Harold Walsby: The Left Wing and Intellectualism

With regard to our contention that the Left-wing political outlook represents, or is indicative of, a higher qualitative level of intellectual development than the Right-wing outlook; we might, perhaps, have been forgiven for expecting a clear recognition of its truth on the part of those who actually occupy these higher levels. Yet, curiously enough, when we come to examine the voluminous theoretical writings and extensive literature which issues almost continuously from Left-wing sources, we rarely, if ever, find any explicit recognition of this. Though the proposition may be implied in a great deal of their writings, that it does not – or rarely does – find expression in any explicitly conscious form, is, in itself, a truly remarkable fact. One would think that, if they were fully aware of their intellectual relationship with the Right-wing, they would make the utmost use of the knowledge and turn it to good account as a possible weapon in their political struggles with the Right. The fact that as a political weapon it would probably have little or no effect on the unintellectual masses does not explain the matter for, as the history of the Left movement shows, they have no hesitation in using their more theoretical ideas as propaganda – with the usual consequence that they fail to attract any positive interest or support for them from the vast majority of those to whom they appeal. And as this absence of explicit reference to their general intellectual superiority is hardly likely to be due to sheer modesty, we must begin to suspect that they are not fully and consciously aware of their real relationship in this respect. We shall soon see that our suspicions are largely justified.

We must be very careful, however, not to convey the impression that we think them grossly or wholly unaware of the fact of their intellectual superiority. Doubtless, most members of the extreme Left-wing groups already take it for granted (at least in the political sphere). They themselves refer to “the ignorance of the masses,” of “the mental bankruptcy of the Right.” They exhort the masses to “think for themselves,” to “use their own reason” and speak of “the task of educating the masses.” Nevertheless, what we do suggest, for reasons which will become evident, is that these members of the Left are not aware of the true position – that, indeed, they have no clear conception of a vertical or qualitative intellectual development of a general and universal nature, the various levels of which are directly related to all existing and possible political outlooks. The explicit acceptance, or conscious assumption, of intellectual superiority in this or that particular sphere (which is common to all outlooks) is a very different thing from the scientific or rational demonstration, from empirically ascertained facts, of the direct connection of political standpoints as a whole with a general development of the intellect, and the relative positions occupied therein by the Right and Left. It is these latter we propose to undertake as part of the establishment and development of our main thesis. That members of the Left tend to cling to the more vulgar notion of intellectual growth (as a mere quantitative accumulation of factual knowledge in this or that particular field) is indicated by their references to “political knowledge,” “political consciousness,” “political maturity,” “socialist understanding,” “communist consciousness” – as though these were largely independent of a general or qualitative development of intellect.

When we turn to the literature and speeches of the opponents of the Left, we find, surprisingly enough, quite a considerable amount of corroboration – implied in many tacit admissions that the Left-wing is intellectual – of our thesis regarding the close relationship between outlook or ideology and vertical intellectual development. Here, for instance, are a few examples of this admission.

In his book A False Utopia: Collectivism in Theory and Practice, published by the Right Book Club (1937), the conservative William Henry Chamberlain writes:

The Soviet Constitution defines the membership of the Communist Party as consisting of “the most active and politically conscious citizens.” The idea of a state ruled by a model intellectual elite has found its champions from Plato to H. G. Wells. As a relief from the imperfections, compromises, and disillusionments that followed the general adoption of democratic institutions during the nineteenth century its appeal is obvious. Serious difficulties, however, crop up when the question arises how the select minority is to be chosen. (p. 38.)

However – as a result of his confusion of communism with fascism, a common error – he contradicts himself a few pages further on by including the Soviet Union in his characterization of fascism as definitely anti-intellectual:

The modern-style dictatorship is definitely and implacably anti-intellectual. Whether it is Goebbels in Germany or Kaganovitch in the Soviet Union, or some lieutenant of Mussolini in Italy, a favourite theme of communist-fascist oratory is the contrast between the splendid discipline of the workers and peasants in supporting the existing regime and the contemptible surreptitious grumbling of the intellectuals. It is an ironical commentary on the naive enthusiasm of a certain type of left-wing intellectual in Western Europe and America for Russian communism in theory and practice that the Soviet Union has shot, jailed, and driven into exile a higher proportion of its educated class than any other country in the world. (p. 46.)

