The Policy of a Philosophy
Major Douglas: The Policy of a Philosophy is the "gift to the world" of a dying man, John W. Hughes, now dying of a terminal illness, who was a career educator with a mission to the world's poor. After getting his certification, he taught in Papua New Guinea. Then, after further training at home, he taught English-as-a-second-language in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman. Doubtless his empathy for social credit was informed by these experiences.
Major Douglas is not a biography, as the title might lead you to believe. Douglas's personal papers are lost or destroyed. It is, however, a very able 300-page compendium of the social credit movement, its history, philosophy, and personalities. Nothing significant is missing except the Charles Ferguson connection, not known at the time this book was written. It is somewhat comparable to Hutchinson and Burkitt's Political Economy of Social Credit and Guild Socialism, but it is more appreciative of Douglas's personal contribution and better written.
I found three chapters most exciting -- those that are relevant to the all-important question of how we are to make social credit a reality. Chapter 8 on John Hargrave and the Green Shirts is superb and leads into chapter 11 on Alberta, where Hargrave's role was decisive and where it almost really happened. Six of the nine photos are of the Green Shirts, suggesting the importance Hughes placed on their efforts. Hargrave certainly emerges as one of the most alive lights of the movement. Chapter 12 on the Local Objectives Campaign is equally exciting, revealing the action strategy worked out by Douglas himself in the wake of Alberta and how it was field-tested, achieving notable successes in the Lower Rates Campaign before being cut short by war.
No other book puts so much information about social credit as a movement between two covers.
Michael Lane, Editor -- TRIUMPH OF THE PAST
When Douglas first published books and articles on social credit in the early 1920s, a frank and open debate on questions of politics and economics could be freely engaged in by working peoples and intellectuals alike. Indeed, many 'intellectuals' such as A.J. Penty and A.R. Orage, founding fathers of guild socialism, and Douglas himself, were of humble origins. Ideas were thoroughly debated, travelling through study groups rather than one-liner slogans. By the 1930s the flood of social credit literature drew forth a battery of attacks from 'officialdom', from academics, civil servants and politicians determined to maintain the status quo. Invariably, these attacks misrepresented Douglas' case, proceeding to disprove the misrepresentation as if it were the genuine article. In the second half of the 20th century a spate of academic books appeared examining social credit as a historical phenomenon. All were mildly or vehemently hostile to Douglas and social credit, with the one exception of my own, The Political Economy of Social Credit and Guild Socialism, coauthored with Brian Burkitt in 1997. Hence this authoritative and sympathetic work by John Hughes is very much to be welcomed, covering, as it does through meticulous and detailed research, the heyday of social credit in the mid-1930s when Douglas toured the world, Aberhart swept to power in Alberta and John Hargrave rallied his Green Shirts in the London Streets.
Interestingly, Hughes takes as his subtitle the central tenet of Douglas social credit. Debates may rage about the relative strengths and weaknesses of the economic ideas of Douglas, Keynes, and other monetary reformers, the A+B theorem and its interpretations, 1931, the causes of war and unemployment, what might have happened 'if ...', and so on. On the whole, these debates are today entered upon by people who have not clarified their agendas. Hence, more often than not, debates are conducted from totally differing perspectives leading to time-wasting futility. Hughes rightly draws our attention to a speech made by Douglas to a gathering of supporters in 1937. Dismissing the notion that social credit is merely a scheme of monetary reform, Douglas spells out the central plank of his teaching. "Social Credit is the policy of a philosophy", where policy means "action taken towards a recognised and conscious objective". Philosophy is a "conception of reality". Logically, Douglas states his case:
If there is one thing which seems to me beyond dispute, it is that you cannot have a policy ... , the policy of a country, policy of a race, or of a nation, without having a philosophy behind it. You cannot have a bridge without a model and a drawing behind it, or without having a desire to have a bridge. You might as well say the Sydney bridge just grew although nobody ever said they wanted a bridge. I am absolutely convinced myself that there must be somewhere behind the policy a philosophy, or you cannot have a policy (p4).
The one central plank of Douglas's teaching was that the only logical way to change the economy was to examine how the existing system worked -- what was the policy, how did it operate, and what was the philosophy behind it? From his years of detailed study of the workings of the economy, both in the UK and the international economy, Douglas concluded that the policy being followed in economic and public affairs flowed from the philosophy of the "adulation of money".
Money is an abstraction. Money is a thing of no value whatever. Money is nothing but an accounting system. Money is nothing worthy of any attention at all, but we base the whole of our actions, the whole of our policy, on the pursuit of money; and the consequence, of course, is that we become the prey of mere abstractions like the necessity for providing employment.
The understanding of the key role of money in the lives of the individual, the nation and the global economy was, for Douglas, fundamental to the formation of any policy aimed at creating ethical and ecologically sound reforms. For a full understanding of Douglas and the social credit movement, however, we have to set the movement within the context from which it originated and within which it existed. As Hughes demonstrates, Orage was one of the key figures in the social credit movement. Although Hughes makes some reference to other intellectuals and literary figures of the times who quoted social credit favourably, it is the lesser-known Maurice Reckitt who spells out the interconnections:
The three sociological movements with which I have made contact, national guilds, social credit and distributism, have each, I am still assured, something essential to contribute to any movement for social renewal which will be more than patchwork, doomed to disillusion. (Maurice B. Reckitt As It Happened 1941).
All three 'sociological movements', the national guilds of G.D.H. Cole and R.H. Tawney, social credit, and the distributism of G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc, shared the same origin in the guild socialism of Penty and Orage, a 'socialism' which was the very opposite of centralisation and control, and one in which the question of access to, and care of, the land was central.
We owe John Hughes a great debt of gratitude for bringing to light many aspects of the history of Douglas and the social credit movement. Beautifully typeset, indexed and meticulously presented, the book will be an excellent resource for future historians of social credit and for veteran social credit enthusiasts, providing a source of references and ammunition for debate for many years to come. Just one word of warning, however: for the novice to social credit, or for the more general reader of today, the material is rather too highly specialised for immediate consumption.
Frances Hutchinson -- THE SOCIAL CREDITER