Chapter 1 -The Origins of Political Ideologies
The Cave: The Illusion and the Reality of Education
Plato's cave - insightful allegory about the dangers of domination and oppression, as well as the equally
perilous potentials of education and liberation. The allegory by Plato represents an extended metaphor
that is to contrast the way in which we perceive and believe in what is reality. The thesis behind his
allegory is the basic tenets that all we perceive are imperfect "reflections" of the ultimate Forms, which
subsequently represent truth and reality.
In his story, Plato establishes a cave in which prisoners are chained down and forced to look upon the
front wall of the cave.
The prisoners are bound to the floor and unable to turn their heads to see what goes on behind them.
To the back of the prisoners, under the protection of the parapet, lie the puppeteers whom are casting
the shadows on the wall in which the prisoners are perceiving reality.
The prisoners could see only the shadows that the fire casts upon the wall of the cave in front of them.
Moreover, they would believe that the sounds (echoes) they hear are coming from these shadows.
Since they can see neither their own bodies nor the bodies of the other people, they inevitably assume
reality to be nothing other than the shadows & sounds of the puppeteers & their artifacts.
This is an important development to the story because it shows us that what we perceive as real from
birth is completely false based on our imperfect interpretations of reality and goodness.
Plato claims this is precisely the human condition. We are all born into a condition where the
meanings of the world are made for us. In such a condition, the limited, artificial world we know - the
world of the shadows on the wall- seems like the entire world. Hard to become aware of our
ignorance in relation to the broader world around us.
Once the prisoner is released, he is forced to look upon the fire & objects that once dictated his
perception of reality, & he thus realizes the new images in front of him are now the accepted forms of
reality. Plato describes the vision of the real truth to be "aching" to the eyes of the prisoners, & how
they would naturally be inclined to going back & viewing what they have always seen as a pleasant &
painless acceptance of truth. The freed prisoner is in a state of confusion. The fear of the unrecognized outside world would result in the prisoner being forced to climb the
steep ascent of the cave and step outside into the bright sun. The natural reaction of the prisoner
would be to recognize shadows & reflections. After his eyes adjust to the sunlight, he begins to see
items & people in their own existence.
Plato's allegory suggests that it is the journey one must endure to become human, to become more
fully aware of the imprisoned way of life in the past.
Freedom & Force
Plato's allegory →Story of domination & oppression as well as education & liberation.
Domination →Human condition of self-enslavement, where individuals (mis)perceive their condition
to be one in which they are free and in possession of the truth they inhabit within the prison.
For Plato, liberation means much more than living without shackles. It takes the form of becoming a
human being more fully conscious of the world that one may inhabit.
The returned prisoner with his new found wisdom would be disinterested by the intangible aspect in
the cave and would want to enlighten others with his knowledge. However, he would take a political
interest instead of a philosophical one.
At the end, Plato hypothesizes that if the freed prisoner returned to the cave & tried to show others the
way out of their condition, they would violently resist and even try to kill their former fellow
Relevance to us → All of us either have been, or presently are in a position similar to the prisoners in
Plato's cave. Since our birth, we have been taught by our parents & society what is best for us.
Everyone is fully committed to helping us see their light. We as individuals must break free & seek
unbiased, undistorted knowledge. What we must attempt to learn is the ability to differentiate between the various shadows & puppets
& to analyze different claims to truth & illusion.
What Is Ideology?
• Term "ideology" was coined by the French philosopher Destutt de Tracy to mean the "science of
ideas". Commonly understood more as a worldview.
• Philosopher Hannah Arendt in her critique of 20th century totalitarianism →"all ideologies contain
• Ideologies distort & oversimplify reality by mimicking logical, scientific ways of thinking.
• The modern politician gains power by promoting such illusions through the clever use of society's
political, economic, & cultural systems of power.
• Lecture Notes: 1st important aspect of any ideology →MASS ACTION . All ideologies are action-
oriented, mass-based & half-truths. It helps mobilize people to the new but also to get rid of the old.
They are logically inconsistent. They do not have to be logical.
• Textbook: Ideologies are not necessarily untruths. They are action orienting belief systems whose
followers believe to be true. They may contain some untruths; they may also contain some truths.
• Our recognition of the many versions of ideologies leads us to view them as contested and
alternative versions of reality, not "false" ones & we are open to the possible truths of each.
Ideology & Other Forms of Political Theory
• Traditional Political Philosophy - attempts to construct comprehensive philosophic systems that
explain nearly every dimension of political reality. • Works of Plato, St. Augustine, Hegel, Marx & Arendt →explore the standards according to which
people live their lives. Examine & evaluate various ways that government & other social
institutions may be organized to enable human beings to achieve their goals.
• Frequently give clear moral judgments about humanity's potential. Discuss the role & function of
the state, & the meanings of concepts like politics, justice, authority, revolution, freedom,
(in)equality, oppression & liberation.
