Asses in Clover
Eimar O’Duffy (1893-1935), a major Irish satirist, poet, playwright and novelist, has been undeservedly neglected. In addition to his literary works he produced the alternative economics text Life and Money (1932) which ran to several editions, and Consumer Credit (1934). Both texts spell out the economics of social credit.
Asses in Clover forms the final book of O’Duffy’s Cuanduine trilogy of satirical fantasy. This has been described as “one of the most ambitious and brilliant works penned by an Irishman in the 20th century. With great humour, O’Duffy’s fury is turned against the press and media, mainstream economists and, above all, against the ordinary person who is content to seek narrow, short-term, self-interested ends, sold on the work ethic and refusing to stop and consider the wider long-term picture. The alternative economist C.H. Douglas described O’Duffy as “an economist of no mean order, combining a typical Irishman’s hatred of pomposity with a delicate sense of proportion”. Although the terminology may be slightly outdated, O’Duffy’s writing, like that of many major thinkers of the first half of the 20th century, including H.J. Massingham, G.K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc and many others, continues to provide a touchstone of reality, remaining entirely relevant to the ongoing globalisation debate.
The first volume of O'Duffy's Trilogy, King Goshawk and the Birds (1926), is set in a future world devastated by 'progress' and ruled by King Capitalists. King Goshawk, the supreme King Capitalist, decides to buy up all the wild flowers and song birds, placing them in theme parks for which an entrance fee is charged. Enraged at this desecration of nature and human rights, an ancient Dublin philosopher calls the mythical Cuchulain back to earth. He sires a son, Cuanduine, whose task is to right the wrongs perpetrated by the capitalists. The second volume, The Spacious Adventures of the Man in the Street (1928), follows a Swiftean pattern, being set on the planet Rathe.
In Asses in Clover, O'Duffy continues his humorous tirade at the follies of 20th century politics and economics. After destroying King Goshawk's International Air Force before it can devastate Ireland with deadly weapons of mass destruction, the demi-god Cuanduine is outflanked by Goshawk's economic advisor, the real power on earth. Finally despairing at the folly and wickedness of humanity, Cuanduine departs from this world. In the final chapters world depression followed by a great war destroys civilization. For O’Duffy, the “Procrustean remedy” – the adaptation of society to the economic muddle through the paid employment system – lies at the root of the problem.
Eimar O’Duffy (1893-1935), a major Irish satirist. poet, playwright and novelist, has been undeservedly neglected. In addition to his literary works he produced an economics text, Life and Money, which ran to several editions. The Cuanduine Trilogy, his masterpiece, has been described as “one of the most ambitious and brilliant works penned by an Irishman in the 20th century”.
Introduction by Frances Hutchinson 2003
Very little has changed since Eimar O'Duffy delivered his manuscript of Asses in Clover to his publisher seventy years ago. The human race is not a wit less committed to going to work and to war just as the leaders and their 'expert' financial advisors tell them to. The intervening decades have seen the rise of Hitler, the carpet bombing of civilian populations in a thousand German cities, the Holocaust, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, decades of violence against civilian populations culminating in 9/11 and the current Gulf War. The violence of man against humanity has been accompanied by the desecration of the land by agri-business, while in the name of 'progress' social and spiritual values have been demoted to optional extras. Meanwhile Mac ui Rudai, the man-in-the-street, remains content to produce and consume the latest commercially viable fad in food, clothing, shelter, furnishings, entertainments and holidays designed by the corporate world. As debt-finance-led production and consumption devours field and forest across the globe, rendering soils, seas, lakes rivers and the very air itself stale and unwholesome, the human race is well on its way to the end as foretold by O'Duffy early in the last century. The same sneaky ray of hope which drove O'Duffy to write his Cuanduine Trilogy impels the current editors to reprint this masterpiece of riotous anger.
Asses in Clover, the final book in the Cuanduine Trilogy, can be compared to more recent works. The zany humour in a fantasy setting was later to be echoed by Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Similarly, Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, as critiqued by Patrick Curry, fanned into flames that same small spark of hope in his quest for the re-sacralization of living nature. O'Duffy's style and content is echoed in Orwell, Swift and Shaw, while Michael Moore's barely controlled rage in Stupid White Men continues the devastating attack on the politics of war and world order in the present day.
