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The Politics Series

Political parties

An ideology is a collection of ideas. The word ideology was coined by Count Destutt de Tracy in the late 18th century to define a "science of ideas." An ideology can be thought of as a comprehensive vision, as a way of looking at things (compare Weltanschauung), as in common sense (see Ideology in everyday society) and several philosophical tendencies (see Political ideologies), or a set of ideas proposed by the dominant class of a society to all members of this society (the Marxist definition of ideology - see Ideology as an instrument of social reproduction).


Ideology in everyday society

Every society has an ideology that forms the basis of the "public opinion" or common sense, a basis that usually remains invisible to most people within the society. This dominant ideology appears as "neutral", while all others that differ from the norm are often seen as radical, no matter what the actual vision may be. The philosopher Michel Foucault wrote about this concept of apparent ideological neutrality.

Organisations that strive for power influence the ideology of a society to become what they want it to be. Political organisations (governments included) and other groups (e.g. lobbyists) try to influence people by broadcasting their opinions, which is the reason why so often many people in a society seem to "think alike".

When most people in a society think alike about certain matters, or even forget that there are alternatives to the current state of affairs, we arrive at the concept of Hegemony, about which the philosopher Antonio Gramsci wrote. The much smaller scale concept of groupthink also owes something to his work. Modern linguists study the mechanism of conceptual metaphor, by which this 'thinking alike' is thought to be transmitted.

There are many different kinds of ideology: political, social, epistemological, ethical, and so on.

Meta-ideology is the study of the structure, form, and manifestation of ideologies. Meta-ideology posits that ideology is a system of ideas and thoughts bound by an internal logic and a few basic assumptions about reality that have no real factual basis, but are arbitrary choices that serve as the seed around which ideologies grow. According to this train of thought, ideologies are neither right nor wrong, but only a relativistic intellectual strategy for categorizing the world.

Political ideologies

In social studies, a political ideology is a certain ethical, set of ideals, principles, doctrines, myths or symbols of a social movement, institution, class, or large group that explain how society should work, and offer some political and cultural blueprint for a certain social order. A political ideology largely concerns itself with how to allocate power and to what ends it should be used. It can be a construct of political thought, often defining political parties and their policy. Studies of the concept of ideology itself (rather than specific ideologies) have been carried out under the name of systematic ideology.

Political ideologies regard policies of many different aspects of a society, the most central of which are: economy, education, criminal law, management of criminals, minors, animals, environment, immigration, eugenics, race, use of the military, forced nationalism, forced religion

List of political ideologies

There are many proposed methods for the classification of political ideologies. See the political spectrum article for a more in-depth discussion of these different methods (each of whom generates a specific political spectrum).

The following list attempts to divide ideologies into a number of groups; each group contains ideologies that have a certain theme or idea in common. Note that one ideology can belong to several groups, and there is sometimes considerable overlap between related ideologies.

Ideologies emphasizing ethnicity or nationality

Ideologies emphasizing class struggle

Ideologies emphasizing the individual

Ideologies and social-systems emphasizing the collectivity

Ideologies emphasizing territory

Ideologies based on religion


Other ideologies

Epistemological ideologies

Even when the challenging of existing beliefs is encouraged, as in science, the dominant paradigm or mindset can prevent certain challenges, theories or experiments from being advanced. The philosophy of science mostly concerns itself with reducing the impact of these prior ideologies so that science can proceed with its primary task, which is (according to science) to create knowledge.

There are critics who view science as an ideology in itself, or being an effective ideology, called scientism. Some scientists respond that, while the scientific method is itself an ideology, as it is a collection of ideas, there is nothing particularly wrong or bad about it.

Other critics point out that while science itself is not a misleading ideology, there are some fields of study within science that are misleading. Two examples discussed here are in the fields of ecology and economics.

A special case of science adopted as ideology is that of ecology, which studies the relationships between living things on Earth. Perceptual psychologist J. J. Gibson believed that human perception of ecological relationships was the basis of self-awareness and cognition itself. Linguist George Lakoff has proposed a cognitive science of mathematics wherein even the most fundamental ideas of arithmetic would be seen as consequences or products of human perception - which is itself necessarily evolved within an ecology.

Deep ecology and the modern ecology movement (and, to a lesser degree, Green parties) appear to have adopted ecological sciences as a positive ideology.

Some accuse ecological economics of likewise turning scientific theory into political economy, although theses in that science can often be tested. The modern practice of green economics fuses both approaches and seems to be part science, part ideology.

This is far from the only theory of economics to be raised to ideology status - some notable economically-based ideologies include mercantilism, social darwinism, communism, laissez-faire economics, and "free trade". There are also current theories of safe trade and fair trade which can be seen as ideologies.

History of the concept of ideology

Perhaps the most accessible source for the original meaning of "ideology" is Hippolyte Taine's work on the Ancien Regime (first volume of "Origins of Contemporary France"). He describes ideology as rather like teaching philosophy by the Socratic method, but without extending the vocabulary beyond what the general reader already possessed, and without the examples from observation which practical science would require. Taine identifies it not just with Destutt de Tracy, but with his milieu, and includes Condillac as one of its precursors.

The word "ideology" was coined long before the Russians coined "intelligentsia", or before the adjective "intellectual" referred to a sort of person (a substantive). Thus these words were not around when the hard-headed, driven Napoleon Bonaparte took the word "ideologues" to ridicule his intellectual opponents.

Ideology as an instrument of social reproduction

Karl Marx proposed a base/superstructure model of society. The base refers to the means of production of society. The superstructure is formed on top of the base, and comprises that society's ideology, as well as its legal system, political system, and religions. Marx proposed that the base determines the superstructure. It is the ruling class that controls the society's means of production - and thus the superstructure of society, including its ideology, will be determined according to what is in the ruling class' best interests. On the other hand, critics of the Marxist approach feel that it attributes too much importance to economic factors in influencing society.

The ideologies of the dominant class of a society are proposed to all members of that society in order to make the ruling class' interests appear to be the interests of all, and thereby achieve hegemony. To reach this goal, ideology makes use of a special type of discourse: the lacunar discourse, as discussed by Althusser. A number of propositions, which are never untrue, suggest a number of other propositions, which are. In this way, the essence of the lacunar discourse is what is not told (but is suggested).

For example, the statement 'All are equal before the law', which is a theory behind current legal systems, suggests that all people may be of equal worth or have equal 'opportunities'. This is not true, because the concept of private property over the means of production results in some people being able to own more (much more) than others, and their property brings power and influence (the rich can afford better lawyers, among other things, and this puts in question the principle of equality before the law).

The dominant forms of ideology in capitalism are (in chronological order):

  1. classical liberalism
  2. social democracy
  3. neo-liberalism

and they correspond to the stages of development of capitalism:

  1. extensive stage
  2. intensive stage
  3. contemporary capitalism (or late capitalism, or current crisis)

Other dominant forms of capitalist ideology such as social darwinism cannot be related to a specific phase.

Feminism as critique of ideology

Naturalizing socially constructed patterns of behavior has always been an important mechanism in the production and reproduction of ideologies. Feminist theoricians have paid close attention to these mechanism. Adrienne Rich e.g. has shown how to understand motherhood as a social institution.

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