Observations from Winthrop Island,
Formerly of Massachusetts Bay Colony

Juxtaposing the lives of two remarkable women — Anne Marbury Hutchinson (1591-1643) and Miriam E. Brailey (1900-1976) — this essay provides an allegorical perspective for critiquing dictatorships and examining self-corrective processes in individuals and societies. See The Cybernetics of Society.

Copyright 1992 © Barnabas D. Johnson

2014 Introductory Note

This essay was written in 1992 for the “Keep in Touch” (KIT) Newsletter, at that time a publication of the former Peregrine Foundation. KIT and Peregrine focused on understanding high-demand religious sects, especially the Bruderhof. I have since written extensively about the Bruderhof’s dysfunctional system of governance, focusing especially on its lack of free inquiry and expression and its resulting lack of leadership accountability. See my 2004 essay, The Bruderhof’s “First Law of Sannerz”.

This 1992 essay was my first foray into explicating Bruderhof history and practice, and is here republished at the request of ex-Bruderhofers. Growing up in this “intentional community” (I was expelled at age 14) sparked my devotion to Open Society values and institutions, and hence my work on comparative constitutional law and “integrative jurisprudence” rooted in cybernetic theory. That is the focus of this Jurlandia website, which started in 1998 as a pedagogical tool for illuminating the Rule of Law for change-agents in new democracies, especially my students at the American University of Armenia’s Department of Law.


Unfortunately, the 1992 publication’s hard-copy version introduced numerous typographical errors for example, all dashes mysteriously disappeared and subsequently-scanned electronic versions thereof added further errors, such as “and” becoming “arid”; the resulting “copies” were an embarrassing mess, and unauthorized. I now republish this essay, as corrected. I also introduce minor changes, including providing Notes (essentially hotlinked explanatory endnotes) that should make this essay more accessible to those who did not grow up in the Bruderhof.

Accordingly, this 2008 version is the only one that I authorize to be copied. All other versions should be destroyed. This 2008 Note should accompany any copy or republication of this essay. See Copyright Notice.



I recently read a superb novel, Witnesses, by Marcy Moran Heidish (Houghton Mifflin, 1980). It is based on the life of Anne Marbury Hutchinson, “a brilliant and kindly woman” (according to a standard encyclopedia) who, with her husband and large family, emigrated to New England in 1634 to escape persecution by the official Church of (Old) England. They settled in Boston, their City on a Hill, which was just four years old and about the size of our Primavera Bruderhof in Paraguay.

Within three years, Anne Hutchinson found herself on the wrong side of a nasty political struggle dressed up as a spiritual dispute over the relative importance of “faith” and “works” in which the colony’s leaders whipped up a frenzy of doctrinal charges against her. Hutchinson’s main accuser was John Winthrop, the “Puritan Moses” for whom this island across Boston Bay was named. These accusations resulted in her persecution, two trials, and eventual banishment in 1638. She died in 1643, at the age of 52, after she and her followers founded a haven of religious tolerance in what is now Rhode Island.

Half a century later, Massachusetts honored her memory with a new Charter, an important global stepping-stone towards separation of church and state, freedom of inquiry and expression, and constitutional democracy generally that is, government under law in which majority and coalition rule is balanced by minority and individual rights. Ironically, the results of promulgating and adopting this Charter were initially rather upsetting, and included the 1692 Salem witch trials. Progress comes slowly and with many backward glances, seers say. As any student of utopianism knows, such backward glances can be especially enlightening on the subject of zealotry.

My wife, Lowry Wyman, who is also a lawyer and whose ancestors built one of the two oldest houses still standing in Massachusetts, read Witnesses right after reading Roger Allain’s superb book about the Bruderhof, The Community That Failed. She was struck by the many similarities between early Boston and the Bruderhof. I was struck by those similarities, too. Yet I was struck, even more, by the differences. Of course, everything is similar to and different from everything else; even the seeming opposites of everythingness and nothingness are similar in that they are human concepts, mental constructs. Intelligence, balanced judgment, the very quintessence of being human, requires sifting among similarities and differences to find significance differences that “make a difference” and similarities that likewise “make a difference” within each particular context. Nothing makes sense without context. Context-consciousness forms the foundation of self-knowledge, self-governance, and prudent progress towards a better world. Everything is defined and given meaning by the things it touches, by the “stuff” it is rooted in, by the surrounding air and essence it breathes.

And here, I think, is the key: Far more than early Boston, the Bruderhof sought to cut itself adrift from “worldly connections”; it scorned, and now scorns ever more stridently, the stuff of balance, of common sense, and hence of evolving global common law. Its early years in the incompetent Weimar Republic and despotic Third Reich led the Bruderhof to reject “the state” and, indeed, “the world” as a context of its own, and its members’, self-government and self-improvement. Its initial association and eventual amalgamation with the Hutterites reinforced this rejection. Now its “disorientation” has reached dangerous dimensions: the current crisis among the Hutterian “Leut” is more ominous than quaint, as Woodcrest’s 8/22/92 appeal on behalf of Jake Kleinsasser Vetter from Crystal Spring amply reveals. See Note on Hutterite-Bruderhof Relationship.

