George Walford: Where Do We Go from Here?
This is intended to be the first of a series of articles (it will probably not be a regular series) speculating on the future development of systematic ideology, its future development not just as a theory but as a body of opinion, in relation to society at large. The main features of the theory, so far as it has yet been developed, are set out in The Domain of Ideologies, Ideologies and their Function, An Outline Sketch of Systematic Ideology, and elsewhere. Assuming the theory to be valid, what social implications does it carry? Can it become a significant social influence? If it can, then how would a society, in which this theory was recognised and accepted, differ from present society in which it is ignored?
This first article will be couched in very broad, general terms; some of those to follow will be similar, but in others I hope to get down, if not to details, then at least to particular aspects of this inexhaustible subject. The series will be rather more speculative than the contents of IC often are, but it will not descend into mere wish-fulfilling fantasies; the statements to be put forward are intended as reasonable extrapolations from what has been demonstrated or what can be observed. Nor will the articles seek out exciting novelties; let us bear in mind Lord Sallisbury’s view of politics; he once said that his notion of British foreign policy was to drift gently down stream, now and then putting out an oar to avoid a collision.
A Minority Interest
One thing not to be expected is that people in general should come to behave with conscious regard for the principles of systematic ideology; the theory itself shows that positive interest in it must be expected to remain confined to a very small group.
No Intentional Restriction
This is not to say that knowledge of it ought to be intentionally restricted to some presumed elite. On the contrary. Just because recruits are so few therefore every effort must be made to render the theory easily accessible, to ensure that none are overlooked.
Systematic Ideology Not Isolated
The smallness of the group does not, of itself, prevent the theory becoming a significant social influence. A parallel many be drawn with the exact sciences; the group with a positive interest in the theories of exact science is larger than the group interested in systematic ideology, but it is still small. Unlike, for example, the group interested in television, or the group interested in pop music, or the group interested in driving motor-cars, it is not able to exert direct influence by its mere numbers. But this does not prevent the exact sciences exercising considerable influence.
Science as Magic
One way in which science affects society is through the wide-spread use of the products resulting from its achievements. These are used by large numbers of people without understanding of the reasons why they work. That is to say, they are used in an unscientific way, even scientists doing this with the products of sciences other than their own. The products of science are used, for the most part, by rote, simply in accordance with instructions, by blind faith. Those who use them are mostly behaving in the same way as the believer in magic following the instructions for casting a spell. One way in which science exercises widespread social influence is by being accepted as if it were a form of magic.
Science as Authority
Science also produces effects by means of the status it enjoys. To present a statement as scientific tends to induce compliance, and this is so because science is a respected social institution. Here, again, the response does not depend upon understanding of science; this response also is an unscientific one. Science can be accepted as a form of authority as well as a form of magic.
Science as Science
Each of these responses is characteristic of a particular ideological group, science as magic being protostatic, science as authority epistatic. Exact science “itself” (science as science) is a parastatic activity, but it is accepted by these other groups; they interpret it in accordance with their own assumptions.
Each Group as Its Own Response
There is nothing in systematic ideology to prevent it being accepted in these ways, as magic or as authority. That is to say, there is nothing to prevent it being accepted, in an interpretation that accords with their respective ideologies, by the two largest ideological groups. Nor is this all. There is nothing in it that prevents it being accepted by the other groups also, by the parastatic group as science, by the protodynamic group as a reforming influence, and by the epidynamic as a revolutionary one (And nothing, of course, to prevent the paradynamics also responding in accordance with their ideology and opposing it). There is nothing in systematic ideology to prevent it being accepted by each of the major ideological groups in an interpretation that accords with the ideology of that group.
Such acceptance does not call for Machiavellian subtlety of manipulation on the part of those concerned with the theory. What it requires (I nearly said “all it requires!”) is a complete exposition. Systematic ideology is not an exclusive theory, it does not put forward a certain set of principles for the operation of society and exclude others. It does not, for example, promote economic collectivism and oppose economic individualism (which would repel the ediostatics). Nor does it promote economic individualism and oppose economic collectivism (which would repel the ediodynamics). What it does is to show that an economic system competent to meet the requirements of a modern society necessarily embraces both these principles, and goes on to show the relations between them. And similarly for other principles, other general assumptions, dividing one major ideological group from another. If systematic ideology can be summarised in a sentence, it is this: Although nothing is absolutely true, everything is relatively true.
