Ideology: A Very Short Introduction – Chapter 9 Notes

To this point, ideology has been discussed in written and spoken language and texts and speeches, but it comes in three more forms:


Metaphors and stories not classified as political language

Ideology doesn’t just concern rational/irrational cognitive/unconscious, but the emotional too.

Visual and picture forms. Romans knew how it important it was, so did Nazis.

“symmetrical choreography of the serried ranks, the inflammatory rhetoric of a leader surrounded by giant emblems, the aural impact of the roar of ‘Seig Heils’ — all communicated with immediate effect some of the core Nazi ideas: the power of the undifferentiated mass, the relationship of leader to people, the militarization of the national will, the coordination and unison of popular expression.”

Dove of peace – liberal

The color red – socialist

Workers toiling – Soviets

Bulldogs – British conservatives

Those are direct, but ideological images can be much more subtle: Color of skin of people in ads, posters of rolling hills in the subway, etc.

This of this, if politicians do well to simplify arguments with sound bites and talking points, they can simplify their messages even more through images: icons, signs, logos as easily digestible.

Raw images can trigger primitive emotional responses that can be translated to action more quickly.

Mass media allows for more penetration than ever, and thus, faster ideological mobilization.

But for totalitarian regimes, images and the messages they convey are like fast food: “produced in haste, packaged with maximum allure, concerned with short term effect in immediate thrill or awe, but with questionable long-term benefits.”

Visual images stifle debate. They are, after all, finished products. They create reactions, but you’d not tell an artists to go back and change a painting. Images are finished, decided on, unchanging.

The visual elements of ideology continue into metaphor, which is similar, of course, but different than regular political language. We’re talking words that inspire visual images in the mind: “The melting pot,” is an example.

All of this that was discussed in Chapter 9 plays on peoples’ emotions and feelings, which are key to an ideology. “Ideologies reflect the fact that socio-political conduct is not wholly or merely rational or calculating, but highly, centrally, and often healthily emotional.”

Emotions aren’t flawed ways of thinking about politics, yes, they are in the extreme, but “giving vent to emotions is not necessarily irrational.”

Ideology: A Very Short Introduction – Chapter 8 Notes

All this fragmentation has led to new developments in ideological theory. Some focus on the fragments, while other have revived the old Marxists skepticism of ideology.

Discourse Theory

Focusing on the fragments means analyzing the ways in which language is used, and discourse analysis is the field of study that sheds light on this. Discourse analysts “conceive of language as a s communicative set of interactions, though which social and cultural beliefs and understandings are shaped and circulated.”

Some discourse analysts just look at speech to find patterns as their study, but others look at the broader cultural messages of discourse and how they impact assumptions about gender, ethnicity and power and how these assumptions impact people’s lives, which connects discourse analysis “to questions of identity that have come to predominate the academic agenda of several social scientists.”

            How do societies perceive themselves?

            Which attributes of a society are brought into prominence through the use of narratives that tell us how we came collectively to be what we are?

            How are distinctions between ‘us’ and ‘them’ fashioned?

            Which linguistic and metaphorical devises are used to intensify images and self-understandings of a discursive community?

Much of discourse theory has a critical edge familiar to Marxists that sees discourse as the latest way of identifying the negative aspects of ideology. Discourses are frameworks that trap people. Discourses are “contingent norms of conduct and thought pretending to be universal rules of human interaction.” Discourse imposes cultural constraints and is a contrivance. Discourse is to power as ideology is to power. Marx would be pleased. Language stifles possibilities.

Ideology and Discourse

“For those who see both discourse and ideology as primarily about power relations, discourses are the communicative practices through which ideology is exercised. For those who see language as the medium through which the world obtains meaning, discourse may replace or depoliticize the concept of ideology.”

But… “ideology is one form of discourse but not entirely containable in the idea of discourse.”

Take the example of the passage from the Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Political philosopher’s interpretation: This is the way things are. These are moral facts that are an indication of the concrete practices that will result from this worldview.

Critical discourse analyst’s interpretation: It constructs a human identity that refuses to recognize differences, and excludes anyone who disagrees with the statement from society. It is a manifestation of power that justifies the use of force and shapes humans into a preferred image. It does this through linguistic strategies like use of the word ‘we’ and capitalization of key terms. It tells a story of how the country came to be, and is also gender biased.

Student of ideology’s interpretation: Agrees with most of the discourse analyst, but with emphasis on the political implications of the passage and the ways it works toward ideological decontesting. Also, an understanding of the limited nature of language in the ideological context, as opposed to the discourse analyst context where language can be interpreted to mean anything. Individual choice plays a greater role for the student of ideology.

Post-Marxism: The Inevitable Elusiveness of Reality

Post-Marxists (poststructuralists, postmodernists) still see ideology as a means of sustaining power, but not on the basis of class alone. They breakdown the assumption that language represents reality and desire to expose the misconceived distinctions and oppositions languages establish.

Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe did some of the most influential writings in post-Marxism. They say the social order isn’t a given, it is constructed, articulated. There are no whole ideologies in their view, just the fragments of ideology able to be manipulated and interchanged.

