Alan Bula: George Walford Memorial

I am delighted that you are publishing a memorial for George Walford. His unique Ideological Commentary is unforgettable and his efforts to continue Harold Walsby’s thinking deserves a follow-up, particularly as the freelance scholar has become almost an extinct species. Intellectual thinking is all but monopolised by institutions.

Until S.I., politics to me was just the process of deciding who gets what, when and how, as Harold Lasswell had pointed out. After S. I. , it became a human creation which evolved through the centuries as people did.

George Walford brought out his first book, and started his quarterly journal, on ideology at the end of the 1970s. Thus he synchronised the launch of S.I., with its emphasis on the primacy of expediency and conservatism, with the British electorate’s apocalyptic plunge back into such attitudes and behaviour. Still scarcely challenged, the expedient, conservative government is very much with us, saving money and realising all assets, over a year after the author’s death. He may well have sensed the shape of things to come.

Having read the account of the six ideologies of British politics in Walford’s second book, Beyond Politics, I shall never be able to see them all in quite the same flat light I did before. He added something and I enlarged my view accordingly. Any attempt to situate phenomena in a context is interesting. Walford’s was particularly so, yet the only people who took any notice of it seemed to be, as the author must have expected, the communists and anarchists at the theoretical end of the sequence.

The statement of Walford’s ideological picture appears on page 37 of Beyond Politics:

The political structure of the civilised world comprises (to use the British names for movements appearing elsewhere under other titles) the non-politicals, conservatism, liberalism, socialism, communism and anarchism, the movements becoming smaller and less influential as they place greater value upon freedom in political affairs and regulation in economic matters, seek wider and deeper changes, and tend more strongly to accept theory as a guide to action. These relationships cause advanced society, under whatever title it appears, to behave like one of the old clown figures, pointed at the top, rounded and weighted at the bottom; it can be tilted in any direction but persists in returning to a position governed mainly by the mass towards its base.

The extreme socialist and anarchist periodicals in the UK must be among the most hospitable anywhere to divergent ideas. They will usually entertain them if only so they can make replies which further elaborate their own doctrines. This was fortunate for Walford in the last 15 to 20 years of his life as he was able to sound out his ‘ideology of ideologies’ on them. Indeed, apart from them, the indifference to theory is such that nobody would talk or write about the value or correctness of his schematic observations.

Is Walford’s sequence a necessity or is it something that just happens to be so? On page 113 of Beyond Politics, Harold Walsby’s absolute assumption is identified as the start of all ideologies.

From the moment of conception the new human being lives in conditions that perfectly meet its requirements, not needing to eat or even to breathe, having all its wants met before it can feel a need. At one with its surroundings it can have no awareness of any distinction between them and itself, and accordingly suffers no limitation from them. Being in complete identity with its universe it has no option but to assume itself subject to no restraints whatever, unbounded, omnipresent, omnipotent.

Ten pages later, we read:

Ideological development springs from the contradiction between the assumption of omnipotence (equally well seen as the absolute absence of all assumptions) and the limitations experienced as awareness grows of a world outside the self. Given this contradiction, and the intellectual potentialities of the human race, ideology results and moves through a series of stages each of them repressing its predecessor… had the world been different the ideological structure would doubtless be other than it is… I put systematic ideology forward as a theory which extends our understanding of the society we have.

Lastly, on page 109, Walford expands on most people’s disinclination to evolve ideologically:

With each step along the ideological range the analysis of society put forward becomes sharper and the thinking more highly organised; as this happens so numerical support falls off… The flight into theory brings the repudiators of existing society face-to-face with the immediate source of all the frustrations suffered by the eidodynamics (socialists, communists and anarchists): the presence of a massive and enduring majority of eidostatics (non-politicals, conservatives and liberals). Most people experience their society as freedom rather than limitation. They support society against the natural world, do not feel themselves oppressed or exploited by the system, value experience above theory as a guide to action, and show more inclination to oppose substantial changes in the deep structure of society than to favour them. There are no good reasons for expecting this to change.

Walford wrote these words just before a period which would simply gush confirmation of them. His work would have been even more interesting had any of his readers been able to offer an alternative or two to his evolutionary picture of the main ideologies. But maybe ideologies are just too untidy and diverse to allow any more schematising than Walford (following Walsby) so carefully and conscientiously attempted.

September 1995

continue reading George Walford, A Memorial (1998):
Introduction | Notes and Quotes | Trevor Blake | Alan Bula | George Gook | Mary Anne Knukel | Encounter in Autumn by Dr. Zvi Lamm | Seeking George Walford by Paul Minet | Peter Shepherd | John Rowan | George R. Russell, SPGB | Thoughts on Ideological Minimalism by Eric Stockton | Reminiscences of George Walford and the Walsby Society 1976 to 1994 by Adrian Williams | Jack as I Knew Him by Brenda McIntosh | Alison Walford, Sharon Goodyear, Richenda Walford