In contrast to the Bruderhof, early Boston managed to keep its head more-or-less firmly positioned between the “shoulders” of worldly wisdom and common sense. Although a theocracy, the Massachusetts Bay Colony was chartered as an appendage of England, “a government not of men but of laws” (and all that this powerful and still-evolving concept meant); “the ancient rights of Englishmen” were not irrelevant; when all else failed, Magna Carta held. In 1692, when Salem went mad, England had to reach across the Atlantic and shake Massachusetts by the scruff of its neck to ensure that Due Process of Law would hold, that “spectral evidence” would be ruled inadmissible, and that sanity would be restored. Massachusetts had to be saved, not from witches but from itself. Context had to be “inserted from the outside” (where else?). Thus was balance reestablished and life renewed.

Unlike Massachusetts Bay Colony, the Bruderhof was explicitly founded as a church, “The Church” as we saw things The One and Only Answer, the Torch of God radiating forth into every dismal hill and drear valley of Mankind’s Ice Age. Remember? “Be not conformed to this world”! We were the Inner Circle, good; all else was the Outside World, bad. Unlike Boston’s beacon, our pure light was sufficient unto itself, separate from all earthly guidance, oblivious to all worldly governance, a contemptuous little David confronting an ugly global Goliath. Re­member? We were the Chosen People. That was our special (albeit historically unexceptional, boorishly typical) blessing, and therefore curse.

We were the Gemeinde.

This essay is not intended to insult anyone. I must therefore reiterate my previous submissions to the KIT Newsletter: I treasure my Bruderhof childhood, I honor my parents’ generation, and I love many dear Bruderhof friends, whether “on the bus” or off. On or off the Hof, we belong to each other, and always will. Yet now I must move beyond those expressions, not to reject but to add. I want to go further, to address larger issues, deeper lessons, for their own sake … even if they will not lead to Bruderhof transformation. On a simple human level, I would like to help the Bruderhof reform, improve, stop hurting members and children; but that is not my focus here; rather, my focus is understanding not of the Bruderhof so much as of what it lacks: constitutional democracy, the rudiments of Ordered Liberty and, thus, of what democracy, properly understood, points towards, indeed ordains, namely, conscious coevolution, participatory divinity. Context. The finger points to a finger pointing beyond.

To most Bruderhof members, the larger processes of governance and of civil society generally, resting on a rich “associational life” of complementary and even contradictory ideas and sub-systems have been seen as fundamentally worthless, even evil.

I grant that there is biblical authority undergirding this grim assessment of worldly governance: The Kingdom is to be built on uncompromising love, not “compromised” law, and therefore “The Church” must stand foursquare upon the rock of Unity in Truth. It must not slide forlorn down the razor-blade of pragmatic global circumstance.

The Gemeinde (so we were taught) is a dictatorship obeying Divine Commands, not a democracy accommodating complementary wisdoms. But wait: Biblical authority, by its own terms to wit, the Second Commandment, correctly apprehended (without which the First lacks context and cannot be adequately comprehended) points us beyond all graven images and reified metaphors, points to a finger that itself points to an evolving picture of a divinity still busily writing the Book of Life, still avidly brewing the nectar of omniscience, still greedily composing the precious record of accumulated and systematized global experience. Thousands of years of evolving worldly wisdom are not theologically irrelevant, although from a cosmic standpoint our galactic neighborhood is a mere babe in arms.

Whether other biblical passages provide a basis for finding a more balanced approach to love’s commandments as I think they do the fact is that the Book of Life has highest theological provenance. According to Aquinas and others, contradictions between “received wisdom” (the Bible, the Patristic Tradition) and “philosophy” (the sum total of human wisdom, the Book of Life) must be resolved through reconsideration of both … and reinterpretation, as necessary, of either … because (as they say) God can do anything except work an absurdity.

Even divinity must obey the Logos, the divine law that Nomos, human law, seeks to elaborate. Of course, as Thomas More observed, “divine lunacy” can be a powerful teacher: More’s explorer, who brought news of Utopia, was named Raphael Hythloday, a fantastic trilingual pun arguably meaning “the message that God heals through the nonsense of God.” The entire edifice of Zen is based on paradox, tantalizing loose ends, the plight of a chameleon in a mirrored box seeking endlessly to blend into an evolving environment reflecting its own decomposing and therefore recomposing image. And the Trinity, properly conceived, was no less divided, punished, triangulated, and humored: Whereas Yahweh could not work an absurdity, every childish emanation of divinity, aping a musing jungle of Cheshire cats, did and always must. Praise the Lord and pass the ham!

Be that as it may (for bad religion was never saved by good theology, while the best theology long ago revealed the seemless dimensions of its seamless tapestry), I respectfully submit that thousands of years of human experience to which I add the Bruderhof’s travail cautions us not to underestimate the dangers of either love or law unbalanced by the other. They should be dialectical, in constant conversation, each setting the parameters of the other’s questions … and therefore answers. Isolated biblical passages, uncontextualized by other passages and by the larger wisdoms of life’s unending experimentation, have been the undoing of many a person, group, religion, or nation. Unbalanced love is sometimes indistinguishable from hatred, and unbalanced law usually leads to tyranny. And zealotry, whether religious or juridical, is neither new nor dead. As we ought to know, Unity in Truth is often the high road to bedlam.

As we ought to have learned, it was recorded that Jesus freed a madman from affliction by evil spirits; at their request, the spirits then winged their way into a herd of swine rooting in a field above the Sea of Galilee; the herd thereupon dashed off together towards a cliff … and destruction in the rocky shallows below. Although not recorded at that time, I have it on the best authority that as the pigs were galloping mindlessly towards their collective salvation, one leaned over and yelled exuberantly into another’s ear: “Wherefore burn poor and lonely? Remember, the most important thing is togetherness!” According to the Book of Life, unity in a foolish enterprise and cooperation for an evil cause are bad; we call them “stampedes” and “conspiracies; likewise, conflict and competition can be good; context, as always, is the key.