Like Marx, post-Marxists see the study of ideology as the study of what society is, or is wanting to be. “Elusiveness of what we call society requires the coinage of signifiers, representative words, to paper over the cracks and to invent stability and system where no such things exist.”

  • – Take a march for ‘freedom.’ “Freedom here signifies something that societies cannot ever achieve in full, but the clarion cry ‘freedom’ produces the illusion that it exists and that a social order based on freedom is attainable. The awful truth that all societies are unfree has to be disguised.

That fanciful production of social order is the role of ideology according to post-Marxists.

Ideology retains its negative connotations for post-Marxists, but post-Marxists acknowledge their necessity as make believe worlds, and can only go so far as to say we might go for the make believe that’s least harmful to those who believe it.

Ideology: A Very Short Introduction – Chapter 7 Notes

The major ideologies aren’t the only ones. There are what Freeden calls ‘thin ideologies’ that might not be fully developed or that intersect at the borders of larger ideologies. And let’s not forget the many non-Western ideologies that are so easily ignored.

Examples: Libertarianism/free-market neo-liberalism/the third way

Especially libertarianism, which is a liberal-conservative hybrid.

But we need to remind ourselves that ideologies constituted false wholes to begin with, so it’s natural to see thin ideologies emerge from the larger ones.

The third way, an amalgamation of ideologies reinforced by the elite, but open to attack based on prevailing events

Thin ideologies are associated with the fragmentation of ideology around a single or group of issues, like the new social movements of the late 20th century that mix alternative lifestyles with participatory democracy, ecological responsibility and respect for other groups.

Some see this fragmentation as evidence of the breakdown of traditional social order, others as a tribute to greater personalization. But fragmentation can lead to more control by leaders, see the surveillance state and bureaucratic regulation.

But how to go about studying “ideological segments, as well as for studying the new ideological families — such as feminism, green political thought, and nationalism — that do not claim to be catch-all receptacles with an all-inclusive agenda.” Two ways:

  1. Explore the extent to which ideological modules are actually contained in broader hose ideologies, despite their desire for ideological independence.
  2. Announce the existence of a new morphological variety, thin ideology.

Are ideologies western?

All this fragmentation opens the door to non-western ideologies, many of which have western traits, but that see things differently, like how the Japanese assign the word liberal to their conservatives. In other countries, western notions of markets come to prominence, but without the individualism that comes with markets in the west.

Is religion ideology?

And is religion ideology? They do share common characteristics, and sometimes, like in communisms case, ideologies have been labeled as secular religions.

But religions only become ideologies if they compete for control of pubic policy and influence over the whole of the political community. Even then, their identity as ideologies is questionable. But if religious fundamentalism became sufficiently political, it can take on the role of a totalitarian ideology. (Think about a religion on a crusade to purge non-believers.) They can also be inflexible, like totalitarian ideologies, but based on religious texts instead of through linguistic force. Priests can take the role of the intellectuals who originate ideology in secular society.

Generally, though, religions are thought to be separate from ideologies. 

Ideology: A Very Short Introduction – Chapter 6 Notes

The main macro-ideologies

Liberalism: Human beings are rational, liberty of thought, belief in human and social progress, individual is prime social unit and a unique choice maker, assumption of sociability and human benevolence as normal, appeal to general interest over particular loyalties, and has reservations about power unless constrained and accountable. All of this is superimposed with critical questioning that allows rethinking of one’s own conceptions and the acceptance of those of others.

Socialism: Group is the basic social unit and relationships between humans constitute what makes a person human. It also “has a passion for equality” and the destruction of hierarchy, for the redistribution of goods based on need. It puts a lot of emphasis on ‘work’ as the basic element around which social organization must be structured. Socialism is also focuses on human welfare and the elimination of poverty. Believes in the promise of the historical process “and the ability of human beings to direct that process to beneficial ends.” Socialism is future oriented, and disdainful of the past and present.

Conservatism: It’s an ideology even though many of its espousers deny it. Finding common threads to conservatism has been difficult. After all, how could they advocate war and be against intervention? But one common thread is that they don’t like change, or, at least, what they see as unnatural change. They also believe social order comes from laws that are “insulated from human control.” Human will could only tamper with laws anchored to God, nature, history, biology, economics. Religion plays a major role in conservatisms, and the “sanction of religion to impose social order.” History is tradition to be adhered to. Conservatism “condones the good fortunes of those already in positions of political, economic, and social power, who are understandably reluctant to part with their gains.” Thus, fear is part of conservatism. Conservatism doesn’t trouble its followers much. There’s no need to do the hard work of imagining and bringing to pass a better world. Dormant until provoked by other ideologies. It’s confrontational with human contrived projects that bring unnatural change. Natural hierarchy over equality. Revolution criminalized, utopianism ridiculed. – Wow, this makes the current actions of U.S. conservatives a lot more understandable. Conservatism is reactionary.

