What is Political Theory?i
This is to set out to define terms such as political theory, political philosophy ,political thought ,political concepts and political ideology, and to clarify the meaning of various specialist terms used by political theorists. It is believed that any political argument advanced can be contested from a different ideological perspective and to demonstrate the importance of political theory for evaluating the validity of ideological arguments.
The expression ‘political theory’ or ‘a theory of politics’ is familiar to us. Our question is:What are we to understand by political theory? Or rather, How are we to begin to think about what we are to understand by it ? Here, two words, ‘theory’ and ‘politics’, are made to qualify one another. We know that each may have other qualifications:
We speak of ‘political manoeuvre’, ‘political party’ and ‘a style of politics’; and of ‘economic theory’, ‘games theory’and ‘a theory of knowledge’. Consequently we may suppose that the expression ‘political theory’ or ‘theory of politics’ is intended to point to something distinct. And what this will appear only by considering each of these ideas, ‘theory’ and ‘politics’, in separation.
The word, of course, is Greek; and in the Greek language it belongs to a short vocabulary of five words which is worth considering:
Thea: something seen, a ‘spectacle’, an occurrence.
Theorein: to look at, to observe what is going on.
Theoros: an intelligent observer; one who looks at what is going on, asks himself questions about it and tries to understand it.
Theoria: the act or procedure of seeking to understand what is going on: ‘theorizing’.
Theorema: what may emerge from ‘theorizing’.
A conclusion reached by a theoros. ‘An understanding’ of what is going on. A ‘theorem’.
Now, the first virtue of this vocabulary is that it distinguishes between the activity of ‘theorizing’ and any possible out-come of the activity, a ‘theorem’. This distinction is obscured in our own usage where ‘theory’ (e.g., in the expression ‘political theory’) may mean an activity or a conclusion, indifferently.
Secondly this vocabulary centres upon the activity – ‘theorizing’ – which is identified as an effort to understand. ‘Theorizing’ is not validating or ‘proving’ a conclusion reached, it is a procedure of discovery or enquiry. It is, briefly, the urge to inhabit a more intelligible or a less mysterious world. Now, this vocabulary makes several important suggestions about this activity of understanding.
(1) Theorizing begins with something already in some degree understood. The thea, the occurrence with which it starts, is not merely ‘looked at’; it is ‘perceived’, ‘noticed’, ‘attended to’, ‘identified’, perhaps even named. The thea itself is the first account we give to ourselves of what is going on. It is already in some sense ‘intelligible’ or it could not and would not be ‘noticed’ and ‘distinguished’. It is what we ordinarily call a ‘fact’. Thus, what is being suggested is that understanding is not something whichwe either enjoy or lack completely: we are never wholly without it, and we are always liable to want more than we have. We can never get back to any ‘thing’ which is not an account that we give to ourselves of an occurrence.
(2) Secondly, it is suggested that this thea, this ‘fact’, is not only understood, but is also waiting to be understood. It is the contingent starting place for an activity of ‘theorizing’. And ‘theorizing’ takes place because the theoros is in some respect, or in some degree, dissatisfied with his first understanding of what is going on. A mystery, an unintelligibility remains which he wants to dispel. He does not know in advance what the thea will look like when it has become entirely intelligible; all he knows is that it is not entirely intelligible as he at present understands it. He has something to
(3) Thirdly, it is suggested that ‘theorizing’ is an effort to understand in a procedure of enquiry. That is to say, the theoros does not sit gazing at the occurrence merely wonderingwhat is really going on; his urge tomake itmore intelligible springs from specific dissatisfactions with his present understanding. There ismystery still to be dispelled, and this mystery consists of specific questions which his present understanding leaves unanswered.
(4) Fourthly, it is suggested that in any conclusion hemay reach, his ‘theorem’ will be nothing more than an improved understanding of what was, from the beginning, in some degree understood. Thus, there is no absolute distinction between ‘fact’ and ‘theorem’; both are conclusions, both are understandings of what is going on, but one is a more satisfying understanding than the other. And there is no absolute difference between theorein (‘observing’ what is going on) and ‘theorizing’ what is going on; both are reflective activities in which an understanding of what is going on is being sought. ‘Theorizing’, then, is being represented here as a continuous, unconditional activity of trying to understand. It begins with an occurrence which is both understood and waiting to be understood. It is making more sense out of what already has some sense. And its principle is: ‘Never ask the end’. It will go on until the occurrence becomes transparent, until the last vestige of mystery has been dispelled, until the theoros runs out of questions. On the way it is to be expected that he will reach various platforms of conditionally satisfactory understanding; that is, situations in which one whole set of questions has received answers. But each of these platforms of conditional intelligibility will be, not only a temporary landing-stage, but also a taking-off ground; because the theoros cannot prevent the conditions themselves from becoming the subject of a whole set of new questions.
Let me illustrate:
This Greek vocabulary of ‘theorizing’ was connected with what may be called an (1)‘inspectorate’ of religious, dramatic and legal performances, and the word thea stood, among other things, for something to be observed going on in a ‘theatre’. Thus, we may conveniently recognize a theoros, in the first place, not as a mere play-goer, but as a person specifically engaged in trying to understand what is going on – a dramatic critic, say, observing a performance, say, of Sophocles’ ‘Antigone’.
(2) Secondly, there may be forms of what may be called systematic arrest in the engagement to understand. A systematic arrest appears when the theoros, for the purpose of understanding, settles upon some general condition which he refuses to criticize, andwhen he understands whatever he is called upon to understand in terms of that condition.
The simplest example of this kind of arrest in ‘theorizing’ appears in the determination to understand everything and anything in terms of settled scales of measurement, in terms of quantities. Things understood simply as quantities compose a conditional platform of understanding, inhabitable and capable of its own conditional perfection. ‘Theorizing’ here is a determination to explore this systematically conditional platform of understanding. This, perhaps, is the only absolutely transparent example of a systematic arrest in the activity of ‘theorizing’. But there are other, somewhat vaguer, but nevertheless recognizably the same kind of thing: for example, what is called a ‘psychological’ understanding or explanation. Exactly what conditions are being posited here, is difficult to say; but I think it is clear that when a theoros says he is seeking a ‘psychological’, or a ‘chemical’ understanding, he is laying down for himself some systematic conditions, and that this is the meaning of such expressions as ‘psychological’, ‘chemical’ ‘physical’, ‘biological’ and perhaps ‘sociological’ when combined with the words ‘theory’, or ‘understanding’ or ‘explanation’. And, in all such cases, the occurrence which sets on foot the enquiry is merely the contingent starting place of the enquiry. The same enquiry could have started from any one of a limitless number of other theai; and the conclusion of this enquiry is not a theorem about the thea which happened to be its actual starting place.
(3) Now, there is a third kind of arrest of the unconditional urge to theorize which is neither arbitrary, nor systematic. It begins in an enquiry about an occurrence, a thea. And it proceeds by asking questions. These questionsmay be contained or limited by arbitrarily chosen conditions, or by a systematically chosen general condition, but they may also be contained or limited by the manner in which the ‘fact’ of experience to be understood has been identified. What is accepted by the theoros is the identification of the ‘fact’ of experience. And the questions he asks are conditioned by this ‘fact’. This, for example, is the case when the questions asked are: ‘What other occurrences is this occurrence like or unlike?’ or, ‘What other occurrences may this occurrence be connected or correlated with?’When such questions as these are being asked, what is being sought is a more exact appreciation or understanding of an occurrence in terms of the qualities or features which already constitute it as a ‘fact’ of experience. And when this is the case, the thea, the occurrence is not merely a contingent starting place for the enquiry; it is a necessary anchor of the enquiry.
Let me give you an example. Aristotle, at one point in the Politics, recognized or identified a polis as a collectivity of human beings, and he asks the question: What other collectivities is it like or unlike? Is it like the collectivity of a swarm of bees, or a colony of ants, or a ‘tribe’, or a ‘household’? He finds that there is something wrong with each of these comparisons, but by asking this sort of question he has tied himself to a specific identification of a polis, and the only conclusion he can reach is a better appreciation of a polis as a collectivity. In short, the conclusion to the enquiry is exactly tied to the ‘fact’, the recognition, the identification of polis withwhichhe began. He has, nodoubt, learnedmore about a polis, but only about a polis identified as a collectivity of human beings. In this kind of arrested ‘theorizing’ the condition which specifies the arrest is that the thea as originally identified should not be changed, dissolved, reduced to something else, understood in other terms or explained away. The principle here is that, in understanding it, the appearance of the ‘fact’ of experience must be saved. This, for example, is the principle which prevails in any simple classificatory understanding, such as Linnean ‘botany’: the terms of the classifications are given in the observed features of the occurrences. ‘Vertebrates’ compose a ‘class’ because they share a common observed feature. Now, there will be more to be said about this in a moment, but that is all I have to say about the activity of ‘theorizing’. ‘Theorizing’ is an urge to understand whichmay suffer various different sorts of arrest or suspension, but in principle is unconditional and continuous and has no ulterior purpose to serve. But it is enough, perhaps, to suggest some lines to go upon in thinking about the expression ‘political theory’ or ‘theory of politics’.
