George Walford: A Review and a Reply

This review, by Colin Mills, appeared in the ETHICAL RECORD, journal of the South Place Ethical Society, for March 1987. It is followed here by a reply which appeared in ER for April, both reprinted with the generous permission of the Editor of ER. – GW

An Outline Sketch of Systematic Ideology by George W. Walford, [address]. 10p.

This little booklet seeks to expound the theory of systematic ideology, begun by Harold Walsby. Harold Walsby, who died in 1973, was in his youth a revolutionary socialist, who became frustrated at the lack of progress toward a Social Revolution. He decided to examine how the ideological situation we find came about [1]. Walford mentions the major works in this field [2][3] and claims that nearly all the work published in the 1960s and 1970s derives from Mannheim’s viewpoint [4].

Walsby claimed that ideology influences all our behaviour, and that contrary to the view generally held, the Left is not a working class movement, nor the Right a middle class one. From Walford’s account, it seems that the reason for holding this belief is that because the correlation between the position of one’s ideology on the Left-Right continuum and one’s economic class is not perfect, then it does not exist at all.

Walford draws attention to the imperfections of such a correlation, and admits that socialist thinkers rarely suggest that ideology is entirely or simply determined by economic factors. Walford refers for instance to the electorate being overwhelmingly working class. But it hardly makes sense, for instance, to think of salaried company directors, or board members in nationalised industries, as proletarians, and the development of a class of professional managers was in fact discussed by Marx. The anarchist concept of the division into the boss class and the bossed class, is in fact a fertile one.

Because systematic ideologists do not accept the idea that ideology is correlated with socio-economic class at all, they put forward the view – in my opinion, a circular one, which explains nothing – that political structures which: appear in democratic societies are the expression of an ideological structure. Those who hold ideological assumptions in common are held to be an ideological group. This group is an aggregation of individuals; ideology cannot be related to socio-economic class, profession or other such obvious factors.

Walford discusses the field of ideology, the terms “assumption” and “identification,” and then proceeds to quote Walsby’s definition of ideology: “the complete system of cognitive assumptions and effective identifications which manifest themseves in, or underlie…the behaviour of an individual human being.” Lionel Trilling wrote:

Ideology is not the product of thought; it is the habit or the ritual of showing respect for certain formulas to which, for various reasons having to do with emotional safety, we have very strong ties of whose meaning and consequences in actuality we have no clear understanding. [5]

It seems that ideology is the context in which thought takes place; but it would surely be a rash man who really believed that it could not be influenced by thought.

Systematic ideology agrees that those identified with the same assumptions constitute an ideological group. Their classification of the major ideologies is far too pat to be as useful as they claim, however. Basically, the classification rests on several assumptions – that political ideologies can be renked sequentially on a Left-Right continuum; that the terms Left and Right have precise and generally accepted meanings; and that those meanings correspond broadly to support for and opposition to social change. It should be obvious to any experienced observer of the political scene that these assumptions are at best highly debatable, and at worst snares and delusions.

For instance, the eidostatic ideologies, proceeding from Right to Left are the protostatic, the epistatic and the parastatic, corresponding to fascism, conservatism and liberalism. Liberalism, for instance, can have at least two meanings: one places it to the Right of fascism and conservatism as a Right wing libertarianism, and the other to the Left of both as a moderate or libertarian socialism. Fascism can to some, and on certain issues, be to the Left of the Liberal Party.

Turning to the eidodynamic ideologies, these are, from Right to Left, the protodynamic, the epidynamic, and the paradynamic, corresponding roughly to Labour Socialism, Communism and Anarchism. Communism, or Leninism, to use the more accurate term, can cover viewpoints from well to the Left of the Labour Party to Liberalism. As is well known, the political centre of gravity of the Labour Party is to the Left of that of the Communist Party. Again, anarchism is a term of very variable meaning, covering anarcho-communism, anarcho-syndicalism, egoism, and many other ideologies. Despite the anarchist tag “neither god nor master,” anarchism is indeed a broad church.

Indeed, the assumption that “Left” desires social change, and “Right” opposes it, is untrue. In fact, they all accept it, and often promote it; the point of debate is how and by whom it be controlled. Should it be controlled by, or in the interests of, the middle classes; the “Left” intelligentsia; the working classes? Nor is individualism and collectivism well correlated politically with “Left” and “Right.” They are all, to use Walford’s term, metadynamic. Is systematic ideology not thus shown to be valueless?