But context was too often irrelevant in the Bruderhof. Forgive me, Christoph, old chap, but I must say this: context-consciousness was not your father’s strong suit. Although, as a general rule, we should not speak ill of the dead, the health of our own remaining lives … and those of our children and grandchildren … counsels candor gentle if possible, thundering as necessary. See Note on Christoph.

I think all our parents, to varying degrees, lost sight of context too often; it was a collective blind-spot, part of their religion; they were so preoccupied with doing what was right that they often lost sight of what was good. And at some point, also, we have to let not only accolades but also cow-chips fall where they must: at Eberhard’s feet. He was a fine man, perhaps a great man, but he was only a human, and he made serious mistakes. As I will suggest, the First Law in Sannerz was very foolish (or, perhaps, cynical); in time, it dissolved truth and coherence in an echo chamber of warped mirrors; we became unglued from reality, disconnected from the Book of Life. Even so, we made good music, life was often very sweet, and we should not be ashamed of honoring our mums and dads; for all their weaknesses, even perhaps because of them, they merit our love and respect. They experimented. It took guts. They asked, “What if we seek only the Kingdom of Love?” And, laughing through our psaltered tears, we now answer.

That, too, takes guts. KIT is part of our answer. This essay is part of my contribution thereto. Forgive me if, through clumsiness, I fail to find the right words, phrases, inflections; think of the thunder as but the purring of a Paraguayan jungle of Cheshire cats.

Put simply, the Bruderhof, at the persistent urging of Heini and others who garnered support from zealous new American members, sought increasingly to remove the keel of our already-stateless ship of foozles from the ocean of “the world” entirely. By 1961, they had succeeded. Noble idealism or crashing idiocy, this enterprise reminds me of a Wheathill song: “Far and few, far and few, are the lands where the Jumblies live; their heads are green and their hands are blue, and they went to sea in a sieve.” (The Jumblies, by Edward Lear.) These zealots spat upon the legacy of human experience regarding the fundamentals of civil society, including most notably Due Process of Law: fundamental fairness based not on “individual dispensation” (as nice as that might be when granted) but, rather, on “institutional norms” (as necessary as those are when “niceness” is withheld). If humans were always nice and fair, etc., we would not need Due Process and Constitutional Democracy; but as Bruderhof history shows “love” can get ugly when unbalanced by the larger requirements of common sense.

Our parents’ generation asked, “What if we seek only the Kingdom of Love?” And, looking back, we answer (as, being Bruderhof children, we must) with songs: With song and music we went on, and still do, absorbing one Bruderhof crisis after another. Benjamin Zablocki’s central thesis in his superb book, The Joyful Community (1971), was brilliant in depicting how joy fed crisis, crisis fed joy.

Our parents’ generation of members were explorers, pioneers, always “pressing the envelope” and defying the context of “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” (as Thomas Jefferson put it in the American Declaration of Independence). In the name of love or, rather, their inadequate conception of what love requires these implausible dreamers sought to found a Quixotic Kingdom, bereft of ordinary civic wisdom, bereft of adequate administrative constraints, and bereft of two millenniums of evolving “justice balanced by mercy” … and all that this implies.

Worse, their Kingdom was bereft of its own (genuine) history, including (a) the inconvenient fact of that first 1920-25 crisis, which led to the First Law of Sannerz; (b) the circumstances of the 1936 succession crisis, and (c) the 1941-43 Bedlam, brought on by Heini’s psychosis, which led inexorably to that 1961 Great Crisis. And, worst of all, after surveying the wreckage they had wrought by 1965, those remaining Jumblies bragged about it, called it “cleansing” and “rekindling” and rubbing holy salt into gaping wounds cast aspersions upon the bona fides of the pre-1961 Bruderhof: its baptisms and its very existence between Eberhard’s death in 1935 and Heini’s coronation following the Great Victory of 1961. Not only did they ignore their true history, they promulgated a succession of new histories that are as ludicrous as they are defamatory. See Note on Bruderhof History.

For almost three decades following 1961, official Bruderhof histories completely omitted even hints at the existence of Wheathill, let alone its role in founding that new City on a Hill, Woodcrest. I saw several such purported histories during those decades, and questioned members about them, and was met with blank stares. Now that Wheathill’s existence has again been acknowledged, albeit somewhat half-heartedly, those who once offered blank stares are free to admit that earlier “re-writings” were wrong. They apologize, of course, accepting personal blame (even if they were excluded during the 1960s and are therefore personally blameless). But they do not accept the kind of institutional responsibility that would unravel this error-mongering hagiography once and for all. The very idea of “societal accountability” is dreadfully dangerous to them. And they will not permit even a hint of criticism against Our Beloved Heini for all that actually transpired.

In the normal world, we call that a cult of personality a very unhealthy, albeit fairly typical, social malady.

Some day the Bruderhof will have to reassess Heini’s role.

Unfortunately, service to The One Truth invariably requires all manner of petty obfuscations, outright lies, and flagrant insults. In the case of the Bruderhof, this especially hurts those inside including children who must grow up despising their ex-member uncles, aunts, grandparents, etc., while never having had the benefit of lessons that might have been learned from honest appraisals of the past.

