Harold Walsby: The Political Groups

Is there no solution to this paradoxical and catastrophic state of affairs – for which science is partly, if indirectly, responsible? Or is there a way out? In modern times there has been a tendency for this question to form the background of a great deal of political thought and controversy. As this political strife is closely connected with our paradox, with the periodic social upheavals of world war and with socio-economic forces which threaten the possible disruption of civilised society, it may pay us to direct our attention for a while to the ideological aspect of the problem – an aspect which has been rather neglected.

On the whole political opinion is divided on the issues of our paradox as between Right and Left: on the one hand, the extreme Right-wing maintaining the inevitability of the paradox – placing the responsibility for it upon the permanent, incorrigible irrationality and avariciousness of human nature – and, on the other hand, the extreme Left-wing, having a much greater faith in human nature – presuming mankind as a whole capable of rationality – demanding the complete elimination of the paradox by the abolition of its economic basis, i.e., the system of private ownership of the means of social production. Mostly all other opinion falls in between these two extremes.

Let us briefly examine this broadly graded scale of political opinion.

The first thing we note, by observing the relevant evidence of world political history [footnote] and records for the last hundred years or so, up to the present time (roughly the duration of the growth of modern capitalism and political democracy) is that one end of the scale – which we will call the “lower” end – is associated with

(a) that section of opinion which regards economic individualism, private enterprise and initiative in industry, and private ownership of the means of life, as inevitable, necessary or desirable – and which is opposed, either implicitly or explicitly, to the idea of common ownership and its implications;

(b) the vast majority of people.

The necessary corollary of this condition is that the other end of the scale – which we will call the “higher,” end – is associated with

(c) that section of opinion which regards a classless, stateless, social system (based on common ownership and democratic control of social production) as inevitable, necessary or desirable, and which is explicitly opposed to the present system of private ownership;

(d) a small minority of people.

In between these two extremes we have, represented on the scale, various sections of opinion which, broadly speaking, constitute a series of modifications such that

(e) the extreme sections of opinion tend to shade into one another towards the centre of the scale;

(f) the inverse-ratio relationship is preserved generally throughout between “height” in the scale, of any section of opinion, and the numerical support it commands.

We can thus liken our scale, as a first approximation, to a kind of cone or pyramid. Actually it can be more accurately represented by a hyperbolic curve. Here, however, for the sake of simplicity, we can conveniently and graphically represent our scale of opinion by drawing a vertical section through the apex of our supposed cone or pyramid as in Fig. 1. It will appear as a triangle.

Domain of Ideologies Figure One

We have used the terms “economic collectivism” and “economic individualism” in the diagram quite advisedly, in order to distinguish this type from another type of collectivism and individualism, which, we shall presently go on to consider. This other type is indicated by the terms “political collectivism” and “political individualism.”

By placing the extreme Left-wing minority at or near the apex of the triangle we have put them “higher” in the scale of political opinion – in other words, we have implied that they are “Intellectuals.” Likewise, by placing the extreme Right-wing majority near the base of the triangle, we have put them “lower” in the scale; and we shall find it convenient to use the term “masses” – i.e., non-intellectuals – to designate those who occupy the lowest level in the political scale.

In case our use of these two latter terms, “intellectuals” and “masses,” is called into question, let us at once admit that we are using them in rather restricted senses. Yet, as we shall clearly show later on, our use of them in these connections is fully justified. In the first place we must sharply distinguish between “intellect” and “intelligence.” The dictionary and common usage do not make any clear-cut distinction between these two words whereas science must and does. Psychologists have shown that intelligence is largely and predominantly inborn, or inherited, and that it remains fairly constant throughout the major part of a person’s life. Our own work, on the other hand, tends to show that intellect is intimately connected with ideology, that it is, in fact, largely a function of the ideological development of an individual, and that a person’s intellect may change enormously during his or her lifetime.

Environmental influence plays a great part in determining intellect and intellectual growth, whereas this is not the case with intelligence, which can be developed hardly at all and is little influenced by environment and education. While making this sharp distinction between intellect and intelligence it must not be thought that we assume them to have no connection and to be entirely unrelated to one another. Our differentiation between these two terms serves merely to show that our scale of political opinion or beliefs is not a measure of intelligence, and that a great degree of intelligence can be manifested in people who occupy a low level of intellectual development, and contrariwise, a moderate degree of intelligence can be manifested in people who occupy a high level of intellectual development. Thus the term “masses” does not necessarily exclude persons of the greatest intelligence though, for reasons which will become apparent in due course, it may be uncommon for such people to occupy the lowest intellectual level for very long.

What we do suggest, however, is that our scale of political outlooks has a direct and close relationship with the growth of intellect, or rather, with an aspect of intellectual development – and the most important and significant aspect at that, namely: the qualitative development of intellect. To many this will no doubt seem a bold and altogether gratuitous suggestion, incapable of standing up to scrutiny or of bearing any real examination. Nevertheless – and notwithstanding the ideological prejudices that such a suggestion is likely to call forth – it is one of our aims to transform the suggestion and establish it, beyond all reasonable scepticism, as a fact.

