Harold Walsby: Definition of Ideology

Before we go on to describe the typical course of ideological development and attempt to come to some understanding of its underlying mechanisms, it will be necessary to get some clearer idea of what we mean by the word “ideology.” This will demand a discussion of two important and leading concepts which are indispensable for the clear comprehension of our meaning of the term. They are, firstly, the concept of “assumption,” and, secondly, the concept of “identification.”

According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary the word “ideology” means “the science of ideas, also; visionary speculation.” We shall be unconcerned with the second of these two interpretations of the term, but in addition to the above definitions, the Addenda of the same dictionary gives the following: “(also) ideas at the basis of some economic or political theory or system: (Nazi, Fascist, ideology).” Now, although we shall sometimes use the word with approximately the same meaning as the first definition given above, we wish at the moment to draw special attention to this last definition; Thus, our use of the term “ideology” will be similar to the dual use of such a term as, say, “morphology,” which means (a), the science or study of organic forms and structures, and (b), the form of structure of an organism.

The more frequent sense in which we shall use the word “ideology” undoubtedly approximates to the last interpretation – that given in the Addenda of the dictionary – which definition however, as it stands, is too rigid and arbitrarily restricted to suit our present purposes. For example, the dictionary confines the term to the basic ideas underlying some system of economic or political theories. We shall therefore find it convenient to extend this definition to include the basic ideas (or rather, the assumptions) underlying any system of ideas. And since we shall find that all ideas (or more definitely, all propositions) are based on, or take for granted, certain cognitive assumptions, and that, moreover, on the basis of these assumptions, propositions can be classified or divided into groups or systems, then it can be seen that our extended definition will cover the whole field of propositions – political, economic, religious, philosophical, scientific or otherwise.

This extension of the meaning of “ideology” may at first seem rather too broad, but upon further consideration I think we shall find that the removal of the rather arbitrary limitation attached to the ordinary meaning is not only desirable but necessary for clear thinking, and is of great practical value. Without necessarily defining it, quite a number of writers in recent years have tended to use the term much as we shall use it in this wider, but more objective, sense. However, we have by no means exhausted what we are to understand by an ideology and we must consider the matter further.

Besides the cognitive aspect – the logically implied assumptions – there is another and equally important aspect to be taken into account in defining an ideology, since it is an essential and necessary ingredient, characteristic of all ideologies. It is, namely, the emotional or affective aspect – that aspect which is connected with morals, values etc. – and we may consider it as complementary to, and as mutually interpenetrating with, the cognitive aspect. Using a very crude analogy, we can say that the affective element is the mortar which binds the bricks of the cognitive element together to form a whole. Just as the cognitive aspect of an ideology is characterised by a particular set of logically implied assumptions, so, similarly, the affective aspect is characterised by a particular set of emotional ties or “identifications.” These identifications – which vary in their strength from one ideological group to another, and from person to person in the same ideological group – attach themselves to a whole range of things: from general assumptions, abstract principles and ideas, to concrete facts, forms, symbols, and even particular objects or persons. Each set of identifications – and every human being possesses such a set – forms a kind of “scale of values” – a phrase sometimes used in common parlance, and under which this affective aspect of an ideology is more popularly known or recognised.

We shall find that in an ideology there are involved two kinds of cognitive assumptions – positive and negative – and equally, that there are involved two kinds of emotional identification – positive and negative identifications. Negative assumptions are implied in the denial of certain propositions, and negative identifications are implied by the emotional repudiation or rejection of certain ideas, things or persons. We shall find, too, that these two aspects of an ideology (cognitive and affective) to some extent interact with and condition each other – which indicates, at one and the same time, some measure of independence of each other and also their mutual inter-dependence. Thus these two aspects of an ideology may and do interact also, partly independently and partly together, as two aspects of an individual’s mental organisation, with the environment of the individual. Again, we shall find that these two aspects grew out of one another by a kind of fission-process, or, to put it another way, became differentiated from a more or less homogeneous condition, an original mental state, which we shall call “self-identification.”

