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International Socialism, Winter 1961


Kevin Barry

Learned and Shoddy


From International Socialism (1st series), No.7, Winter 1961, pp.32-3.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Ideology and Society
By Donald MacRae
Heinemann. 25s.

A first reading of this book suggests that nobody has read more books than Mr MacRae; a second reading that it is also true that nobody has left more books unread. The essays here are learned and shoddy, stimulating and superficial, full of insight and of foolishness. The references to Nietzche, for example, are extraordinary to anyone who has actually read him. And it is typical of Mr MacRae’s style that references to all and sundry should continually be dragged in. Consider now one of Mr MacRae’s central themes, class-relationship and ideology.

Mr MacRae believes that in our society class and ideology do not correlate closely and he appears to think that this fact makes against Marxism. What he misses out is two-fold: Marx’s view of this correlation and the nature of bourgeois ideology. Marx certainly thought that each class evolved a characteristic way of seeing the world. But in any society ‘the ideas of the ruling class are the ruling ideas’ and they rule by infecting the vision of every class. So to discover that workers have bourgeois ideas and aspirations (as Engels did) is not to discover a fact inconsistent with Marx’s view.

Secondly, the nature of bourgeois ideology is concealed from Mr MacRae by his conception of ideology as thought distorted by interest. The crucial fact is that interest not only distorts, it also reveals, and it does both jobs at once. A typical bourgeois ideological conception is that of ‘the individual’. The hero in literature, the perceiving subject in empiricist philosophy, the isolated producer in classical economics all bear the marks of this conception.

When we find the hero being slain, the individual percipient being envisaged as secondary to the language which he inherits, and the isolated producer replaced by the Keynesian planner we have all the signs of ideological transformation. When these newer conceptions turn out to be often much more like re-editions of the old ones than at first they seemed we have all the signs of ideological continuity. These are the sort of questions which Mr MacRae does not even raise.

I am perhaps quite unfairly blaming him for not writing a different book. But someone who slides over every tough or interesting question with an allusion to a writer whom he does not always appear to have read very extensively deserves that sort of blame.

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