Why study Ideologies?

  • All concepts in political science are “essentially contested concepts”: a notion around which there will never be agreement
    • Ideology is an essentially contested concept
    • Ideology results in all other concepts being essentially contested concepts
  • Questions about “us”:
    • How do I make sense of my world?
    • What are the bases of my political ideas?
    • How valid are my ideas?
    • How comprehensive are my ideas?
    • How coherent are my ideas?
  • Two questions that politics is forever trying to answer:
    • What is to be done? ( Lenin) = agency
    • What are the limits of the possible? (Braudel) = structures
    • Each ideology gives us “answers” or “maps” to these questions
  • Political ideas are living things
    • 1) Rooted in particular historical circumstances : grow out of events, problems, crises of the day
    • 2) Change along with changing historical circumstances
    • 3) Often themselves designed to help change historical circumstances

What’s an Ideology?

  • Onomasiological: defining or understanding a concept or idea by relating it to another
  • Theory: Greek theoria: act of looking at the human world reflectively
  • Epistemology: the study of knowledge
    • Episteme: “knowledge”
    • What can we know?
    • How can we know what we know?
  • Ontology: study of “beings”
    • What categories or beings tell us about the world?
  • Doxa: “opinion”
  • What is an “ideology”
  • Political doxa — organized political opinions
  • World-view: the world as it is & as it should be
    • Abstractions — do not really exist
  • 4 Attributes:
    • 1. Social belief held by many people and passed on from generation to generation
    • 2. Mixture of “facts” (what is true) and “morals” (right & wrong behaviour & thought)
    • 3. Simplification
    • 4. Organized system of beliefs
  • 4 functions:
    • 1. Explanation: why political, social, economic conditions are what they are.
    • 2. Evaluation: How to evaluate the conditions and events in the world
    • 3. Orientation: Tell us who we are & give us a sense of identity
    • 4. Political Programme: Tell us what to do


History of “Ideology”

  • Continental European concept
  • Destutt de Tracy
    • Antoine Destutt de Tracy:
      • French
      • 1754-1836
      • Invents the word “ideology” in 1796
    • France:
      • French Revolution in 1790s
      • Violent overthrow of the monarchy and aristocratic social structure
      • Volatile birth site of what came to be known as liberalism, conservatism, even socialism
      • Flood of new ideas about how we should live
    • “Ideologie”: a systematic study of the sources and origins of ideas
      • Basis: belief that people are born with neither knowledge nor ideas — a blank slate [John Locke’s tabula rasa]
      • If ideas are the result of experience, it must be possible to discover their sources, and explain why different people have different ideas
    • Goal: to explain why people had the ideas — the ideology — they had
    • Why?
      • To reform and improve society
      • Get rid of oppressive powers
    • People could be taught the right kinds of ideas to produce a rational and happy society
    • Tracy’s notion of ideology is deeply political and politically provocative
      • Rule by an intellectual class
      • Catholic Church, nobility and powerful political figures threatened
  • Karl Marx
    • Marx was highly critical of “ideology”:
      • System of ideas that hide or mask reality
      • Purpose of ideology: to justify and legitimize the rule of a dominant class in society (Marx’s German Ideology)
    • Marx’s argument in a nutshell:
      • Capitalism and capitalists create an ideology which dominates the society
      • Capitalism creates societies which are divided into classes
      • Classes are defined in terms of how much control they have over capital = means of production
        • Means of production: land, technology, factories, raw resources
        • Owners of means of production: capitalists (bourgeoisie)
        • Labourers in means of production: workers (proletariat)
      • Control over means of production = control material reality (food, goods, etc.) = social power = control over ideas
        • Capitalists control means of productions so support ideas serve their interests will dominate the society — those ideas will become true or “common sense” (Antonio Gramsci)
    • These ideas will form the ruling ideas & structures of the age: the governing “ideology”
    • Presents existing social relations as normal, natural, necessary and eternal (permanent)
    • Makes the power of the dominant class invisible
    • The challenge of politics: consciousness & change
    • Marx’s “ideology”: any ideas that validate and justify the rule by some over others.
    • Purpose:
      • To reveal deeper truth that would promote the interests of the exploited classes; and ultimately serve all of humanity.
      • There’s TRUTH . . . and then there’s IDEOLOGY
  • Karl Mannheim
    • Ideology: ideas that are biased or self-interested
    • Ideology remains a political weapon to use against an opponent
  • Commonalities Among Modern Ideologies
    • Modern: last 200 years
    • Origins traced to Europe or European-North America
    • Secular: do not rely on belief in God
    • Humanist: human-centred, human happiness, human agency
    • Agenda for society: change (or not)

Left, Right, Centre?

    • Not universally applicable: the “centre” changes depending on your context, politics, factors, etc.
    • Standard continuum fits conservatism, liberalism, and socialism
    • Issue determines the placement on the continuum
      • Change?
      • Equality?
      • Role of the government/state?
      • Patriarchy?
      • Property rights?
      • Native rights?
      • The environment?
    • BUT:
      • Not all people who identify themselves (or are identified) as are part of an ideology share all of its beliefs
      • The conclusions of some people in the same ideology may be very different from each other

What are we doing with ideologies?

    • “Ideologies” as belief systems that we are seeking to describe
    • We will examine each ideology by understanding its view of:
      • 1. Human Nature
      • 2. Society
      • 3. Freedom
      • 4. Justice
      • 5. The State

We need to understand ideologies because we are embedded in (stuck inside) them and they make our world understandable to us not only in political terms, but social, economic, scientific, etc.

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