Gambling With Our Planet

This peer-reviewed article was first published by the journal Theory In Action (Vol.7, No.1) in January 2014.

This essay presents an unfortunate story of conservatives and conservation. Unfortunate because it is highly problematic that so many of the reactionary ideas of conservative elites have entered the lexicon of the mainstream environmental movement: an age-old conundrum that can be traced back to the beginning of the 20th century, but nevertheless needs to be scrutinized if meaningful and democratic solutions are going to be counterpoised to capitalism’s desire to destroy the planet. Previous studies have produced detailed examinations documenting the cynical way in which ruling class elites manipulate green concerns to legitimize class war.[1] This investigation differs from earlier studies, however, in that it traces the influence of three men of ruling class stock, whose thoroughbred lives have been as varied and colorful, as they have been intimately entwined by their obsession for all things wild. The names of these three men being: gambling legend cum zoo owner John Aspinall (1926-2000), billionaire financier Sir James Goldsmith (1933-1997) and his brother, the influential deep ecologist Edward “Teddy” Goldsmith (1928-2009). All were born to a life of plenty, coming together in Oxford in 1949 as friends through their shared addiction to gambling.

Aspinall’s Wild Side

The elder of the trio, and the man whose gambling clique brought the three together in the first place was John Aspinall. A man who was also the first of the three to seriously develop his preoccupation with the majesty of nature untamed. Born in Delhi in 1926, when just thirteen years old Aspinall was introduced to the novels of H. Rider Haggard, with his entry point into Haggard’s opus being Nada the Lily. Nada presented a tale of Zulu witchcraft, wilderness and adventure, which “opened Aspinall’s eyes to a world so different from the one he knew, so much more romantic and impressive, on a scale so super-human, that he was entranced.” From that time onwards Aspinall’s obsession with comprehending Zulu history was second only to his addiction to Haggard’s imperial tropes of spiritual fiction.[2] A lifelong commitment that culminated with him being rewarded with his dedication to their cause by being initiated into the Zulu ‘nation’ as a ‘white Zulu’ by King Goodwill Zwelithini.

John Aspinall

Living in central London during the 1950s, Aspinall used his backyard to bring a little wilderness into his life of pleasure-seeking and gambling, beginning his erstwhile zoo by purchasing a monkey, tiger cub, and two Himalayan brown bears. “In the presence of these proud, secretive, untameable creatures, he felt moved.” And soon after making these new ‘wild’ friends, he used the rich dividends from his gambling enterprises to purchase Howletts country house and estate in Kent, and in 1956 he set about creating a private zoo on his new premises. As his biographer added, Aspinall’s new found animal friends at Howlett’s “strengthen[ed] his belief in elitism and confirm[ed] his distaste for social egalitarianism”.[3] Such views were de rigueur among Aspinall’s ruling-class patrons.[4]

With his public wildlife profile growing rapidly during the 1960s, Aspinall was soon courted by the aristocrats of eco-imperialism, the World Wildlife Fund, and in his first television experience he was invited to discuss whether people or wildlife should be prioritized. Talking on behalf of animals with Aspinall was his good friend Teddy Goldsmith. “Goldsmith thundered about the redundant millions of humans in the world and disastrous progress of medical technique which eliminated many useful natural diseases.” Aspinall joined the anti-humanist debacle such that their opponents concluded “that he and Goldsmith were no better than fascists in their denial of democratic advance; [Aspinall and Goldsmith] were happy to agree”. Perhaps because of such elitist beliefs, in 1970 WWF asked him (for the second time) to become a member of their group of rapacious capitalist funders known as the ‘1001’ Club.[5] Being very much a lone misanthrope on wilderness matters Aspinall sent the requested money but refused to join the committee. Although he would later have quarrels with WWF for choosing leaders prone to big-game hunting, Aspinall “continued to support Friends of the Earth, the Fauna Preservation Society, and many like bodies, both financially and morally”.[6].

Teddy’s Primitive Past 

Although born to great wealth, Teddy Goldsmith initially made his private fortune in the 1950s by marketing, with his brothers aid, a miracle cream developed by a well-known quack that touted itself as a cure for rheumatism. Teddy however was not cut out for the cut-throat business world, and by the late 1960s he retired and purchased a 300-acre farm in Cornwall, UK, where he continued his private studies into the history of life on earth.[7] When his father passed away in 1967, Teddy inherited a handsome legacy, and soon decided to put his long-abiding interest in indigenous cultures into action. To do so he picked an issue that resonated with Aspinall’s longstanding interest in Zulu culture, and in 1969 they both served as founding members of the Primitive People’s Fund (now called Survival International) — group formed to protect the human rights of indigenous tribal peoples and uncontacted peoples. Yet despite the professed concern for primitive others, as expressed by Survival International’s bourgeois founders, “by rooting their concern — and persuading their clients — to preserve” indigenous culture in “false essentialist premises,” they arguably acted to “subvert efforts to address issues of… inequality and poverty in realistic political terms”.[8]

Teddy Goldsmith Worthyvale-Manor-Farm-Camelford-1970s

Now on a roll, the following year Teddy launched The Ecologist magazine, which adopted the sub-title, the Journal of the Post Industrial Age. The first issue, hot off the press in July 1970, led with an editorial on primitive peoples, and was succeeded with what would become a mainstay of Teddy’s writing, a declaration that overpopulation was the world’s number one problem. The solution?… enforced sterilisation to halve the world’s population! In subsequent years Teddy would rise to global fame when he published his neo-Malthusian tract Blueprint for Survival, which contained many proposals for action, one of which included the formation of an apocalyptic sounding Movement for Survival.