In this expression, the word ‘political’ or ‘politics’ clearly stands for some kind of condition or limitation or focus of attention for the activity of ‘theorizing’. And the first question is:what kind of condition or limitation does it stand for? Is it an arbitrary condition? No. At least it is not like the examples of arbitrary limitation I have given. In qualifying the idea ‘theorizing’ by the idea ‘politics’, the theoros is not saying: ‘I have a limited purpose in wanting to understand, and the word ‘politics’ stands for an intelligibility sufficient to satisfy that limited purpose’. Is it a systematic condition? No. The word ‘politics’ is not like the word ‘quantitative’, or ‘psychological’ or ‘chemical’, or ‘physical’. It does not stand for a general condition of understanding which the theoros has accepted and does not propose to question. Surely, the word ‘politics’, here, stands for an identification of ‘that which is to be “theorized”’ or understood, an explicandum, not for a method or kind of understanding.
But,in the vocabulary used so far, ‘that which is to be “understood”’ or ‘theorized’ is a thea, an identified ‘fact’ of experience. And it would appear that the expression ‘political theory’ stands for an activity of ‘theorizing’, an urge to understand, tied to an identified ‘fact’ of experience.
Now, this is a somewhat odd situation. If the ‘theorist’ is genuinely tied to the identification of the ‘fact’ of experience with which he begins his enquiry, what is there for him to say which he has not already said in identifying the ‘fact’ of experience? The theorems he composes about ‘politics’ will, of course, be continuous with his identification of ‘politics’: observing, distinguishing and so on are only the early stages of a continuous engagement to understand. But what is being said here is, notmerely that identifying and theorizing are a single continuous engagement, but that when the ‘fact’ of experience has been clearly distinguished, there is nothing more to be said. But if ‘political theory’ is not an empty expression, there must be more to be said. And the question is: What is it?
Aristotle’s Ethics purports to be a theoretical understanding of a ‘fact’ of experience. This ‘fact’ of experience is identified in various ways, the simplest, perhaps, by utterances like: ‘That action is a good action’, or ‘This is virtuous conduct, this is vicious’. Now, we hear statements of this sort being made every day. They are intelligible; we know what they mean. They are ‘facts’ of human experience. But if we know what they mean, what is there for a ‘theorist’ to do? How can they be understood better than they are understood? It is clear that Aristotle thought there was something more to be said which was not simply saying the same thing in otherwords. There is something to be said about moral judgments which moral judgments do not themselves enunciate. And he thought of the business of the theoros as that of elucidating the postulates of moral conduct or moral utterances. The business of a theorist here is to understand a ‘fact’ of experience in terms of its postulates, and, if possible, in terms of a system of postulates – a set of related concepts such as: deliberation, choice, purpose, intention, action, outcome, duty, responsibility, justification, excuse, freedom, happiness etc. etc.
Now, what are these postulates, and what is their relation to the ‘fact’ of experience – moral conduct or moral judgment – which they purport in some manner to ‘explain’? They are general concepts, which signify states of mind or dispositions, which do not, or need not, actually appear in moral utterance, but which are required to ‘explain’ or to give transparency to moral utterances. Perhaps, they might be called the unstated assumptions of moral utterance, which, when they are selected and the relations between them are explored, make larger, or superior, or better sense of moral utterances as a ‘fact’ of experience. Not more sense of this moral utterance distinguished from that, but of all moral utterances.Apostulate ofmoral conduct is not an idea which a man who performs a moral action – that is an action recognized to be either right or wrong – must be supposed to have in his consciousness when he acts; it is an ideawithout which his acting in theway he does act remains opaque, or improperly understood.
Now to understand an occurrence or a kind of occurrence in terms of its necessary postulates is understanding it better than it would otherwise be understood. This is certainly the sort of activity appropriate to a ‘theorist’. But it will be what it purports to be, that is a superior understanding of the ‘fact’ of experience concerned, only if this ‘fact’ is accepted in the sense that nothing in it is denied by the postulates; and if the postulates are stated as theorems, related to the ‘fact’ of experience. That is to say, theorizing here is not exactly tied to the ‘fact’ of experience to be theorized, but it is tethered to it; and the ‘fact’ of experience itself supplies conditions to be observed by the theorist. If, for example, ‘freedom of choice’ is asserted to be a postulate of moral conduct, then this concept must be limited to what is required to make sense of moral conduct. In other words, this sort of theorist, in exploring a set of postulates, must deny himself the luxury of an unconditional examination of them. He is occupying and exploring a conditional platform of understanding, the conditions being in some way supplied by the ‘fact’ to be understood. The ‘fact’ itself, being, of course, an understanding.
Let us suppose that the ‘fact’ of experience is recognized as the performance of a ritual, and, on closer inspection, is identified as a religious ritual – the Mass. This ‘fact’ of experience is, up to a point, intelligible; it is a combination of individually recognizable, identifiable movements and utterances. Yet, clearly it is also waiting to be understood: there is mystery to be dispelled. How can it become more intelligible? What is there for a ‘theorist’ to do? What questions can he seek answers to? Well, to begin with, recognizing this as a performance of ordered movements, he may ask himself: What rules are being followed? The answer to this question will not be achieved without enquiry, because what is going on does not explicitly announce the rules, if any, being followed: indeed, the theoros may have to make the rules – that is to say, there may be no rule book in which they are formulated. But if he can see what is going on in terms of rules recognized as reasons for what is going on, he certainly understands this ‘fact’ of experience better. But what else may he do? He may ask: what are the postulates of this performance? But what are these postulates? Surely, they are beliefs. And what the theorist has now undertaken to do is to uncover the beliefs which may be given as the reasons both for what he sees to be going on and for the rules which he thinks are being followed. And these beliefs require to be uncovered because they are only referred to, not enunciated, in what is going on. In short, the ‘theory’ of this ritual is a ‘theology’ – a set of theological ‘theorems’ required to make sense of what is going on. But if this theology is to make sense of what is going on, what is going on itself provides limitswithinwhich the theologianmust work. The beliefs he offers as reasons for what is going onmust be related to what is going on and shewn to be related. This, then, is how I construe the expression ‘political theory’ or ‘theory of politics’. It stands for a genuine but qualified activity of ‘theorizing’ or ‘understanding; the qualification is supplied by the word ‘politics’, which is neither an arbitrary, nor a systematic qualification. It stands for a ‘fact’ of experience, recognized, identified, understood. And the most extended understanding of this fact of experience is in terms of its necessary postulates.
So let us move on to understand what is meant by political theory and what role it plays in our every day life…..
Should people be more equal?
Is the state more important than the individual?
Can a socialist society be free?
Is political violence ever justified?
Must we tolerate the intolerant?
Can the majority dictate to the minority?
Is it right that the rich should also be powerful?
Such questions are the concerns of political theory. Although they sound deceptively simple, susceptible to ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ answers, when we try to answer them it becomes evident that each conceals a wealth of disputable assumptions and that the meaning of its key words is also disputable. Furthermore, the answers inevitably express opinions on what ought to be the case, rather than describing what is the case. Political values and ideals are at stake here, and choices between ideals must be made. I may give priority to freedom rather than equality because I think it more vital to human happiness, you may judge the opposite. Most of us are influenced by political ideology, whether we knowingly subscribe to it or unconsciously absorb it as part of received opinion, so not only do the answers to political questions vary according to individual opinion, they also differ with the individual’s ideological position. The practice of political theory helps us to set about answering such questions logically, and to criticize the answers which others give, by dealing with political matters at a more abstract and general level than does political science.
Take the question ‘Is political violence ever justified?’
A ‘scientific’ answer would be an emphatic negative since violence is outlawed both legally and constitutionally. But political theory asks if justification might not be advanced according to circumstance. Does not an oppressed minority, denied the freedom to state its case, have a justification for using violence? Does not the validity of that justification further depend on what sort of violence and against whom it is directed? And so on. The usefulness of political theory is that it allows us to consider such problems without always returning to the factual replies of the constitutionalist or lawyer. It frees us to think critically, normatively, speculatively or idealistically, instead of being trapped into describing what exists as if it could never be changed. A critical approach rests on the ability to escape from the existent. At first it appears that most ‘great’ political theorists are engaged not in criticism but in a permanent struggle to legitimize rulers or governments and to justify the phenomenon of
Plato looked to absolute justice to justify his Guardians as rightful rulers, Christian theologians of the middle ages looked to God’s intentions to sanction the rule of kings, while contract theorists such as Hobbes and Locke saw government as founded on the people’s rational choice. But Plato, Hobbes and Locke were also among the foremost critics of the politics of their own societies and voiced this opposition in their descriptions of government as it should be, ideal government. Naturally, there have also been theoretical apologists for most existing regimes, but propagandists are intrinsically less interesting except to the social historian, and rarely end up on political theory syllabuses.
