George Walford: New Readers Start Here (31)

Revision of June 1987.

Ideological Commentary is devoted to the development and exposition of systematic ideology, a theory originated and largely developed by the late Harold Walsby. We do not claim final or exhaustive understanding of it; the formulation that looked like the ultimate last month needs alteration now, and the partial account given here will be subject to continuous revision.

Walsby’s theory holds that the ideas, consciously held, which are often taken to constitute an ideology, are only its visible tip; the larger and more influential part consists of assumptions normally hidden from those holding them, affecting their beliefs and their behaviour without their knowledge. On this view it is not the interests of a group or a person which decides the ideology they hold; rather does the ideology lead them to develop particular interests.

These deep assumptions tend strongly to occur in sets, each set forming the basis of one of the range of major ideologies, and the attachment of a person to this or that ideology is the outcome of interaction between two factors: First, the inherent assumption that one is undetermined, or free. Walsby terms this the absolute assumption, and something corresponding to it appears in other theories of human behaviour: Pavlov’s “liberty reflex,” Freud’s “pleasure principle,” Ferenczi’s “infantile omnipotence,” also Hegel’s “indeterminate being.” In each case it is the inborn element, it is that which undergoes conditioning, inhibition or limitation. The second factor contributing to the development of an ideology is the limitations, conditions or inhibiting influences encountered in the course of life.

The limitations encountered during childhood (and also prior to this, for they begin before birth) are always unique in their details but, in their broader features, they are the same for all. Each child comes to associate the mother, and later the family group, with pleasure and satisfaction, the world outside with frustration and suffering. Consequently we all begin adult life with substantially the same ideology, one which incorporates positive identification with the social group and negative identification with the external world (which Walsby terms the cosmos).

Coming out of the family circle into direct contact with society, we start to modify our assumptions in the light of social experience. Many changes are trivial, superficial and transient; others go deeper, and for some people they are so deep, and so extensive, as to constitute a transition to the next ideology in the series. Some of these go on to the next beyond that, and so on.

For any one person the question whether there will be a shift from one major ideology to another is unanswerable; it depends upon the unpredictable contingencies of experience, among them encounters with other people acting in accordance with their respective ideologies. Each new experience interacts with the existing ideological structure, so that different people respond differently to similar stimuli. According to past experiences incorporated into the ideology such apparent trivialities as shades of colour, tones of voice or correspondences of shape may induce one person to alter their ideology radically, while another repudiates the novelty as trivial, irrelevant or illusory. Ideological predictions apply only loosely to individual people. But when groups large enough to affect the behaviour of a society are in question these individual differences tend to cancel out. The way these groups will act can be predicted with a useful degree of accuracy, and it is mainly upon its ability to do this that systematic ideology (s.i.) founds its claim for attention.

from Ideological Commentary 31, January 1988.