A society that distorts its past in order to survive has dubious prospects. The Bruderhof recognized this, to some extent, when it recently “rehabilitated” Wheathill, but this rehabilitation only reinforces larger lies. Overall, the Revised One Truth is even more in-your-face confrontational, as demonstrated by the successive editions of Torches Rekindled. Actionable misrepresentations libels under common law were identified by KIT-folks following publication of the first edition, yet were repeated and even magnified in the second edition. As I have often stated, I have no interest in fomenting a lawsuit; that poultice should be avoided whenever possible; the best disinfectant against lies and libels is sunshine, open air, honest communication. But if the boil must be lanced, if the wounds of previous tortures must be reopened, then that poultice might become necessary. The Bruderhof is not above the law. See Note on Subsequent Events.


Over the years, Bruderhof libels against Dr. Cyril Davies have not been withdrawn, despite the requests of those who honor his competent and unstinting service in Primavera. With scant resources, and under primitive conditions, this exemplary human did his very best for us and the native Paraguayans.

My first memories are of struggling for life in the Primavera hospital. Cyril and the other staff saved countless nether regions, large and small, from the jungle’s fevered clutches. So, when I read accusations two years ago that Cyril deliberately harmed Heini, I asked the Bruderhof to set the record straight. Specifically, I asked Christoph to encourage Dr. Milton Zimmerman to publish in the KIT Newsletter what he had told me in 1973: that some of the drugs used to treat Heini in 1941-43 had potential side-effects that were not well known and probably caused an allergic reaction contributing to Heini’s psychosis. But Milton insisted to me in 1973 Cyril did not do anything “blameworthy”; specifically, according to Milton, Cyril followed “accepted medical procedures” of that time. Cyril did not poison or otherwise knowingly or recklessly harm Heini. 

Christoph’s response to my request was not well calculated to convince me that he saw anything wrong with defaming Cyril, or anyone. Worse, during the past two years no retraction has been offered.

See Note on Cyril Davies.

Now, I believe that medical records should remain private; but if others, living or dead, are defamed or otherwise abused due to circumstances revealed in or clarified by such records, then the “balance of equities” should tip in favor of sufficient disclosure to bring some modicum of truth and justice. And I am inclined to believe that we have reached this juncture on the issue of Heini’s mental health. In confronting that issue, we can help the Bruderhof assess its history more evenly. To this end I must assert, as I know Milton once categorically asserted, that Heini’s mental instability predated 1941 and persisted decades beyond Cyril’s ministrations. Cyril did not cause Heini’s problems. Whether at some later point (especially the 1970s) “accepted medical procedures” were scrupulously followed, I do not know; I am inclined to believe that the Bruderhof had a tendency to over-medicate ailing members during the past few decades; and I have reason to believe that Heini was over-medicated in Woodcrest. But I do not believe that the Milton I knew and highly respected in New Meadow Run in 1973, and Woodcrest in 1975, would have been any more capable than Cyril of deliberately harming Heini. 

In any event, throughout his life Heini was at least intermittently unstable and occasionally quite deranged. That does not mean that everything he did was wrong or mean-spirited, as I have frequently stated. I happen to believe that Primavera needed to be essentially phased out, although I think a small hof serving the hospital might have merited continued support. But the way Primavera was “phased out” was appalling; the same goes for Wheathill and other hofs.

Worse, following his consolidation of power in 1961, Heini initiated a process of historical distortion which, reflected in “Tortures Reconstituted” (as some call Mow’s Torches Rekindled), sets him upon a pedestal from which as daytime follows darkness he must, and will, be tumbled. Among those distortions, two have received little attention. The time has come to confront them. Again, I do not wish to insult anyone; and I most definitely do not want to re-fight World War II; but the following needs saying:

First, the Bruderhof should acknowledge the crucial role of non-German members in saving German hides following 1936. Second, the Bruderhof needs to end its unremitting smear against so-called “cold-hearted members” who, throughout the decades leading to 1961, confronted outbreaks of feverish lunacy with calls for calmer perspectives, cooler heads, due process, and balance. As John Proctor said to his Salem judges: “Now hell and heaven grapple on our backs, and all our past pretenses be ripped away.”

I have been accused over the years of glossing over the Bruderhof’s failings, of naively glorifying my parents’ generation of community pioneers, etc. Well, as already suggested, I reaffirm what I have previously published; I give honor where it is due; but let me point out that I have also previously published various criticisms of the Bruderhof (albeit sometimes requesting that my name not be used, out of fear for my mother’s wellbeing). Some years ago, for example, this newsletter published (anonymously) an excerpt from a letter I wrote to Ramon regarding Heini’s lack of a “liberal education” (as I termed it) and consequent lack of intellectual balance; now that my mother is beyond harm, I feel I should not only “own up” to having written that but also add to it with this discussion of Heini’s lack of emotional balance. Reaffirming my belief in the value of a liberal education as the best inoculation against zealotry, I want to go further and suggest that something else is needed: inner stability based on external accountability, on inputs from the outside world, on “cybernetic feedback” the sustenance of individual and institutional sanity and governance.

In this connection, I want to add some thoughts on the First Law of Sannerz, which I first criticized in this newsletter (somewhat obliquely) some years ago. Yet note: I shared this criticism with Dwight and Milton in 1973; they suggested that I share it with Heini. I tried to do so during a three-week visit to Woodcrest around Christmas, 1975, but to no avail. I did, however, discuss this issue with Christoph, which is probably why he would not let me near his father. I have tried to share this criticism with others on various hofs since then, but again … to no avail. I therefore feel no constraints against “communicating behind the back of the Bruderhof”; besides, robust debate, free-flowing feedback, and even good old medieval gossip (properly understood), are the life-blood of any healthy society and the death knell for all others. Outlawing them invites insanity. I do not defend “idle gossip” and pointless harping; yet I do question the wisdom of the First Law. It may have had a noble origin, although that is not certain; what is certain, however, is that it has served (and, I understand, still serves) to reduce, rather than increase, cybernetic processes feedback, self-knowledge, self-governance whether in individuals, Servants, hofs, or the entire Bruderhof Movement. See Note on First Law of Sannerz.

