Harold Walsby: The "Mass Rationality" Assumption

We have now reached the position (a), wherein we recognise that the qualitative-intellectual or ideological development of the individual from mental dependence on the group (politico-ideological collectivism) towards complete mental independence (politico-ideological individualism) necessarily – through the development of its economic content – involves the adoption of what we shall call “the mass-rationality assumption,” and (b), where we have already begun to suspect the validity of this assumption and to suspect that it arises, not on the basis of a rational study of the objective evidence of ideological evolution, but through some inner psychological need or process connected with the vertical development of intellect.Let us now relate these tentative results to what we have affirmed at the beginning of the previous chapter. We said that our conclusions would apply “in lesser degree, to the less extreme Left,” that “our observations will apply to other political groups with modifications proportional to their remoteness from the Left-wing extremity” and that “these modifications will increasingly partake of the nature of the mass modes of behaviour, thought and feeling we have already described, as we pass down the political scale to the extreme Right.”

Now that we know what to look for we can search through the literature of a wide variety of ideological types for examples of the mass-rationality assumption, and make an interesting comparative study of the result. It is most instructive. Limits of space prevent us from going into great detail, but we can at least give some general idea of the more important aspects of such a study, together with a few representative examples containing the assumption.

In the first place, we can confirm that, wherever we find the assumption, nowhere do we find that it is based on an objective study either of the intellectual-ideological development of the individual, or that of society. On the other hand, we find it most frequently based on the evidence and study of the economic and scientific-technological development of human society. (It is perhaps important to note here that wealth production primarily consists in the process of changing, altering and adapting our material environment to our needs.) We therefore find, as we could have predicted, that although the assumption is sometimes implicit in those outlooks which come fairly low in the ideological scale, it becomes more and more explicit and frequent as we ascend towards the higher levels – as we move, in other words, towards the extreme Left-wing, and pass through, as it were, those ideologies which increasingly come under the influence of the physical sciences, materialism, and the study of economic evolution.

Another interesting result of our comparative study in respect of the mass-rationality assumption, is the great frequency with which the assumption appears in the statements of a high proportion of scientists, whose work or interest is mainly connected with the mathematical, physical, chemical, biological, technological or economic sciences, and who turn their attention and minds to socio-political matters. As we should be led to expect from theoretical considerations, most of them exhibit or are widely known to have Left-wing sympathies. The occurrence of the assumption is quite rare, however, in the utterances of psychologists and those who have dealings with the study of mental phenomena and development. [footnote]

A few typical examples will illustrate what we mean.

In his book The German Ideology, Karl Marx, the famous nineteenth-century economist – founder of scientific socialism, historical and dialectical materialism, and opponent of anarchism – includes a section entitled “The Real Basis of Ideology.” This section is mainly occupied with tracing the historical development of property and the division of labour, from the Middle Ages down to recent times, and, on the basis of this analysis, also with the prediction of the rise “on a mass scale” of the independent mode of thought of the “communist consciousness.” (The three sub-sections are entitled “(a) Intercourse and Productive Power,” “(b) The Relation of State and Law to Property” and “(c) Natural and Civilised Instruments of Production and Forms of Property.”)

Here are some of his words which relate to the mass-rationality assumption:

Thus things have now come to such a pass, that the individuals must appropriate the existing totality of productive forces, not only to achieve self-activity, but, also, merely to safeguard their very existence. This appropriation is first determined by the object to be appropriated, the productive forces, which have been developed to a totality and which only exist within a universal intercourse. From this aspect alone, therefore, this appropriation must have a universal character corresponding to the productive powers and the intercourse. The appropriation of these powers is itself nothing more than the development of the individual capacities corresponding to the material instruments of production. The appropriation of a totality of instruments of production is, for this very reason, the development of a totality of capacities in the individuals themselves.This appropriation is further determined by the persons appropriating. Only the proletarians of the present day, who are completely shut off from all self-activity, are in a position to achieve a complete and no longer restricted self-activity, which consists in the appropriation of a totality of productive forces and in the thus postulated development of a totality of capacities… In all expropriations up to now, a mass of individuals remain subservient to a single instrument of production; in the appropriation by the proletarians, a mass of instruments of production must be made subject to each individual, and property to all. Modern universal intercourse can be controlled by individuals, therefore, only when controlled by all…Only at this stage does self-activity coincide with material life, which corresponds to the development of individuals into complete individuals and the casting-off of all natural limitations…

Finally, from the conception of history we have sketched we obtain these further conclusions: In the development of productive forces there comes a stage at which productive forces and means of intercourse are called into existence, which, under the existing relationships, only cause mischief, and which are no longer productive but destructive forces (machinery and money); and connected with this a class is called forth, which has to bear all the burdens of society without enjoying its advantages, which, ousted from society, is forced into the most decided antagonism to all other classes; a class which forms the majority of all members of society, and from which emanates the consciousness of the necessity of a fundamental revolution, the communist consciousness, which may, of course, arise among the other classes too through the contemplation of the situation of this class… Both for the production on a mass scale of this communist consciousness, and for the success of the cause itself, the alteration of men on a mass scale is necessary, an alteration which can only take place in a practical movement, a revolution… (pp. 66-9.)

