Sen. Biden's Words; Ideologically Speaking, More or Less

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), July 6, 2005 | Go to article overview

Sen. Biden's Words; Ideologically Speaking, More or Less


Byline: Tony Blankley, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

"When I use a word, Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less." "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things." "The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master - that's all . . . When I make a word do a lot of work like that, said Humpty Dumpty, I always pay it extra."

Mindful of the foregoing, Sen. Joe Biden must have written a particularly handsome check to the account of the word "ideology," because in his July 4th Op-Ed he has the word ideology jumping through hoops and making one and a half gainers neatly into the public debate.

For Mr. Biden, "The most important criteria a president should use in exercising his or her constitutional duty to appoint justices to the Supreme Court should be the independence and impartiality of the nominees? I admired the way [Sandra Day O'Connor] approached her job: with open-mindedness, without ideological preconceptions. I would hope the president looks to these traits in selecting a nominee. When other factors, however, such as ideology, become preeminent in a president selection, the Senate itself must engage in stricter scrutiny and take a closer look at a nominee1s constitutional philosophy."

The word ideology is one of the most loaded terms in politics. It was invented by 18th century French philosopher Claude Destutt de Tracy to mean the science of ideas, but came to mean the set of ideas themselves.

The mid-20th century Harvard academic Daniel Bell called ideology "an action-oriented system of beliefs [whose] role is not to render reality transparent, but to motivate people to do or not do certain things."

But the word's deepest villainy was given it by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels for whom, according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: "It is the exploitative and alienating features of capitalist economic relations that prompt ideas they dub 'ideology.' " Ideology only arises where there are social conditions such as those produced by private property that are vulnerable to criticism and protest; ideology exists to inure these social conditions from attack by those who are disadvantaged by them."

Interestingly, in the 1970s the Marxist offshoot Critical Legal Studies Movement argued that the law itself was little more than an ideology, with the impression of the law's certainty and legitimacy being a mere capitalist ideology used to deter "The People" from seeing that the law need not be a tool of the capitalists.

In other words, for them, the law may be anything those with power wish to make it. …

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