Obviously, conservatism goes up against liberalism and socialism a lot, and socialism and liberalism square off sometimes too, but those squabbles don’t compare to the fights between those groups and the totalitarian ideologies of communism and fascism, which in the second third of the 20th century, gave ideology a bad name once again.

Totalitarian Ideologies: State entitled to regulate all areas of social and individual life, collapses the space between public and private spheres, using confusion about laws that are dictated at the will of leaders to achieve the terror needed to compel obedience to an ideology. For Fascism, aggressive nationalism was a key element. So was the cult of a leader, and the myth of regeneration. Communism more elusive and born out of socialist traditions, but with an emphasis on Marx’s ideal society. It has been elitist and totalitarian in practice, more conservative. General will was still considered important, but in the sense of activating masses in support of projects.

WWII a battle over ideologies, extended into the 50s and 60s but by replacing fascism with communism.

Ideology: A Very Short Introduction – Chapter 5 Notes

“Ideology is a mode of thinking about politics,” but no the only mode. There’s a difference between saying all political thinking is ideological, and that all political thinking has a dimension of ideology. Also, the morphological analysis of ideology is just one analysis, and more are needed for a full understanding.

Political philosophy and ideology – political philosophers desire to seek truth through critical thinking and debate, and take a grim view of ideology because of its propensity to stifle debate and the earlier mentioned ‘decontesting’ of issues. But, of course, these philosophers are ideological too, though they don’t see themselves as such, and much of it is, again, a surplus of meaning.

Ideologies are more vague than political philosophies, partly because key to growth and maintenance of ideologies is the ability of its arguments to be understood by the masses. Philosophies can be philosophies without attracting large groups. Philosophers are concerned with convincing other philosophers they’re right.

The assumptions of an ideology must be understood to properly analyze them, and there are criteria for ideological analysis: Are they relevant to their historical context, can they have an impact on the political system, etc. “What has to hold for —– to be true” is the first question students of ideology must ask. And a good student of ideology is not ideological in his or her analysis, because for property study, the ability to put one in the shoes of others is vital. The endeavor has to be somewhat impartial.

Conceptual History – tries to find the key meaning of political concepts over time. Underpinning the concept of conceptual history is the idea that all political concepts reflect historical contexts.

Leading conceptual history thinking – Reinhart Hoselleck who says modern political concepts are becoming more abstract and general, as they become even more irreplaceable in the political vocabulary. For example ‘equality’ is desirable in general, but not all of its conceptions.

For conceptual historians, meaning of political concepts emerges over time and intertwines with the constructions of any given moment. Rights, for example, evolve over time and take on different meanings at each point in time. What is ‘the public interest’? It changes over time and can mean greater environmental protections to beefing up defenses, it depends on the historical context.

It’s easy to see the influence of conceptual history in the modern study of ideology. (Variability, conflict, context, and the existence of fields of meaning are features held in common.) PAGE 73, THE GREEK ANALOGY. Collective memory launches future visions.

IDEOLOGY                                          TIME

Reactionary                                        static (one point in time adhered to)

Traditional                                         repetitive (continual cycles of time)

Enlightened conservative                accumulative (past experience built upon)

Classic liberal                                     incremental (human will causes small change)

Social democratic                              evolutionary (constant improvement over time)

Revolutionary                                    change is determined by an end state

Fascist utopian                                  renewable (new day dawning) projected

Ideologies deal in linking the diachronic with the synchronic.

From Marx: “Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given, transmitted from the past.”

How do we decide if a person is a part of a particular ideology? It’s a balance between their self-identification as part of an ideology, and the assignment of what makes a person a liberal, for example, by scholars or politicians. Hitler claimed to be a socialist, but whether he really was needs to be interpreted. (He wasn’t)

“Access to the meanings of political concepts is mediated and rationed by having to use the gateways of ideological families.”

Ideology: A Very Short Introduction – Chapter 4 Notes

Grammar is the structural rules that form sentences, and ideologies, which deal primarily in language, have a grammar all their own where words and phrases act as symbols of the ideology and carry particular meaning. Internal complexity of ideology like the internal complexities of language. At this point, students of ideology start understanding the concept more clearly, and we see a return to the study of the importance of sub and unconscious ideology. Internal understanding is important for grammar as well as ideology.

French philosopher Paul Ricoeur and the surplus of meaning — the idea that “ideologies conveyed more information than their authors were aware of. Machiavelli’s woman beating analogy for the behavior of a successful prince is a good example. He only meant that princes should temper their indulgence in fortune in order succeed, but we now take it that Machiavelli had an unpleasant attitude toward women.

Ideologies are produced and consumed, but consumed differently by different individuals. Take the interpretation of the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal rights under the law and how it has been differently interpreted over the course of time. The words haven’t changed, but what they’re understood to mean ideologically has changed.

As producers of ideology are not always aware of the surplus of meaning they’re conveying, so too consumers of ideology don’t always realize the influence of frameworks of understanding on themselves, like when the very young see the world as authoritarian simply because everyone around them is larger then they are and making decisions for them. This likens to the political infantilism so many regimes seek to uphold, where deference is naturally given to leadership.

