The Other Idol-Breaker: Owen Barfield and the Plenitude of the Word

Owen Barfield
In The Twilight of the Idols (1888), Friedrich Nietzsche proposed to teach “how to philosophize with a hammer.” Hammers find their predestined use, according to Nietzsche, in the smashing of idols, by which he meant the assortment of falsehoods and platitudes that constituted, in his view, the shabby existing dominant representation of life and the world. Nietzsche never practiced anything like systematic philosophy – he wrote as he thought, aphoristically and in paragraphs. One must take him unsystematically, too, or rather selectively – because, having atomized all the images, as he supposed himself to have done, and having found nothing behind them, as he convinced himself, the devilish idea that everything is nothing strongly tempted him. He wrote of it under the image of “the abyss.” If the Nietzschean philosophical impulse transmigrated for the good in souls like Oswald Spengler and H. L. Mencken, who were skeptics and iconoclasts, it would regrettably also have done so in souls, if that were the word, like Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Jacques Derrida, to whom harsher labels must apply. Spengler and Mencken warned against nihilism; the polysyllabic abolishers of logic and morality taught the faddishly inclined to crave for l’abîme and Das Ungrund. The legion of cipher-minions has been craving thusly, and arrogantly on behalf of everyone else, ever since.

The British solicitor and scholar Owen Barfield (1898-1997), born two years before Nietzsche’s death, was another idol-breaker, with intellectual roots in the same German Idealism against which Nietzsche reacted even as he absorbed and continued it. Part of Barfield’s German orientation, his devotion to Rudolph Steiner’s “Anthroposophy,” has constituted itself a stumbling block in the way of his appreciation for some self-consciously “modern” people. Yet Barfield’s thought, or better yet his thinking, is every bit as iconoclastic as Nietzsche’s and even more so.


I. Barfield’s two best books, Worlds Apart (1963) and Unancestral Voice (1965), both take their model in the conversational vivaciousness of Plato’s dialogues, with their dramatic play of personalities and ideas. Any introduction to an account of Barfield must come to terms with those two titles, as this one will presently. Barfield’s most succinct articulation of his thinking occurs, however, in Saving the Appearance (1957), which carries the Nietzschean subtitle of A Study in Idolatry. In Saving the Appearances – the phrase comes from medieval scholasticism where it refers to differences between what we see and what we know – Barfield makes his most concerted assault on dogmatic positivism and naturalism and on the pervasive scientism that they have established in the modern mind; necessarily then the book also launches a skeptical inquiry into Darwin’s hypothesis about speciation and certain notions about time and physical existence that belong to evolutionary geology. Darwinism, its adherents increasingly militant, is the main doctrinal assertion of a hardened and literalistic liberalism-materialism.

Let it swiftly be said, however, that Barfield never traffics with the Bishop-Ussher type of Creationism or its modern fundamentalist re-expressions: he would have found that as crude and self-contradictory as any reductively mechanistic or puritanically “positive” misprision of mental or organic processes. On the other hand, it would hardly violate fairness to refer to Barfield as one of the subtlest advocates for a “Cosmic Anthropic Principle” or for “Intelligent Design” although he did not use those terms.

Barfield understood scientism in its dogmatic character and stultifying pervasiveness as few others did in his time; he grasped, for example, that a kind of positivism-materialism so fully constitutes the intellectual atmosphere in which modern Westerners live and breathe that they notice it as little as the proverbial fish notices the ocean. In the textbook definitions, scientific investigation works humbly and tentatively by the procedure of hypothesis, experiment, and either validation or the opposite; and where the opposite, then the researcher must revise the hypothesis. But public discourse increasingly tends to take for granted, in Barfield’s words, that, “modern science, so far from being disentitled to claim the status of knowledge, is the only reliable knowledge available to us.” Barfield died before people like Richard Dawkins and Peter Hitchens became priestly spokesmen for science so-called as untouchable dogma, yet he foresaw them in the likes, say, of H. G. Wells and A. J. Ayer. In novels and didactic books Wells assumes that technical capacity coincides with knowledge but Ayer reduces logic to an instrumentality beyond whose competence confusion and ignorance reign. The curbing of allowable predication in Logical Positivism that might appear to honor the much-lauded principle of tentativity is, thus, a sweeping truth-claim tied to the most pedantic of methods.[i]

