George Walford: Advancing

Adherents of the eidodynamic ideologies tend to maintain that society as a whole is coming to accept their own assumptions, growing increasingly peaceful and egalitarian. Support for the view can be found, but only by careful selection, by ignoring the mass of evidence pointing in the contrary direction. When a broader scope or a longer period is surveyed then the “advances” are seen as transient, local, and countered by movements which, from the same standpoint and by the same standards, have to be reckoned regressions.

There was a period through the nineteen seventies when the outsiders of various sorts who appear in popular entertainment – Red Indians, monsters, ghosts and so on – formerly presented as villains, came to be seen as sympathetic. The movement was regarded as an advance; the bad old days were gone for good, the excluded had been accepted, society had become more humane.

But this is from the Observer of 22 June 1986:

Had Silver Bullet been made in the 1970s the monster would have been treated sympathetically and the children’s everyday world brought into question. Now the werewolf is simply an ugly outsider to be destroyed without pity, while the values of the community are uncritically endorsed.

Again, the Sunday Times of July 6 describes The Mean Machine as “a typical film of 1975” and says it “satirised the sports-crazy, win-at-all-costs ethos of Richard Nixon’s court through a vicious football match;” this film made sour fun of the slogans “When the going gets tough the tough get going” and “Winning isn’t the main thing, it’s the only thing.” In 1986 the film Youngblood appears; it is also about sport, this time ice-hockey; the same slogans appear, but this time the point of the film is that the hero comes to understand how true they are. “There is not a trace of irony here; the movie sets out to justify the most extreme forms of thuggery and dishonesty in professional sport, and by extension in life.”

The film-makers, or some of them, used their products to express eidodynamic views, but they have found themselves unable to continue doing so. If their films are to continue filling the cinemas they have to be adapted to the assumptions of the eidostatic majority. The social group has to be presented as right and the outsider as wrong.

It is sometimes believed that there has been a general transition from one position to another within the eidostatic class, but these changes also turn out to have been illusory. The epistatic, appearing in politics as conservatism, assumes society to be constituted of two groups, the one inherently superior to the other. Where this assumption rules with little or no restraint one outcome is patronage. We are taught in the schools that patronage was a bad system which was supplanted in government affairs during the mid- and late-nineteenth century by open competitive examination; personal abilities, rather than status, were to be decisive; in this broad field the parastatic seems to have replaced the epistatic. But in the TLS of 27 June 86 David Cannadine reviews Patronage and Society in Nineteenth-Century England by J.M.Bourne, and has this to say:

England may have been riddled with jobbery and corruption from Thomas Cromwell to the Hanoverians, but thereafter – so the argument ran – it was gradually but inexorably reformed away in the aftermath of the Industrial Revolution and the extension of the franchise, and a new meritocracy was ushered in, which reached its apogee with the triumph of such compulsive competitors and self-made paragons as Wilson, Heath and Thatcher.

Yet as J. M. Bourne points out in the conclusion to his pioneering, important and excellently written book, this view now seems too cosy to convince. For as the Butskellite Welfare State recedes into historical perspective, it no longer looks quite so virtuous and disinterested as it once did. Instead of appearing as the summation of rationality, improvement and meritocracy, its nationalized industries, its royal commissions and its honours lists now seem more like a new edition of Old Corruption. In the 1960s even a junior minister disposed of more patronage than Sir Robert Walpole in his prime. In the age of Dr. Beeching the gravy trains still ran on time and in abundance.

Apparent shifts of large groups from one position to another within the eidodynamic class do not stand up any better to examination. Since the 60s the New Statesman has moved from being mildly left-wing towards a hard-left stance. To the advanced eidodynamics this looked like a significant change in the ideological structure; an important journal had come over to the cause. But it left most of its readers behind it. Since the mid-60’s, and in line with the leftward movement of the journal, sales have plummeted from nearly 100,000 to around 27,000 copies, and the board find themselves obliged to change the line if the New Statesman is to survive. (Sunday Times, 22 June 86)

The ideological pyramid is stable; all that any editor or film-director can do is to move his product up or down it, the size of the potential audience diminishing as the level of intellectuality rises. The task facing intellectuals who strive to reorganise society to conform with their own assumptions is not the reshaping of passive clay but rather the stretching of a rubber band; they may achieve much, but not permanent success enabling them to relax. They are committed to unending struggle; would they have it otherwise?

It is well to remember, also, that the condemnation of eidostatic behaviour as evil is not a statement of absolute truth but the expression of an ideologically-determined viewpoint. The description of some tactics used in professional sport as “the most extreme forms of thuggery and dishonesty” comes from the Sunday Times, not the makers of Youngblood, and the description of patronage as Old Corruption comes from the reviewer; when he gives the view held by the author of the book it is this:

it is Bourne’s contention that the patronage system was not only entirely appropriate, but was also arguably the best possible in that small-scale, face-to-face, pre-industrial society which so much of Britain remained until the late 1870s. And, significantly, when this intimate world broke down, the system adjusted very rapidly and very efficiently, with the new public schools, the reformed universities and open competition perpetuating the ethos of the old system in the changed conditions of a mass society, a collectivist state, and a world-wide empire.

from Ideological Commentary 23, July 1986.