Political Ideology: Helpful, Hateful and Inevitable

The American Family Gazette

Vol. II, 1010

 

There is a great deal of finger pointing at what we call political ideology today. We often define it along the lines of partisanship, and it’s a term that has come to have pejorative connotations. We content that government is unable to govern in large degree because of partisanship, because of opposing ideologies. We see ideologies as incompatible views of what government should and should not be involved in.  We see the ideologies of political parties as disruptive, to say the least, of government’s attempt to govern. Two questions here are, first, are we correct in our views, and secondly, is ideology in politics necessary?

When I first considered this piece it seemed so obvious what is meant by ideology that I saw little need to define or describe it.  I was wrong.  In speaking with someone who I just naturally assumed was familiar with the term as I was using it, I was interrupted and asked, “What is ideology?” So much for assumptions. In retrospect, I guess we throw out terms, such as this, too often taking for granted that assumption of common understanding.  Big mistake!  So, before we tackle the issue I want to cover, which is, is ideology necessary in politics, let’s first run through a bit about just what ideology is, what it means, and doesn’t mean. It won’t take long.

At its most basic, an ideology is a set of beliefs, or values, that one holds and acts upon. In the original context of the accepted originator of the term, the eighteenth century French philosopher, Destsutt de Tracy, the original conception may be identified by five characteristics:

(1)  it contains an explanatory theory of a more or less comprehensive kind about human            experience and the external world;

(2)  it sets out a program, in generalized and abstract germs, of social and political organizations;

(3)  it conceives the realization of this program as entailing a struggle;

(4)  it seeks not merely to persuade but to recruit loyal adherents, demanding what is   sometimes called commitment;

(5) it addresses a wide public but may tend to confer some special role of leadership on intellectuals.

On a “big picture” view of these five features, one can recognize as political ideologies systems as diverse as Democracy,  Communism, Socialism, fascism, Nazism and certain kinds of nationalism. On the more narrow plain that we are discussing, political ideology, Seventeenth-century England occupies an important place in the history of ideology.  Political theory, like politics itself, began to acquire certain ideological characteristics. Revolutionary forces throughout the 17th century created a demand for theories to explain and justify the radical action that was often taken.  This follows from the fact that power is rarely exercised without some ideas or beliefs that justify support. Locke’s Two Treatises of Government is an example of literature written to justify the rights of man against absolutism.  This growth of abstract theory in the 17th century, this increasing tendency to construct systems and discuss politics in terms of principles marks the emergence of the ideological style.  In political discourse are they disruptive of government’s attempts to govern? It was accompanied by a growing use of concepts such as right and liberty—ideals in terms of which actual polities were judged. And so ideology, and the use of justifying political action via abstract ideas, ideologies, developed. Today, in our country, incompatible and conflicting political ideologies are an accepted reality; a facing-off of people holding differing ideas about the role of government, and how government should work.

Incompatible and conflicting political ideologies do seem to be an accepted reality. But given this accepted fact, are the positions expressed in our first paragraph here supportable?  By definition—incompatible and conflicting—they must be. And our second question, is ideology in politics necessary? It is questionably necessary but it seems, from experience inevitable. Or is it?

The fact that we govern on the basis of majority rule is evidence that you can’t please all the people all the time. That alone indicates that there are and will be differences of opinion on issues of concern to all. And the stronger those views, the more difficult it is to resolve them to the satisfaction of all, or at least to a necessary majority. And, as importantly, to placate a “losing minority.” We do, as a nation and society, have procedures to handle issues such as this produces, including a Constitution safeguarding basic minority rights and a judiciary to appeal to when a miscarriage of justice is suspected. But, because of ideological differences, need we always be squabbling about these differences?

Yes, we must, some will say. No, others will expound; practice bipartisanship in governing. Centrism is the answer, others will propose. Find a middle ground between the differences. Both sound proposals, except they are not, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred possible. By their natures, ideologies are differences of view; they most often represent difference in values. Most are unwilling to compromise their values.  Back to square one! Given this, unless the differences separating the two sides are very mild, or minimum, bipartisanship is simply not possible.  And centrism?

Well, what is centrism? A middle ground? Yes, it’s often conceived of as the mid-point between extremes. But it’s a difficult “point” to define, or to locate. Is there a neutral location between being a moderate conservative and a moderate liberal?  Is it being conservative on some points and liberal on others? Or is the middle ground reserved for those who profess no ideology? Are they centrists, in this context? If so, they will be the exception to the rule of human behavior. The vast preponderance of us has personal values and view that contribute to our ideologies, even if we don’t always recognize them.

Well, from this ideology in politics would seem inevitable. So, resigned to the fact that you can’t eliminate it, what’s to be done to address and correct its disruptive effect on governing? How about minimizing it? How? By governing on the basis of some philosophy that is not ideologically driven. By putting government in the hands of a political party that does not depend upon ideology as its attraction.

There is significant reason to believe that Americans are becoming exhausted from and tired of the same old conservative vs. liberal ideological battles that result, in effect, in divided government. This is the disruptive effect on governing, or trying to govern. The other “side” won’t let you. Bipartisanship? You mean compromise my values? Not really possible. Centrism? Just what is that? What you really mean by bipartisanship and centrism, folks, is ideological moderation.  It used to work to a degree.  And today? Need you ask?

America’s political Independents are, in our opinion, evidence of this exhaustion from and weariness with today’s ideological political battle-field. And today, Independents are a plurality of all of America’s voters.  If a majority rules, then some approach other than conservatives (Republicans) vs. liberals (Democrats) is probably a story in search of an author. What is it, politically, that might well attract these party apostates? A political option that is not a minority party in its appeal to the country; one that is interested in governing for more than an ideological minority.

A political option that intends to govern for most of the people all of the time, and, at least, all of the people most of the time seems to fit the bill here.   One who’s philosophy is the greatest good (satisfaction) for the greatest number. Neither major party today can do that, or even claim to.  It’s simply impossible ideologically. Ironically, this is how both parties try to position themselves, but in truth they simply are not capable of governing in such a populist manner. Their concept of “good” is their particular ideology. And today, Republicans have the electoral support of less than 30% of voters and the Democrats only about 34%. So what we experience today at election time is a majority “vote” that yields a minority government. That’s a democratic absurdity.

Independent voters, know it or not, hold the key to changing this situation.  All they need is for someone to introduce them to a political philosophy around which they could coalesce; to an alternative choice at the ballot box that could challenge our unpopular and unnecessary ideological status quo. Just what might that philosophy by? A government that provides the greatest good for the greatest number, manifest in a policy of governing for all of the people most of the time, and, at least, most of the people all of the time.

Want to know what this would look like?  Come back and see us again!

 

Thomas Richard Harry
October 2010

 

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