Plugging the Gap: a Review of George Walford’s Beyond Politics by George Hay

This review first appeared in Science & Public Policy Volume 17 Number 5, October 1990.

Systematic ideology has been defined as “the ideology of ideology.” That this definition was provided, not by George Walford, but by an early reader of his book, Thelma Shinn, of the State University of Arizona, supports Mr. Walford’s contention that s.i. – as we call it in the trade – is very much an evolving subject, since the book itself has no such succinct definition. A moment’s reflection will show the width of the gap that has now been plugged.

The term ‘ideology’ was introduced (in the French form) in 1796, and continued through Destutt de Tracy’s Elemens d’ldeologie in 1801. The publication of Marx and Engels’ The German Ideology in 1922 marks the introduction of the classical period of study, and of such names as Lukacs and Mannheim: longtime readers of this journal will recall the publication in it of Z. Lamm’s Ideologies in a Hierarchical Order, in February 1984.

S.i. itself was created in 1947 by the late Harold Walsby, who showed, in his The Domain of Ideologies, that the main political movements are best understood as each being the expression of a set of broad assumptions, this set forming the base of its ideology – the word, as generally used, indicating a relatively superficial set of ideas adopted to express pre-existing values or to further pre-existing interests. The function of Beyond Politics is to provide definitions for these values, and, most importantly, to show how they develop from one to the next.

Assuming, for the sake of argument, that the reader agrees with these descriptions, he will see that he has been offered a tool for the prediction of political behaviour. This latter, of course, has long been the Holy Grail of ideologies, and, looking back through history at the trail of wreckage left by Marx and other proponents of the ‘inevitable,’ some degree of scepticism is in order. Is it true that “Political behaviour… cannot be adequately accounted for by reference to the material conditions of life of the people concerned” and that “our investigation indicates that (the missing factor) is the influence of ideology”?

Again, since s.i. concerns itself with the effect of assumptions upon behaviour, will the reader agree with the classification of sets of assumptions set out – for example, the assumptions of expediency and of precision, to name but two? Mr. Walford believes that the former forms the broad base of the social pyramid wherein we live, with Precision (and others) manifesting higher up. ‘Higher,’ however, does not of necessity mean ‘more influential,’ and the current crises in science and education in Great Britain would seem to back the belief that, in a populous and democratic society, Expediency must win over Precision. Like it or not, the disposition of the top of any pyramid depends upon the unchanged position of its base.

S.i., I have observed, offends some because it seems formulaic and deterministic. Yet few would deny that society has built-in rules: bankers and insurance companies depend mainly on rules-of-thumb. The need, then, in dealing with Mr. Walford’s theses, is not, it seems to me, to criticise them from afar, but to see whether they meet, item by political item, the Popperian test. Nobody, I can affirm, would welcome this more than the author.

Continue reading Beyond Politics by George Walford (1990):
Preface | Introduction | Politics as Ideology | The British Political Series | The World Political Series | From Politics to Ideology | Ideology Beyond Politics | The Beginnings | From Village to Empire | After The Empires | The Eidodynamic | The Origins of Ideologies | The Evolution of Ideology | Conclusion | Appendices | Notes & References | Select Bibliography | Index | Synopsis