Lan Freed: A Sociologist at Large

Early in this work [The Domain of Ideologies] Mr. Walsby advances the very interesting proposition that Left-Wing political opinions are in general held not by the most oppressed, but by the most intellectual members of any society, and he tries through subsequent chapters, full of quotations from eminent psychologists, politicians, physicists and philosophers, to show the reasons for, and the significance of, this phenomenon. This is unfortunately such an extremely discursive book that it is very hard to pin down the author’s central theme, and even at the end we are not sure whether he thinks he has merely presented us with a scheme for a new and fertile line of approach to the study of individual and group psychology or whether he believes himself to have solved the till-now elusive problems of human behaviour.

Neither of these claims, unfortunately, could fairly be conceded. For Mr. Walsby appears never to have made up his mind what line of research he is pursuing. For in spite of all his reiterated pleas for a scientific study of “ideology” he breaks surely what is one of the most elementary rules of the scientific approach, namely, to decide at the outset upon one’s subject and one’s field of investigation, and stick to them. There are phenomena which lie, as it were, within the boundaries of many possible fields of investigation, thus we may study the behaviour of animals from the standpoint of mechanics, physiology or psychology; but if one leaps continually from one field to another, trying to correlate ones observations into a consistent whole, the result will be sterile, because only through a misuse of terms (reflecting mental confusion) can that which is found to be the case in one field be made therefore the case in another. Mr. Walsby seems often confused both as to his subject and his field. Writing, one supposes, as a sociologist, he makes free use of the term “ideology” to mean something equivalent to “political affiliation” until on page 141, more than half way through the book, he writes, “It will be necessary to get some clear idea of what we mean by the word ‘ideology’,” and then makes it mean “the basic ideas (or rather the assumptions) underlying any (sic) system of ideas.” Finally we find “ideology” meaning the complete system of cognitive assumptions an affective identifications which manifest themselves in, or underlie, the thought, speech, alms; interests, ideals, ethical standards, actions – in short, in the behaviour of an individual human being,” so that now “ideology” presumably stands for what “personality” or “character” normally denotes. Certainly our personalities may be said to determine to some extent – though by no means entirely – our political affiliations. On the page facing chapter 1 of this book is a long quotation from Hegel. The influence of that philosopher on the lively mind of Mr. Walsby is only too lamentably apparent.

[See also Richard Tatham: The Importance of Evidence.]

Rationalist Press Association Literary Guide, May 1948