In the summer of 1972 a small group of well-to-do friends in Napton, Warwickshire, began to discuss their environmental concerns. These discussions led to the formation of a transient group known as the Thirteen Club. “In particular they were influenced by the Blueprint for Survival, the Report of the Club of Rome and other writings of Paul Ehrlich”. Four members of this group who were particularly intent on taking political action ended up splitting off from the Thirteen Club around Christmas time, and by February 1973 they had organized the first meeting of their new political party, which they named PEOPLE (this later became known as the Ecology party, and in turn the Green party). To their eternal benefit, Teddy was an “early member of the new party and contributed the mailing list of the Movement for Survival.”[9] Aspinall having earlier arranged for his gambling friends to raise funds for Friends of the Earth’s Director, Graham Searle, jumped at the chance to support Teddy’s short-lived electoral ambitions, and lent Teddy a camel to ride upon during his campaigning in February 1974 as a PEOPLE candidate.

Later in 1974 Teddy spent a few months at the Gandhi Peace Foundation in India (which was organized by his friend Satish Kumar), and followed his (mis)enlightenment in India by dedicating a special issue of The Ecologist to Gandhi and India. The following year Teddy then helped found Ecoropa (Ecological Action for Europe), serving as vice-president and president of the French branch; and in 1978 helped set up Green Alliance, a parliamentary lobbying group ostensibly concerned with the environment, even if sustaining capitalism would be a more appropriate descriptor of their work. Romanticizing feudalism, and maintaining false illusions about a wholesome (“organic”) history of the days of folklore in India or otherwise is hardly progressive.[10]

Sir James: Green Raider

Unlike his brother, Sir James Goldsmith remained in the business world throughout his life, and during the 1970s and 1980s he rose to global infamy for his predatory exploits as a corporate raider — activities that in common parlance became known as hostile takeovers. Like Teddy, Sir James continued to lend a hand to green exploits, making his own early contribution to conservative environmental efforts by purchasing a 400,000-acre ranch in the right-wing state of Paraguay. Politically-speaking his good friend Mr. Aspinall was of much the same mind as Sir James, and in a typically outrageous speech made to his colleagues in the business world, Aspinall “applauded the chimpanzee custom of dividing into rival armies which engaged in wholesome slaughter as a useful exercise in keeping down numbers.” This was something he referred to as “beneficial genocide”. In a similar way Sir James slaughtered any business competition on his rise to global power, and when he broke-up Cavenham Foods in July 1980 his own personal fiefdom had been “the third-largest retailer in the world after Safeway and Kroger.” James however still railed against the food industry, and was “proud of a speech he made at a conference in Woldson College, Cambridge, in 1976 on the subject of poison in food” which he saw as an explicit “attack on the food industry, in particular on intensive farming”. Here he was clearly picking up on the green zeitgeist of his day, which saw the controversial growth of all manner of highly profitable, albeit exploitative, natural enterprises.[11]

James Goldsmith

During the 1980s, amid his continuing financial escapades Sir James became obsessed with AIDS which — following his brothers nihilist cue — he thought would soon wipe out much of the human species. He read widely upon the subject that so obsessed him, and even funded his own dubious research on the matter — research that he was unable to persuade even his own newspaper L’Express to run with. “When the drug AZT came along, Goldsmith dismissed it as only adding to the problem — it simply meant a longer period for the disease to spread, and created a false impression that its development had slowed”. This of course is nonsense, but nonsense that would have fatal consequences for thousands of Africans in the coming years. In the light of Sir James’ attraction to anti-scientific ‘research,’ it is fitting that in 1997, after chemotherapy and surgery had proved unsuccessful in stopping the spread of Sir James’ diagnosed cancer, he chose to utilize the services of a famous practitioner of Ayurvedic medicine — the quack in question being Balendu Prakash, a man who had allegedly successfully treated brain cancer in one of Teddy’s friends.[12]

Inspired by his taming of the French left-wing newspaper L’Express (which he had purchased in March 1977), in January 1979 Sir James announced the creation of a new magazine Now! which was to be edited by the former political editor of the Daily Mail, Anthony Shrimsley. Upon its launch, one of their regular columnists was Brian Crozier, who “preached the dangers of left-wing infiltration even more fervently than Goldsmith”. Another Now! contributor of extreme far-right pedigree whose connections are worth drawing attention to is Michael Ledeen, whose articles in both Now! and L’Express, aimed to discredit Jimmy Carter’s 1980 presidential campaign, contributing to what became known as the ‘Billygate’ affair. Not to be outdone by such servility to great power, yet another master of disinformation who was more than capable of injecting “black propaganda” into Now! was Brian Crozier’s protege Robert Moss. Amalgamating all his and others paranoid anti-communist conspiracy theories in one place, in 1980 Moss published an international best-selling novel titled The Spike. His coauthor on this vicious propaganda tract was the Newsweek journalist, Arnaud de Borchgrave. Considering the mystical proclivities of the Goldsmith brothers, it is interesting to note that both of these writers somehow managed to take their obsessions with disinformation one step beyond. Moss has now reinvented himself as a shamanic counselor and dream teacher (an issue upon which he has written numerous books), and since 1985 de Borchgrave has spent all his time editing newspapers and magazines belonging to Sun Myung Moon’s cultish Unification Church.[13]

Not long after founding Now! Sir James was invited to join a host of right-wing elites to support “Project Democracy,” a covert propaganda effort dedicated to weakening democratic institutions abroad.[14] Sir James was thus just one of a gaggle of powerful businessmen who met President Reagan (in March 1983) to support his war on popular democracy; other members of the group included Rupert Murdoch and self-help guru W. Clement Stone.[15] Bolstering his efforts to bolster neoconservative networking across the Atlantic, Sir James was also counted as a member of the Committee for a Free World. A group which was founded in 1981 by Midge Decter, who is the spouse of another prime neoconservative mover, Norman Podhoretz. As late as 1989 the chairman of this group was Donald Rumsfeld, while other board members sitting alongside Sir James were the president of the misnamed National Endowment for Democracy, Carl Gerschman, and the author Jacqueline Wheldon, who headed the British branch of the Committee for a Free World.

