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What is an ideology: part 1

Posted by Matt Walker on June 21, 2011

As we embark upon the A2 journey, it is worth spending a little time explaining what a political ideology actually is. The introductory chapter in Heywood’s Political Ideologies is excellent for this but it would be better to explore some of the issues he raises later on. Indeed, we will ultimately get a good idea of what ideologies are simply by studying them.

As Heywood points out, historically there have been a number of definitions of ideology. But he eventually draws our attention to Martin Seliger, who defined an ideology as:

“a set of ideas by by which men posit, explain and justify the ends and means of organised social action, irrespective of whether such action aims to preserve, amend, uproot or rebuild a given social order.”

This is where you need to take a little time when reading your textbook. Sometimes you have to pause, take in a concept, continue, and then pause again. You won’t always understand things first time. So what does Seliger mean? Well, an ideology is a set of ideas whereby people think about, explain and justify how they organise societies and how they are governed. An ideology will consider what the outcome of such organisation will be, as well as how this will be achieved. Hence, our end might be a healthy nation, our means might be state provision of healthcare, or for someone else, free market provision in healthcare. Finally, Seliger is suggesting that an ideology may seek to keep society as it is, change it slightly, or completely change it.

Heywood concludes that all ideologies therefore do the following:

  1. offer a critique of the world, as they see it
  2. offer a desired, future  vision of that world
  3. offer a political theory of change from step 1 to 2.

As a starting point that is very clear, and this is how we will be thinking about ideologies as we start our course.


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