Political theory is a technique of analysis which can be used to overturn, as well as to uphold. Departing from fact and detail, it describes and explains politics in abstract and general terms, which allow scope for the critical imagination. Political theory may therefore be defined as the discipline which aims to explain, justify or criticize the disposition of power in society. It delineates the balance of power between states, groups and individuals. ‘Power’ is used broadly here: even obedience is an aspect of power, for it connotes deliberate self-restraint by citizens who might otherwise resist the government. Essentially, power lies where resources (personal, economic, moral, ideological, etc.) lie, and operates through inducements as much as through threats and through the withholding as well as the deployment of resources. Sociologists often analyse power in terms of individual interaction, as A’s capacity to get B to comply with her (A’s) desires; political theory sets these familiar, everyday machinations in a formal power structure. However, even theorists observing the same phenomena may conceptualize the power structure differently (where liberals saw equality and social harmony, Marx saw conflict and oppression). Different conclusions result: for example, a constitutionalist who views politics in terms of institutions might consider that unions should not be politically active, while someone viewing politics as pressure group activity would think it inevitable that they should be.
Diverse conceptualizations of power therefore generate diverse political ideals and problems. The reader new to political theory might raise the following objection to the subject: surely it would be better to study political institutions rather than abstract concepts, since ideas must be incarnated in institutions if they are to have any meaning. We can best discover the meaning of ‘democracy’, it might be thought, by examining the institutions of our own and other democratic countries and extrapolating their crucial features, rather than by reading Plato et al. This raises a fundamental problem which haunts all social science subjects: which comes first, concept or fact, theory or reality? Is there an essence of democracy, or is it constituted by a configuration of the institutions observed in Western-style democracies? This is a modern reiteration of the most ancient philosophical controversy: does reality reflect ideas, or vice versa?
This perennial question cannot be answered satisfactorily here, but it provides an opportunity to define some of the mysterious labels which are tied to various arguments in political theory. Plato’s view, also associated with Descartes and others, that reality approximates to unchanging transcendental ideas, is labelled idealist (not to be confused with the more familiar ‘idealistic’ which means ‘promoting ideals or values’). In social science, an idealist approach means that ideas and theory precede factual observation. The opposing view, originally associated with Locke, that our concepts derive from our observation of physical or material reality, is generally called materialist (again, differing from ‘materialistic’, which means ‘concerned with material wealth or goods’). A materialist outlook is often associated with the empirical and inductive scientific method, although not invariably. Empiricism requires that the natural or social scientist should first observe reality and then induce a general theory based on a large number of instances or facts. It is associated with positivism, which insists that the only meaningful statements are those which are verifiable by reference to the real world; moral, religious and metaphysical statements are, as a consequence, held to be meaningless and empty.
Empiricism is the dominant scientific method in the Anglo-Saxon world. The Greek root of ‘empirical’ means ‘trial’, which suggests that the empiricist rejects preconceptions and acts as a naïve observer who makes discoveries through experiment: this contrasts with the procedure of the rationalist, who starts with a theory. The conflict between the empiricist and rationalist viewpoints is one of epistemology – that is, it is concerned with the criteria by which knowledge can be established and so with truth, falsehood and proof. This debate, although philosophical, is closely related to issues in political theory, as we shall see. Meanwhile, the objector who wants to define democracy by observing democratic states still awaits an answer. She is evidently advocating an empirical approach which would supply the general principles of democracy by investigating its organizational features. The obvious drawback is that to analyse the idea by examining countries or institutions which are reputedly democratic leaves us with no independent criterion to judge whether they are so or not. And how would this approach cope with non-Western, self-proclaimedly democratic countries which seem authoritarian to the Western observer, such as Singapore and Tanzania? It has no obvious justification for excluding them from its analysis. To define ‘democracy’ through a study of existing, so-called democracies begs the question of what democracy means. A theory so formed can only mirror observed phenomena, whereas a theory which is to have critical power needs to make reference to the ideal composition of democracy.
The case against the empirical or ‘concrete’ approach to political concepts was well put by the left-wing philosopher Marcuse. He contended that our political vocabulary has become increasingly ‘closed’, with key words being defined in concrete, factual terms (for example, ‘democracy means one-man-one-vote, the secret ballot, equal constituencies so that critical usages have become impossible. Such nouns as ‘freedom’, ‘equality’, ‘democracy’, and ‘peace’ imply, analytically, a specific set of attributes which occur invariably when the noun is spoken or written The ritualized concept is made immune against contradiction.In other words, political concepts have become like the minor characters in Dickens’ novels, each with his or her distinguishing trait. We cannot imagine freedom without consumer choice any more than we can picture Mrs Gamp without a gin bottle, hence we have a ‘one-dimensional’ view of freedom. Marcuse cited research about factory workers’ grievances in which the researchers made the complaints concrete, transforming vague grumbles about conditions and pay into specific complaints about dirty washrooms or the financial problems of particular workers. By such devices (which employers also use), heartfelt alienation is dissolved into concrete trivia and the critical element of the grievances is banished. Marcuse’s general thesis was that the concrete approach to political matters deliberately precludes the proper use of abstract concepts as open-ended tools for criticism and protest. Even if Marcuse’s attack on capitalism is rejected, his point, that the critical dimension is essential to thought and argument, is indisputable.
The term ‘criticism’ is frequently given a pejorative undertone, but in defining criticism as the central task of political theory, it is used in the neutral sense in which Enlightenment philosophers saw it, as the tool by which our reason appraises the social order. Only by taking an abstract, conceptual approach, starting from ideals or theory, can we achieve an appraisal which is detached from existing society, even if it cannot be entirely impartial. Political science and political sociology often lack detachment; political theory is important because it can offer this perspective. Such arguments may convince the sceptic that political theory is indeed worthwhile, but she may still doubt its relevance to real life. Is it not an ivory-tower subject of no interest to ordinary citizens, a subject whose detached approach prevents it from influencing the world below? Often these are unvoiced, but their role in determining the forms which political argument and Realpolitik take is crucial. Consequently, the political theorist has the important task of exposing these hidden mechanisms. The debate about workers’ participation in management, alias ‘industrial democracy’, appears to concern industrial relations but is really a contemporary rehearsal of age-old arguments as to the best form of government. The advocates of workers’ management (including some employers) see participation as a positive good. It increases the number of viewpoints considered, gives the workers the sense that they are controlling their own destinies, increases the acceptability of decisions and emphasizes workers’ responsibility to follow management policies. (The idea of workers’ representatives on Boards of Directors could in this sense be said to draw implicitly on Hobbes’ view that the elector has a duty to abide by what his/her representative decides.2) Against this, opponents assert the value of specialist and expert management, reflecting the justification of elite government which, since Plato’s time, has often rested implicitly on an assumed division between mental and manual labour. In the context of this argument, workers are said to be preoccupied with their own short-term wellbeing, and unable to make the strategic industrial choices which require economic know-how and managerial experience. By contrast, a board of experts, managers and informed outsiders would supposedly make unself-interested decisions benefiting both firm and employees.The two underlying principles in this debate were familiar even in classical times, when both government by experts and participation by the people were tried in the Greek polis or city-state of ancient Athens. The former emphasizes the benefits that knowledge and wisdom bring to mankind, while the more egalitarian principle spells out the subjective importance for individuals of having a voice in public affairs. Expertise and efficiency or participation and greater satisfaction? These rival values are incommensurable, and cannot be simultaneously realized; a choice about worker participation (or, more generally, about good governance) requires an ordering of priorities.
A change of priorities, or values, changes the social institutions which embody the values, so the ability to identify and evaluate the old and new values is important for participants in such political debate. I now turn to a set of arguments based on less reputable principles. It is often argued that immigrants in Britain have no right to be here, even ‘third-generation immigrants’, and that they consume resources to which indigenous British people are entitled. Underpinning this assertion is a view of ‘natural’ justice, which deems that being born in a country gives one a special right to its resources, including a right to welfare and a right to work. This is an instinctive or ‘gut’ conception of justice, hence the epithet ‘natural’, a term often invoked when rationality offers no support to an argument.