No surprise then that in November 1990, Sir James was in attendance at a dinner hosted by his good buddy Aspinall whose guest of honour was the reactionary head of the Inkatha Freedom Party, Mangosuthu Buthelezi; with another notable diner being Marc Gordon, the Director of the London office of the International Freedom Foundation — a right-wing think-tank with close links to Inkatha.[16] This so-called International Freedom Foundation had been founded in 1985 by former Republican “superlobbyist”/convicted and sentenced felon, Jack Abramoff, growing out of an initial meeting Abramoff had organized (known as the Democratic International) which took place at the headquarters of Angolan rebel leader Jonas Savimbi. The meeting was “attended by a who’s who of the extreme Right: members of the Oliver North group, Laotian guerrillas, Nicaraguan Contras, Afghan mujahideen and South African security police”. As it turned out, the International Freedom Foundation was a South African military intelligence front formed to campaign against the ANC, financed to the tune of up to $1.5 million a year by the apartheid regime; funding that was maintained until 1992. When the underhand activities of the Foundation were finally wound down in 1993 their activists went on to join other right-wing causes, with Marc Gordon moving smoothly on to serve as the field organiser for Sir James’ Referendum Party.[17]

As luck would have it, Sir James’ stellar contacts in the conservative media world provided exactly the type of propaganda that the Inkatha Freedom Party needed in the West. One of Sir James’ well-placed acquaintances being former Now! contributor, Frank Johnson, who acted as the editor of The Spectator between 1995 and 1999. Sir James and Aspinall’s good friend, Taki Theodoracopulos, then used his longstanding column in The Spectator to good effect, and along with Carla Powell (the wife of Mrs Thatcher’s former private secretary) the deadly duo “led the campaign in the British right-wing press to canonise Buthulezi”.[18] Here it is significant that Carla’s husband, Lord Powell, until recently worked under the supervision of Rothschild banker, Sir Henry Keswick, a powerful individual whom some years earlier had actually been the proprietor of The Spectator (1975-81). Natural history and elitist conservation measures having long provided useful sources of entertainment for the ruling class, with Sir Henry himself being a former president of the Royal Highland Agriculture Society, and current trustee of Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. In addition, the CEO of Caterpillar (the world’s largest maker of earthmoving machinery) also resides on the board of the ‘big green’ wannabe, the World Resources Institute, which is significant because the aforementioned Lord Powell is one of Caterpillar’s current board members. Here one would do well to recognize that green connections among the earth excavation business are not exceptional, and billionaire industrialist and head of the JCB Group, Sir Anthony Bamford, is a patron of the eco-mystically inclined Resurgence magazine. In addition, Bamford is the proud owner of an organic farm, whose shop is patronized by David Cameron; and Bamford even counts organic anti-modernist, Prince Charles, among his green circle of friends. Prince Charles was of course also close to the Goldsmiths, and Sir James’ wife, Annabel, became a trusted confidante of the Princess of Wales in the early 1980s.[19]

Right-Wing Nationalism and Zulu Heritage

Organizing dinner parties and public relations for Buthelezi is just the tip of the iceberg as far as Aspinall and Sir James’ support for the Zulu cause is concerned — some funding from this dubious duo having been directed through the KwaZulu Conservation Trust (later the Wildlands Trust) and some to scholarship funds. According to one former Inkatha Freedom Party politician, “Aspinall and Goldsmith donated around R4,000,000 to the party before the 1994 elections. It was in these tense years that Aspinall publicly recommended the sabotage of Duban’s power lines and, at an IFP rally in Ulundi, urged Zulu nationalists to ‘sharpen their spears and fall on the Xhosas’”.[20]

Aspinall was a personal friend of both Buthelezi and the famous South African conservationist, Ian Player, and it is through his connection to the latter that he serves as a patron of the Magqubu Ntombela Foundation. Aspinall likewise penned the foreword to Player’s Zululand Wilderness: Shadow and Soul (David Philip, 1997), a passionate memoir documenting Ntombela’s defining influence on his life as his friend and spiritual guide.

It was Ntombela’s vision and Player’s global maneuvering that led to the first World Wilderness Congress in 1977. This was a crucial node for a network sharing Aspinall’s concerns, such as Laurens van der Post, who met Buthelezi and provided the chief with the ear of British politicians (most significantly Margaret Thatcher) and royalty (in the form of Prince Charles). Aspinall, introduced to van der Post by Player, was seen as a crucial contact for raising the capital to give effect to van der Post and Buthelezi’s dream of a Zulu renaissance. [21]

