that end result is not so much inchoate as subject to as many changes of plan as are necessary in the process. One thing that liberals find so hard to grasp about President Trump is that he is not about process but about product. The state, by contrast, must take the opposite view if it is continually to perpetuate and expand itself.

When President Trump announced a hiring freeze for the federal government; when he took on the bureaucrats and their unions; when he effectively took a scalpel to the heart of the state, I was greatly heartened. Here is the first Western leader in living memory, and the first American president since Ronald Reagan, who has actively tried to shrink the state and who has dared take on those who believed the President was their man, that their roles meant that he was the leader of their club and shared their outlook and interests. President Trump has wasted no time in telling them that his and their interests no longer coincide and that their days in power are coming to an end. They call him a loose cannon; they call him unpredictable and inconsistent. They can call him what they like; if they lose their battle with him – and I believe they will – then they are finished.

For years in the United States, powerful vested interests have dominated a number of sectors of government. My own particular interest is education, and I have consulted on educational issues for law firms in the United States for the past eleven years. During that time I have seen every state in the United States pass laws restricting the provision of higher education in favour of the accreditation lobby, despite independent studies showing that the accreditation process does little or nothing to assure quality in education or do anything save promote protectionism and add to the eye-watering costs of education for the consumer. The accreditation lobby represents the state universities above all, and it represents a standardized educational product. For those of us who believe that to standardize education is to reduce it to mere training, the process by which the accreditation lobby has exerted a stranglehold upon legislators to eliminate any competition to their product is an example of precisely what President Trump has been elected to office to deal with. We need him to look at protectionist legislation like this and to put choice and responsibility back into the hands of employers and the public.

A number of President Trump’s appointments give some degree of confidence. The determination to appoint outsiders is likely to be accompanied with a mission statement that those outsiders are not going to turn native. They are there to hire, fire and bring about radical reform. If they succeed, they will transform the United States into a country that is, for its citizens, uniquely equipped to tackle globalized complex markets through business structures of unparalleled flexibility. If the United States is not yet the land of the free, it is without question that it has become, at least in part, the home of the brave.

Posted in Mises UK