At the end of the next section – which is headed “Communism: the Production of the Form of Intercourse Itself ” we can plainly observe, besides the mass-rationality implication, Marx’s emphasis (typical of the intellectual, as we have seen) upon individual assertion as opposed to the collective or group expression (the state):

… The contradiction between the individuality of each separate proletarian and labour, the condition of life forced upon him, becomes evident to him himself, for he is sacrificed from youth upwards and, within his own class, has no chance of arriving at the conditions which would place him in the other class. Thus, while the refugee serfs only wish to be free to develop and assert those conditions of existence which were already there, and hence, in the end, only arrived at free labour, the proletarians, if they are to assert themselves as individuals, will have to abolish the very condition of their existence hitherto (which has, moreover, been that of all society up to the present), namely, labour. Thus they find themselves directly opposed to the form in which, hitherto, individuals have given themselves collective expression, that is, the State. In order, therefore, to assert themselves as individuals, they must overthrow the State. (p. 78.)

We can even detect the assumption in such a statement as the following:

… For as soon as labour is distributed, each man has a particular, exclusive sphere of activity, which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape. He is a hunter, a fisherman, a shepherd, or a critical critic, and must remain so if he does not want to lose his means of livelihood; while in communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just – as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic. (Ibid. p. 22.)

One more sample from Marx exemplifies the assumption even more explicitly:

… From the above it is clear that the real intellectual wealth of the individual depends entirely on the wealth of his real connections. Only then (under communism) will the separate individuals be liberated from the various national and local barriers, be brought into practical connection with the material and intellectual production of the whole world and be put in a position to acquire the capacity to enjoy this all-sided production of the whole earth (the creations of man). Universal dependence, this natural form of the world-historical cooperation of individuals, will be transformed by this communist revolution into the control and conscious mastery of these powers, which, born of the action of men on one another, have till now over awed and governed men as powers completely allied to them. (Ibid. pp. 27-8.)

Another typical extract comes from a chapter entitled “Everyone a Scientist,” which forms part of that section of a book, called Science in the Changing World, contributed by H. Levy (Professor of Mathematics, Imperial College of Science) whose Left-wing sympathies are well known:

In so far as scientists are people with social ideals, individuals who would like to see the scientific spirit reflected in human development they proceed on the assumption that if only the facts are set out clearly enough people must necessarily accept them…… If education is to fulfill its task it will require to be permeated with the scientific spirit… Every question raised by the child will have to be taken and made an excuse for examining the evidence for the answer given. Throughout its career the child will have to be accustomed to sifting evidence…It is largely a question of early habits. Unless we early instill critical habits into our children, unless we encourage them to call for evidence on all conceivable occasions, they will rapidly adopt a habit of simply believing, duly followed by “believing behaviour.”..

… the spirit of science has yet to be liberated for educational service and instilled into social relations. It is a problem that calls for the enterprise and initiative of our generation of teachers and thinkers. By striving to permeate social life with the spirit of critical foresight, by seeking to guide conduct with accurate knowledge, Science may yet carve out a new future for mankind. (pp. 96-106.)

Next, we have a further example from Let the People Think by the famous mathematician and writer on relativity physics, Bertrand Russell. In a chapter headed “Can Men be Rational?” he writes:

… Pragmatism emphasises the irrationality of opinion, and psychoanalysis emphasises the irrationality of conduct. Both have led many people to the view that there is no such thing as an ideal of rationality to which opinion and conduct might with advantage conform… I believe such an outlook to be very dangerous, and, in the long run fatal to civilisation…To begin with rationality of opinion: I should define it merely as the habit of taking account of all relevant evidence in arriving at a belief. Where certainty is unobtainable, a rational man will give most weight to the most probable opinion, while retaining others, which have an appreciable probability, in his mind as hypotheses which subsequent evidence may show to be preferable. This, of course, assumes that it is possible in many cases to ascertain facts and probabilities by an objective method – i.e. a method which will lead any two careful people to the same result…… If men were rational, they would take a more correct view of their own interest than they do at present; and if all men acted from enlightened self-interest the world would be a paradise in comparison with what it is…

Rationality in practice may be defined as the habit of remembering all our relevant desires, and not only the one which happens at the moment to be strongest… I believe that all solid progress in the world consists of an increase in rationality, both practical and theoretical… A man is rational in proportion as his intelligence informs and controls his desires. I believe that the control of our acts by our intelligence is ultimately what is of most importance, and what alone will make social life remain possible as science increases the means at our disposal for injuring each other. Education, the press, politics, religion – in a word, all the great forces in the world – are at present on the side of irrationality… The remedy does not lie in anything heroically cataclysmic, but in the efforts of individuals towards a more sane and balanced view of our relations to our neighbours and to the world. It is to intelligence, increasingly widespread, that we must look for the solution of the ills from which our world is suffering. (pp. 14-21.)