Such concerns for the wilderness are not merely green in value, and environmental protection is closely entwined with the capitalist politics of nationalism. For example, one might note that one of the “prime lobbying and facilitating organizations” for the creation of Trans-Frontier Conservation Areas (TFCAs) “is the South African Peace Park Foundation (PPF), presided by Anton Rupert who started his career as a nationalist thinker in the Afrikaner Broederbond, which sought to empower Afrikaners in the business world.” In this way, a strong argument can be made that “through the TFCAs the PPF manages to foster cohesion between the old — mainly white — and new political and business elites in post-apartheid South Africa.” Bonding is thus achieved by manufacturing “a de-politicized, aesthetic Edenic landscape” built on primitivist discourses of Africa and Africans which have room aplenty for ‘noble savages.’ “The good native is given a place to stay in wildlife areas. The bad native is ‘naturally’ evicted.” Yet as many elitist conservation organisations have shown, despite the fact that they can be sometimes critical of so-called ‘enforced primitivism’; these problems may not always derive from conscious policy, but reoccur time and time again “through latent, but deeply held values”.[22]

Ian Player

So let’s now return to Ian Player, who by 1964 was the chief conservator of Zululand, and whose “name is closely associated with Operation Rhino at Umfolozi in the 1960s where he was officer-in-charge”. On top of helping save the white rhinoceros from extinction, Player fulfilled a crucial role in creating the first officially designated wilderness areas in South Africa as part of already existing Zululand game reserves. However, prior to enacting the requisite environmental legislation in the 1960s, Player founded the non-government Wilderness Leadership School in 1957 — with funding provided courtesy of his golf-star brother, Gary Player. Building upon these successes, in 1974 Player retired from his position as chief conservator of Natal and KwaZulu, and traveled to the United States as a guest of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to film To Catch a Rhino. But owing to his wilderness vocation, in the same year he formed the International Wilderness Leadership Foundation (WILD). Subsequently in 1976 he took over the reins of his Wilderness Leadership School and set about organising the first World Wilderness Congress in Johannesburg, in 1977. Two people who collaborated with Player in establishing the Congress were Ntombela and Laurens van der Post, who sharing his new-found obsession with Jungian metaphysics, worked with him to set up both the Wilderness Foundation and the Cape of Good Hope Center for Jungian studies. Unfortunately, given his company it is unsurprising that their strategy of wilderness preservation is “backward looking and conservative”.[23]

Player has begun to see environmental problems as wrapped up with problems of power but has difficulty articulating more than a mystical atavistic whim for a better planet. His journey into the wilderness within took him into New Age ideas which he embraces. He rejects unmitigated western Enlightenment science and identifies with post-modem social thought which features amongst the current reading in his personal library. In the end, however, Player owes to Jung and van der Post an essentialist view of culture. (p.814)

With such problematic ideological baggage, it is fitting that Player, like his friends, moved to embrace Zulu ethnic nationalism. One “close friend and associate,” Nick Steele (1933-1997), who perhaps more than anyone else helped move Player in this reactionary direction, and had also served as a cofounder of the Magqubu Ntombela Foundation. Steele had worked closely with Player since the 1950s at the National Parks Board, and in the year of his death had just been appointed as Chief Director of Environmental Affairs and Nature Conservation for KwaZulu-Natal. As Steele would go on to demonstrate in his controversial conservation work, he was an “unbending ‘securocrat’ from military tradition”. [24]

Green Traditionalism: The Answer?

As a pioneer of the new frontiers of capitalist conservation, Nick Steele’s “own idea and practical definition of wilderness was far less mystical than [Ian] Player’s”. The same of course largely applied to Sir James environmental approach which came into its own when he retired from his days as a corporate raider to join his brother as the new born-again saviour of the planet. Sir James however found gaining “entry into the environmental world far from easy.” For example, he thought a good campaign idea would be for various environmental groups to threaten to sue individual corporations and their directors for not taking action fast enough to reduce CFC emissions. “Teddy got the environmental groups, including Friends of the Earth, to form a rough alliance, and Goldsmith outlined his proposal for major legal actions around the world.” Some environmentalists were evidently suspicious of Sir James’ green credentials, which is unsurprising considering the fact that he was still a “major shareholder” in Newmont Mining. Thus despite his best efforts at white-washing his immensely destructive investment portfolio, the green groups in question refused — in this instance anyway — to allow Sir James to take an active role in their campaign. So in response Sir James withheld his promised investment of £250,000. Considering his growing influence in environmental circles this was no skin off the nose for Sir James, as at Teddy’s urging in 1990 Sir James had set up the Goldsmith Charitable Foundation, which provides tens of millions of pounds a year to environmental enterprises all over the world.[25]

In 1987 Teddy had retired as the editor of The Ecologist, and considering Sir James’ full-blown love affair with the reactionary traditions of the Zulu’s it might seem that their ideological obsessions about the failure of the modern world were drawing ever closer together. Teddy now took the time to document his personal desire to re-establish the values of small-scale pre-industrial traditional societies (via something called bioregionalism) in his book The Great U-Turn: Deindustrialising Society (Green Books, 1988): the content of which “go[es] beyond rational expression, being articulated in nature mysticism, creative art, folk legend and paganism”.  A commitment to such traditionalist ideas helps explain why around this time Sir James provided £80,000 to help finance a film, later shown on BBC, “about a tribe of Colombian Indians called the Kogi which had survived untouched and unscathed by the outside world, high in the mountains”.[26] The Kogi base their lifestyles on their belief in “The Great Mother,” their creator figure, whom they believe is the force behind nature, providing guidance.