The last sentence in the above quotation contains a good example of the common habit of confounding – as a consequence of the inability to distinguish vertical with horizontal intellectual development. Chamberlain continues:

But Stalin, Hitler and Mussolini are psychologically quite correct when they see in the intellectual who thinks for himself and even, on occasion, feels a moral obligation to express some critical idea, the deadliest menace to their systems. What these systems, which rely for their existence on mass emotional stimulation plus terrorism, naturally fear above everything else is cool rational criticism, sober deflation of their self-magnified achievements. Hence there must be war to the death on the independent intelligentsia. (p. 48.)

Elsewhere he distinguishes between the Left-wing and fascism and, incidentally, in so doing shows once again his association of the Left-wing with intellectualism:

One mildly disquieting symptom is the defeatist attitude toward individual liberty and the democratic methods of government that is prevalent in some circles of the left-wing intelligentsia in Great Britain and America. Intellectual advocacy of fascism is still a rarity… (p. 242.)

Another typical example of the intellectual Left-wing identification is furnished by Sir R. M. Banks in his The Conservative Outlook (1929):

I prefer the phrase “characteristics and ideals” to the word “principles” for the Tory mind has always had a distaste for those abstract principles so dear to the Jacobin, the Radical, the Socialist and the Communist. “The Rights of Man” “Democratic Ideas” “Abstract Justice” “Social Contracts,” all the stock-in-trade of the encyclopaedist and the doctrinaire, are to the Tory mind dangerous idols upon whose altars the happiness of peoples has been sacrificed over and over again. (p. 7.) Respect for continuity and authority; loyalty to national institutions, especially the national Crown, the national Church, and the national ties within the Empire; a belief in private property of every kind as the best basis for the State; a preference for the practical as opposed to the theoretic… (p. 16.)

Again, Lord Hugh Cecil commences the first chapter of his well-known book Conservatism with the following:

Natural conservatism is a tendency of the human mind. It is a disposition averse from change; and it springs partly from a distrust of the unknown and a corresponding reliance on experience rather than on theoretic reasoning; partly from a faculty in men to adapt themselves to their surroundings so that what is familiar merely because of its familiarity becomes more acceptable or more tolerable than what is unfamiliar. Distrust of the unknown, and preference for experience over theory, are deeply seated in almost all minds and are expressed in often quoted proverbs: “Look before you leap,” “A bird in hand is worth two in the bush,” “An ounce of fact is worth a pound of theory” – these are sayings that express a well-nigh universal conservative sentiment. (p.9.)

We see the same views expressed by the Right even as far back as Disraeli:

In a progressive country change is constant; and the great question is not whether you should resist change, which is inevitable, but whether that change should be carried out in deference to the manners, the customs, the laws, the traditions of the people, or in deference to abstract principles and arbitrary and general doctrines. (Speech quoted with approval by Winston Churchill in his 1945 New Year message to the Primrose League.)

More modern is the following (from Colm Brogan’s Who are ‘the People’? 1943):

Progressive “intellectuals,” journalists and political leaders speak for The People, pleading their cause against the arrogant stupidity of the ruling classes. How the rulers managed to survive the fervour of the attack and the consequences of their own incompetence must be a mystery to every student of progressive literature. The rulers have almost every fault that can be ascribed to humanity, but, somehow, they hang on; they keep their powers and authority. Obviously, they know something. What they know is hard to discover and is certainly unfair, but it is technically important. Twice the Labour Party has formed a Government and twice it has fallen out of the seat of power as if it were a hammock. There is some trick about keeping in which Labour has not quite grasped, and, indeed, may never grasp. For Labour is not The People. In many respects, Labour positively misrepresents The People. (p. 2.)

An even more recent example is to be found in Mr. Winston Churchill’s second (1945) election speech over the radio:

Both at home and abroad there is a full four years’ work for all to do.That is the reason why I have censured in the most severe terms the Socialist effort to drag their long-term fads and wavy Utopias across the practical path of need and duty…

There could never be a worse time to raise these academic Socialist arguments than now, when all the practical tasks which stare us in the face, and upon which we are engaged, would be delayed, confused, interrupted and perhaps stricken to the ground. (Reported by Daily Telegraph, 14-6-45.)