• Modern Scientific Theories - Attempt to produce general theories about humanity. Purpose is to
describe & predict human behaviour based on the gathering of "facts" gained from scientific
observation of social & political behaviour.
• Hope to discover the "causes" of political behaviour, both within particular societies & across
them. Under what conditions what do people vote, social movements rise or fall etc. Use this
knowledge to predict outcomes that might occur (where there will be peace or war).
• Difference b/w Modern Political Theorists (MPTs) & Classical Political Philosophers (CPPs) :
1) MPT's - Don't attempt to create or explicitly specify grand theories of ideal political
2)CPP's - Observe the world as well but with "values" and "biases"
Ideology's Distinguishing Features
• An ideology → meaningful analysis of the existing environment to discover real truths concerning
• Major distinguishing feature of ideology: explicit action orientation. Ideologies seek not only to be
convincing; they seek to motivate their audiences to engage in action to bring that vision of the
world to reality.
• Ideologies promise a better, maybe the best life for humans - a goal culture. The kind of action
demanded differs from ideology to ideology.
• All ideologies (at some point) find faults with existing conditions & demand changes for the
• Ideological movements → political outgrowths of the tremendous sense of possibility & optimism
generated by the Enlightenment & Industrial Revolution.
- An optimism that led humanity to believe that it was collectively capable of fully knowing & expressing for itself a sense of how social & political life should be understood, created &
organized → ideologies essentially modern phenomena.
• The ever-increasing knowledge of nature provides the basis for new forms of technology.
• Newly imagined ideologies about human beings & the goal cultures they may collectively achieve
provide the basis for the construction of new social & political institutions.
• Ideologies in general perform 3 functions:
1) They conceptualize and simplify a view of the world.
2) They demand action
3) They attempt to justify the course of action taken.
1)To simplify: attempt to make convincing statements about reality by predicting the essential
traits & potentials of human beings & how those may be realized in the world.
• Total belief in the validity of an ideology can produce someone willing to carry out any action
seemingly necessary to achieve the ideological goal culture.
• In their attempt to simplify reality, ideologies make statements about the political world that are
often presented in critical black & white terms (what is right & wrong , what is good & evil).
2)To demand: certain courses of action from their followers. Ideologies create ideal visions of
conditions under which human beings can fulfill themselves & their potential.
• When the ideology is out of power, it demands active, continuous pressure to bring about a change
in the status quo.
3)To justify: each ideology maintains that it alone knows the beautiful, the good, just & what is
best for humanity. Each ide. justifies its view & the action necessary to achieve it by developing a view of
ultimate justice & beauty in human affairs.
Mass Appeal & Movements
• How can ideologies bring about change? → Develop a vehicle for effecting that change.
• Large #s of citizens in the modern state as well as the mass followers of ideologies (that don't have
a platform yet) have become that vehicle.
• Social changes produces changes in people's day-to-day lives, & when these changes are difficult
& measures to deal w/ changes are unclear, people look for answers in the action-orienting
importance of ideologies. • A combination of social & psychological factors lead people to become followers of ideology.
• When people are unable to live with pre-existing social norms, they look for faults within their
society. Contributing factors such as material success add to a person's guilt , feelings of loneliness
etc. To get rid of these feelings, joining an ideological movement to attack the society becomes
• If it is the existing society & its values that are wrong, the so-called "mis-fit" is relieved from
feelings of guilt when attacking the sources of humanity's fatal flaws.
• By joining a revolutionary movement, a person rids himself of his old self and all the failures
attached to it. They assume a new identity as a member of a movement →free individual.
• Hannah Arendt → Believes it is the "giving up" of the self. Followers become truly "self-less".
• Total Belief →people can easily disregard information that might be contradictory to the
• It is the human capacity to commit, or surrender oneself to the demands of ideology that
makes ide. movements possible.
• However, not everyone joins an ideology. Some people are born into one(like the prisoners in the
cave) and they are comfortable with it.
• Most ideologies →leaders who work towards changing social conditions.
• Ideologists know that mass support is important for producing large-scale change & they follow
strategies to produce such support. This includes creating new parties and mobilizing the masses
through dramatic speeches, rousing manifestos, peaceful protests etc.
• Ideological movements →modern phenomena, involves masses of dedicated people who strive
to defend or challenge the existing situation of society. They see themselves as capable of
producing revolutionary change or protecting historical gains.
Ideology & Action: A Constitutive & Hermeneutic View
• Hermeneutics - to understand either individual or collective political action, we must 1st
understand the meaning of ideas (motivations, intentions, concerns, purposes) that make up that
Why Unpopular Ideas? John Stuart Mill on Toleration • To silence a view that maybe be true is to assume that we are always in possession of the truth,
that our beliefs are never wrong.
• Although the unpopular view may not be the whole truth, it may still contain a portion of truth.
Society must allow it to be voiced so the truth is not lost.
• Without free & honest exchange b/w contrasting ideas, people may possess a truth but lack an
understanding or feel