Now, it will be noticed upon examination that our conception of an ideology has undergone or is undergoing a somewhat radical change: upon a merely static conception of an ideology, as composed of a number of set “ideas at the basis of some economic or political theory or system” – of itself a rather barren and rigid conception – we have superimposed certain ideas which give to our original concept a dynamic character. An ideology, which previously was a more or less empty, abstract husk or shell, largely removed from the life of the individual and actual mental events, has now become more a conception of a living, growing thing, and intimately connected with the mental life of every human being; our conception of an ideology has, from a vague concept of something relating to a mere arbitrary collection of abstract ideas, fixed and remote from the living person, become an actual, growing, changing state of each human being’s mental organisation. This change – from static to more dynamic and concrete conceptions is a characteristic feature in the evolution of thought and of science, and, as it comes within the province of ideological development, we shall learn more of it in later pages.

When we think of an ideology in this more dynamic sense, we mean much the same thing as that when we use such expressions as “outlook on life,” “general attitude of mind,” “mode of thought,” “intellectual position,” “Weltanschauung,” “mental standpoint,” “method of approach,” “general viewpoint” and so on. A good illustration of this is the title of C. H. Waddington’s interesting book, The Scientific Attitude, a book in which he seeks to describe the ideology (in our sense) of science. Waddington says in the foreword (note the reference to the affective aspect of the scientist’s “attitude to the world”): “I shall argue that science can not only solve special technical problems, such as the correct amount of vitamins to have in our bread, but that it has also developed an attitude to the world which make some things seem valuable and others not; and these standards of the scientific world cannot be overlooked when the general problem of values is being discussed.”

Our revised, more dynamic and concrete conception of an ideology may now be defined as the complete system of cognitive assumptions and affective identifications which manifest themselves in, or underlie, the thought, speech, aims, interests, ideals, ethical standards, actions – in short, in the behaviour – of an individual human being. The definition is, of course, broad and not a final one; like all definitions it will be subject to greater determination as we fill in the details and our knowledge and understanding grow more determinate.

It will be clear from our new definition that everyone has an ideology, since everyone, however primitive, has some kind of emotional and intellectual life which expresses itself in his or her behaviour. In fact, as I think can easily be shown, we are all born with the primitive beginnings of an ideology – beginnings which we have partly inherited and partly acquired in utero. It seems likely, too, from our definition, that no two individuals will have exactly and precisely the same ideology, i.e., exactly the same detailed structure of cognitive assumptions and affective identifications. They will differ in this respect much as they differ anatomically and physiologically; that is to say, some structural details will be present in one but not in another, and other characteristics will be present in two or more but will differ in form or degree.

Yet, while each individual ideology may differ from all others – as every animal’s morphology or structure differs in some way from that of every other animal – we shall find, as in the case of fauna, broad resemblances and common features which enable us to classify them into related groups. It follows, then, that before we can classify ideologies into groups according to their likenesses and differences we have to know something of their structures – which structures must be, for our purpose, more or less permanent; and we shall find that, like the physiological structure of an organism, while the details are constantly changing, growing and decaying, the main parts of the ideological structure remain more or less the same.

How are we to discover and analyse the structure of the ideology of an individual? Broadly speaking, by studying his behaviour, but more particularly, by studying that part of his behaviour which largely arises from, or manifests, his conscious intentions (this aspect of human behaviour tends to be excluded from the field of psychology – a science which rather confines itself to the study of the more automatic or involuntary aspects of behaviour). Although intentional or voluntary behaviour may include such forms as locomotion, movements of the limbs, etc., it is to the form of speech – or more properly, the spoken or written utterance of thought that we must turn for the study of the most direct expression of an individual’s conscious intentions. In other words, in order to study the ideology of a person, we must mainly study what he says and also the manner in which it is said; also, we must make a comparative study of the utterances of this person with the utterances of others. But it does not mean that we have to examine every utterance of this or that particular individual. For, once we know the “materials” of which an ideology is composed – that is to say, cognitive assumptions and affective identifications, the bricks and mortar of our analogy – once we know what we are to look for, as well as where we are to look for them, then we shall find that the broad structure of the ideology (or part of it) can often be detected in a relatively small sample of utterance, especially if it happens to be of the right kind. It will naturally vary from one person to another.

