Ideology | Sociology for CUET by Vikash Ranjan | Sociology Guru


(Relevant for Sociology optional for UPSC CSE)
Paper-1 ,Unit-7 : Ideology


In the realm of political theory the term ‘ideology’ is applied in two contexts:

  • A set of ideas which are accepted to be true by a particular group, party or nation without further examination; and
  • The science of ideas which examines as to how different ideas are formed, how truth is distorted, and how we can overcome distortions to discover true knowledge.

Ideology as a set of ideas::

  1. In First context, ideology means a set of those ideas which are accepted to be true by a particular group without further examination. These ideas are invoked in order to justify or denounce a particular way of social, economic or political organization. In this sense, ideology is matter of faith; it has no scientific basis. Adherents of an ideology think that its validity need not be subjected to verification.
  2. Different groups may adhere to different ideologies; hence differences among them are inevitable. Ideology, therefore, gives rise to love- hate relationship, which is not conductive to scientific temper. Examples of some ideologies are: Liberalism, capitalism, socialism, Marxism, communism, anarchism, fascism, imperialism, nationalism, internationalism, etc.
  3. When an ideology is used to defend an existing system or to advocate a limited or a radical change in that system, it becomes a part of politics. A political ideology may lend legitimacy to the ruling class or it may involve an urge for revolution. It therefore signifies the manipulative power of a dominant class or of a social movement.
  4. An ideology is action- oriented. It presents a cause before its adherents and induces them to fight for that cause, and to make sacrifices for its realizationFor example, nationalism may inspire people to sacrifice their wealth or life for defending the freedom of their nation. But communalism may induce hatred among people towards members of another community and prompt them to base on obscurantism, has given rise to worldwide terrorism.
  5. In the sphere of politics, conflicting ideologies may be invoked to defend conflicting norms or ideals. Of these, some ideals may be designed to serve some vested interests, and some ideals may sack to challenge irrational beliefs and conventions, and thus pave the way for progress. For example, ideology of imperialism may be invoked to facilitate the exploitation of colonial territories and their and their people, while environmentalism may be invoked to save humanity from the curse of atmospheric pollution and depletion of valuable natural resources.

Ideology as the science of ideas:

  1. The term ‘ideology’ was originally devised to describe the science of ideas. In this sense, it seeks to determine how ideas are formed, how they are distorted, and how true ideas could be segregated from false ideas. It was Destutt de Tracy (1954-1836), a French scholar, who first used the word ideology during 1801-15 in his writings on the Enlightenment. He defined it as a study of the process of forming ideas- a science of ideas. Tracy observed that ideas are stimulated by the physical environment; hence empirical learning (gained through sense experience) is the only source of knowledge. Supernatural or spiritual phenomena have no role to play in the formation of real ideas. Science is founded on these ideas. People could use science for the improvement of social and political conditions.
  2. Although Tracy was the first to use the term ‘ideology’ in this sense, he was not the first to study the process of formation of ideas. Francis bacon (1561-1626), an English philosopher, before him, insisted that knowledge should come from careful and accurate observation and experience. He held that the knowledge deduced from less scientific methods of inquiry was distorted by false impressions or ‘idols’. In short, Bacon and Tracy focused on the validity of knowledge obtained by scientific method, and cautioned us against distorted forms of knowledge.
  3. In contemporary literature, the term ‘ideology’ is applied to the set of ideas which are adopted by a group in order to motivate it for the achievement of predetermined goals. Science of ideas is described by different terms, like “sociology of knowledge” (the term introduced by Karl Mannheim). Science of ideas is used to identify the causes of distortion in the prevailing ideologies. A systematic attempt in this direction began with Marx. Later Lukacs and Mannheim also made significant contributions to this effort.

Views of Karl Marx

  1. Karl Marx (1818-83) in “German Ideology (1845-46)” and “A contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1859)” dwelled on the nature of ideology. According to him, ideology is a manifestation of false consciousnesses.
  2. According to Marx, in the process of social development material needs of people advance, but their social consciousness lags behind. This distorted consciousness or false consciousness is reflected in their Ideology. Dominant class at any stage of social development marks use of ideology to maintain its authority. For Example makers of the French Revolution (1789) raised the slogan of ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity’ to enlist support of the masses. But they settled for liberty which served their interest, i.e. the interest of the new entrepreneurial class of those days. They did not proceed to win freedom for common man, but stopped after winning freedom for a new dominant class to ensure inviolability of property.
  3. Marx and Engels (1820-95) held that Ideology is an instrument for protecting the interest of the dominant class. Thus bourgeoisie (the capitalist class) needs ideology to maintain itself in power. On the contrary, when Proletariat (the working class) comes to power after the socialist revolution, it has no vested interest in maintaining itself in power. It strives to create such conditions where the state will ‘wither away’. It does not want to continue as the dominant class but works for the creation of a classless society.
  4. However, V.I. Lenin (1870-1924) in his what is conceal the prevailing contradictions, but it has become a neutral concept which refers to the political consciousness of different classes, including, the proletarian class. He argued that the class struggle will continue for a very long time during the socialist phase. So proletariats also need an ideology- the ideology of scientific socialism for their guidance, lest they are overpowered by the bourgeois ideology.

