THE OTHER SIDE OF THE COIN
Confessions of a Radical Traditionalist Essays by John Michell Dominion, USA, 2005, £20.00
AS I BEGAN writing this review, Jack Straw, the then Foreign Secretary of the UK, had just announced that he was committed to freedom of the press but that this carried a duty not to be “gratuitously inflammatory … I believe that the republication of these cartoons has been insulting, it has been insensitive, it has been disrespectful and it has been wrong.” He was of course talking about the cartoons of the prophet Muhammad originally published in Denmark and just reprinted in France and Germany. This had inflamed Muslims around the world who saw these caricatures as an insult and an attack against the spiritual values of Islam.
Way back in 1989, before 9/11 and the Islamophobia that ensued, a fatwa was issued against the British author Salman Rushdie. John Michell wrote an essay explaining the Muslim view: “Against the spread of secularism, usury and the evils of materialism throughout the world there is only one formidable source of opposition – the religious law of Islam. That is the reason for the hateful anti-Muslim sentiments which are now being stirred up in us.” And indeed we were stirred up and outraged that freedom of speech should be so threatened. His essay continued, “It is easy enough to find fault with these people. Like all foreigners they have some obnoxious customs, and they should perhaps have been more appreciative of Rushdie’s witty insults to their religion. Yet surely we should admire and be grateful to them for standing up to us, for resisting the fads of modernism and holding firm to their conceptions of the divine order on earth.”
Michell has an uncanny way of detecting the hidden or forbidden details in things. He makes a point of looking at the other side of the coin and turning the frame of reference upside down to get the big picture. “Popular demand is for cut-and-dried, one-or-the-other solutions, allowing you to feel enlightened by one opinion and to despise the other as superstition. Inevitably, in the course of time, one fashion gives way to another, and we duly despise the orthodoxy that preceded ours.” He suggests that we get rid of all fixed opinions on all subjects and that we listen to Plato, who assured us that “things are better taken care of than can possibly be imagined.”
At every turn Michell is encouraging us to think for ourselves and not to allow our minds to be manipulated: “to speak plainly, let us be suspicious of anything that is said to be progressive, or unstoppable, or even good for you. It is almost bound to be a racket.”
Looking back to a Golden Age, he justly rails against scientific materialism and the cult of the expert: “the infallible wrongness of experts is a law which you can test yourself in any subject you care to go into … No longer at the mercy of their neuroses, you can develop your own view of the world, and if you are wise, you will serve self-interest by making it as delightful as possible, basing it on the image of a God-given paradise, which is far truer and more lasting than the perverse imaginings of any expert.”
Michell is known by many for his seminal works on Earth Mysteries, ancient civilisations, sacred geometry and strange phenomena. He is less well-known for his ‘Orthodox Voice’ column in The Oldie magazine. This is where Michell the Radical Traditionalist comes into his own as he comments on the issues of our times, including drink, drugs and the art of conversation, bogus social workers, ufology, demonic reality, Rupert Sheldrake, art, money and revolution, and a whole section entitled ‘Paradise of the Philosophers’. He is inspired by Plato and his theory of Harmony – the divine order of things – and by William Cobbett, whose “idea of progress was to look backwards to the days of Merrie England … No one had ever heard of Darwin, Freud or van Gogh, and no one was so clever as to have a nervous breakdown.”
Finally, it has to be mentioned that one of the author’s greatest sources of irritation is our present society’s seeming acceptance of Darwinism, which he calls “that virus of the intellect … I am constantly surprised by the number of clever, well-educated people who fall under the spell of man-made theories and embrace them with fundamentalist intensity.” It is well worth reading his essays on Darwinism in this book – they are hilarious gems.
Congratulations are due to Joscelyn Godwin for painstakingly choosing and editing into sections such a thought-provoking collection of philosophical writings written in such masterly prose. Everyone should read it.
Frances Howard-Gordon runs Gothic Image Publications and is the author of Glastonbury: Maker of Myths.
“I am constantly surprised by the number of clever, well-educated people who fall under the spell of man-made theories and embrace them with fundamentalist intensity.”