Chapter 10: Contemporary Political Ideologies | Chapter 11: International Relations in a Changing World | Chapter 12: Basic Terms and Concepts


Chapter 10: Contemporary Political Ideologies

An ideology is a body of ideas and beliefs about society and its institutions accepted as fact or truth by some group. It provides its believers with a picture of the world as they think it is now and how it should become in the future.  Those expressing or advocating a political ideology want their followers to become committed to its cause and accept its consequences.  Therefore, political ideology is intended to result in political action.


   Theoretically people can pick and choose from a number of ideologies.  But, in reality, they almost always unconsciously come to accept the dominant ideology of their society through the process of socialization.  Ideologies are never totally monolithic.  Democracy, for example, can be divided into democratic capitalism and democratic socialism.  Each maintains a belief in democracy while differing over what its ultimate goals should be and what means should be used to achieve them.  The prevalent contemporary ideologies can be divided into those that are dictatorial or democratic in nature and can be classified according to the role each accords to government in society, ranging from the anarchist who denies the necessity of any government to a communist who would have the state take over all the instruments of production and minutely regulate many details in the private lives of its citizens.


   The basis of dictatorial ideologies is the belief, or actual practice, that the state should be in the hands of one or a few individuals who exercise supreme power.  There are many dictatorial regimens that practice pure power politics to dominate society.  Dictatorships that exhibit a genuine concern for the overall advancement of society, and that restrict individual liberties to achieve this advancement, can be identified by the kinder term, authoritarian, even though any concentration of power easily and frequently degenerates into the more abusive forms of pure dictatorship.  The world has also experienced a totalitarian variety whose prescriptions continue to attract adherents.  The principal elements of the fascist ideology include the denial of basic human equality and a code of behavior based on violence, distortion of truth, elitism, racism, imperialism and military expansionism. Fascism in Italy in Italy and nazism in German under Hitler during the 1930s-40s are examples.  Another totalitarian ideology that gained wide popularity is communism whose main theoretical thrust is the establishment of an egalitarian society.


   Communism is based on the theory of materialism espoused by Karl Marx, that is, the notion that people's conditions and beliefs are determined strictly by economic relationships.  Politically speaking, this means that in all societies those who own property, or the means of production, are able to determine the course of the society.  Marx believed that change in societies proceeds through constant struggles between social classes and that in the capitalist stage of modern society such basic conflict takes place between the bourgeoisie (owners) and the proletariat (workers).  Marx's theories formed the framework for several varieties of communism, many of which have been rejected in the past fifteen years. Socialism is in some ways similar to communism in that most of its variants espouse the collective control of at least the means of production of principal economic sectors and a wide extension of state activity. Its advocates hold that socialism will remedy the injustices and wastefulness of the capitalist system.  As we shall see, this ideology is not necessarily incompatible with democracy.


   Anarchism can be considered an extreme example of a democratic ideology.  Its adherents believe in the innate goodness and reasonableness of human nature and that, for this reason, law and order can be maintained without force.  They deny any need for the existence of states and a coercive government, since they are convinced that any state functions can be carried out through voluntary efforts of the citizenry.  Followers of this theory advocate replacing private ownership with collective ownership.  There are many less extreme individualistic ideologies that do not share the anarchists rejection of the state.  These accept the state as necessary to social life, but with very limited functions: the protection of life, liberty and property.  In their view, the state should interfere in human activities for the sole purpose of protecting the liberties of the weak against encroachment by the strong because they fear that any undue extension of sate power is always made at the expense of individual freedom.  The more moderate individualist, however, feels that state regulation and, in some instances, even state services are necessary to the realization of true individual freedom. As a general rule, all individualists believe that many duties undertaken by the state can be better performed by private organizations.


   Democracy connotes equality of participation in the power to determine the major issues of public policy through universal suffrage.  But equality in terms of voting is meaningless unless accompanied  with the liberty to exercise a genuine choice, by secret ballot, among candidates or measures.  This liberty implies free access by the voter to sources of information and therefore includes freedom of speech and the press, as well as freedom of petition and assembly.  Inasmuch as one person acting alone can exert little influence, democracy also signifies freedom to organize political parties.  It expresses further the parties' freedom to criticize and oppose the policy of the government to convince others, if they can, that this policy is unwise, and to offer both alternative policies and alternative slates of candidates for elective political positions.  Democracy implies fairly frequent elections and the acceptance of majority decisions.  Without such freedoms, equality in voting is a mockery. 


   For the protection of equality and liberty, democracy also implies that there must be true limits to the powers of government officials in accord with appropriate constitutional provisions.  When such limits are strictly enforced either by the legislature or by the courts, constitutionalism can be said to exist. Democracy also includes the principle of equality before the law and the liberties that must be safeguarded by due process of the law.  Its basic concepts center on the individual as an end in him/herself and that government is a means of achieving the maximum degree of individual development.  It may be freely admitted that the tenets of democracy are not always fully realized in democratic states. No state has fully abolished criminality or poverty.  But many governments have made great strides toward the ends of democracy and have met with pronounced success.