Introduction to Ideology
The simplest definition of ideology is "the science or study of ideas."
That, however, doesn't tell us much. We want to know what kind of
Ideology also involves ideal or visionary speculation how life could be
or ought to be. In order to transform ideals and visions into reality
that is, into an effective ideology some rational, intelligible, and
logical order or pattern of thought is needed. So, an ideology isn’t just
a bunch of thoughts or random thoughts. An ideology is a structured
pattern of thoughts.
In short, as a structured pattern, an ideology needs to have a rational
base. That is, the pattern is structured in a rational or reasonable way
so that the ideas cohere. Therefore, an ideology is a rational and
consistent system of ideas.
In his book Contemporary Political Ideologies Roy Macridis claims that
all of us have ideologies because all of us value something property,
friends, sex, the lawall of us have prejudices, and all of us have
ideas. But, as we now know, having ideas, beliefs, values, and
prejudices does not mean that we have an ideology. Because to be an
ideology, these values, beliefs, ideas, and prejudices must form a
consistent and coherent set.
An ideology is a coherent and consistent set of values, beliefs,
standards, ideals, ideas.
Coherent means that the set makes sense and holds together
the parts fit, no part contradicts other parts;
Consistent means that the set works over time and in different
And what is a political ideology?
A political ideology is a particular variety of ideology. Our attention
focuses on "politics." What is politics? Literally, the word comes from
the Greek word for citypoliswhich was the principal political unit in
the ancient Greek world. To live in a polis meant living with other
1 An ideology is a political ideology when it deals with how
persons live alongside and in accordance with others, when it
describes how conflicts are to be settled, how power is to be
distributed, and how social lifelife involving others is to be lived.
DEFINITION: A political ideology is any reasonably coherent and
consistent body of moral, economic, social, and cultural ideas and
values, tenets and dogmas that taken together form a coherent and
powerful vision of what society is and can become .
Ideologies offer both a vision of what society is and what it can be .
Thus, ideologies provide standards or guidelines by which to judge
social life, images of human nature, and the nature of the state.
Ideology makes sense of the world by providing a worldview or, to use
a fancy word, a Weltanschauung , as to how the world works.
Ideologies offer not only ends but also means to those ends. In
other words, an ideology tells us both where we ought to go and how
we ought to get there, what we ought to do and how we ought to do it.
Thus a politician might argue that we must reduce poverty in this
country, stop drug abuse, improve education, get tough with the North
Koreans, end the conflict in the Middle East between Israel and the
Palestinians, but we need to hear more to assess his political ideology:
We need to hear why he lists these issues and not others and how he
proposes to accomplish his goals.
An ideology is always a call to action ; it leads us to do something
about a situation.
[Compare this section of my notes with Ball and Dagger’s discussion of
the four functions of ideology, pages 48.]
Why should we study ideologies? Why should we be interested in
them? Because all values emanate from some ideological outlook.
That ideology may not be a political ideology, but it is a worldview, an
interpretation of social life and action that provides some standards by
which to live one's life and by which to judge other social lives.
Regardless of whether you think ideologies are illusions, are biases, or
are accurate, all ideologies are organized frameworks for
understanding and explaining the world and how it works.
2 All of us have accepted some of the patterned
images that serve as means for interpreting the world. We, all of us,
have been shaped by ideological notions.
While someone who holds some isolated beliefs may not be an
adherent of an ideology, the beliefs themselves are ideologically
determined. We can only escape one ideology by adopting another.
So an ideology is a coherent and consistent set of concepts, ideas,
ideals, goals, beliefs that filters the mass of information people
perceive. This set helps us function and find meaning in the world.
Ideology pinpoints what is significant in the events we experience. In
making sense of our experiences, ideologies are like a roadmap that
serves as a guideline of where we are and where we need to go.
Ideology tells us what is important, what we need to pay attention to
and what we can ignore.
Different ideologies have different goals, justify those goals in
different ways, and propose different means to their realization.
These differences are what this course is all about.
How do ideologies arise? Where do they come from and why do they
take shape as they do? These are the broad questions we shall
examine in this course. We shall not examine, however, how
individuals come to affiliate themselves with particular ideologies.
Suffice it to say, that most if not all of us support certain values and
goals, ideas and ideals without really examining them critically. We
pick them up from family, community, and peers as customary
patterns of thought and action. We hold them until something shakes
us out of the pattern. Then we examine these ideas and beliefs. But
if we pick up a different set of beliefs and ideas, a different ideology,
we do not examine that one. We think: "If it is strong enough to
replace my old ideology, it must be right."
Then the same pattern continues.
One luxury of college is that you now have the opportunity to examine
critically your own ideological assumptions. These you may well come
to respect and accept, which means you may develop a new level of
commitment to them. But in examining them, you may come to reject
some or all of those assumptions. Then it is time to start learning how
to find new assumptions that you can commit to.
3 DE TRACY and MARX ON IDEOLOGY:
The term "ideology" was first used by the Frenchman Destutt de Tracy
to signify a general science of ideas. In this science De Tracy wanted
to study the origin of ideas in the brain, thinking that ideas must be
caused by sense perceptions.
By establishing this science of ideas he thought he would
be able to determine the nature of human beings. Once he knew that,
he could then determine the kinds of laws, institutions, and practices
best suited to meet human needs. His motivation, therefore, was to
improve the lives of people by developing better ideas, progressive
To De Tracy and his followers ideology stood for the attempt to strip
ideas of any prejudice and bias which might stand in the way of
objective social analysis and proper social reform.
But the first theory of ideology was that of Karl Marx. Marx
developed his theory by standing de Tracy on his head. That is, Marx
upended the common understanding of ideology. In other words, he
reversed the definition of ideology rather than being free of prejudice
and bias, ideology was built on prejudice and bias .
Marx described as an ideology any s