H. H. Preece: Review of The Domain of Ideologies

In his The Domain of Ideologies, Harold Walsby asserts his subject has never been treated scientifically and there is a desperate need for this. His own “humble endeavour” is a step that way. One wonders what his idea of science is, for it seems strange that he should apologise for giving so much space to quotations. As these are both subject matter and evidence, he could hardly discuss the subject matter without.

The contradictions in the modern world, poverty in the midst of plenty; organised scarcity, subsidised export, search for world markets; the tempo of technological development leading to frustration, risks an uncertainty, and the power for war and destruction; also involves administration by men elected by “undiscriminating and unscientifically-minded masses.” Science is non-political and politics is controversial and unscientific. In a scientific world, science must not “meddle in politics.” Tracing ideology back, through Marx and Engels to Hegel, he is not concerned with relative merits, the rights and wrongs, but with a comparison of right and left, in the economic and political relationships. He sees, in social relationships, ideological layers merging and blending between the two extremes, with psychological and intellectual differences. Carefully selected and marshalled quotations show distinctive characteristics. There are vital differences between fascist and communist ideologies. But there is confusion in the paradoxical considerations involved.

On the one hand we have “economic individualism” in combination with the “political collectivism of democratic majority rule,” and on the other, “economic collectivism” combined with the “political individualism” of a minority rule; in the one case, an emotional appeal to the masses; and in the other, an intellectual appeal to the individual. In view of the characteristically conservative mental attitude of the masses, the psychological aspect of the case is interesting.

Although noticeable in normal conservative utterances, the position is most clearly seen with the Nazis. Here we see, not only renunciation of add denunciation of intellectualism with logical and reason giving place to instinct and intuition; but also with verbal dialectic replaced by shibboleths, slogans, symbols; with action taking the place of words. The emotional mass-appeal takes the place of the intellectual appeal to the individual in the most blatant manner and in complete disregard of the meet ridiculous illogicality.

All this is shown to be in accord with the mob-psychology of Lebon, Freudian psycho-analysis, and Pavlov’s reflexology. The psychology shows that Fascism or Nazism was not imposed upon, but arises from the masses, expressing the herd instinct; the mass hysteria having the same characteristic as that of the lynch mob. The position of leader and followers is reciprocal. There is compensation in the social unification. Just as it is fear that inspires the average man to withdraw from responsibility, so also does it inspire the leader to withdraw from the group, to stand alone. There is no ideological difference, though leader is active and followers are passive. The leader accepts the renounced responsibility.

Not only is the inhibition of the followers reciprocal with the exhibition of the leader, but also, with the Nazis, just as the follower identifies himself with the leader, so is there identification of the leader with the masses. It is this renunciation an acceptance of responsibility that explains the identification of “economic individualism” with the “highly collectivist political modes.” Our author remarks “this curious paradox was well expressed by Goebbels when he said the Nazi regime was more democratic than democracy.”

But ideological development involves ideological separation. Intellectualism is “emancipation from bondage to the group,” from “mass suggestion.” From groups of the mass type range smaller and smaller groups of a more intellectual type. There is ideological difference between individual and masses; though he is unaware of this; there is no identification with mass modes of thought; the individual loses touch with, and understanding of, the masses, Though the individual identifies himself with the masses there is no reciprocation. This explains the combination of “economic collectivism” with “political individualism.”

No party or group, except perhaps the Nazis, ever claimed to act in its own sectional interests, and the individual is aware only of his own way of thinking. What he thinks, should be, ought to be, must be. By projection he reads his own mental attitude into the masses; calling on them to think for themselves while trying to bring them to his way of thinking; failing to see both his own, and their, irrationality. With the habit of critical logic, the Left are always squabbling among themselves; but it is illogical to seek logic in the alogical masses, for there is no evidence of “mass rationality.”

Lack of psychological understanding and the failure of the intellectual appeal, and its defeat in Germany by the Nazi symbol-slogan technique, is well illustrated by quotation from Chakotin’s Rape of the Masses. Chakotin’s suggested adoption of the “senso-propaganda” technique (the three arrows, the clenched fist, the shout of Freedom) was met with the argument “we shall make ourselves ridiculous with all this nonsense”; although it had been successfully demonstrated.

With remarks on the persistence of characteristic modes of mass thinking in Russia, our author says we are warranted in a new scepticism of the scientific intellectual’s assumption of evolution “towards the analytic, objective and independent mode of thought.” And the reader is left to reflect on Herbert Spencer’s progressive integration accompanying evolution from homogeneity to heterogeneity; with a vague suggestion of functions of different ideological groups.

Our author seems to think the second part of the book the more important, but this seems to distract attention from problems and questions put in the first. After dealing with definition of such terms as ideology and assumption, he goes on to consider the function of the nervous system, “the psycho-biological basis,” adding that all this is more than mechanical, physiological, biological, but also ideological; losing sight of cultural, evolutionary, historical, religious, educational, political, economic and other social aspects, world problems seem relegated to the limbo of oblivion.

Roaming into the realm of introspective metaphysics, he considers how we read our thoughts and feelings into a Pavlov dog. The same method is used considering the developing of the individual from from the savage through scientific modes of thought. Leading on to a consideration of identification and repression, frustration and projection, he is lost in a maze of psycho-analytic metaphysics. One wonders what is the practical value of such metaphysical explanations against mass suggestion and irrationality, His contemplation of his own nervous system, thoughts and feeling is somewhat reminiscent of a Yogi contemplating his navel. In his study of psychology he seems not to have heard of rationalisation, nor of escapism. One is left wondering what his idea of science is, particularly social science. – H. H. Preece

This provides us with yet another example of the mechanistic materialist attitude to ideas. One appreciates the reviewer’s attempt to set forth the book s central chain of argument, but to do this within the space of a review leads inevitably to the elimination of important qualifications of meaning, to a certain amount of obscurity, and to over-simplification. One can sympathise with the desire that the second part of the book should give a particularised solution to problems implied in the first part, but unfortunately scientific development does not necessarily take place in accordance with desires. We submit that Walsby’s work is important if it dons nothing more than set out a basis for action for those who are bent on practical political effort: if it only prescribes the broad limits within which action can be effective. It is significant for the student of ideology that the reviewer writes, for example, of “a maze of psycho-analytic metaphysics,” “wonders what is the practical value of such metaphysical explanations” and uses the weapon of ridicule in his Yogi analogy. This emotional repudiation of anything beyond a purely mechanical analysis of ideas is to be regarded as a symptom of the earlier phases of materialism and one can hardly treat it as scientific exposition.

from The Free Thinker, 15 August 1948
reprinted as “The Basis for Action” with reply from Science & Ideology 7, September 1948