George Walford: Editorial Notes (15)

Ideological Commentary announces itself as “an independent journal of systematic ideology.” Its circulation and its influence are growing rapidly (there was one addition to the mailing list only this month and hardly any deletions) and new readers may find it helpful to have some general statement of what “systematic ideology” is all about. We do not claim to have achieved a final knowledge of it ourselves, or even of its central principles; the formulation that looked like the ultimate last week needs alteration now, and the general statement given here will be subject to continuous revision.

The theory was created and largely developed by the late Harold Walsby (d.1973). In The Domain of Ideologies, a Study of the Origin,Development and Structure of Ideologies (Wm.McLellan, Glasgow 1947), Walsby interpreted the major features of society, such as philosophy, the arts, religion, medicine, science, economics, education, politics, and the various forms taken by each of them, as the appearance, on the surface of social life, of an underlying structure of sets of assumptions, these sets being the principal ideologies or ideological modes (now “the major ideologies”). As “ideology” is now generally used, both in everyday discussion and by the academics, it means a relatively superficial set of ideas adopted to further the interests or express the values of those who adopt it. Walsby, taking up the term while it was little used, gave it a deeper significance; in his usage, although an ideology does include what is usually understood by the term, its roots lie deeper. The ideas expressed, the values promoted and the interests recognised, are all derived from a small number of broad and general assumptions which influence behaviour the more powerfully because their existence is usually unrecognised. These are the “basic” assumptions, for each ideology they form a set, and these sets develop one out of another. According to the ideology with which a group or a person is identified experience produces a different response.

All human beings enter adult society with the same major ideology, some of them develop to the next, some of those to the next again, and so on, and the outcome is a structure which can be represented as a stepped pyramid, the more highly-developed ideologies toward the peak and the greater numbers of people toward the base.

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IC has a lot to say about the limitations of the ideologies on which it comments, and this may seem to imply a claim to superiority. Not so; the ideology IC is concerned to express also suffers its limitations and they are perhaps the severest of all: it is capable of nothing but studying the other ideologies and relations between them. It cannot, of its own resources, even make the results of its work known; for this it needs language, the product of a different ideology. If relations between this ideology and the others were to be put in a phrase, it might be this: They are incomplete without it, but it is nothing without them.

from Ideological Commentary 15, December 1984.