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Ideology as Commonsense

The third point is that the ideology of the Right
now appears strong not only because the media are
adept at disguising the crudity of right-wing ideas.

The Right plays also on those issues where the
Left has hitherto been weak; and these are issues
which we cannot simply ignore. Foremost among
them is the question of human rights, the defence of
which has traditionally been associated with liberalism. Take, for example, the use made by the New
Philosophers of the revelations coming from the
Russian Human Rights movement. In response to
these developments, the Left needs to take very
seriously the whole question of socialist democracy
and the task of showing how socialism can fulfil its
promise of realising more authentically those
liberties which the Right purports to hold dear.

The day school on human rights announced elsewhere in this issue (p. 0 ) will, we hope, contribute
to the working out of this response.

These are some elements of the intellectual scenE
as the Cold War is revived. The prospects for the
Left are bad; and it will need whatever strengths it
can call upon.

The Editorial Subcommittee


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The Case
of B..ilish Conse..valism

Ideology has an affinity with religion. Its success
depends upon its capacity to proselytise. The task
of ideologues is to convince as many as possible
that, of the competing pictures of society generally
available, their perspective is the most plausible
and compelling. This seems to place ruling-class
ideologies at an immediate disadvantage in so far
as their ‘natural’ subscribers are in a minority.

Social reality makes sense from the standpoint of
the economically privileged as an integrated, func-·
tional structure in which inequalities of wealth and
powe-r appear just and mutually beneficial. The
dominant class thereby emerges as the authentic
custodian of the national interest: its ec onomic and
political ascendancy operating within a benevolent
system of stratification by providing the skill and
guidance from which emanates the well-being of
those lower down the social hierarchy. The materially disadvantaged majority, in contrast, might be
expected to favour an alternative image of society.

Their aspirations are best enshrined in a conflictmodel of society which represents inequality as the
outcome of class exploitation. Yet, besides serving
the self-conception of the privileged minority, an
effective ruling-class ideology must deflect the

‘natural’ inclination of the majority to perceive
society as an antagonistic structure pivoted upon
class hostilities. For, in order to sow seeds of
social cohesion, it must gain general approval for
the existing power structure. The mission of a
ruling-class ideology, therefore, is to win converts
amongst the subordinate class by persuading them
that its particular slant on the social order is
correct and indisputable.

Ideology in Everyday Life
How, then, does a ruling-class ideology fulfil its
herculean mission? Clearly, it could not compete
successfully in the ideological arena if it consisted
merely of a curtain of false ideas drawn across the
eyes of the unsuspecting masses. Ordinary people
are unlikely to be bewitched by fairy tales spun out
of the fertile imagination of capitalist hobgoblins.

Figments conjured from thin air and superimposed
in a willy-nilly fashion would be a poor guarantee of
what Gramsci termed ideological hegemony: the
process whereby the authority of the dominant class
so permeates the s QC ial order that others willingly
accept their subordinate location within it. So that

it may be an active ingredient in the apparatus of
social domination, defusing opposition to established
structures by cultivating widespread consensus,
ideology must be more intimately connected to
social processes than is conceded by those who see
it as little else than a conspiracy of ideas invented
by scheming capitalists.

The implic ation is that ideology is anchored in
everyday reality. It derives hegemonic appeal by
feeding upon, and in turn shaping, perceptions
arising from experiences at home, school, work,
or whatever: rendering those perceptions ideologically serviceable by channelling them into a coherent
but partial view of society. The business of a
ruling-class ideology is to incorporate soc ial
practices into a perspective which obliterates the
exploitative framework within which they operate.

Far from pouring sheer lies into empty heads,
therefore, the dominant ideology succeeds by misrepresenting the facts of ordinary life. In this way,
its ideological content is hidden under the guise of
common sense.

This is why ideology conforms to Marx’s characterization of mistaken beliefs in general. For Marx,
the real conditions of society provide the reference
point for comprehending every human illusion.

Religious conviction, for instance, is not to be
explained by supposing that people have been brainwashed to accept the existence of imaginary deities.

