George Walford: The Homeostat (II)

In IC30 we quoted Walsby’s mention of the response – it can almost be called a¬†mechanism – that tends to maintain conformity among the great bulk of the people in a state. He said:

If… there arises a comparatively strong, critical faction… which threatens the group with dissension and disruption, the mass suggestion will increase in strength, volume, intensity and violence, until the former condition of mass conformity is again restored. (Domain of Ideologies pp 86 / 7).

He compared its effect to that of a thermostat and we called it a homeostat. There is yet another word that comes to mind; each movement towards an increase in civil liberties – for women or ethnic minorities for example – seems to provoke a reaction, and this has become known, particularly in America, as a “backlash.” But that term suggests a one-off response, something that can be ascribed to particular circumstances surrounding the event in question. Walsby is speaking of something deeper, something, built in to the structure of society, which has to be constantly reckoned with, and there is historical evidence to support him.

Consider the sequels to some of the great revolutionary upheavals of modern times: the English revolution followed by Cromwell, the French by Napoleon, the Russian by Stalin, the Weimar Republic by Hitler. On a smaller scale, the French disturbances of 1968 were followed by a strongly right-wing government, the American campus troubles eventually by Reagan. And, down almost on the microscopic level, a period of some thirty years with the British Labour Party either in office or close to it was followed by Mrs. Thatcher.

On the standard intellectualist view that society is constantly advancing, as a whole, to ever higher level of rationality, this constant return to authoritarian methods is something that ought not be happening; it doesn’t fit the theory. But when it is accepted that the¬†general body of the people are no more concerned with reason or social problems than they ever have been, that they wait only to be left alone to lead their personal lives, then it falls readily into place. It is a lot easier to lead your personal life under authority than to take on the burden of managing society for yourself.

from Ideological Commentary 31, January 1988.