What is required, for each of the major ideological groups to be able to accept systematic ideology on, so to speak, its own terms, is that the theory be fully developed, put forward in all the different formulations, in all the different degrees of intellectuality and of simplicity, of abstruseness and of practicality that would together constitute a complete exposition of it. Even in its present embryonic condition, to those who have tried expounding it, a most impressive feature of the responses received, is the extent to which they are governed, not by what has been said, but by the pre-existing assumptions and identifications, the ideology, of the listener. Given a full exposition, in all its range, all its variety of forms, all its generality, its detail and its complexity, there would be no question of needing to devise a different version for each ideological group. Each would make its own selection, impose its own interpretation, devise its own version.
Will the Theory Be Accepted?
It cannot be asserted that the theory, in whatever form or interpretation, will come to generally accepted. Reason as closely as we may the event depends, in part at least, upon the contingent and unpredictable; if a few people in the upper echelons of the military lose their heads and press their buttons then our most justified expectations will not have time to come to fruition. We cannot, by taking thought, determine whether systematic ideology will come to be generally accepted; all we can do is to consider whether, in the absense of catastrophe, this is a reasonable expectation or whether there is some factor, at present recognisable, that will probably prevent it.
The Present Position in Politics
There is much in life, and to ideology also, apart from party politics, but it is in this sphere that the influence of ideology is most easily recognised, and it is in this sphere also that the system or structure formed by the major ideologies has achieved – in the various main political parties and movements – its most explicit and coherent expression (Although, as we shall see, that expression is still very far from complete). I do not intend to limit this series to party politics, but to omit the subject would be like trying to produce Hamlet without not only the Prince but also his mother, father and uncle. One thing we want to consider is how the political structure of a society, in which systematic ideology was generally accepted, would differ from the political structure of Britain today, and this requires a sketch of British politics today in relation to the ideological structure. I shall keep it as short as possible.
The One-Party System
There are occasions – mainly in times of unusual stress – when Britain is ruled by a combination of two or more parties; such arrangements are exceptional and short lived. The system is one of rule by one party, elections being occasions when the electorate decides which party shall rule for the next few years.
Two Major Ideologies Effective
At least, that is the simplest view; things are in fact rather more complicated. Since Labour emerged as a major party it has alternated in power with conservatism. The Labour Party is not a simply protodynamic organisation (its large trade union component is mainly epistatic) but none the less one can say that, with these two parties alternating in government, over a period the epistatic and protodynamic ideologies share “official” dominance. And it is, of course, commonly termed a “two-party” system.
Three Major Ideologies Effective
The picture is still not complete. If the period taken be extended back to 1940 then it is found that a third ideologies has been functional in the British political system, and that not in any trivial or vestigial fashion. During the last war (to go no further back), although the government was operated by people belonging, in the main, to the Labour and Conservative parties, yet it was not the ideologies with which these parties are particularly associated that were mainly operative. Party politics was suspended, together with most of the democratic freedoms, and a nation whose spokesmen like to describe it as “peace-loving” directed its main effort toward warfare. During the war years Britain operated, in political and military affairs, in much the same way as Nazi Germany; the two countries both functioned mainly by the protostatic ideology. It was only by doing this that Britain was able to maintain its separate existence. During the last forty years – not a long time in the life of a nation – not just one, or even two, but three of the major ideologies have, in turn, provided the assumptions on which the government of the day has operated.
Four Major Ideologies Effective
This is still not the whole picture. An integral part of the British political system is universal suffrage, election of the government by a method in which every citizen (with a few trivial exceptions) counts equally with every other. The electoral system regards the electors not as members of a mass but as individuals, not as possessing varying degrees of status but all of them as citizens of equal value. That is to say, the electoral system operates not on protostatic, epistatic or protodynamic but on parastatic assumptions. This integral constituent of the British political system operates according to the parastatic ideology. There are four of the major ideologies operative within the British political system.
Six Major Ideologies Effective
Having got this far one is impelled to ask whether the other ideologies also are effective, and I take the epidynamic first. On the face of it this ideology now produces no significant effect in social and political life. “Communist” and “Marxist” are fashionable terms for newly-constituted governments whatever course of action they follow, but the communism which expresses the epidynamic ideology – what we might distinguish as “classical” communism – is everywhere a minority movement excluded from the seats of power and in many countries more or less suppressed. In Britain there is not one communist MP, and the presence of communists (or their ideological equivalents, such as trotskyists) in positions of power in the trade unions or elsewhere is rare enough to be cause for comment. The assumptions of the epidynamic ideology are far from being realised in social and political practice. But this does not mean that this ideology is ineffective.
Positive Good, Negative Good
It is usual to think of the positive and constructive as good and of the negative and destructive as bad, but this is superficial thinking. Positive and negative, constructive and destructive are interdependent and inseparable; every act of construction is also an act of destruction. Every replacement building involved the demolition of an old one and every additional building, where none has been before, destroys an empty space, a field or an area of desert. Granite for construction is obtained by the destruction of mountains.