Rather, the felt need for spiritual consolation
reflects the impoverishment and injustices suffered
in class society. Bourgeois ideology, too, is rooted
in actual social processes. The classical economists, according to Marx, managed systematically
to describe the capitalist market. But their
account, for all its scientific rigour, was ideological in two significant respects. First, it was
selective and incomplete. While correctly portraying worker and capitalist as formally free and equal
partners in the system of exchange, it omitted to
disclose that, by generating surplus value and so
guaranteeing capital accumulation, this legally fair
process was transmuted into a structure of domination and subordination. Second, their account was
ideological because it presented an exchange
economy, not as a historically evolving and so mutable system, but as the natural, necessary and unchangeable method of creating wealth. Thus, by
concealing the exploitative basis and transience of
the· capitalist mode of production, the science of
classical economy endowed it with ideological under·
pinning by sanctifying it.

The Need for Inequality
Conservatism, as one manifestation of bourgeois
ideology, has the type of correspondence to social
reality indicated by Marx. It proffers itself for
popular consumption in the form of common sense
by building upon and distorting the facts of social
existence. Hence, instead of denying class differences, it rationalizes them by rearranging them
into the picture of a non-antagonistic, just and inevitable social order. The structural contradiction
between capital and labour, from which the class
system emerges, is consequently obscured in a
coherent but selective view of society.

It may seem strange that conservatives are so
blatant in proclaiming the necessity and convenience
of social inequality. Such tactics may appear to be
inadequate guarantees of ideological hegemony. Yet

they work precisely to the extent that they distort
social facts. For example, the fact that there exists
restricted mooility between social classes can be
used to disseminate the myth of equal opportunities
whereby individuals are said to attain the level of
wealth and social influence concomitant with their
innate abilities. More significantly, it is a fact that
the structures of everyday life in capitalist society
are hierarchical. People are programmed by
authoritarian experiences at work and elsewhere to
perceive the world as divided between a minority of
decision-makers and a majority who passively
comply with instructions transmitted from above.

Conservatism strives for hegemony by operating
upon these normal features of the capitalist world.

The hierarchical ranking visible in an army, for
instance, or the division in the production process
between management and the work force, are frequently presented as microcosms of the distinctions
existing in society at large, proof of the ineradicability of inequality. As George Gale addresses his
fellow ideologues:

The Conservative party represents capital and
property in much the same way as the Labour
party represents workers. Since neither capital
nor property has votes, and since few people
consider themselves to be either capitalists or
propertied … the Conservative party has to
persuade a majority of workers to vote for it.

The Conservative party is not egalitarian and
never can be. It is a waste of time pretending
that equality is what it is about. It is “‘ab out
inequality; but since inequality is a fact of everyday life, and since everybody knows perfectly
well that some people are more able than others,
that some work harder than others, that some
can take responsibility where others cannot, and
that in every society, in addition to the great
bulk of middling dogs there are also top dogs and
under dogs, this need cause it no nervous
tremors (1).

It does not require much ideological guile to convert
the contingent facts of class-divided society into
natural, indestructible facts of the human condition.

British conservatism has been a spectacularly
successful ideology. The Tory party has established
itself as a particularly resilient vehicle by conveying the ideas and interests of the British ruling
class for three hundred years. In doing so, it has
provided ideological shelter to different forms of
property ownership by withstanding the strains of
gradual transition from a largely agrarian to an
advanced industrial economy. In addition, British
conservatism has managed to be a strong competitor in the political marketplace by offering a
package of ideas sufficiently attractive to seduce
many who are not part of the ruling class alliance.

Since the granting of adult male suffrage in 1885
the Conservative party has had to rely on the
electoral support of those whose natural allegiances
might be expected to lie elsewhere. Since the
emergence at the turn of the century of a party
claiming to stand for labour against capital, and
organizationally dependent upon the trade union
movement, manual workers have been in possession of what appears their own political instrument.

Yet the Conservative party has been so adept in
severing sections of the working class from the
Labour party that it has been returned to office for
approximately two-thirds of the period since 1885.

And even now, in a period of deepening economic
recession and high unemployment, a Conservative

government has been elected in the expectation that
it will perform a rescue operation.

British conservatism’s success is due largely to
its possession of a rich and varied ideological
repertoire. It may employ the aristocratic rhetoric
of benevolent paternalism, and also the bourgeois
language of individual initiative, in a concerted
attempt to consecrate the authority of propertied
elites. This rich ideological inheritance is a consequence of the peculiarities of English cultural
development. Elsewhere in Europe the struggle
between feudal and emergent capitalist elites was
usually protracted, and often turbulent; in France,
for instance, the representatives of the ancien
regime were confronted by a rising bourgeoisie
only in revolutionary upheaval at the close of the
eighteenth century. The result has been that many
European nations have inherited two distinct and
irreconcilable expressions of ruling..”elass ideology.

