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.
In social studies, a political ideology is a certain ethic, set of ideals, principles, doctrine, myth 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. The popularity of an ideology is in part due to the influence of moral entrepreneurs, who sometimes act in their own interests.
Ideology studied as ideology (rather than examples of specific ideologies) has been carried out under the name systematic ideology.
Political ideologies have two dimensions:
- How society should work (or be arranged).
- The rules (blueprint) most appropriate to achieving the ideal arrangement.
The Ideal Moral Order
Achieving or preserving the ideal social arrangement is the goal of politics.
Some ideologies (e.g. socialism, liberalism) have the notion of a flat social order. These have very few levels in their social hierarchy. For instance, they may believe that:
- All ethnicities are equal (e.g. anti-racism)
- Men equal women (e.g. Equity feminism)
- All cultures are equally valuable (e.g. multiculturalism)
- All countries are equally important (cf. globalism)
- All religions are equivalent (e.g. universalism)
- All lifestyles are acceptable, etc.
A flat social order is thought to foster diversity of thought and behavior across society. It encourages each individual to accomplish their personal desires by not conforming to any pre-defined standard. People on this side of the conformist/non-conformist divide may support:
Separation of church and state
- Gay and minority rights
Freedom of expression, etc.
Other ideologies (e.g. authoritarianism, conservatism) have the notion of a structured social order. These tend to have very many levels in their social hierarchy. For instance, they may believe that:
- God ranks above people (cf. theism)
- Men rank above women (e.g. sexism)
- Some cultures rank above others (cf. The White Man's Burden)
- Some countries rank above others (e.g. nationalism)
- Some lifestyles rank above others
- Some social classes rank above others, etc.
A structured social order is thought to bring uniformity of thought and behavior across society. It encourages each individual to respect the established social order. People on this side of the conformist/non-conformist divide may support:
- Integration of church and state
- Family values
- Military programs
The Rules to the Game
Implementing the cultural blueprint is the object of politics.
Some ideologies (e.g. liberalism, conservatism) have the notion of rewarding individual initiatives over collective initiatives. Ideologies on this side of the independence/interdependence divide tend to reward actions that:
- Help members achieve self-sufficiency (economic, emotional, etc.) from the rest of society.
- Result from each member's individual effort.
- Help members acquire self-discipline as a condition to achieving self-sufficiency.
Rewarding individual initiatives first tends to create a society with a high level of economic independence among the various members of society (for instance through accumulation of wealth). Ideologies on this side of the independence/interdependence divide may support:
- Lower taxes
- Gun ownership
- Crime repression, etc.
Other ideologies (e.g. socialism, authoritarianism) have the notion of rewarding collective initiatives over individual initiatives. Ideologies on this side of the independence/interdependence divide tend to reward actions that:
- Increase the strengths of social ties (economic, emotional, etc.).
- Empathise with less fortunate members of society.
- Help members achieve happiness as a condition of empathy towards others.
Rewarding collective initiatives first tends to create a society with a high level of economic interdependence among the various members of society (for instance through redistribution of wealth). Ideologies on this side of the independence/interdependence divide may support:
- Strong government
- Social programs
- Crime prevention, etc.
Socialistic Political Ideologies
Other examples include: christian democracy, social-democracy, and communism. (The communist theories of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and their followers, often known as marxism, are regarded as one of the most influential and well-defined political ideologies of the 20th century. However, Marx and Engels himself repeatedly denounced ideology in general, describing it in terms such as "false consciousness", by which they meant that it was a belief that did not reflect historical materialist circumstances.)
Authoritarian Political Ideologies
Other examples include: Communitarianism, fascism, monarchism, nationalism and nazism.
Liberalistic Political Ideologies
Other examples include: anarchism and libertarianism.
Conservative Political Ideologies
See also "capitalism as an ideology", a section of the article on capitalism.
Other examples include: capitalism and corporate liberalism.
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, 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.
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):
and they correspond to the stages of development of capitalism:
contemporary capitalism (or late capitalism, or current crisis)
A Bibliography of Literary Theory, Criticism and Philology (by José Ángel García Landa, University of Zaragoza, Spain. See: Ideology, Ideology and Literature, Ideology and Criticism, Ideology and Film, Ideology and Fiction, Ideology and Drama, Marxist criticism, Feminist criticism.
The Strength of an Idea