The study of interpretation — hermeneutic school — added to the understanding of ideology: Texts can only be properly interpreted in the context of the time they were written. So, too, ideologies have to be interpreted in their own historical contexts.

Texts, like ideologies, can be interpreted in many different ways depending on the readers understanding of the meanings of the words. But this could be taken too far. If any text or ideology could be interpreted in any way, how could they be evaluated against one another? The response was that “cultural and historical constraints narrow down that indeterminacy” when it comes to ideology.

Now, we had three steps to analyzing ideologies:

  1. acknowledging the limitless forms of ideology, and the impossibility of pinning down meaning for certain.
  2. But historical and cultural contexts limit the range of ideological meaning to choose from.
  3. Within those ranges, ideologies behave as if meaning could be made determinate.

The morphological approach to ideology relates ideology to language, as discussed above, with words like liberty and justice carrying a variety of meanings depending on the ideology of an individual or group that acknowledges the perceived good of concepts of justice and liberty, but with differing interpretations of their meanings. Ideology is like furniture in a room that can be moved and positioned to change the use of the room.

The ‘essential contestability’ of concepts informs our understanding here.

            -We can never agree on an absolutely correct evaluation of a political concept. Is liberty better than equality? Neither term can be clearly defined, so how could they be evaluated against one another?

            – A political concept always more conceptions than can included in any definition of, say, equality. Equality of what? Merit? Opportunity? Some are mutually exclusive.

“Ideologies are consequently the systems of thought through which specific meaning is conferred upon every political concept in their domain. That is achieved by legitimating one meaning of each concept and delegitimating the others.”

“I demand freedom!” My cry can’t be understood by through an ideological lens.

“An ideology attempts to end the inevitable contention over concepts by decontesting them, removing their meanings from contest. This is what justice means…” This is how collective decisions are made, and their political role fulfilled.

All ideologies begin with non-negotiable assumptions from which logical conclusions can be drawn, even the fascist ones.

When inconsistencies creep into ideologies, control of political language use becomes even more important. Example: A government being pro-environmentalism, but supporting only a gradual reduction in pollution because property rights are even more important. Ideologies are good at covering over inconsistencies.

Because political arena requires not only decision making, but garnering support, vagueness and elusiveness are necessary. When summoning the support of large groups, your words must be open to interpretation among many.

Ambiguity and Certainty, two key components of ideology. They keep it stable, continuous

Then there are the culture restraints on ideology mentioned earlier. For example, poverty could be ended in a number of ways (killing the poor, etc.) but only in certain ways that are currently within the realm of cultural reality. Killing the poor not an option for U.S. in current cultural context, but redistributing wealth is.

Where before, culture context was seen as a backdrop to the development of ideology, now it was seen as an integral part of that development.

The four Ps of ideological composition: proximity, priority, permeability, and proportionality.

Proximity – political concepts make no sense on their own and need to be placed in an idea-environment of surrounding concepts.

Priority – the meaning of every political concept in an ideology, and the arguments of the ideology, are given either core or peripheral importance. (Gay marriage used to be central to Republican ideology, now that piece of furniture has been moved to a less central location in that ideological room. For liberals, the relation of liberty as a core concept in relation to democracy, a peripheral concept conducive toward the core.)

Permeability – Ideologies have porous boundaries and often occupy overlapping space with other ideologies. Ideologies aren’t mutually exclusive.

Proportionality – the space within each ideology for each them or cluster of concepts. The example of libertarianism is given to help comprehend this point. Libertarians are part of the liberal ideology, but with more proportionality given to the right’s of individuals to act as they please. “This is a question of the best order of magnification for making an impact on the population towards whom the ideology is targeted.” Simplification is what ideologies do best.

This is along way from the end of ideology approach, and from the Marxists views. Now we have ideological flexibility based on the four Ps, and it is a great tool for scholars of ideology. 

Ideology: A Very Short Introduction — Chapter 3 Notes

Gramsci and Marx are great, but the reason ideology remains of such prominent interest today is its importance in shaping politics, the development of parties along ideological lines, and thus the course of nations.

Politics becomes a clash over the minds of people, and ideology’s role in that battle is clear.

“A political ideology is a set of ideas, beliefs, opinions, and values that

            1 – exhibit a recurring pattern

            2 – are held by significant groups

            3 – compete over providing and controlling plans for public policy

            4 – do so with the aim of justifying, contesting or changing the social and

                   political arrangements and processes of a political community”

Without a recurring pattern, political traditions couldn’t evolve around ideologies. See how the triggers for liberalism didn’t develop into a political identification until much later. Ideology and party not the same, but are symbiotic, with a flexible relationship.

Mannheim, Gramsci didn’t differentiate between kinds of ‘intellectuals’ that are producers of ideology, and ideological significance. We can see all sorts of players advancing forms of ideology in U.S.

Not all group plans are ideologies, but can be interpreted as part of larger ideological designs, even simple decisions by school boards.

Political leaders are filtered through ideologies, and their decisions are influenced heavily by them. Large political movements use propaganda and persuasion to move policy, motivated either by the desire for change or the preservation of the status quo, for instance.

