George Walford: Ideological Notes (50)

AMONG foragers the only economic entity was the separate person (or at most the separate family) and the only political entity the community. The arrangement provided neither economic support nor political freedom.

ONE theme of s.i. is that the eidodynamics, both as groups and as individual people, assert their intellectual individuality while the eidostatics prefer to remain merged in the collectivity:

Historians of the left are relatively candid about how their political inclinations influence their historical writing; some have even embraced the label… of “socialist historian”… No Conservative has yet espoused the label “Conservative historian,” and historians who happen to be Conservatives do not normally dwell upon linkages between their political inclinations and their historical writing. (Harrison B. 1982 Peaceable Kingdom; stability and change in modern Britain Oxford: Clarendon Press, p. 9)

HUMAN beings are not chimpanzees. Of course not. Yet human genes are 99.5% identical with those of chimpanzees so that, genetically, it is much more accurate to say that human beings are chimps than that they are not. And when you add all the chemical and physical features the two species have in common the magnitude of the genetic difference dwindles, by comparison, towards vanishing point. It’s something to bear in mind when thinking about differences between workers and capitalists – or, for that matter, between eidostatics and eidodynamics. (Robert L.Trivers, in the Foreword to Dawkins R. 1976 The Selfish Gene Oxford: OUP)

DEFINITION of a liberal: Someone who can’t take his own side in an argument. (Robert Frost, quoted by Lionel Gossman, Between History & Literature in review by Norman Hampson in TLS 4 January)

In winding up Marxism in the United States Paul Buhle concludes that American radicals must content themselves with their “undying revolutionary faith” and their effort to “keep a light in the window.” Reviewing the book in TLS (14 September 1987), Alan Brinkley comments that the author seems to be expecting radicalism to remain a cultural and intellectual commitment of the academics. “In America, at least, Marxism has reverted to what it was in the beginning; a pursuit confined to the modern equivalent of the British Museum reading-room.” (Buhle, P. 1987 Marxism in the United States; remapping the history of the American left London: Verso)

Marx recognised the ideology of his opponents as something other than a set of conclusions derived from rational study of the evidence, and when they return the compliment Marxism has no way of deflecting it. Other movements, and writers on the subject too, are in the same position. It is characteristic of ideology that those affected may be unconscious of their condition, and this makes it impossible to demonstrate that any viewpoint, system or theory remains untouched, for all who might provide a certificate of purity may themselves be under the influence. Once the concept of ideology has made its entry the only rational course is to assume all thinking to be affected and to enquire into the nature, extent and results of the influence. This raises obvious difficulties, but we are not entitled to reject a conclusion because it carries awkward consequences.

Every ideology tends to produce persistence in a given course of behaviour, and this often leads to complaints of rigidity. Acceptance or rejection of these depends upon the ideology of the commentator, but one general remark may be made: without some stability in volitional behaviour it would hardly be possible for people to live together in complex societies, and such stability is a consequence of ideology. By rendering our intentional actions (within limits) predictable ideology enables us to work together, thereby securing greater satisfactions than could be obtained in isolation.

Rather than ideology being an effect produced by class relations in the Marxist sense, the view of society as divided into classes is better understood as a consequence of ideology. Rather than ideology being a consequence of the psychological constitution of the individual person, the concept of the individual person with a unique psyche is itself an ideological phenomenon, to be accounted for in ideological terms.

Economics, Class, Social Existence, Mode of Production, and the other members of the Marxist pantheon are all names for ways in which people behave according to their ideologies. Determination by actually material “material conditions” – such as a flood – also operates upon society by way of ideology, contraverting some assumptions and encouraging adoption of others.

From the way Marxists (and some economists) sometimes speak of capitalism one would think it worked by itself, with people as its beneficiaries or victims, helpless in either case. But without people capital remains inert – this is, indeed implied in the Marxist insistence on the importance of labour-power. Whether “capital” be taken to mean money, commodities or means of production it is an instrument, one producing different results according to the various ways it comes to be used by groups acting in accordance with their various ideologies.

Il Peccato

Institutional religion seldom stands far removed from the military. Bishops bless the guns and regimental banners decorate the churches. The life of institutional religion, both within and without the Salvation Army, is seen as a war against evil, the church militant being the army of the Lord. Jehovah won his reputation as the Lord of Hosts, and when the bombs come down Christianity reverts towards the Old Testament. Islam comes proudly forward as a warrior religion, and even the Buddhist commitment against taking life does not overcome the connection; Buddhist monks took up arms (admittedly not to any great effect) to resist Younghusband’s Tibetan expedition and Bushido, the warrior cult of Japan, “was a blend of Shinto, Confucianism and Buddhism.”

The priestly function shares with the military high valuation of principle and of the submission / domination relationship; the two activities both express, in their respective fields, the one ideology. (Humphreys C. 1949 Zen Buddhism London: Wm. Heinemann, 88).

In our purposeful behaviour we act towards the world as we assume it to be. Even the simple act of reaching for something implies the assumption that it is where we expect it to be, and everybody who has “trodden on a step that wasn’t there” knows that such assumptions can be false. In dealing with everyday things experience teaches us to adjust our assumptions so that action produces, on the whole, the effects intended, each child rapidly learning that life is more enjoyable without the assumptions that it can safely put its hand into fire, pull a cat’s tail or tumble down steps. These corrections, however, do not bring freedom from assumptions. They introduce others which bring preferable results, but volitional behaviour continues to be governed by the assumptions made.

CONSERVATISM tends to ascribe ideological differences to national characteristics, seeing liberalism as a consequence of the French Revolution and communism as the product of an even nastier place farther to the East.

LENIN got it wrong; the empires have virtually gone, but capitalism is neither dying for lack of markets nor exploding from the pressure of its own internal contradictions. States where it was once repressed and disowned are coming to afford it open recognition.

from Ideological Commentary 50, March 1991.