Introduction of ‘Secret Cult‘ by Peter Hounam and Andrew Hogg
A full expose of a strange and destructive organization that is penetrating the corridors of power
If religion were to be looked at as an industry, Britain’s record in producing new products seems dismal in recent times. Imports have arrived here from overseas – the Moonies, Children of God, Scientology, Rajneesh – all profiting from a gap in the market provided by the young, the lonely and the spiritually disaffected.
But the trade has not all been one way. Secretly, but with formidable efficiency, and success, a wealthy religious cult – British-born and -bred – has established a worldwide following. It’s headquarters is in the heart of London’s fashionable Kensington district, and its name is the impeccable-sounding ‘School of Economic Science’.
For nearly forty years this establishment, in keeping with its academic image, has offered to the general public nightschool courses in philosophy and economics. Many thousands of people from all walks of life have been through its doors, including barristers, housewives, policemen, students, journalists and labourers. Even a present British High Court judge was a student for many years.
But despite its apparent respectability, in recent years the SES has found itself under attack, not just in Great Britain but in a number of other countries where offshoot branches have been started. Former members have claimed that the ‘School’ practises subtle brainwashing techniques to ensure absolute obedience. Its disciples put in many hours of unpaid work each week looking after the movement’s large property and holdings, and taking part in group activities. They are encouraged to isolate themselves from influences outside the movement, they are discouraged from discussing the School’s activities with non-members, and if they leave the movement they become pariahs to those that remain. The demands placed on members are so strong, it is claimed, that marriages fail, families split up, and some students develop serious mental problems.
The first mention of the cult appeared in Britain’s Daily Mail in 1968 when the paper investigated Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the ‘Beatles’ guru’, who at one time had close links with the SES. The story mentioned the cult’s secrecy and the absolute obedience demanded from members – but surprisingly it took the matter no further. And there the matter rested until the mid 1970s after the movement had opened for business in Malta. Opposition to them grew steadily on the island until eventually the Roman Catholic Church there produced a pamphlet warning of the dangers of the School. They claimed that, instead of offering a straightforward introduction to philosophy or economics, the movement was a cult, simply out for new members. This was a remarkably accurate summary.
At about the same time, the News of the World, the raciest Sunday newspaper in Britain, found a story which was right up their side of Fleet Street. A man in the north of England was complaining bitterly that he had lost his wife to a philosophy group. Following her enrolment at a local SES branch, the marriage had gone seriously wrong. Presuming, probably quite rightly, that their readers were not so very interested in the finer points of philosophy, the News of the World concentrated their attention on the unhappy marriage. Little mention was made of just what the woman had been studying which had altered her feelings for the disconsolate husband, who by then was suing for divorce. Tucked away on an inside page, the story attracted scant interest.
In 1982 the SES were once more in the news, this time in New Zealand where the well-established Wellington branch had purchased for their activities a large mansion, something of a local landmark. Journalists who began to ask what the movement was all about soon stumbled on disgrunted former members. For the first time the word ‘brainwashing’ appeared in print to describe the cult’s activities.
Coincidentally The Standard newspaper in London was also in pursuit of this mysterious organization. As investigative reporters we began to take an interest after hearing of a marriage break-up where the wife blamed the matrimonial problems on her husband’s involvement with the SES. The information we began to uncover was startling, so much so that it took more than a year of intensive research before the newspaper felt ready to publish.
We discovered a groundswell of very real concern about the SES. Several senior members of the Church of England were particulary forthright in their criticism, especially Michael Marshall, who at that time was Bishop of Woolwich. His concern stemmed from the early 1970s when, as vicar of a central London church, part of his counselling ministry had been devoted to a number of former SES members. From his experience he considered the movement ‘evil’ and ‘corrupt’, and at one time he even asked the Archbishop of Canterbury to issue a public warning about its dangers. His plea was met with silence.
Later we were to learn that as far back as 1977 the Society of Friends, better known as the Quakers, had banned the SES from using their large meeting-house in London’s Euston Road. They had been concerned over reports of members leaving the organization with emotional or psychiatric disturbances, and had heard that the SES encouraged family rifts. When they met senior SES members to discuss these reports, they were further disenchanted with the secrecy surrounding the movement.
A number of organizations which investigate cults, such as Britain’s FAIR (Family Action, Information and Rescue) and another Christian group Deo Gloria Outreach, also had grave misgivings. Their suspicions were reflected on the other side of the Atlantic with the Toronto-based Council on Mind Abuse also expressing anxiety.
We learned that in recent years the movement had been investigated by the Special Branch of the British police. Although they could find no evidence of illegality, we were told in a private conversation of continuing disquiet about the movement’s activities.
As our research progressed we came to share all the fears and suspicions that had arisen. But the horror stories told by the many ex-members whom we contacted were not the full picture. We also grew to realize that SES members were playing key roles in several public organizations.
We discovered that the Chairman of the national Liberal Party, one of Britain’s major political parties, was a senior SES member, along with several of the party’s candidates at recent general elections. It also emerged that there were several vicars within the Church of England who had been members of the SES and appeared still to support the movement. And an official church organization, the European Christian Industrial Movement, which boasted the Archbishop of Canterbury’s chief of staff as president, consisted mainly of SES members.
Particularly worrying were the four children’s schools which the SES had set up in London. Ostensibly straightforward independant educational establishments, they introduced children to the rudiments of SES philosophy and encouraged senior pupils to join the movement. A sizeable number of parents knew nothing about of the links between the SES and the schools, and some had noticed inexplicable character-changes in their children. A number of children were removed on the strenght of The Standard’s stories.
As we prepared to publish our findings, the Dublin paper the Daily Independent carried a lenghty investigation into the activities of the SES in the Irish Republic. Following that article and the stories which appeared in Britain, the Dutch and Belgian press also took up the debate, and there was renewed press interest in New Zealand.
The only material the SES has ever published about itself for public consumption has been pamphlets aiming at recruiting new members, and letters to newspapers objecting to criticism. Neither give the remotest clue about the organization’s true nature.
In this book we examine the hidden side of the School of Economic Science: its philosophy, its idiosyncratic practices, its growth world-wide. We report the claims of its critics and the counter-claims of some members. But regrettably we cannot present the views of the cult’s mysterious leader, a former British barrister. He has consistendly refused to be interviewed.