The word “gossip” derives from “good sibling”: from Middle English, gossip, gossib, godsib; from Anglo-Saxon, godsibb, meaning a sponsor, a special kind of “relative” (not a godfather or godmother but a godsibling). Thus, a gossip was a “buddy” who, in the traditional medieval village, was specially licensed and indeed required to speak freely about you with your other good old buddy gossips. Such discussions, held behind your back, had the purpose of formulating “feedback” and then sharing it with you, constructively, as needed. Your friends thought about you; so they talked about you; they informed each other about you; and then when and as needed they informed you … singly or together. Or tried. They were not “conspiring against you”; they were cooperating for your edification. So, maybe they thought (and still think, stupid donkey!) that you need taking down a peg or two; then let them discuss it freely among themselves; what are brothers and sisters for?

Informed feedback, the Holy Grail of governance (which, like cybernetics, comes from the Greek verb kubernetes, “to steer”), should focus on whatever friends and neighbors and fellow sojourners of cyberspace think is needed for wise navigation among the rocky shoals of life and circumstance. Context and feedback are closely related; the “self” needs an “environment” to supply the stuff of self-definition and self-governance: info-bits, pernts for piloting, points for pondering.

Consider the origin and architecture of information: Every distinction calls forth, not a duality (as some fools think), but a trinity that which is inside the distinction, that which is outside, plus the distinction itself, which is neither inside nor outside and which, when metaphorically plumbed, bears a striking resemblance to each seer’s allegorical nose. From its start, the Bible focuses not on the origin of matter but on the origin of order: distinctions, similarities, differences, categories, classes of distinctions … information. And the First Distinction calls forth the First Trinity.

Without a healthy “community of information” there can be no healthy community.

Whether Eberhard forbade “good-sibling feedback” in order to insulate himself from further insurrections in Sannerz as some have suggested the fact is that the Bruderhof’s strictures against “talking behind the back” operate, above all, to insulate Servants (our post-Nazi doublespeak for “leaders”) from vitally necessary feedback. A Servant without honest and freely-considered feedback is like a sailboat without a rudder, a government without freedom of speech and press. (President Jefferson said he would rather have a free press without a constitution than a constitution without a free press; that is why the Constitution of the United States has a Bill of Rights whose first article guarantees free inquiry and expression.) If ordinary Bruderhof members cannot safely consult with each other regarding whether a Servant needs their crisp feedback (before things get out of hand), then … well, things will get out of hand. And did. Again and again. And do, to this very day.

As the First Law operates, if members decide to disregard it and to discuss a Servant behind his back before going to him with their criticisms, etc., then the very fact that they did this means that, when they eventually confront the Servant, he can quickly “change the subject” from his own need for this feedback to the fact that the members violated the First Law! Yet if they do not violate the First Law, then each member must either remain silent, festering, or “confront” the Servant singly … and risk being tossed out, one by one, based on the Servant’s “observation” that each is possessed by an evil spirit which is sowing disunity, etc. This creates a Catch-22 situation, an eternal double bind (“damned if you do, damned if you don’t”), and an infernal non-Hythlodian absurdity. It should be thus labeled: Dystopia, hell on earth. The Bruderhof did not invent tyranny; and lessons gleaned from dismantling others’ tyrannies, such as early Boston’s, might therefore be instructive. Might. You be the judge:

Anne Hutchinson was banished for holding meetings and “traducing the ministers” of Boston. In her first trial, she ably attacked not only the absurdity of that claim but also the fundamental injustice of having to defend herself before judges who were also her accusers. Additionally, she argued that free conversation, in private, regarding spiritual matters, is good rather than evil, and should be protected rather than punished. This was a fairly novel idea in those days, especially coming from a mere woman. Although ultimately unsuccessful (the ministers she had “traduced” eventually rid themselves of this meddlesome priestess), she got further with such arguments than she would have in any of the 1960-61 “clearances” on the various hofs. That should give us pause. Similarly, her 1637 appeal for due process as guaranteed by the Magna Carta fundamental fairness based on the synthesis of Greek philosophy, Roman pragmatism, and Judeo-Christian justice balanced by mercy got further than did a similar appeal for fundamental fairness made in Oak Lake by my father, a fifth-generation lawyer. He had objected to the infamous Primavera Cleansing as the details started accumulating; before it was over, he too was cleansed; that was in March, 1961, I believe.

I was not surprised that he was kicked out. I had seen it coming. He had been sent away at least twice in the prior two years, for long reconsiderations. Every time I came home from Friends Boarding School in Ohio, 1958-61, my father seemed to be in some sort of hot water. Dad never said a word about it, but I knew that Heini was trying to destroy him. I thought it started in 1954, but I later dis­covered it started in 1941, maybe earlier. I had overheard Heini berating my parents the night our family arrived in Woodcrest from Wheathill on October 31, 1955; my father had been in the United States during the previous year, helping to found Woodcrest, before returning to Wheathill to arrange our family’s emigration from England to America; apparently my father’s return to Woodcrest immensely displeased Heini; anyway, his Halloween tirade terrified me. I was 12 at the time, and had never before heard an adult berate another adult; the memory of that voice still haunts me. Within ten days, our family was shipped off to Forest River.

