I was very much affected by EF Schumacher's Small is Beautiful - which I bought a year or two after its publication in 1973 having seen a documentary about it on TV. I have been reviewing Schumacher recently, including the biography by his daughter (Alias Papa) and his final book Guide for the Perplexed published just before he died in 1977.
Through his life Schumacher described a trajectory from Marxism, through socialism, then a 1960s style Buddhistic 'environmentalism' to become a traditionalist (and Thomistic) Roman Catholic in 1971.
None of his Roman Catholicism, or even Christianity, was evident to my young self until I read Guide for the Perplexed (GftP); so I was pretty stunned by it. (I had been an atheist since about age six, and was hostile to Christianity.)
I now find Small is Beautiful to be obsolete and obviously wrong in its positive economic prescriptions. But reviewing GftP last week brought back my strongly-mixed response from 1977.
As so often in my life; I was convinced by Schumacher's 'negative critique' of modern materialism, scientism, the shallowness, meaninglessness and purposeless of life since the industrial revolution. I strongly felt the same way.
But I was unconvinced then, and still am, by his positive 'solution' in the form of a return to a traditional form of Christianity - one that is rooted in a categorical division of reality into four levels of the in-animate mineral, plant, animal and man (the same scheme as used by Rudolf Steiner). The whole style of Schumacher's positive argument strikes me as 'dead' and uninspiring; too systematic, too bureaucratic, too external.
Regular readers will know that I see no valid division between living and non-living; and that regard reality of composed of being, that are alive and conscious - and this includes the 'mineral'. Without a return to some-such 'animism'; Christians condemn themselves to alienation, and (as the neo-pagans recognized) cut-off a vital element of our human nature.
Also, and this applied even in my youth, I see no valid division between animals and plants.
In more general terms, I would now regard Schumacher's position, at the time of death, as advocating a return to essentially the Greco-Roman-Medieval form of society; or what Steiner calls the Intellectual Soul phase of human consciousness, which is a gradually-transforming halfway between the 'Original Participation' of simple hunter gatherer societies, and the 'modern' (especially since the 1750s) 'Consciousness Soul' phase when the human mind feels cut off from the rest of reality, and doubts even its own reality.
Nowadays, I am sure that Man cannot go back to an earlier stage of consciousness: the project of revived traditionalism has been tried many times and failed many times; very few people truly want it; and it is harmful even to try.
What we can and must do is 'Romantic Christianity' - and I have a strong feeling that Fritz Schumacher would have taken that further step had he lived longer than his 66 years (and with clear mind). This would have completed the implicit trajectory of his development; and I think that - having made the condensed and lucid statement of GftP he would probably have looked at it critically, tried it thoroughly, and (as he had done before) would have gone beyond it.
More exactly; Schumacher had experienced the 'romanticism' of the 60s-style counter-culture with its 'eastern', Buddhist-Hindu-Sufi type of personally-experienced spirituality (meditation, yoga etc); he had discarded this and found Jesus Christ, again experientially but in a pre-modern-aspiring and communitarian form; and he would have wanted to combine these two deep impulses and convictions in a romantic, intuitive and experiential, Christianity.
It did not happen - but all the ingredients were present in Schumacher: including a questing, critical and honest intelligence.