1. The Domain of Ideologies, by Harold Walsby, published by William MacLellan, Glasgow, in collaboration with the Social Science Association, 1947.
2. The German Ideology, by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (1845/6), published by Lawrence and Wishart, 1964.
3. Ideology and Utopia, by Karl Mannheim (1929).
4. For instance, Ideology and Politics, by Professor Martin Seliger (1976).
5. “The Meaning of a Literary Idea”, in The Liberal Imagination (1950).

The review by Colin Mills, in ER for March 1987, of my pamphlet An Outline Sketch of Systematic Ideology, is informative, thoughtful, critical and welcome. May I clarify some of the main points on which my meaning seems not to have come through quite clearly? (I economise on your space by assuming readers to have the review at hand so I need not quote from it).

Walsby’s claim (which I support) is that ideology affects all our purposive behaviour but only that; it does not affect, for example, reflex responses, sexual tastes or movements governed by physical, physiological or biological factors, although these constitute much of our behaviour.

The pamphlet points out that the distinction between those who live by working and those who live from their ownership of the means of production does not correspond with the left / right political division. A minority of workers are socialists, communists or anarchists, the majority are not; the same is true of the capitalists, and if a middle class be in question, of that also. Each class shows substantially the same political distribution as the others. To describe this as imperfect correlation between class position and political viewpoint seems hardly adequate.

Recognising the complexities of reality the pamphlet speaks of the right being identified with the static principle, rather than opposed to change, and makes it clear that expression of this entails action, which means making changes; conservative writers commonly advocate such changes as will avert greater ones.

Most political terms can legitimately be used in a variety of ways. If the meaning of a writer or speaker is to be grasped their terms have to be accepted, if only for that occasion, in the sense in which they use them, and my pamphlet makes it clear in what sense terms like right, left, liberalism and so on are being used.

The theory behind the pamphlet holds that the principal political groups are mainly distinguished by their respective ways of thinking; these endure although the things they think about are constantly changing. Imperialists of today will think about quite different things from Julius Caesar, but they think in substantially the same way as he did. Everything changes, but the evidence shows the rate of change of these ways of thought to be so slow as not to offer a useful solution to our difficulties; for practical social purposes they have to be taken as stable. The task therefore is to understand them in order to foresee, and cope with, their probable future effects. I have shown above that they cannot be explained by reference to class divisions, and the explanation offered by systematic ideology is that they are the outcome of an evolutionary development. Beginning with the ways of thinking associated with the right this goes on to produce those of the left. It is distinct from biological evolution but has in common with it the feature that the earlier stages persist as the basis supporting the later ones. The ways of thinking characteristic of the left are no more likely to survive without those used by the right than the animal world without the vegetable kingdom.

Colin Mills ends with the remark that all ideologies are (to use the technical jargon) metadynamic. That is perceptive and, in one sense, true. But it does not follow that therefore systematic ideology is valueless. Each ideology also has features peculiar to itself, and it is what s.i. has to contribute to the study of those that justifies its claim for attention.

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MARGARET Stutley says Nyaya teaching (an Indian system of thought, founded by Gautama) “states that … such things as animals, plants, rivers, monuments, houses, etc., not being dependent on our minds, exist whether or not we know or ‘think them.'” (Hinduism, Wellingborough, Aquarian Press, 1985, p.61)

She does not explain how the Nyaya teachers know things to exist which are neither known nor thought.

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ONLY FOUR years old, and already illiterate!

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TWO SWANS floating on a lake, one saying: “I feel graceful as all hell today.”

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IN IC28, under the title ENGLAND, LAND OF THE FREE – FREE WHAT? we spoke of the identification of the right with economic freedom and political control (and of the converse identifications of the left). John Dunn hits it off in a phrase when he speaks of Mrs. Thatcher’s “relentless will that, wherever plan once was, market should take its place, and that public ownership of all but the means of destruction and repression should give way in every instance, to private…” (TLS 29 May 87)

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OPENING the wrong door, we encountered an exercise bicycle, the Tunturi Professional Model. We have heard of some dismal ways of making a living, but imagine being a professional on the exercise bike!

from Ideological Commentary 29, September 1987.