Paternalism and Elitism
In England, however, the transition trom feudalism to capitalism was less dramatic. The English
revolt against absolutism, during the Civil War period
of the 1640s, occurred at a premature moment in
the formation of capitalism. The outcome was a
constitutional government in 1688 that safeguarded
the interests of all forms of property ownerShip.

From then onwards new elites gradually were absorbed into the pre-existing power structure. This
accommodation of new types of economic activity
by the existing pOlitical order was reflected, on the
ideological plane. For, following the settlement of
1688, propertied groups joined forces in saturating
constitutionalism with notions of ordered hierarchy
that located the subordinate class in its traditional
role of social dependence and deference. New ideological expressions were consequently grafted on to
a set of pre-modern values, permitting-an aristocratic ethos to persist in conjunction with the
articulation of newer, bourgeois ideas. The particular genius of British conservatism has been to
blend traditional and modern ideological strands
into a coherent and robust defence of class
inequality. 2
The aristocratic motif within conservatism was
developed during the eighteenth century into the
picture of an organic hierarchy in which social rank
was determined by birth rather than by individual
effort. Those of superior station were charged, in
the spirit of noblesse oblige, charitably to discip ..

line and protect those dependent upon them by
curtailing crime and alleviating distress. This
image of a close-knit community, coordinated by
the paternal affection of the materially privileged,
was an idealization of the realities of a largely
rural society. For the squierarchy, officiating as
magistrates and administering poor relief, did
constitute that local chain of command through
which the lives of the poor were regulated. But, by
portraying landowners as benevolent guardians
whose social superiority conformed with the divine
hierarchy of the universe, Tories were able to
distort the facts of class society by incorporating
them into a divinely or dained and unalterable
pattern of inequality.

During the nineteenth century, the idea of
paternal guardianship was deployed by many
Tories in order to condemn the effects of growing
industrialization upon traditional bonds of social
dependence. More significantly, in a period when

the working class was becoming enfranchised, the
persistent appeal of a stable, intimate social
hierarchy enabled Disraeli to devise a formula for
the leadership of propertied groups around the
theme of one nation. The effect, by furnishing a
set of potent cultural symbols around which to
marshall attitudes of social deference, was to
bequeath the legacy of protective elitism to the
twentieth century.

Society appears in bourgeois rhetoric as a
collection of independent individuals each intent on
pursuing self -interest. Here there is no providentially ordained, fixed social hierarchy but, instead,
a fluid structure in which individuals rise to the
social level concomitant with their natural abilities.

Thus, inequalities are said to reflect the uneven
distribution of human talents. Riches are seen as
the due reward of those who have expended maximum
energy, intelligence and agility in making material
provision for themselves. Conversely, poverty is
taken as a sign of some innate deficiency, the failure of individuals to exercise sufficient skill to
secure a comfortable existence: those who prove
themselves incapable of seizing opportunities that
are equally available to everyone must expect to
pay the just penalty of a lower standard of living.

In this way, market forces are ideologically misrepresented in that their inherent tendency to
coagulate into a structure of domination and sub’)rdination is concealed.

The Liberal party, not the Conservative party,
was the major propagator of undiluted bourgeois
values for much of the nineteenth century. The
success of bourgeois ideology, in so far as it
managed to defuse soc ial tensions by deriving a
certain hegemonic appeal, was due to its distorted
correspondence to the experience of the working
class. For, following the defeat of Chartism, the
mid-Victorian period witnessed a proliferation of
such working-class organizations as trade unions
and friendly societies which drew ideological
inspiration from the gospel of self -help. Deprived
of a revolutionary movement, many of the working
class discovered that the bourgeois virtues of hard
work, thrift and self -reliance did provide a makeshift safeguard against the harsher realities of
industrial capitalism.

By the end of the nineteenth century, a bourgeois
ethos was safely enshrined as an alternative theme
within the ideological repertoire of conservatism.

