Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Discuss the various definitions of ideology, its nature, scope, aims, functions and its relevance or necessity to our political and social life.

Discuss the various definitions of ideology, its nature, scope, aims, functions and its relevance or necessity to our political and social life.

Definitions of ideologies are a legion; no specific definition can be classified as the real definition of an ideology. Many scholars in different fields of study have propounded different definitions of what an ideology is but there is no universal concurrence of what an ideology is. From Marxism, after German political economist Karl Marx, Leninism - after Vladimir Lenin, Malthusianism - after Thomas Robert Malthus, Keynesianism - after John Maynard Keynes, Fordism - after Henry Ford, Social Darwinism - after Charles Darwin the least is endless are ideologies propounded by scholars in different fields of study but one differential acknowledgment about ideologies is the notion that no definition is intrinsically better than the other. Ideologies shape universal actions and behavior of the subjects, with nation states items of political, economical and social spheres. This essay will discuss and elucidate the various definitions of ideology, its nature, scope, aims, functions and its relevance or necessity to our political and social life.

The wording ideology emanated from the French Revolution[1] from the French philosopher Antoine Destutt de Tracy 1789 marked the begging of the term ideology from the word ide`ologie, with its original meaning “science of ideas”. However with the evolution of human understanding of the world and natural occurrences the definition was posed with different contestation. Some definitions emphasize the sociological characteristics and others its psyocultural features[2], the term ideology is comprised of many different meanings this is not attributed that the proponents of relative fields are of low intelligence but the nature, aim and functions of ideologies are not compatible to describe the other. Many ideological proponents of political philosophy as well as religious groups have subjected the term ideology to many definitions.

Various definitions exists Easton[3] gives the definition of a ideology as articulated sets of ideas, ideals and purposes which help members of the system to interpret the past, explain the present, and offer a vision for the future. The present and the past are very fundamental elements in shaping and the creation of an ideology as it provides the conception or reason in the formulation of an ideology hence historical and contemporary events make up an ideology in order to provide answers and solution to the events. Whilst other numerous definitions exists, Eagleton[4] gives a number of definitions that have been used by different scholars to define a ideology some scholars define ideologies as the process of production of meaning, signs and values in social life, the other definition points that ideologies are a body of ideas characteristics of a particular social group or class, as identity thing, ideology as socially necessary illusion, ideology as the conjecture of discourse and power, ideology as the medium in conscious actors make sense of their world, ideology as the confusion of linguistic and phenomenal reality, as semiotic closure, ideology as the process of whereby social life is converted to a natural reality and lastly as the indispensable medium in which individuals live out their relations to a social structure . Whilst Therborn[5] elaborates that an ideology is a social phenomenon of discursive kind, including both everyday notions and experience and elaborate intellectual doctrines both the “consciousness” of social actors and institutionalized thought systems and discourse of a given society.

The diversity encompassed in defining and ideology is wide spread due the different intellectual thoughts, aims, functions and purpose as well for the targeted group the ideology is formulated to have impact on. It must be noted that all ideologies signify the dominant forms of thought in a society and some of the definitions maybe mutually compatible but others comprise of different meanings and aims, some of the definitions according to Christenson[6] maybe pejorative other ambiguous hence nobody can claim that their own thinking is ideological. Definitions maybe be based on epistemological questions based our knowledge of the world we are living in and the social grouping we belong too, as well as Eagleton propounds that ideologies can be specified in terms of shared hostility to modernity from Liberalism in politics to individualism in moral practice and the market economy.

To determine the origin of an ideology formulated there are four historical propositions according to Thompson[7] one of the most fundamental is to perceive the origins is in terms that all ideologies exist only in historical forms, in addition that all ideologies operate in a material matrix of affirmations and sanctions and this matrix determines their interrelationships, thirdly is that all ideologies exist in historical form of articulation with different classes and class ideologies and lastly rest in the notion that the pattern of a given set of ideologies is determined by class relation of strength by the class struggle. These attributes contributes to the various definitions that are formulated to define the term ideology, whilst there are three fundamental modes of ideological interpellation, Ideologies asks the question what exists and its corollary what does not exist according to Thompson[8] the questions of who we are; what the world is, what nature is the society in this way we acquire a sense of identity, become conscious of what is real and true. Ideologies questions the question what is good, right, just, beautiful, attractive, enjoyable and it’s opposite hence this way our desires become structured and normalized. Thompson[9] further elaborates that ideologies provides answers of what is possible and impossible by providing our sense of the mutability of our being in the world and the consequence of change are hereby patterned and our hopes, ambition and fears shapes. Ideologies provide answers to our every day questions and they try to provide answers to the past, present and the future without ideological thoughts how we view world will be left with no understanding for its existence.

The operation of ideologies in human life basically involves the constitution and patterning of how human beings live their lives as conscious, reflecting initiators of acts in structured and meaning world[10]. Ideologies encompasses various characterises in order to explain the questions that are posed by human existence according to Regai[11] the concept of ideology embraces five important dimensions, the cognition, affect ,valuation , program and social base. The cognition dimension refers to an ideology‘s world view its out look on society and politics, its perceptions of social and political reality, the world view contains certain elements of knowledge and certain elements of belief. Knowledge which involves rules and test of science is basically more concerned about the logic while believes are not scientifically proven they are accepted or adhered to on the basis of socialization or habit or repetition.

The other dimension according to Regai[12] is that ideologies are affective within the sense that all political ideologies must appeal to people emotions they are supposed to be emotive in nature. The ideology of Fascism and Nazism were emotional ideologies whilst the ideology of communism is rational calculated whilst the ideology of democracy is supposedly most rational of them all. The other dimension of the five is the evaluative Regai[13] propounds that ideologies embody normative elements and make value judgements in two ways which is the negative by denouncing an existing system of social and political relationships by putting set of norms according to which social and political reconstruction is to take place.

