Here's something I didn't know before. In 1939, an Indian chemistry professor and Theosophist named D. D. Kanga edited a collection of articles entitled Where Theosophy and Science Meet: A Stimulus to Modern Thought. 1 One of the articles was by Peter Freeman, who had been a Labour MP from Wales between 1929 and 1931 (and would be again from 1945 until his death in 1956). He had also been general secretary of the Welsh branch of the Theosophical Society since 1922. His contribution to Kanga's volume was entitled 'The practical application of Theosophy to politics and government'; I'm not sure when it was originally published, assuming it wasn't written specially for this volume, but it would probably be the early to mid-1930s.
Freeman's basic premise is that of Theosophy: that the universe and everything in it is evolving in accordance with what he calls '"the Plan"'. 2 This applies to societies too, 'in the gradual civilization and progress of humanity towards its destined end -- the full realization of Universal Brotherhood'. 3 But this process is helped along both by enlightened people (e.g. Theosophists) and by 'a body of super-men, the Masters [...] who, having passed through the many stages of life, are now competent to help and guide the affairs of the earth'.
These evolved men are known as the Great White Brotherhood, or the Inner Government of the World. All forms of government on earth are but pale reflections of their activities, nevertheless everyone can assist, in however humble a manner, in their mighty task of bringing about the perfection of all life. 4
In this spirit, Freeman asked:
What are the immediate political steps that should be taken to secure World Peace and to establish the Brotherhood of Man? 5
His answer was that 'a World Power acting on behalf of the League of Nations' was required, so that nations would feel secure and consent to disarmament. 6
And was this to be achieved? By an international air force:
As a step to this end the inauguration of an International Air Police Force would appear to be the most practicable means. Much of the Air Service is already under international control. 7 This could be extended and it could act under the general control and jurisdiction of the League of Nations with a minimum of difficulty as outlined in detail in "The New Commonwealth League" proposals.
Air Forces are almost useless for defence, but invaluable for offence. It is, therefore, only the potential aggressor who would insist on their retention under individual national control.
This would, of course, mean that the so-called sovereign rights of Nations would have to be subordinated to the welfare of the World, but only in this way can world Peace be secured. Until some central World Authority has not only been established but has also secured effective power to see its judgments carried out, war will continue. Until international justice can thus be maintained, it is inevitable that disputes between nations will not only break out from time to time but may even grow more ruthless, brutal, bitter and intense. 8
Now, this is a pretty standard left-liberal viewpoint for the mid-1930s -- apart from the stuff about the Great White Brotherhood benevolently directing the evolution of the human race, which is very weird indeed. (Not to mention Lemuria, the seven root races of man, the akashic records, the Book of Dzyan...) And even then, many liberal internationalists probably did think that something like Freeman's vision was the way the world was evolving, and were certainly in sympathy with the idea that people of conscience should do all they could to bring that about. Still, I wonder if this was just Freeman merging his own particular political and spiritual beliefs, or if Theosophy and the international air force went together in some sense?
One way to answer this would be to find out where Freeman came across the international air force idea. One clue might be in his reference to the New Commonwealth, which was devoted to promoting a world police, which in practice mainly meant an internationalised air force. It was quite prominent in the public debate about collective security in the early and mid 1930s. It's also interesting that the driving force behind the New Commonwealth was Lord Davies, who was also a former Welsh MP, from a neighbouring constituency -- albeit a Liberal one who left the House of Commons just as Freeman was entering. Still, Freeman surely must have known of Davies and his ideas, even if they didn't know each other.
Another possible source is the psychologist William McDougall, who oddly enough was one of the first people to come up with a fully-fledged international air force scheme, in an appendix to his Ethics and Some Modern World Problems (London: Methuen & Co., 1924). 9 Even though McDougall was quite a successful public intellectual, I can't find many references to his ideas on this topic. But he was also interested in parapsychology, carrying out ESP research with J. B. Rhine in the United States. This was a subject which interested Theosophists very much, and I've found a number of reviews of his books in Theosophical journals. So it's possible this was Freeman's way into international air force advocacy.
A final possibility is also another example of a Theosophist interested in the international air force concept. In September 1932, the Theosophical Magazine printed a notice of a new organisation called the New Political Fellowship. While it declared itself to non-political, it was opposed to 'Communism and partisan policies with their imposition of outside authority', operating on the basis of voluntarism not compulsion. That sounds quite liberal, as far as it goes. To apply this 'New Order of Things -- The New Crusade' to international affairs the following were deemed to be required:
(a) International Police (ex-Army).
(b) International Naval Police and Transport (ex-Navy).
(c) International Air Police and Transport (ex-R.A.F.).
(d) International Codes for Road, Sea and Air Travel. 10
A news item in Nature reveals that the New Political Fellowship was the brainchild of A. G. Pape, the founding secretary of the Scottish Anthropological and Folklore Society and author of a couple of books on racial themes. And Pape, it turns out, was a Theosophist. Not only did he evidently ask the Theosophical Magazine to publicise the founding of his New Political Fellowship (which in turn suggests he thought it might appeal to Theosophists), but there's also an article by him in... wait for it... Kanga's Where Theosophy and Science Meet (on the subject of anthropology).
Having come full circle it seems appropriate to leave off there, which is convenient because I don't have much more to add. I haven't been able to find any other connections between Theosophy and the international air force idea. On the other hand, Hugh 'Stuffy' Dowding was a Theosophist (and keenly interested in fairies and flying saucers too). And then there's J. F. C. Fuller's Alesteir Crowley and kabbalistic phases...
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- The British Library catalogue says 1938, but the preface is dated October 1939 and notes that war had broken out in Europe.
- Peter Freeman, 'The practical application of Theosophy to politics and government', in D. D. Kanga, ed., Where Theosophy and Science Meet: A Stimulus to Modern Thought (Adyar: Adyar Library Association, 1939), 130.
- Ibid., 130
- Ibid., 130.
- Ibid., 134
- Ibid., 134.
- I have no idea what he means by this.
- Freeman, 'The practical application of Theosophy to politics and government', 134-5.
- He fleshed this out in his later book for the 'To-day and To-morrow' series, Janus: The Conquest of War (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., n.d..
- Theosophical Magazine, September 1932, 801.