For, responding to the exodus of businessmen from
the Liberal party to the Conservative party, conservative ideologues like W. H. Mallock transformed the
gospel of self -help into a vigorous defence of
privilege. The economically successful, it was
proclaimed, were fully entitled to their riches
bec ause their enterprise was the mainspring of all
public benefits. From the innovative skills exhibited
by captains of industry flowed those technical
improvements in production upon which depended
the continuing prosperity of everyone. The structure
of inequality was consequently justified on the
ground that it generated mutual benefits for rich
and poor alike. The effect was to portray the
dynamic minority as a legitimately ascendant class
which exerted a benign and progressive influence
upon society at large.

Analytically, the picture of a closed hierarchy
of unequal social ranks seems incompatible with
that of an open, competitive structure built upon
individual endeavour. In practice, given the unique
aspects of English culture, conservatism has

managed to accommodate the two social images
under one flexible ideological canopy. Hence, while
aristocratic and bourgeois strands are periodically
orchestrated as alternative social theories, they
normally feature as variations on a single theme.

The effect has been to forge an indissoluble link
between economic prosperity and political supremacy by transforming the wealthy into the legitimate
guardians of the national interest. This broad
defence of the political leadership of propertied
elites has been achieved by updating the aristocratic theory in order to endow the beneficiaries of
the capitalist market with sufficient authority to
regulate the activities of the subordinate class.

What emerges from conservative utterances,
therefore, is a composite picture of a functional
social order that is integrated by means of an
appropriate command structure. Having assimilated
a market economy into a Tory conception of the
state, conservatives are able to welcome the
crystallization of economic processes into class
differences because it permits the economically
successful to supply that political initiative on
which are said to depend the vitality and coherence
of the nation. The effect is to endow propertied
elites with a monopoly of insight into communal
.requirements which authorizes them to issue
directives to those whose natural inferiority,
indolence, ignorance, imprudence or whatever
renders them unsuitable for self -government. So
conservatism proposes to subject the subordinate
class to a form of tutelage which extends through
the pIblic mechanisms of social control to the
diffusion of a system of common morality.

British conservatism’s genius in refashioning
traditional defences of class rule so as to sanctify
the persistent inequalities of capitalism has been
instrumental in allowing it effectively to respond to


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the major economic crises and developments of the
present century. So that it may affirm the eternal
advantages of inequality with sufficient plausibility
to gain the electoral endorsement of a large segment
of the subordinate class, a ruling-class ideology
cannot trot out exactly similar arguments regardless of circumstances. It must be adaptive enough
to suit the contemporary mood, jettisoning ideas
which inhibit it from functioning adequately and
absorbing ideas that enable it to keep pace with
social change. Conservatism has proved so adept
at continually revising its repertoire that it has
gained electoral advantage from the relative affluence of the post-war era, and also from the spectre
of economic decline that has haunted Britain in the

The Technological Way
Post-war Britain experienced a high level of
ideological consensus in so far as the ideal of
laissez-faire had been abandoned by those on the
right, as well as the left, of the political spectrum.

All parties converged in the conviction that both
social justice and economic efficiency copld be
secured by a state which, besides assuming widespread responsibility for distributing cultural
benefits, also ensured the stability and output of the
economy. It was generally acknowledged that careful political husbandry of the economy, coupled with
extensive welfare provisions, ‘would combine to
expel those economic recessions and social conflicts
which had characterized society in the 1930s and in
earlier phases of capitalism. What emerged, therefore, was a technocratic ideology proclaiming the
capacity of Keynesian economic remedies to foster
a steadily expanding universe of material prosperity
where even the poorest would enjoy affluence on an
unprecedented scale. The consequence was to substitute economic growth as a surrogate for any
radical redistribution of wealth, as well as for
eradication of the structural contradictions persisting between capital and labour. There was little
need to worry about lingering inequalities, ran the
argument, when the abolition of economic scarcity
was already on the agenda of managed capitalism.

Technocratic ideology was seductive for three
principal reasons. First, compared with earlier
phases of capitalism, Keynesian techniques did
succeed in delivering the goods by permitting
consumer goods to be produced on a hitherto unknown scale. Second, assisting the ideology to
become a dominant mode of consciousness was a
massive advertising campaign aimed at marketing
the vast array of consumer products. There is
some credibility in Herbert Marcuse’s description
of consumer capitalism as a relatively closed
system: a one dimensional society in which ideological opposition was obliterated by the success of
the representatives of managed capitalism in
persuading the public that every human need could
be satisfied. Indeed, the enormous ideological
efforts made to convince people that the good life
was to be found in patterns of consumption did bear
a distorted resemblance to everyday reality.

