“Designing Utopia: John Hargrave and the Kibbo Kift” by Cathy Ross and Oliver Bennett 

A fascinating, comprehensive and beautifully illustrated account of the life and work of John Hargrave, founder of the Kibbo Kift Kindred and later among the chief protagonists of the Social Credit movement in England.

Exemplifying the virtues and limitations of the early 20th century “self-taught man”, Hargrave was accomplished in a variety of fields and evidently possessed great powers of imagination, energy and charisma. He designed the Kindred as a pacifistic, progressive and universalist breakaway from Baden-Powell’s Christian/nationalist/militaristic Scouting movement. And yes, he did later come to regret naming his new movement with the acronym K.K.K.

Although never very great in numbers, the Kindred were highly active and influential during the decade following the First World War. They organized camping and hiking expeditions, staged elaborate mystical plays, produced strikingly original handcrafts and costumes, all according to Hargrave’s comprehensive philosophy for the betterment of each individual Kin member and the wider society. While the Kindred was not explicitly a religious/spiritual movement, it exemplified and, to some extent, pioneered an experimental, artistic approach to symbolic ritual.

As war again approached, Hargrave attempted to transform the Kindred into a political movement, via the quasi-militaristic Green Shirt Brigade, agitating for the institution of a radical, Social Credit-based economic reform. Essentially failing in this attempt, Hargrave gradually withdrew from the public spotlight, and his efforts had been largely forgotten by the time he died in 1982.

The final chapter argues persuasively that the Kindred was, in fact, an idea decades ahead of its time, pointing out parallels between Hargrave’s Utopian visions and later counter-cultural movements such as the hippies, neo-Paganism, the Burning Man festival and the Occupy movement.

As well as the lucid text, “Designing Utopia” includes a great variety of illustrations including many photographs taken from the archive of the Kibbo Kift Kindred, now curated by the Museum of London. It also features many examples of Hargrave’s own textile, woodcarving and poster artwork.

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