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.
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:
- 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.
- This holistic view of ideology, or relationism, allowed for diverse ideas to be studied, compared to one another, and some actual social truths discovered.
- 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.
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.
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?
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.