Ideology and Ideologies

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Ideology and Ideologies
The role of ideas
As some view politics as nothing but a naked struggle for power, there have been a number
of theorists who have rejected the importance of ideas, viewing them merely as a means of
`window dressing' propaganda to garnish votes or support while concealing political
realities. This position is strongly advanced by a school of psychology that views humans as
nothing more than creatures conditioned to act by external forces, known as behaviourism.
Politically, this was expressed in the doctrine of dialectical materialism, which vastly
influenced policy within the Soviet Union and the communist states that modelled themselves
on it. In essence, those who subscribe to this view believe that ideas lack their own inherent
meaning but instead derive from a material basis formed by the economic and class interests
of their proponents.
The influential economist John Maynard Keynes, on the other hand, advocated the opposing
position. Towards the end of his text General Theory, he claimed that: `Practical men, who
believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves
of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling
their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back.' For Keynes, the world was
directed wholly by the ideas of philosophers and economists. This position claims that,
instead of merely being conditioned responses, ideas can largely be shown to be the basis
for sociopolitical action. The writings of Adam Smith had a huge effect on the industrial
revolution and early market capitalism, whereas the policies of Soviet Communism sprung
largely from the works of Lenin and later Stalin.
At the end of the day, both these positions are inherently inadequate because in the final
instance, theory and practice are inseparable. Ideas do not merely reflect the vested interest
of a particular social group such as the working class or AfricanAmericans, but can
themselves create and lead to political action. However the circumstances in which they
arise have a profound effect on their final form, ideas and doctrines do not merely fall from
the sky like rain. A good example of this is Thomas Hobbes' view of human nature as
inherently weak and selfish, which was undoubtedly arrived at due, at least in part, to his
experiences during the English Civil War. To develop an objective and balanced
understanding of political life, we cannot deny the interplay between ideas & theory on the
one hand, and historical forces on the other.
There have been several key ways that have been identified in which ideologies influence
political life to an extent. The first is that they give a structure to political understanding and
therefore provide goals and an idea of the forms of activism needed to achieve them.
Secondly, as a result of political action that they inspire they inevitably shape political and
social systems. Finally, they act as a form of social cement for different groups.
One role of ideologies is that they provide us with a perspective through which we can
develop an understanding of society and the world through our ingrained beliefs, opinions

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Due to the fact that politics permeates all areas of life, everyone,
in the way they think and act, subscribes either knowingly or unknowingly to a set of political
beliefs even describing yourself as simply apathetic or even `antipolitics' are themselves
different political stances. Given that ideologies inevitable give reason for political activism,
political figureheads such as professional politicians are influenced by two main issues.
Firstly, by a diversity of means, all politicians want to obtain political power.…read more

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On the one hand the study of ideology is to consider it as a particularly form of political
thought, separate from others such as political philosophy or political science, and studying it
revolves around questioning the nature and significance of this strand of thought in
comparison to others ­ questions such as `what constitutes an ideology?', `is ideology true
or false?' or `does it serve to liberate or oppress us?'.…read more

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An obvious
example of this is the concept of social mobility that argues that one can rise through the
social classes, that has been embraced by liberalism and elements of the new right over
the years. For Marxists, this acts to divide the working class by filling them with false
aspirations that conceal the truth that even if a very small few of those from less affluent
backgrounds rise up the `social ladder' the vast majority will remain exploited.…read more

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The German sociologist Karl Mannheim put forward the first major attempt at a
nonMarxist account of ideology in his essay Ideology and Utopia.…read more

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In this sense ideology is considered to be neither true nor false, liberating nor
oppressive ­ it can, dependent on its aims be all of these.
The significant advantage of this approach is that unlike negative conceptions of
ideology it is far less restrictive. However, in ridding itself of such political baggage it
may become so generalised as to also abandon its critical abilities at the same time.…read more

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Fusing thought and action
In wholly grasping the analysis of ideology as a concept, the synthesis of thought and
action is as equally significant to that of understanding and commitment. Seliger, for
his part, drew attention to what he saw as the fundamental and operative levels of
ideology. Fundamentally, ideologies exist in similar vain to political philosophies, and
well known philosophers such as John Locke, Jeremy Bentham and Karl Marx have
all worked within ideological traditions.…read more

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Ideology, truth and power
The relationship between ideology and truth for Marx was one of hostility. Given
that ideology was a tool of the ruling class to legitimise their oppression it has to be
seen as a philosophical enemy of objective truth. However, as Mannheim
highlighted, Marx is being highly optimistic in the belief that following the seizure of
power through political revolution the proletariat, being the emancipators of
humankind, do not need an ideology of their own.…read more

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New ideologies for old?
With the emphasis on political rationalism that accompanied it, ideology as a school
of thought can be arguably said to date back to the French Revolution in 1789.
However, replicating the changes in social and historical circumstance, which of
course ideologies played a major role in, traditions themselves have changed over
time, and where they have been unable to they have thus faded into insignificance
and there have been new doctrines that have gained prominence in their stead.…read more

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changes have occurred due to three main reasons the collapse of Soviet
communism as a powerful ideological force and therefore the need to redraw global
ideological battle lines, the shift away from traditional industrial societies and the
heightened popularity of `new social movements' that are centred around the
`politics of activism' and finally the spread of globalisation and the increased sense
that due to new media we are now first and foremost global citizens, which has been
reflected in the rise of cosmopolitan thought.…read more


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