Chronicles of ancient sunlight - A warning for education & deep ecology

Henry Williamson (1895 – 1977) was a prolific writer producing eloquent and lyrical evocations of both nature and landscape. For most of his life he lived close to nature in isolated cottages producing ‘auto-physical’ experiential nature writing (Sewell, 1980), exemplified by most famous work, ‘Tarka the Otter’. During its production he crawled up the river valleys and swam the streams to experience how an otter perceived the world. The results, praised by literary figures throughout the 20th century, offer us expressive insights into the natural environment and pose direct questions as to the nature of humanity and our obligations to the world around us. Indeed, much of his nature writing has a contemporary resonance with Deep Ecology (and the Transpersonal Psychology of Joanna Macey abd Warwick Fox) and reflects the concerns of the environmental philosophy of Naess (1989) the environmental activism of McIntosh (2001) and the educational concerns of Capra (2002).

Yet Williamson was a supporter of the British Union of Fascists, one of a number of 20th Century British far right environmentalists. This paper looks briefly at Williamson’s life and works and discusses how someone who lived in such close harmony with the environment could eventually come to a lifelong support of fascism. It considers the relationship between deep environmentalism and liberal thought by analysing discussion comments from contemporary students and UK environmental activists. The paper concludes by recognising the role of ‘deeper’ ecology in transformative learning and provides a number of political safeguards for practitioners to consider.