Besides this tacit tendency of the Right to regard the Left-wing as intellectual we should note well that it goes hand in hand with a certain anti-intellectualism and hostility, or scepticism, directed against the characteristic features of the intellectual outlook: i.e., doctrine, theory, logic, reason, generalisation, abstract principle and academic discussion etc.

Moreover, it is to the extreme Right-wing – viz. fascism – that we have to turn for the most extreme examples of anti-intellectualism (wherein we can still detect the underlying implication which identifies intellectualism with the Left).

Among the quotations given in Professor N. Gangulee’s interesting anthology of pronouncements from official Nazi sources (The Mind and Face of Nazi Germany) are these:

In my Ordensburgen a youth will grow up before which the world will shrink back. A violently active, dominating, intrepid, brutal youth – that is what I am after. Youth must be all those things. It must be indifferent to pain. There must be no weakness or tenderness in it. I want to see once more in its eyes the gleam of pride and independence of the beast of prey. Strong and handsome must my young men be. I will have them fully trained in all physical exercises. I intend to have an athletic youth – that is the first and chief thing. In this way I shall eradicate the thousands of years of human domestication. Then I shall have in front of me the pure and noble natural material. With that I can create the new order. I will have no intellectual training. Knowledge is ruin to my young men… (Hitler to Rauschning, p. 172.)Germany today is a National-Socialist state. The ideology by which we are governed is diametrically opposed to that of Soviet Russia…We National Socialists recognise that every people has the right to its own inner life according to its own needs and character. Bolshevism, on the other hand, lays down doctrinaire theories, to be accepted by all nations without regard to their particular qualities, talents, etc…. Bolshevism fights for a theory and sacrifices for it millions of human beings, destroys incalculable cultural and traditional values, and achieves, in comparison with us, only a very low standard of living for all… (Hitler, Reichstag speech, 1935. pp. 154-5)

Humanity, the all-embracing Church and the sovereign individual who have freed themselves from blood ties, no longer represent to us absolute values, but doubtful or even perishing dogmas. They lack polarity and represent a violation of nature for the sake of mere abstractions… In the prehistoric ages man follows the blood demands in life and cult as in a dream… Later… in the process of civilisation, he becomes more and more intellectual. This leads finally not to creative conflicts but to division. Thus, reason turns away from race and species. The individual detached from the ties of blood and from the sequence of the generations, falls a victim to absolute abstractions… and mixes with alien blood. The result of this incest is the death of personality, nation, race and civilisation. (Alfred Rosenberg. pp. 109-10)

Discussion of matters affecting our existence and that of the nation must cease altogether. Anyone who dares to question the rightness of the National-Socialist outlook will be branded as a traitor. (Sauckel, Governor of Thuringia, 1933. p. 116.)

We can see no flaw in the Fuhrer’s reasoning: difficulties? yes; doubts? yes; alternatives? none. What we want today is unity. Where did the intellectuals lead us? Into a barren wilderness where was neither hope nor love of each other or our country or race; and without these what is there in life? (A Nazi youth to Sir Arnold Wilson, 1934. p. 126.)

In an article contributed by Mussolini in 1932 to the fourteenth volume of Enciclopedia Italiana, he declares:

When… I summoned a meeting at Milan… I had no specific doctrinal attitude in my mind. I had experience of one doctrine only – that of Socialism, from 1903-4 to the winter of 1914 – that is to say about a decade: and from Socialism itself, even though I had taken part in the movement first as a member of the rank and file and then later as a leader, yet I had no experience of its doctrine in practice. My own doctrine, even in this period, had always been a doctrine of action. A unanimous, universally-accepted theory of Socialism did not exist after 1905, when the revisionist movement began in Germany under the leadership of Bernstein… Fascism was not the nurseling of a doctrine worked out beforehand with detailed elaboration; it was born of the need for action and was itself from the beginning practical rather than theoretical… (pp. 7-8, The Political and Social Doctrine of Fascism: Hogarth Press.)

