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An ''ideology'' is an organized 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.

(For the Marxist definition of ideology see Ideology as an instrument of social reproduction)

Ideology in everyday society

In public discussions, some ideas seem to arise more commonly than others. Indeed, often completely separate people may be found to think alike in startling ways. For social scientists, one way of explaining such instances of common opinion is the presence of an ideology.

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", holding to assumptions that are largely unchallenged. Meanwhile, all other ideologies that differ from the dominant ideology are seen as radical, no matter what the content of their actual vision may be. The philosopher Michel Foucault wrote about the concept of apparent ideological neutrality. Ideology is not the same thing as philosophy. Philosophy is a way of living life, meanwhile ideology is an almost ideal way of life for society. Some attribute to ideology positive characteristics like vigor and fervor; or negative features like excessive certitude and fundamentalist rigor.

Organisations that strive for power will try to influence the ideology of a society to become closer to what they want it to be. Political organisations (governments included) and other groups (e.g. lobbyists) try to influence people by broadcasting their opinions.

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.

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. Gradually, however, the term "ideology" has dropped some of its critical sting, and has become a neutral term in the analysis of differing political opinions. Ideological references are important to many people throughout the world

The analysis of ideology

Meta-ideology is the study of the structure, form, and manifestation of ideologies. Meta-ideology posits that ideology is a coherent system of ideas, relying upon a few basic assumptions about reality that may or may not have any factual basis, but are subjective choices that serve as the seed around which further thought grows. According to this perspective, ideologies are neither right nor wrong, but only a relativistic intellectual strategy for categorizing the world. The pluses and minuses of ideology range from the vigor and fervor of true believers to ideological infallibleness. Excessive need for certitude lurks at fundamentalist levels in politics, religions, and elsewhere. It is not only the Catholic pope or other believers who consider themselves in some ways infallible. Assumptions of infallibility can be detected among anti-religious skeptics as well, as explained in "Skepticism and Agnosticism as Ideology" at Roderick Hindery's website on Propaganda vs Critical Thought.

The works of George Walford and Harold Walsby, done under the heading of systematic ideology, are attempts to explore the relationships between ideology and social systems.

David W. Minar describes six different ways in which the word "ideology" has been used:

  1. As a collection of certain ideas with certain kinds of content, usually normative;
  2. As the form or internal logical structure that ideas have within a set;
  3. By the role in which ideas play in human-social interaction;
  4. By the role that ideas play in the structure of an organization;
  5. As meaning, whose purpose is persuasion; and
  6. As the locus of social interaction, possibly.

For Willard A. Mullins, an ideology is composed of four basic characteristics: it must have power over cognitions; it must be capable of guiding one's evaluations; it must provide guidance towards action; and, as stated above, must be logically coherent. Mullins emphasizes that an ideology should be contrasted with the related (but different) issues of utopia and historical myth.

The German philosopher Christian Duncker called for a "critical reflection of the ideology concept" (2006). In his work, he strove to bring the concept of ideology into the foreground, as well as the closely connected concerns of epistemology and history. In this work, the term ideology is defined in terms of a system of presentations that explicitly or implicitly claim to absolute truth.

Though the word "ideology" is most often found in political discourse, there are many different kinds of ideology: political, social, epistemological, ethical, and so on.

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. For Marx, the base determines the superstructure. Because the ruling class controls the society's means of production, the superstructure of society, including its ideology, will be determined according to what is in the ruling class's best interests. Therefore the ideology of a society is of enormous importance since it confuses the alienated groups and can create 'false consiousness' such as the fetish for commodities. 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. György Lukács describes this as a projection of the class consciousness of the ruling class, while Antonio Gramsci advances the theory of cultural hegemony to explain why people in the working-class can have a false conception of their own interests.

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)

The Marxist view of ideology as an instrument of social reproduction has been an important touchstone for the sociology of knowledge and theorists such as Karl Mannheim, Daniel Bell and Jürgen Habermas amongst many others. However, Mannheim attempted to move beyond what he saw as the 'total' but 'special' Marxist conception of ideology to a 'general' and 'total' conception which acknowledged that all ideologies resulted from social life (including Marxism). This idea has been extensively developed by Pierre Bourdieu.

Louis Althusser's Ideological State Apparatuses

Louis Althusser proposed a materialist conception of ideology, which made use of a special type of discourse: the lacunar discourse. 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 theoretical groundwork of 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).

Althusser also invented the concept of Ideological State Apparatuses to explain his theory of ideology. His first thesis was that "Ideology has no history": since the epistemological break is a continuous process, and not a determined event, science and philosophy must always struggle against ideology, which is, according to Marx, defined as the reproduction of the possibilities of production. His second thesis, "Ideas are material", explains his materialist attitude, which he illustrated with the "scandalous advice" of Pascal toward unbelievers: "kneel and pray, and then you will believe", thus reversing the primacy of idealism toward materialism. However, this mustn't be misunderstood as simple behaviorism, as there may be, as Pierre Macherey put it, a "subjectivity without subject"; in other words, a form of non-personal liberty, as in Deleuze's conception of becoming-other.

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 theorists have paid close attention to these mechanisms. Adrienne Rich e.g. has shown how to understand motherhood as a social institution.

Political ideologies

Main article: Political ideology

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, and 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 class struggle

Ideologies emphasizing the individual

Ideologies emphasizing the collective

Ideologies emphasizing ethnicity or nationality

Ideologies emphasizing tradition

Ideologies based on religion

Foreign policy ideologies

Other ideologies

One-issue stances

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".

See also

External links


  • Mullins, Willard A. (1972) "On the Concept of Ideology in Political Science." The American Political Science Review. American Political Science Association.
  • Minar, David M. (1961) "Ideology and Political Behavior", Midwest Journal of Political Science. Midwest Political Science Association.

Further reading

  • Hindery, Roderick, Indoctrination and Self-deception or Free and Critical Thought? 2001,esp. Ch.4.
  • Hindery, Roderick,Skepticism and Agnosticism as Ideology,
  • Hawkes, David (2003) Ideology (2nd ed.), Routledge, ISBN 0-415-29012-0
  • Minogue, Kenneth (1985) Alien Powers: The Pure Theory of Ideology, Palgrave Macmillan, ISBN 0312018606

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