A further typical sample is provided by J. B. S. Haldane, F.R.S., Marxist, mathematician, geneticist, and Professor of Biology in the University of London, in his book The Inequality of Man:

But science can do something far bigger for the human mind than the substitution of one set of beliefs for another, or the inculcation of scepticism regarding accepted opinions. It can gradually spread among humanity as a whole the point of view that prevails among research workers, and has enabled a few thousand men and a few dozen women to create the science on which modern civilisation rests.

The following characteristic extracts are quoted from This Changing World, a symposium written by several well-known scientists and writers, and edited by J. R. M. Brumwell. The first comes from the Editor’s Foreword:

… When Darwin publicised evolution it seemed to many both ridiculous and wicked, and directly against what they had been taught in the Bible. Now, less than 100 years afterwards, Darwin’s theories are accepted by the general public as common sense and a denial would be thought absurd.

The next appears in Chapter 2, which is entitled “Transformation in Science ,” and is contributed by Professor J. D. Bernal, crystallographer, physicist, and equally well known for his Left-wing sympathies and his writings on the relation of science to society:

One of the paradoxes of the present time is that people may be able to change the world so rapidly that they fail to understand what they are doing. Another is that, while more has been found out at large and in detail about nature and man in the past thirty years than in the whole of history, there is less general appreciation of this knowledge and worse use of it than ever before. This is partly because modern science has become more complex, but as much because it has been professionalised. Since some people are paid to understand it, why should the rest bother their heads about it? But ignorance of science means a failure to understand the factors underlying the critical events of our time. The history of the last few years should have shown that it is no longer optional, but absolutely necessary, for science to be understood, appreciated and effectively used… If people could understand at least something of the possibilities which science offers, they would become more reasonably impatient of their present state, and more capable of changing it. For this science needs to be expounded, and expounded in a new way which emphasises its relation to this changing world. It is no use any longer attempting to present science as a series of pictures of the beauties or the mysteries of the universe and of nature… the scientist must be in close, free and friendly relation with the democratically ordered state machinery, and the people at large must have an adequate understanding of the possibilities and limitations of science… Private and institutional greed, the desire to preserve orders and ranks in a society that has out-grown them, have been potent factors in the past, and are potent factors still, in delaying progress. Unless they are dealt with, and dealt with now, there is no chance for any better world.That is the major practical problem of our time, and it is a social and political one. It will be solved by the people themselves. But the technical forms of the solution, and the rapidity with which it will be possible to achieve a better world, will demand science; and for that reason alone, the people need to know and to understand, possibly better than the scientists themselves, what modern science is, and how it works.

Compare the above words with those which follow, also by Professor Bernal, and which appear in the same chapter:

Now these great advances (in science) actually incomparably richer than those in the whole previous history of science are also essentially different in character. In recognising them, the scientists have been forced to adopt new mental attitudes which involve a break with the traditions of thought reaching as far back as the Greeks, if not farther. The simple logic of the schools derived from grammar and commonsense has been found inadequate to cope with the more remote complexities of the atom and the starry universe.We now see that what we call commonsense is just a convenient but crude human tool, suitable enough for a simple life, but needing to be refined and extended to use the new knowledge effectively in a complex situation. It is in respect of its apparent absurdities and contradictions that modern science shows its relation to modern tendencies in art…

Next, we have an excerpt from Chapter 4, “Life from a New Angle,” contributed by C. H. Waddington, the well-known biologist – another progressively-minded writer on science and society:

Within the last hundred years, scientific ideas about animals have undergone three revolutions. The first happened in the middle of the last century, and its decisive point was the establishment by Darwin of the theory of evolution. By today this has just about worked through into commonsense. Darwin’s contemporaries rejected with horror and disgust the unbiblical idea that human beings are descended from some being much more like an ape than any existing man; but people nowadays have learnt to accept that as a matter of course and to find in it, not a degrading insult, but a reason for hope that we may become still better in the future… Particles and substances are not the fundamental entities into which living things must be analysed: they are only important as parts of processes. It is much more difficult to think like this in actual fact than to say that we ought to do so. Most common-sense methods of picturing the world nowadays are based on the science of the seventeenth century. We “instinctively” think of solid lumps of stuff, and if they happen to be pushing one another around in some process, that may be interesting but is not essential. In twenty or fifty years’ time, or however long it takes for today’s science to become “common-sense,” we shall “instinctively” think of something going on. If we find it convenient to analyse it into lumps of matter bumping into one another, well and good, but we shall not be surprised if someone else prefers to think of it in some other way.This type of thinking, in terms of processes, is derived from a consideration of the most fundamental and basic properties of living things. We shall therefore have to use it for the ordinary every-day affairs of life as well as for the recondite and far-away matters like the development of a newt’s brain… There will still be many kinds of politics; but politics in terms of processes and not of things.It is clear that this kind of thinking is different from our present commonsense. I expect you will be able to find at least hints of the same kind of “process thinking” in the chapters of the other specialists who contribute to this book.