During the next two years, I saw mounting evidence of my father’s difficulties with Heini and his new American zealots (some of whom uniquely tortured Dad, for he had sought their membership in 1954). I distinctly remember him observing, at some point, that “new converts tend to be the most zealous, because they need to prove themselves” (or something to that effect); he was trying to help me forgive Doug, as I recall; that was never easy. In any event, by late 1958 I knew deep in my gut that Heini and his minions were mounting a major power play, and that it was not good for my father, Hardi, Hans-Hermann, Balz, Leonard, and all those many others whom Heini had to destroy if he was to prevail. Heini’s tactics included going after these adults by going after their children; even little ones. I do not know how I knew this. But I think that all Bruderhof children developed a sixth sense on these matters; it was a question of survival. Staying out of harm’s way was our job, and in the absence of useful gossip, etc., we had to get very good at picking up and brilliantly processing what signals we could.

Bruderhof children’s antennae were very sensitive. Kept “in the dark” (as it were), we became like blind people acutely aware of every nuanced echo emanating from the “grown-up” world on which we so utterly depended. Have you noticed how your dog keeps track of events at home, how it knows your every move and mood? A dog has to be able to discern the difference between being stumbled over and being kicked; that is its job. Well, we children were no stupider than dogs; our “ignorance” was of a kind that honed our unique powers of perception, cognition, judgment. And I am certain that I was not alone in my gut feeling, around 1959, that Heini possessed by “a special spiritual gift” was poised to lead a venomous stampede. I even got a letter to this effect from a close friend who had recently hit the road. No simpleton, he had thought through more than I had even thought of. He asserted that the Bruderhof was sick; I castigated him for saying so; but I already knew he was right; this was at least a year before the Great Purge. Now, dear Jumblies all, I do not know what Merrill Mow was capable of knowing back then; I suspect that his “Bruderhof antennae were nubs, at best; but I do know what I knew then … and, therefore, know now: Torches Rekindled is hagiographic hokum.

In 1637 and 1692, Boston went mad, became unglued, but only temporarily; in due course, each time, it was “reined in” by the “outside world” that enfolded and contextualized it. Similarly, when Heini went off the deep end in Primavera in 1941, and when Llewellyn became unglued in Wheathill in 1948, the larger “Bruderhof culture” was able to intervene and restore a more-or-less even keel; the center was able to hold; balance was restored; life went on. But when Heini, Woodcrest, Primavera, and the Whole World (as we knew it) convulsed into what cyberneticians call schismogenesis (“runaway” to locomotive buffs), there was no “larger culture” capable of intervening, of serving as a Dutch Uncle and providing feedback although British consular officials in Asuncion apparently tried to inject some minimal sanity in 1961, and possibly succeeded slightly.

Schismogenesis is the focus of Gregory Bateson’s book, Steps to an Ecology of Mind (1969). I gave a copy to Milton in 1973. At the time, in New Meadow Run, he seemed receptive to the possibility that the Bruderhof needed to re-think its governmental processes. He even seemed excited about the prospects of trying. In fact, he urged me to come and join this “battle” for health and sanity. Lawyer and physician, we shared a bottle of wine and talked into the wintry night. That was long ago, but I still recall the outline: Our biosphere is evolving a “noosphere” (as I then called it, following Teilhard) or “memesphere” (as I now prefer to call it, following Dawkins); this accumulated wisdom reflects billions of years of pre-conscious coevolution of our planet’s genes, as well as thousands of years of increasingly-conscious coevolution of its memes that is, its memories, organized experiences, systematized images, and resultant “sciences” of self and universe. These memes include a now-self-consciously-evolving “genetic code” for building and improving civil society; we call this code the Corpus Juris, the stuff of law (properly understood).

Why, I asked Milton, why did the Bruderhof try to live outside that body of wisdom, that Corpus Juris? Why did “love” have to do battle with “law”? Granted, many members had a rather jaundiced view of law and government; to them, it conjured images of Storm Troopers. But the Third Reich was a crashing abomination precisely because it was not a “government under law”; and the antidote for evil governments is not contempt for all governments but, rather, respect for good governance and devotion to the further, finer evolution of (a) our biosphere, (b) its memesphere, and (c) their global constitutional democracy. Why did the Bruderhof make such a mess of self-governance? Why was it so dependent upon a single autocratic leader? Why did a prototype for the Kingdom of God on Earth have to be such a mundane despotism? Why Heini? Why males? Why the First Law in Sannerz? Why?

Milton told me to wear my sword as long as I must (an apt Quakerly allusion), and we parted next morning. In my ears rang his refrain, and Dwight’s: “Go to Woodcrest, talk to Heini!” So I tried. But it was hopeless.

I think that, by sharing this, I have “burned my bridges” with the Bruderhof; it would not accept my sword now, however obsequiously presented. I doubt I will ever be invited to visit again. I wish this were not so, for I have generally enjoyed my visits. There have been many over the years. I ache to think that I might never again see Gladys and Arnold, Alice Humphries, Derek Wardle, Stanley Fletcher, everybody all my beloved childhood friends all my fellow Jumblies. But, pondering Anne Hutchinson, and honoring my father (who died at age 65 in 1979), I feel compelled to strike this blow for freedom and due process, whatever the consequences.