A dedication to popularizing ancient traditions and primitive spiritual practices is for the ‘Goldsmith brothers grim’ (and for their friend Aspinall), therefore seen as the ideal way to reverse the secularizing and democratic trends of the Enlightenment. Speaking to these concerns, in 1989 Teddy argued (within the pages of the Financial Times) that as a traditionalist he sought to oppose “the holocaust of modernisation”. The reactionary and conservative nature of such a belief system is clear,[27] and in a later interview Teddy traced the intellectual origins of his traditionalism to his interest in the perennial philosophy, saying:

It this interest has basically been cultivated, and promoted, by a group of people, perhaps the most famous was Molander Gumalaswami, but there are others — Europeans, like René Guenon, and, Lord Northborne in this country — all sorts of people. And they are really interested in the wisdom which underlies all your traditional societies, and there is such a wisdom. They call it The Perennial Philosophy, and of course, it is based largely on tradition.[28]

The Traditionalist scholars mentioned here are critical to the Goldsmith story, as the right-wing Soil Association activist Lord Northbourne (1896-1982) had translated Rene Guenon’s The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times. Lord Northbourne who was one of the cofounders of the Soil Association was “a frequent contributor” to the British periodical Studies in Comparative Religion, which was a major source of Traditionalist scholarship and has been described by E.F. Schumacher “as one of the two most important journals to read”. Indeed, it was Traditionalism that actually served as “one of the main sources of Schumacher’s anti-modernism”; a philosophical trend which combined neatly with the leading role he assumed within the anthrosopically-inspired Soil Association, which happened to provide the initial staff for The Ecologist.[29]

One infamous writer situated with Traditionalism whose influence is relevant here is the prolific fascist writer and activist Julius Evola, whose vile work has been revived in the work of French Nouvelle Droite (New Right) ideologues like Alain de Benoist.  De Benoist is best-known for founding an ethnonationalist and neopagan think-tank known as the Groupement de recherche et d’études pour la civilisation européenne (“Research and Study Group for European Civilization” or GRECE). Formed in 1968, an early member of GRECE was Louis Pauwels, coauthor of the 1960 irrationalist, Romantic treatise, Les matin des magiciens, which was published in the United States as Morning of the Magicians in 1964, and has the dubious distinction of helping launch a revival of interest in the occult and Traditionalist ideas more generally. In recent years, the extreme-right-wing GRECE has sought out and made connections to green Traditionalists like Teddy Goldsmith, who in 1994 accepted their invitation to address its 25th Anniversary Meeting. Here one person who has been particularly forthright in his criticism of Teddy’s propensity to embrace such authoritarian forms of cultural essentialism has been Nicholas Hildyard, who had worked at The Ecologist from 1972-1997, and had assumed the journal’s editorship (with others) from 1990-97. Having spent much of the 1990s advising Sir James on environmental affairs, he recalls that “political differences” with Teddy “over ethnicity and gender issues” eventually led him and the rest of the editorial team to quit The Ecologist.[30]


Considering these fascist connections, it is intriguing to observe that when Sir James purchased the left-wing L’Express in 1977, which he identified as “the source of intellectual sickness of France”, he recalled that: “When I appointed Raymond Aron — he came from Figaro — I had a strike because I was imposing a fascist!” A strike, and accusation, that arose for good reasons because the prestigious French daily Le Figaro was at the time playing a key role in dispensing the ideas of the Nouvelle Droite, counting Louis Pauwels as one of their editors. Later Aron was remembers as being one of only a few scholars “willing to engage in dialogue” with the Nouvelle Droite.[31]

Unfortunately Teddy’s embrace of the French New Right as suitable allies in his bid to save the planet was not a passing fad, and was very much in keeping with his own, and his brothers, explicit conservatism and elitism. In subsequent years Teddy kept in contact with de Benoist and his GRECE comrades, and when challenged about the reactionary nature of their work he pleads that GRECE “have changed very much these last dozen years”. This is not the case, GRECE and their politics of green Traditionalism mesh perfectly with Teddy’s political orientation. Either way, in late 1997 Teddy was the main guest on the third TeKoS colloquium in Antwerp, Belgium: TeKoS being a sister organisation of GRECE. The following year Teddy then gave a lecture in Paris at the first colloquium of the New-Right ecology organisation Le recours aux forêts, which was headed by Laurent Ozon, the head of GRECE’s ecology branch. Other lecturers in attendance included Alain de Benoist and members of the French extreme-right party Mouvement Pour la France, which had been founded in 1994 by none other than Sir James Goldsmith. Working in collaboration with Ozon, Teddy then agreed to stand in the June 1999 elections for the right-wing ecological party Mouvement ecologiste independante (MEI). Teddy even convinced Ozon to allow his friend Antoine Waechter to head the party — Waechter having founded the French Green Party in 1973. But before Teddy’s electoral bid ever got off the ground he dropped the project when the French media decided to cause a ruckus about Waechter’s obviously extreme right-wing ideas.[32]

In addition to harboring right-wing views, Teddy’s interest in hidden (occult) knowledge is shared by many of his green-fingered bourgeois friends.[33] The third ever World Wilderness Congress was thus held at the anthrosophically-inspired Findhorn Community, in Scotland, in October 1983. In the same year the Foundation for GAIA was created in the UK “to do something for Gaia, the ancient Greek goddess of the Earth representing the living beings of this planet as embodied in all its life-forms and ecosystems.” Current trustees of the Foundation for GAIA include green capitalist entrepreneur Jonathan Porritt, and Italian conservationist Franco Zunino, who is an Associate Editor of the International Journal of Wilderness which is published by the WILD Foundation (US) — the WILD Foundation being headed by the former coordinator of environmental programs at Findhorn, Vance Martin. While another former Findhorn leader, Vita de Waal, is a trustee of the Foundation for GAIA, and is the vice president of the Institute for Planetary Synthesis, a group which dedicates itself to promotion of various variants of theosophy. When Teddy passed away in 2009, the Foundation for GAIA honored his longstanding service to their spiritual cause by thanking him for serving on their board for “over 20 years.” Occult connections are also derived through Foundation for GAIA trustee, Eileen Noakes, who in 1973 was a founding member of the misnamed Scientific and Medical Network, another theosophical project which counted Teddy as a former member.