Barfield sees modern science as largely practical and technological, such that doing, as in Wells, becomes coextensive with knowing; he also sees modern science as pedantic to the point of stupidity. In the Seventeenth Century, Francis Bacon, as Barfield recalls for his readers, already made knowledge synonymous with power. Bacon’s rhetorical sleight-of-hand required, even while it elided, the demotion of disinterested judgment in favor of the efficiency-mentality: “The key words [Bacon] uses to distinguish the knowledge he praises from the knowledge pursued by the Schoolmen are ‘fruit’ and ‘operation.’ In other words, not only ‘science’ but knowledge itself, that is, the only knowledge worth knowing, is, for him – technology.” Ironically, Bacon fervently denounced idols, providing the taxonomy of them for the edification of those interested in his purely pragmatic New Science. He had nevertheless fashioned alluring new idols eagerly sacralized even by the disciplines that could hardly justify importing the modus operandi of experimental validation. Barfield has particularly in mind the study of the past, as history, and investigations of geology and biology.

When scholarship begins to treat history as though human events were entirely a matter of operational interest, the result is the mechanical crudity of Marxist analysis. When geologists and biologists accept Baconian premises, the result is the dual farrago of random selection and the survival of the fittest.

In Barfield’s characterization, Marx and Darwin reduced existence to “matter and force,” hence also to meaninglessness; they made of the world that abyss, which Nietzsche, responding especially to the latter, then duly named. The Twentieth Century revealed the consequences of that philosophical reduction in the homicidal conduct of the militant socialist polities and, latterly, in the environmentalist movement, by whose increasingly dogmatic tenets humanity begins to appear as a pest of immaculate nature.[ii] Dead nature, mindless matter, is the dominant modern idol, as Barfield sees things. “What were the phenomena of nature at the Darwinian moment in the middle of the nineteenth century,” he asks. “They were objects.” They took their place in a “mechanical model” of the universe created by a collective perception over which “literalness reigned supreme.” For a vital world, the “mechanical model” substitutes mere cause-and-effect, as in the Darwinian vision, as Barfield puts it, of “one damned thing after another.” Even language descends into deadness, or away from “participation,” in Barfield’s coinage.

So then “if we look to [such words as] disposition, influence[,] temper and humour,” we find that “they stem from a time before [the] disjunction [took place] between inner and outer.” That is to say, they acquired their original meaning before the emerging dehumanized abstract mentality – that ultimate fruit of the Baconian project – imposed itself imperiously and destructively on thinking and perception alike. It is a sign of our times, Barfield writes, that we use the ultra-abstract term relation to refer, for example, to our hearty widow-aunt, as though she were a proposition in geometry rather than a baker of cakes and a concocter of savory broths.[iii]

Barfield never denies the principle of evolution, which remains central to his thinking. He insists, however, that proper usage would extend the term to “the evolution of consciousness.” Barfield asserts that, “the evolution of nature is correlative to the evolution of consciousness.” He describes the trend in consciousness-evolution since the Seventeenth Century, for example, as “a more or less continuous progress from a vague but immediate awareness of the ‘meaning’ of phenomena towards an increasing preoccupation with the phenomena themselves.” When Barfield writes about modern image- or fetish-worship, he has in mind the concept of the phenomena as “existing independently of human consciousness.” Barfield admits that, “idolatry is an ugly and emphatic word,” even while he acknowledges that we owe the boon of our instrumentality to the aggressive attitude that the word designates. “Surgery, for example, presupposes an acquaintance with the human anatomy exact in the same mode that our knowledge of a machine is exact.” Of course, in the ultimate exaggerated phase of the surgical perspective, mind regards body as existing independently of itself, and subjectivity becomes alienated from its participation in the objects.[iv]


