School of Economic Science

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Not to be confused with London School of Economics.
The School of Economic Science entrance, Mandeville Place, London.

The School of Economic Science (SES), also known as the School of Philosophy and the School of Practical Philosophy, is a worldwide organisation based in London.[1][2] Its teachings are principally influenced by Advaita Vedanta,[3] an orthodox philosophical system of Hinduism,[4] as interpreted by SES leader Leon MacLaren (1910-1994).[5]

The SES advertises introductory courses in what it terms "Practical Philosophy", involving a mental process known as 'The Exercise'[6] and discussion of European philosophers such as Plato and Marsilio Ficino as well as Advaita.[7] Those who continue involvement beyond 2–3 years mainly study Advaita;[8] they are required to take up meditation and to undertake voluntary work to help with the running of the group, and to attend residential programmes.[9] It has a controversial reputation and is seen by some commentators as a cult or new religious movement.[10]

The SES has around 2500 members in the UK branch and several thousand more in the up to 80 branches worldwide.[9][11][12] Operating under various names, there are branches in America, Canada, Venezuela, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Trinidad, Belgium, Cyprus, Greece, Holland, Malta, Spain, Ireland, Hungary, Germany, Israel and Argentina.[2][13] The head of all of these branches is MacLaren's successor, Donald Lambie.[14]

It has also founded fee-paying, general education private schools for children that incorporate SES doctrine. These include the Ficino School in Auckland, New Zealand; St James Preparatory School, Johannesburg, South Africa; John Colet School, Sydney, Australia; Erasmus School, Melbourne, Australia; the St James Independent Schools in London; Alcuin school in Leeds; St James' primary school in Stockport; and the John Scottus School in Dublin.[15]


The School of Economic Science was founded in 1938 by Andrew MacLaren MP under the name Henry George School of Economics.[12] The school was an "economics study group" that expounded the economic theories of the American economist Henry George.[12][16][17][18][19] Leon MacLaren "inherited" the school from his father, Andrew, and changed the school's focus to "the study of natural laws governing the relations between men in society."[12] Some references cite Andrew MacLaren as the founder of the School of Economic Science,[20] who was barred from the organisation's meetings after his son Leon took it over a few years later.[12][21]

A branch school called the School of Practical Philosophy, opened in 1964 as an offshoot of the School of Economic Science in New York City, USA.[22] The school became a not-for-profit corporation chartered by the Board of Regents of the State of New York[23][24] and later opened branches in the Hudson Valley, Rochester, NY, Albany, GA, Scottsdale, AZ, South Florida, San Francisco, CA, Boston, MA and the state of New Jersey.[25]

The SES began a tradition of an annual event called Art in Action[26] beginning in the 1970s which has attracted about 25,000 visitors in recent years.[9] In 1975, as a response to requests from SES parents, MacLaren opened three experimental schools, called St James Independent Schools, for children ages 5 through 7 and the St. Verdast school for ages 10 through 18.[12] These SES schools were also reported to be the "among the last private schools in England to ban caning" after they discontinued the practice in 1996.[12] One of the three schools, the St. Vedast boys school for ages 10 through 18, was still functioning as of 2011.[12]

Leon MacLaren chose to be succeeded upon his death in 1994 by Donald Lambie.[14][27] In 1999-2001, frescos were added to the SES's Waterperry property to create "a sacred space" [28] "depicting the teachings of Advaita Vedanta" intended "to last at least 500 years".[29]


Founder Leon MacLaren was influenced by the early 20th-Century esotericist George Gurdjieff, praised as a charismatic intellectual who brought greater insight to Western thought, and rebuked as an egomaniacal charlatan who worked followers to exhaustion to break down personality.[30] MacLaren joined a group formed by followers of P.D. Ouspensky, an acolyte of Gurdjieff, and brought what he learned into SES.[30] MacLaren also studied the book The Realm of Art (1946), introduced its ideas to the SES and invited the author, Peter Goffin, to give lectures.[31][32]