Conservatives especially considered themselves as not ideological, but pragmatic, purveyors of common wisdom. In their eyes, ideology is for those calling for radical change. Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia are examples of the extreme of this.

Some thought leaders turned this around on the Nazis and Russians, insisting that ideology is only defined as what occurred in those types of closed, imposing regimes, while socialism, liberalism, conservatism were all non-ideological.

Indeed, the 1950s saw many theorists predict an end to ideology, the purview of totalitarian regimes bent on ideological domination. Now, they thought, the major powers would align in common interest.

They were wrong, clearly, because if all ideologies adopted the welfare state, that would simply be many ideologies converging on a single point, also their prediction of the future was wrong, there was an ideological explosion coming.

Also wrong because even if all ideologies agreed on the welfare state, there would be big ideological differences in how to go about instituting it.

End of ideology theorists in the west had reached a dead end in the study of ideology in the strictest of Marxist interpretation, seeing ideology only as rigid, and imposed by a state with intellectuals detached from society, a secular religion. They overlooked the subtleties added to the study of ideology by the figures discussed in Chapter 2.

Leaving the end of ideology theorists in the historical dustbin opens us to the more current interpretation of ideology as a group of political beliefs contested in an open society among public masses. The social sciences begin to form a non-Marxist view of ideology.

This new view was taken to the point that ideologies were thought of as being not concrete, pliable enough to be superimposed on any issue. We all held ideologies and our behavior could be analyzed and predicted. “The potential of ideology as a pivotal organizing concept of political thought looked unpromising.”

Help came from an anthropologist, Clifford Geertz, who advanced the symbolic nature of ideology. Ideologies were “multilayered symbols of reality that brought together complex ideas.” Ideologies are maps of social realities, and like maps, are symbolic.

Take “the ballot box” as an example. This symbol of democracy can paper over some of inconsistencies of democracy, say, the isolated voter who makes decisions without consultation with groups.

Ideologies order social and historical time, marking certain events as significant in the development of certain notions. Take for example the American Revolution, Civil War, World Wars I and II as significant signposts in the ideology of America as a fighter for freedom.

Ludwig Wittgenstein’s indirect contribution to the study of ideology: language was a game with rules that could permit or restrain. From that, some scholars made the connection that ideology, too, was a language game. I could only be a Nazi if Nazi beliefs made sense to me, if I connected ‘Jew’ as a negative word, ‘Aryan’ a positive. And if Aryans are good and Jews bad, subhuman in fact, how could killing them be a crime against humanity. Very helpful analogy.

Wittgenstein also helped by introducing the idea of ‘family differences’ into the study of ideology. As large families may share common physical traits, not all members will have them, some will share features with only a few, and some may look entirely different from one another. This made sense to those studying ideology. For example, there could be many kinds of liberals sharing common adulation of individuality, with totally different ideas on go about best promoting the individual.

Tradition as a thread, seemingly continuous, but actually overlapping with subtleties that may only be analyzed in a larger historical context.

Ideologies are “fluid arrangements that bunched together under a common name.” Changes to ideologies didn’t require a new name for them, but were normal evolutions to be expected “in any ideological family.” And again, under this interpretation, ideologies could be seen a engines of change.

Ideology: A Very Short Introduction – Chapter 2 Notes

Out of the work of Marx and Engel come three important contributors to the understanding of ideology as a permanent feature of the political world that isn’t the out and out evil Marx and Engel claimed it to be.

Karl Mannheim:

Realized that ideology doesn’t just spring from capitalism, as Marx suggests, but instead permeates any social or historical situation. Also, his work led to the notion that there can be many ideologies across differing societies. This was closer to the original ideas of Destutt de Tracy than Marx and Engel, who had a far more narrow definition of what constituted ideology.

For Manheim, ideology wasn’t just a tool of the ruling class in a capitalist society to manipulate consumers of ideology, it was also had deep psychological importance — the “unconscious presuppositions” that guide human thinking, and the “irrational foundations of knowledge.” Social interactions entail a great deal of what makes up ideology: shared rituals, prejudices, histories, and not just under capitalism.

However, Mannheim had difficulty getting at the psychological aspects of ideology, because he still operated under the assumptions of Marx and Engel when it came to the concept that ideology is, essentially, a delusion, a warping of reality perpetuated by the ruling class. He did, however, give the research the concept of ‘utopia’, “a vision of the future or perfect society held by oppressed groups who, bent on changing and destroying existing society, saw only its negative aspects and were blind to the situation as it really was.”

-I’m able to better understand this concept by thinking of the idea many people in America have that the world is more violent, dangerous, and sick than any time in history. They are dissatisfied with society, feel oppressed by it, and are totally blind to the fact that we live in the most peaceful, least violent period in the history of human civilization.

As I mentioned, Mannheim, like Marx, saw ideology as “self-deception, conscious distortion, or calculated lies.” But it was also supposed to be an all-encompassing worldview that always reflected the ideas of a group and some aspect of its history. This was driven by the desire among political philosophers of the time to scientifically understand the way people think and behave. By recognizing this “holistic” nature of ideology, Mannheim got closer to understanding ideology as an “interdependent structure of thinking.”