As final examples from the book, we take the following from J. G. Crowther’s Chapters 5 and, 6 headed “Helter Skelter Universe” and “Exploring the Unseeable” respectively. (Mr. Crowther, also Left-wing in outlook, is an authority on the history of science and on science in Soviet Russia, where, in 1930, he was advisor to the Director of Higher Education under the Supreme Economic Council of the U.S.S.R.):

Professor Bernal tells us in chapter 2 that the whole of human society is passing through enormously important transformations which are occurring far more rapidly than in the past. The pace has quickened. It seems that revolutionary ideas are stirring beneath our thoughts, and are being expressed variously but simultaneously through the imagination of astronomers, poets, physicists, painters and politicians, and will soon become the “common sense” of the man in the street. (Chapter 5.)… The only means that we have for determining the position of an electron, for showing it up, knocks it from where it was, so we can never be quite sure of its original place. There is a fundamental element of uncertainty in our only means of determining its position. This is the famous Principle of Uncertainty. It is fantastically simple and obvious, but all the genius of Heisenberg was needed to recognise it. This he did by putting the facts into very unfamiliar mathematical dress. He was thus enabled to look at them without any common preconceptions. The greatest achievement of the human mind is to escape from prejudice. When this is done, reality is often found to be quite simple. This in turn happily enables ordinary people to learn the new ideas, until they become the basis of the new common sense. Our grandchildren will find the Principle of Uncertainty as acceptable as the Multiplication Table… The subuniverse of atoms may be chaotic, but it is not unreasonable. If we are willing to invent new mathematical languages, we find we can describe it logically. The new ideas may seem bizarre at first, but we shall soon accept them as normal, just as we shall or do with the new ideas brought forth in painting, music, architecture, politics, and war. (Chapter 6.)

The above examples have been chosen from a multitude – not at random, it is true, but at the same time, without any difficult searching or detailed selective comparison. If, anything, one is almost confronted with an embarras de choix. Of course, such statements – containing the mass-rationality assumption – are by no means confined to those physical and biological scientists who apply themselves to politico-ideological matters; they are to be found in the utterances of politicians, doctors, writers and people of almost any trade or profession. Yet nevertheless, after a careful examination, it does appear that, on the whole, the assumption is strongly developed in the social and political outlook of people in proportion to the extent to which that outlook is influenced by the physico-chemical and biological sciences, or by the philosophy of materialism, which is closely related to these sciences. This piece of knowledge is further confirmed by the fact that the Left-wing outooks or ideologies often claim to be scientific and tend to adhere, either implicitly or explicitly, to some form of materialist philosophy, which is frequently said to be the “basis” of such an outlook by those holding it.

We have already seen how, by a process of renunciation or repression, the Left-wing (or intellectual) mode of thought becomes differentiated from the mass modes of thinking. But, besides this relation to, or dependence upon, the existence of a mass ideology – the existence, in other words, of the large-scale social group – it would seem that the intellectual mode of thought is also dependent upon a consciousness of its relationship to the physical universe, to the material world at large – in short, upon a philosophy. (It has been well said by Engels, Marx’s collaborator, that the central theme or problem of philosophy is the relation of thought to being – of subject to object, mind to matter.) We shall see later, in Part II, how intimately connected are these two relationships – of mind to matter, on the one hand, and of mind to mind, or the group, on the other – and how important they are for understanding the ideological development of the intellect.

But, to return to the above examples of the mass-rationality assumption for a moment, we have another reason for selecting them from the statements of reputable scientists rather than using those from other sources. It is, briefly, that the professional scientist, by virtue of his training, is more definitely committed to the scientific practice and golden rule of demanding that theory, and ideas of things, shall be based on factual evidence, on the study of things as they are and as we actually find them, and not upon what we think things ought to be. In the examples quoted, for instance, Professor Levy insists that we “early instill critical habits” and “the scientific spirit” in our children, have them “accustomed to sifting evidence,” and “encourage them to call for evidence on all conceivable occasions”; and again, Bertrand Russell defines rationality of opinion as “the habit of taking account of all relevant evidence in arriving at a belief.”

When, however, we come to look or “call” for the factual evidence upon which the above statements involving the mass-rationality assumption are founded, in no single case do we find any sign or shred of evidence, or any indication whatever of an objective study of the relevant facts. Indeed, so easily and confidently are these questionable assertions put forward, it would seem that the authors themselves almost regard them as self-evident propositions.

Yet, wherever there is any reference in these statements to existing conditions, to actual fact, nowhere does it support either the explicit assertion or the implicit assumption of the coming of universal enlightenment and mass-rationality.