Perhaps a majority of the working class, harbouring memories of the 1930s and now able to own
cars and television sets, were predisposed to
believe that a mixed economy constituted the best
of all possible worlds. Third, in so far as manual
workers were tranquillized by relative affluence,

the failure of social democratic parties seriously
to confront the structure of domination must be
counted a key factor in the spread of ideological
homogeneity. The Labour party leadership, seeking
until the 1930s to escape the strident rhetoric of
class warfare, was readily mesmerized by the
myth that welfare capitalism provided a cure for
every social ailment. Falling victim to the belief
that the good society lay in the gift of managed
capitalism, the Labour party sold itself as the
most efficient manager of the welfare state. The
strategy was not entirely ineffective. In 1964 Harold
Wilson engineered the return of his party from the
political wilderness by promising a white-hot technological revolution which, by stimulating economic
expansion, would bring untold benefits to all social
groups. But the Labour party’s attraction to the
mixed economy, and its consequent inability to
challenge the framework of advanced capitalism,
helped to disseminate the ideological camouflage
under which conservatism was able to adapt to the
post-wal world.

The conversion of the bulk of the Conservative
party to Keynesian policies began in the 1930s with
the publication of Harold Macmillan’s The Middle
Way. Macmillan claimed that, by securing uninterrupted economic growth, an interventionist
state would guarantee capital accumulation, and
also relegate class conflicts to the dustbin of
history. From then onwards, most conservative
ideologies channelled their energies into skilfully
manipulating technocratic ideology into a defence of
the inegalitarian relations of managed capitalism.

Macmillan’s famous election slogan of the 1950s
– ‘You’ve never had it so good’ – was designed to
induce complacent acceptance of existing structures,
as well as to portray the Conservative party as the
embodiment of that instrumental knowledge required
to sustain and administer the system of material

The effect was to depict dominant groups as a
pragmatic elite which, dedicated to continual technological innovation and efficient political management, acted as the benevolent guardian of the public
good. The additional material advantages which this
elite enjoyed over the majority emerged, consequently, as just rewards for the services rendered
by the custodians of the national interest. According to Peter Walker, who is one of the few in the
present Thatcher Cabinet who still inclines to the
middle way, conservatism:

simply needs to show that the inequalities
associated with a regime of economic growth
are to the advantage of lower income groups,
and make their standard of living higher than it
would be under an egalitarian system …. Growth
demands the payment of higher salaries to industrial managers, but this is a small price to pay
for the great gains in welfare which can result
from economic advance; if those with managerial
ability or other scarce talents which are benefic~
ial to society are in short supply (and they are in
every country in the world), and if to induce the
exercise of these abilities high salaries and inequality are required, then it must be rational
for society to pay those high salaries. But the
test of these inequalities must be the contribution
they make to the welfare of society …. Providing
a free enterprise system organizes its society
in such a way that the losers can still lead a
decent life, the prizes for the winners, be they

in the form of splendid houses, larger cars or
yachts., do little harm to society as a whole (3).

Hence, by giving a familiar ideological twist to
developments within capitalism, conservatives were
able to view the prime beneficiaries of advanced
industrial society through a traditional political
perspective. The old functional and hierarchical
image of society was simply revised in order to
shower accolades on those whose unique responsibility was said to be that of cushioning society
against the toil and poverty that had been inflicted
upon earlier generations. In this way, alleged
wealth-creators were slotted into the cultural niche
once reserved for landed and other propertied
elites. By fusing traditional and modern ideological
elements into an affirmation of class ascendancy,
the doctrine of the middle way remained faithful to
its conservative antecedents.