Until his death Teddy bolstered such mystical ties through his service on the advisory board of the International Society for Ecology and Culture (ISEC), which describes itself as “a non-profit organization dedicated to the revitalization of cultural and biological diversity, and the strengthening of local communities and economies worldwide.” Here he worked alongside the likes of eco-mystic guru Frijof Capra and famed eco-feminist Vandana Shiva, with ISEC itself having been founded in 1975 by Helena Norberg-Hodge. Norberg-Hodge is the author of many books including the primitivist hit, Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh (Sierra Club Books, 1991). Moreover the two current Associate Directors of ISEC are Tracy Worcester and Zac Goldsmith. Tracy, the Marchioness of Worcester, is a former patron of the Soil Association, former trustee of Friends of the Earth, and counts the thoroughly anti-modernist, Prince Charles — as her eco-hero (he also attended her wedding). [34] In her spare time Tracy promotes anthroposophy, has served on the advisory board of The Ecologist, and was a member of Sir James’ Referendum Party. Zac Goldsmith on the other hand is the son of Sir James, and after recently acting as the editor of The Ecologist he is now the Conservative MP for the constituency of Richmond Park and North Kingston.

Another well-known group that counted Teddy as an emeritus director is the International Forum on Globalization, an organization that was formed in 1994, and whose work has been heavily supported by Douglas Tompkins’ controversial eco-philanthropy. Tompkins is better known as the founder of the Foundation for Deep Ecology, although he is also a patron of Satish Kumar’s Resurgence magazine, which recently merged with The Ecologist. Former Foundation for Deep Ecology staffer, Victor Menotti, presently serves as the International Forum on Globalization’s executive director. However, the key person involved in establishing the International Forum on Globalization was Jerry Mander, a former president of a major San Francisco advertising company, and ‘Grateful Dead’ promoter, who decided to turn his talents at manipulating symbols and images to protecting the environment in the late 1960s (initially working with David Brower while he was based at the Sierra Club). In addition to Mander’s work at the International Forum on Globalization, he also found the time to briefly serve as a program director for the Foundation for Deep Ecology. Following Teddy’s example, the International Forum on Globalization has played a key role in bringing progressives into dangerous coalitions with the right-wing forces.[35]

Perhaps Mander’s most influential book, vis-à-vis the alter-globalization movement was his co-authorship with Teddy Goldsmith of the edited volume, The Case Against the Global Economy and For a Turn Toward the Local (Sierra Club Books, 1996) — some of the many contributors to this book included Maude Barlow, Richard Barnet, Wendell Berry, John Cavanagh, William Grieder, David Korten, Ralph Nader, Helena Norberg-Hodge, Jeremy Rifkin, Kirkpatrick Sale, and Vandana Shiva. Mander however has written numerous other books, some providing a romantic celebration of indigenous culture, and others providing naïve criticisms of industrial society. Thus much like Teddy and Vandana Shiva’s anti-modern turn, despite his good intentions –when he published his book In the Absence of the Sacred: The Failure of Technology and the Survival of the Indian Nations (Sierra Club Books, 1991)Mander has ended up reinforcing the very hegemony he purports to oppose.[36]

Finally, much like Teddy who is a Bija guru at Vandana Shiva’s Bija Vidyapeeth (Center for Learning) in India, Shiva’s politics are far from anti-capitalist and more closely approximate those of a nationalist. So it is appropriate that Shiva has worked closely with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (a Hindu paramilitary group formed in 1925) and other assorted Hindu nationalist groups in India. She has thus not only lent them her international prestige, but has also furnished the popular farmers’ movements with “the much-needed agrarian myth” that is so compatible with conservative ruralism. As Meera Nanda concludes: “The connecting thread [between the right and left] is the defence of the traditional way of life.”[37]

Reviving Nationalism?

With all this history born in mind, Sir James’ support of environmental causes is highly worrying given his consistent support of the radical Right; all the more so given his brothers anarcho-primitivism and his dalliances with the far-right; it is a deadly cocktail indeed. The danger presented by this ominous combination is illustrated by the way that Sir James was able to recruit his various green acquaintances into standing in the 1997 General Election for his Referendum Party — which was truly his own pet nationalist project, that he launched with no formal democratic structures or members, only “supporters”. Prominent examples of Sir James’ green electoral candidates include Tracy Worcester, David Bellamy, and Peter Etherden (a former contributing editor to the Fourth World Review, which is edited by Teddy’s friend John Papworth). Not to mention his buddy, John Aspinall, who in an interview conducted during the 1990s was “quoted as saying he would be happy to see large numbers of human exterminated, and that the death of 200 million in the event of nuclear war would not be enough.” He added: “Statistically, in terms of real population reduction, it would mean nothing more than a slight temporary dip in the world’s population. It wouldn’t solve the problem”.[38]

Another conservative green who represented the Referendum Party in the 1996 British elections was Robin Page, who was also a member of the Party’s council, and had been the founder of the Countryside Restoration Trust — a body whose founding patron was Prince Charles’ New Age mentor, Laurens van der Post. Fellow Referendum Party candidate David Bellamy is counted as one of the Countryside Restoration Trust’s current patrons, while Zac Goldsmith resides on their board of trustees.[39] Upon Sir James Goldsmith’s death in 1997, Robin Page had no qualms in joining the racist UK Independence Party, which to boot is staunchly skeptical of climate change; this is not surprising considering Sir James’ background and that of the individual he chose to act as the field organiser for the Referendum Party, Marc Gordon (the former director of the International Freedom Foundation, see earlier). Or to take another example one might look to Referendum Party electoral candidate John Gouriet, a man who during the 1970s worked with Robert Moss — as the administrative director of the National Association for Freedom. This later group is now known as the Freedom Association, a leading council member of which is the former leader of the UK Independence Party, Lord Pearson of Rannoch.

