George Walford: Editorial (62)

‘In organic change, that which changes also abides, and the new is not merely other than the old, but the old transmuted – the same yet not the mere same. Progress in short is always the unity of differentiation and integration.’

This issue of IC centres around a continuing theme of systematic ideology: that in social development early modes of behaviour persist, forming a base which both supports the later ones and imposes conditions upon them.

From their first appearance human beings have lived in ethnic groups, the members of each often quarrelling among themselves while uniting against the outsider. Political theorists have presented this as a condition to be replaced by one better fitting their own preferences. The liberals lost sight of tribal enmities behind national self-determination and the revolutionaries went farther, assuring us that even national divisions were weakening. Whether as a result of a single worldwide economy, or simply as an expression of our common humanity, throwing off the distortions imposed by capitalism, we were about to be absorbed into one universal family. This might have subdivisions (anarchists value independence for small units), but not internal conflict. The awkward fact that most murders occur within families was disregarded.

For a very long time things have seemed to be going that way, small communities being taken up into larger ones until the greater part of the world fell under the influence of one or other of two superpowers. When the USSR had to admit inability to carry on even a cold war it looked as though the age of military power and imposed authority, at least between peoples, had finally ended. We could disband the armies and settle down to the arts of peace.

But the old hostilities had been only repressed, not eliminated. Hidden beneath the political and economic structures that monopolised the attention of intellectuals, condemned and dismissed as prejudice, racism and tribalism, they have persisted, and with the crushing weight of the empires removed they make themselves felt once more. The murderous consequences of independence for India set the pattern, African ex-colonies followed suit, and now the former USSR explodes. Conflicts reappear which undercut political or economic calculation, clashes between groups identified by those sub-rational, near-biological features summed up as ‘ethnic.’ Even in Britain, a political unity for some three centuries, the demand for devolution arises with renewed strength, and the United States no longer aspires to act as a melting-pot, accepting instead the need for a multicultural structure if political unity is to endure.

The early attachments to ethnic groups persist and, on the evidence, are set to continue doing so. Such groups can form combinations, but with each extension the internal links become weaker, needing greater effort to maintain them, and those trying to build units which shall be larger, or organised upon other principles – nations, federations, associations of states or a united world – need to take this into account if their constructions are to prove viable.

Here we have an instance of the principle that a mode of behaviour once established in social practice tends to persist, both imposing conditions which later developments have to meet and providing the foundation on which they rest. Further examples and discussion appear in the following pages.

Difficulties with an upgraded programme have prevented redemption of the promise to make up the shortfall of pages in IC 61; we are already overdue. Shall try again in IC 63.

from Ideological Commentary 62, November 1993.