George Walford: A Correction of Certain Views Put Forward in “Ideologies and Their Functions, a Study in Systematic Ideology”

Ideologies and their Functions was published eight years ago, and since then the theory of systematic ideology has moved forward. A more up-to-date statement of it is being prepared, and the present short account of some of the main changes is intended to help bridge the inevitable gap before this appears.

The book set out to provide a general account of the theory as formerly developed and, in addition, to show that each main function of a modern advanced society requires a particular one of the major ideologies for its effective performance. It associated the protostatic with defence and production, and it is at this point that the main correction is needed.

Merely to substitute one proposition for another, as one changes the wheel on a car, would be alien to the spirit of systematic ideology. This theory takes all volitional activity for its field, including the cognitive efforts of the student of ideology (Zvi Lamm has referred, in this connection, to the principle of parsimony) [1]. The fact, that a serious mistake was made (or at least that there was a failure of perception) and that it was this mistake and not another, is itself an ideological phenomenon requiring explanation.

Ideological development is neither smooth nor easy. At any given stage the person is identified with a certain set of assumptions, and transition from one major ideology to the next is a two-sided process. On the one hand the new assumptions contradict the old, demanding rejection of them. On the other hand it is only, so to speak, while standing on the old assumptions that the new ones can be reached; to abandon the old would be to lose touch with the new. Identification with the new ideology requires both repudiation of the assumptions previously accepted and continuing identification with them, and this intolerable contradiction is resolved by repression. So far as awareness goes the old assumptions (or at least the particular concepts through which they find expression), come to be rejected, although examination will show them to be still present and affecting behaviour. In the course of development repression is applied to one ideology after another until, at the paradynamic stage, this process has been all but completed (thorough-going anarchists oppose existing society in toto). The paradynamic has almost no positive content of its own (anarchists define anarchy negatively, as a society without government, authority or coercion). At this point everything has been repressed except repression itself, and accordingly further development consists in the repression of repression, which is to say the re-acceptance of the repressed material. The first step in this direction is acceptance of the general assumption that all ideologies are of positive value. After that comes the labour of working out all its implications in ever greater detail, facing all the contradictions involved.

The imposition of repression has been a complex and strenuous process; the re-acceptance of the repressed material in its concrete reality is no easier. It proceeds by stages, each stage appearing as the final completion until it has been surpassed. The most deeply-repressed ideology being the primal one, the protostatic, this is the most difficult to re-accept, to recognise and understand, and it is mainly here that Ideologies and their Functions went astray. The functions there ascribed to the protostatic were epistatic ones, the protostatic, as it has since come to be grasped, not being presented at all.

One advance made since the book appeared has been the solution of the chief difficulties in the way of showing¬†each of the principal stages in social development to have been specially associated with a particular one of the major ideologies. There is more to this than can be set out here, but one linkage established is that between the protostatic ideology and the hunter-gatherer communities. The primal ideology was exhibited, to the virtual exclusion of the more developed ones, by the primal human groupings. Had this been recognised when Ideologies and Their Functions was written the error now being corrected would probably not have occurred, for these people clearly did not produce their own means of subsistence or engage in military activity. They lived by collection, not by production (this of course is the reason for the name by which they are known) and although willing enough to fight, as many explorers and pioneers found to their cost, they fought sporadically, and either as individuals or as a crowd; this does not constitute military activity. Strategy, tactics and the use of formed bodies of troops under command were unknown before the Neolithic (which appears together with the epistatic ideology and agriculture), and only with these was the line crossed (it has been called ‘the military horizon’) which marks the beginning of ‘true’ warfare. [2]

With the example of the hunter-gatherers before us it becomes easier to recognise the protostatic in our own society. A substantial number of our people, rich and poor, are inclined to treat their environment (in this case a social rather than a natural one) as a source of supplies to which they may help themselves without going to the effort of production. Were this not so we would have no need for the greater part of the legal system, with its coercive forces and institutions, most of our doors, walls, locks and security systems, or much of the vast apparatus of commercial record-keeping.

The protostatic group is not ideologically inclined towards production, or towards membership of the armed forces either. Willing participation in the military, with its restraint, discipline, and relatively remote connections between, for example, training and action, is restricted to those identified with duty, loyalty and service to the community, and these principles appear only with the epistatic.

Production and military activities both entail forgoing immediate good in the expectation of greater benefit in future. Their proponents typically demand that we should work and fight for the sake of posterity, and such concerns are alien to the protostatic group, which tends to be guided by immediate circumstance rather than “higher” considerations or remote or long-term consequences.

The overall tendency of protostatic behaviour is expedience, and this accounts for something which may appear to contradict what has been said above: the fact that in advanced modern societies practically everybody does take part in production. (Or in one of its ancillary activities, which include distribution, science, education, housework, administration and much else). Were we to think of the protostatic as opposed on principle to production this would be incomprehensible, but when it is seen as the ideology of expedience things fall into place; modern society is so organised that even those ideologically disinclined to do so usually find it expedient, all things considered, to take part in production (etc.) rather than suffer the consequences of not doing so. Similarly with participation in the armed forces; the protostatic does not predispose its adherents towards this but neither does it set them firmly against it; it leaves them free to submit to conscription or to volunteer when that is the expedient course.

The protostatic ideology, then, does not have as its function either production or military action. It is with the next ideology in the series, the epistatic, that there appears an inclination towards these activities (in addition to those ascribed to it in Ideologies and Their Functions).

This leaves the question: What is the function of the protostatic ideology? Having replied wrongly once there is a reluctance to rush in again, but speaking with all due tentativeness the answer seems to be that, unlike all other major ideologies, this one does not have a function in the sense of serving a social purpose. It is rather pre-social, people acting by it tending to seek satisfactions for themselves and their immediate personal connections, paying regard to society only so far as may be expedient. In pursuing their ends they form groups (the communities of the hunter-gatherers, the crowds and “social” gatherings, such as audiences and pleasure-parties, which appear among ourselves) but these, being unstructured, without institutions and often transient, are not societies in the full sense. Only with the emergence of the epistatic ideology do the structures, organisation and institutions that constitute a true society (at that point usually conceived of as a a national unit) come to be valued, and only at that point does recognition of any obligation to society first arise. One form this takes when it does appear is an inclination to take part in social enterprises, such as production and the military.

George Walford, London, February 1987

[footnotes missing in original]

from Ideological Commentary 28, July 1987.