John Rowan: The Idealist Route through the Eidodynamic Level, A Contribution to the Theory of Systematic Ideology

Both Harold Walsby and George Walford assumed that the eidodynamic levels were materialist. All their descriptions, from 1948 to 1994, take for granted that there is just one route through the eidodynamic levels, and that it is a materialist route. No doubt the reason for this was that their work was always directed towards the left wing in politics in general, and the SPGB in particular. It would complicate the argument with people like this, to say the least, to insist that there must also be an idealist route through these levels. Whenever I raised this point with George Walford, the answer I always got was that idealism and materialism are irrelevant, and it is not worth the trouble to discuss such questions. Now that both of them have passed over to the other side, it perhaps makes sense to raise the question again. If the theory of ideologies is to be complete, it must include a discussion of such people as Edward Caird, Hutchinson Stirling, Francis Sedlak, F S. Johnson, Bosanquet, Bradley, Green, Joachim and the other British Hegelians, all of whom were dialectical thinkers, and therefore i n my opinion operating at the Epidynamic level. (See Nomenclature for a table of nomenclature.)

If we take as our starting point the diagram which Walsby drew up for one of his pamphlets (see Schematic), is is clear that there is quite a violent transition from the Parastatic to the Protodynamic level. Suddenly a highly developed understanding of the material environment is replaced by a huge unconscious assumption about the human environment – and this must trouble the person who is making this transition. In the diagram, this looks as though it might be a highly unstable point to be at, and very difficult to maintain.

In order to understand how we come out of the Parastatic level, I believe it is necessary to scrutinise rather closely the way in which we get into it.


The Epistatic is one of the clearest and easiest to understand of all the ideological levels. It represents dualistic idealism, and because of the enormous propaganda efforts of the Christian church, of Islam and of Judaism, we are all very familiar with the intellectual and emotional structure of that position. The world is divided into two realms – the higher and the lower. In the higher realms are God, Heaven, goodness, cleanliness, the mind, sanity, the head, communication, politeness and so on. In the lower realm are the Devil, Hell, badness, dirtiness, matter, madness, the feet, the bowels, animal grunting, rudeness and so on. The effort of life is to evaluate things so that they can be put into one realm or the other – or saved from one realm and put into the other. This way of thinking is extremely common, and still affects us even when we think we have left it behind; it has left its mark on the language itself.

Now we are all agreed that the way in which the whole Eidostatic level develops is through the progressive growth of the idea of determinism, particularly as applied to the material environment. Less and less of the world is seen as needing an external Creator.

But because of the dualistic influence, this increasing sense of determinism takes two different forms. One form is to stay with the ‘higher’ things and say – “Of course I still believe in God, but all he did was to start the process off: now it runs by itself” – or possibly – “Of course I still believe in God, and all I am discovering in science is the marvellous plan of the Creator.” The other form, however, is to abandon the ‘higher’ things, and plump for the ‘lower’ ones, saying something like – “Yes, I am interested in matter, and this does make me very suspicious of, and opposed to, all you people who are trying to control people through superstition. I don’t believe in God, and I reject your cleanliness and politeness. I want scientific truth, and let the chips fall where they may.” Both of these positions were in fact very common in history, and still exist today.


As the deterministic position gets stronger and stronger, dualism ultimately disappears, and we get monism instead. The world now becomes explainable through one single principle. But there are four possibilities as to the name which this principle gets: (1) Solipsism; (2) Mechanistic materialism; (3) Subjective idealism; and (4) Agnosticism, or empirio-criticism, or logical atomism. Let us look at each of these in turn.

SOLIPSISM shows most clearly the instability and contradictoriness of the Parastatic position. Walsby describes the person who wants to apply complete determinism in the following way:

The person who utterly dismisses as completely and absolutely illegitimate the “reading of our own minds” or the “projection of subjective characteristics” into objective things, just doesn’t understand the nature of his own knowledge and his own understanding of things. The very denial of the legitimacy of projection involves the projection of subjective characteristics into other people. This negative principle, or assumption, like so many others, cannot be acted upon or carried out with consistency because it is self-negating – for if carried out with complete consistency, it leads to pure solipsism, to that very state of affairs from which it presumes, by implication, to rescue us. (Walsby 1947, pp.176-177)

So solipsism is a peculiar position, which leads to all sorts of attempts to resolve its dilemmas. But because its only mental resource is formal logic, which it has found to be supreme in mastering the material environment, it has no way of avoiding the traps which formal logic gets into when one tries to apply it to all possible realms.