One characteristic of ideology according to Christenson[14] is that they arise in conditions of crisis the scholar propounds that the human disposition to ideological construction and belief surfaces when people strongly perceive and feel that they are being neglected under existing order. Ideologies are formulated in societies and mostly are envisaged with experience and natural forces as a way to perpetuate human existence and establish their conduct and behaviour. The other characteristic of an ideology is that it has a broad but varying scope according to Christenson[15] an ideology should comprise of symbols, beliefs and thoughts to hence mass communication and understanding Ideologies have been used to mobilize people to pursue the same objective for instance Steven Biko’s Black Consciousness ideology became the major weapon against the apartheid government as it used simplified principles, slogans and symbols of ideology to mobilize the masses. Moreover according to Christenson[16] and ideology should encompass the characteristic of both being empirical and normative elements certain conditions must exits and as well a political order is to be preferred. In realism political order exists of states being rational actor, anarchy in international and survival as the major state interests.

Christenson[17] characterized ideologies as a persuasive argument in character not only intended not merely to persuade but to generate in motion hence in the context of trying to change the live of the subjects in a group and society. Ideologies do not perceive the truth only but it is comprised with beliefs, myths and assumptions which aid arguments to its purposes and to generate stimulation to individuals, groups and society.

Ideologies have various functions in this contemporary world in understanding events and analysis the actions that might have triggered the proposed actions by states and individuals. According to Regai[18] an ideology provides a perspective on social and political reality and calls upon the believer to behave in a way consistent with that perspective. Ideologies propose to explain politically reality and the meaning of ambiguities of the world around us and give order to our lives and set standards of behaviour and provide rational for our words and deeds. The most important function of an ideology is to provide the individual in the world with a sense of indentify and belonging, the ideology of nationalism provides the individual with identity and group categorization as well it builds national interest and goals uniformity and is a unifying force to the state subjects. Regai[19] furthermore propounds that ideologies serve to achieve social solidarity and cohesion they bind together and give it a sense of unity and inturn tries to rationalize and justify group values and objectives. Nazism united the Nazis in Germany during the world war the ideology regarded the Nazis as superior race and considered the Jews as a great threat to the German nation and the Aryan race. Christenson[20] elaborates that an ideology acts as guide to individual and collective action and judgement it is fundamental in stipulating rights, privileges and obligations and sets the parameters of expectations. States rely on this fundament function to persuade individuals to support their foreign policy and engage in national interests for instance the American war against “rogue states” and ideology created to seek legitimacy to go to war.

Ideologies engender optimism according to Regai[21] ideologies provide hope, promise, utopia, paradise, such optimism is important in human race life to achieve goals and endue the difficulty of life. Furthermore ideologies serve to support and maintain a political regime or to challenge and destroy the existing system, the ideology of capitalism was formulated to destroy the previous dominant ideology of communism, and it also applies to the ideological conception of Zunufication that is being used the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe to further its existence. Moreover Regai[22] retaliates that ideologies serve as an instrument of manipulation and control people. Most of the country leaders are always in position to indoctrinate and brainwash the population by imposing ideologies to manipulate to gain their legitimacy in governments, this has been made possible with the high manifestation and contemporary advances in technologies of communication. Lastly the function of ideology is to perform a self maintenance function, a viable ideology according to Regai[23] must keep up with the changing times and conditions; it must adapt its tenets and principles to the needs and requirements of the time. In this globalization age the ideologies such as realism, liberalism and constructivism are changing face complying with the modern era depicting the new relations among states.

Christenson[24] retaliates that an ideology functions as a tool of conflict management and integration, ideologies have been fundamental in eradicating conflicts among groups and establish core common wants, they are very fundamental in socialization process that cede goals and exceptions for individuals and societies. Liberalism as an ideology brings the notion of co-operation of states and liberty and equality of individuals these notions limits conflicts in our social life.

Of all definitions that scholars have propounded there isn’t a specific definition that can really define an ideology, it will remain with high contestation among academics of having a consensuses of the real definition of an ideology. However without the real definition of what an ideology is, it serves a lot of functions in human race in providing answers to questions, provide self identification, as tool of conflict management and mostly in provide collective actions of social groups and states. Ideologies are imperative in understanding of political and social structures, questions to why a state is democratic, totalitarian and why an individual opts or disagree to be within such structures.


Christenson R.M et al 1971. Idelogies and Modern Politics Nelson NewYork

Regai M 1995 Political Ideologies ; A comparative approach M. E Sharpe Inc NewYork

Eagleton 1991 Ideology an introduction Verso London

Thopmson K 1986 Beliefs and ideology Ellis Horward/ Tavistock Publications NewYork USA

Therborn G 1980 The Ideology of power and the power of ideology Verso New YORK

Roger Eatwell, Anthony Wright 1999 Contemporary political ideologies second edition Continuum International Publishing Group New York

[1] Eatwell and Wright (4;1998)

[2] Regai (3;1995)

[3] RM Christenson (9;1971)

[4] Eagleton (2; 1991)

[5] Therbon (4;1980)

[6] Chrstenson (4;1971)

[7] Thompsom (1986;17)

[8] Thompsom (1986;18)

[9] Ibid

[10] ibid

[11] Regai (4:1995)

[12] Ibid (7;1995)

[13] Ibid (9;1995)

[14] Christenson (9;1971)

[15] Ibid (10;1971)

[16] Ibid (11;1971)

[17] Ibid (12;1971)

[18] Regai(17;1995)

[19] Ibid ( 17;1995)

[20] Christenson (15;1971)

[21] Regai (17:1995)

[22] Ibid

[23] Ibid

[24] Christenson (16;1971)