While the ideology or “outlook” of an individual shows its influence in practically all his conduct – though this, too, varies considerably – it manifests itself, as may be expected, more directly in that part of his conduct which is less directly determined by his immediate environment. To make this clearer, we can usefully regard the different forms of human behaviour (using the word “behaviour” in its widest possible sense) after the manner of an ascending scale or graded, hierarchic system of levels: where the more palpable or readily perceived forms of behaviour at the lower end are predominantly determined by immediate mechanical and physical agencies – as in the case, for example, of the influence of gravity, atmospheric pressure and temperature, etc., upon the condition, position and movement of the body, either in part or as a whole; where, rising in the scale, the forms of behaviour such as involve the natural bodily functions are largely determined by the chemical and biological processes of the body; and where, in the higher levels, the less palpable forms of behaviour – which involve acquired functions and abilities, expression of instincts, emotions, moral attitudes, logical thought etc. – are largely influenced by psychological and ideological processes. It will be noticed that, as we ascend the scale, each succeeding level – although involving processes of all the levels below it, and moreover, including them as parts of itself – is associated with progressively less of the material structure of the body.

The processes of each level influence all the behaviour throughout the whole scale of levels, though variably – that is: either more, or less directly. Gravity, for instance, influences the state and position of the whole body directly or immediately, but it influences a person’s ideas indirectly or mediately, which is to say, per medium of the processes of other levels, e.g., biological, psychological and ideological processes. Likewise, ideological processes influence a person’s ideas directly, but condition the state and position of his body indirectly, i.e., through the medium of processes at other and lower levels; nobody can merely “think” himself into motion – or, more precisely, the mere idea of locomotion is not of itself sufficient to cause locomotion. It would appear, then, that all – or practically all – human behaviour is determined, both directly and indirectly, by the processes of a number of structural levels of activity which – because of the fact that the lower levels are subsumed, or involved, in the more complex structures of the higher levels – can act through the medium of each other.

However, these structural levels of activity – physical, chemical, biological, psychological, ideological – which mutually interact within the human organism and so determine it from within, manifest themselves also in the universal environment of that organism, and so determine it from without. Thus, the ideological influence of one person upon another – necessitating, as it does, the communication of ideas – involves the activity of processes which are ideological, psychological, biological, chemical and physical; and moreover, the structure of process – levels involved in the communication of ideas, is duplicated for each individual concerned: one set existing internally for each organism, and another, existing externally to it.

The complete process of idea communication, in its complex transformations of energy from higher to lower levels, and back again from lower to higher levels, is very crudely analogous to the movement of a person from the top storey of a building through several floors to ground-level, along this level to the ground-floor of another building, and so up, once again, to the top storey. So far as the lowest level is concerned there is no qualitative distinction between the ground-floor level of the buildings themselves and the level of the area which separates them; at this level, therefore, there is no sharp distinction between the buildings and their environment; but, as a consequence of the storey-structure of the buildings, the top floors of different buildings possess a certain independence, both of each other and of the ground-level from which they were raised.

Normally, all the information about other attic-dwellers, which comes to the occupants of the top floor of each building, must come via the other floors and ground-level. Therefore, the observational facts – with which all science must systematically begin and which form, so to speak, its raw material – are, for the study of ideological structure and development, to be found in the means by which people communicate with each other.

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 Field | Definition of Ideology | Cognitive Assumptions | The Process of Assumptions | The Absolute Assumption | Identification | Development and Repression | Conclusion | Bibliography | Index