The problem with all versions of technocratic
ideology is that, depending upon the continual
generation of material abundance, they hang by a
single, precarious thread. They lose plausibility in
a prolonged period of economic recession such as
Britain has suffered in recent years. The failure of
managed capitalism to sustain steady growth has
provoked a resurgence of social conflicts in which
members of the working class, accustomed to the
near full employment and higher wages of recent
decades, have resolutely refused to accept an
erosion of what they now consider the minimal requirements of a comfortable life. The Labour party,
having deprived itself of critical social concepts by
capitulating to the consensus ideology of welfare
capitalism, has responded negatively to the current
crisis; for, relying upon its traditional links with
the trade unions, it has advocated an incomes policy
in the form of a social contract that amounts to an
injunction to workers to ~p~tch wage demands at a
rate lower than that of inflation. But the working
class has been stubbornly resistant to pleas to bail
out an ailing capitalism by accepting a reduction of
living standards. Both the Heath and Callaghan
governments fell, directly or indirectly, as a consequence of union militancy. It is in this context the failure of social democratic policies to stem
economic decline, and the absence of radical left
alternatives to the structures of advanced capitalism – that authoritarian measures of the right gain
a measure of credibility.

The End of the Ideology of
Welfare Toryism
Although there were intimations that some conservatives had become disenchanted with the middle
way during the Heath years, the resurgence of a
more aggressive ideological stance was confined to
a fringe of the party. But Mrs Thatcher’s elevation
to the leadership installed a militant ideology at the
hub of Conservative party thinking. The subsequent
electoral victory of May 1979 instigated a Conservative
government dedicated, inter alia, to reversing the
trend since the 1930s of increasing state penetration
into the economy; to curbing inflation through tight
monetary control; to rewarding success by providing the rich with hefty tax cuts; to sabotaging the
mildly redistributive effects of widespread social
welfare by curtailing public expenditure; and to
emasculating the power of organized labour by
enacting anti-union legislation. These measures

amount to a concerted onslaught upon working-class
conditions: widening the gap between rich and poor
and dismantling those institutional devices which
presently cushion the latter against the harsher
operations of market forces. Why, then, should a
set of blatantly sectional policies receive electoral
endorsement? Conservatives have gained consent
for the. r policies by drawing upon their extensive
repertoire in order to perform an ideological
operation upon the general feeling of crisis and
economic malaise. Radically anti-egalitarian and
potentially divisive measures are thereby misrepresented as dictates of common sense: the inevitable path to be followed if national decline is to
be arrested and material prosperity restored.

Central to this ideological strategy is the revival
of an unadulterated entrepreneurial ethos. Rejuvenating the spirit of free enterprise by rolling back
the frontiers of the state is said to be essential if
talent is to be harnessed to jolt a sluggish economy
into dynamic advance. Apostles of the free market,
from Adam Smith to Friedrich Hayek, are cited in
order to establish that an exchange economy is a
completely open structure in whicn inequalities are
the natural outcome of the diversity of human ability.

I~dividuals, argues Sir Keith Joseph, are entirely
responsible for their life-chances because everyone
has an equal opportunity to do well. ‘In Britain we
have an infinitely mobile society – an infinite
number of snakes and latters'(4). Britain’s difficulties are said to stem from the institutional
penalties which the collectivist state has imposed
upon individual success. The solution is to restore
market forces by permitting the economically
successful to become rich. They will then be encouraged to discharge their energies into economic
revival. As the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir
Geoffrey Howe, expresses it:

One of Britain’s most urgent needs is for people
now to become less concerned with the distribution of wealth and more concerned with its
creation. You cannot create a rich society
without allowing some individuals to become
rich as well. That is why we must restore the
legitimacy of becoming rich – or richer than
they were – by taking risks (apart from those
which arise from doing the football pools)(5).

Inequalities are thus represented as the just price
paid for that national revival in which everyone will
share, though unequally, in the resulting material

The virtues of a free economy, unfettered by
government meddling and propelled by individ ual
initiative, are reinforced by being incorporated
into the conception of a freer society. In place of
the nursemaid state of welfare capitalism, which
allegedly saps the moral fibre by unduly protecting
its members against life’s realities, we are
offered a vision of a society grounded in individual
choice and independence. This perspective is constructed by manipulating the betty-bourgeois
virtues of thrift and self-reliance so as to misdescribe the unpleasant aspects of unimpeded
market forces as an extension of individual freedom
Thus, the hardships contingent upon a diminution of
social welfare are ideologically masked as a welcome chance for people to help themselves instead
of depending upon public charity. Opportunities to
invest in private schemes of health and education,
which in a world of unequally distributed scarce
resources are inevitably privileges available to a
wealthy minority, are depicted as a widening of

choice for everyone. Similarly, the application of
strict monetary controls are defended as a means
of persuading members of the working class to act
responsibly by rationally calculating their longterm economic interests. For, unless they temper
wage demands, they must suffer the consequences
of their actions in the form of higher unemployment.

