Martin Stuart-Fox: Review of Beyond Politics

This review first appeared in The Australian Journal of Politics and History Volume 39 Number 2, October 1993.

Systematic ideology is not a well known body of theory. In fact it is largely due to two men. Harold Walsby and George Walford. The work under review is an elaboration and refinement of earlier studies: Walsby’s The Domain of Ideologies (1947) and Walford’s Ideologies and their Functions (1979). The former was the inspiration for Walford’s work; the latter the author no longer finds satisfactory.

For Walford, ideologies have nothing to do with idealistic visions or false consciousness. They are rather the sets of assumptions that structure our view of the world. Walford believes that all of us adhere to one of six ideologies, whether we like it or not, though for most of us these function “in a diffused way” of which we are unaware. Moreover those six evolved in sequence, and the majority of human beings in any society are committed to earlier rather than later forms. The six ideologies fall into two groups of three which Walford labels “eidostatic” and “eidodynamic.” The former comprise “non-politicals” who relate to the world in terms of Expediency; conservatives whose characteristic behaviour consistently appeals to Principle; and liberals whose concern is with Precision. These three ideologies comprise the political Right to which the majority of people unthinkingly adhere. The eidodynamic Left group of ideologies comprises socialism. communism and anarchism, characterised respectively by Reform, Revolution and Repudiation. Where Walford breaks decisively with Marx is in his contention that ideology has nothing to do with socio-economic status. One can find rich radicals and impoverished conservatives.

These six ideologies form a series running from stability and preservation to radical change. In terms of the material-economic sphere the spectrum ranges from freedom to control, but in terms of the intellectual sphere the reverse is true – which is why the imaginative left places much more store by theory than does the more sceptical right. In Walford’s view the radical intellectual freedom of the anarchist makes it impossible actually to construct an anarchist political system, and only the kind of draconian social controls associated with totalitarian communism prevents “mentally independent” communists from splitting into antagonistic groups.

Ideology, Walford argues, is not limited to politics, but informs every aspect of social existence. The majority of people act out of Expediency, especially in their private lives. Moreover expedient behaviour continues to be found in even the most ardent revolutionary ¬≠ just as in biological evolution later forms recapitulate earlier ones in their ontogeny and carry over vestiges of those earlier forms. Evolution provides the connecting thread in Walford’s schema. In hunter-gatherer societies expediency was the rule. Only with the rise of civilisation hierarchical organisational structures of Domination evolve which require justification in terms of Principles proclaimed as eternal and unchanging – the foundation of conservatism. Societies of domination lead to slavery and empire. Not until the Nineteenth Century did a new ideology evolve – that of liberalism whose Precision subjected existing societies to searching criticism. The most recent ideologies to evolve as Twentieth-Century phenomena have been the eidodynamic trio – the product of far¬≠ranging intellects always in a minority impelled by the goal of absolute freedom.

Ultimately, however, freedom lies not in anarchism but in understanding. Standing beyond the eidodynamic is the metadynamic, the seventh ideology that is constituted by the systematic understanding of the evolution of ideologies provided by Walford himself, knowledge of which liberates us from the unconscious limitations imposed by the previous six. Knowledge is freedom, and takes us “beyond politics” to a science of society.

This is an ancient dream, espoused by Plato, by Comte, by Marx. Hegel too believed that his was the liberating understanding of the evolutionary processes of history. Fukuyama argues that history, in the sense of the evolution of ideologies of government, has come to an end. Walford is in good company. Like Fukuyama, he can point to the collapse of communism as support for his views. The problem for Walford is that his evolutionary systematics suggest a progressive sequence, rather than a set of categories. But in what sense anarchism is an “advance” over liberalism is unclear – unless it is regressive, like the blind white fish that live in underground caves. A lot more thought needs to go into the “evolutionary” relationship between ideologies for Walford’s theory to be convincing.

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