II. When Saving the Appearances saw print in Britain in the year of Sputnik, a few aficionados of Barfield read it; everyone else ignored it. When republication occurred, it happened in the USA a decade later. Meanwhile, Barfield had issued Worlds Apart, which, because T. S. Eliot drew positive attention to it, people did read or at any rate tried to read. Barfield’s ideas are not intrinsically recondite; they are, however, so at variance with the way modern people habitually conceptualize the world and their situation in it that they seem gnomic. In addition to expositing Barfield’s ideas in the congenial medium of a Platonic seminar, Worlds Apart engages in lively debate with the resistance that those ideas provoke in their contemporary dissemination. In particular, Barfield’s critique of Darwinism solicited rejection, so fixed and vehement had the concepts of random selection, pre-adaptation, and speciation already become. Randomness took precedence in the trinity, pitting itself in contention with mind or Logos or telos. In Saving the Appearances, Barfield had remarked that modern biologists and geologists accept without demurer the dictum of post-Einsteinian physics that the world of particles and waves exhibits no accidental qualities but that it is mind that supplies those qualities – that makes a tree, a tree, rather than a wavering phantasm.[v]

The world objectified by researchers of the fossil record is thus the qualified world represented or “figured,” as Barfield sometimes says, by mind, and by the modern mind most emphatically; but because no such mind existed in the ages of the prehistoric mammals or dinosaurs, to project that world backwards into past time, Barfield argues, must be fallacious.

Yet the fallacy of this anachronism figures less importantly in Barfield’s argument than does the contradiction between the physicist’s view of the world and the biologist’s or geologist’s. All three specialists belong to related collegial faculties who share attitudes and prejudices, yet they never come to grips with the logical difficulty that if the physicist were right then the biologist and the geologist would be talking nonsense. At the very least, their assertions come under a colossal as if, which remains suspiciously tacit. And just this, the unspoken noncompossibility of the hypotheses, threatens the coherence of all contemporary thinking, as long as people remain conditioned, as established education sees to it that they are, to take their cognitive cues from science. In Barfield’s summation of his case in Saving the Appearances: “The hypothesis of chance has already crept from the theory of evolution into the theory of the physical foundation of the earth itself; but, more serious perhaps than that, is the rapidly increasing ‘fragmentation of science,’ which occasionally attracts the attention of the British Association.”

Worlds Apart addresses the fragmented “idiocy,” as Barfield names it, of the late Twentieth Century episteme. The book alleges itself to be a transcript of tape recordings made during a three-day country retreat by one Burgeon, a lawyer, who has persuaded a group of acquaintances from divergent disciplines frankly to discuss the clash of views and bluntly to interrogate one another. As in Plato’s dialogues, Barfield’s novel-of-ideas represents not only the various professions, but also the range of distinct character-types. Hunter is “a professor of historical theology and ethics”; Ranger is “a young man employed at a rocket research station”; Sanderson is “a retired schoolmaster” who turns out to be a follower of Anthroposophy. There are others. On the first day of the seminar, Ranger lets on how he sees the scientific revolution of the Seventeenth Century, especially the work of Galileo, as a great “waking up” of human consciousness.

Hunter dismisses as “dangerous nonsense” the assumption, implicit in Ranger’s metaphor, that “modern science is in some way relevant to the dignity of man; that it has a high human value – and very likely the highest.” Hunter distinguishes between “knowledge about things” and “knowledge about man” and believes Ranger “to assume that the first kind necessarily includes the second.”

Ranger is not a Richard Dawkins type – Dunn, a Logical Positivist, comes closer to forecasting that role – but Ranger does express casually, and as it proves redeemably, a typical modern proposition that rarely investigates itself although the slightest critical review would reveal its absurdity: namely that the ages of humanity before Copernicus and Galileo amount to millennia of mental torpor during which men carried the burden of error like some weighty millstone about their necks; or that, indeed, dignity is born only as science gloriously repudiates superstition through the instrumentality of telescopes and microscopes. The celebratory mood nevertheless clashes with the demand that the method be pursued with absolute sobriety. Hunter says of those who speak as scientists: “First they insist on cutting out awe and reverence and wisdom and substituting sophistication as the goal of knowledge; and then they talk about this method of theirs with reverence and awe and expect us to look up at them as wise and venerable men.”