MacLaren incorporated these ideas into courses for the SES.[33] In 1959, MacLaren met the guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi who was in London promoting Transcendental Meditation.[30] MacLaren was taken through the 'initiation' ritual of the practice, and speculated that he had found the source of Gurdjieff's ideas. He went to India to meet the Maharishi's own guru, Shantananda Saraswati,[30] and solidified the central principle of the SES's philosophy as "unity in diversity" by merging the "doctrine of Eastern philosophy and Western wisdom."[12]

According to the SES web site:

The initial founder of the school of Economic Science Mr. Leon MacLaren first met with the then Shankaracharya of the North, Shantananda Saraswati, in 1964 and under his direction developed the school in London. Since then there has been a regular dialogue between the school and Shantananda Saraswati. These conversations have become an essential part of the study of the School and it became obvious that some of the subject matter that conveyed the essence of this philosophy, should be the basis of the works for the hall. The Advaita Vedanta philosophy is a teaching that is traditionally conveyed orally from teacher to student, containing many stories, analogies, examples, principles, etc. It is not possible to show everything, but a selection has been made for the Waterperry project that would illustrate the main tenets of this philosophy.[28]

Courses and studies in economics have continued with the emphasis on "Economics with Justice". As well as being inspired by the studies in philosophy, links have been established with several organisations with common aims.[34] A discussion forum fosters open discussion on economics topics.[35] The Economic Monitor[36] is published by the economic faculty and several copies are available on-line.

The school’s founders explored new possibilities for a system that would bring about economic justice against the background of the severe economic depression of the early 1930s. This approach to the study of economics led to the study of philosophy - "the love of wisdom" – in order to gain deeper insights into what they saw as the natural laws governing humanity and the origin of those laws.[citation needed]

During the late 1950s philosophy became the central subject of teaching and practice within the school. It is approached as an essentially practical study, to be applied in daily life. The material presented is drawn from a variety of sources within the philosophical writings and dialogues, scriptures and other literature of East and West, including the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads, the Bible, Plato, Marsilio Ficino and Hermes Trismegistus. The introductory philosophy course covers some basic principles, highlighting the main influences that govern human experience. After the introductory course, the various aspects of the subject are examined more deeply and philosophical texts are studied in detail.[citation needed]

Since the 1960s there has been a connection with a tradition in India that propounds teaching known as advaita vedanta. Advaita means literally "not two"; vedanta refers to the knowledge underlying the creation. Together these are said to explain the essential unity of everything in creation and the source from which it arises. This teaching also speaks of a concept of ‘pure consciousness’ as the true essence of every being, and the human possibility of shedding the covers on this essence to allow it to be expressed in its purity.[citation needed]

Renaissance studies by SES have led to several published works, including translations from Latin of many of Marsilio Ficino's letters [37][38][39][40][41][42][43][44][45]


Donald Lambie is supported by a nine-member Executive Committee elected by the 230-person governing body of the SES, known as the 'Fellowship'.[9] In the four years to March 2011, the SES reported income of £4.1m to £4.3m, making a profit in the first two years and a loss in the last two.[46]

As of 2013 the SES owned real estate on Mandeville Place in London,[47] Waterperry House in Oxfordshire,[48] Nanpantan Hall in Loughborough,[49] Brinscall Hall in Preston,[50] Belmont House in Stockport, Park House in Glasgow. Other properties are in London, Leeds, Croydon, Edinburgh, Guildford and Colchester.


Secret Cult, a 1984 book by London Evening Standard reporters Peter Hounam and Andrew Hogg, alleged the organization was a secretive cult which aimed to establish psychological control over its members and had caused personality change, mental breakdown and divorce. They described the network of property owned by the SES and its branches around the world, and identified various senior figures. They also said the SES was "penetrating the corridors of power" with particular links to the Liberal Party, whose then chairman, Roger Pincham, was an SES member.[51] That allegation was replied to by Pincham in a section of the book, and challenged by journalist William Shaw in his 1994 book Spying in Guru Land: Inside Britain's Cults for which his research included attending its course for several terms and interviewing former members. He suggested "the more obvious conclusion" that members might be "in the cult simply because they shared the elitist upper-middle-class professional values that the school espoused". Characterising Leon MacLaren as authoritarian, he described a "regime of holy servitude - part Gurdjieffian discipline, part oriental mysticism, part Christian mysticism, part social snobbery".[21]

