In my last post I started to look at Mitrinović’s character, but there’s much more to learn about such a compelling, complex man. Perhaps the most revealing document I’ve come across so far when it comes to Mitrinović’s personality and personal relationships is a letter from James Young written in April 1925. Young was a psychoanalyst, who had studied under Jung, and written for The New Age alongside Mitrinović.
The letter seems like an insightful and perhaps brutally honest analysis of Mitrinović’s character. It is also quite revealing of group dynamics in his circle, as Young complains that two group members were policing access to Mitrinović. He voices his worry that Mitrinović would burn out, recalling an incident where he had finally persuaded his friend to take a holiday, only for Mitrinović to use it as an opportunity to teach a young woman philosophy. Young felt she was already reeling under the weight of new ideas, further adding to the inappropriateness of the situation. He saw this incident as an example of Mitrinović’s unhealthy compulsion to teach.
Young was also concerned about, and irritated by, Mitrinović’s habit of forming and dissolving groups focusing on achieving different aims in his project to change the world. In his view, Mitrinović was spreading himself too thin. He would achieve more by concentrating his energies.
Some in his circle interpreted this behaviour as stemming from Mitrinović’s desire to retain his leadership role. By constantly moving the goal-posts, none of the students could surpass the master by becoming more expert than their guru. Others were more sympathetic, believing that Mitrinović kept the group moving on to new things so that they wouldn’t become fixated on one area at the expense of his holistic philosophy. Each new group worked to bring its members new insights, focusing on different subject matter. Others in his circle felt that Mitrinović was continually searching for the right ‘formula’ – a venture that would take off and wouldn’t need input from him, freeing him up for other work.
According to his biographer, Andrew Rigby, Mitrinović felt different audiences needed different messages, and the use of different channels for communicating that message. The constant stream of new ventures and campaigns may also have been part of Mitrinović’s attempt to shake the British public awake, getting them to see that urgent action was needed to avert disaster as the world dealt with the Great Depression, the rise of Hitler and Communist dictatorships.
Clearly Mitrinović’s way of working could frustrate and confuse even his closest friends. Being in his circle could be an intense, emotional experience and feelings could run high. We are fortunate to have this letter and others in the archive that record this atmosphere. They give us a vivid picture of what it was like to be caught up in the world of a charismatic guru in the eventful interwar period.