The Pathos of Politics (74) Ideology


People do not see the world as it is, but only as they expect it to be: through a veil of ingrained beliefs, opinions, and assumptions. ~ English political scientist Andrew Heywood

Prior to the modern era, politics was not something the common man thought about. Indeed, in the late 18th century Prussian king Frederick the Great remarked, “a war is something which should not concern my people.”

Before the Age of Enlightenment, knowledge was reserved as received wisdom for the elite; largely unsuitable for the common man. Leaders of both church and state made extreme efforts to suppress inconvenient truths.

The persistence of pesky philosophers, metaphysical and natural, eventually eroded prohibitions against intellectual pursuits, leading to the publication of dictionaries, encyclopedias, and revolutionary idealistic texts.

One thing led to another. People began to rely upon science for solutions rather than look to religious beliefs. Absolutism in various forms gave way to democratization, at least on the surface. Capitalist industrialization created severe economic dislocation. Scholars, philosophers, economists, and politicians attempted to comprehend and explain the turbulent economic gyre which societies were in the grip of. Some of these rationalizations matured into political ideologies, including libertarianism, liberalism, communism, and its less emphatic sibling, socialism.

French aristocrat and philosopher Antoine Destutt de Tracy coined the term ideology in 1806, which was to him the “science of ideas.” Tracy had his own libertarian ideology, founded on economic materialism, and aimed at the goal of pursuing it to the fullest.

Liberty is the power of executing our will. All constraint is sufferance; all liberty is enjoyment. Our sole duty is to augment our liberty and its value. The object of society is solely the fulfilment of this duty. ~ Antoine Destutt de Tracy

Liberty is often bandied as an ideological ideal. The sales pitch of freedom – to do as we want – has a fierce appeal to the selfishness within us all.

It is also the most pompous ideological claptrap. Society only functions because of cooperation, which invariably involves compromise. The material surpluses which afforded societies (as opposed to tribes) were only possible via labor specialization, which is the sine qua non of economic interdependence.

Instead of myth, ideology should be focused upon how society might be organized to the potential benefit of all. The inquiry begins with the role of the state.