Anti-egalitarian measures, therefore, are transforlned into items on the agenda of a free society in
which human dignity will be enhanced, and where
any individual who manifests sufficient skill and
energy will have the opportunity of enjoying a
comfortable life. So the gospel of self-help serves
the function of ideologically preparing people for
the harsher society which conservative policies
are designed to create. For its message is that,
once the evils of collectivism have been eradicated,
any inhospitable features of the social world will
be due to individual failure and irresponsibility.

Proclamation of the virtues of a liberalized
economy does not comprise the whole of current
conservative ideological strategy. It also includes
a strong advocacy of the need for social discipline.

The effect is to sever the defence of minimal
government intervention in the economy from any
suggestion of laissez -faire in every other area of
soc iety. In so far as a deliberate sabotaging of
welfare capitalism will exacerbate conflicts by
widening the gap between privilege and misery, the
Conservative government must focus attention upon
consolidating the mechanisms of social control.

This is why free-marketeers are usually strong
disciplinarians on questions of law and order.

Symbolically, one of the first tasks of the Thatcher
government was to accord large pay increases to
the two principal agencies of social control: the
polic e and ar my .

In order to win consent for their efforts to
tighten the apparatus of coercion, conservatives
must deploy the other major ingredient within their
ideological repertoire: the image of a hierarchic al
social order rendered stable by the supervisory
activities of an enlightened minority. The tactic
here is ideologically to play upon the sense of
general decay so as to create a siege mentality
against the wreckers and enemies within the nation’s
walls. This assault upon anti-social elements
within the community is not confined to a condemnation of militant trade-unionists. Rising crime
rates, for instance, provide fruitful material for
the purveyors of an authoritarian ideology intent on
selling their wares in the wrapping of common
sense. For people whose homes have been burglarised, or know old ladies who have been beaten up,
are susceptible to the idea that only firm and widespread government action can prevent disintegration throughout the entire social fabric. Nor are
Tories averse from flirting with racism when it
permits them to manufacture a climate of general
alarm. Whatever the effect of Mrs Thatcher’s
reference to fears that the country might be
flooded with immigrants, it was certainly not to
diminish the conviction that good Britons must be
eternally vigilant against all who, from wherever
they come, would threaten an already imperilled
national way of life.

The logic of this ideological construction of a
spectre of social -indiscipline is that many people
are incapable of self-government. In Margaret
Thatcher’S words: ‘man is inherently sinful and in
order to sustain a .civilised and harmonious society
we need laws backed by effective sanctions ‘(6). In

the context of an entrepreneurial ethos, the implication is that those who have proved their individual
merit and social worth by attaining positions of
leadership in industry and elsewhere are best
equipped to maintain a civilized and integrated
society. Their tutelage should extend to those who,
having failed to make a success of their lives, are
intent on disrupting good social order and on subverting the natural justice of the free economy:

left-wing militants, ‘loungers’ and ‘scroungers’ on
$oc ial welfare, truculent strikers, and so forth.

the overall effect is to portray the beneficiaries of
market forces as guardians of the public interest.

So, despite its strident rhetoric, the ideology of
the so-called New Right is a variation on the ageworn and familiar conservative defence of class
inequality. Whether it continues to succeed in
marshalling a consensus around a set of highly
sectional and exploitative policies remains to be
seen. Perhaps an alternative consensus, organized
around a social image which truly embodies majority interests, can only be mobilized by a reformed
Labour party prepared to raise fundamental questions about capitalist institutions. This is why the
outcome of the current left/right struggle in the
Labour Movement may be instrumental in determining whether conservatism is finally unmasked in the
eyes of ordinary people as the antithesis of common

1 George Gale, ‘The Popular Communication of a Conservative Message’,
in Conservative Essays, ed. Maurice Cowling, london, Cassell, 1978,