In 2004, an internet message board was set up to discuss the SES, where former members gave testimonials of "terrible" experiences;[52] many former St. James pupils shared reminiscences about how as children they were mistreated, unreasonably punished and assaulted.[3] In 2005, following complaints from former St James Schools pupils, the Governors of the St James Schools initiated an inquiry into the allegations, which was publicized by Channel 4 News in 2006.[53][54] The investigation found that during the 1975 to 1985 time period children had been criminally assaulted while attending the schools.[12] The actress Clara Salaman has published a novel[55] which according to The Guardian is "based on her own experiences growing up at the secretive St James School of The School Of Economic Science".[56] In a 2009 interview, Salaman said her parents were members of a "spiritual society that demanded an extraordinary amount from its members. Commitment had to be absolute. The organisation came first in its members' lives. The then leader ruled with fear. If questions were asked, the challenger was shunned."[57] In Search of Truth : The Story of the School of Economic Science, a history of the School written by a member was published in 2010. It included details of the economic and philosophical thought, and examination of positive and negative aspects of the organisation.[58] A 2011 article in The New York Observer said the SES persecuted women and imposed severe dietary restrictions on its students.[12] In May 2012, the author Laura Wilson said her SES childhood had left "terrible emotional scars" and that in the organization "there was zero tolerance of homosexuality, and an underlying feeling that disabled or disadvantaged people had done something to deserve their plight."[52] Some scholars have characterized the organization as a new religious movement.[10]

According to the SES's 2013 website its critics "greatly misrepresent the aims and activities of the School, but they have alerted it to the need to provide more information about the way its courses and associated activities progress."[59] Notable members include former Liberal Party chairman Roger Pincham,[30] M&C Saatchi chairman Jeremy Sinclair[60] and actor Hugh Jackman.[61]


