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Cluster index: Alan Macfarlane

What Is Truth?

Alan Macfarlane: ‘I found that more than three-quarters of the world lives outside the modern Western world view and does not accept our divisions. People  have different concepts of truth and reality.’


Alan Macfarlane: ‘I exist in an extreme version, in the form of English individualism of family system. This is reinforced by my anti-magical protestant religious upbringing. I can record mysterious sighting of ancestors or spirits, for some of my students and Sarah have seen supernatural entities, and one has even photographed them as on the front cover of the first part of my Autobiography.’


Alan Macfarlane: ‘I now had two models, the Anglosphere (for the English system was the one Tocqueville described for America and was spread to the rest of the white Empire), and the Indo-European, where Tocqueville rightly sensed that element of caste.’

Binary and quantum thinking.

Alan Macfarlane: ‘As I finally grasped the fact that my binary thought system was only one way of approaching the world, I discovered two further things. One was that, even within the West, I was brought up in an extreme, Protestant, form of binary thinking.’


Alan Macfarlane: ‘Involvement in China has caused a different jolt to my political assumptions and stretched my mind in new ways. Ernest Gellner used to observe that the legitimacy of western democracy mainly derives from the fact that the system ‘delivers the goods’.’


Alan Macfarlane: ‘The English population patterns of late marriage, the extraordinary early growth of a money economy and ‘capitalism’, the pre-conditions for the industrial revolution, and the growth of Protestantism are all parts of a pattern. Modern civilization derived from the industrial revolution could not, and would not, have happened without this family system.’

Brexit fudge.

Alan Macfarlane; ‘The UK has done what I did when I left my Fellowship in 1975.  It has half left the club. It is half a stranger, half a friend. It will find, as I found when I left and then have experienced when I re-joined, that there is something special in being a member of something larger than oneself in this cold world.’

Reflections on my first thirty years. Part V.

Alan Macfarlane: I began to realize that effective recall and research and discovery of new connections depended on how I indexed my materials. This led through my two doctorates into an elaborate hand-indexing system based on the ‘One Fact One Card’ method of Beatrice Webb, mediated to me through another very large influence on my intellectual life, Brian (now Sir Brian) Harrison, a few years ahead of me at Oxford.

Reflections on my first thirty years. Part IV.

Alan Macfarlane: ‘Because of the contending influences of my mother and devout uncle, perhaps partly because of the good fortune of living in Wordsworth’s valley, perhaps because of my experience of having feet in Protestant England, Celtic Scotland (through my father and Scottish ancestors) and polytheistic Assam and Nepal, I was always interested in spiritual matters.’

God and His absence in China.

By ALAN MACFARLANE. I WAS BROUGHT up in a Christian household in the West. My uncle was devout and I went to religious camps as a boy where we were encouraged to ask Jesus into our hearts. Jesus seemed unenthusiastic about coming at my call, nevertheless I never really questioned my Christian faith through the […]

Reflections on my first thirty years. Part III.

Alan Macfarlane: ‘This was also a period when my teachers and  fellow doctoral students were being invigorated by new ideas of social and population history coming from France and by the archival revolution made possible by growing national wealth. it was a hopeful time, with a new engagement with international philanthropy and new experiments in cinema, drama, poetry, classical and ‘pop’ music.’

Reflections on my first thirty years. Part II.

Alan Macfarlane: ‘It is difficult to remember those pre-internet ages and to remember that until the 1960s a family such as ours did not even have a telephone in the house. Even when we moved to Cambridge in 1971 home phones were not commonplace and we did not have one in our fenland home until the 1980s.’

Reflections on my first thirty years. Part I.

Alan Macfarlane: ‘I first wrote down everything I thought I could remember about the period I was about to investigate. I then checked this against the diaries, letters and school reports. This has thrown some light on the way in which my memory works. It shows that, at least before I was ten, without supporting documentation almost everything would be irretrievable.’

The dreams and nightmares of four civilisations.

Alan Macfarlane: ‘The image of the ideal man takes us to the core of a civilisation’s aspirations and particularly its system of power. For, in the four examples I have chosen, we are looking at the rulers, the elite who preside over a civilisation and are meant, to a certain extent, to be exemplars for the other 95 percent of the population.’

The Survival Manual | Afterword.

Alan Macfarlane: ‘All that I can say is that through friendship, love, the kindness of strangers, combined with trying to develop my self-confidence and trying to be kind and generous to others I have enjoyed my life. Leading a modest life which does as little damage to others in the world as possible, I have been enormously fortunate to reach an age (seventy-four) and a degree of peace, as I sit in a beautiful English garden on this June day, looking at the birds and roses.’