In times when there was little transport or mobility and people lived in village economies which were locally self-sufficient, there was some basis for the view that they had a primary claim to the local resources which they themselves processed and relied on (although there were also traditions of generosity between communities in hard times). Now that migration is common and mobility almost universal, at least in the West, and economies are not local or national, but global, how could we substantiate such a claim to natural entitlement? Anyone who maintained that only native Mancunians had the right to work in Manchester or consume its precious manufactures would rightly be found guilty of absurdity. But this patently absurd argument differs only in degree from the claim that immigrants should not live or work in Britain. A series of acts restricting immigration (1971, 1981, 1988), which turned on a controversial notion of patriality, made plain the incongruity of the idea of natural entitlement. In what sense is a ‘patrial’, someone with at least one British grandparent, entitled to come to Britain and work? Grandpaternity may be a natural relationship, but it is also arbitrarily chosen – why not cousinhood, or aunthood? – and bears a tenuous link to the right or need to immigrate. The principle of labour mobility established by the European Union has established a different kind of entitlement to immigrate, also at odds with natural justice – an entitlement which the West European countries are striving to restrict as the former communist countries gain access to the EU. If, on the other hand, there is a principle of natural justice, it might equally support immigration. Much immigration since World War II has been a consequence of the colonization which created the British Empire: the extension of British nationality to inhabitants of the colonies gave them a right, and an incentive, to migrate to Britain. Britain’s present
wealth, it could be argued, is substantially derived from its exploitation of those colonies’ resources, to which the forebears of today’s immigrants may have considered that they had a natural entitlement. Does not natural justice therefore decree that their grandchildren should come and share our prosperity? This argument may be as poor as the opposing one, but it shows that citing natural justice to substantiate a moral and non-legal claim against
someone is a double-edged process, because the notion of entitlement by birth, geography or similar accident can usually be countered by another, equally ‘natural’, claim. There may be pragmatic and tactical reasons for limiting immigration, but we should refrain from thinking that such a limitation is necessarily based on justice.
The emotional and intuitive appeal of claims to natural justice is evidently strong, but the concept collapses under scrutiny. Bentham argued in the eighteenth century that ‘natural rights’ are nonsense, the only rights being those established in positive law. He would have said that the same goes for natural justice. Malthus wrote of the pauper, ‘At Nature’s mighty feast there is no vacant cover for him. She tells him to begone.’ In one respect, Malthus was right: in no sense does the world ‘naturally’ owe us a living, even less does a particular corner of the world owe some people, rather than others, a livelihood. The fact that such claims have been established by social and legal convention does not make them naturally just. There is no justice in nature, although we have contended against the
intractability of the natural world and its imperviousness to our needs by creating the idea of human rights and, more recently, those of ‘welfare rights’ and the ‘social minimum’.
But crucial to the idea of human rights is their universality, i.e. every individual’s claim to life and livelihood – a claim which ‘natural justice’ arguments often reject.Prominent among contemporary political movements are nationalism, separatism, regionalism and devolutionism. Kurds, Basques, Armenians, Kashmiris, the IRA and many other minority groups demand, or fight for, autonomy, and many such groups in the former USSR and Eastern Europe have succeeded, such as the peoples of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia and the Croatians. The justifications for these demands and struggles all rest on an ideal of self-determination, supported by a notion of the ‘natural’ geographical, racial or cultural unit. The axiom ‘what is natural is good’ prevails. When we consider how arbitrarily and for what Machiavellian and strategic reasons many national boundaries were drawn, especially in colonial Africa or post-1918 and post-1945 Europe, it is small wonder that internecine wars and separatism are now rife. At first, the idea of the natural social unit seems valid, because members of racial or language groups, for example, clearly have salient cultural characteristics which unite them and differentiate them from others. But it is not easy to devise a general political principle on this basis of natural affinity. ‘The people’s right to self-determination’ which created free Balkan states in 1919 also provided justification for Hitler’s march into Austria and his invasions of Czechoslovakia and Poland to ‘protect’ German-speaking citizens. Similar problems have arisen again in Eastern Europe, where each country contains minorities whose ethnic allegiance is to a neighbouring state.
The most aggressive forms of nationalism are often based on a dogmatic assertion of the naturalness of the national unit. Certainly, many nations today suffer from unsuitable or inconvenient boundaries, or are unhappy agglomerates of different cultural groups (as was the former Yugoslavia), yet the destruction of their territorial integrity might have worse consequences for everybody, separatists included. In the face of such intractable problems, political theory can at least analyse the arguments about ‘natural units’, to see whether they are well founded or universally applicable. It can also offer alternative ways of conceptualizing such situations, which may be more appropriate or fruitful. The goodness of what is natural is an adage which has not lost its appeal in our highly artificial civilization. In politics, it is used to sanction gut convictions and propositions for which no evidence can readily be advanced. But the implication that society is as natural as trees and rocks is totally misleading. Certainly, human beings are part ofnature, subject to the same needs and aging processes as other mammals, but society is an artificial environment not subject to inexorable natural laws: we can manipulate and change society. However fond some politicians may be of the analogy of the Body Politic, society does not function like a living organism. So claims about what is natural in society are misleading. Equally, it is wrong to cite nature as the moral yardstick by which to measure our social arrangements: there is no morality in nature, and not much that is natural in society. One of the tasks of political theory must be to dispel popular delusions of the kinds just described and to expose misleading ideas. In this connection, it is relevant to consider briefly the other misleading idea so often accorded final authority in political arguments, human nature. Often, in debate, an insubstantiable hypothesis about human nature is invoked to refute a theory or ideology. (How often is it argued that socialism is impossible because people are greedy by nature?) In common with other social science subjects, political theory itself must make suppositions about people’s character or motivation, or, at least, minimal assumptions about regularities in their behaviour. This is necessary for a consistent explanation of political life. But such assumptions, whether covert or explicit, hypothetical or well grounded in fact, determine from the start which form a theory will take. Mediaeval Christian theorists, convinced of mankind’s original sin and depraved, bestial nature, saw the power hierarchy as the curse of imperfect humanity: heaven would need no politics. Hobbes, believing in people’s natural aggressiveness, depicted political institutions as barriers against a flood tide of violence. But optimists of the Enlightenment and after, among them Rousseau, the utopian socialists and various anarchists, viewed the individual as a tabula rasa (blank sheet) at birth, innocent of evil and only corrupted later, by invidious social institutions. In consequence, they imagined ideal societies resting on the natural faculty of reasoning and requiring no political or legal control. Some even believed that in ideal circumstances people could become morally perfect: hence they were labeled ‘perfectibilists’ or ‘optimists’ by contrast with the pessimists who thought humankind irredeemably corrupt.
By contrast with these moralistic accounts of human nature, the fundamental liberal assumption that our natural inclination is to maximize our own wellbeing seems morally neutral, until we recognize that the scarcity of resources may mean that one person’s maximization is necessarily another’s minimization. This unpalatable implication is often ignored, although many liberals contend that it is inevitable anyway because people are ‘naturally competitive’. The evidence offered is that they compete in competitive situations, which is hardly conclusive. (An interesting twist has been given to the human nature argument by some feminists who argue that politics is virtually an all-male activity and political theory nearly an all-male subject because men, the dominant partners in society since time immemorial, have shaped both in the image of their own salient characteristic: aggressiveness. Hence the emphasis on power, competition, assertiveness, and domination, with the correlative, despised ‘female’ counterparts of obedience, conciliation and acquiescence. Negotiation and peaceful compromise are regarded as loss of face in politics and political language reflects this contempt.) Arguments from behaviour do not constitute evidence for there being an innate human nature and individuals are surely moulded by institutions, rather than vice versa. Most theorists derive their generalizations about human nature from how people currently behave in society: this is by definition socially determined behaviour, so it does not necessarily reflect a fundamental ‘human essence’. Vandalism and violence are not proof of original sin – or are they? This debate is a species of the more general controversy as to whether we are formed by heredity or environment, nature or nurture. Different political consequences stem from whichever assumption is made. My own preference is for the environmental explanation, partly because of the scientific evidence supporting it, partly because of the impossibility of even conceiving of a human being outside society who could serve as an exemplar of untainted human nature, and partly because it has positive implications for social amelioration. We can change and improve our environment more easily than our genes. Indeed, the most radical and revolutionary socio-political theories date from Locke’s promotion of the tabula rasa concept, which implies that individuals will improve if their environment is improved. For similar reasons, Marxist theorists say that it is reactionary to claim that human nature is fixed; they argue that the individual is formed by socioeconomic factors and can change or be changed. As this brief account of the ‘human nature’ debate suggests, we should beware when confident claims are made about what people are ‘really’ like, and should carefully scrutinize any political argument or work of political theory for concealed assumptions of this kind. Theorists as well as politicians must make some such assumptions, but at least we can uncover them and evaluate their validity, to some extent. The arguments of the last few pages illustrate that political theories, ideologies and opinions conceal a wealth of assumptions and arguments, not always well founded, which a student of political theory is better equipped to uncover than a bystander. In this respect, academic political theory is more a technique than an end in itself: it cuts sharply through the verbiage and factual confusions of political debate to the core of beliefs and prejudices, and raises such questions as ‘Is this assumption tenable?’ and ‘Do these values really represent what is valuable?’
