Ideology Against Ideology

This project is entitled Ideology Against Ideology: From a fixed set of norms to the Philosophical critique of dominant ideas. It aims to shed light on the problem besetting ideology. Despite an abundance of scholarly theorizing, no one has conceptualized ideology in a way that is agreeable to everyone.  In fact, most scholars of philosophy and political and social thought use the term according to their own respective definition. A basic understanding of this word includes the notion of a set of beliefs or ideas shared by a particular group of people. Ideology has many different definitions from a simple system of beliefs to a theory that advocates social change.  Regardless of the semantic approach a scholar takes to this word, it is important to understand how the positive conceptualizing of ideology can become useful for the analysis of social, cultural and political issues.

The emergence of ideology in Europe occurred at the same time as the decline of religion’s social role and the increased dissatisfaction with the traditional sources of power in modern societies. In other words, ideology emerged in the course of the struggles to overthrow monarchy and to replace it with a modern and national political system based on the universal ideals of liberty, fraternity and equality. It was in this ‘“ideological condition,” to use Eagleton’s phrase, that the term ideology emerged precisely as the critique of dominant ideas. Similarly, William Bluhm sees ideologies as revolutionary ideas which brought an end to traditional ideas and structures. The main characteristic of ideology was, on the one hand, a rational ordering of the existing conditions and needs and, on the other hand, a utopian future-oriented vision.

Later, in his attempt to draw attention to the material base, Marx identified ideology as false consciousness on two accounts. First, he situated ideas or “systems of thought” in the realm of superstructure, rather than as defining factors in the historical process of change. Second, he saw ideology as a system of thought informed by dominant relations in the material base. As such, he saw the role of ideology as justifying the status quo. Normatively, and measured against the actual and lexical basis of ideology, Marx’s conception was inaccurate. Nevertheless, it found many expressions. The most predominant was Russian Stalinism, a school that made ideology into a dominant system of beliefs, which led to the rise of many ‘isms’ that came to be seen as ideologies.

I begin my approach on ideology with some quotations from Paul Ricoeur and Clifford Geertz that illuminate the title of my research project: Ideology Against Ideology. For example: “It was Napoleon who coined the word [ideology] in its negative sense, calling his enemies, the ‘intellectuals’, ‘ideologues’; this first polemical use of the word by Napoleon, warns all against further abuses of the word. It is quite possible that the mere pejorative use of ideology requires some ‘Napoleon’—real or potential—to transform a descriptive term into a polemical weapon.”[1] This perhaps warns us that there is always some Napoleon in us who designates the other as ideologue.[2] “It is one of the minor ironies of modern intellectual history that the term ‘ideology’ has itself become thoroughly ideologized.”[3]

Thus, I question the common connotation of ideology as an exclusively critical or negative term. Following Marx, Weber and Geertz, and with the help of Ricoeur, I argue that ideology can be conceptualized in three ways: distortion, legitimating, and integration. I argue that for Ricoeur, ideology has a function beyond dissimulation and legitimation: that of maintaining group identity and group integration in society. Ricoeur calls his approach in the lectures a “regressive analysis of meaning,” an “attempt to dig under the surface of the apparent meaning to the more fundamental meanings,” and a “genetic phenomenology in the sense proposed by Husserl in his Cartesian Mediations[4] in order to recognize the claim of a concept which is at first sight merely a polemical tool

[1] Paul, Ricoeur. Phenomenology and the Social Sciences: A Dialogue. (Joseph Bien, Ed.). The Hague, Boston, London. 1978, p, 45.

[2] Paul, Ricoeur. Phenomenology and the Social Sciences: A Dialogue. (Joseph Bien, Ed.). The Hague, Boston, London. 1978,p.4.

[3] Cliford, Geertz. . The Interpretation of Cultures. New York: Basic Books. 1973. P, 1.

[4] Paul, Ricoeur. Lectures on Ideology and Utopia. (G. H. Taylor, Ed.). New York: Columbia University Press. 1986.p.311.


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