The question will most certainly occur as to what we mean by qualitative development of intellect. We use the term in order to distinguish this aspect of intellectual growth from the quantitative aspect of its development. In explanation, it will suffice for present purposes to remind the reader of the distinction, recognised by common thought and everyday language, between “deep” knowledge and “wide” knowledge. The intellect, in other words, develops in two ways: (1) vertically (“deep”) or qualitatively, and (2) horizontally (“wide”) or quantitatively. Most of us, at some time or another, have come across people who seem to have almost encyclopaedic knowledge – that is to say, people who have a great quantity of factual information at their disposal – yet who, despite their very “wide” range of knowledge, have no “deep” insight or understanding into the nature of things, and of the facts with which they are so liberal. Such persons are unable to bring “widely” separated facts and classes of fact into “deep” relation with one another; they are unable to make the “deep” generalisations so necessary for the “highest” development of intellect. Of such people it is often remarked that they have “shallow” minds or that they “know so much but understand so little.”

Conversely, of course, we have that type of person – also to be met with – whose knowledge, whilst “narrow” in scope or extent, is yet “deep” and “highly” generalised. And in between the two extreme types all kinds of combinations, involving every degree of these aspects (of vertical and horizontal development) are theoretically possible in the mental organisation of people. When these concepts become more familiar and determinate we shall be able to see how, quite often, “distinguished” or “brilliant” people, persons of “refinement and culture” or people belonging to the “educated” and “upper” classes are people with no more than a low vertical development of intellect but who have a fair or generous horizontal development plus a fair or large degree of intelligence (which, as we saw, is largely inborn). Thus, such individuals, so far as they concern our scale of opinion – which we suggest is also a scale of qualitative or vertical intellectual growth – belong to the lower levels of the scale, some, possibly, to the lowest: to what we have called the “masses.”

So we see that the use to which we shall put the terms “intellectuals” and “masses” is not quite the same, and should be clearly distinguished from, the more vague and indefinite senses of normal, everyday use.

Especially should we be very clear about this, as the common usage of the terms approximates, somewhat, to our ideological sense. For example, the term “masses,” as ordinarily used frequently means “the lower orders” i.e., the most numerous and poorest section in the economic or social scale. The Concise Oxford Dictionary (1944) gives, under the heading “class,” the following: “the classes, the rich or educated, as opposed to the masses.” Hence a rich person, educated or not, cannot belong to the masses – and an “educated” person, rich or not, also cannot be included. The ideological sense in which we shall use the term does away with this ambiguity and vagueness and gives it a more precise meaning. If we were to make a comparison between our ideological scale of opinion and a similar scale, showing the numbers of people who occupy different levels in the economic or income hierarchy, we should find that, at their bases, both scales would have in common the majority of those who occupy the lowest levels of each, but, as we ascend to the upper levels of both scales We should find this community of membership becoming progressively less until at the topmost levels we should find few or no members at all in common. The two scales would be divergent in this respect.

[Footnote] Despite the fact that the socialist, communist and anarchist theories were formulated and disseminated in their modern forms nearly a century ago by Marx (b. 1818), Engels (b. 1820), Proudhon (b. 1809), Bakunin (b. 1814), Kropotkin (b. 1842) – with older forms of socialism, even earlier, by Saint-Simon (b. 1760) and Fourier (b. 1772) – despite this, in no country anywhere in the world, so far, has there ever been a government (elected on the basis of universal suffrage and free choice of political party – the multi-party system) with a mandate for carrying out the fundamental principles of any of these theories. It would, of course, need a succession of such freely-elected governments to provide incontrovertible evidence that the mass of people can be, with any degree of permanence, identified with economic collectivism. Whitaker’s Almanack (1945) gives the following parliamentary majorities for Great Britain from 1833:

Year Party Majority
1833 Whig 307
1835 Whig 107
1837 Whig 51
1841 Cons 81
1847 Whig 1
1852 Lib 13
1857 Lib 79
1859 Lib 43
1868 Lib 128
1874 Cons 46
1880 Lib 62
1885 Lib. and Nat. 166
1886 Unionist 114
1892 Lib 40
1895 Unionist 152
1900 Unionist 134
1906 Lib 356
1910 Lib 124
1910 Lib 126
1918 Coalit 263
1922 Cons 79
1923 No majority
1924 Cons 225
1929 No majority
1931 Nat. Govt. 425
1935 Nat. Govt. 247

It should be noted that (a) though the Labour Party gained a majority of seats at the 1945 General Election, the vote they secured represented but a minority of the total electorate, (b) the Labour Party had no mandate from its electors to transform the system of private ownership into that of common ownership.

Continue reading The Domain of Ideologies by Harold Walsby (1947)
Part I Mass Groups and Intellectual Groups
Forward | The Paradox | The Political Groups | The Left Wing and IntellectualismThe Masses and Emotional Suggestibility | Fear of the Group | Political Collectivism | Political Individualism | The “Mass Rationality” Assumption
Part II Ideological Structure and Development
The Ideological FieldDefinition of Ideology | Cognitive Assumptions | The Process of Assumptions | The Absolute Assumption | Identification | Development and Repression | Conclusion | Bibliography | Index