Something Wicked This Way Comes: The ultimate ambition of the Golden Dawn’s adepts was to utilise the “magical imagination” – a process which involved “visualising a desired reality”, concentrating one’s will on it, “moulding its form in astral light” and bringing it, finally, into “the plainest physical reality”. As a description of the process that saw neoliberalism imposed upon the world, this is pretty good. (Assuming, of course, that the mass media counts as “astral light”!)
THERE’S A LOT OF INSPIRATION to be found in waiting rooms. At my dentist’s, just the other day, I discovered a veritable treasure-trove in Greg Roughan’s extraordinary contribution to the March 2016 edition of North & South magazine – “Bewitched in the Bay”.
Much to its dismay, Havelock North is now inextricably linked with campylobacter poisoning. There was a time, however, when this well-heeled Hawke’s Bay village was regarded as “the Vatican” of esoteric spirituality.
According to Robert S. Ellwood, author of Islands of the Dawn: The Story of Alternative Spirituality in New Zealand, at least one American adept is said to have declared: “If you want to hear Elizabethan English, you go to Appalachia; if you want to see what the original Golden Dawn was like, you go to New Zealand.”
And, yes, he is talking about that Golden Dawn, or, to give it its full title, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. This late-nineteenth century British-based occult society will forever be associated with the “wickedest man in the world” and self-proclaimed Beast of the Book of Revelation, Aleister Crowley; and, somewhat more respectably, with the celebrated Irish poet, William Butler Yeats. Roughan’s fascinating article, inspired in part by Ellwood’s book, retells the story of how, long after the original Golden Dawn collapsed amidst scandal and recrimination, its colonial Hawke’s Bay offshoot went on practicing “magick” well into the 1970s.
Roughan’s revelations got me thinking about two other imported belief systems which took off and thrived in New Zealand long after their offshore inspirations had faded – or disappeared altogether. The first of these was “social credit” – the esoteric monetary theory formulated by the British engineer, Clifford Hugh (“Major”) Douglas. The second, forever associated with another Douglas, is the extraordinarily pure (some would say extreme) variant of free-market economics which took root here in the 1980s. Neoliberalism, as it is now known, has thrived in New Zealand ever since. To the point where, like gorse, it has driven both its native and exotic competitors into the shade.
Social Credit never really took off in Great Britain but, like the magick of the Golden Dawn, it possessed sufficient power to spellbind colonials. In Canada and New Zealand, particularly, social credit-inspired political movements exerted considerable influence over domestic politics – principally during the 1930s. For many years, the Canadian provincial government of Alberta was dominated by social creditors, and several MPs in the First Labour Government (1935-1949) were vocal advocates.
With the widespread adoption of the expansionary economic ideas of John Maynard Keynes by progressive post-World War II governments, the numbers following social credit’s monetary theories began to dwindle. In New Zealand, however, the movement refused to die.
In 1953, despairing of ever again wielding influence in a major political party, the social creditors reconstituted themselves as the Social Credit Political League. At its first electoral outing in 1954 the League secured 11 percent of the popular vote (an extremely creditable result by today’s MMP standards) and immediately became New Zealand’s third party. At the peak of its popularity in 1981, Social Credit’s share of the popular vote rose to an astonishing 21 percent.
By 1987, however, New Zealanders were under the spell of a much more potent variety of monetarist magick. Curiously, the policy prescription which became known as “Rogernomics” (after Roger Douglas, the Labour finance minister who drove it forward) may be traced to another esoteric collection of adepts and initiates, the Mont Pelerin Society.
Appalled at the rapid expansion of economic and social democracy unleashed by Keynesian economics, the “classical liberals” of Mont Pelerin, laid out their plans for counter-revolution before the discomforted capitalists of Britain and America, and waited patiently for the right political moment to unleash them.
The ultimate ambition of the Golden Dawn’s adepts was to utilise the “magical imagination” – a process which involved “visualising a desired reality”, concentrating one’s will on it, “moulding its form in astral light” and bringing it, finally, into “the plainest physical reality”. As a description of the process that saw neoliberalism imposed upon the world, this is pretty good. (Assuming, of course, that the mass media counts as “astral light”!)
Following precedent, New Zealanders seized upon this latest manifestation of esoterica with a zealotry unequalled in the rest of the world. As before, elite enthusiasm for neoliberalism proved crucial. It intensified and gradually took control of practically all of New Zealand’s significant institutions. As though, in the mid-1920s, New Zealanders had woken to discover that everyone in high places, from Governor-General to Chief Justice, Prime Minister to Police Commissioner, were Magister Templi in Havelock North’s occult society
Overseas, political support for neoliberalism is fading. But, if its tenure here turns out to be as enduring as the Golden Dawn’s in Havelock North, then New Zealand will not be neoliberal-free until 2046.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 20 December 2016.