The Policy of a Philosophy
The life and work of Major Clifford Hugh Douglas is, perhaps, not so fresh in the public mind as was once the case and is only occasionally given detailed consideration by academics today. Yet in the 1920's and 30's his wide ranging critique of economic and political institutions touched many lives and made a substantial impact on intellectual thought. It has always seemed puzzling that no biography of him ever appeared, but the reason is not far to seek. So far as a 'Life' of Douglas is concerned, he expressed a wish that no such thing should ever be written and his wishes in this respect were respected by those closest to him. The author has been assured that there is no collection of papers or correspondence in existence on which such a work could be based. This does not preclude a study of what was already known or what might be gleaned from the literature of the period and this, accordingly, is what has been researched. While one or two factual matters were clarified by the immediate next of kin, it has to be said that little relating to the private life of Douglas appears in the following pages.
This then is a study of Douglas's thought, his influence on contemporaries and the movement he founded. It is primarily a history book, somewhat analytical but with a narrative element. Bearing in mind Douglas's wishes, attention is frequently focused not on the man himself but on those who strove to promote his ideas and, in the interest of a balanced view, his critics find their way into the study.
In Britain Douglas was accorded scant attention in the second half of the twentieth century, but there were a few exceptions to this and a small number of writers, in particular, deserve special mention. John L. Finlay's classic study, Social Credit: The English Origins is a definitive one in this area. Finlay's meticulous scholarly detail and encyclopaedic knowledge in addition to his original research into Douglas's background are unlikely to be surpassed. One point of difference between his approach and this one is indicated by the sub title of the present work, The Policy of a Philosophy. Dr Finlay dealt well with Social Credit the monetary reform movement, but it was felt that more might be said on the political theory and political practice in Britain 1935-39. The practice to which reference is here made is that of the 'official' Social Credit movement which chose to follow Douglas's advice and does not relate to other areas of the movement.
What Dr. Finlay achieved for the English origins of the movement Mark Drakeford achieved for John Hargrave and the Greenshirts. The actual title of the work is Social Movements and their Supporters: The Green Shirts in England (Macmillan Press, England, 1997 -- St. Martins Press Inc., New York, 1997). Drakeford had given notice of his excellence in this area as far back as 1980 when he colluded with Bill Jordan in producing the article 'Major Douglas, Money and the New Technology' for New Society in January of that year.
As the twentieth century moved to its close it was possible to detect an accumulating interest in Douglas's work among a number of academics. Among the most erudite and exhaustively researched studies is Frances Hutchinson and Brian Burkitt's The Political Economy of Social Credit and Guild Socialism (Routledge 1997). The work covers much ground turned over both by Finlay and the present author and, notwithstanding the title, treats of the Social Credit movement in comprehensive fashion, building upon the joint authors' earlier article of 1994 published in the International Journal of Social Economics. Earlier still, in 1988, there had appeared J. E. King's Economic Exiles (Macmillan, London 1988) in which is found an incredibly concise prècis of the work of Douglas consisting of, perhaps, 9,500 well chosen words.
Douglas came latterly to the view that nothing less than a comprehensive grasp of the subject would suffice if misunderstandings were to be avoided. Although the Canadian dimensions of it have, indeed, been researched, notably by the group of scholars commissioned by the Rockefeller Institute, it was felt that it might be useful to summarise some aspects of these in one work of convenient size. The political theory was dealt with many years ago by C. B. MacPherson but the treatment was of a somewhat hostile nature and definitely called for re-examination. This is attempted in one chapter here. The political triumph of Social Credit in Alberta was, undoubtedly, ably researched by J. A. Irvine but, again, it seemed that some further insights might be gained from a re-telling which made more mention of the trans Atlantic contribution to the story. This too is attempted in a single chapter. J. R. Mallory's work was also consulted and it was decided to summarise, in the present author's own words, certain closing events of the Alberta onslaught recorded therein in order to provide continuity and bring the radical phase of the account to a satisfactory closure.
Since the mid 1970's much new scholarship on Canadian Social Credit has appeared. A new generation of historians have included Lewis H. Thomas, Alvin Finkel, David R. Elliott, Iris Miller and Bob Hesketh who, for the most part, have been concerned mainly with Social Credit in Alberta. As a result of this interest in the subject most of those remaining areas of Alberta Social Credit previously neglected are now gradually being researched. The chapter devoted to Alberta in the present book will endeavour to re-state cogently a traditional British perspective and a heavier emphasis will be given to the importance of the Hargrave interlude. It should be remembered that it is only a chapter, not the book itself and, as a result, it is not possible on this occasion to assess the many excellent insights uncovered by the new authors previously mentioned. However, an exception is made for Dr Hesketh's study which dealt directly with Major Douglas's influence on Social Credit in Alberta.
In this book the influence, or otherwise, of Douglas and the movement on such as Bertrand Russell, Stafford Cripps, Keynes, Beaverbrook and many political figures is looked at. His World Tour of 1934 is looked at in some detail and use made of some autobiographical fragments jotted down by him on this occasion. In the final chapter an exposition of how Social Credit, which did not set out to be the policy of a Christian philosophy but was dis(un)covered to be so, is presented. Other areas covered are not necessarily new but offer a different approach, adding insights here and there and clarifying an impression elsewhere. The Douglasite impact on Guild Socialism is one of these. Another is the correspondence with British government officials relating to the repayment of war debts. The political theory and practice developed between 1936 and 1946, which, as already mentioned, has been dealt with only once before in the past and then in inordinately hostile fashion, is looked at anew and a chapter devoted to it. In a further chapter dealing with the Conspiracy theory of History an attempt is made to show that, shorn of its anti-Semitism, it may still be useful in explaining tendencies at work in the world. Prior to much of this will be found the author's own account of the many themes covered by scholars of the English 'end' of the movement. The challenge was that of delivering a comprehensive account of many of the specialised areas, combining them within one book and linking them to the person of Douglas. Given the scope envisaged it was, therefore, a foregone conclusion that the book could only have one title, namely the one it bears.
At a much earlier stage the intention had been different. Then, the hope had been to produce a more biographical account of Douglas's life. When the impossibility of doing this became apparent the book took on the form in which it now appears. The human interest factor was never completely forgotten, however, and the very occasional 'snapshot' of human interest which surfaced from time to time has been included. A largely chronological treatment was employed at intervals, enabling the 'story' to be related in narrative style, though it must be stressed that this was only occasionally possible. There are four chapters, three of which contain the word 'theory' in their titles, where the treatment had to be more analytical in style.
Douglas's views have an uncannily prophetic relevance to a continuing problem which, though it may be overcome in 'drips and drops' over time, is working itself out with excruciating slowness. At the end of Chapter 13 it seemed right to be more candid than is usual in an academic work in holding up to view the centralising influences that had come to be seen as the real enemy. Appendix 3 features the ideas of several writers who, though not devotees of Douglas, were nevertheless in the process of rediscovering the economic aspect of his monetary ideas in the later years of the twentieth century.
I must take sole responsibility for all matters relating to interpretation in the present book as well as for any errors which may have crept in.