I wrote earlier that Hutchinson’s appeal for due process of law was ultimately unsuccessful. I should amend that. Her statue outside the Massachusetts Capitol on Beacon Hill now gazes heavenward across Boston Common, where her friend Mary Dyer, who later became a Quaker, was hanged in 1660. As a resident of Winthrop, I wonder whether I should start a campaign to change our island-town’s name. But then I think of other, more timely, challenges. And I think of Dr. Miriam Brailey. A brilliant and kindly woman (though no encyclopedia says so), Miriam answered Heini’s 1976 Call to Unity with a simple, honest, Hallelu-nein.

I saw Miriam some weeks earlier when in Woodcrest; the crisis precipitating her heroism was still unfolding. She seemed very sad. This crisis, if I am not mistaken, was the one in which almost all the senior Servants “fell” in order to clear the way for Heini to claim that the Arnoldleut were “fully united” in their decision to rejoin the Hutterites. Maybe I am wrong on this detail. I cannot keep all those crises distinct. Maybe that infamous Big Bust happened in 1975 or 1977. There have been so many crises over the years, and they all seem so pathetically similar.

Yet the present one, 1992, predicted five decades ago, does suggest unusually worrisome portents reminiscent, perhaps, of tumbleweed seeds accompanying the Ukrainian flax brought to South Dakota by you-guessed-it a century ago. Ah, history! [2008 Note: This crisis did indeed result in the realization that the “uniting” with the Hutterites was a calamitous mistake, for both sides. It also decisively ended the prior few years of “warming” between the Bruderhof and its former members. The history of the Bruderhof between 1992 and 2008 is a huge and troubling topic; suffice it to say that the Bruderhof now calls itself Church Communities International, but Christoph remains in indisputable control, although he is no longer called “Elder”.]

Anyway, some damned crisis was going on in late 1975, and Miriam seemed very sad, but also very wise. Knowing what I later learned, I suspect she had some inkling of her trial ahead. But, blind and shriveled in her wheelchair, she already had one foot in heaven (whatever that meant; with Miriam, heaven was no simple matter). So I do not think her sadness was for herself. I think it was for the sickness of the whole Bruderhof Movement. If only Woodcrest had made better use of her wisdom! A senior Servant told me during his visit on December 28, 1975: “The brotherhood is collapsing”; to whom else was he saying this? A revolution was brewing; I got the distinct impression that he wanted me to join the battle; to whom else was he extending this call? He was violating the First Law; I interpreted this as a sign of health; I still do. But the revolution fizzled.

I wish I knew more about that 1975-76 crisis. Not surprisingly, I could not stay to find out. A crowded Witness Brothers’ Meeting sent me packing the next day.


When, in early 1976, Miriam alone refused to accept Heini’s dictatorship, I suspect that she was motivated by love “balanced love” and by her deep concern at its manifest absence in Heini and her brothers and sisters. And she was right. They kicked her out. I am not certain about this; time and the credible testimony of others might prove me wrong; if so, I am sorry if I have done anyone an injustice. But I am persuaded that Miriam knew what she knew, and did what she did, based on professional wisdom, common sense, and tough but selfless love. She had been a prominent physician before joining the Bruderhof in the late 1950s. She was one of the most interesting and powerful personalities on any hof. Now, I do not know how candid Milton was with me in 1973 regarding Heini’s medical history; he seemed astonishingly so; yet I would suspect that he was a lot more candid, over the years, with Miriam; he certainly had every reason indeed, responsibility to be. If he was as smart as I thought him, he consulted her on difficult medical challenges. So, friends, I think Miriam knew the details of Heini’s psychological problems … and she did what she did in 1976 as a consequence.

“Neglected calumny soon expires” said Tacitus. Well, we neglected all manner of calumnies for three decades, until tortured into reluctant action by Merrill’s book. If Xavie provided the inspiration for KIT, then Merrill provided the necessity. I conclude from Milton, from others (both on the hof and off), and from my personal observations that Torches Rekindled does not present a fair, balanced, and “common sense” picture of Bruderhof history, of Heini, and of those whom he sought to destroy in order to gain and keep power. That book had to be answered. KIT is part of the answer. So is Roger’s book. And there will be more as many as are needed. If necessary, we will descend like an ocean upon that incendiary tome. History will deal harshly with Heini; yet it will deal less harshly, I believe, if the Bruderhof begins to accept its responsibility and starts to move a tad closer to acknowledging his hubris. If Christoph or others perpetuate the calumnies against Cyril Davies, Miriam Brailey, and all those who fought against Heini’s madness, then history will have to cast a finer net more widely. It can, and it will.

Some day, I hope, each hof will plant a special garden honoring Miriam’s memory. Impossible, you say? Well, if so, then that would demonstrate another difference between two cities on a hill. But then, Boston was once very small and insular and incapable of conceiving how wrong it had been. Yet it grew to maturity, and the bells of freedom and of attendant responsibility rang ever stronger. Today, notwithstanding this island’s name, Governor Winthrop is a mere footnote to the stories of those whom he persecuted. History is not always written by the winners of mere momentary battles. Remember Anne Marbury Hutchinson.

2008 Afterword

Dr. Miriam E. Brailey, M.D., was apparently the only Bruderhof member who explicitly refused to accept Heini’s continued leadership in the first days of 1976. Although almost blind and confined to a wheelchair, she was excommunicated. She died on April 8, 1976, and was buried in Rosedale Plains Cemetery. Some years later, the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, where she had been the first female member of the Department of Epidemiology and a leading researcher on tuberculosis, became interested in her story. I recall some time in the late 1990s being interviewed by Charlotte Gerczak for an article about Miriam, which was apparently published by Johns Hopkins. At some point thereafter, the University established the Miriam E. Brailey Fund to support post-graduate studies in epidemiology.

