Gordon L. Bowen, Ph.D.
Political Science and International Relations disciplines
Mary Baldwin College
Staunton, VA USA 24401
Questions? email: email@example.com
definition: Ideology is a set of values
that forms the core of a political program
that aims toward a changed destiny for humanity
“The other side have got an ideology. We must have one as well.”
Thatcher, in Hugo Young, The Iron Lady (1989)
“Most Congressmen are torn between an ideological commitment to free enterprise and a compelling need to respond to the special interests in their districts.”
Raymond Vernon (Professor, Harvard University), New York Times (Sept. 2, 1988)
"What one needs to understand is that these decisions [i.e., by the Bush Administration to invade Iraq] were ideologically based. They were not based on an analytical, historical understanding. They were based on ideology. You don't counter ideology with logic or experience or analysis very effectively."
Robin Raphel (official in U.S. Department of State), quoted in Glenn Kessler, "C.I.A. Leak Linked to Dispute over Iraq Policy," Washington Post (Oct. 25, 2005): 3
Commentary by Prof. Bowen: An ideological approach to life is guided by certainty of belief. Ideologues (or believers in an ideology) understand that a big idea is the key to the whole human experience; this "big picture" shapes life.
Ideologies often are expressed as compressed summaries of important documents, e.g. Karl Marx's "Communist Manifesto" articulated the main ideas of communist theory that were far more thoroughly documented in Das Kapital. Adherents to this ideology subscribed to these ideas as givens: this is the way the world has worked, is working, will continue to work... or so they believed.
Principles derived from texts (such as in the example above) usually are abbreviated into a set of more simple attitudes by the ideologue. E.g., "workers and owners will always be in conflict"; or, "democracy is always just a front for rule by the rich;" or still more simply "disliking rich people isn't prejudice; it is a key to understanding." The believer in the ideology then uses these attitudes to filter and give meaning to new events and information he/she encounters.
There are many different ideologies which have played important roles in human history. Conservatism and liberalism, fascism and communism, nationalism and internationalism, each have wooed broad publics.
In modern American politics, the most prominent and influential ideology is known as neo-conservatism. Identified with the thought of Michael Mandelbaum, Charles Krauthammer, and Normon Podoretz, neo-conservatives gained direct influence over policy during the first administration of George W. Bush, largely through the forceful influence of Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, and his allies in the administration: Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Neo-conservatives differ from traditional conservatives in that traditional conservatives are reluctant to abandon tradition for a risky embrace of change. While each branch of conservatism is highly skeptical of a strong government role in the economy and favor market mechanisms over state interventions and planning, neo-conservatives are much more comfortable with change in international affairs, whereas traditional conservatives lean for guidance from the school of realism. Neo-conservatives embrace idealism over realism, and believe powerful influence to the U.S. can accrue by its championing of domestic virtues such as democratization as universals with a role to play in foreign societies. Echoing Woodrow Wilson's call to Americans to be a beacon of democracy against authoritarianism abroad, George W. Bush pursued an ideological foreign policy rooted in the ideological supposition that peace most can emerge among states that are democracies. Thus, Pres. George W. Bush's plan to transform the Middle Eastern region by a wave of democratization more reflects the tradition of (Democrats) Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy than it adheres to the pragmatic, but morally jaundiced, view of the world that guided a "power politics" approach under Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Bush's own father, George H. W. Bush.
definition: Pragmatism is an approach to political life characterized by a focus on actual practices, not theory; where truth of all concepts emerges from their practical results.
The opposite of an ideological approach to life is the pragmatic attitude. Pragmatists are concerned with actual human conditions more than with fitting humans into the designs of theorists. Pragmatists may have hunches about how the "big picture" fits together, but they remain open to information that might disprove their prior beliefs. When proposing solutions to social or political problems, pragmatists devise careful measures to assess whether what they set out to do actually is being accomplished by what they did. When new problems are encountered, pragmatists adjust their policies to better respond.
of opinion, arising from changes of circumstance, are often justifiable”
Sen. Daniel Webster to the U.S. Senate, July 25, 1846
for further reading, see:
Leon P. Baradat, Political Ideologies: Their Origins and Impact 4th edition (Englewood Cliffs NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1991).
William Ebenstein and Edwin Fogelman, Today's ISMs ninth edition (Englewood Cliffs NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1985).
David Ingersoll and Richard K. Matthews, The Philosophic Roots of Modern Ideology: Liberalism, Communism, Fascism second edition (Englewood Cliffs NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1991).
Mostafa Rejai, Comparative Political Ideologies (NY: St. Martin's, 1984).
Vernon Van Dyke, Ideology and Political Choice (Chatham NJ: Chatham House, 1995).