Brodie, a physicist, indirectly supports Hunter. Brodie complicates the debate by quoting two passages from Galileo’s Dialogue Concerning the Two World Systems. In the first Galileo says, “In every hypothesis of reason, error may lurk unnoticed, but a discovery of sense cannot be at odds with the truth.” In the second, after praising those who hold to the Copernican theory, Galileo honors “the sprightliness of their judgments” despite “the violence to their own senses” that Heliocentrism entails. The contradiction is remarkable. Yet, as Barfield’s character Brodie puts it, classical physics – the body of knowledge resting on the work of Galileo and Newton and coming right up to Albert Einstein – is taken by its practitioners to be, not merely theory, tentatively held, but rather “a true description of the world.”[vi]

If the description were true, however, then it would also be inalterable; but if it were inalterable it would also be unfalsifiable. It is a supposed tenet of methodical science that an assertion maintains its respectability or scientific status only insofar as the promulgator articulates it in falsifiable terms. I earlier recorded how Barfield sees the dogmatic mood of physics as having gradually spread itself to the other sciences and indeed to the popular contemporary worldview. In Worlds Apart, the discussion now moves from these fissures in the worldview of physics and from the attitude that fails to notice them, or that even suppresses notice of them, to the consequences of imposing the model of physics on the other sciences – especially biology. Coincidental with this shift of the topics is the revival of the notion that any meaningful discussion of evolution must incorporate a discussion of mental evolution, or the development of consciousness.


III. Barfield’s iconoclasm appeals to me strongly because it helps to explain, or at least to put into perspective, something I witnessed during my sojourn in graduate school. Those studies began in 1984 and coincided with the sudden hegemony of Deconstruction in literary studies, the least scientific, most intuitive and tentative of all academic disciplines. Deconstruction, which asserted its unquestionable truth while simultaneously denying validity to the concept of truth, was a pure celebrity-phenomenon: its glamour stemmed from its personalities – Jacques Derrida and Paul de Man (who, however, seems hardly to have had a personality), and one or two others – for whom the excited devotees must have felt the same shiver running up the leg that liberal journalists in the USA recently felt respecting Barack Hussein Obama. They acted that way. If one called attention to the absurdity of such sophisms as that there is no such thing as truth or truth is socially constructed and variable, asserted as truths, the proponents would either ignore the remark or attack its speaker as a fascist. Like the Marxists, the Derrideans reduced everything to matter and force. Essentially they stopped thinking.

Poems and stories, items for most people of significance and beauty, became for the deconstructors texts, which they addressed the way an anatomist addresses a corpse during dissection. They declared meaning itself a myth and insisted that, really, there was nothing there except the materiality and prestige of commodity-items circulating in the conspiracy of oppression called Capitalism. At the same time, De la grammatologie acquired for these people Koran-like status, as did Eduard Said’s fraudulent Orientalism. They studied both with monkish devotion. There might be no truth or truths; but once, during the Friday late-afternoon wine-and-cheese party, when quite without wishing to start an argument I voiced casually my skepticism about “random selection” as the engine of speciation, the deniers of any certain knowledge came roaring to the defense of Darwin, whose assertions they must have adjudicated not only as certain and true but also as sacrosanct.

In Worlds Apart, Barfield makes the biologist Upwater a reasonable man, hardly the dogmatic or idolatrous type. He believes himself to agree with Hunter that, “evolution must be taken to cover all the processes of change and development in the universe” and that, “with the appearance of consciousness… an entirely new phase of evolution set in.” Yet that is not quite what Hunter had said. In connection with the last-quoted remark, Upwater shifts into eugenics mode, foreseeing that: “We may well find ourselves able to make conscious use of the biological processes of heredity which have hitherto operated at random… It is impossible to say what sort of altogether new man we might learn to produce in that way.” Hunter shoots back at Upwater that, “you cannot treat thinking,” which is what the term consciousness implies, “as a stage in evolution without cutting away the ground from beneath everything you say – including that thing.” Upwater is brought up short.

