George Walford: Editorial Notes (53)

CHRISTMAS cards, Birthday cards, Get Well cards, Mother’s Day cards… IC introduces the GO AWAY! card. Carry a supply, hand them out to bores, pests, and botherers.

EDMUND Burke: “the British House of Commons… is… filled with everything illustrious in rank, in descent, in hereditary and acquired opulence, in cultivated talents, in military, civil, naval and politic distinction, that the country can afford.” Didn’t know that, did you?

TRYING to correct the trade imbalance Japan persuaded its people to buy more Del Monte ketchup, Scotties tissues and Kleenex. Unfortunately most of these items turned out to have been made in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan.

“THERE is nothing so delusive as facts – except figures.” (Disraeli)

“FACTS are the idlest form of superstition.” (Sir Richard Burton)

ONE reason for the persistence of class in the foreground of political thinking lies in the widespread unawareness of any replacement for it as a touchstone of enquiry and judgment. Systematic ideology comes to fill the gap.

YOU too can have a body like mine unless you’re careful.

“ART is not a copy of the real world. One of the damn things is enough.” (Quoted by N. Goodman).

NOTHING is absolutely true, and well for us that this is so; the evolution which produced us depended on the inability of DNA molecules to achieve absolutely true reproduction.

“EVERY solid in the universe is ready to become fluid on the approach of mind, and the power to flux it is the measure of the mind.” (R. W. Emerson)

KUHN in the crafts: “The history of bookbinding… consists of sporadic moments of innovation and creativity followed, as craftsmen, trade and public come to terms with new techniques and styles, by longer stretches of consolidation.” (J. B. Trapp)

FEMINISM: “The first rule in reading feminist literature is never to identify feminism with women.” (K. Minogue)

“CERTAINLY the Gulf war may well have been about the price of oil. But if so, what was the Falkland conflict about – sheep?” (Mack the Knife, in Freedom)

AS a chicken is an egg’s way of producing more eggs, so human beings are ideology’s way of producing more ideology.

THE Anglican church has long been known as the Tory Party at prayer. Now the Socialist Standard introduces the Institute of Directors as the Tory Party at lunch.

“MALES should be demanding their own rights in the field of childcare – a field in which they are cruelly discriminated against in this country both socially and legally.” (C.A in Freedom). Away with that bow of burning gold! Bring me the dirty nappies!

PLURALISM: “The simple truth is that there is no set of conventions that will make all human beings happy.” (Kenneth Minogue).

REPORTING a recent East German exhibition on censorship, Christian Caryl expresses surprise at the small amount of suppression needed. Most writers submitted happily in return for assured publication and an occasional trip to the West.

SMALLPOX virtually ended in 1980, the WHO announcing “an unprecedented event in human history, the deliberate worldwide eradication of an important human disease.” Another species on the verge of extinction; which enthusiast for protecting the ecology will start the campaign to save the smallpox bacillus?

JOSEPH Finder notes that: “All thrillers, after all, are inherently conservative and aspire toward the restoration of the status quo.” A remark to bear in mind when we start on the long-intended use of s.i. in literary criticism.

DID homo sapiens originate independently in various parts of the world or appear in one place and spread from there? Anthropologists know these as the Regional Continuity and Replacement theories or, less formally, as the Candelabra and Noah’s Ark hypotheses. (Brian M. Fagan, The Journey from Eden)

BUYING a house? The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors urge you to have a full structural survey, carried out by one of their members. They do not warn you that their rules allow their members to have unqualified people carry out the survey, and to do this without telling you. (Evening Standard, 11 Sept).

KARL Marx. Did his theories amount to economic determinism? Let him answer for himself. Speaking of “the social antagonisms that result from the natural laws of capitalist production” he continues: “It is a question of these laws themselves, of these tendencies working with iron necessity towards inevitable results.” (Capital Vol I p.8 emphasis added.)

