Ailsa Pain: Review of Beyond Politics

Review of Beyond Politics, an outline of systematic ideology.

From PLAN, Journal of the Progressive League, November 1990, by Ailsa Pain.

This is a readable and thought-provoking little book. While many people have come to somewhat differing conclusions as a result of their own studies and speculation, I am sure they will find interest and mental stimulation in following George Walford’s carefully evolved argument.

He studies the growth of attitudes which emerged alongside Man’s increasing capacity over the centuries to master and control his environment. Primitive people are, he observes, basically expedient in their attitudes; this expedient attitude is especially noticeable in their economic life, in which individualism and private ownership predominate; in their political life there is no diversity and, as Bagehot said, all is covered by the “cake of custom.”

Attitudes began to change with the coming of the Neolithic Age. The development of agriculture meant there were needs for such things as social strata and laws in respect of property. Thus social attitudes based on expediency gave way to those based on principled domination.

Gradually chieftainship was succeeded by the more complex idea of kingship. This led to the growth of principle-dominated empires. It was towards the end of the eighteenth century that ideology emerged as the new guiding principle. About the same time we find a growth in ideas of self-limitation, emerging as a result of Man’s increased economic power and control of his environment. We note also the growth of ideologies of precision aimed at specific things such as the abolition of slavery, the propagation of the protestant ethic or more recently the Green Movement.

George Walford makes his own analysis of our political and social present. Looking at the philosophic ideologies of Conservatism, Liberalism, Socialism, Communism and Anarchism, he notes that the commitment to economic and material freedom varies inversely with the commitment to political-intellectual freedom and that theory also grows in importance as you pass down the scale. He studies the subtle balance between eidostatic ideas (including the attitudes of expediency, domination and precision) and eidodynamic ideas (involving thoughts of reform, revolution and repudiation).

Nor does he fail to note that theory often fails on account of general apathy and because of the expediency-dominated ideologies of so many. Nor will a totality of people ever be converted to a theory. As the growing baby learns that his wishes must be moderated to allow for differing circumstances and people, so the ideologist must allow his theory to be tempered by differing and unsympathetic realities.

I enjoyed following the entwined arguments of this book, often in accord but sometimes questioning or disagreeing. I could not, for instance, accept his final conclusion that the emergence of the study of ideology marks a point beyond which further major ideologies are unlikely to appear. In conclusion I will say that the book provoked thought and that in itself made it enjoyable.

– – –

CLEVEDON, Glencora [Kincora – RW] Boys’ Home, and now it is reported [BBC News, 8 January] that the public-school headmasters are getting into the act. Reminds one of Wordsworth’s masterpiece: Ode on Recollections of Invitations to Immorality in Early Childhood.

from Ideological Commentary 50, March 1991.