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Lord Northbourne’s life and work
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Biography of Lord Northbourne

Lord Northbourne (1896-1982), born Walter Ernest Christopher James, was the 4th Baron Northbourne of Kent, England. He was an agriculturist, educator, translator, and writer on both agriculture and comparative religion. He was educated at Oxford and was for many years Provost of Wye College—the agricultural college of London University. Lord Northbourne was a keen agronomist, and wrote an influential book in 1940, Look to the Land. In this book, Northbourne introduced the term "organic farming" to the world, as well as the concepts related to managing a farm as an "organic whole." After reading the book, Marco Pallis contacted Lord Northbourne and later introduced him to Traditionalist/Perennialist writers and their ideas. In years to come, he would integrate their thinking into his own writings and life, and corresponded with many of the most prominent writers of this school, as well as with Thomas Merton.

Lord Northbourne later began to make his own contributions to the Traditionalist body of work, writing articles for the British journal Studies in Comparative Religion. Many of these essays were later included in his books Religion in the Modern World (1963) and Looking Back on Progress (1970). Lord Northbourne wrote on a wide range of topics, often pointing blunt charges at the failings of the modern world, and used vivid examples to substantiate his criticisms. His writings are noted for their clarity and logical progression, and so the books of Lord Northbourne are often cited as excellent introductions to the Traditionalist perspective.

Lord Northbourne was an energetic and expert translator, and he had the distinction of translating into English the important book The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times by René Guénon . He also translated the original English edition of Light on the Ancient Worlds by Frithjof Schuon and Sacred Art in East and West by Titus Burckhardt.

Lord Northbourne's essential writings are collected in Of the Land and the Spirit. His essay "The Survival of Civilization" caps the anthology Every Branch in Me and his essay "Religion and Science," is included in the book Science and the Myth of Progress .

Books/DVDs containing the work of Lord Northbourne

World Wisdom books by Lord Northbourne:

Articles by Lord Northbourne in World Wisdom books:

Lord Northbourne’s Writings Online
 TitleSourceAuthor 1Author 2SubjectWW HTMLWW PDFExternal Link
Lord Northbourne discusses extensively the various symbolic meanings of the cross, explaining how it simultaneously represents several aspects of Christian doctrine and philosophia perennis. Each of these corresponds to a unique perspective from which the symbol can be approached. Northbourne also expounds upon the necessity to present the cross under certain conditions if its symbolic intergrity is to be maintained and observes how these conditions have sometimes been forsaken in the name of aesthetic value.
A Cross AwryStudies in Comparative Religion, Vol. 8, No. 2. (Spring, 1974); also in the book "Of the Land and the Spirit"Northbourne, Lord Christianity, Symbolism
The New EschatologyStudies in Comparative Religion, Vol. 8, No. 1. (Winter, 1974)Northbourne, Lord Christianity, Comparative Religion, Modernism, Perennial Philosophy, Tradition
Lord Northbourne responds to a fear that has developed among the general public that due to factors such as increasingly dangerous military technology, population growth and scarcity of natural resources, the human civilization as we know it may not be able to survive. His solution involves shifting attention away from the common goals of material wealth and individual prosperity and working towards the establishment of a society founded on values such as humility, compassion, and renunciation of “worldly superfluities”. The development of these virtues is dependent upon awareness and love of God.
The Survival of CivilizationStudies in Comparative Religion, Vol. 7, No. 1. (Winter, 1973)Northbourne, Lord Environment and Nature, History, Inspirational, Modernism, Perennial Philosophy, Spiritual Life, Tradition
Lord Northbourne in this essay analyzes the viewpoint of many modern scientists that certain fundamental events occurring in the domain of sub-atomic physics are exempt from laws of causality—in other words, that these events are random, or occur by chance. The author is most concerned that "from this position it is but a step to a declaration that the ruling principle of the universe is chance, and not a principle of strict causality. There are then no longer any certainties, but only probabilities.…" Of course, this is a challenge to any philosophy that "takes a metaphysical or religious turn." Lord Northbourne leads the reader through a logical process of reasoning to conclude that within our reality there is, indeed, order by design, and that the Principle and Its manifestations cannot be reduced to the random operations of chance.
ChanceStudies in Comparative Religion, Vol. 6, No. 1. (Winter, 1972)Northbourne, Lord Cosmology, Metaphysics, Modernism, Science, Tradition
Lord Northbourne examines the education system as a means to evaluate the state of our society and its access to intellectual freedom. He states that scientific formulas have overtaken the common ways of knowing, depending on empirical evidence as a means of knowing truth. This mode of knowledge views religion as an “obstacle to progress” since faith implies that truth is known intuitively. Therefore, it removes religion as a framework for the education and knowledge. Northbourne describes the nature of religion and the presence of the spiritual in the world with all of its questions and complexities, concluding that children are ultimately the ones who experience faith most purely. By deducing religion to information and not experience, children are neglected the opportunity to participate in their spiritual natures. He concludes that while science can be true it can only be partly true. Northbourne advocates that people should be educated based on how to think and not what to think.
Intellectual FreedomStudies in Comparative Religion, Vol. 5, No. 1. (Winter, 1971)Northbourne, Lord Comparative Religion, Education, Perennial Philosophy, Science, Tradition
Agriculture and Human DestinyOf the Land and the Spirit: The Essential Lord Northbourne on Ecology & ReligionNorthbourne, Lord Modernism
Religion and ScienceScience and the Myth of ProgressNorthbourne, Lord Science
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Quotes on Lord Northbourne