ONCE a principle of social action has been established it persists, forming part of the base on which later developments rest. Imperialism provides one example of this rule, Burton Benedict pointing out that although the empires have virtually gone “the imperial nations of the past have been replaced by the multinational corporations of the present.” (Anthropology Today)

“ISLAM has long vanished from the stage of history.” (Hegel in 1820).

CONTRADICTION comes, unavoidably, with the idea of a final base. We can identify such a thing only by assuring ourselves that nothing lies deeper, and to do that we must penetrate, if only conceptually, beneath it. But by going, even in this sense, under the “base” we demonstrate that something, if only the possibility of a concept, does lie beneath it, and that means it cannot rank as the final base.

G. K. CHESTERTON remarked that when men stop believing in religion they do not come to believe in nothing but to believe in anything. He doubtless meant us to conclude it better to stay with religion, but the observation in fact brings out that belief (as an assertive act, distinct from unquestioning acceptance) first appears with the ideology of Principle / Domination (which has institutional religion as one of its main forms) and persists through all later development. Expedient people practise Expediency rather than believe in it, but atheists believe in atheism, anarchists in anarchism and ideologists (used in IC to mean students of ideology) believe in ideology.

SHOCKED by a poll showing that only 9 per cent of academics intend to vote conservative, the Tories have begun to organise a resistance movement against left-wing academic domination of the universities. They have long been known to their opponents as the stupid party, but that phrase misses the point. Right-wing politics, even at the extreme, do not indicate a lack of intelligence; witness the IQs of the Nazi leaders, most of them exceptionally high. They go with reliance on practice and experience, rather than theory, as guides to action. In order to increase its influence in the universities conservatism would have to emulate the reformist and revolutionary movements in according academics high position in its councils, displacing the lawyers, aristocrats and top businessmen whose presence now does much to attract the millions of voters. It would have to stop behaving as a conservative movement. (Observer 21 July)

GALBRAITH quotes Marx: “‘It is enough,’ he [Marx] said, ‘to mention the commercial crises that by their periodical return put on trial, each time more threateningly, the existence of the entire bourgeois society.'” A hundred and fifty years after Marx wrote, and twenty years after Galbraith quoted him, the “bourgeois” society still manages to survive its crises while the big attempts to establish socialist societies look less and less likely to survive. And in any case “bourgeois” comes as a gross misnomer for a society consisting mainly of working-class people and operated almost entirely by the workers. (Galbraith J. K. 1971 A Contemporary Guide to Economics, Peace and Laughter. 112)

NORMAN Yoffee suggests that the concept of society as evolving “implies a mode of change whereby all institutions are inextricably connected, so that politics, economy, kinship, belief-systems all change at the same time, at the same pace and in the same direction.” He adds, very rightly: “This view is not consonant with most of the current research”

That account of evolution presents a caricature; it requires not only inextricable but direct and mechanistic connections between institutions. Natural evolution displays greater subtlety and complexity than that, and social evolution much more so.

FUDGE Factor: Marxism began by offering a clear and bold analysis of society: workers one side, capitalists the other, and their conflict resolvable only by a working-class victory leading to socialism. Unfortunately society has refused to comply, some capitalists supporting the communist movement while most workers show no interest in it. The idea of a middle class saved class theory for a time, but only at the cost of reducing it to a mush on which almost any prediction would float.

“FOR God’s sake, sir, let us remain as Nature made us, Englishmen, Irishmen and Scotchmen… ” (Sir Walter Scott). And if God hadn’t meant us to fly he wouldn’t have given us aeroplanes.

STANDARD of living can be measured, showing that industrial society provides many millions with more commodities than they have ever had before. This does not fit the assumptions of the eidodynamics, so they repudiate this criterion in favour of quality of life. Qualitative rather than quantitative, this can never be exactly specified; it remains always a matter for enjoyable argument.

