George Walford: Extract from a Letter
Your response to my letter rather takes me aback; I’m just not accustomed to having the ideas picked up and returned immediately in phrasing that improves on my own efforts. Speaking of those I called non- politicals you say:
Most people, it turns out, favour neither control nor freedom in either intellectual or material matters, except as control or freedom affects their circumstances of the moment. Otherwise they go along with whatever is the status quo. Their ideology does not belong in the spectrum of politico-economic opinions; it is the matrix surrounding the spectrum.
That I accept; in fact I’d like to steal your phrasing (and shall probably do so, when you’re not looking).
The political spectrum comes into being as the result of an evolutionary process; I usually speak of it as arising from the non-political base but will be happy to say instead that it emerges from, or develops within, the non-political matrix. Base or matrix, the non-politicals set the limits within which society can operate; anything they won’t accept is “politically impossible.” They do this unintentionally, by attending to their own affairs.
You say, in effect, that they respond according to their circumstances of the moment. YES. Politics is only one of the fields in which ideology operates, and my general title for what appears in politics as the non-political (group and ideology) is “the expedient”; the term refers to the tendency to respond as seems best at the moment, without reference to longer-term or “higher” considerations. This is the over-riding general tendency of this group, and precisely the feature you have picked on.
They do, however, respond, they are not just passively moved by circumstance, and this shows that they possess an internal structure. People are never featureless, they always have interests, preferences, inclinations, and although these become endlessly complex with development, they originate in the paired facts that each of us begins material life as a separate body appropriating food etc. to its own exclusive purposes but intellectual life as part of a group; children start their thinking by identifying mentally with those around them. Tendencies towards individualism in material-economic life, and towards collectivism in political-intellectual are built in to each of us, and further development, for those who engage in it, consists in first modifying and later reversing them. The non-political or expedient group is still in the first stage, and consequently it is the action that, under the circumstances, best fits with the original tendencies that it finds expedient. These tendencies set the direction of their responses. It is because they stand at one end of the spectrum (in one sense beyond and outside it) and anarchists at the other (they also in one sense beyond and outside the political spectrum) that their responses, for example their easy submission to government, are so different from those of anarchists.
Would you not agree that a theory presenting anarchists as a small group of people who have worked their way through a long and strenuous course of development makes better sense, and agrees better with observation and experience, than one which presents anarchism as a natural inclination which has in some incomprehensible way got suppressed?
With best wishes,
from Ideological Commentary 38, March 1989.