George Walford: Introducing Ideological Commentary (53)

Revision of January 1990.

IDEOLOGICAL COMMENTARY announces itself as an independent journal of systematic ideology, but it does not claim final knowledge of this theory; the formulation that looked like the ultimate last month needs alteration now, and the account given here will be subject to continuous revision.

Systematic ideology is the creation of the late Harold Walsby. In The Domain of Ideologies (1947) Walsby showed that the main political movements are best understood as being each the expression of a set of broad assumptions, this set forming the base of its ideology. As “ideology” is now most often used, both in every-day politics and by the academics, it indicates a relatively superficial set of ideas adopted to express pre-existing values or further pre-existing interests. Walsby, taking up the term while it was still uncommon, gave it greater weight. In his usage the ideas expressed, the values promoted and the interests recognised by each movement are all derived from its basic assumptions.

All human beings enter adult society with the same set of basic assumptions; some of them develop to the next, some of these to the next again, and so on, and the outcome is a structure which can be represented as a stepped pyramid, the more highly-developed ideologies towards the peak and the greater numbers of people towards the base. Activities in which theorising plays a small part, such as sports, commerce, gambling, right-wing political movements and the writing of narrative history, express the less developed ideologies and those in which it plays a larger part, such as psycho-analysis, sociology, literary criticism and revolutionary movements the more developed ones.

Higher does not have to be better (a high death-rate is not usually better than a low one), and the higher ideologies exercise a more limited influence than the lower ones. The main limits within which society operates are set by the great mass towards the base of the ideological structure, and it is largely the failure of the intellectuals to recognise this that accounts for their continuing frustration.

The development of ideology can be traced in the history of society at large. Here, as in personal development, in each advance the earlier condition is suppressed rather than eliminated; it continues to affect behaviour, although mainly in ways the newly-adopted ideology considers unimportant. A large part of personal and family life today, even in the great cities and among the advanced intellectuals, is governed by the ideology exhibited by the first human beings.

For this reason, and also because each of the major ideologies serves as a working part of the social system, the later and more sophisticated depending for their survival upon the continuing functional presence of the earlier and simpler, we have to reckon with their continuing presence. Acceptance of this theory tends to produce not attempts to promote one ideology at the expense of others but rather support for the development of a society exhibiting a range of movements, theories, activities and facilities through which all ideologies may find expression.

from Ideological Commentary 53, Autumn 1991.