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International Socialism, Summer 1967


John Lee

Wiseman or Nurk?


From International Socialism (1st series), No.29, Summer 1967, p.34.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Politics in Everyday Life
H. Victor Wiseman
Blackwell, 30s

I suppose that anyone who saves the third year student the tedium of ploughing through Almond and Verba, David Easton and Richard Rose is to be congratulated. At least Wiseman has managed to compress their defects into one short volume. However, just like them he has engulfed a static, Parsonian, ‘Structure-Functional’ model of society and having done so he spews back a picture of British political culture more appropriate to Merrie England than to modern Britain.

Whilst he admits that political situations arise out of disagreement about the allocation of scarce resources, he hurriedly assures us that ‘usually certain norms serve to reduce the flow of demands likely to produce fundamental cleavages.’ Political action is seen in terms of its relationship to the solving of societies’ basic functional problems and prominent amongst these are ‘pattern maintenance and tension management,’ and of course ‘the achievement and maintenance of integration.’

The weakness of such a conceptual framework is that it fails to relate to reality, and what it fails to relate to, it just leaves out of account. Like the political history of most countries the history of Britain has not been marked by its basic integration and tension management. Conflict, particularly class-conflict has always been apparent at least to those working outside ivory towers. Thus the Parsonian system is idealised to the extent that it merely describes a Utopia. It is the social system of Never-Never land.

As with all utopian conceptions of society there is an implicit assertion of value judgements that the analyst states as though they were established fact. How about Wiseman’s preconditions for democracy as the conservative manifesto of the year?

‘Nor should the outside party or its bureaucracy be able to turn the parliamentary party into its manifesto.’

‘Responsibility should be maintained through parliament, “the centre of gravity” of the system.’

‘Together the majority of the opposition should form a preponderant block over and against the extremists of either right or left.’

It is amusing to find contemporary political academics turning to yesterday’s sociology for the solution of their intellectual problems. Even academic sociology has moved on and some acquaintance with the recent works of Alvin Gouldner, David Lockwood and John Rex would have led Wiseman to reconsider his stepping-stones. He takes these as given so that his section on contemporary British politics gives some useful information on the Queen, parliament and the civil service and says nothing whatsoever about industrial strife, nor even CND. Given his theoretical stance what he would leave out was all very predictable. He has given us the everyday politics of some other people’s lives.

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