Born in 1893, the playwright and novelist Eimar O'Duffy succumbed to duodenal ulcers, the satirist's occupational disease, at the age of 42. He has been described as 'modern Ireland's only prose satirist'. As such, he was 'neither hanged nor drowned. He was simply ignored' (FN 1), as tends to be the fate of artistic opponents of global corporatism. King Goshawk and the Birds, the first volume of the Cuanduine trilogy, is set in the future, when the continued rule of the King Capitalists has further devastated the earth. Goshawk, King of the King Capitalists, is persuaded to buy up all the song birds and wild flowers (representing access to the spiritual world) for his wife, Guzzelinda. Incensed at this blatant injustice, an old Dublin Philosopher summons the mythical Cuchulain back to earth. After a series of droll failures, Cuchulain relinquishes the quest to the Cuanduine, the son he agrees to father for the purpose of seeking justice for the common people. However, Cuanduine also fails to generate popular support for the liberation of the natural world from private ownership. The rich are content to pay for access to the theme parks created by King Goshawk, while the poor are too ground down in misery to be aware of their loss. The Swiftian sequel, The Spacious Adventures of the Man in the Street follows the story of Aloysius O'Kennedy on Rathé, a semi-Utopia. Asses in Clover takes up the story of Cuanduine's battle to free the songbirds and wild flowers. Although O'Duffy's Cuanduine Trilogy continues to be of interest to students of Utopian literature, the full humour of the final book is lost without a grounding in the economics of social credit. While the first two books are a richly comic indictment of the political economy of the 20th century, the final book is informed by O'Duffy's research into the teachings of Clifford Hugh Douglas and the social credit movement. Hence the present book goes beyond critique by presenting viable routes to an alternative world order.
Published at about the same time as Asses in Clover, O'Duffy's Life and Money, a detailed summary of the basic ideas of Social Credit, ran to several editions and was warmly praised by Douglas. For O'Duffy, finance, which is privately created, has come to dominate personal and corporate decision-making, leading to social and environmental disintegration, accompanied by economic and military warfare on a global scale. The butt of his criticism are not the leaders of corporate capitalism, who are at least honest in their self-interested quest for power, but the ordinary person who refuses to think beyond their own immediate short-term self-interest. Hence the blind quest for 'work', i.e. for a money income paid by an employer no matter what rubbish is being turned out by the financially viable economy. In both his fiction and his non-fiction O'Duffy skilfully presents the case for the ordinary person to receive a basic income as a right of citizenship. The obstacle, as he sees it, is the inertia of the brain, and will of the 'man in the street'. The stark choice is between life and money. No amount of 'expert' advice can be substituted for clear thinking on the part of the individual. All have the same potential to choose between slavery and freedom. Excellent on logic, and hilariously funny, O'Duffy is low on optimism.
The work of O'Duffy and Douglas fits into a wide spectrum of political thought fundamentally opposed to the centralising of power, whether in the hands of capitalists or state monopolies. Like Douglas and O'Duffy, the vast majority of writers in this genre, have been allowed to slip into virtual obscurity. H.J. Massingham, G.K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc and others belong to a broad church of writers sharing a common notion of the rights of the ordinary person to autonomy over their own lives. The substance of Social Credit was set out as a compact précis in Douglas' Economic Democracy, first published in 1919, with the subsequent publications providing amplification and elaboration of the main theme. The book lays out the basic tenets of Social Credit. Potentially, the wealth of the world is so great that competition over the existing supply is beside the point. In seeking to appropriate a greater share of the product for the worker, through securing control over administration, socialists are tilting at windmills. The root of the problem lies in the financial system, since the mechanisms whereby banks determine economic outcomes are beyond democratic control. Credit, the property of the community, should be administered by the community, and not by some centralised, unaccountable, unelected power, whether under private or state control. Instead, the community could use banks to pay a national dividend to all citizens. Observing the increasing centralisation of power following World War I and the formation of the League of Nations, Douglas predicted that financial amalgamations on the one hand and alliances of trade unions on the other heralded the crushing out of individual authority and initiative in the work place and in the civic life of the community.
A basic income or national dividend for all by right of citizenship could be introduced tomorrow with no difficulty. It is a small matter of accounting, coupled with a massive engagement of brainpower. However, recognition of the stark reality of the alternative will come just after the point of no return is reached. With debt mounting around their ears, the mass of citizens chant 'I owe, I owe, so off to work I go!' as they march like lemmings over the proverbial cliff. An Orwellian 'doublethink' has indeed taken hold (my spell-check allows the word without lighting up red). Hence individuals can shift their ethical stance according to the dictates of their current paymaster. 'Mobile truth' indeed enables us to serve both God and mammon.
The work of Douglas, O'Duffy and a host of other social credit writers contrasts sharply with the hedonism underlying modern political economy. As such, it requires detailed study, for which the texts listed below provide a starting point. Following George Orwell, we suggest that for readers more familiar with 'Newspeak', the 'Oldspeak' of Social Credit, rooted in concepts like justice and social responsibility, may seem, initially, incomprehensible. But it is worth the effort. The stakes are high.
FN 1 Robert Hogan Eimar O'Duffy Lewisburg, Bucknell University Press (Irish Writers Series) (1972: 13)
Patrick Curry: Defending Middle-Earth
Tolkien: Myth and Modernity, London, Harper Collins (1998)
Frances Hutchinson: What Everybody Really Wants to Know About Money, Jon Carpenter (1998)
Eimar O'Duffy: Life and Money, Putnam (1932/3)
Michael Rowbotham: The Grip of Death, Jon Carpenter (1998)
J.R.R Tolkien: The Lord of the Rings