View of Likacs

  1. Georg Lukacs (1885-1971), a Hungarian Marxist, held that Consciousness was always class consciousness. The proletariat, by virtue of its increasing estrangement within the socio-economic sphere, occupied a unique historical position from which it could achieve universal consciousness.
  2. On the nature of ideology Lukacs maintained that it Refers both to bourgeoisie and proletarian consciousness, without implying a necessary negative connotation. Marxism itself is the ideological expression of the proletariat. Lukacs held that Bourgeois ideology is false, not because ideology itself is false consciousness, but because bourgeois class situation is structurally limited. In other words, bourgeoisie (the capitalist class) cannot stand on its own. It must exploit proletariat (the working class) to maintain itself. Bourgeois ideology is deplorable because it dominates and contaminates the psychological consciousness of proletariat. However, Lukacs has warned that ideological struggle should not become a substitute for class struggle.

Views of Karl Mannheim

Karl Mannheim (1893-1947), a German sociologist, in his famous work “Ideology and Utopia” Rejects Marx’s theory of ideology on three grounds;

  1. Style of thought (consciousness) of any group is only indirectly related to its interests; there is no direct correlation between its consciousness and its economic interests;
  2. All thought (consciousness) is shaped by its social background; hence Marxism itself is the ideology of a class; and
  3. Apart from classes, other social groups, like different generations, also have a significant influence upon consciousness

Mannheim introduced term ‘sociology of knowledge’ to focus on social determination of knowledge or style of thought (Consciousness). He sought to generalize Marxist framework as a tool of analysis.

  1. (He held that the false consciousness may be manifested in two forms; ideology and utopia. Ideology represents the tendency of conservation. It relies on false consciousness to muster support for the maintenance of status quo. One the other hand, utopia represents the impetus to change. It relies on false consciousness by projecting unrealizable principles to muster support for the forces of change.
  2. A ruling class makes use of ideology; the opposition may project a utopia. Mannheim declared that Marxist vision of a classless society was nothing of utopia. Hence it also makes false consciousness its tools.
  3. The relative character of all knowledge as postulated by Mannheim makes the knowledge of objective truth extremely difficult. Is there no hope, then, to discover truth? Well, there is a silver lining. Mannheim hinges on the possibility of a ‘free floating stratum of intellectuals between the contending classes to achieve disinterested knowledge. He hopes that some enlightened individuals within the conflicting groups will realize that their perception of truth is partial; it could be complemented by understanding their opponent’s view. Such individuals from both sides will come together with an open mind; they will enter into a dialogue and incessantly strive to arrive at the objective truth. Thus they will open the way to achieve synthetic common knowledge of the prevailing historical situation and a realistic assessment of actual possibilities.
  4. In other words, they will be able to grasp a realistic vision between ideology and utopia. Mannheim identifies these intellectuals as social scientists. He recommends that these social scientists, who have proved their ability to grasp the objective truth, should be given authority to rule.
  5. Critics argue that Mannheim has created confusion between the origin and validity of knowledge. His extreme relativism contemplates the existence of ideas without upholders. Moreover, giving power to social scientists is fraught with danger of absolutism. Let these social scientists function as critics of power holders instead of wielding power themselves. They would better serve as organizers of agitations and demonstrations, journalist and writers, and as conscience- keepers of society.

Ideology and totalitarianism:

When ideology is conceived as an instrument of motivating people for the achievement of predetermined goals, it comes close to totalitarianism. Some writers, therefore, assert that ideology in this sense is found only in totalitarian systems; it has no place in an open society.

  1. Famous Austrian philosopher Karl Popper (1902-94) in “The Open Society and Its Enemies” argued that ideology is the characteristic of totalitarianism; it has nothing to do in an open society. He maintained that Science and freedom flourish together in a society which is open in the sense that it is willing to accept new ideas. In contrast, a Totalitarian society claims that it has already found the absolute truth, and strives, to implement it ruthlessly. Ideology is the tool which enables the state to mobilize its manpower and other resources for a goal which is declared to embody the absolute truth. It does to allow anyone to oppose.
  2. In Popper’s view, Western liberal- democratic societies are open societies; hence they do not need an ideology for working smoothly. Citizens of these societies are absolutely free to criticize the existing institutions and structures of power.