In common with other philosophical subjects, political theory has various inner logics which need to be exposed and a number of conventions which must be inwardly digested before the subject can be fully intelligible and stimulating. Unfortunately, many writers use shorthand to denote familiar theoretical positions, which may confuse or annoy the uninitiated. References to idealism, naturalism, relativism, etc., which carry a wealth of connotations for the habitué, have zero, or negative, explanatory force for the newcomer. I shall try to demystify some of these obscure terms. Idealism, materialism, empiricism and rationalism have already been mentioned. Most such concepts come in contrasted pairs and supposedly exhaust the logical possibilities between them. One such pair is descriptive and evaluative, adjectives used of statements or theories. This distinction was implicit in earlier paragraphs of this chapter where political science, which describes reality and builds explanatory theories on the facts, was contrasted with political theory, which analyses and evaluates ideas by reference to other concepts and values. Similar to this is the descriptive–normative distinction, which may generate confusion for anyone familiar with the sociologist’s use of ‘normative’ to mean ‘conforming to a norm or average’. In political theory ‘normative’ simply means ‘bearing or promoting norms (in the sense of “values”)’, as opposed to ‘descriptive’.
The opposition between the descriptive and evaluative approaches is mirrored in the distinction which is often made in political debate between facts and values. Facts which are established empirically are said to be beyond dispute – as if nobody knew how to lie with statistics, or present a one-sided case! Values, by contrast, are often considered insubstantial and unverifiable, mere opinion, and therefore inadmissible as evidence in debate; it follows that an evaluation is merely an expression of opinion. In social science, it is now more generally acknowledged that facts are not such innocent entities, since any framework of social investigation dictates which facts shall be singled out, and which ignored. Indeed, some philosophers would argue that the fact/value distinction has been conceptually dissolved. However, political polemics, both academic and popular, are frequently conducted as if facts were facts and values were values, and never the twain
The fact–value dispute relates back to the choice of methodology in social science: an empiricist approach naturally purports to deal in facts, whereas a theoretical method admits insubstantiable, even metaphysical, theses and values. (An empiricist approach could not have achieved the Copernican revolution.) Two other terms which also relate to this fundamental methodological division are appearance and essence. These terms had strongly technical connotations for scholastic philosophers and others such as Kant, but in the present context they denote differing approaches to the analysis of a political idea. The imaginary objector who contended that democracy could be defined by studying the attributes of democratic countries was recommending an empirical examination of the appearance, the contingent or accidental characteristics, of democratic systems, such as the secret ballot, regular elections and the existence of at least two parties. The alternative is to consider theoretically the essence of democracy, its necessary or defining characteristics (abstractly conceived) such as political equality and the responsiveness of government to the will of the people. In practice, one approach to political analysis needs correction by the other and the distinction between appearance and essence becomes blurred, but for the purposes of argument they are often presented as irreconcilable opposites, as are facts and values.
The meaning of relativism is further discussed in Chapter 2. Relativism is an epistemologicalposition which repudiates the view that objective, universal or timeless knowledge is possible. It asserts that there are no absolute, indisputable criteria for truth, and hence for knowledge; such criteria are relative to time, place and culture, and knowledge is only valid within the context which generates it. This doctrine undermines some of the distinctions already made – today’s value may be tomorrow’s fact. Relativism can be intellectually liberating, but it can also culminate in total uncertainty or unwillingness to adhere to any principle or position.
The distinction between subjective (personal, individual) and objective (impartial, impersonal) often plays a pivotal role in political theory, as when Rousseau argues that in an ideal democratic assembly men would put forward their subjective interests in discussion but vote according to the objective good of the community, thus becoming part of the General Will. Important parts of Marx’s political argument turned on his assertion that the proletariat, objectively the most exploited class under capitalism, had no subjective awareness of its situation, and so had not yet become a revolutionary force. Political theory is usually concerned with the nature of the ‘Good Society’ and thus, directly or indirectly, with human happiness, and so the subjective aspects of life cannot be ignored by theorists, although they sometimes are by political scientists. Political theory is a close relation of moral philosophy. Both are normative and evaluative and, although not all political values have moral origins (tradition, which Burke valued, and efficiency seem to be non-moral), they rely on moral language, since a value is something we would consider good, and would prefer to have more, rather than less, of. Although an ideal such as democracy is primarily political, its supporting values, freedom and equality, are as pervasive in moral as in political philosophizing. This shared area of concern and similarity of language is appropriate, since both moral and political philosophy attempt to define the Good Life, the first on an individual level, the second for the community at large. So the importation of moral terms into political theory is both permissible and necessary. Is there also a necessary connection between political theory and ideology? Ideology, as will be argued, is crucial in forming the political theorist’s own view of the world. It would be convenient if we could distinguish clearly between ideology and theory – if we could label theory ‘ideological’ whenever values and prescriptive or persuasive elements are visible.
But many ideological influences affect theory invisibly, pre-selecting which data the theory will explain, and dictating its conceptual vocabulary from the start. Likewise, much theory contains ideological bias without having ideology’s express aim of persuasion. So I shall assume that all political theory and theorizing is susceptible to greater or lesser ideological bias, and that a necessary task for commentators and students is to identify and evaluate that bias – and, of course, their own bias. The next chapter of this book sets out to analyse the concept of ideology: Part II gives a critical account of the major political ideologies and the problems which they encounter. Political theory is an umbrella term. It comprehends the persuasive and normative doctrines called ideologies; it also embraces the analytical activity known as political philosophy, which styles itself ‘value-free’. Rather than propounding grandiose theses about the nature of political society and the Good Life, this examines the units of which political theory, including ideology, is composed, the concepts. Hence, it is sometimes called ‘conceptual analysis’. It has been held that its main endeavour is to ‘clear up confusions’ which result from unclarity or inconsistency in the use of concepts such as freedom and equality by providing a clear and coherent account of their proper use.4 This activity often employs the methods established by the school of philosophy called ‘linguistic analysis’, which flourished for several decades after World War II but has more recently been generally rejected as too narrow and barren. A more normative and engaged kind of philosophy is now favoured. The other task of political philosophy is said to be to provide generally acceptable definitions of central political terms. These self-ascribed functions also rest on the conviction that even value-laden concepts are capable of a constant and definite meaning. Formulae such as ‘justice is giving every man his due’ and ‘democracy means “one man one vote” ’ summarize attempts at comprehensive, foolproof definitions which appear to be factual and to describe justice, democracy and so on in terms of behaviour or institutions. But these formulae can be shown to be disguisedly normative and therefore contentious. (The endeavour to provide such definitive analyses also falls foul of the linguistic philosophers who condemn any attempt to define values as ill-founded.) In recent decades some political philosophers have been sceptical about the search for fixed meanings and have argued that political concepts are ‘essentially contested’ – that is, that their meanings are necessarily disputed and vary according to the meaning of a cluster of related ‘contextual’ concepts, and are ineradicably dependent on values and ideologies.5 A postmodernist approach would also contend that concepts have no fixed meaning, and no meaning at all outside the ‘discourses’ or ‘narratives’ in which they are deployed. If no final definitions are possible, it would seem that political philosophy has no useful role to play.
But it can still be maintained that the discipline deals with problems that are in principle open to theoretical solution, despite the contestability of the concepts which are its tools.In any case, the logical basis of the ‘essential contestability thesis’ has itself been called into question.6 Part III of this book illustrates how such disputes may arise by showing the range of meanings which political ideas can have in different ideological contexts. Newcomers to the subject deserve two cautions. The first concerns values and valueneutrality. Political philosophy sometimes appears unsatisfactory because it fails to deliver decisive answers to political questions. It can analyse the logic of liberalism and the concept of tolerance but cannot determine whether we should tolerate the intolerant because this requires an ordering of values, which is said to be the task of the committed, ethical individual. Political ideology is an artefact, in which priorities are ordered and values asserted, but political philosophy strives to be a neutral tool of analysis and appraisal – so argue its partisans, although opponents see this neutrality as mere pretence. The ‘neutral’ approach associated with liberalism leads to the unsatisfactorily inconclusive character of much of the politi al theory of the mid-twentieth century, and its concentration on the secondary or ‘meta’ level of debate and avoidance of substantive questions. However, not all political theorists seek to be neutral, and indeed the current fashion is for more committed theory which seeks to influence, stimulate and provoke. The second caution concerns the idiosyncratic way in which political theorists argue. A case is stated and evidence offered, then various objections are raised and sustained with apparent conviction, only to be elegantly disposed of, whereupon the theorist reverts to a modified version of the original proposition. The process manifests a degree of showmanship, and the reader has the impression of receiving a guided tour of cul-de-sacs, followed by a smug arrival at a predetermined destination. The reason for this form of argument is that political theory, like other philosophical subjects, originated in the oral, dialectical tradition whose essence was argument, objection, modification, restatement and so on, and whose intent was to move rationally towards a final definition of a political idea such as justice. Plato’s Republic, of which Socrates is the intellectual hero, is one of the earliest examples of this approach, and the dialogue form was still employed in some philosophical writing as late as the eighteenth century, long after oral debate had been replaced by printed polemics. Today, the writer of theory, unlike Socrates, has no troublesome Thrasymachus to interrupt and contradict, and so she must anticipate, state and refute all likely objections to the theory. But the dialectical process, though circuitous, is essentially one of explanation and proof, rather than dogmatic assertion, and so these rehearsals of criticism and selfcriticism are vital to political theorizing. I have suggested that the political theorist cannot be value-free, and is not immune to ideological infection. Readers may therefore rightly wonder what the hidden values of this book will be, and where its bias lies. No doubt this becomes clear in the course of the book! I would, however, like to state one of my reasons for writing such a book, and to say where I believe its value lies. In my view, we in the West are all, as individuals, enmeshed in a complex socio-politico-economic–military network (which comprises states, superstate bodies and the global economy) against which there are few weapons except reason, information and intelligence. (The same is equally true of the citizens of the former communist countries and of countries in the developing world, which are willy-nilly embroiled in global politics and finance capitalism.) Our progress to advanced industrialism has created a form of socio-political organization which is neither manipulable nor controllable by individuals or groups and has its own logic and momentum. However, our compliance is necessary for its continuance and success. Compliance is as much a mental as a physical act: the ideas supporting and validating advanced industrial society must be propagated and internalized for it to survive. The study of political theory should make us more defensive and more sceptical of the justifications of the system which nourish our compliance, and more willing to contemplate alternative political and social forms. This book advocates a critical appraisal of political ideologies, concepts, habits of thought and prejudices: this in turn may lead readers to consider critically the political behaviour which certain political ideas generate – and even to behave differently.