In the last quotation from Marx, for example, he refers (when speaking of group or “universal” dependence) to “these powers, which, born of the action of men on one another, have till now overawed and governed men as powers completely alien to them.” And nearly a hundred years later, we note, Levy, Russell, Bernal and Waddington are saying much the same thing. In Professor Levy’s statement quoted above, he says “the spirit of science is yet to be liberated for educational service and instilled into social relations. It is a problem that calls for the enterprise and initiative of our generation of teachers and thinkers.” Bertrand Russell, we see, states that “Education, the press, politics, religion – in a word, all the great forces in the world – are at present on the side of irrationality.” Again, Professor Bernal states above that “while more has been found out at large and in detail about nature and man in the past thirty years than in the whole of history, there is less general appreciation of this knowledge and worse use of it than ever before.” And, in speaking above of scientific “process thinking” which, he asserts, will become universal, we observe C. H. Waddington says: “it is much more difficult to think like this in actual fact than to say that we ought to do so… It is clear that this kind of thinking is different from our present commonsense.”

Thus, in the face of this patent lack of evidence for the mass-rationality implication, we are in the position of having to account for the assumption of the coming of universal enlightenment on the part of trained scientists who, not only are themselves accustomed to demanding evidence “on all conceivable occasions” but who urge everybody else to do the same, and moreover, who insist, because everyone “ought” or “must,” that they will eventually do the same. Has this curious paradoxical situation anything to do with the paradoxical state of social affairs that we introduced at the beginning of this book? It may seem rather remote at the moment but we venture to think that it may have. For, as we have suggested earlier, the mass-rationality assumption is to be found, not only rooted in the ideologies of the extreme Left, but also, with widely varying degrees of explicitness, underlying every democratic outlook. As James Burnham has remarked, in The Managerial Revolution, it is “important to observe that no major ideology is content to profess openly that it speaks only for the group whose interests it in fact expresses. Each group insists that its ideologies are universal in validity and express the interests of humanity as a whole; and each group tries to win universal acceptance for its ideologies.” This observation applies less to fascism, perhaps, than to any other political outlook, but it certainly is true of every democratic ideology.

We can find the mass-rationality assumption in the anarchist, communist, socialist and liberal outlooks and we can even detect its beginnings in democratic conservatism, though perhaps not so consistently, and in a more primitive and implicit form. Take these statements, for instance, from Baldwin’s On England (1926):

That appalling twopenny-ha’penny gift of fluency, with the addition of a certain amount of training and of imagination in word-spinning, is the kind of rhetoric which stirs the emotions of the ignorant mob and sets it moving. It is because such forces can be set in motion by rhetoric that I have no regard for it, but a positive horror. Very rarely do we find the gift given to men who have wisdom and constructive power, and for the time being it would seem that it was in this world a force far beyond its merits, although in the more advanced countries I sometimes hope that it is past its prime. At least I believe that in England and Scotland at any rate rhetoric of the kind I have tried to describe no longer makes that appeal to the people.I think it may be that the people of this country are getting just the least bit suspicious of the literary rhetoric of our Sunday Press, and of our daily Press, and that this very wholesome dread, this wholesome nervousness, is being transferred from the Press to the platform. I think that throughout this country there is today a far greater desire than there has ever been before to hear plain, unadorned statements of cases. I believe that anyone who has taken part in recent elections – a few constituencies excepted – will agree with me that one of the most remarkable features is the way in which large audiences all over the country will listen to a statement of a case, whether they agree with it or not, provided they feel that the statement is made honestly and fairly, and with due consideration for the opposite view. (pp. 101-2.)

Now if the mass-rationality assumption has no objective foundation, as we may justifiably suspect from our brief study of groups – firstly from the study of mass groups, and secondly, from the study of the emergence of the intellectual from such groups – if, in other words, we question the validity of the mass-rationality implication, we shall, I venture to suggest, begin to see quite a lot of social and political phenomena from a new angle and in a new light. Certain events, previously inexplicable or inadequately or only partly explained, begin to take on a new shape, to sort themselves out and to assume a more intelligible significance. Events which previously seemed more or less remote from each other and unrelated, come together and exhibit close relationship.

But here, we must remind the reader, it must be carefully and clearly borne in mind just what it is we are questioning. It is important to realise that we are not calling into question the capacity of the masses to acquire knowledge or to extend their knowledge as such; we are not even questioning their capacity to increase, as such, their rationality – that is to say, to extend their existing level of rationality over a broader field. We have already seen (Chapter 2) that we must distinguish between the quantitative (or horizontal) development of the intellect and its qualitative (its vertical or ideological) development. We have also seen that some members of the mass groups may have a large degree of intelligence or, in same cases, even a larger degree of intelligence; than is possessed by the average member of an intellectual group of higher qualitative development. Every act of knowing or understanding, we shall see, immediately involves two essential conditions (1), the thing or fact which is to be known and (2), a mode of thought, or system or way of thinking, appropriate to the nature of the type of fact which is to be known. (We shall find inadequate the more common conception of knowing, which stresses the fact to be known (or environment) and regards the mind as a mere inert receptacle somewhat like a pint-pot, or as a passive reflector like a mirror, and as making no positive contribution to the finished product of the knowing process. The quotation given above from Levy exemplifies this inadequate conception on the part of certain scientists, where he says: “In so far as scientists are people with social ideals… they proceed on the assumption that if only the facts are set out clearly enough people must necessarily accept them… “)