The Hannah Arendt (1906-75), a German Jew philosopher, in “The Origins of Totalitarianism” (1951) defined Totalitarianism as a system of total domination, characterized by ideology and terror. It was made possible in recent Europe by three factors:

  1. The specific political and social position of the jews which had given antiSemitism (the tendency of hatred toward Jews) a new force;
  2. Imperialism which generated racist movements and worldwide expansion of power; and Dissolution of European society into uprooted masses, so lonely and disoriented that they could be mobilized behind ideologies.
  • Thus Popper and Arendt focused on the role of ideology as a tool of totalitarianism. It is interesting to recall that Marx had evolved the concept of ideology in late nineteenth century in order to expose capitalism. Concept of totalitarianism was evolved in early twentieth century to describe the dictatorial way to working of communist regime of the Soviet Union till the end of Stalin era (1953) and fascist regime of Italy (under Mussolini) and Germany (under Hitler) till the end of Second World War (1945).
  • Both communist and fascist regimes made ample use of their respective ideologies for the mobilization of their citizens toward the achievement of their respective goals. Popper largely focused on the communist regime and Arendt on the fascist regime to bring out the close correlations between ideology and totalitarianism.

End of ideology debate:

The Current status of ideology in the world was reviewed in mid – 1950s and in 1960s. In western liberal- democratic countries, it was declared that the age of ideology had come to an end. These countries looked at ideology as a tool of totalitarianism which had no place in open societies

  1. ‘End of ideology’ also implied that at the advanced stage of industrial development, a country’s social – economic organization is determined by the level of its development, and not be its political ideology. In other words, capitalist and communist countries were bound to evolve similar characteristics at the advanced stage of their industrial development, irrespective of their ideological differences.
  2. Early indication of this view may be found in the proceedings of a conference on ‘The Future of Freedom’ held in Milan, Italy, in 1955. Edward shills report on this conference was published in Encounter (1955) under the title ‘The End of Ideology’. The conference urged its participants to forget their minor differences and discover common grounds to face the danger of Communism. DANIEL BELL observed in the course of his speech: “Today ideologies are exhausted. In the Western World, there is today a rough consensus among intellectuals on political issues, The acceptance of a welfare state; the desirability of decentralized power; a system of mixed economy and of political pluralism. In that sense too the ideological age has ended.” This view was confirmed and further elaborated by several Western writers.
  3. Daniel bell, in his noted work the “End of Ideology (1960)” asserted that Post-industrial societies are prone to similar development irrespective of their ideological differences. They have lesser proportion of workers in industry than in services. In other words, at the advanced stage of industrial development in any country the services sector expands at a faster rate than the manufacturing sector. Besides, it is also characterized by the  Increasing dominance of technical elites. The change in this direction is not affected by its political ideology.
  4. Ralph dahrendorf in “Class and Class Conflict in Industrial Society (1957)” argued that The western societies had entered a new phase of development. They were no longer capitalist societies; they had become postcapitalist societies. The coincidence of economic conflict and political conflict, which was the foundation of Marx’s theory, had ceased to exist in the postcapitalist societies. In a Capitalist society, the lines of industrial and political conflict were superimposed.
  5. The opponents within the industrial sphere- capitalist and workers met again as bourgeoisie and proletarian, in the political arena. In contrast, industry and society have been dissociated in the post- capitalist society. The social relations of the industrial sphere, including industrial conflict, no longer dominate the whole society but remain confined in their patterns and problems to the sphere of industry. In post-capitalist society, industry and industrial conflicts are institutionally isolated. In other words, they remain confined within the borders of their proper realm and do not influence politics and other spheres of social life. Thus in Dahrendorf view, the framework of Marxian ideology was no longer suitable for the analysis of the Western societies.
  6. Then Seymour m. Liset, in “Political Man: The Social Bases of Politics (1960)” significantly observed: Democracy is not only or even primarily a means through which different groups can attain their ends or seek the good society; it is the good society itself in operation. Lipset observed that in the Western democracies the differences between the left and the right are no longer profound; the only issues before politics are concerned with marginal increase in wages, marginal rise in prices, and extension of old- age pensions, etc. He maintained that the fundamental political problems of the industrial revolution have been solved: the workers have achieved industrial and political citizenship; the conservatives have accepted the welfare state; and the democratic left has recognized that an increase in overall state power carries with it more dangers to freedom than solutions for economic problems. The triumph of democracy in the west has made the intellectuals realize that they no longer need ideologies or utopias to motivate them to political action.
  7. W.w. Rostow, in “The Stages of Economic Growth: A Non- communist Manifesto (1960)” built A unidimensional model of economic growth which was applicable to all countries irrespective of their political ideologies He suggested that all societies pass through five stages of growth: ‘Traditional society’, ‘preconditions for take- off’, ‘take-off’, ‘road to maturity’ and ‘the age of high mass consumption.’. He believed that the process of development going on at that time in Asia, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East was analogous to the stages of preconditions for take off and take-off which prevailed in the Western societies in late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Rostow asserted that the adoption of different political ideologies played no role in determining the course of economic development in different countries.
  8. J.K. Galbraithin “The New Industrial State (1967)” identified certain characteristic of advanced industrial societies which correspond to the end of ideology thesis. Galbraith observed that “All industrialized societies are destined to similar development”. This involves greater centralization, bureaucratization, professionalization and technocratization. These characteristics were visible in the Russian as well as American system although they had adopted as divergent ideologies as communism and capitalism respectively. It means that a country’s technoeconomic structure is shaped by the level of its industrialization, and not by its distinctive political ideology. Galbraith claimed that A new ruling class consisting of the bureaucratic and technocratic elite had emerged in all advanced industrial societies. This class belonged neither to the Working class nor to the capitalists. In liberal societies, the members of this class occupied high position in an open meritocratic system. Because of high rate of social mobility, they are not attached to particular capitalists. Power in society is vested in bureaucracy and technocracy, and not in capitalists. Galbraith comes to the conclusion that in the contemporary world, emancipation of humanity should be sought in anti- capitalism.
  9. The end of ideology thesis had a message for the new nations of Asia, Africa and Latin America. It implied that they should focus on their industrial development, and should not run after the mirage of communism as a remedy of their ills. With the collapse of communist systems in East European countries in 1989 (which was followed by a similar collapse in the Soviet Union in (1991), this view got a new impetus in the form the ‘End of History’ thesis. Francis Fukuyama, in his paper entitled ‘The end of history’ argued that the failure of socialism (i.e. communism in the present context) meant an unabashed victory of economic and political liberalism. It marked the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of western liberal democracy as the final form of human government. Fukuyama maintained that the liberal democracy contains no basic contradictions and that it is capable of fulfilling deepest aspirations of mankind. Its victory has heralded an end to the long historical struggle which had obstructed its expansion in the past. This thesis was given wide publicity in the Western press and academic circles as it was suited to their mode of thought.

