The Impact of Political Ideologies
 The twentieth century was
marked by ideological
disagreements that led to
political upheaval, violent
revolution, and a dramatic
arms race in a polarized
“Anyone desiring a
quiet life has done badly to
be born in the twentieth
—Leon Trotsky
 The presence of radical
Islamism and Neo-Nazism
show that ideas and beliefs
still hold sway over groups
of people.
“The ruling to kill the
Americans and their allies—
civilians and military—is an
individual duty for every
Muslim who can do it.”
—fatwa from
Osama Bin Laden
A Working Definition of
 Ideology: a fairly coherent and comprehensive set of ideas
 explains and evaluates social conditions
 helps people understand their place in society
 provides a program for social and political action
The Four Functions of “Ideology”
 Each ideology performs four functions:
 Ideologies perform these four functions because they are
trying to link thought to action.
 Ideologies provide a vision of the social and political world
as it is and as it should be.
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1. Explanation
 Why are social, political, and economic conditions as they
 Particularly in times of crisis people will search for some
explanation of what is happening.
Why are there wars?
Why do depressions occur?
What causes unemployment?
Why are some people rich and others poor?
Why are relations between different races so often strained,
difficult, or hostile?
 Every ideology tries to answer these questions and to
make sense of the complicated world in which we live.
2. Evaluation
 By which standards and criteria are we to evaluate social
 Given a certain set of social conditions, how do we decide
whether things are good or bad?
 Are all wars evils to be avoided, or are some morally justifiable?
 Are depressions a normal part of the business cycle or a symptom
of a sick economic system?
 Is full employment a reasonable ideal or a naive pipe dream?
 Are racial tensions inevitable or avoidable?
 Ideologies provide standards that help people assess, judge,
and appraise social policies and conditions so that they can
decide whether those policies and conditions are desirable or
3. Orientation
 Who am I? To which groups do I belong, and how am I related to
the rest of the world?
 An ideology supplies its adherent with an orientation and a
sense of identity—of who he or she is, the group (race, nation,
sex, and so on) to which he or she belongs, and how he or she is
related to the rest of the world.
 If you are a communist, for example, you think of yourself as a
member of the working class.
 If you are as feminist, you think of yourself as first and foremost a
 Ideologies help people orient themselves—to gain a sense of
where they are, who they are, and how they fit into a
complicated world.
4. Political Program
 “What is to be done?”
 An ideology performs a programmatic or prescriptive
function by setting out a general program of social and
political action.
 An ideology tells its followers what to do and how to do it.
 Having diagnosed social conditions that are bad,
ideologies supply a program for action that may improve
What counts as an ideology?
 To qualify as an ideology, a system of ideas must perform
the four functions specified in the functional definition.
 Common misconceptions:
 Any word that ends in “ism” is an ideology
 Alcoholism, Magnetism, Nationalism, Anarchism
 Democracy is an ideology
 Democracy is more properly identified as an ideal to which
nearly all ideologies aspire
 Religions and other “belief systems” are ideologies
 Religion tends to be focused on the supernatural and the divine;
ideologies focus on the here and now
Human Nature and Freedom
Human Nature
 Human nature—basic
human drives, motivations,
limitations, and possibilities
 Freedom = “essentially
contested concept”
 Conceptions of human
nature are important for
ideologies because they set
limits on what is politically
possible by assessing what
humans are truly like and
what they can achieve.
 Every ideology claims to
defend freedom, but each
ideology defines freedom
 No indisputably correct
definition of “freedom”
 Provides a convenient basis
for comparing and
contrasting different
MacCallum’s Triadic Model of
 Every conception of freedom has three components:
(A) an agent, (B) an obstacle, and (C) a goal
 The agent is the person or group that should be free.
 This agent must be free to pursue some goal such as
practicing religion, speaking freely, or taking a walk.
 In order to attain this goal, the agent must overcome
various obstacles, barriers, or restraints such as chains,
prejudice, or poverty.
The Triadic Model of Freedom
Ideology and Revolution
• Revolutions bring about sweeping changes in social,
economic, and political life.
• Modern revolutionaries aim to overthrow old orders,
which they believe to be fundamentally rotten or
corrupt, and replace it with something better.
• Ideologies have their own idea of what counts as an
advance or improvement and are generally optimistic
about the possibility of dramatic progress and
significant improvement in the quality of human life.
 Very powerful force in modern politics, but does not
qualify as an ideology. Why?
 Difficult to determine what a nation is and which shared
traits define a nation
 Many countries have multiple “nationalities” within their
 Despite the difficulty of defining nations and nationalities,
nationalistic sentiments have been evident in the recent
ethnic conflicts that resulted from the collapse of the
Soviet Union.
 Anarchist: someone who favors abolishing the state and
replacing its coercive force with voluntary cooperation
 Not in favor of chaos but voluntary cooperation
 Anarchists believe that competitiveness is a result of
coercive government authority
 Anarchism is not considered an ideology because there
are disagreements:
 How to overthrow the state: violent vs. non-violent
 Type of stateless society: competitive vs. cooperative
 An ideology is a more or less coherent and comprehensive
set of ideas that performs four functions for those who
accept it:
It explains why social conditions are the way they are
It evaluates those conditions
It orients people so they can see how they fit into society
It prescribes a program for social and political action
 Ideologies also have core assumptions about human
nature and freedom—assumptions that have led most
ideologies, at one time or another, to call for revolution.
Part I: The Concept of Ideology
 Terrell Carver—Ideology: The Career of a Concept