What is political ideologies….
An ideology is a set of ideas that constitutes one's goals, expectations, and actions. An ideology can be thought of as a comprehensive vision, as a way of looking at things (compare worldview), as in common sense (see Ideology in everyday society below) and several philosophical tendencies (see Political ideologies), or a set of ideas proposed by the dominant class of a society to all members of this society (a "received consciousness" or product of socialization). The main purpose behind an ideology is to offer either change in society, or adherence to a set of ideals where conformity already exists, through a normative thought process. Ideologies are systems of abstract thought applied to public matters and thus make this concept central to politics. Implicitly every political tendency entails an ideology whether or not it is propounded as an explicit system of thought. It is how society sees things.
The term "ideology" was born in the highly controversial, philosophical and political debates and fights of the French Revolution and acquired several other meanings from the early days of the First French Empire to the present. The word ideology was coined by Destutt de Tracy in 1796 assembling the parts idea (near to the Lockean sense) and -logy. He used it to refer to one aspect of his "science of ideas". (To the study itself, not the subject of the study.) He separated three aspects, namely: ideology, general grammar and logic, considering respectively the subject, the means and the reason of this science. He argues that among these aspects ideology is the most generic term, because the science of ideas also contains the study of their expression and deduction.
According to Karl Mannheim's historical reconstruction of the meaning-shifts of ideology, the modern meaning of the word ideology was born when Napoleon Bonaparte (as a politician) used it in an abusive way against "the ideologues" (a group which included Cabanis, Condorcet, Constant, Daunou, Say, Madame de Staël and Tracy), to express the pettiness of his (liberal republican) political opponents.
Perhaps the most accessible source for the near-original meaning of ideology is Hippolyte Taine's work on the Ancien Regime (first volume of "Origins of Contemporary France"). He describes ideology as rather like teaching philosophy by the Socratic method, but without extending the vocabulary beyond what the general reader already possessed, and without the examples from observation that practical science would require. Taine identifies it not just with Destutt De Tracy, but also with his milieu, and includes Condillac as one of its precursors. (Tracy read the works of Locke and Condillac while he was imprisoned during the Reign of Terror.)
The word "ideology" was coined long before the Russians coined "intelligentsia", or before the adjective "intellectual" referred to a sort of person (see substantive), i.e. an intellectual. Thus these words were not around when the hard-headed, driven Napoleon Bonaparte took the word "ideologues" to ridicule his intellectual opponents. Gradually, however, the term "ideology" has dropped some of its pejorative sting, and has become a neutral term in the analysis of differing political opinions and views of social groups. While Karl Marx situated the term within class struggle and domination, others believed it was a necessary part of institutional functioning and social integration.
Meta-ideology is the study of the structure, form, and manifestation of ideologies. Meta-ideology posits that ideology is a coherent system of ideas, relying upon a few basic assumptions about reality that may or may not have any factual basis, but are subjective choices that serve as the seed around which further thought grows. According to this perspective, ideologies are neither right nor wrong, but only a relativistic intellectual strategy for categorizing the world. The pluses and minuses of ideology range from the vigor and fervor of true believers to ideological infallibility. Excessive need for certitude lurks at fundamentalist levels in politics and religions.
David W. Minar describes six different ways in which the word "ideology" has been used:
As a collection of certain ideas with certain kinds of content, usually normative;a
As the form or internal logical structure that ideas have within a set;
By the role in which ideas play in human-social interaction;
By the role that ideas play in the structure of an organization;
As meaning, whose purpose is persuasion; and
As the locus of social interaction, possibly.
For Willard A. Mullins, an ideology is composed of four basic characteristics:
it must have power over cognition
it must be capable of guiding one's evaluations;
it must provide guidance towards action;
and, as stated above, must be logically coherent.
Mullins emphasizes that an ideology should be contrasted with the related (but different) issues of utopia and historical myth.
The German philosopher Christian Duncker called for a "critical reflection of the ideology concept" (2006). In his work, he strove to bring the concept of ideology into the foreground, as well as the closely connected concerns of epistemology and history. In this work, the term ideology is defined in terms of a system of presentations that explicitly or implicitly claim to absolute truth.
Ideology as an instrument of social reproduction
In the Marxist economic base and superstructure model of society, base denotes the relations of production, and superstructure denotes the dominant ideology (religious, legal, political systems). The economic base of production determines the political superstructure of a society. Ruling class-interests determine the superstructure and the nature of the justifying ideology—actions feasible because the ruling class control the means of production. For example, in a feudal mode of production, religious ideology is the most prominent aspect of the superstructure, while in capitalist formations, ideologies such as liberalism and social democracy dominate. Hence the great importance of the ideology justifying a society; it politically confuses the alienated groups of society via false consciousness, such as in the case of commodity fetishism—the belief that value is inherent to a commodity, rather than external, added to it via labor.
The ruling class affect their social reproduction by the dominant ideology's representing—to every social-economic class—that the economic interests of the ruling class are the economic interests of the entire society. Some explanations, György Lukács proposes ideology as a projection of the class consciousness of the ruling class. Antonio Gramsci uses cultural hegemony to explain why the working-class have a false ideological conception of what are their best interests.
Chronologically, the dominant ideologies in Capitalism are:
corresponding to these three capitalist stages of development:
The Marxist formulation of "ideology as an instrument of social reproduction" is conceptually important to the sociology of knowledge, viz. Karl Mannheim, Daniel Bell, and Jürgen Habermas et al. Moreover, Mannheim has developed, and progressed, from the "total" but "special" Marxist conception of ideology to a "general" and "total" ideological conception acknowledging that all ideology (including Marxism) resulted from social life, an idea developed by the so ciologist Pierre Bourdieu.
Louis Althusser's Ideological State Apparatuses
Louis Althusser proposed a materialistic conception of ideology, which made use of a special type of discourse: the lacunar discourse. A number of propositions, which are never untrue, suggest a number of other propositions, which are. In this way, the essence of the lacunar discourse is what is not told (but is suggested).
For example, the statement "All are equal before the law", which is a theoretical groundwork of current legal systems, suggests that all people may be of equal worth or have equal "opportunities". This is not true, for the concept of private property over the means of production results in some people being able to own more (much more) than others, and their property brings power and influence (the rich can afford better lawyers, among other things, and this puts in question the principle of equality before the law).
Althusser also proffered the concept of the Ideological State Apparatus to explain his theory of ideology. His first thesis was "ideology has no history": while individual ideologies have histories, interleaved with the general class struggle of society, the general form of ideology is external to history. His second thesis, "Ideas are material", explains his materialistic attitude, which he illustrates with the "scandalous advice" of Pascal toward unbelievers: "kneel and pray, and then you will believe". For Althusser, beliefs and ideas are the products of social practices, not the reverse. What is ultimately important for Althusser are not the subjective beliefs held in the "minds" of human individuals, but rather the material institutions, rituals and discourses that produce these beliefs.
