An ideology is a set of beliefs, aims and ideas, especially in politics. 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 below) 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 main purpose behind an ideology is to offer change in society through a normative thought process. Ideologies are systems of abstract thought (as opposed to mere ideation) applied to public matters and thus make this concept central to politics. Implicitly every political tendency entails an ideology whether or not it is propounded as an explicit system of thought.
A detailed entry can be found at Semiotic Encyclopedia Online. www.semioticon.com
When most people in a society think alike about certain matters, or even forget that there are alternatives to the status quo, we arrive at the concept of Hegemony, about which the philosopher Antonio Gramsci wrote. Such a state of affairs has been dramatized many times in literature: Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell; Brave New World by Aldous Huxley; and A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle. Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman have argued that social ideological homogeneity can be achieved by restricting the conceptual metaphors transmitted by mass communication.
The term was born in the highly controversial philosophical and political debates and fights of the French Revolution and acquired several other meanings from the early days of the First French Empire to nowadays. The word ideology was coined by Destutt de Tracy in 1796 assembling the parts idea (near to the Lockean sense) and -logy. He used it to refer to one aspect of his "science of ideas". (To the study itself, not the subject of the study.) He separated three aspects, namely: ideology, general grammar and logic, considering respectively the subject, the means and the reason of this science. He argues that among these aspects ideology is the most generic term, because the science of ideas also contains the study of their expression and deduction.
According to Karl Mannheim's historical reconstruction of the meaning-shifts of ideology, the modern meaning of the word ideology was born when Napoleon Bonaparte (as a politician) used it in an abusive way against "the ideologues" (a group which included Cabanis, Condorcet, Constant, Daunou, Say, Madame de Staël and Tracy), to express the pettiness of his (liberal republican) political opponents.
Perhaps the most accessible source for the near-original meaning of ideology is Hippolyte Taine's work on the Ancien Regime (first volume of "Origins of Contemporary France"). He describes ideology as rather like teaching philosophy by the Socratic method, but without extending the vocabulary beyond what the general reader already possessed, and without the examples from observation that practical science would require. Taine identifies it not just with Destutt de Tracy, but also with his milieu, and includes Condillac as one of its precursors. (Tracy read the works of Locke and Condillac while he was imprisoned during the Reign of Terror.)
The word "ideology" was coined long before the Russians coined "intelligentsia", or before the adjective "intellectual" referred to a sort of person (see substantive), i.e. an intellectual. Thus these words were not around when the hard-headed, driven Napoleon Bonaparte took the word "ideologues" to ridicule his intellectual opponents. Gradually, however, the term "ideology" has dropped some of its pejorative sting, and has become a neutral term in the analysis of differing political opinions. Ideological references are important to many people throughout the world. Karl Marx used the term in his own context often throughout his works.
Meta-ideology is the study of the structure, form, and manifestation of ideologies. Meta-ideology posits that ideology is a coherent system of ideas, relying upon a few basic assumptions about reality that may or may not have any factual basis, but are subjective choices that serve as the seed around which further thought grows. According to this perspective, ideologies are neither right nor wrong, but only a relativistic intellectual strategy for categorizing the world. The pluses and minuses of ideology range from the vigor and fervor of true believers to ideological infallibility. Excessive need for certitude lurks at fundamentalist levels in politics, religions, and elsewhere.
David W. Minar describes six different ways in which the word "ideology" has been used:
For Willard A. Mullins, an ideology is composed of four basic characteristics:
Mullins emphasizes that an ideology should be contrasted with the related (but different) issues of utopia and historical myth.
The German philosopher Christian Duncker called for a "critical reflection of the ideology concept" (2006). In his work, he strove to bring the concept of ideology into the foreground, as well as the closely connected concerns of epistemology and history. In this work, the term ideology is defined in terms of a system of presentations that explicitly or implicitly claim to absolute truth.
Karl Marx proposed an economic 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. For Marx, the base determines the superstructure. Because the ruling class controls the society's means of production, the superstructure of society, including its ideology, will be determined according to what is in the ruling class's best interests. Therefore the ideology of a society is of enormous importance since it confuses the alienated groups and can create 'false consciousness' such as the fetishism of commodities. 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 (dominant ideology) are proposed to all members of that society in order to make the ruling class' interests appear to be the interests of all. György Lukács describes this as a projection of the class consciousness of the ruling class, while Antonio Gramsci advances the theory of cultural hegemony to explain why people in the working-class can have a false conception of their own interests.
The dominant forms of ideology in capitalism are (in chronological order):
and they correspond to the stages of development of capitalism:
The Marxist view of ideology as an instrument of social reproduction has been an important touchstone for the sociology of knowledge and theorists such as Karl Mannheim, Daniel Bell, and Jürgen Habermas, amongst many others. However, Mannheim attempted to move beyond what he saw as the 'total' but 'special' Marxist conception of ideology to a 'general' and 'total' conception which acknowledged that all ideologies resulted from social life (including Marxism). Pierre Bourdieu extensively developed this idea.
Louis Althusser proposed a materialistic conception of ideology, which made use of a special type of discourse: the lacunar discourse. 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 theoretical groundwork of current legal systems, suggests that all people may be of equal worth or have equal 'opportunities'. This is not true, for 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).
Althusser also invented the concept of the Ideological State Apparatus to explain his theory of ideology. His first thesis was "ideology has no history": while ideologies have histories, interleaved with the general class struggle of society, the general form of ideology is external to history. His second thesis, "Ideas are material", explains his materialistic attitude, which he illustrated with the "scandalous advice" of Pascal toward unbelievers: "kneel and pray, and then you will believe", thus highlighting that beliefs and ideas are a product of social practices, and not the reverse. However, this mustn't be misunderstood as simple behaviorism, as there may be, as Pierre Macherey put it, a "subjectivity without subject"; in other words, a form of non-personal liberty, as in Deleuze's conception of becoming-other.
Naturalizing socially constructed patterns of behavior has always been an important mechanism in the production and reproduction of ideologies. Feminist theorists have paid close attention to these mechanisms. Adrienne Rich e.g. has shown how to understand motherhood as a social institution. However, 'feminism' is not a homogenous whole, and some corners of feminist thought criticise the critique of social constructionism, by advocating that it disregards too much of human nature and natural tendencies. The debate, they say, is about the normative/naturalistic fallacy - the idea that just something 'being' natural does not necessarily mean it 'ought' to be the case.
Political ideologies have two dimensions:
An ideology is a collection of ideas. Typically, each ideology contains certain ideas on what it considers to be the best form of government (e.g. democracy, theocracy, etc), and the best economic system (e.g. capitalism, socialism, etc). Sometimes the same word is used to identify both an ideology and one of its main ideas. For instance, "socialism" may refer to an economic system, or it may refer to an ideology which supports that economic system.
Ideologies also identify themselves by their position on the political spectrum (such as the left, the center or the right), though this is very often controversial. Finally, ideologies can be distinguished from political strategies (e.g. populism) and from single issues that a party may be built around (e.g. opposition to European integration or the legalisation of marijuana).
Studies of the concept of ideology itself (rather than specific ideologies) have been carried out under the name of systematic ideology.
Political ideologies are concerned with many different aspects of a society, some of which are: the economy, education, health care, labor law, criminal law, the justice system, the provision of social security and social welfare, trade, the environment, minors, immigration, race, use of the military, patriotism and established religion.
There are many proposed methods for the classification of political ideologies. See the political spectrum article for a more in-depth discussion of these different methods (each of whom generates a specific political spectrum).
There are critics who view science as an ideology in itself, or being an effective ideology, 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.
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, mixed economy, 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.