Critics of end of ideology debate:

  1. However, Richard Titmuss, C. Wright mills, C.B. MacPherson and Alasdair Macintyre severely criticized the end of ideology thesis. Titmuss observed that the champions of the end of ideology this overlook the problems of monopolistic concentration of economic power, social disorganization and cultural deprivation within the capitalist system. C. Wright mills dubbed the upholders of End of ideology thesis the advocates of status quo. In his view, it is an ideology of political complacency which appears to be the only way now available for many social scientists to acquiesce in or to justify the established social structure. So far as human and political ideas are concerned, the End of ideology thesis stands for a denial of their relevanceC.B. MacPherson asserted that the champions of the End of ideology thesis make a futile attempt to solve the problem of equitable distribution within the market society. Alasdair Macintyre (Against the self- Images of the Age; 1971) significantly observed that the end of ideology theorists failed to entertain one crucial alternative possibility: namely that the End of ideology, far from marking the end-of-ideology, was itself a key expression of the ideology of the time and place where it arose”.
  2. In short, the end of ideology debate, and its latest version are designed to project the supremacy of liberal- democratic system in theory as well as practice. In the contemporary climate of increasing urge for liberalization, privatization and globalization, this idea seems to be riding high. However, it needs a close scrutiny. Collapse of socialism in a large part of the world could be the outcome of human faults in its implementation. Moreover, Western democratic world is by no means an epitome of justice and morality. Human emancipation is a complex venture. There are no readymade answers to all human problems. In devising their solution, relevant ideas from different ideologies may be drawn and examined. Of these liberalism, Marxism, socialism, fascism, anarchism, Gandhism, and Feminism, are particularly important.
  1. Ideology has been variously condemned as the reflection of false consciousness or as an instrument of totalitarianism. But it is not fine to look at all ideologies in this light. In actual practice, different ideologies as sets of ideas will continue to exist as the vehicles of value- systems preferred by different groups. They will be used for motivating people to achieve the goals cherished by their upholders. They may also be used by some groups to convince others regarding their rightful claims. Ideologies do not belong exclusively to dominate classes; oppressed classes also have their own ideologies. They cannot be set aside as ‘false consciousness’.
  2. Ideologies could serve as meeting ground for like- minded people, instead of confining themselves to their tribe, caste, religion, region, etc. They may reflect changing social consciousness on crucial issues. Some ideologies have given rise to strong social movements for the emancipation of various oppressed sections. Some ideologies manifest a deep concern with the future of humanity. An ideology is identified by commitment to a cause. It rules out personal interest, bias or submission to a particular person, group or dynasty. It signifies a set of coherent ideas- perception of real and ideal from one’s own position. It may also be used to make others realize that position. That is how, in the sphere of world politics, developing nations strive to impress upon advanced nations to adopt humanist attitudes and policies.

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