BRITAIN has more to be proud of than we always realise. This country not only invented concentration camps in the Boer War but also drew the first sketch of the Gulag when it transported political as well as criminal prisoners to Botany Bay and Tasmania. (Hughes R. 1987 The Fatal Shore; a history of the transportation of convicts to Australia, 1787-1868).

LIBERAL INTELLECTUALS In his account of liberal politics [1] Michael Bentley reckons Beatrice Webb as a liberal, and notes that she insisted on the need for applying the scientific method to social questions. [2] Also: “The assumption that the ideas and values of intellectuals played a formative role in political action fed from deep roots in Liberal attitudes… the power of thought, understood as the outpouring of the universities, the churches [Note the plural; liberalism values mainly the dissenting churches] and the press, struck liberals as beyond question.” That account of the type of intellect valued by liberals links it firmly with science and the ideology of precision, distinct from the plodding empiricism of the Tories on one side and the almost ballast-free theorising of the eidodynamics on the other. [1] Bentley M. 1987 The Climax of Liberal Politics; British liberalism in theory and practice 1868-1918 London: Edward Arnold. [2] Bentley, 84, footnote. [3] Ibid, 85 footnote.

EXPEDIENCY: One easily recognisable expression of the Expedient ideology lies in the tendency to take whatever one wants, circumstances permitting. Quite often, of course, they don’t permit; the presence of Principle and Domination, in such forms as honest, law-respecting people, watchmen and the police usually make it inexpedient to help oneself to the property of others. But the widespread persistence of the ideology producing the tendency to do so appears in reports like this one: “Of all British men born in a single month in 1953, one in three had a criminal record by the time he was 30.” (Observer 17 Feb.).

CLASS POLITICS: After the Armistice of 1918 Karl Liebknecht (with Rosa Luxemberg as theoretician) led the Spartacusbund in its attempt at a communist revolution in Germany. Supporting existing society against him stood Friedrich Ebert, Social Democrat, later President of the Weimar Republic. Len Deighton ascribes their differing political attitudes to their respective class backgrounds. Liebknecht, being an educated member of the middle-class, believed ” that extremist measures would bring simple solutions,” while Ebert’ s working-class background endowed him with cautious pragmatism; he knew that “German workers were more concerned with hunger and unemployment than with polemics.”

So a middle-class background tends to produce communist convictions while a working-class one has the contrary effect. Failing to explain why most Germans with middle-class backgrounds did not become communists, or why many with working-class backgrounds did do so, this theory yet makes as good sense as any other ascribing politics to class. (Deighton L. 1979, Blitzkrieg, 19).

ROME: “The most baffling question in the history of the Roman republic has always been simply this: Why did the Roman people never rise up and slaughter every man, woman and child of the senatorial order?” [4] A fair question, but why limit it to the Roman republic? It arises for most countries and most ruling groups. Any general theory of society has to provide an answer both to this and to its companion query: why, in the last couple of centuries, has a minority appeared which consistently urges if not the slaughter of the rulers then at least their overthrow? For a time there Marxism seemed to be providing an answer, but not any more. [4] Robin Seager in TLS 14 June).

FRIGHTFUL things happen in the world. This does not make the world a frightful place any more than the constant presence, somewhere, of night makes it a dark place.

ARCHITECTURE: Too many pillars of society end up as columns in the News of the World.

GREENISM Again: In the Ethical Record for June Dr.J.Nichols speaks approvingly of people taking as their highest priority “the total preservation of [the] ecology and life forms” of a planet. Let us feel grateful, on behalf of a great many people today, that our predecessors did not do this. Had they acted in this way we would now have no grains more productive than the natural grasses, no fields and no domesticated animals. Instead, over most of Europe a forest richly alive with wolves, and a full natural supply of the smallpox bacillus. It would, perhaps, be a more attractive world; certainly a more sparsely inhabited one. (Anybody proclaiming this a good thing will doubtless volunteer to join the missing).

from Ideological Commentary 53, Autumn 1991.