James Webb (historian)
James Charles Napier Webb (January 13, 1946 - May 9, 1980) was a Scottish historian and biographer. He was born in Edinburgh, was educated at Harrow and Trinity College, Cambridge. He is remembered primarily for two works The Occult Underground and The Occult Establishment. Occult Underground was originally titled Flight from Reason. He also wrote an important, and somewhat debated biography of G. I. Gurdjieff, The Harmonious Circle. His theories of Gurdjieff's identity as a foreign agent, and theories on where he actually travelled before 1917, are the controversial points in this book. It is considered to be the most comprehensive Gurdjieff biography.
Webb's work challenges theories of secularism, theories of decline in organised religion and spirituality. Webb argued that the 19th and 20th centuries had also been marked by a revolt against the Enlightenment, and that the rise of irrationalism was much more marked than the rise of rationalism, especially before, during and after the First World War and the Second World War. Webb traced the influence of occult and mystical groups and writers on literature, philosophy and politics.
Webb was generally ignored in his lifetime, but with the increasing rise of New Age spirituality in later years, his work now seems increasingly prescient. After increasing mental health difficulties, Webb committed suicide in 1980.
Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke has lauded him as a serious researcher of occultism: "By focusing on functional significance of occultism in political irrationalism, Webb rescued the study of Nazi occultism for the history of ideas."
His major works The Occult Underground and The Occult Establishment have recently been translated into German and published in 2009 and 2008 respectively.
- Flight from Reason (1971) MacDonald & Co., London ISBN 0-356-03634-0
- 2nd ed.: The Occult Underground (1974) Open Court Publishing. ISBN 0-8126-9073-7
- The Occult Establishment: The Dawn of the New Age and The Occult Establishment (1976) Open Court Publishing. ISBN 0-87548-434-4
- The Harmonious Circle: The Lives and Work of G. I. Gurdjieff, P.D. Ouspensky, and Their Followers (1980) Putnam Publishing. ISBN 0-399-11465-3
John Robert Colombo, Colin Wilson, Joyce Collin-Smith: The Occult Webb: An Appreciation of the life and Work of James Webb, (1990) Colombo & Company. ISBN 1-896308-56-2
- Gary Lachman, The Damned: the strange death of James Webb, Fortean Times, September 2001.