It seems that there are two ways into solipsism. One is to reduce everything to mind, and the other is to reduce everything to matter. But because, at the dualistic stage, mind was identified with God, and matter with the Devil, these two are not equivalent psychologically – they still carry all these old connotations with them. So one can get to solipsism either by repressing all thought of God or mind – in which case the way out is via the materialist path – or by repressing all thought of the Devil and matter – in which case the way out is via the idealist path. In the former case, one is likely to become a scientist, actually getting involved with action directed towards the material world. In the latter case, one is likely to go some other way, in the extreme case becoming a philosopher or theologian or mystic, sitting in a university department or a religious school.

MECHANISTIC MATERIALISM is the second form of the Parastatic position. It says that there is no such thing as mind or spirit in any form. But of course the wish to maintain this remains just a wish. It is clearly self-contradictory, since the wish to maintain such a theory cannot be contained within the theory itself. It is not a reflexive theory. It accounts for everything except the philosopher putting forward the theory. As we have seen in the quote from Walsby, and as we could see in many other examples, in practice it continually falls back into solipsism.

SUBJECTIVE IDEALISM is the attempt to turn the mind into a set of objects or atoms which will exhibit just the same kind of determinstic relationships which have already been found in matter. The mind ceases to be an exception to determinism, and becomes just another expression of it. The mind consists of ideas, and ideas are sensible things, and our ideas derive from our sensations or may even be identical with sensations. All we can ever know are our ideas or sensations, but the relations between these are deterministic. And when Berkeley wanted to bring God into the picture, he in effect turned God into nothing more or les s than the principle of determinism.

AGNOSTICISM is the view that the world is completely deterministic, and consists of some neutral stuff which is neither mind nor matter. This may then be called logical atomism, or empirio-criticism, etc, but we shall confidently expect that it will fall into solipsism or into one of the two other positions. Lenin had a good deal to say about this, which seems still acceptable today:

Both the solipsist, that is, the subjective idealist, and the materialist may regard sensations as the source of our knowledge. Both Berkeley and Diderot started from Locke… Starting from sensations, one may follow the line of subjectivism, which leads to solipsism (“bodies are complexes or combinations of sensations”), or the line of objectivism, which leads to materialism (sensations are images of objects, of the external world). For the first point of view, i.e. agnosticism, or, pushed a littl e further, subjective idealism, there can be no objective truth. For the second point of view, i.e. materialism, the recognition of objective truth is essential. (Lenin)

I see no reason to doubt the valididy of this argument, which applies very accurately to the Parastatic level of ideological development.

Now of course when Lenin wrote this, Bertrand Russell was not yet writing his work on the same subject. But he might just as well have been writing about Russell. As Warnock says in his book on Berkeley: Perhaps he [Berkeley] would have had to return to his early suggestion that “Mind is a congeries of Perceptions,” and to maintain that an object is a different kind of “congeries” of the very same elements. If so, he would have anticipated the views of Hume and of Lord Russell. (Warnock) Russell is in fact a beautiful example of the tensions which arise at the Parastatic stage. He exhibits in his own person all the classic shiftings and inconsistencies of this transitional ideology, poised between the world of the static and the world of the dynamic. As John Lewis asks of him: But why in the world should I suppose that the last effect resembles the first occurrence in the physical world which started the process resulting in a sensation? But this is precisely Russell’s theory. “Everything that we can directly observe of the physical world happens inside our heads and consists of mental events.” This is odd. It sounds, as just stated, physiological, even materialistic, but it ends up as something indistinguishable from idealism. (Lewis)

People at the Parastatic stage – and Russell is an almost perfect example of this – love logic and rationality. The Rationalist Press, indeed, is an expression of the Parastatic outlook, as is the Secular Society and most of the British Humanist Association. All these people love logical disputation and rational precision. Russell is perhaps the prime example of this, with his attempts to mathematise formal logic, and to logicise mathematics. And if we want to look at Russell himself, here is what he says in his book Analysis of Matter:

To show that the traditional separation between physics and physiology, mind and matter, is not metaphysically defensible, will be one of the purposes of this work; but the two will be brought together, not by subordinating either to the other, but by displaying each as a logical structure composed of what, following Dr H M Sheffer, we shall call “neutral-stuff.” (Russell)

This is just the sort of agnosticism which Lenin is talking about, and which he shows in page after page collapsing into subjective idealism, or mechanistic materialism, or solipsism. These four positions are quite interchangeable, and one avoids one only to fall into the other, so long as the basic logic of the Parastatic position is not challenged. As Adamson says in discussing Berkeley:

In short, the slightest reflection enables one to see that the most airy subjective idealism and the crassest materialism are one and the same. In both cases we are left with the mere statement that things are what they are, and it matters not whether we call them ideas or forms of matter… The world of external appearance appears as a totality of existing things, reciprocally determining and being determined, each of which is what it is because the others are what they are. It matters not that, by the introduction of some subjective analysis, we reduce the supposed things to more or less permanent groups or series of sensations: the essential fact is, that they are thought of as making up a mechanical whole. When the same conception is applied to inner experience, to the thinking subject, his states and relations to experience in general, the only logical result is a system of completed determinism… (Adamson)

In other words, complete determinism can take various forms, but the two main ones are mechanistic materialism and subjective idealism. Solipsism and agnosticism can best be regarded as the means by which the thinker can slip from one to the other of these apparently incompatible positions.

