Thelma J. Shinn: Review of Beyond Politics

From ETHICAL RECORD, journal of the South Place Ethical Society, February 1991; by Thelma J. Shinn, Professor of English & Women ‘s Studies, Arizona State University.

I read this book with great interest and pleasure. The clarity of Walford’s prose and the logic of his explanation of systematic ideology provide an excellent foundation for further exploration. While Walford’s division of the six ideologies he identifies into the eidostatic and the eidodynamic owes a debt to Mannheim’s Ideology and Utopia divisions, the recognition that ideology underlies much more than either politics or even the sociology of knowledge carries his thesis far beyond Mannheim’s emphasis on ideological distortions and limitations.

There seems to be little to quarrel with in Walford’s discussion of the eidostatic ideologies in terms of expediency, principle, and precision, with the possible exception of the connotations associated with the terms themselves. Particularly helpful is Walford’s exploration of the “evolution of ideology,” which wisely acknowledges the continued duration and numerical dominance of earlier ideologies even after the emergence of the more complex and eventually the theoretical eidodynamic’ constructions. However, I would question his conclusion that the “work comes full circle” with the present ideology of ideologies.  Bather, I would parallel that with his earlier discussion of the ideology of principle developing through the “king of kings”; similarly, this ideology of ideologies seems to me an evolved expression of the ideology of precision. Walford has repeatedly asserted a commitment to society as it is, which locates him firmly in the eidostatic division, as is confirmed when he argues that “the activities are the ideology, externalized in particular actions; the ideology is the activities, internalized as a set of general assumptions.”

What I found particularly rewarding about the book was that even the effect of his own attachment to a set of assumptions which inevitably govern his analysis is accounted for by the larger framework in which he establishes the outline of systematic ideology. There has always been a concern that society cannot be objectively examined because of the involvement of the observer in what is being observed, but quantum theory has made us aware that the same is true of the scientific examination of the physical universe. Walford acknowledges when discussing the ideology of principle that categorization must always involve “fuzzy edges and internal irregularities” but can be “none the less put to fruitful use, in serious study as well as in everyday life.” This is true of his categorization of ideologies. Whether or not these six will prove in the long run to be the major sets of assumptions by which people act, Walford’s argument – that the ideologies produce the particular actions and are not, as has been argued, produced later as a rationalization for those actions – is of minor importance. It enables us to ignore the particular terms which often misrepresent the actual ideology governing a present or past position. For instance, Walford reveals in a final chapter that what was called anarchism in Spain blatantly betrayed the basic assumptions of that ideology.

Equally significant is Walford’s assertion that any present and future set of assumptions governing social action is or will be an evolutionary product of what has already evolved ideologically and “depends upon the continuing presence of that forerunner for its own survival…” This not only tempts us to predict the next evolutionary step but it should also help us explore the practicality of eidodynamic ideologies. Walford mentions the greens, for instance, as “a new eidodynamic construction,” and I would particularly like to see the many insights embodied in this little book applied to that movement.

Yet another issue raised by Walford is exactly where the evolution of ideology is exactly where the evolution of ideology fits in when “conceived of as one constituent of universal evolution.” Since Walford argues that society is the concretization of ideological structure, then this suggests that evolution can be traced from the inorganic to the organic to the ideological, that ideology – purposeful thought – is one of Nature’s solutions to conflicts, similar to those which have led to the evolution of other species. This may have particular ramifications for the “greens” since, as Walford points out, the early “natural” societies did not consciously live in tune with the environment so much as share its abundance expediently, while the contemporary “environmentalists” are asserting an ideology which shares surface particularities with the earlier societies but is in reality a much more complex construction, dependent upon commitment to principles and the self-limitations imposed by precision. I like to identify such a “return full circle” with the spiral symbol common to early mythology: if society reidentifies with the natural world, the return has spiralled to a level of societal ideology evolved from all which has come between. We come back to Nature as the potential solution to environmental conflicts; human consciousness has evolved precisely to solve the problems generated by the dominant evolution of the human community on this burdened planet.

from Ideological Commentary 51, May 1991

continue reading Beyond Politics by George Walford (1990):
Preface | Introduction | Politics as Ideology | The British Political Series | The World Political Series | From Politics to Ideology | Ideology Beyond Politics | The Beginnings | From Village to Empire | After The Empires | The Eidodynamic | The Origins of Ideologies | The Evolution of Ideology | Conclusion | Appendices | Notes & References | Select Bibliography | Index | Synopsis