As Hunter sees it: “Either Reason is outside the natural process,” as it would be were it to carry out the creation of some new artificial species, the project that Upwater anticipates, “or we might as well stop talking and play Puss-in-the-corner instead!” Hunter adds that Upwater does not, in fact, believe that his own consciousness is inextricably involved in a natural, that is to say in a non-rational, process, “for he believes that his thought at least is independent of irrational causes.” Moreover (this develops later in the dialogue), if Upwater regarded his own thinking as other than a non-rational process and if he also regarded it as in continuity nevertheless with an enormous chain of cause-and-effect the name of which is evolution, and if “continuity” meant what it said, then how could Upwater uphold with certainty the claim that all of evolution prior to the appearance of humanity was non-rational?

Burgeon and Sanderson together argue that when spokesmen for Darwinian theory point to the fossil record as evidence for evolution, they necessarily equivocate their salient term. Evolution means transformation, but transformation requires identity in the thing transformed, which, while altered in the terminus of the event, yet retains the marks of its beginning selfsameness. The fossil record by itself only shows the discontinuity of annihilation and substitution – “one damned thing after another.”

Barfield accepts that geological time has spanned billions of years and that life began with unicellular prokaryotes from which subsequent higher forms evolved; and that somehow the prokaryotes arose from pre-biological matter. So what is Barfield arguing exactly? Burgeon, who speaks for Barfield, puts it to Upwater that “it is your own whole case that nature is one huge, delicate process, of which man and his mind are a part; one delicate structure, in which every part is interdependent.” Burgeon wants to know, “What right have you got to abstract one bit [i.e., mind] and imagine the rest going on just as usual?” This observation restates the idea from Saving the Appearances that investigators of geological time fallaciously project “figured” reality, or nature as perceived, back to a period when, by their theory, no mind yet existed that might have perceived it.

Burgeon and Sanderson again in cooperation now turn their skepticism on the positivistic insistence that reason must dismiss all pre-Galilean science under some sweeping idea of anthropomorphism or a pathetic fallacy, because the pre-Galileans saw active intelligence in phenomena rather than blank quantitative relations in which mind had no participation whatever. The two men urge that modern people should be skeptical of the Pyrrhonism that they think guides but which really hobbles their thinking. Sanderson in particular would prefer the significance view over the dead-matter view of the cosmos on the inability of positive science to prove “the ‘primeval’ inorganic solidity of the earth,” logically ruled out when physics and epistemology together demote solidity to an accident that mind has added to extended reality. It follows, Sanderson submits, that the prehistoric earth must have been, so to speak, all particles and waves, immaterial, and yet a medium in which orderly processes occurred. It was mind, as he says; and over the eons mind gradually concentrated and isolated itself in organic structures. One need not follow Barfield into these Steiner-inspired speculations in order to accept that his critique of existing theory hits home at numerous touchy points.


IV. Even so, Sanderson’s highly rhetorical question whether it is likelier that matter should give rise to mind or mind to matter remains provocative. In Unancestral Voice, Barfield probes further into the epistemological discussion opened up in Worlds Apart. He also opens up the moral dimension to scrutiny. What happens when elites demote “knowledge about man” to “knowledge about things” and start treating human beings like things? Unancestral Voice, where once again Burgeon serves for a point of view, begins with a conversation about the pornography trial of D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Burgeon, culturally conservative, wonders how the jurymen could have failed to recognize obscenity when they saw it: the purgation from descriptions of sexual acts of any spiritual component and the reduction of Eros to nothing but physical contact and sensation. This is mind annihilating itself before the idol of matter.

Burgeon feels doubly puzzled. Writers need words; words have meaning. Why would a talented writer, which Lawrence was, embrace brutal meaninglessness as a value? Burgeon’s two lawyer-friends respond vaguely along the lines of resigned fatalism. Judgments change. What can one do about it? In a conversation with a client who runs a charitable “club” for adolescents in a bad London neighborhood, Burgeon gets a glimpse into the perverse alienation fostered by the welfare state. The beneficiaries of the institution, which offers refuge from the harshness outside, avail themselves of it in a slack-jawed, semi-comatose way, but they also abuse it by deliberately wrecking the furniture and smashing the appurtenances. A professional colleague asks Burgeon to speak to his son, an unemployable twenty-something who wastes his life in front of the “telly” and who responds to amiable inquiry with sarcasm and rolling eyes. These incidents establish a pattern that bothers Burgeon deeply and that seems connected to the issues that arose in the Worlds Apart seminar.

