George Walford: Bits and Pieces

One collects oddments of ideological interest intending to write them up, but the writing-up doesn’t always get done and they get out of date. Here area few that seemed to be of enough interest in themselves to be worth reproducing:

Motoring: This is from the motoring column in the Observer of 4 Feb 79:

I drove a friend’s four-year-old Hillman Hunter recently. It was a basic specification model and although it went well enough I was soon very aware of how far it had fallen behind the latest cars. It had a single fan speed on the heater, intermittent position for the wipers, no heated rear window and distant wing mirrors instead of the now-standard door mirror. Worst of all, there was just a single stalk on the steering column, so lights and wiper switches were on the dash. And I suppose there will be just as much progress in the next four or five years…

He is not (I think) being satirical; this is what four years’ progress in the design of motorcars now amounts to; some tinkering with gadgets and switches.

Industrial Revolution: We all know about the industrial revolution which really got going in the late 18th century although there an increasing tendency to date its beginnings earlier. Ever wondered what started it? One suggestion:

In the 1590s, the supply of firewood in England became so short that the price of wood rocketed. To conserve what was left, and obtain relief, a little-used source of energy – coal – was substituted. That change led to countless technical innovations that eventually triggered off the industrial revolution. Anyone faint-hearted enough to think we aren’t going to solve our energy problems should consider the great wood shortage of the 1590s. (Reader’s Digest 1979)

The Digest is notoriously optimistic, and the idea that energy problems consist only of a shortage of energy is oversimplification. Another energy problem, and probably worse one, is our misuse of the energy we have. There is reason to believe that an unlimited supply of free, clean energy would be one of the worst disasters that could befall our society.

Political Science? C. M. Woodhouse says, of The Study of Government, by F. F. Ridley, Professor of Political Theory and Institutions at Liverpool University:

The difficulty with F. F. Ridley’s subject, as he recognises with wry humour, is to know where to begin. He is head of the Department of Political Theory and Institutions at Liverpool University. Similar departments at other British universities have half a dozen different titles, and the character of each varies with the incumbent… “the focus of study” (Professor Ridley says) “should be institutional, the method comparative, the purpose practical.” (TLS 23 April 76)

That “should” in the final phrase carries the clear indication that studies in political theory are not always considered as Professor Ridley thinks they should be. Professors of Political Theory are not all in agreement on the focus, the good or the purpose of their studies. So is there a science of politics?

Control: “The impulse to control (which is also the impulse to freedom, since you cannot choose if you do not control) … ” (Marsh in TLS 14 May 76)

Sociology: If sociology is, as sociologists sometimes declare it a study whose method is asking questions, then it will notably produce inaccurate results, since to ask a question is to set up a situation different from the one it was intended to study, which did not include the question.

from Ideological Commentary 10, January 1982.