Feminism as critique of ideology
Naturalizing socially constructed patterns of behavior has always been an important mechanism in the production and reproduction of ideologies. Feminist theorists have paid close attention to these mechanisms. Adrienne Rich e.g. has shown how to understand motherhood as a social institution. However, feminism is not a homogeneous whole, and some corners of feminist thought criticize the critique of social constructionism, by advocating that it disregards too much of human nature and natural tendencies. The debate, they say, is about the normative/naturalistic fallacy—the idea that just something "being" natural does not necessarily mean it "ought" to be the case.
Many political parties base their political action and program on an ideology. In social studies, a Political Ideology is a certain ethical set of ideals, principles, doctrines, myths or symbols of a social movement, institution, class, or large group that explains how society should work, and offers some political and cultural blueprint for a certain social order. A political ideology largely concerns itself with how to allocate power and to what ends it should be used. Some parties follow a certain ideology very closely, while others may take broad inspiration from a group of related ideologies without specifically embracing any one of them.
Political ideologies have two dimensions:
Goals: how society should work (or be arranged).
Methods: the most appropriate ways to achieve the ideal arrangement.
An ideology is a collection of ideas. Typically, each ideology contains certain ideas on what it considers to be the best form of government (e.g. democracy, theocracy, etc.), and the best economic system (e.g. capitalism, socialism, etc.). Sometimes the same word is used to identify both an ideology and one of its main ideas. For instance, "socialism" may refer to an economic system, or it may refer to an ideology which supports that economic system.
Ideologies also identify themselves by their position on the political spectrum (such as the left, the center or the right), though this is very often controversial. Finally, ideologies can be distinguished from political strategies (e.g. populism) and from single issues that a party may be built around (e.g. legalization of marijuana). Philosopher Michael Oakeshott provides a good definition of ideology as "the formalized abridgment of the supposed sub-stratum of the rational truth contained in the tradition."Studies of the concept of ideology itself (rather than specific ideologies) have been carried out under the name of systematic ideology.
Political ideologies are concerned with many different aspects of a society, some of which are: the economy, education, health care, labor law, criminal law, the justice system, the provision of social security and social welfare, trade, the environment, minors, immigration, race, use of the military, patriotism and established religion.
There are many proposed methods for the classification of political ideologies. See the political spectrum article for a more in-depth discussion of these different methods (each of whom generates a specific political spectrum).
Today, many commentators claim that we are living in a post-ideological age, in which redemptive, all-encompassing ideologies have failed, and this is often associated with Francis Fukuyama's writings on "the end of history.".
There are critics who view science as an ideology in itself, or being an effective ideology, called scientism. Some scientists respond that, while the scientific method is itself an ideology, as it is a collection of ideas, there is nothing particularly wrong or bad about it.
Other critics point out that while science itself is not a misleading ideology, there are some fields of study within science that are misleading. Two examples discussed here are in the fields of ecology and economics.
A special case of science adopted as ideology is that of ecology, which studies the relationships among living things on Earth. Perceptual psychologist James J. Gibson believed that human perception of ecological relationships was the basis of self-awareness and cognition itself. Linguist George Lakoff has proposed a cognitive science of mathematics wherein even the most fundamental ideas of arithmetic would be seen as consequences or products of human perception—which is itself necessarily evolved within an ecology.Deep ecology and the modern ecology movement (and, to a lesser degree, Green parties) appear to have adopted ecological sciences as a positive ideology.Some accuse ecological economics of likewise turning scientific theory into political economy, although theses in that science can often be tested. The modern practice of green economics fuses both approaches and seems to be part science, part ideology.This is far from the only theory of economics to be raised to ideology status—some notable economically-based ideologies include mercantilism, mixed economy, social Darwinism, communism, laissez-faire economics, and free trade. There are also current theories of safe trade and fair trade which can be seen as ideologies.
Psychological research increasingly suggests that ideologies reflect motivational processes, as opposed to the view that political convictions always reflect independent and unbiased thinking. Research in 2008 proposed that ideologies may function as prepackaged units of interpretation that spread because of basic human motives to understand the world, avoid existential threat, and maintain valued interpersonal relationships. The authors conclude that such motives may lead disproportionately to the adoption of system-justifying worldviews. Psychologists have generally found that personality traits, individual difference variables, needs, and ideological beliefs seem to have a common thread.
Ideology and semiotic theory
According to the semiotician Bob Hodge, ideology "identifies a unitary object that incorporates complex sets of meanings with the social agents and processes that produced them. No other term captures this object as well as 'ideology'. Foucault's 'episteme' is too narrow and abstract, not social enough. His 'discourse', popular because it covers some of 'ideology's' terrain with less baggage, is too confined to verbal systems. 'Worldview' is too metaphysical, 'propaganda' too loaded. Despite or because of its contradictions, 'ideology' still plays a key role in semiotics oriented to social, political life".Authors such as Michael Freeden have also recently incorporated a semantic analysis to the study of ideologies.
In everyday society
In public discussions, certain ideas arise more commonly than others. Often people with diverse backgrounds and interests may find themselves thinking alike in ways startling to those from other backgrounds. Social scientists might explain this phenomenon as evidence of ideologies.
Dominant ideologies appear as "neutral", holding to assumptions that are largely unchallenged. Meanwhile, all other ideologies that differ from the dominant ideology are seen as radical, no matter what the content of their actual vision may be. The philosopher Michel Foucault wrote about the concept of apparent ideological neutrality. Ideology is not the same thing as philosophy. Philosophy is an analytic method for assessing ideologies and belief systems. Some attribute to ideology positive characteristics like vigor and fervor, or negative features like excessive certitude and fundamentalist rigor.
Organizations that strive for power will try to influence the ideology of a society to become closer to what they want it to be. Political organizations (governments included) and other groups (e.g. lobbyists) try to influence people by broadcasting their opinions.
When most people in a society think alike about certain matters, or even forget that there are alternatives to the status quo, we arrive at the concept of hegemony, about which the philosopher Antonio Gramsci wrote. Such a state of affairs has been dramatized many times in literature: Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell; Brave New World by Aldous Huxley; and A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman have argued that social ideological homogeneity can be achieved by restricting and filtering the political, social, and economic information transmitted by mass communication.
What are “ideologies,” and how do they differ from other political ideas? The simplest definition is that ideologies are bodies of thought which presume a connection between fundamental beliefs and programmatic action. The term “ideology” originally meant the “science of ideas,” and there is still an element of science to any political “ism,” which is how most ideologies are identified in the English language: an ideology presents itself as a comprehensive set of arguments which, by providing a coherent picture of how political life operates, is justified, and is valued, presumably motivates people to follow through on key points of those arguments. Hence, ideologies assume a kind of normative cause-effect relationship: if one is persuaded of political claim A, then political act B ought to follow. However, there is also a sense in which ideologies are “philosophies”; while not every ideology makes a philosophical claim about the nature of reality or good or evil, most are sufficiently far-reaching that they, in one way or another, do touch on deep philosophical matters. Thus, one might say that ideologies take a variety of inter-related theories of politics, and through them seek to explain and unify the of various elements of political life (economic matters, forms of government, etc.) by showing their connection to some deep moral or philosophical foundation. This lends an imperative to the political claims which follow; by showing why how or why the valued moral foundation (which could be the principle of freedom, equality, charity, community, individuality, etc.) does or does not connect with one or another political circumstance or claim, it follows that such must be defended or defeated or reformed. Overall, ideologies act as “platforms” or manifestos of political necessity or truth–and therefore, though they are not particularly representative of the full and complicated and rarely straightforward history of the development of political thought, they are a helpful way to isolate and investigate political thinking. While ideologies often have a bad reputation, we live in an ideological world, and it is only responsible to study it as such. Moreover, while some of these ideologies are much more dominant and influential than others, all are worth studying, because of the particular glimpses they offer us of our political world. This class will begin, after laying out some of the basics of the study of ideas, by looking at democracy, which many would argue is not an ideology at all, but rather is simply an idea about the organization of government–specifically, that the demos, or “the people” should be the rulers. But the many questions that idea gives rise to–which people? over what territory? by what means?–makes the ideal of democracy itself a site of continual ideological argument. Hence, we shall begin by considering the argument for and against the different aspects of the democratic idea, and from there move into those more specifically ideological beliefs which seek to use or adapt democracy as part of their overall goals. We shall also, throughout the course, make reference to the Christian tradition, and the ways in which it can add to, and thereby either complicate or complement the secular study of these political ideas.