Walsby has said that the main characteristic of this stage is the complete repression of indeterminism. What we have now seen is that there are two seemingly opposed, but actually interchangeable, ways in which this can happen – materialism or idealism. Similarly, Walsby says – “The individual has now become internally repressed with regard to the cosmic situation and has become externally repressed with respect to the group situation.” The only point of difference from Walsby’s account is that where he only mentions mechanistic materialism, I think we have to add subjective idealism, simply as the other side of the same coin. Otherwise we cannot account for the ideological features we have found to exist in people like Berkeley and Russell.


The importance of this is that now, as we come out of the Parastatic stage, we shall be able to think in terms of two paths leading into and through the Eidodynamic levels. Coming out the materialist way, any smell of idealism is seen as a sign of God, fideism, belief in evil spirits, etc., and heavily condemned. Coming out the idealist way, any smell of materialism is seen as a sign of the Devil, an attempt to drag people down to a mere animal existence, crass, insensitive and unfeeling, full of envy and jealousy and animosity.

On the left-hand path, as it were, the materialist is repressing positive power (that which meets no opposition and succeeds without effort) and projecting manipulation, deception and attempted control through superstition. And on the right-hand path, the idealist is repressing negative power (that which overcomes opposition and succeeds through struggle) and projecting envy, hatred, pessimism, animality, excessive sexuality, violence and madness.

And if this is so, we shall expect to find, as we go into the Protodynamic level, two versions of an evolutionary and inevitable progress. One version will repress positive power, and will behave in the way which Walsby has outlined as evolutionary materialism; and the other will repress negative power, and see progress as something which everybody should support, and as essentially spiritual in character.

Now Walsby has said, and here, as in all the really substantive points, I am agreeing with him, that in the eidodynamic levels we get the progressive derepression of the internal factor of self-determinism. On the materialist path, more and more things are seen to be material, but material in their own way. So there is more discrimination and integration of what it is like to be material. And matter is seen less and less as something atomic and externally determined, more and more as something self-moving. On the idealist path, more and more things are s een to be mind-like, but mind-like in their own way. So there is more discrimination and integration of what it is to be mind-like.

In both cases, these paths have in common the derepression of the internal factor of self-determinism. Where they differ is in their identification. The idealists seem to identify with the rulers of society, the materialists with the underdog. We have now seen how this can be accounted for, in terms of repression and projection of one or the other side of the original dualism. Those who continue to repress the “bad” side of the dualism are condemned to project their repressed material into the persons and organizations which oppose or threaten the status quo. Thus idealists always see society as basically harmonious, and disharmony as proceeding from people who are twisted, and who see the world in a distorted way – or who are full of ill-will and determined to destroy at all costs. Those who repress the “good” side of the dualism are condemned to see the world in terms of a continual battle, in which one side are people who are honest in their oppression and resistance to it, while the other side cannot be trusted no matter what they say, because they are always using the language of goodness to oppress and to maintain their hegemony.

Let us now say a bit more about the idealist path as it appears at the protodynamic level. Here we find the evolutionary idealism of Kant: everything evolves from previous forms, but there is a consciousness in everything. New Age thinking sometimes approximates this. The repressed materialism comes out as a hatred of the linear, logical, unfeeling features of today’s civilization. There is an interest instead in all that is primitive, natural, indigenous, wild and free. Romanticism flourishes in such an atmosphere.

Because of the emphasis on the positive, and rejection of the negative, one does not anyone, but rather finds the goodness in everyone. Buddhism is quite compatible with some of this material, and is often found to be attractive to such people. But it often goes much further, and we find books with such titles as – “You Can’t Afford The Luxury Of Even One Negative Thought.”

A book like Marilyn Ferguson’s “The Aquarian Conspiracy” is full of such positive material, and the whole counselling movement is full of the melioristic thinking which characterises this level. Carl Rogers, Alfred Adler, Otto Rank, Gerard Egan, are typical names here. Some of these are very subtle and sophisticated in the way in which they transform negatives into postitives. All the supportive approaches come in here.