The same holds good in social affairs; here also negative and positive, destructive and constructive, are interdependent and inseparable. Every successful reform is the abolition of an abuse or a deficiency; constructive acts are often performed as a response to destructive, hostile, negative criticism. A society in an evolutionary system (though it is not only that) and it is by unremitting struggle and mutual destruction among its constituent parts that every evolutionary system functions and develops.
Each major ideology has its negative component, each major ideological group is capable of destructive action, but the relation of the ediostatic groups to their own social group (nation, state or country) is predominantly positive. It is as one moves along the range toward the paradynamic and that hostile, critical, negative, destructive activities directed toward one’s own society become significant (It is this that leads to those toward this end of the range being popularly regarded as “agitators” and “troublemakers”).
The constant hostile, destructive criticism emanating from the epidynamic is one of the factors making for social change, development and progress, and in the paradynamic these negative tendencies reach their full development. Anarchism is not merely critical of existing society but opposed to it, does not seek to reform or even to revolutionise it but to abolish it and construct an entirely different society in its place. In pursuing this aim it calls in question all features of present society, holds up a mirror in which may be seen, as if from outside, its visage with all the blemishes emphasised.
One recent example of effective criticism-in-action by epi- and paradynamic groups was the “squatter” movement. This was very much negative, destructive action; the squatters did not attempt to build themselves houses, or to speed up construction by others. They just grabbed houses already standing, and in doing so they acted in a way that was not only illegal, but immoral – as was loudly proclaimed by the authorities and the media. They “jumped the queue,” they upset an orderly arrangement whereby the homeless took their turn. By acting in a selfish, disorderly, undemocratic, vulgar and sometimes violent fashion they compelled the authorities to change their methods, and the benefits of those changes now extend far beyond the groups who brought them about.
The epi- and paradynamic ideologies, also, are effective in British social and political life today, even if their contribution is not all that members of those groups would wish.
The Metadynamics Not Effective
The only one of the major ideologies that is not an effective element in Britain today is the metadynamic. It can become effective only as systematic ideology comes to be accepted, and since the other six major ideologies are already effective, there may seem to be no need for this theory. The theory of systematic ideology, and the metadynamic with it, may appear otiose.
No Mutual Recognition
This appearance vanishes on closer examination. The view (put forward in bare outline here and more extensively elsewhere, particularly in Ideologies and their Function, that each of the major ideologies makes a contribution to British political and social life that none of the others is capable of making, is one that twill not be found in the writings or the speeches emanating from any of the parties or movements. Each of them believes its own ideas, its own principles and policies, its own assumptions, to be all that is needed; each of them considers the others to be unnecessary if nothing worse. The perception of their mutual complementarity is a distinctively metadynamic feature.
Complementary Not Simple
The assertion, that the major ideologies complement one another in political life (and elsewhere) is sometimes taken to mean that the parties and movements ought to live peacefully together, the communist (or conservative) lion lying down with the conservative (or communist) lamb. This view is rejected as absurd, and rightly so; with rare exceptions the parties and movements oppose on another and there is no sign of their ceasing to do so. But although the parties and movements are opposed to one another yet they constitute a political system, a whole (and the ideologies and ideological groups constitute an ideological system, a whole) and it is this that is meant when they are said to be complimentary. Complimentary here is a relation that includes competition, hostility, even mutual destructiveness (There is a great deal more to be said about this and I shall return to it later in the series).
Most Movements Tolerant
Each major ideological group assumes its own ideology to be sufficient for all purposes; it must do so, otherwise it would be obliged to adopt other assumptions. But with two exceptions (which we shall come to in a moment) each group, although assuming its own assumptions to be sufficient, is yet able to tolerate the continuing presence of other groups and other ideologies, to tolerate what it sees as error.
This also is expressed by the parties and movements. Each of them (again with two exceptions), while holding that its own principles, policies and programmes provide all that is necessary in government, is yet able to tolerate the continuing presence of competitors. They are not committed to opposing that concept of a structure or system embracing them all which, in its full development, is one of the main contributions systematic ideology has to make to political and social theory.
But there are, as I said, two exceptions to this, two ideologies and two political movements which are not tolerant or democratic, which do not willingly accept the continuing presence of the others. These are the paradynamic, finding political expression through anarchism, and the protostatic, finding political expression through fascism. I take the paradynamic first.
Anarchist Opposition Ineffective
At first sight it may seem an error to suggest that anarchism is unable to tolerate the presence of other political movements. The term implies freedom for each person to behave and to think as he or she may choose, and this may seem to mean that in an anarchist society people would be free to adhere, if not to fascism then at least to any democratic political position. But this is not so; anarchism is more exclusive than is generally recognised, and its exclusiveness is not an adventitious feature, it arises necessarily from its basic assumptions.