I have it on good authority that on June 10, 1998, 22 years after her ignominious death, Miriam’s earthly remains were removed from Rosedale and reburied at the Bruderhof’s cemetery at Woodcrest. I do not know of any other reburial in the Bruderhof’s history.

By republishing my 1992 essay about Miriam, a true hero, I hope I might inspire others to demonstrate her moral courage … and perhaps also, if they know, to tell more of her story.


Note on the Hutterite-Bruderhof Relationship: When this essay was written in 1992, the Bruderhof had again amalgamated with the Hutterites, an ancient communitarian sect of which the Bruderhof became a “new-age” appendage from the early 1930s to the late 1950s and again from the early 1970s to the early 1990s. This relationship was always rocky. I am constrained to add, for the record, that my father, Guy Johnson, visited the Hutterite colonies in North America during 1940 and developed serious reservations about formal Bruderhof linkages with them. He believed that while we Bruderhofers could learn much from the Hutterites we should not “be” Hutterites, as this would harm both them and us. History has amply vindicated these reservations, which contributed to his excommunication from the Bruderhof in early 1961. Shortly after this essay was published, the Bruderhof was again expelled from the Hutterites. Indeed, two of its three branches or “Leut” — the Dariusleut and Lehrerleut were never enthusiastic about the Bruderhof, for many reasons, some good and others not. The Schmiedeleut, and especially their leader, Jakob Kleinsasser, have paid an especially heavy price for allowing the Bruderhof to become formally associated with them. As of 2008, the Schmiedeleut have split several ways over Bruderhof-related disputes (and other disputes). These matters are beyond the scope of this 1992 essay.  (Go back)

Note on “Gemeinde”: The German word “Gemeinde” was a term of art in the Bruderhof, impossible to translate. It denoted “a mind made of many minds” and “a heart made of many hearts” that is perhaps indistinguishable from the concept of the Christian “Church” — the “Body of Christ” or a body of humans “in Christ” governed by divine love, not human law. The concept “Gemeinde” does not allow any distinction between the “spiritual” and “secular” realms, and in that sense echoes the Islamic rejection of all distinctions between church and state. In contrast, I submit that distinguishing and integrating the “secular” and “spiritual” requires dedichotomizing reality, which leads to trichotomizing human understanding and “changing the question” into one which can be usefully answered. That subject is beyond the scope of this 1992 essay. See Mythos, Logos, Nomos: Foundations of the Nomosphere. (Go back)

Note on Christoph: At the time this essay was written in 1992, Christoph Arnold was the undisputed leader (“Elder”) of the Bruderhof, as had been his father, Heini Arnold (since his death in 1982, he has been increasingly referred to as “Heiner” or “Heinrich”). All the Bruderhof’s books about him are sheer hagiography, and “Bruderhof history” remains subject to astonishing swings. As the Soviets used to say, “You can’t predict the past.” Or, “History just isn’t what it used to be!”

Heini essentially fomented the Great Crisis of 1959-61, during which almost all English, Swiss, and Dutch members were expelled — almost half of the entire membership on three continents. All left penniless, many with large families and nothing worth putting on a resume. The two main colonies, Primavera in Paraguay and Wheathill in England, were closed and initially erased from Bruderhof history.

As of 2008, Christoph, who is my contemporary, keeps a firm hand on the tiller but is no longer referred to as “Elder”; he is now the “Senior Pastor” of Church Communities International. See here, especially Footnote 15 and related text. (Go back) 2019 Note: Christoph died in 2017; his son Heinrich appears to hold effective power.

Note on Eberhard: Eberhard Arnold was the founder of the Bruderhof. This history is discussed here. (Go back)

Note on Bruderhof History: When I wrote this essay in 1992, the Bruderhof’s “official history” — Merrill Mow’s Torches Rekindled (1989) — focused on the wonderful “reuniting” with the Hutterites, masterminded (rammed through?) around 1975 by Heini. Now that this “reuniting” has failed so spectacularly, “Tortures Rekindled” (as many ex-Bruderhofers call Mow’s deeply flawed and insulting book) is hard to find, and has been superseded by Peter Mommsen’s book, Homage to a Broken Man (2004). The latter proceeds as if the “reuniting” never happened! This is just the latest example of how the Bruderhof periodically “airbrushes” its history to fit crass political agendas. From personal knowledge I can state with moral certainty that many supposed “facts” related in Mommsen’s book are sheer nonsense, ugly lies. (Go back)

Note on Subsequent Events: As mentioned in the previous Note, Mow’s book has now been replaced by Mommsen’s. As briefly discussed in my 2004 Essay, the Bruderhof sued its critics in 1997, including a $15 million defamation action. Having been closely involved in the defense thereto (which succeeded), I plan eventually to write further on this and related matters. (Go back)

Note on Cyril Davies: Dr. Davies has since died, having suffered terribly from Bruderhof defamations. To the best of my knowledge, the Bruderhof (by whatever name) continues to assert that Cyril Davies knowingly or recklessly “poisoned” Heini during 1941-43. There is a fascinating story here, but it would take much research and medical expertise — plus sheer luck — to do this story justice. (Go back)

Note on First Law of Sannerz: “Servant” or “Servant of the Word” is the term used by the Bruderhof to refer to a top spiritual leader, who is essentially in charge of a hof. This 1992 essay’s discussion of Bruderhof governance and the First Law of Sannerz is carried much further in my 2004 essay thereon, here. (Go back)

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