THE ESSENCE OF THE SOCIOLOGY
THE detailed and perhaps wearisome investigation of the concept of ideology which has gone before was necessary, not only because the matter is important in itself, but also because it will enable the reader to discern and to appreciate the specific character of the theory concerning the social determination of thought and feeling which will now be systematically developed. The fact is that in the past the whole discussion around the problem of the sociology of knowledge has been so heavily overlaid and bedevilled by the problem of ideology which was hopelessly mixed up with it, that it has been impossible even to focus it clearly, let alone to clear it up. The greatest, or at least most prominent, names in the history of the subject so far are those of Marx and Mannheim: neither of them succeeded in separating the two disciplines which it was the object of our second chapter neatly to distinguish, though both of them seem at times to have moved in the direction of this essential distinction. In the opinion of the present writer, it is an absolutely indispensable precondition of any successful approach to the study of the social element in human thinking.
The whole ambivalence of Marxism in this respect can be seen in the Marxist attitude to the phenomenon of religion. In one of his most pungent formulae, Marx, as is well known, called religion 'the opium of the people',1 and this phrase, if it means anything, must mean that religion is essentially ideological, either in the sense that religious conceptions provide a wish-inspired dream-land into which the poor of this world can escape out of the miseries of their real existence, or in the sense that they are a tissue of falsehoods which the rich have imposed on their less fortunate brethren to keep them in meekness and subjection. In other words, religion is either a pleasant phantasmagoria indulged in by Lazarus, or a clever trick on the part of Dives, or, indeed, both things at the same time. But whatever it is, it is a mental construct which need not and should not exist, which can and should be discarded____________________