The London Libertarian

The London Libertarian

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SociologyPosted by David McDonagh Fri, July 25, 2014 23:22:39

Do the people think? Ideology, people and society.

Why do the public reject pristine liberalism? Do the people think? Yes, the people do think. So, it may not be truly said that men show an unquestioning outlook in most of their thought, as so many people say they think of others, but then they maybe do not really think so tacitly, or practically, but instead are using hyperbole to say that they do not agree with the conventional wisdom that they suppose most people do agree with. Whether most do agree with that is not clear. But we all know quite a lot of it, including a rough adumbration of the major political parties or the main organised religions.

Many people have adopted the common idea that people do not like to give up an idea once that they have openly committed themselves to it, but this idea is very inept. It is widely accepted, but only as many people seem to conflate what people want to say, or admit to, with what they actually think is true. I think that people often, ironically, put honour before honesty by never admitting that they earlier got it wrong, but instead pretending that they do not see, or understand, a clear correction but whilst people need never say anything they do not like to say by choice, there is no choice at all in their belief, so no one can ever effectively decide what to think. Whatever people want has no bearing on it. We all believe what we believe quite independently of our will. It is how we think things are in the external world at any one moment. So what we want to believe has no affect at all on whatever we do believe; our desires are always quite irrelevant.

Belief is a built-in reality principle. It is the result of our fresh sense perception but belief is clearly not limited to what we check up on but it is what we have just recreated in our mind. Belief is not foolproof but it often revises itself, even if it errs afresh, for we may err many times each minute, and we do go back and forth on some ideas, or assumptions. This is conspicuous whenever we are searching for something that we have lost, for we rarely just look in each germane place only once but instead often many times. This often pays off, for we often overlook things on some searches. We find things in places where we, basically if not entirely, thought we had searched well earlier.

Religion is clearly often not believed, for many nominal adherents to a creed often tell all and sundry that they are not, “really”, very religious at all but they still clearly still value the creed, even if not very much, most of the time. They value religion usually owing to loyalty to tradition, their parents and the like. Other ideologies, like Marxism, are valued by the ideologues, rather than believed, but for various personal reasons.

Marxism poses as the grand solution to the problem of war, to mass unemployment and to many other problems, like the disutility of labour to cite a third. Is that not a belief that the widespread adoption of the Marxist creed can solve such problems? It might be, or it might be just embraced as a moral protest against such worldly evils, to show what kind of fellow the holder is, that he has his heart in the right place rather than thinking that it is a truly realistic or practical problem solver. Pristine liberalism tends to claim to solve many of the same problems. Indeed, Marxism is a liberal heresy.

Extra to almost all ideologies is usually a group fellowship, or comradeship. As a natural joiner of such groups, I soon noticed a few common sense myths about them.

One is that they are agreement groups, despite the fact that there are broad ideas, or dogmas, that define the group as socialist, liberal, Christian or whatever. I saw, back in the 1960s, that not only the organisations as a whole, but even the various branches of them, tend to, all too soon, collect all sorts of types, maybe even most types that might be found in any large group that is in the wider society generally. The dogmas rarely completely go free of being questioned in almost any ideological organisation, though they often do in the purely religious ones. It is quite false to believe that non-religious ideological groups do not tolerate questioning. Insiders of ideological groups are usually more polemical towards what we might call the group’s central dogmas than are outsiders, at least in my experience since 1968. Such groups often do have a large turnover of members, of course, though the idea that once a member then you will tend to be a member for life is quite a common idea amongst ideological groups

To accept or adopt an ideology or a religion is not thereby to believe it. It is rather to value it. Most ideologies are far too big, or complex, to ever fully believe for we can only affirm as true now what we can currently hold in mind, tacitly that can be quite a lot but it is not likely to be the abstract doctrines of what the group has endorsed in the past. New members will usually need to read up on the history of the group to discover what the group actually held in the past, or they even need to read up to clearly see what their adopted group still holds today. It is not likely that many members, or even any members, will know the full position of the group off-hand; unless it is a small group with a short history. That would require a diligence that is not normal, even for a fanatic.

Most members of any ideological group do not even know most of the things any outsider might take to be the main dogmas of the group. They usually need to find out by doing more reading what it is best to say whenever they attempt to propagate the creed.