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b
  3. ^ a b
  4. ^
  5. ^ Dorine Tolley (2009). The Power Within: Leon MacLaren, A Memoir of His Life and Work. ISBN 1-4392-1030-6.  p216-219.
  6. ^ Kaminer, Ariel (2010-01-17). "Taste. Smell. Ahhhh, Wisdom". The New York Times. 
  7. ^ Richard King, Orientalism and Religion, Routledge, 1999, page 135-6.
  8. ^
  9. ^ a b c d
  10. ^ a b Colin Slee, "New Religious Movements and the Churches", in Bryan R. Wilson, Jamie Cresswell (eds), New Religious Movements: Challenge and Response, Routledge (1999), page 170; George D. Chryssides, Exploring New Religions, Continuum International Publishing (1999), page 374.
  11. ^ "The cult that stole my childhood: She grew up in an outwardly normal suburban home. But behind closed doors, Laura's life was ruled by a tyrannical guru". Daily Mail (London). 
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Poster Children of New York’s Happiness Academy – The School Of Practical Philosophy". Observer. Retrieved 2013-12-15. 
  13. ^
  14. ^ a b
  15. ^
  16. ^ Land and Liberty, Henry George Foundation of Great Britain, 1933 p 231; 1935 p89; 1936 p94, 1937 p97.
  17. ^ Land and Liberty, 1936 p129, p161, p164.
  18. ^ John Stewart (2009). Standing for Justice. BookSurge Publishing. ISBN 0-85683-194-8.  page 65
  19. ^ Dorine Tolley (2009). The Power Within: Leon MacLaren, A Memoir of His Life and Work. ISBN 1-4392-1030-6. p52, p68.
  20. ^ George D. Chryssides, Exploring New Religions, Continuum International Publishing (1999), page 374.
  21. ^ a b William Shaw (1994). Spying in Guru Land: Inside Britain's Cults. Fourth Estate. ISBN 1-85702-152-5. 
  22. ^ Deborah Medenbach (2008-08-31). ""Practical Philosophy puts thinking to the test of daily use" - Times Herald-Record". Retrieved 2013-11-15. 
  23. ^ "New York State Certification". Retrieved 2013-11-15. 
  24. ^ "The Manhattan family guide to private schools" - Google Books. Retrieved 2013-11-15. 
  25. ^ Meghan E. Murphy (2009-12-31). ""Loss of 18th-century home to blaze revives road dispute" - Times Herald-Record". Retrieved 2013-11-15. 
  26. ^ "Art in Action - Press Release January 2012" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-10-15. 
  27. ^
  28. ^ a b "". Retrieved 2013-11-15. 
  29. ^ "Initial Concept : Architecture" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-10-15. 
  30. ^ a b c d e
  31. ^ John Stewart (2009). Standing for Justice. BookSurge Publishing. ISBN 0-85683-194-8.  p. 67
  32. ^ Dorine Tolley (2009). The Power Within: Leon MacLaren, A Memoir of His Life and Work. ISBN 1-4392-1030-6.  p. 76-77.
  33. ^ "Home". The Study Society. Retrieved 2013-11-15. 
  34. ^ Coalition for Economic Justice
  35. ^ Economics Discussion Forum
  36. ^ Economic Monitor
  37. ^ The Letters of Marsilio Ficino. vol. 1. Shepheard-Walwyn Publishers, 1975. ISBN 0-85683-010-0
  38. ^ The Letters of Marsilio Ficino, vol. 2. Shepheard-Walwyn Publishers, 1978. ISBN 0-85683-036-4
  39. ^ The Letters of Marsilio Ficino, vol. 3. Shepheard-Walwyn Publishers, 1981. ISBN 0-85683-045-3
  40. ^ The Letters of Marsilio Ficino, vol. 4. Shepheard-Walwyn Publishers, 1988. ISBN 0-85683-070-4
  41. ^ The Letters of Marsilio Ficino, vol. 5. Shepheard-Walwyn Publishers, 1999. ISBN 0-85683-129-8
  42. ^ The Letters of Marsilio Ficino, vol. 6. Shepheard-Walwyn Publishers, 1999. ISBN 0-85683-167-0
  43. ^ The Letters of Marsilio Ficino, vol. 7. Shepheard-Walwyn Publishers, 2003 ISBN 0-85683-192-1
  44. ^ The Letters of Marsilio Ficino, vol. 8. Shepheard-Walwyn Publishers, 2010. ISBN 0-85683-242-1
  45. ^ The Letters of Marsilio Ficino, vol. 9. Shepheard-Walwyn Publishers, 2013. ISBN 978-0-85683-289-5
  46. ^ "Financial summary". Register of Charities. Charity Commission. Retrieved 22 January 2012. 
  47. ^ "School of Economic Science". Retrieved 2013-11-15. 
  48. ^ "Waterperry House | School of Economic Science". Retrieved 2013-11-15. 
  49. ^ "Nanpantan Hall | School of Economic Science". Retrieved 2013-11-15. 
  50. ^ Brinscall HallPractical Philosophy | Practical Philosophy[dead link]
  51. ^ Peter Hounam, Andrew Hogg, Secret Cult, ISBN 0-85648-837-2, Lion Publishing 1984.
  52. ^ a b Kathryn Knight (2012-05-24). "The cult that stole my childhood: She grew up in an outwardly normal suburban home. But behind closed doors, Laura's life was ruled by a tyrannical guru who banned all trappings of modern life". London: Retrieved 2013-11-15. 
  53. ^
  54. ^ "Inquiry Report". Retrieved 2013-11-15. 
  55. ^ Clara Salaman, Shame on You, Penguin Books, 2009, ISBN 978-0-14-104126-1
  56. ^ "Shame On You - Clara Salaman". Guardian bookshop. 2009-08-06. Retrieved 2013-11-15. 
  57. ^
  58. ^ Brian Hodgkinson (2010). In Search of Truth: The Story of the School of Economic Science. Shepheard-Walwyn Publishing. ISBN 978-0-85683-276-5. 
  59. ^ "School of Economic Science". Retrieved 2013-11-15. 
  60. ^ " coming soon!". Retrieved 2013-10-15. 
  61. ^ "Hugh Jackman". GQ. 2010-11-28. Retrieved 2013-10-15. 

External links[edit]

Sites associated with SES[edit]

Other sites[edit]