Powys: Organic Radical?

John Cowper Powys has been included as part of a new selection of thinkers representing the idea of ‘Organic Radicalism’.

By this, they mean: “a political philosophy which stands in direct opposition to industrial capitalism. Like anarchism it combines a fundamental critique of contemporary society with an alternative basis on which society could, and preferably should, be organised. As the term ‘radicalism’ implies, it also embraces the need for pro-active engagement in the world in order to try to bring about the far-reaching social changes which it prescribes…Its vision of human society is based not on money, greed, property and authority but on mutual aid, co-operation, freedom and community; a way of living which would restore humankind’s well-being and its harmony with the rest of nature.”

Some of the organic radicals listed were Powys’s friends, like Henry Miller and Emma Goldman (pictured); but there are thinkers old and new (ranging from Paracelsus and peasant activist John Ball to Richard Jefferies, Henry Thoreau and Hermann Hesse).

The entry argues that Powys “called on humans to reconnect with nature in the face of the machine-world of industrial capitalism. A convert to anarchism, he strongly supported the anarchist side in the Spanish Revolution and corresponded with Emma Goldman, whom he referred to as his “chief Political Philosopher”…He wrote: “There is no escape from machinery and modern inventions; no escape from city-vulgarity and money-power, no escape from the dictatorship of the uncultured. Money and machines between them dominate the civilised world. Between them, the power of money and the power of the machine have distracted the minds of our western nations from those eternal aspects of life and nature the contemplation of which engenders all noble and subtle thoughts”.

Comparisons are made with John Ruskin, William Morris, Herbert Read in terms of attitudes to the crudity of consumer culture, “vulgar sensationalism”and “commercialized opinion”.

“Like Otto Gross, Powys thought that simply adapting to the society around us, accepting its morals and standards, amounted to existential failure,” the entry says.

“It was the poetry of the real and the living, ‘the whole turbid stream of Nature, in its wild oceanic ensemble’ that was the authentic source of our spiritual well-being and which had always informed what Powys termed ‘Natural religion’.

He explained: “By Natural religion I mean that spiritual legacy of pantheistic feelings which runs like an underground river – every now and then spouting forth in an up-welling spring. 

“Powys referred to Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s view “that the meaning of culture is nothing less than to restore, by means of our imaginative reason, that secret harmony with Nature which beasts and birds possess, but which our civilisation has done so much to eradicate from human feeling”.

There’s more at the Organic Radicals site here.

One thought on “Powys: Organic Radical?

  1. Amusing that in their list of thinkers Powys appears sandwiched between Val Plumwood and Ranchor Prime, outstanding names that surely belong to characters in a Powys novel.
    Also listed is Guy Debord, the mention of whom always reminds me of “Sous les pavés, la plage!” – Beneath the pavement, the beach! – perhaps the inspiration for Powysian fan fiction featuring a modern-day Jobber Skald (not that I’d recommend such an endeavor, obviously).

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