Thursday, June 11, 2020

Two quotations in defence of Baden Powell

Embed from Getty Images

This is an extract from a blog post - The generation gap and reinventing bob-a-job week - that I wrote back in 2011.

I have never bought the idea that Scouting is a sinister, right-wing movement. That view misses the essential strangeness of Scouting.

This is brought out in this passage from Tony Gould's Inside Outsider: The Life and Times of Colin MacInnes from 1983:

Colin always defended the scouts against leftish accusations of incipient fascism and the like. How could be not be loyal when the "prophetic book" was none other than Cousin Roddy's Kim?

He describes the ideology of the movement as "the weirdest blend of ritual, non-sectarian religiosity, nature and beast worship, and a passion for peoples (Red Indian, Australian aborigines, African tribesmen) whom Christian imperialism had tried for centuries to destroy."

He makes a distinction between militarism - useless to deny, he argues, what it is for which the scout should chiefly "be prepared" - and the para-militarism of the Boys' Brigade. The true military heir to Baden Powell (he writes in 1961) is Dayan. Fascist and Communist countries alike usually end up suppressing the scouts.

MacInnes, the author of Absolute Beginners, is an impeccably left-wing figure, even if (as this passage hints) he was a kinsman of Rudyard Kipling, who gave the Scouting movement its mythology.

And even if you think Baden Powell would have liked, at least in certain moods, to have founded a paramilitary movement, it didn’t turn out like that. 

Here are Colin Ward and Dennis Hardy writing in their Goodnight Campers! The History of the British Holiday Camp in 1986:

When Baden-Powell’s Scouting for Boys was published in serial form groups of boys all over the country set up their own groups before any central organisation had been formed. 

Leslie Paul recalls how “With an astonishing perception they leapt at Scouting as at something for which they had been waiting, divining that this was a movement which took the side of the natural inquisitive, adventuring boy against the repressive schoolmaster, the moralising parson and the coddling parent.
Before the leaders knew what was happening groups were springing up spontaneously and everywhere bands of boys, with bare knees, and armed with broomsticks, began foraging through the countryside.

It seems Baden-Powell was not so much scouting for boys as chasing after them.


david walsh said...

Your quote from Colin Ward references one Leslie Paul. Leslie Paul was a fascinating man who richly deserves a column from you, not least because of the fact that one of his main influences came from Richard Jefferies. He was involved in scouting at the outset, but as a natural leftie, upped kindling sticks to set up the rather unfortunately named KKK - the "Kibbo Krift Kindred" a sort of English version of the German "Wandervogel" movement. He fell out with other KKK leaders and, Peoples Front of Judea style, founded the Woodcraft Folk, who are still going strong today. His wiki entry tells more; He also published an interesting autobiography, "Angry Young Man" in the mid 50's and in some roundabout fashion, the title got twisted to read "men" and define a whole new genre of writing. His book has been downloaded and can be read on;

Jonathan Calder said...

Thank you - I will look him up.