2 I am, of course, drawing upon the debate triggered by Anderson and Nairn
regarding the outlines of English cultural development. The principal
articles relevant to the debate are: Perry Anderson, ‘Origins of the
Present Crisis’, in Towards Soc ialism, ed. Anderson and R. Blackburn
(London, Fontana, 1965), ppll-52; idem, ‘Components of the National
Culture’, in Student Power, ed. Alexander Cockburn and Robin Blackburn
(Rarmoltdsworth, Penguin, 1969), pp214-84; idem, ‘Socialism and
Pseudo-Empiricism’, New Left Review 35 (1966), 2-42; Tom Nairn, ‘The
British Political Elite’, New Left Review 23 (1964), pp19-25; idem, ‘The
English Working Class’, in Ideology in Social Science, ed. R. Blackburn
(London, Fontana, 1972), pp187 -206; Nicos Poulantzas, ‘Marxist Political
Theory in Great Britain’, New Left Review 43 (1967), pp 57-74: E.!’.

Thompson, ‘The Peculiarities of the English’, in The Socialist RegIster,
1965, ed. Ralph Miliband and John Saville (London, Merlin Press, 1965),
pp31l-62. My quarrel with Anderson and Nairn is that, stressing. th~ .

traditional flavour of the dominant ideology, they underplay the slgnifIcance
of bourgeois ingredients. Bourgeois ideas have been more instrument~l
than they acknowledge in shaping an alternative liberal ethos to the aristocratic legacy; and also in nourishing the peculiar, resilient amalgam that
constitutes conservatism. See my ‘The Identity of English Liberalism’,
Politics & Society, 9 (1979), ppl-32; and Richard Johnson, ‘Barrington
Moore, Perry Anderson and English Soc ial Development’, Cultural
Studies 9 (Spring 1976), pp7-28.

3 Peter Walker, The Ascent of Britain London, Sidgwick & Jackson, 1977,
pp20, 22.

4 Sir Keith Joseph, ‘The Class War’, The Guardian, 18 July 1979, p7.

5 Sir Geoffrey Rowe, ‘Urgent need to create wealth’, The Guardian 3.July
1978, p14.

6 Margaret Thatcher, ‘A Speech on Christianity and Politics’, London,
Conservative Central Office, 30 March 1978, plO.

This is the first of three short articles on
Heidegger. The second will deal with the argument
of Being and Time. The third will be a critical
evaluation of Heidegger’s whole philosophy.

Heidegger gets mentioned,more and more in the
English-speaking world. He even gets read more
than he used to. His works, however, partake of
what Lovejoy called ‘the pathos of sheer obscurity,
the loveliness of the incomprehensible’.

The reader doesn °t know exactly what they mean,
but they have all the more on that account an air
of sublimity; an agreeable feeling at once of awe
and of exaltation comes over him as he contemplates thoughts of so immeasurable a profundity their profundity being convincingly evidenced by
him by the fact that he can see no bottom to
them (1).

Heidegger’s thoughts do have a basis. For the
ordinary English reader that basis is obscured
however not only by Heidegger’s mind-bending
style, but by his own ignorance of the cultural
background from which Heidegger’s thinking sprang.

In these articles I want to make Heidegger’s thinking intelligible as a development out of certain
intellectual trends. His popularity is something
else – to be explained not merely as intellectual
fashion but as answering some clearly felt need.

The truth of what he has to say is a different ques8

tion again: one which can only be addressed after
we have really understood what he is getting at.

My aims, then, are threefold: to express as
simply as possible the main outlines of Heidegger’s
thought; to consider his philosophy as a cultural
phenomenon; and to evaluate the truth of what he has
to say. I shall centre my discussion on his only
major work, Being and Time, because this is the
only systematic exposition of his doctrines. I als9
believe that it anticipates all the themes of his
later works.

Martin Heidegger was born in 1889 at a small
town in the Black Forest, near Freiburg-imBreisgau. Virtually the whole of his life was spent
in this area of south-west Germany. He was a man
with roots, which he never forgot and from which
he was never tempted to separate himself. His upbringing was catholic and provincial: his father was
sexton of the local church. His gymnasium education
was of ‘the c’onventional humanistic kind: large
doses of the classics, history and Germany literature – almost total neglect of natural science.

Heidegger was a wizard at Greek and Latin, retaining throughout his life the ability to quote large
chunks at the drop of a hat. When he left school in
1909 he went to the seminary at Freiburg university
and began training for the priesthood. Two years
later he switched his major from theology to philo-

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