Mannheim’s work also alludes to the origins of ideology being not from priests and philosophers — the ones doing the manipulating — but out of groups and the masses themselves. He believed it started with the intelligentsia, a group populated with people who are able to detach themselves from their own conditioning and provide interpretations of the world to the masses.

Manheim’s Marxism rears its head again here, as like Marx, Mannheim believed there was an absolute truth — “a unified sociology of knowledge” — and members of the intelligentsia could bring it to light.

But there’s a problem with that belief in absolute social truths and the Marxist view that all thought was subjective and the product of one’s individual environment. That’s called relativism, and it absolves the ruling class of any thought out manipulation, as they are only products of their environment. Relationism, which Mannheim replaced relativism with, also recognizes a lack of absolute social and historical truths (even exposing Marxism as an ideology)

Mannheim’s Paradox: “We cannot expose a viewpoint as ideological without ourselves adopting an ideological viewpoint.”

Relationism mooted three aspects of Marxism:

  1. Ideologies are interdependent. That’s to say that one viewpoint a person has can’t be separated from that person’s other viewpoints, and the same is true of societies.
  2. This holistic view of ideology, or relationism, allowed for diverse ideas to be studied, compared to one another, and some actual social truths discovered.
  3. Which allowed for a “sociology of knowledge” to develop, which, according to Wikipedia, “is the study of the relationship between human thought and the social context within which it arises, and of the effects prevailing ideas have on societies. The staunch anti-ideology aspect of Marxism would have all of that study invalidated as useless because social truths can’t be arrived at without the abolition of ideology.

Given the above three refutations of Marxism, ideology could be usefully studied, and thus wasn’t evil after all. His work allowed for political science to take shape. And it is certainly difficult to imagine studying political science in the absence of ideology. In political science, partial truths can be discovered by the intelligentsia.

I’m confused by paragraph 2 on page 17. “In identifying the inherent limitations of existing relativist views, Mannheim thought to take an important stride in the direction of value-free knowledge, though he was loath to take any final step towards absolute and conclusive knowledge. Ideologies, he observed, were always changing and dynamic, and so was knowledge.” – – I thought Mannheim believed in absolute social truths? Now it says he wasn’t willing to go there in the relationism framework. Still though, even if not absolute social truths, the positivist spirit endured. At least knowledge could be objectively studied and generated in Mannheim’s view.

Mannheim saw that a plurality of political beliefs couldn’t be reconciled, but didn’t think that fact was beneficial to society, with the potential to destabilize.

Mannheim’s Shortcomings:

He saw the intelligentsia rising above their own classes to agree on non-ideological truths. Today there’s not a lot of scholarly consensus on anything. They can’t completely rid themselves of bias. And it’s clear there can many good explanations and interpretations of social issues and historical events. Mannheim didn’t want a situation where every ideology believed itself to have more value than every other, but he also didn’t want each ideology to be thought of as equally true.

The example of the roads to Rome helps:

Objectivist – only one road leads to Rom

Extreme Relativist – all roads lead to Rome and only the traveler’s opinion determines which is best

Sensible Constrained Relativist – many, but not all, roads lead to Rome, and there are a number of factors that determine which route is better, including the traveler’s opinion, but mixed with accepted social standards of which road would be best to take like distance and road conditions.

That latter is where Mannheim is, still relativist, but “overlapping” with objectivity.

Another shortcoming was Mannheim’s belief about the ability of the intelligentsia to so completely rid themselves of ideology, which I already mentioned briefly. Nonetheless, the belief helped fuel early 20th century debates on the end of ideology and the coming universal agreements about how to run governments, the economy, etc. Still, as Freeden points out, universal belief in one ideology is still ideology, not a lack thereof.

We also have to question Mannheim’s double standard about the simultaneous evil uselessness of ideology, and ideology’s worthiness for truth-seeking. A comprehensive view of ideology, where the researcher analyzes ideologies against each other and compared to relative societal norms when determining their relative truth, can be accomplished. It’s a comprehensive view, but as Freeden points out, not final.

But don’t blame Mannheim for being so seemingly confused about this, he was working in what Freeden calls a “no-man’s land” between Marx and more modern understandings of ideology. But he pointed out the need for political theorists to recognize their own assumptions and the need to categorize them. To understand political thought is to decode ideology “as a product of historical and social circumstances.”

The big question he left unanswered: Is it possible or useful to detach ideology from class? To me, it seems so after reading What’s the Matter with Kansas, where it’s claimed that voters block class out of their ideologies in favor of cultural issues.

Antonio Gramsci

Radical Italian Marxist who modified the understanding of ideology from within the Marxist tradition, and introduced the idea of ideological hegemony, that ideology is not just as a tool of the state, and that the dominant class could achieve ideological hegemony through, not just the power of the state, but through culture as well. He was super sensitive to the importance of this earlier than anyone.