Where Worlds Apart focused on biology, Unancestral Voice devotes much attention to history. Burgeon has read Arnold Toynbee’s Study in the one-volume abridgment, with no little admiration. Toynbee undoubtedly brought a visionary impulse to his field and attracted much supercilious dismissal for having done so, yet Burgeon sees Toynbee as hamstrung finally by the identical literalism that the historian strove to overcome. Barfield has Burgeon say to two interlocutors on a sea-voyage: “He [Toynbee] criticizes H. G. Wells and others for trying to apply the race and environment pattern to later stages of human evolution, where it is obviously inadequate. But is he much better off himself – when he has to start speaking of ‘internal’ responses to ‘internal’ challenges arising from the respondent’s own nature?”

The duality of “Race and Environment,” which Toynbee’s “Challenge and Response” subsumes, is hardly distinguishable from the duality of “Heredity and Environment.” That makes Toynbee’s method an application of Darwinism to history. Toynbee, in Barfield’s words, “is doing the very thing he tells us not to do – applying to living creatures the forms of thought adapted to inanimate objects.” And yet Toynbee “is trying to show a sort of evolution or progress in the quality of the challenge-and-response,” which “he finds in its transference to the interior realm.”

History, for Barfield, grounded in literate expressions of human endeavor, is necessarily – the conclusion will by now be familiar – a history of consciousness, of intentions and purposes and clarity of articulation; and the historian necessarily seeks a merging of minds, that he might interpret the past for the present. Unancestral Voice contains a great deal more. I have entirely omitted to explain the provocative title and I shall only allude once – here – to the book’s recurrent motto: “Interior is Anterior.” The drift of Barfield’s thinking should be sufficiently evident by this point. He is a severe but hopeful critic of the dehumanizing trends in the modern Western civilization, which began to crystallize in the Eighteenth Century but which had taproots in the materialistic, operational attitude to life expressed cogently in Bacon’s New Atlantis, the blueprint of which Western humanity has been seeking rather successfully to realize ever since.

When “Takuan Seiyo,” “Fjordman,” or any other nonconformist thinker writes about the imperiousness of super-state, multiculturalist, and collectivist politics and defends tradition, he is making an argument that at least runs in parallel with a strand in Barfield’s analysis of modernity. When “Fjordman” describes the hatred of Swedish bureaucrats for age-old Swedish tradition or for the very Swedishness of the Swedes, or when “Takuan Seiyo” writes of “Meccania” and “Pod People,” he brings into focus the nightmare of polities whose steering elites see human beings as things, or a mass of things, to be manipulated in the Baconian project. – Hence the determination of those elites to destroy tradition and individuality, the better that they might effect their dead, mechanistic designs. As Barfield writes, the vital force enters into tradition, endowing on tradition itself, through generations of experience, an organic quality, such that tampering with tradition can only damage or kill it and damage or kill those whom tradition had nourished.

I see a close alliance between Takuan Seiyo’s Meccania, in its juggernaut advance, and Deconstruction’s assault on meaning, which I invoked earlier in the essay. Drawing on Barfield’s insight, I see a close fitment – a pattern of ideological mutual reinforcement – involving recrudescent Darwinism, which has definitely attached itself to the body of establish liberal doctrine; the obsession of empowered liberalism to treat society as an object that its acolytes might manipulate according to their will; the assault on meaning in literary studies, legal scholarship, and history; and finally the cult of sex and violence proffered by popular culture, as visual entertainment. The descent of the last into degraded stultification is appropriately abetted by the insipid flatness of its main technique, computer-generated imagery: all surface without depth. Societies “evolve,” as liberals like to say, implying that resistance to the “change” that they relentlessly push is mere reactionary futility. But a thing that evolves must be essentially the same at the end of the process as at the beginning. The real scheme of liberalism is annihilation and substitution, which liberals refer to as evolution.