So far as power is concerned, negative power is repressed: only positive power is recognised. So at this level the idea of “empowerment” is wholly good. There is a deep commitment to rescuing, hidden under phrases such as “natural emergence” or “normal phases.” There is an underlying goodness which rescuing can rely on, so that the desire to rescue can be hidden.

But as development continues, the logic of progress and evolution gives way to dialectical logic, giving us the emergence of a new stage.


When we get to the Epidynamic level, this reveals itself in the two kinds of dialectics. It is very noticeable that though dialectics is quite explicitly to do with growth and development through opposition and difference, the mood or feeling which comes through is very different in the two cases.

With idealist dialectics, the emphasis is all on the unity or unifying activity, and the whole thing is contained within an academic framework which is clearly no threat to the status quo. Or it may be in a theological or sectarian setting which is equally unthreatening. With materialist dialectics, the emphasis is all on conflict and opposition, and Lenin put this very strongly by saying that the unity was relative, but the struggle absolute. And of course we know that this view does result to very strong threats to the status quo, in the shape of revolution. But what both have in common is just what Walsby says is characte ristic of this level – an obsession with society, and a vision of history as a basically determinist process. Both Marx and Hegel see the development of society as an inevitable historicist process.

It is hard for me to see how Walsby could have meant to exclude dialectical idealism from the diagram. Even if we said, which I think it is possible to maintain, that Hegel belonged to the paradynamic or even the metadynamic level, and not to the epidynamic level, there are still a number of precursors of Hegel who go further than evolutionary idealism into the dialectical arena. Here we get Fichte, Schelling and the British Hegelians such as Edward Caird, William Wallace, Hutchinson Stirling, Francis Sedlak, F. S. Johnson, Harold Joachim, Findlay and so on.

More up to date is the work of Fritjof Capra and the other people who link up the paradoxes in physics with the paradoxes in society. Mary Parker Follett in the field of management used dialectical thinking to good effect in her work. These people are all optimists, but dialectical optimists.

The whole discipline of conflict resolution comes in here. Books like Getting To Yes are very sophisticated but basically idealist. The negative is recognised, but only as a stepping-stone to the positive. Co-counselling in all its forms is very much in this mould. Perhaps all cathartic forms of therapy come in here, too. The basic thought is always positive forward movement for the person, without challinging the social system in any necessary way. What we have here is the dialectic of acceptance.

One very clear exemplification of dialectics at this level is the Taoist insight, expressed in the well-known Yin-Yang figure. Here the main black and white areas express the contradiction of opposites, the small contrasting dots express the interpenetration of opposites, and the circular nature of the whole expresses the identity of opposites.

Another example would be the Tantric insight that sexuality and spirituality are not only opposites, but also interpenetrate and are also in the end identical. All the usual negatives in religion are turned into positives.

Psychotherapy at this level is explicitly about the transformation of negative into positive, and Carl Jung, Arnold Mindell and Alvin Mahrer are good examples of this dialectical approach. All the cathartic methods are relevant here, such as gestalt therapy, psychodrama and co-counselling.


And if we go on to the next level, we can again see an idealist version, as for example in Buddhist psychotherapy and I would say in the work of Hegel himself.

I think a good case can be made out for saying that mysticism is the idealist version of the paradynamic level. I did at one time belong to an organization calling itself the Anarcho United Mystics (AUM) and we did see an important connection between the repudiation of political organizations urged by the anarchists, and the repudiation of religious organizations urged by the mystics. In both cases there is a sense of the flight from the One to the One, which the mystics talk about. In mysticism the individual not only gets in touch with the divine, but actually becomes the divine. Philosophically this can be phrased as making the Absolute the centre of one’s attention, which is precisely what Walsby did.

I don’t want to go on, because there is a great deal more to be said about the later levels which is so interesting in itself that I think it would take away from the main point which I have tried to make here, which is simply the existence of two paths of development, rather than the (materialist) one which emerges from Walsby’s first outline of the theory.

It seems to me that what I have said does not question anything that Walsby has said: in the work I have done on this paper I have not found any statement of his to disagree with. All I have tried to do is to add something which it seems to me is missing from his account. It seems to me quite possible that he did originally want to cover this ground, because there are a number of passages in the Domain of Ideologies about the child’s projection of “good” and “bad” into the world which I think lead very naturally into the direction I have been trying to elaborate, but that he was diverted from this track by his great interest in direct political application of the ideas.

The crucial point seems to me the account of the parastatic level as a complex one, including an idealist aspect as well as a materialist one. If this is true, the rest is relatively easy to accept. If it is not, there seem to be real problems as to where to locate subjective idealism, evolutionary idealism and dialectical idealism in our ideological framework.

[See Spirituality and Revolution by John Rowan]

27 September 1994