Wednesday, 7 October 2015

The not-so-reactionary political views of the Inklings - Robert Havard ('Humphrey') was somewhat left wing

The new biography of Charles Williams by Grevel Lindop stated that Williams was broadly left wing in his attitudes - having discovered evidence to support this interpretation. Lindop also stated that Williams was the only left wing Inkling.

But, I realized that although we know that Tolkien and the Lewis brothers were right wing, and indeed very reactionary - I knew nothing of the political views of the other 'core Inkling' of the Charles Williams (1939-45) era - Robert Havard, often nicknamed 'Humphrey'.

Since I am fortunate enough to have e-mail contact with two of Robert Havard's sons - John and Mark (aka Colin), I decided to investigate this - and discovered that while Havard would certainly be regarded as 'right wing' by modern standards - which have moved a long way leftwards; Havard did have some left wing views, and voted for the Labour Party in the 1945 General Election.

Quotations from e-mails dated 5 October 2015. 

John Havard: I would have said that father was basically rather right wing by modern standards.  He had strong views about “back street” medical practices and educated all us children privately, though I do remember him complaining that we all came out somewhat snobbish, and we were all rather surprised to hear that he had voted for Atlee and the Labour party in 1947.

[Editorial correction - 1947 should be 1945. This was the most radical left wing government in British history - nationalizing all the major industries and services, as well as introducing the National Health Service, expanding state education, and creating a wide range of state social security and pensions schemes.]

He did not often talk about party politics and I do not remember ever hearing how he voted in subsequent elections.

My question: "Did your Father adhere to the traditional Roman Catholic values in relation to sexuality? e.g. about abortion, divorce, extra-marital sex, homosexuality?"

John Havard: I would have said “yes” to all your questions, as was typical in the 50s and later. Mark explained [see below] that his support for Lewis’s civil marriage to a divorcee was originally a convenience to enable Joy Davidman to stay in the UK.

Mark Havard: I know he voted for Labour in 1945 (getting Churchill out of office) because I ran into a certain amount of flack about it from the other boys at Gilling Castle at the time.
I know he welcomed the NHS [National Health Service, 1946-7] but became somewhat disillusioned by its bureaucracy toward the time he retired.

When I was up at Oxford between 1956 and 1959 at St Benet's Hall, he and I would take a walk together and have tea once a week. We discussed a lot of things but I don't have a clear memory of discussing politics very much.

In religious matters he was much more liberal than Tolkien -- remember when Lewis had his first, registrar, marriage to Joy Davidman,  -- he got our father to be a witness and he agreed because he saw it as a an act of friendship and a purely civil and legal not a religious matter. He told me Tolkien's conscience would never have allowed him to do that.

My general impression is that both as a scientist and a human being, he was somewhat left of centre and never had the same animus against the modern world, unions, technology, etc. that Tolkien and Lewis did. I have no idea how he voted in any elections after 1945, but I am fairly certain he was never an across the board Tory. I suspect he took the issues of the day election-by-election and voted accordingly.

I believe that this new information on both Charles Williams and Robert Havard's political views  puts a different perspective on the Inklings than has previously been the case.
No doubt because of JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis being the most famous and best documented of the Inklings, and their well known conservative views and dislike of modernity, it has been usual (especially from the time of Humphrey Carpenter's group biography The Inklings in 1979) to regard the Inklings as a 'reactionary' group; and this is how I myself have regarded them.

But this is probably an error. If the core Inklings of the heyday of 1939-45 were Jack and Warnie Lewis, JRR Tolkien, Charles Williams and Robert Havard - then two out of the five were broadly 'liberal' left wing in their politics. 

There was indeed a 3:2 right wing/ conservative majority, but it was hardly overwhelming. Indeed, the range of political views among the Inklings seems to be about as broad as the range of Christian views.

If we want to regard the Inklings as the last great reactionary writing group in England - as I have sometimes suggested - then we now need to be clearer that we are only really talking about Jack Lewis and Tolkien - probably supported by Warnie; which is not really much of a 'group', when you think about it!


Anonymous said...

It's interesting that the Wikipedia article, "Christian socialism" (as of 7 October 2015, at 09:33), in the section 'Prominent Christian socialists',has C.S. Lewis in its "list [which] includes other well-known Christian socialists". Curiously, that article does not have a link to the "Maurice Reckitt" article (q.v.).

David Llewellyn Dodds

Bruce Charlton said...

@David, Well it is Wikipedia and the topic is political - so accuracy would be unusual!

Anonymous said...

Well, quite (in general)! (And someone has tagged it with "This section has multiple issues"...) But it is interesting that someone came up with it (assuming it isn't simply hoaxing). I wonder if chapter/talk 2 of Christian Behaviour (London: Bles, March 1943) - entitled "Social Morality" - has something to do with it (p. 18, q.v.): "To that extent a Christian society would be what we now call Leftist. [...] We should feel that its economic life was very socialistic and, in that sense, advanced, but that its family life and its code of manners were rather old fashioned - perhaps even ceremonious and aristocratic." (Tangentially, I don't remember being struck before by how Bles went on reprinting the individual books after they had been collected in Mere Christianity - I quote a 1963 reprint!)

It's also interesting the positive sense in which Geoffrey Dickens characterized Lewis as "liberal" when I interviewed him for the Wade Oral History archive, as is his discussion of how Lewis went about teaching them Lenin's State and Revolution in the ten-week course he gave in political philosophy for interested historians - very much a matter of getting to understand it and form their own conclusions.

Again, how ought one to characterize Lewis's critique of Cecil Rhodes and Tolkien's of British among other examples of imperialism? And, how far should we see a common 'Chestertonian' background to Williams, Tolkien, and Lewis in such things?

David Llewellyn Dodds

Bruce Charlton said...

@DLD - Tolkien and Lewis had some different political views - for example Tolkien was always a monarchist, - indeed, pro-'theocracy' and against democracy; Lewis I think began as pro-democracy and was vehement against (at some some versions of) theocracy - but by the time he wrote Screwtape proposes a toast I think he had come to appreciate serious perils with democracy and I think he also moved towards thinking that the state can never be neutral about religion but will either be pro- or anti-.

In general, Lewis became more catholic (small c - specifically Anglo-Catholic) the longer he lived and tended to adopt the political views of Anglo Catholics. Anglo-Catholics tended to be socialists, especially the celibate priests and monks - maybe that was the connection?