Dogmas and Dreams: A Reader in Modern Political Ideologies

Dogmas and Dreams: A Reader in Modern Political Ideologies

Dogmas and Dreams: A Reader in Modern Political Ideologies

Dogmas and Dreams: A Reader in Modern Political Ideologies

Synopsis

Nancy Love introduces the reader to the history and evolution of the main categories of political ideology including socialism, fascism, anarchism, conservativism, liberalism and democracy. A new section has been added on environmentalism.

Excerpt

Ideology and democracy. These words share a long history. What do they mean? How are they related? Etymologically, democracy means rule by the people, or demos. Although this seems relatively clear, controversy continues over who the people are and how they should rule. Ideology is an even more confusing word. The Oxford English Dictionary provides two standard definitions. The first is descriptive or neutral: Ideology is the "science of ideas." This definition, indeed the word itself, originated with Destutt de Tracy, an eighteenth-century French philosopher. Contemporary social scientists who study ideologies as "belief systems" follow this usage. The second definition is critical or deprecatory: Ideology is "ideal or abstract speculation" and "unpractical or visionary theorizing." This better fits popular usage, which includes pejorative references to ideologues as advocates, even dogmatists. Both definitions are common today, but there is some historical distance between them. As John Thompson points out, few now proudly proclaim themselves ideologues. Yet Tracy and his followers once did just that. Why were they proud to be Ideologues? How did ideology become a pejorative term? In answering these questions, I also address another: Why study ideologies? These answers concern the relationship between ideology and democracy.

The History of Ideology

The history of ideology begins with Tracy's notion that ideas originate in sensory experience and that their origins can be studied scientifically. Tracy contrasted ideology with metaphysics: "Ideology was very sensible since it supposes nothing doubtful or unknown; it does not call to mind any [supernatural] idea of cause. . . . Its meaning is very clear to everyone." For Tracy, the "science of ideas" had positive political connotations. Ideology constituted a challenge to existing authorities. Philosophers and priests were superfluous if ideas were "very clear to everyone." And if everyone could understand ideas, then everyone should discuss them and decide among them. Tracy explicitly associated his sensationalist psychology with democratic politics. He was a French revolutionary, a defender of individual freedom and representative government. A friend attested to Tracy's (and his compatriots') political aspirations: "Ideology they told me would change the face of the earth, and that is exactly why those who . . .

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