Giovanni Gentile, “appointed to a place in Mussolini’s Ministry after the ‘March on Rome’ and prime mover of that scholastic reform which Mussolini, described as the ‘most Fascist of all Fascist reforms’,” affirmed in a speech at Palermo, March 1924:

… I am very much inclined to believe that the true doctrine is that which does not express itself in typed words, but in the actions and personalities of its exponents…Let us quit books, then, and consider the spirit of the deeds which throughout history have meant so much more to us than any expounded doctrines… (quoted by Giuseppe Prezzolini in his Fascism pp. 98-9)

During the Spanish Civil War, the “great Catholic writer and philosopher,” Miguel Unamuno – who, at its beginning, favoured the fascist cause as against the “Reds” – was horrified at the brutalities ordered by the fascist General Staff. He wrote:

All these crimes are committed in cold blood, in response to the slogan implied by the double-edged cry of this insane general who calls himself Millan Astray: “Death to intelligence and long live death!” (quoted by Melvin Rader in No Compromise p. 136)

A further example is afforded by Dr. Kahrstedt, Professor of History at Gottingen University, in a speech given on Empire Day in Nazi Germany:

We renounce international science. We renounce the international republic of learning. We renounce research for its own sake. (Nature 18-1-36)

James Drennan, supporter of fascism generally and writer for the British Union of Fascists declares in his B.U.F.: Oswald Mosley and British Fascism:

Fascism arose, then, out of the din of unrecorded street-fights and the mess of factory brawls and the quick butchery of country-side ambushes, and emerged as a direct and violent will-to-power. The democrats met the movement with the laughable legend that these grim and wild young men were nothing more than the hired hooligan bands of “the capitalists.” The explanation was characteristic of the democratic mind, but it hardly accounts for the dynamic surge of armed manhood in no time out of nowhere… The Liberals are also puzzled by the lack of theory in Fascism… Fascism has no long pedigree of theory, like Socialism, Liberalism and Communism and other products of the intellectual laboratory. Fascism is real insurrection – an insurrection of feeling – a mutiny of men against the conditions of the modern world. It is completely characteristic of this aspect of Fascism in its early stages, both in Italy and in Germany, that the movement should have grown to full strength without either logical theory behind it, or cut-and-dried programme in front of it. The men who have built Fascism in Italy and Germany – who are the “common men” the “men in the street,” leave theories to the intellectuals and programmes to the democrats who have betrayed them with programmes for a century. The Fascist is concerned with the problem of power, and he aims at the achievement of power through action… He acts, in fact, instinctively, and not theoretically. The opposition between Fascism and Social Democracy is the opposition between life and theory, between man and intellect, between blood and paper. (pp. 211-3)

In his excellent and well-documented book on fascism, No Compromise, Melvin Rader writes of “one of the main aspects of Fascist anti-intellectualism: the refusal to employ science in the determination of basic human ideals.” He goes on to describe the strong influence of “that forerunner of Fascism, Vilfredo Pareto” upon Mussolini and his sympathisers: “His (Mussolini’s) remarks indicate that he was especially impressed by Pareto’s denial of the intellectual, political, religious and moral unity of society… The Fascists either leave no room for pure theory, or subordinate it to morale and action. Typical of the Fascist attitude are the words of an early Nazi theorist, Moeller van den Bruck: ‘The future belongs not to the problem-monger, but to the man of character’… in the Popolo d’Italia, November 22, 1921, Mussolini himself champions the relativistic position. Endeavouring to go the relativists one better, he defines Fascism as ‘super-relativity.’ The Fascists, he asserts, display their extremely relativistic outlook by refusing to give a definite form to their programme and by recognising ‘in life and action an absolute supremacy over intelligence’.”

Has the strong anti-intellectual, anti-rational bias of the Right-wing – and particularly that of fascism – nothing to do with their vehement opposition to the Left? Is it mere coincidence or is there, as we suggest, a very intimate connection between the two? Is there not really an implicit recognition of the identity of the Left-wing ideology with a higher level of intellectual development than their own? Is not implied here our present thesis that there is a direct relationship between political outlooks or ideologies, on the one hand, and the vertical or qualitative development of intellect, on the other? What, we suggest, is here merely implicit, we shall, in due course, confirm with much stronger evidence in its favour.

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 Intellectualism | The 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