Again, intellectuals are the producers and distributors of ideology in non-governmental life and group situations because the have cultural authority. These intellectuals form consent among the society they are already a part of, and thus, the community gets the sense that it developed the ideology itself. And consent leads to domination. Very clever. These are leaders, not dominators, in Gramsci’s view. These intellectuals are “conscious creators” of ideology, while for the end consumer the process is more unconscious.

To establish ideological hegemony, a variety of ideologies and interests must be brought together into a greater narrative that, hopefully, the society as a whole can get behind. It was about finding an equilibrium of ideas, which meant it did take some account of subordinate groups. So, instead of the abolition of class to put everyone on the same page, like Marx contended, Gramsci said a unified community could be achieved by building up solidarity. Different ideologies would compete, die, resurrect, until there was this equilibrium. This sounds a lot like the U.S. to me.

Why it might sound a bit like the U.S. to me is that Gramsci’s view allowed for free choice, consent, and markets, unlike Marxism. How else would there be ideological competition?

Louis Althusser

French Marxist philosopher/academic

Shared Marx’s view on the role of the ruling to use the state/church/military to bring the working class into submission to the state’s ideology, but helped redefine ideology as a new reality, as opposed to Marx’s view of ideology as a distortion of the true reality.

The three storied house:

Top story is ideological superstructure (established ideologies). And that third story is superimposed over the first floor — workers — and the second story — political and legal institutions.

Identified more ideological sources than Marx before him: education system, family, state, legal system, mass media, culture (especially education system). Focused more on the private sphere of ideological influence over the public.

This was all his view in the social sphere. Still, like Marx, he saw the main function of ideology as a means of control for the ruling class.

He thought, and the idea is sympathized with today, that all ideology shares common traits no matter what picture of the world they paint for individuals. Ideology serves to hide the distortion of the real world it takes to have a certain point of view. In other words, it’s the way ‘freedom-loving’ nations can justify destroying the freedoms of people in other countries to promote freedom.

He also acknowledged the existence of ideologies in the real world of true reality. After all, people’s actions are certainly real, even if influenced by their distortions of reality. Ideology is part of reality. Thought also an action in the real world.

Finally, Althusser asserted that individuals were the carriers of ideology even without realizing it, and that again it was part of the real world. The example is helpful: If I decide to get married to make myself happy, yes, I think I’m acting spontaneously and in real world facts, but the idea that getting married would make me happy is an ideology ingrained by society and environment.

Ideology happens both in us and to us. The ‘in us’ part is very unconscious, but the ‘to us’ part can be recognized, understood, and used to create order. 

Ideology: A Very Short Introduction – Chapter 1 Notes

Ideology is an often misunderstood term, associated with –isms (communism, liberalism) that have a somewhat negative connotation involving, as Freeden puts it “artificially constructed sets of ideas, somewhat removed from everyday life” that the powerful use to manipulate the masses. But that definition doesn’t do ideology proper justice. Everyone is an ideologist. If a person has some understanding of the political world he or she is part of and has opinions about it, that person is an ideologist.

Ideologies inform peoples’ interpretation of the world around then, and thus, peoples’ actions. It’s about the individual making sense of the world, but ideologies don’t have to make actual sense, or reflect what is best for an individual. People can twist the meaning of any given social or political situation or message to fit their own ideology. Regardless, ideology, even misguided, misinformed, or contradictory, is vital to functioning in society. People wouldn’t know how to act otherwise. A pattern of thinking is required.

Freeden asks, why, then, if ideologies are so vital and ubiquitous, are they so reviled and criticized, associated with brainwashing and false dreams? He suggests it’s because the word has been carelessly and imprecisely used.

Antoine Destutt de Tracy coined the term ‘ideology’ just after the French Revolution with the desire to study ideas. That concept was a familiar one for the time, when the positivists were focused on studying society empirically, verifiably, and precisely using the scientific method, like any other science.

Modern science knows the “range of human thought and imagination” can’t be reliably predicted by scientific research, but Destutt nonetheless pointed out the need to better understand ideology, which is the point of this book.

The German Ideology – Marx and Engels. This important early work concluded that the philosophies that were in vogue in German at the time didn’t help people come to terms with the real world. Instead, they concealed reality and thus constituted ideologies. It was Marx and Engels view that ideologies serve the purpose of smoothing over contradictions in the world and an individual’s circumstances to make them seem only natural. Ideology is a sublimation (a way to justify thoughts and actions that distort reality) that maintains social unity. Facing the real world would mean facing the “dehumanizing social relations under capitalism” and the collapse of society.

“Morality, religion, metaphysics,” they are all distortions of reality that help people make what they think is better sense of the world. For Engels, the priests and other purveyors of ideology could manipulate themselves and their followers without intending to distort reality or deceive themselves, but the deception could also be intentional.