The roots of the UK Independence Party’s and the Referendum Party’s manifestation of eurosceptic post-imperial populism “are most usefully traced back to Margaret Thatcher’s 1988 Bruges speech,” which led to the formation of the Bruges Group under the leadership of University of Oxford undergraduate student Patrick Robertson. With financial backing provided courtesy of Sir James, prominent members of the Bruges Group included Alan Sked (who went on to found the UK Independence Party in September 1993) and their founding chairman, Lord Harris of High Cross (who was the former head of the Institute of Economic Affairs, 1957-1987; and board member of Rupert Murdoch’s Times Newspapers Holdings Ltd from 1988 until 2001). Robertson would go on to act as the head of the Referendum Party’s public relations operations (working with former Downing Street press officer Ian Beaumont), and is credited with being the individual who “flogged the idea of a full-blown referendum party” to Sir James in the early 1990s; an idea allegedly first conceived in the home of Christopher Monckton in 1989. This idea was spread wide and far with Sir James’ financial backing, but that was not all, as prior to getting the Referendum Party off the ground, Sir James had stumped up $3.5 million to create the French extreme-right party Mouvement Pour la France (MPF) headed by the aristocrat Philippe de Villiers.[40]

An Ecosocialist Response

From John Aspinall’s Zulu dreams, gambling fortunes and virulent anti-humanism, to the conspiratorially minded far-right pipe dreams of a corporate raider like Sir James Goldsmith, over the past several decades, advocates of green politics have had some distasteful and highly dangerous allies. And while Teddy Goldsmith is often held up as a grandfather of the modern environmental movement, his contributions to the ideological evolution of the green thinking are as reactionary as those of both Aspinall and Sir James; perhaps even more so give the insidious way that his eloquently articulated primitivist and traditionalist anti-modernist nonsense has rooted itself in so many of his readers minds.

That the work of three such prime examples of the ruling class should have been able to encourage the institutionalization of quite so much inegalitarianism within an ostensibly liberal environmental movement clearly demonstrates the pressing need for a Marxist alternative to managing our world for the benefit of all. The task that now lies at hand is difficult and involves building a mass movement of the working class to rid our world of a small subgroup of ruling class predators who, on the one hand, consume the planet to enrich themselves, and then offer us irrational anti-human solutions to enable them to continue to sustainably rape the planet. One step towards building such a democratic movement will involve disentangling self-serving bourgeois environmental theories from those that will strengthen eco-socialist concerns for the future. In this way, we can learn from previous mistakes, and continue to build movements capable of generating the type of popular momentum for social change that will eventually be capable of eradicating, and not just domesticating, capitalism.


[1] Gray Brechin, “Conserving the race: Natural aristocracies, eugenics, and the U.S. Conservation movement,” Antipode, 28 (3), 1996.

[2] Masters, The Passion of John Aspinall, p.29, p.30.

[3] Brian Masters, The Passion of John Aspinall (Coronet, 1989), p.84, p.131.

[4] Dorothy Roberts, Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics and Big Business Re-create Race in the 21st Century (New Press, 2012).

[5] Michael Barker, “The liberal foundations of environmentalism: Revisiting the Rockefeller-Ford connection,” Capitalism Nature Socialism, 19 (2), 2008, pp.15-42; Masters, The Passion of John Aspinall, p.139, p.140; Raymond Bonner, At the Hand of Man: Peril and Hope for Africa’s Wildlife (Vintage, 1993).

[6] Masters, The Passion of John Aspinall, p.169, p.245.

[7] Ian Fallon, Billionaire: The Life and Times of Sir James Goldsmith (Arrow, 1992), p.83, p.470.

[8] Edwin Wilmsen, “To see ourselves as we need to see us: Ethnography’s primitive turn in the Cold War years,” Critical African Studies, 1, 2009, p.38.

[9] Sara Parkin, Green Parties: An International Guide (Heretic Books, 1989), p.217, p.218.

[10] Richard Fox, Gandhian Utopia: Experiments with Culture (Beacon Press, 1989); Simon Matthews, “Pissing in or pissing out? The ‘big tent’ of Green Alliance,” Lobster: Journal of Parapolitics, No.42, 2001/2; Raymond Williams, The Country and the City (Chatto & Windus, 1973).

[11] Geoffrey Wansell, Sir James Goldsmith: The Man and the Myth (Fontana, 1982), pp.206-7; Masters, The Passion of John Aspinall, p.341; Fallon, Billionaire, p.356, p.471; William Friedland, Amy Barton, and Robert Thomas, Manufacturing Green Gold: Capital, Labor and Technology in the Lettuce Industry (Cambridge University Press, 1981); Julie Guthman, “Fast food/organic food: Reflexive tastes and the making of ‘yuppie chow’,” Social & Cultural Geography, 4 (1), 2003, pp.45-58.

[12] Fallon, Billionaire, p.433; Ben Goldacre, Bad Science (Forth Estate, 2009), pp.181-97; Chris Hutchins and Dominic Midgley, Goldsmith: Money, Women and Power (Mainstream Publishing, 1998), p.215.

