George Walford: New Readers Start Here (20)

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

The theory was created and 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 main social activities can 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 most often 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 up the term while it was still uncommon, 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 assumptions; these influence volitional 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 develop one out of another. People acting by different ideologies are likely to respond differently to the same experience.

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. (“Higher” is not being used as a synonym for “better;” development is not always and by all criteria a good thing). Activities in which theory plays a small part, such as sports and right-wing political movements, express the less developed ideologies and those in which it plays a larger part, such as psychoanalysis and left-wing political movements, the more developed ones. This explains the tendency for political movements to become smaller as they are farther to the left; the farther left the movement the more 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? Before that can be answered another question must be considered: Who are “we?” This term, in such connections, usually means the speakers and those who share their ideology. The society “we” want entails the domination of one ideology to the exclusion, or at least the reduction to impotence, of all others, the suppression of all the groups, holding other ideologies, who are equally “we.” If the question be taken in that one-ideology-is-right-and-all-others-are-wrong sense the answer has to be: No; systematic ideology does not help any one “we” to get the society it wants. It indicates that all major ideologies are functional constituents of any developed society; in their various expressions in different fields they often conflict with one another, but this conflict is one means by which is developed an ideological structure capable of providing the theories, assumptions and modes of thought necessary for the operations of a complex society. Acceptance of this theory tends to produce not promotion of one ideology at the expense of others but rather concern with the development of a society exhibiting a range of activities, movements,theories and facilities through which all the major ideologies find expression.

See also: Meet Systematic Ideology by George Walford.

from Ideological Commentary 20, September 1985.