I’m confused at the top of page 6, however. Freeden says “ideology was one manifestation of the pernicious effects of the division of labour. In this case, the division of labour caused human thought to be abstracted from the material world, producing instead pure theory, or ethics, or philosophy.” I understand theory, ethics, and philosophy are forms of ideology, but how did the division of labor cause them? As I think about it more, the division of labor requires a lot of cooperation and accepted norms that are purely inventions of man to make social interaction easier. Those norms came about through groups of people developing theories and codes of ethics. They are ideologies. I think I understand. The division of labor is a construct, and constructs are full of ideologies.

Marx and Engels also made an association between ideology and class, that “the ideas of the ruling class were the ruling ideas.” I immediately think of What’s the Matter with Kansas, and how, depending on who is in power — right-wingers or liberals, business elites or crusaders for the working class — their ideas would eventually become common wisdom, and it takes generations for that common wisdom to change.

Rulers can use ideology to rewrite history and control the masses through the authority of the state. And by running interests through the filter of ideology, they can become thought of as naturally truthful. Think about the Nazis, who tried to maintain the illusion of a unified politics through its laws and propaganda to further cement their ideology in the minds of the German public.

The division of labor analogy makes even more sense when Freeden discusses how the dominant members of society are able to convince workers that it is good and natural to work their asses off for next to nothing in the service of their bosses. Remember rural Kansas anyone? People are conditioned to worship money, to think that having money equals having dignity, and it is perfectly inevitable that one has to work in exchange for money and dignity. But none of that is natural at all. For Marx, understanding ideology could lead to the rejection of norms by the ruling class for the benefit of ruling class.

Page 7, paragraph 2 provides an excellent summation of the Marxist approach to ideology. Marx doesn’t seem evil. In fact, he seems intent on freeing the human mind so society can live up to its potential. As Freeden states, Marx’s ideas have been “vulgarized.”

To go with Marx, these five things must hold true:

Marx believed that actual truth, as opposed to the ideologically influenced beliefs that run the capitalist world and obscure reality, was attainable. There was a true nature of human relations that would emerge after ideology was eradicated, Marx contended, which many interpreted as an ideology in and of itself. And indeed, finding the truth isn’t as easy as it sounds. Take the example of the protest from earlier in the chapter. The truth is: ‘I’m looking at a group of protestors protesting.’ But how one reacts to the protestors is all a product of their ideology.

Marx’s view also requires that ideology be dispensable, that humans can function without it. He believes that when truth is discovered, ideology will naturally disappear.

Marx also contends that ideology simply needs to be gotten rid of. All ideologies have no value, basically, so distinguishing between them is useless. Just get rid of ideology in favor of truth for the benefit of the people. “Present defects were worth deploring, not exploring.”

Freeden clearly disagrees and sees the benefit in exploring the depths of ideology to understand the political world people actually live in today.

Marx’s view also requires ideology to account for most, if not all of the political world, that it is ideology entirely that mutes contradictions and keeps the established order of things. Freeden says this can’t be taken as a given as there are many examples of physical force being “necessary to hold ideology in place.”

Finally, it has to hold true that the “role of ideologists has been exaggerated,” that, even though ideology has its origins in whole classes of people, it is intellectual ideologues as groups or even individuals that form the hierarchical structure of society.

So what can still be learned from Marx’s “emphasis on unmasking ideology?” Four things:

  1. Social and historical circumstances mold political ideas. (People are a product of their environment.)
  2. Ideas matter. Marx thought ideology was a harmful illusion, and clearly, ideological ideas are extremely powerful and must be taken seriously.
  3. Ideology is vital to functioning politics, be it dehumanizing or not.
  4. The truth isn’t always visible on the surface. Ideology doubtlessly contains hidden meanings that need decoding. They certainly aren’t the full reality, as Marx would agree.

What’s The Matter With Kansas – Reaction Post #14: Epilogue

Any real hope of reversing the trends discussed in this book is dashed by the end of the epilogue, but not before the depressing path to conservative dominance is traveled one last time, and liberals are taken to task for allowing it.

Frank contrasts the way things were in his boyhood Kansas to the state of Kansas under a free-market on steroids and a politics divorced from economy and class. Democrats in Kansas conceded those issues, and so have national Democrats. The way they’ve gone about defending themselves against the backlash has been to become moderate Republican, friends of big business and not too concerned about unions or class differences. 

What seems to really bother Frank is that the far right might be defeated by an overwhelming coalition of centrist Democrats and moderate Republicans, because under that scenario, the working man is still the big loser. 

More than likely, however, Frank saw the politics of Kansas going national, and he has been right so far. The parallels between the backlash mentality Frank writes so much about and the view of tea partiers is so obvious, I almost feel that I don’t even need to mention it. 

Today there are Democrats and liberals crusading on the issues that allowed populism to rise to its zenith in the mid-1900s, but I doubt their numbers are any greater than they were ten years ago. Movement politics, so vital to change, are now the purview of the Bible thumpers. It seems unions have lost more power, the country has become more business friendly, and the gap between rich and poor has become larger since this book was written. 

Even if liberals were to learn Frank’s lessons, it may be that the damage done to the nation’s politics are beyond repair, that it will be impossible to repair the damaged connections in the minds of conservative voters that allow them to vote themselves further into the despair that fuels the conservative movement.