“After a careful reading…I believe that your book [Religion in the Modern World] is exceptionally good.… It is most important first of all to understand deeply and live one’s own tradition, not confusing it with what is foreign to it, if one is to seriously appreciate other traditions and distinguish in them what is close to one’s own and what is, perhaps, irreconcilable with one’s own.… I am very grateful for your important and thoughtful book, and I am sure you can see I am in the deepest possible sympathy with your views.”
Thomas Merton, from his correspondence with Lord Northbourne

“Lord Northbourne expresses convincingly enough his horror of the social system that seems to be growing up. The frenzy of destruction by which the nations are now overtaken must be succeeded by some new world.…But any society will crash in its turn unless it embodies those qualities of simplicity and honesty which Lord Northbourne finds in life upon the land.”
The Times Literary Supplement

“Lord Northbourne was the philosopher of the organic movement’s early years. He believed that care for the earth is a spiritual discipline and that our world’s bounty and beauty are best preserved through fidelity to religious tradition. This selection [i.e. Of the Land & the Spirit] of his writings amply demonstrates the artistic sensitivity and lucid rejection of secularism which were the hallmarks of his thought. It provides a most welcome opportunity for a new generation to discover the ideas of an uncompromising cultural prophet.”
Philip Conford, author of The Origins of the Organic Movement

“As a critic of agriculture, Lord Northbourne’s qualifications went far beyond what we think of as intelligence and education. He was intelligent and educated, of course, but he was also experienced, observant, and passionately aff ectionate toward the land and the farmers.…And it is affection that undoubtedly gives to his criticism its indispensable breadth.…Lord Northbourne’s writing on agriculture can…be seen as an early, and an immensely capable, reaction against scientific reductionism and the partitioned structure of modern intellectual life. To say this is to give the reason for his continuing usefulness. As a critic of agriculture, he aimed at wholeness of vision, and nobody has come closer to achieving it.”
Wendell Berry, from the Foreword to Of the Land & the Spirit

Articles on Lord Northbourne
 TitleSourceAuthor 1Author 2SubjectWW HTMLWW PDFExternal Link
Foreword to Of the Land and the SpiritOf the Land and the Spirit: The Essential Lord Northbourne on Ecology & ReligionBerry, Wendell Modernism
Introduction to Of the Land and the SpiritOf the Land and the Spirit: The Essential Lord Northbourne on Ecology & ReligionJames, Christopher  Biography
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Lord Northbourne’s Bibliography


Of the Land and the Spirit (World Wisdom, 2008).

Looking Back on Progress (Perennial Books, 1970).

Religion in the Modern World (J.M. Dent, 1963).

Look to the Land (J.M. Dent, 1940).

Online Resources about Lord Northbourne

The Wikipedia page on Lord Northbourne has a few more facts (e.g. he won an Olympic medal) than the biography on this page, and some more links.

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