When we question the mass-rationality assumption, what we are doubting is, not whether the masses are capable of developing or extending their existing made of thought (i.e. quantitatively), but whether they are capable, as a mass, of developing the qualitatively higher modes of thought – of exchanging, in short, their existing made far the independent, analytic ideological mode of the scientific intellectuals, same of whom, according to Bernal (see above) “have been forced to adapt new mental attitudes which involve a break with the traditions of thought reaching as far back as the Greeks, if not farther.” (Note also Bernal’s further statement: “The simple logic of the schools derived from grammar and commonsense has been found inadequate to cope with the more remote complexities of the atom and the starry universe… what we call common sense is just a convenient but crude human tool, suitable enough far a simple life… “)

Science, it has been well said, is born in scepticism. And we have said that if we begin to doubt the mass-rationality assumption – as, in view of our preliminary study, we are so entitled to do – then certain events will start to take an a new significance, and certain apparently unconnected events can be related together mare than has been possible hitherto.

To illustrate, take the case already referred to (p.52) – and described in detail by Chakotin in The Rape of the Masses – of the rejection, in Germany, in 1932, by the Left-wing leadership, of the proposal to introduce on a large scale, what Chakotin calls “senso-propaganda” (scientific but violently emotional propaganda) into the Left-wing’s struggle with the Nazis far popular support and consequent power. As we have stated earlier, the new scientific methods were tried out an a comparatively small scale with great success. In his book, Chakatin publishes in full the report an the situation by the person – a competent and far-seeing individual – what, at the time, was in charge of anti-Nazi propaganda. The report is well worth diligent study and, in our opinion at least, is a very important and significant document. We can only reproduce here sufficient to show its relevance and make our point:

The new methods of combat by means of symbols (the three arrows, the clenched fist, the shout of “Freedom!”) had been proposed and had undergone their first test in the streets of Heidelberg, with very encouraging results, and the real struggle had now to be entered on…I sent a plan of propaganda to Berlin. But I waited in vain for a reply… After waiting a fortnight I received from Berlin, a few days before the elections, the reply that “it will be made use of if necessary” at the second ballot. I sent the whole system of symbols, with concrete, detailed plans of propaganda and organisation, to Berlin, but received no further reply. During this campaign the party propaganda was developed very slowly, and could not claim to be on a par with that of the other side either in quantity or quality. Once more our tracts proved too long and too doctrinaire; they could not be read without yawning. Two or three clumsy posters, unimaginative and uninspiring, were to be seen on the walls; they showed figures of misery, groaning and lamenting, and talking with anguish of the approach of the Third Reich. Was not this simple madness, a convincing proof of entire lack of psychological intuition? Was it not actually serving Hitler’s cause? While he uttered his threats, our posters gave them concrete form, thus carrying on a propaganda of intimidation in the wrong direction. People were going to our party meetings, but what could they get there? Interminable speeches, historical statements, figures and statistics, and argumentation, relieved from time to time with rather vulgar jests and witticisms. The most active of our comrades were wasting their time on insignificant meetings in tiny centres. I put before one of our party secretaries, a man who was exhausting himself in this sort of “activity,” the following calculation: at the height of the electoral campaign, with the Nazi propaganda making progress like wild-fire, with the Nazis masters of the streets, displaying their symbols everywhere, falling upon our followers and starting street-fights, our leader had left the town to speak in some hole to a hundred people, of whom about eighty were with us already and would have voted for us in any case. We could not hope to win over more than half of the remaining twenty. To this end, to get ten votes, he had left the offices of the party, left young members who were burning to help kicking their heels at home, and left the comrades of the Reichsbanner to wander aimlessly about the streets; for he had sent the local leaders of the Reichsbanner and the local youth leaders to speak in similar holes. The same spectacle was to be seen everywhere.But all my plans for activity, for modernising our fighting methods, were met by secretaries and officials of the party with the invariable reply: “We can do nothing without instructions from the central committee in Berlin.” In desperation, I decided to act on my own initiative; who could forbid me to use my energies as a member of the party?

I spent two days visiting the principal centres in south and south-west Germany… I had the good fortune to win over some active men among the secondary leaders; the younger members, especially, adopted the new methods with enthusiasm and thereafter vigorously carried them into execution… Party secretaries and leaders of the Reichsbanner in these: towns told me of the jubilant enthusiasm that had taken hold of our young militants and the ardour with which they rushed into the propagandist melee…

I was satisfied: the new method of propaganda had undergone its trial by fire; this was reported to me from all parts in the south of Germany… The report on the effect on our opponents was always the same – “disconcerted,” “taken aback ,” “in perplexity.” All the newspapers of the middle class wrote of the sudden activity of the masses of the Iron Front.

