George Walford: New Readers Start Here (16)

Ideological Commentary announces itself as “an independent journal of systematic ideology.” We do not claim final knowledge of this theory ourselves; the formulation that looked like the ultimate last week needs alteration, now, and the account given here will be subject to continuous revision.

The theory was created an largely developed by the late Harold WalSby, who died in 1973. In The Domain of Ideologies, a Study of the Origin, Development and Structure of Ideologies (Wm. McLellan, Glasgow 1947), Walsby showed that the major features of society, such as philosophy, the arts, religion, medicine, science, economics, education, politics, and the various forms taken by each of them, could best be understood as the appearance, on the surface of social life,of an underlying structure of sets of assumptions, these sets being the principal (now the “major ideologies”). As “ideology” is now generally used, both in everyday discussion and by the academics, it means a relatively superficial set of ideas adopted to further the interests or express the values of those who adopt it.  Walsby, taking on the term while it was little used, gave it greater weight; in his usage, although an ideology does include what is usually understood by the term, its roots lie deeper. The ideas expressed, the values promoted and the interests recognised are all derived from a small number of broad and general assumptions; these influence behaviour, the more powerfully because their existence is usually unrecognised. They are the “basic” assumptions, for each ideology they form a set, and these sets develou one out of another. According to the ideology with which a group or a person is identified exnerience produces a different response.

All human beings enter adult society with the same major ideology; some of them develop to the next, some of those 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 toward the peak and the greater numbers of people toward the base. (Here “higher” does not mean “better”). It is because the major political movements each express one of the major ideologies in the field of party politics that in moving toward the left they tend to become smaller; the farther left the movement the more highly-developed the ideology underlying it and consequently the smaller its pool of potential adherents.

Of what use is systematic ideology? Can it help us to transform the society we know into the society we want? The study is directed to society as it is, and there is no rational path from the is to the ought-to-be, but systematic ideology recognises also the reality and social value of the non-rational; this provides the content of the initial ideology, and although it often comes to be suppressed, it never disappears and never ceases to exert influence. Change is one constituent of society as it is, and change is brought about, partly at least, by people pursuing their ought-to-be even though there is no fully rational justific ation for doing so. Systematic ideology provides information about the multifarious ideological tendencies than go to constitute a living society, their relative strengths and the extent to which given tendencies and their particular features are woven into the functional system, the effects they are likely to produce and the extent to which we may or may not reasonably expect to be able to dispense with them.

See also: Meet Systematic Ideology by George Walford.

from Ideological Commentary 16, January 1985.