The Doubter’s Dictionary: Ideology

“Ideology:Tendentious arguments which advance a world view as absolute truth in order to win and hold political power.

A god who intervenes in human affairs through spokesmen who generally call themselves priests; a king who implements instructions received from God; a predestined class war which requires the representatives of a certain class to take power; a corporatist structure of experts who implement truth through fact-based conclusions; a racial unit which because of its blood ties has a destiny as revealed by nationalist leaders; a world market which, whether anyone likes it or not, will determine the shape of every human life, as interpreted by corporate executives—all of these and more are ideologies.

Followers are caught up in the naïve obsessions of these movements. This combination ensures failure and is prone to violence. That’s why the decent intentions of the Communist Manifesto end up in gulags and murder. Or the market-place’s promise of prosperity in the exploitation of cheap, often child, labor.

There are big ideologies and little ones. They come in international, national, and local shapes. Some require skyscrapers, others circumcision. Like fiction they are dependent on the willing suspension of disbelief, because God only appears in private and before his official spokespeople, class leaders themselves decide the content and pecking order of classes, experts choose their facts judiciously, blood-ties aren’t pure and the passive acceptance of a determinist market means denying 2,500 years of Western civilization from Athens and Rome through the Renaissance to the creation of middle-class democracies.

Which is ideology/ Which not? You shall know them my their assertion of truth, their contempt for considered reflection and their fear of debate.

Excerpted from: Saul, John Ralston. The Doubter’s Companion. New York: The Free Press, 1994.

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