On the other hand, reports soon began to come in of difficulties and dissension within our organisations. There were differences of opinion between the leaders of the Reichsbanner, those of the Iron Front, and those of the Social Democratic Party. I had foreseen the danger of this, and had at once tried to get into touch with the principal party leaders, to awaken their interest and to enlist their sympathy for the new ideas… But I failed entirely. The party direction refused to organise a conference at which I might have explained my aims; the high officials of the party remained invisible – they were always speaking all over the Reich, and there was in reality no methodically organised central direction; as for a plan of campaign, nobody was bothering about it. The so-called central recruiting bureau, in charge of all propaganda and of the distribution of posters and tracts, was run by men with no experience of political propaganda and not the slightest comprehension of its principles. I tried to talk to them, to get into discussion with them, but it was labour in vain… These officials had heard of my lecture, but they felt certain objections of principle; they had no great opinion of psychology or of any science of politics. To my great distress, I now saw clearly, for the first time, that here I was powerless…

… We worked unremittingly in our central propaganda bureau. But soon I noticed signs of weariness, coming, as usual, from the higher ranks… Otto Horsing suddenly reappeared in the Reichsbanner offices. He was the leader of that organisation, but had not been seen for some time. Now he had come back – to work against the new ideas. They were “too modern,” “too dangerous,” they were contrary to police regulations [sic!]; what was more, they seemed to him to be ridiculous, and to expose us to the risk of being “misunderstood” by the public. He demanded that all further development of the new propaganda should be suspended…

What was to be done? There was not a day to lose in the struggle against the Hitlerist menace, but everything had to be begun again from the beginning. My task, above all, was to carry on propaganda in our ranks in favour of propaganda… There was thus only one thing to do – to try to convince the leaders… I tried to persuade each of them personally – Vogel, Breitscheid, Hilferding, Herts, Grassman, Kiinstler, Heilmann, Lobe, Stampfer, and others. I went to see them, talked with them for whole hours, and tried hard to convince them from figures, diagrams, and maps… But when they came together in committee they all rejected the new ideas. They sent me to perdition, especially Otto Wels, the great leader of the party, and all his speeches ended with the statement that since he was against these ideas it was a waste of time to talk about them.

The only thing, then, was to beard him, no light task. I knew in advance that he was entirely against our new propaganda. At first he had refused to listen to the idea of a campaign by means of symbols. His arguments were entirely incredible in the mouth of the leader of a revolutionary party – “We shall make ourselves ridiculous with all this nonsense.. “

Thus, we can see that the collapse of the Left-wing movement in Germany, in the face of the rising tide of fascism, was in part at least, due to the failure of its propaganda to win popular support – a propaganda which, it must be emphasised, was largely determined by doctrinaire leaders and intellectuals, and consequently, mainly based on the mass-rationality assumption.

Another illustration of the heuristic value in questioning that validity of the mass-rationality assumption is the case of Soviet Russia, where, during the 1918 Revolution, the Left-wing Bolsheviks, by supporting and urging the popular demands of the long-oppressed, but illiterate and mainly non-political, peasants – “Peace, Bread and Land!” – captured state power. After more than a quarter of a century of almost unlimited political power – during which time all political opposition to the official Communist Party has been ruthlessly suppressed and the Russian communists have tried continuously to impose their communist ideology upon the masses – religion, superstition, nationalism, hero-worship, patriotism, love of symbolism, militarism, authority, hierarchy, etc., etc., in short, the typical characters of the mass ideology, still obstinately persist among the Russian people; and moreover, the evidence from Russia of recent years tends to show that these characteristic features of the mass ideology are gaining more and more open expression. Again, the membership of the Communist Party of Russia still remains a tiny minority of the whole Russian population, whereas, by contrast, the membership of the German Nazi Party at the height of its power embraced a relatively larger proportion of the German people.

Many other problems connected with social development and events – notably, for instance, the paradoxical state of affairs, described in Chapter 1, in which science produces for man the means of controlling his material environment but is quite impotent in supplying him with the means to control his human environment – begin to wear a less puzzling aspect in the light of our new scepticism of the scientific intellectual’s assumption that mankind as a whole is moving towards the ideological homogeneity of mass rationality, towards the analytic, objective and independent mode of thought. Lack of space prevents the detailed enumeration and analysis of these other problems here, but enough has been said, we suggest, to warrant the continued pursuit of our inquiry along the lines indicated by the present, tentative results of our study. In Part II of this book we shall endeavour to come to some understanding of the underlying mechanisms of ideological and political development, particularly with the idea of tracing, if possible, the psycho-biological origin of the mass-rationality assumption.