Any member will normally be loyal to their adopted group by lip service rather than by belief. We cannot believe at will but we can speak at will. We might call much of what belief groups say to one another to be mere white lies. It would be very pedantic to always say so wherever the members did not agree. It is enough that members find most of what is said to be roughly right.

Then there is usually a difference between what active propagandists of the group think and what passive or inactive members think. The inactive members are usually the more long-standing members, though the leaders of most groups are often both long standing and active too. The passive members of any political or religious group are usually more moderate and less optimistic about the group’s prospects too. William James rightly noted that activity tends to get the activist to give more credit to the group’s ideas. They thereby feel the daily tests, tests that any creed will have to face, more keenly than the more passive members. That is why the active members have a larger turnover. They are more likely to discover refuting arguments to common objections but also more likely to feel refuted by them too.

There is not even one real example of what many call a true ideologue. That basic idea seems to be as much of a myth as the more celebrated idea of the true believer, if it is not actually merely another name for the same supposed phenomenon.

But mass religion has many nominal members who do not accept it at all as being true, apart from paying traditional lip service to it and feeling that it must be good in some way, or otherwise it would not be there. Most nominal believers in the main mass religions of Judaism Christianity and Islam are like that, as are members of the smaller religious sects and the main political parties as well as the smaller ideological political groups. Ideology is mainly about what we value. Belief is put in second place. As Richard Whately said :"It makes all the difference in the world whether we put the truth in the first or in the second place." Ideologues often do put what they believe in the second place.

  • Comments(2)

Posted by David McDonagh Mon, August 11, 2014 12:12:00

Thank you very much for your comment, Lee.

Bartley's book came out in 1962 but I first read it in 1970 and I immediately thought him totally wrong on irrationality but right in many other ways.

Many authors do seem to take clear, [or rather what the reader might think should be clear], intrinsic hyperbole as if it was the literal truth. Bartley, always since 1970, has seemed to me to be doing this here. He never edited it out in his very interesting revised edition of 1984. So I do think that he meant unwillingness [but do correct me here] and he merely overlooked the idea that thought is not a matter of choice, which I feel to be an important fact, so that laziness or willingness or desire [or the will] is not really germane.

We are all mainly ignorant, of course, as what we know is finite but what there is to know of the world to be known infinite. What the race has known [e.g. the books in the libraries that Dr Johnson lamented so often go unread; and now even the stuff on the Internet] is finite, but, presumably, it is still more than any person could get totally to know, despite the rather splendid insight of Peter Medawar that, owing to progress in the organisation of human knowledge, [i.e. improved teaching methods, textbooks and the like], it gets ever easier to master all that the race knows as the years roll by. As Medawar says in The Art of the Soluble (1967), common sense holds that knowledge simply accumulates but, as Popper's idea of error elimination suggests, better organisation allows the beginner to get to the cutting edge of any subject far easier than a beginner might have been able to do a decade, or more, ago. As Julian Simon almost says, as individuals we, maybe, decline, if slowly, after our first twenty years but the race advances; though regression is logically possible, and it even happens in a few domains of human society/organisation/knowledge. The rise of Keynes seems to be an example in economics.

Bartley underestimated the masses. What he saw as a great gulf was really only a tiny quantum leap and so the sort of insight that almost anyone needs to at least know what they need to do to catch up with Bartley, or at least get into the same ball-park, might take way less than a second, though the required reading to get to the actual ball-park might need a decade, or more. But that is merely crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s. That vital insight that mainly gets us to roughly know what we need to know, if not quite in proper detail, the insight from current common sense to the pristine liberal outlook, will be independent of what the person who has it desires or where he/she is coming from for any idea is good enough to lead to all sorts of automatic insights. Conversion can happen in a jiffy, even if the follow up, or checking up to see if it is right, takes years. We only need to debate and see.

Posted by Lee Waaks Sun, August 10, 2014 21:32:29

I have been meaning to comment on this post for a while. Along the lines of your post, I recall you disparaging a comment made by W. W. Bartley III, in his book Retreat From Commitment, in which he accuses most of mankind of "sleep walking" through life (mentally speaking). Granted he is hyperbolic and displays the usual contempt intellectuals have for tout le monde, is it not the case that what Bartley and other intellectuals really mean by an unthinking public is simply gross ignorance and cultural/economic/philosophical/scientific illiteracy, as opposed to a literal unwillingness to think?