Anarchism does, as is generally believed, imply freedom. But as interpreted by the anarchist movement it implies more than that. It implies complete freedom for all, and this is obtainable only on one severe condition: there must be nobody present who would restrict the freedom of others. If there is such a person then the others have a choice: they can submit, and thereby lose their freedom, or they can resist. Assuming they resist successfully, then by this option also they lose their freedom, for resistance is not a course of action they have freely chosen, it has been forced on them.
Of all the major political movements it is only anarchism that believes in complete political freedom; all others maintain the necessity of some restraint. Consequently, an anarchist society can function only if it excludes all major ideologies except the paradynamic. This appears in the present behaviour of anarchists, which consists almost wholly of opposition and rejection. As I write I have in front of me an anarchist poster which proclaims:
No War. No Ayatollah. No Shah. No President. No Nationalism. No Militarism. No Ideology. No Religion. No God. No State. No Leaders. No Followers. Destroy That Which Destroys You.
To carry out that programme of abolition would be to do away with every political movement except anarchism and every major ideology except the paradynamic.
Anarchism is necessarily opposed to all other political movements and committed to their destruction. But this opposition is not an effective barrier to the existence of an ideologically (and politically) complex society. The paradynamic is a small group, so small that the anarchists cannot constitute an effective obstacle.
Fascist Opposition Controllable
Fascism is a different proposition from anarchism. It is an expression of the largest group of all, the protostatic, and accordingly is potentially the largest and most powerful of all political movements. And it is quite intolerant; there was no scope for organised political expression of other ideologies in Nazi Germany. But although the protostatic is always present, and is always the largest group, fascism is not always dominant. It was not dominant in Germany during the Weimar Republic (although it became so), it is not dominant in West Germany now, or in the Western democracies.
The protostatic group is divided in two sections: a small active minority and a large majority which tends to remain passive unless provoked or stimulated. Of these, it is only the minority that constantly strives to establish the protostatic assumptions in social and political life, to eliminate ideological plurality. The passive majority tends to turn away from public matters, its members confining their attention to their own individual affairs, and so long as it does this the active minority is as ineffective as any other small minority. It is only when the passive majority is disturbed, in times of social stress, that it is likely to enter the political field, and even then the power it is capable of exercising – by virtue of its numbers – does not necessarily come under the control of the active protostatic minority; it is available to whichever movement is best able to satisfy the protostatic requirements. When the protostatic mass was disturbed in Russia in 1917 it was the (epidynamic) Bolsheviks who succeeded in obtaining control of it (Although they did not long retain control; the old Bolsheviks were soon eliminated and replaced by an active protostatic minority, the Stalinists).
The active protostatic minority is always present, but whether it comes to enjoy the powerful support provided by the usually passive protostatic majority, when that starts to move, depends upon whether there is any other group present better able to satisfy protostatic requirements. Although fascism is one expression of the protostatic, and therefore potentially the most powerful political movement, and although it seeks to eliminate all other ideologies, yet it does not necessarily constitute an effective barrier to ideological and political plurality.
No Effective Opposition
We may say, then, that all the major parties and movements, except two, are able to tolerate an ideologically complex political system and, of the two unable to tolerate it, one is too small to offer effective opposition and the other, given understanding of the requirements of the protostatic, can be prevented from doing so.
Toleration is Not Enough
But to say that the parties and movement are able to accept (or at least unable to effectively to oppose) ideological complexity is a long way from saying that they would be competent to operate a system in which that feature was institutionalised. They have developed as parts of a system working on the assumption that one ideology alone was capable of providing everything needed for effective government, that one being selected by the battle of the polls. They are intended and constructed for combat, even if not a l’outrance, and their willingness to tolerate the continuing presence of what they see as opponents is no more than a modification of the attitude resulting. A political system which started from the recognition that society is constituted of a number of ideological groups, of stable relative magnitudes and each with its political function, would require a different attitude from this and different organsations from these. It is a subject I hope to develop in a later article.
from Ideological Commentary 9, February 1981.
- PSI Circular Number Two (February 1979)
- PSI Circular Number One (January 1979)
- Joshua Feldman: Reconceptualising (systematic) Ideology in the Wake of Political Psychology
- George Walford and Ike Benjamin: The Sad Case of the SPGB
- Linda Sloane: Systematic Ideology and Identity / The Triangle of Society, Ideology and the Individual
- Their “Operation Utopia”
- George Orwell Letters to George Walford
- George Walford: The New Magic
- George Walford: Exploring Ideology
- George Walford: Sciences