Meanwhile, we may reflect that, if human society is not moving towards ideological homogeneity – which is the implication of the mass-rationality assumption – but if, as we suspect, it is moving towards ideological heterogeneity (and it has already developed considerably heterogeneity in this respect) then we shall have the full weight of the evidence of universal evolution to support us. The following words are taken from Herbert Spencer’s First Principles, the famous work in which he shows by a mass of evidence that progressive differentiation, or advance from homogeneity to heterogeneity, is a general characteristic or law of evolution:

Advance from the homogeneous to the heterogeneous is clearly displayed in the progress of the latest and most heterogeneous creature – Man. While the peopling of the Earth has been going on, the human organism has grown more heterogeneous among the civilised divisions of the species; and the species, as a whole, has been made more heterogeneous by the multiplication of races and the differentiation of them from one another… On passing from Humanity under its individual form to Humanity as socially embodied, we find the general law still more variously exemplified. The change from the homogeneous to the heterogeneous is displayed equally in the progress of civilisation as a whole, and in the progress of every tribe or nation; and it is still going on with increasing rapidity.Society in its first and lowest stage is a homogeneous assemblage of individuals having like powers and like functions: the only marked difference of function being that which accompanies difference of sex. Every man is warrior, hunter, fisherman, tool-maker, builder; every woman performs the same drudgeries; every family is self-sufficing, and, save for purposes of companionship, aggression, and defence, might as well live apart from the rest. Very early, however, in the course of social evolution, we find an incipient differentiation between the governing and the governed… Not only is the law thus exemplified in the evolution of the social organism, but it is exemplified in the evolution of all products of human thought and action, whether concrete or abstract, real or ideal… The advance from the simple to the complex, through successive modifications upon modifications, is seen alike in the earliest changes of the Heavens to which we can reason our way back, and in the earliest changes we can inductively establish; it is seen in the geologic and climatic evolution of the Earth, of every individual organism on its surface and in the aggregate of organisms; it is seen in the evolution of Humanity, whether contemplated in the civilised man, or in the assemblage of races; it is seen in the evolution of Society, in respect alike of its political, its religious, and its economical organisation; and it is seen in the evolution of those countless concrete and abstract products of human activity, which constitute the environment of our daily life. From the remotest past which Science can fathom, up to the novelties of yesterday, an essential trait of Evolution has been the transformation of the homogeneous into the heterogeneous.

Another general characteristic of evolution, dwelt upon at length by Spencer, and upon which we can reflect in connection with the ideological development of man, is the progressive integration of mutually-dependent parts which accompanies the transformation of homogeneity into heterogeneity. Human society began its development as a more or less loose collection or assemblage of individuals (with no great degree of mutual dependence except in relation to the sex function) very much in the same manner as the animal body began its evolution as a loose, homogeneous assemblage (colony) of individual cells; and, just as in the evolution of the animal, there occurs an increasing specialisation and integration of function among groups of individual cells – and consequently, an increasing dependence of these groups upon one another – so, similarly, does human society exhibit in its development, an increasing specialisation and integration of function among groups of individual members of society. In the same way that the animal body, in the course of its evolution, gradually develops into a more and more self-regulating, self-controlled organism, so does human society; and, as in the case of the animal, different groups of cells become related in different ways to the whole mechanism of the economy, regulation and control of the organism, and form a series of levels of function – a hierarchy of functions – so, we suggest, in the case of human society, different ideological groups of individuals become related in different ways to the whole mechanism of the economics, regulation and control (or government) of the social organism, and form a similar hierarchy of functions.

Yet another general characteristic of the evolutionary process which relates to our study of the ideological structure and development of society, is the coexistence, within an integrating system, of many levels of development; and moreover, their coexistence in such a manner that, where the qualitatively higher levels depend for their existence upon the existence of the lower levels, these lower levels are represented by a greater number of unit – parts or members than are the higher levels. This characteristic can be seen, for example, in the numerical preponderance of protons and electrons over atoms, in the numerical preponderance of atoms over molecules, in that of inorganic molecules over organic molecules, of organic molecules over cells, of unicellular organisms over multicellular organisms, and so on. The principle applies equally well to the levels of function exhibited in the structure of a single individual organism (such as an atom, molecule, cell or animal body) or to those same levels exhibited externally in the universe at large. The ideological structure of human society and the evolution of ideologies exhibit this same general characteristic, namely, in that the lower levels of the ideological scale, from which the higher layers have developed, are represented by a greater number of individual members than are the higher layers. Finally, the principle also applies – as we shall see more clearly in Part II – to the ideas appropriate to the different levels of ideological development exhibited in the mental structure of a single individual.

[footnote] Jung, for instance, in his Integration of the Personality, says: “It is one of the most ridiculous illusions of civilised man that the ‘perils of the soul’ have entirely disappeared along with primitive superstitions. Even the superstitions have not disappeared from any civilised nation as a whole. They have only changed their names, and often not even that. The din of uprooted intellectual highbrows usually goes on believing in permanent and universal enlightenment. That technical progress and social improvements do not mean psychological differentiation or a higher level of consciousness is a lesson that we are unwilling to learn.” (p. 9)

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