Sheila Blanchard: Review of Ideologies and Their Functions

Systematic Ideology is a field of study originating in, and developing from, the work of the late Harold Walsby, whose book The Domain of Ideologies was published in 1947. Ideologies and their Functions describes the development of Walbsy’s theory, interest in which has been maintained by his friends and followers, and the relevance of that theory to the world of today. Although the broad applications of Systematic Ideology lie in the domain of political philosophy, no detailed background knowledge is required of the reader, and the book should fascinate anyone who is interested in the way human beings behave as social animals.

First, the author sets out to remove the rather unfortunate associations the word “ideology” has for many of us, resulting from its increasingly common usage as a term of contempt denoting “the other fellow’s prejudice.” As George Walford explains, we all hold an ideology of some kind, that is a set of assumptions, not necessarily political, about ourselves and the universe. This personal ideology influences our behaviour and shapes our attitudes which in turn lead us to form our allegiances (or non-allegiances the case may be) to the more formal ideologies, in the political sense.

It is the task of the Systematic Ideologist not only to study ideologies in this wider sense but in effect to reconcile them by pointing out that they are not incompatible and implacably opposed, but mutually dependent and supportive. This arises out of a natural progression in which later ideologies grew out of former ones and cannot exist without them; for a complete whole all are necessary.

The major theme of the book is a classification of the dominant forms of ideology, with a description of how each is based on a particular philosophical view of the universe, and an explanation of the relationships and connecting links between them. There are, according to this theory, two main groupings, the eidostatic and the eidodynamic ideologies. Roughly, one could say that the former are desirous of preserving the status quo and are therefore suspicious of change; while the latter see change as desirable as well as inevitable, and identify lack of change as stagnation or deterioration.

Each of these two main groups is subdivided into three separate ideologies: the protostatic, epistatic and parastatic, and the protodynamic, epidynamic, and paradynamic. The natural sequence of progression follows that order, from the protostatic through to the paradynamic, each type developing out of the one. before. Also, in each case the number of active adherents is smaller than in the preceding ideology: although this does not imply that there is a commitment to direct political activity inherent in every ideology, or that the smaller groups necessarily exert the least influence.

George Walford examines each ideological grouping in turn, analysing its basic assumptions, its function, the sort of people who form its supporters, and the political identification which gives it practical expression. In each case he points out how the functions performed by followers of that ideology are necessary / useful to the complex society in its search for freedom.

The final ideology discussed by the author grows in turn out of the previous six, but differs from them in that it does not attempt to repudiate its predecessors. Instead, it turns back to accept and include them in its theoretical system. This is the metadynamic ideology, and is the one which informs the studies of the Systematic Ideologists: themselves. True to the principles laid down, its adherents are smaller in number than those of any preceding ideology. Yet its function, or rather what, with non-assertive. optimism, its followers hope will prove to be its function, may turn out to be very important; that of providing, or suggesting, solutions to some of the problems caused by the hostility between the other ideologies.

This is of necessity a very much simplified account of the theory. The book is rich in psychological perception; although it deals in generalisations about groups, we can recognise ourselves and others in those generalisations. It is also rich in paradox; examples given are thought-provoking and sometimes surprising as in the classification of Trade Unionism in the epistatic group along with the Conservative Party.

My own reservations are concerned with wondering whether the pattern revealed is perhaps slightly more imposed than natural. The author freely admits his difficulties in identifying the conscious manifestations of his penultimate group, the paradymanic; and here I am rather doubtful of the evidence that this group developed from its assumed predecessor, the epidynamic. It seems historically more likely that the two groups developed from the same origins, more or less as contemporaries, their dichotomy becoming more pronounced as time went on & I doubt whether it is necessary to go through the epidynamic stage to reach the paradynamic, either as a geographical group (did not Marx say that he would have to “leave Spain to Bakunin?”) or as an individual. I certainly have the impression that anarchism (paradynamic) preceded communism (epidynamic) in Spain, and was better supported numerically.

However, George Walford stressed that this book is not a finality: there are still studies to be undertaken, problems to be solved, loose ends to be woven in. Herein, for the thinking person, lies its fascination: this is a study which is not closed and authoritative, but one which we can, should we choose, ourselves help to advance, by observation, thought and discussion. For this reason I can thoroughly recommend it as a book which will enrich the reader’s mind, not only by its own content, but through the further awareness and understanding which the reader will build from it in his own life and consciousness.

Reprinted, with permission, from CLARITY Journal of the Mensa Christian Group, Volume 11 No.4.

from Ideological Commentary 1, October 1979.