Julia Stapleton: Review of Beyond Politics

Review by Julia Stapleton from Durham University Journal (July). Reprinted by permission of the Journal and the reviewer. – GW.

The emergence of this book suggests that grand narrative in the human sciences lives on, despite the attempts of postmodernists to sign its death warrant. For Walford contends that ideology forms part of an evolutionary continuum that begins with atoms and ascends though ‘molecules, single cells, multi-cellular creatures, human beings, ideological groups, and the societies they constitute.’ ‘Systematic ideology,’ he believes, can plumb these depths and it thus holds the key to all past and future social development. In this analysis, ideology does indeed go ‘beyond politics.’

Following his mentor Harold Walsby, Walford traces the origins of ideology to primitive social forms where human behaviour is ruled by the ‘Expedient impulse.’ He relates this in turn to the child’s need for constant gratification from the material world but which places limits on the sense of ‘absolute freedom of action’ acquired in the womb. This early encounter with reality is devoid of any theoretical dimension, an important point for Walford since one of his cardinal aims is to underline the futility of ideologies in which theory is a strong element. The Expedient ideology, however, was gradually superseded with the transition to an agricultural society based on relationships of Domination. This all happened ten thousand years ago, and its effect was to invert the tendency towards economic individualism and ‘political-intellectual’ collectivism in expedient societies. When the expansionist excuses of ‘Principled’ societies required limitation, a new idea – that of ‘Precision’ took the helm and inaugurated the era of mass industrial production. Expediency, Principle and Precision constitute what Walford terms the ‘eidostatic’ range of ideologies which he associates with ‘nonpoliticals,’ conservatives, and liberals respectively. Their staticity is born of a propensity to see the natural world rather than society, as the greatest threat to humanity

On the other hand. the ‘eidodynamic’ ideologies further along the series (and history) focus upon the scourge of society. These are the ideologies of ‘Reform,’ ‘Revolution’ and ‘Repudiation’ or, in their more familiar forms, socialism, communism, and anarchism respectively. Walford argues that they are plagued by a lack of support that becomes increasingly evident as the end of the scale is reached. The more remote the ideology is from the anchor of human sympathies in expediency, the more irrelevant and limited it is. Thus anarchists can do little more than engage in theoretical discussion because their purism militates against any practical involvement in society. This exacerbates their unpopularity since theorising goes completely against the grain of the most primitive human instinct.

History, then, for Walford is littered with eidodynamic failures and eidostatic successes. The breakdown of Soviet and East European socialism, together with the triumph of the right in the West, are not the least important shadows under which he has striven to develop ‘systematic ideology.’

One wonders, however, if he had to go to such great speculative lengths to score this point. Certainly, his tidy map of the ideological world has been bought at the price of considerable simplification. In particular, he risks exaggerating the coherence and homogeneity of the ideologies he treats, and he also seriously distorts them. These weaknesses are most apparent in his discussion of liberalism where there seems little to be gained by compressing the ideology into a single principle, let alone that of ‘Precision.’ Liberalism and science have indeed had close histories; but Walford never really integrates this link with the notion of ‘self-limitation’ which he also associates with ‘Precision.’ Actually, his description of ‘Precision’ societies more accurately depicts Fabian socialism than liberalism. This is not surprising given that his key representatives of liberalism – the Utilitarians, Hobson, and Beveridge – were fairly close to the managerialist strain in socialist thought. In societies based on precision, he maintains, ‘the state of its finances and the condition of its people are constantly monitored by the most exact methods that can be devised, its legal, education and other systems undergo constant examination to keep them strictly in line with changing theories… ‘ A very strange notion of ‘self-limitation’ has been deployed here; and the familiar landmarks of liberalism – limited government, tolerance, constitutionalism, rights, individuality and so forth – are lost from sight through an inordinate emphasis on the statist: inclinations of some liberals. Also, surely the era of ‘Precision’ as defined by Walford fuelled the age of imperialist expansion rather than repressed it. This is so because what he means by ‘self-limitation’ really amounts to omnipotence. In short, neither his terms nor his chronology inspire confidence.

Beyond Politics is dense and over-ambitious. It is also somewhat immodest. Thus Walford asserts that all future ideological developments following the advent of ‘systematic ideology’ will be variations on the themes of the major ideologies he has considered. While it may be true that innovation will take this restricted form, the determining influence of ‘systematic ideology’ is not so clear. Walford also overestimates the longevity of ideology: reducing it to primitive impulses obscures both its historical and epistemological specificity. His discussion of ideology in relation to the development of organic and inorganic matter is also unhelpful. One is left with the feeling that the book’s underlying polemic against ‘eidodynamism’ could have been waged to greater effect without being made to carry quite so much excess evolutionary and terminological baggage.

The following letter was sent but did not appear; it is not the Journal’s policy to print letters about reviews.

The July issue of Durham University Journal includes a review, by Julia Stapleton, of my book Beyond Politics; an outline of systematic ideology. No author is going to quarrel with a reviewer who links the book with grand narrative, but may I make one or two near-factual points?

I am said to “assert” that all future ideological development “will” be restricted to within the major ideologies I have considered; in fact I limit myself to saying that the emergence of further major ideologies “seems unlikely” (p. 138). I am criticised for compressing one ideology into a single principle, namely precision; in fact I specify (p. 44) that the names given the major ideologies, Precision one of them, are not intended as definitions but rather as handles by which they may conveniently be picked up. The review says: “his tidy map of the ideological world has been bought at the price of considerable simplification plification.” A map is supposed to present a tidied and simplified picture of is area.

A more serious discrepancy appears between the review’s account of my attitude towards the eidodynamics (appearing in British politics as socialists, communists and anarchists) and what the book does in fact say about them. In the review one of my cardinal aims is to underline their futility, irrelevance and limitedness; for me history is littered with their failures; I carry on an “underlying polemic” against the eidodynamic principle and, for all the review shows, have nothing to say in its favour.

The book says (p. 100) that not until the 19th Century did the eidodynamics come to form enduring parties and movements vements; that hardly allows scope for much littering of history. They put forward (p. 109) a sharper analysis of society, and more highly organised thinking, than anything the eidostatics have to offer. “In the material-economic field the eidostatic provides the driving force and the eidodynamic… the stabilising restraint, while in political-intellectual matters this is reversed” (p. 136). “It may well be due to [the eidodynamics’] efforts, especially since 1945, that we are still here at all… the astonishing success that we have not yet learnt how to handle has come about partly as a result of their efforts” (pp. 135-136).

If there be any underlying polemic in Beyond Politics it is not against the eidodynamic ideologies or their adherents but against the illusion that they by themselves, in separation from the eidostatic static, are capable of establishing a viable society.

Yours etc. George Walford

from Ideological Commentary 54, Winter 1991.

Continue reading Beyond Politics by George Walford (1990):
Preface | Introduction | Politics as Ideology | The British Political Series | The World Political Series | From Politics to Ideology | Ideology Beyond Politics | The Beginnings | From Village to Empire | After The Empires | The Eidodynamic | The Origins of Ideologies | The Evolution of Ideology | Conclusion | Appendices | Notes & References | Select Bibliography | Index | Synopsis