Barfield anticipated these developments fifty years ago. It turns out in hindsight, for example, that the case of Lady Chatterley in the British courts was replete with meaning and that blithe acceptance of spiritless Eros would indeed exert a baneful influence on culture. Modern society is as full of idols as it is of celebrities. The celebrities are as hollow and idiotic as idols. Barfield, a champion of meaning and of the plenitude of the word – that most human of our human qualities – deserves a new generation of readers. He has much to teach us.



[i] I have little use for A. J. Ayer. H. G. Wells, however, is a more complicated person than most commentators of conservative leaning would grant. He was, among other things, an anti-Communist socialist, who quarreled justifiably with the Fabian Society. A Darwinian atheist, he seems nevertheless to have believed, as it were, in belief; he was sympathetic to religious eccentrics, as his novel Christina Alberta’s Father (1925) suggests, and he seems to have entertained the idea that evolution might be directed – the suspicion of his protagonist in Star Begotten (1937). I will perhaps be obliged to visit the topic of Wells in the near future.

[ii] Is it shocking to link environmentalism, as practiced, with totalitarianism? Consider… The anti-humanism of so-called environmentalism is obvious but rarely remarked; that environmentalism includes in its agenda the notion either of zero-population growth through rigid, state-controlled fertility regimes or, as advocated by a prominent Norwegian “deep ecologist, drastic human population-reduction for the sake of the earth. In the USA, environmentalists have resorted in some cases to terror-tactics, making incendiary attacks on lumberyards and automotive agencies that sell large vehicles and setting booby-traps for loggers. The state of California is currently starving once-productive farmers in a portion of its San Joaquin Valley of water, destroying agricultural productivity to protect a species of swamp minnow. The perverseness of such programs is hard to describe.

[iii] In Poetic Diction (1928), Barfield had first set forth his theory of the evolution of language from the expression of “felt” participation in a world that was distinctly not grasped as separate from the participant to analytic discussion of the world as a congeries of emphatically external objects that stood over-against the observer. Saving the Appearances is, in its way, a belated sequel to Poetic Diction. In addressing directly such topics as biology and geology, however, it widens and makes more explicit the critique of post-Renaissance science implied in the earlier study.

[iv] The ironic renversement entailed by treating phenomena as “independent of human consciousness” is that detached investigation of the appearances, especially by physics since Albert Einstein, has tended to obliterate even the things themselves, whose solidity has vanished into the weird unperceivable and barely conceivable world of subatomic particles and waves – the abyss indeed.

[v] The Kantian character of post-Einsteinian physics deserves an essay all by itself. Undoubtedly several such essays already exist or even many already exist and are languishing on library shelves un-accessed. It is a condition of our culture that the archive is so extensive that no one can embrace it. In Barfield’s conceptual framework, Kant’s three Critiques would be major chapters – no doubt of an ambiguous species – in the gradual desperation of “saving the appearances.” Barfield was, not incidentally, a Samuel Taylor Coleridge scholar. His most read book in academic circles is What Coleridge Thought (1971). Coleridge and Goethe are key figures – heroes, one would say – in Barfield’s history of Western thinking. Coleridge pioneered in channeling Kant and Schelling for Anglophone readers, a mission later assumed by Thomas Carlyle.

[vi] All the italics in these passages are Barfield’s.


Second the motion

@ traveller: The combination of erudition and independent-mindedness Prof. Bertonneau brings to these essays is continually astounding. But who has time for Barfield and Wilson when Bertonneau is so prolific!

@ Dr. Bertonneau

I didn't know Mr. Barfield and that was definitely a lack, one of the many, in my education.
I will start reading this author very soon.
His approach about matter being a form of "energy", even in terms of consciousness, has a lot of merit and will certainly come back in the future in more "scientific" terms.
As far as Lawrence is concerned, I see him more as a gifted rebel who wanted to protest against the restraints of his time. I don't think he wanted to degrade Eros, on the contrary, he had a lot of respect for the "woman".
In any case, one more beautiful high value pearl by our literary "Pearl Fisher".