George Walford: Introduction to An Outline Sketch of Systematic Ideology

The purpose of this essay is to present an outline sketch of the theory of ideology originated and developed by Harold Walsby. To present, not to establish. For support of what is set out here, for weight of evidence and answers to objections, the reader will need to look elsewhere, to its correspondence with his own experience, to Walsby’s book, The Domain of Ideologies [1], or to the various works, papers and essays which undertake to establish different parts of the theory with argument and evidence [2]? My intention here is only to present a general framework. I hope to make it easier for the reader, particularly the newcomer to the subject, to appreciate the significance of the more specialised studies, to see where and how each of them fits in.

I should have liked to be able to claim that this essay, although limited in its aims, was accurate as far as it went. But this claim cannot be made. In reducing the complexity of ideological theory to this outline I have been unable to avoid distorting the outline itself. The reader will inevitably find, if he pursues his investigations, that as he encounters the material which has been excluded from this study it alters his view of what has been included. The most I can recommend is that the reader should treat this outline as a crutch, useful so long as he requires assistance but to be rejected when he has developed his own strength.

The theory of ideology to be presented is, with minor exceptions (and these, so far as it is possible to distinguish them, will be indicated), the work of Harold Walsby, who died in 1973. Walsby’s starting-point was political. As a young man he was a revolutionary Socialist and, like others, became frustrated by the ineffectiveness of the revolutionary Socialist movement, by its failure to attract the support of the masses whose interests it claimed to represent. Unlike most frustrated Socialists Walsby did not sink into apathy. Finding the theory of the Left inadequate, both as an explanation of political behaviour and as a guide to action, he turned to a re-examination of political ideas, beliefs and theories. He did not approach them in the manner in which one political thinker usually examines the work of another, in the hope of finding weak points. Neither did he examine them as a philosopher examines theories, with the purpose of distinguishing the true from the false. He approached them in the objective fashion of one wishing to understand how these things come to be. He examined the ideas, beliefs and theories themselves, the relationships between them, and their influence upon human behaviour. The result was his theory of ideology. This was in the late l930’s and the early l940’s, when “ideology” was a less familiar term than it is today.

Harold Walsby’s book, The Domain of Ideologies, was published in 1947. Before that the two main landmarks in the field were The German Ideology, by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels (written in 1845 / 6 but not then published), and Ideology and Utopia, by Karl Mannheim (first published, in German, in 1929). During the last two decades there has been a growing stream of books and papers on ideology which do not derive from Walsby’s work or, directly, from that of Marx and Engels, but rather from Mannheim. He was the first to set eyes on one large section of the mountain range of problems presented by ideology, but he did not succeed in crossing it, and I have not found that the workers following in his path have got much farther. I have not read all their Works, but I have sampled them extensively ; they refer widely to each other and I have found no indication, in those I have read, that the others are significantly different. Many of these works are largely concerned with the question whether all, or only some, political theories, movements or organisations are influenced by ideology. Nearly all of them take it for granted that the influence of ideology is restricted to the political, or at most the societal field. None of them shows, as Walsby does, that ideology influences the whole of our intentional or purposive behaviour in every field of activity. For those who may wish to enquire further the best starting point is the most recent of these books: Ideology and Politics, by Professor Martin Seliger, 1976. It is with the intention of distinguishing it from these other approaches to the subject, none of which display, or seem to be capable of developing, the degree of comprehensiveness and integration found in Walsby’s work, that the term “systematic ideology” has recently been adopted for the Walsbeian theory.

[1] Published by William MacLellan, Glasgow, in collaboration with The Social Science Association, 1947.
[2] These are listed on p. 32, Papers on Systematic Ideology.

Continue reading An Outline Sketch of Systematic Ideology (1977):
The Walsby Society | Introduction | Ideology and the Left | The Field of Ideology | Assumption and Identification | Definition of an Ideology | Ideological Groups | The Major Ideologies | Ideological Development | Intellect | The Group Situation | The Cosmic Situation | Political Individualism and Collectivism | Economic Individualism and Collectivism | Personal Ideological Structure | Social Ideological Structure | Conclusion | Papers on Systematic Ideology