[13] Fallon, Billionaire, p.348, p.388; Ann Louise Bardach, “Moonstruck: The Reverend and his newspaper,” In: David Wallis (ed.), Killed: Journalism Too Hot to Print (Nation Books, 2004).

[14] William I. Robinson, Promoting Polyarchy: Globalization, US Intervention, and Hegemony (Cambridge University Press, 1996).

[15] Joel Brinkley, “Iran sales linked to wide program of covert policies,” New York Times, February 15, 1987.

[16] Mzala, Gatsha Buthelezi: Chief with a Double Agenda (Zed Books, 1988); Malcolm Draper and Gerhard Mare, “Going in: The garden of England’s gaming zookeeper and Zululand,” Journal of Southern African Studies, 29 (2), 2003, p.555.

[17] Philip Van Niekerk, “How apartheid conned the West,” The Observer, July 16, 1995; Dele Olojede and Tim Phelps, “Front for apartheid: Washington-based think tank said to be part of ruse to prolong power,” Newsday, July 16, 1995; Chris Blackhurst, “Goldsmith’s party ‘too old and too few to fight’,” Independent, September 16, 1996.

[18] George Monbiot, “Adventure playground,” Guardian, August 31, 2004.

[19] Hutchins and Midgley, Goldsmith, p.62.

[20] Draper and Mare, “Going in,” p.555.

[21] Draper and Mare, “Going in,” p.556.

[22] Malcolm Draper, Marja Spierenburg and Harry Wels, “African dreams of cohesion: Elite pacting and community development in Transfrontier Conservation Areas in Southern Africa,” Culture and Organization, 10 (4), 2004, p.342, p.347, p.350.

[23] Malcolm Draper, “Zen and the art of garden province maintenance: The soft intimacy of hard men in the wilderness of Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa, 1952-1997,” Journal of Southern African Studies, 24 (4), 1998, p.806, p.809, p.813.

[24] Draper, “Zen and the art of garden province maintenance,” p.816, p.819.

[25] Draper, “Zen and the art of garden province maintenance,” p.818; Sally Bedell Smith, “Billionaire with a cause,” Vanity Fair, May 1997.

[26] David Pepper, Eco-Socialism: From Deep Ecology to Social Justice (Routledge, 1993), p.17; Fallon, Billionaire, p.471.

[27] Edward Goldsmith, “A society that lost its way,” Financial Times, July 1, 1989; Murray Bookchin, Re-enchanting Humanity: A Defense of the Human Spirit Against Anti-humanism, Misanthropy, Mysticism and Primitivism (Cassell, 1995); Mark Sedgwick, Against the Modern World: Traditionalism and the Secret Intellectual History of the 20th Century (Oxford University Press, 2009).

[28] Edward Goldsmith, “New lamps for old (transcript),” Schumacher Series, January 1, 1991.

[29] Phillip Conford, The Origins of the Organic Movement (Floris Books, 2001); Sedgwick, Against the Modern World, p.212; Phillip Conford, The Development of the Organic Network: Linking People and Themes, 1945-95 (Floris Book, 2011).

[30] Nicholas Hildyard, “Blood and culture: Ethnic conflict and the authoritarian right,” Corner House Briefing No.11, January 29, 1999.

[31] Fallon, Billionaire, p.312; Tamir Bar-On, Where Have All The Fascists Gone? (Ashgate, 2007), p.9, p.11.

[32] Eric Krebbers, “Millionaire Goldsmith supports the left and the extreme right,” De Fabel van de illegal, September 1999.

[33] Michael Barker, “Findhorn’s angels,” Swans Commentary, November 5, 2012.

[34] Rod Dreher, “Philosopher Prince: The revolutionary anti-modernism of Britain’s heir apparent,” American Conservative, March 12, 2012.

[35] Michael Barker, “Saving trees and capitalism too,” State of Nature, November 17, 2009; Doug Henwood, “Antiglobalization,” Left Business Observer, No.71, January 1999; Eric Krebbers and Merijn Schoenmaker, “Seattle ’99: Marriage party of the left and the right?”, De Fabel van de illegaal, November 1999.

[36] Regina Cochrane, “Rural poverty and impoverished theory: Cultural populism, ecofeminism, and global justice,” The Journal of Peasant Studies, 34 (2), 2007, pp.167-206; Ward Churchill, From a Native Son: Selected essays in Indigenism, 1985-1995 (South End Press, 1996).

[37] Cochrane, “Rural poverty and impoverished theory,” p.188; Meera Nanda, Prophets Facing Backward: Postmodernism, Science, and Hindu Nationalism (Permanent Black, 2006), p.253, p.256.

[38] Neil Carter, Mark Evans, Keith Alderman and Simon Gorham, “Europe, Goldsmith and the Referendum Party,” Parliamentary Affairs, 51(3), 1998, p.473; Masters, The Passion of John Aspinall, p.324.

[39] The most recent addition to the board of trustees of the Countryside Restoration Trust  is the former campaign director of the Soil Association and former trustee of Population Matters (formerly Optimum Population Trust), Robin Maynard. Maynard is a vocal supporter of Rudolf Steiner’s biodynamic farming. Robin Maynard,“Muck and magic,” The Ecologist, September 1, 2004.

[40] Simon Usherwood, “The UK Independence Party: The dilemmas of a single-issue party. Political Studies Association 57th Annual Conference, 11 to 13 April 2007, p.2; Paul Vallely, “A big little Englander,” Independent, April 26, 1996; Eric Krebbers, “Millionaire Goldsmith supports the left and the extreme right,” De Fabel van de illegal, September 1999.


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