Thought simply means the act of thinking; the exercise of the mind in any of its higher forms; reflection; cogitation. "Thought can not be superadded to matter, so as in any sense to render it true that matter can become cogitative." Dr. T. Dwight. Meditation; serious consideration. "Pride, of all others the most dangerous fault, Proceeds from want of sense or want of thought." Roscommon. That which is thought; an idea; a mental conception, whether an opinion, judgment, fancy, purpose, or intention. "Thus Bethel spoke, who always speaks his thought." Pope. "Why do you keep alone, . . . Using those thoughts which should indeed have died With them they think on?" Shak. "Thoughts come crowding in so fast upon me, that my only difficulty is to choose or to reject." Dryden. "All their thoughts are against me for evil." Solicitude; anxious care; concern. "Hawis was put in trouble, and died with thought and anguish before his business came to an end." Bacon. "Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink." A small degree or quantity; a trifle; as, a thought longer; a thought better. "If the hair were a thought browner." Shak. Thought, in philosophical usage now somewhat current, denotes the capacity for, or the exercise of, the very highest intellectual functions, especially those usually comprehended under judgment. "This [faculty], to which I gave the name of the "elaborative faculty," -- the faculty of relations or comparison, -- constitutes what is properly denominated thought." Sir W. Hamilton.
1. The act or process of thinking; cogitation.
2. A product of thinking. See Synonyms at idea.
3. The faculty of thinking or reasoning.
4. The intellectual activity or production of a particular time or group: ancient Greek thought; deconstructionist thought.
5. Consideration; attention: didn't give much thought to what she said.
a. Intention; purpose: There was no thought of coming home early.
b. Expectation or conception: She had no thought that anything was wrong.
Synonyms -- Idea; conception; imagination; fancy; conceit; notion; supposition; reflection; consideration; meditation; contemplation; cogitation; deliberation.
Political thought is branch of philosophy that analyzes the state and related concepts such as political obligation, law, social justice, and constitution. The first major work of political philosophy in the Western tradition was Plato's Republic. Aristotle's Politics is a detailed empirical study of political institutions. The Roman tradition is best exemplified by Cicero and Polybius. St. Augustine's City of God began the tradition of Christian political thinking, which was developed by Thomas Aquinas. Niccolò Machiavelli studied the nature and limits of political power. Thomas Hobbes's Leviathan (1651) raised the problem of political obligation in its modern form. Hobbes was followed by Benedict de Spinoza, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the exposition of a social-contract theory. This was rejected by David Hume and also by G.W.F. Hegel, whose Philosophy of Right (1821) was fundamental for 19th-century political thought. Hegel's defense of private property stimulated Karl Marx's critique of it. John Stuart Mill developed Jeremy Bentham's utilitarian theory of law and political institutions, so as to reconcile them with individual liberty. In the 20th century John Dewey sought to counteract the dehumanizing aspects of modern capitalist society through a freer form of education. Until the end of the Cold War, the field of political philosophy was characterized by a division between Marxists and more traditional liberal thinkers, as well as by disagreements between left- and right-leaning liberals, such as John Rawls and Robert Nozick (1938–2002), respectively. From the 1970s, feminist political philosophy drew attention to the apparent gendered nature of many concepts and problems in Western political philosophy, especially autonomy, rights, liberty, and the public-private distinction.
Political philosophy is the study of such topics as liberty, justice, property, rights, law, and the enforcement of a legal code by authority: what they are, why (or even if) they are needed, what makes a government legitimate, what rights and freedoms it should protect and why, what form it should take and why, what the law is, and what duties citizens owe to a legitimate government, if any, and when it may be legitimately overthrown—if ever. In a vernacular sense, the term "political philosophy" often refers to a general view, or specific ethic, political belief or attitude, about politics that does not necessarily belong to the technical discipline of philosophy. Political philosophy can also be understood by analysing it through the perspectives of metaphysics, epistemology and axiology thereby unearthing the ultimate reality side, the knowledge or methodical side and the value aspects of politics. Then it gives insights into the various aspects of the origin of the state, its institutions and laws.
As an academic discipline, Western political philosophy has its origins in ancient Greek times and society, when city-states were experimenting with various forms of political organization including monarchy, tyranny, aristocracy, oligarchy, and democracy. One of the first, extremely important classical works of political philosophy is Plato's The Republic, which was followed by Aristotle's Politics and Nichomachean Ethics. Roman political philosophy was influenced by the Stoics, and the Roman statesman Cicero wrote on political philosophy, expressing clearly and to the point the main Stoic thesis.
Far East philosophy
Independently, Confucius, Mencius, Mozi and the Legalist school in China, and the Laws of Manu[ and Chanakya in India, all sought to find means of restoring political unity and political stability; in the case of the former three through the cultivation of virtue, in the last by imposition of discipline. In India, Chanakya, in his Arthashastra, developed a viewpoint which recalls both the Legalists and Niccolò Machiavelli. Ancient Chinese civilization and Indian civilization resembled Greek civilization in that there was a unified culture divided into rival states. In the case of China, philosophers found themselves obliged to confront social and political breakdown, and seek solutions to the crisis that confronted their entire civilization. The Confucian School always deals with political problems on the basis of ethics while the other schools of political thought, of which there are about twelve in China, do not necessarily include ethics in their discussion of political philosophy. In spite of the existence of these different schools of political philosophy, there are still some Western scholars who refuse to admit there is such a thing as Chinese political philosophy. The Chinese people would eventually accept the Confucian philosophy as the guardian spirit of politics
The early Christian philosophy of Augustine of Hippo was by and large a rewrite of Plato in a Christian context. The main change that Christian thought brought was to moderate the Stoicism and theory of justice of the Roman world, and emphasize the role of the state in applying mercy as a moral example. Augustine also preached that one was not a member of his or her city, but was either a citizen of the City of God (Civitas Dei) or the City of Man (Civitas Terrena). Augustine's City of God is an influential work of this period that refuted the thesis, after the First Sack of Rome, that the Christian view could be realized on Earth at all - a view many Christian Romans held.
Saint Thomas Aquinas
In political philosophy, Aquinas is most meticulous when dealing with varieties of law. According to Aquinas, there are four different kinds of laws:
1) God's cosmic law
2) God's scriptural law
3) Natural law or rules of conduct universally applicable within reason
4) Human law or specific rules applicable to specific circumstances.
Mutazilite vs Asharite
The rise of Islam, based on both the Qur'an and Muhammad strongly altered the power balances and perceptions of origin of power in the Mediterranean region. Early Islamic philosophy emphasized an inexorable link between science and religion, and the process of ijtihad to find truth - in effect all philosophy was "political" as it had real implications for governance. This view was challenged by the "rationalist" Mutazilite philosophers, who held a more Hellenic view, reason above revelation, and as such are known to modern scholars as the first speculative theologians of Islam; they were supported by a secular aristocracy who sought freedom of action independent of the Caliphate. By the late ancient period, however, the "traditionalist" Asharite view of Islam had in general triumphed. According to the Asharites, reason must be subordinate to the Quran and the Sunna.
Islamic political philosophy, was, indeed, rooted in the very sources of Islam, i.e. the Qur'an and the Sunnah, the words and practices of Muhammad. However, in the Western thought, it is generally supposed that it was a specific area peculiar merely to the great philosophers of Islam: al-Kindi (Alkindus), al-Farabi (Abunaser), İbn Sina (Avicenna), Ibn Bajjah (Avempace), Ibn Rushd (Averroes), and Ibn Khaldun. The political conceptions of Islam such as kudrah (power), sultan, ummah, cemaa (obligation)-and even the "core" terms of the Qur'an, i.e. ibadah, din (religion), rab (master) and ilah- is taken as the basis of an analysis. Hence, not only the ideas of the Muslim political philosophers but also many other jurists and ulama posed political ideas and theories. For example, the ideas of the Khawarij in the very early years of Islamic history on Khilafa and Ummah, or that of Shia Islam on the concept of Imamah are considered proofs of political thought. The clashes between the Ehl-i Sunna and Shia in the 7th and 8th centuries had a genuine political character.
The 14th century Arab scholar Ibn Khaldun is considered one of the greatest political theorists. The British philosopher-anthropologist Ernest Gellner considered Ibn Khaldun's definition of government, "an institution which prevents injustice other than such as it commits itself", the best in the history of political theory. For Ibn Khaldun, government should be restrained to a minimum for as a necessary evil, it is the constraint of men by other men.
Islamic political philosophy did not cease in the classical period. Despite the fluctuations in its original character during the medieval period, it has lasted even in the modern era. Especially with the emergence of Islamic radicalism as a political movement, political thought has revived in the Muslim world. The political ideas of Abduh, Afgani, Kutub, Mawdudi, Shariati and Khomeini has caught on an ethusiasm especially in Muslim youth in the 20th century.
Medieval political philosophy in Europe was heavily influenced by Christian thinking. It had much in common with the Mutazalite Islamic thinking in that the Roman Catholics though subordinating philosophy to theology did not subject reason to revelation but in the case of contradictions, subordinated reason to faith as the Asharite of Islam. The Scholastics by combining the philosophy of Aristotle with the Christianity of St. Augustine emphasized the potential harmony inherent in reason and revelation. Perhaps the most influential political philosopher of medieval Europe was St. Thomas Aquinas who helped reintroduce Aristotle's works, which had only been preserved by the Muslims, along with the commentaries of Averroes. Aquinas's use of them set the agenda, for scholastic political philosophy dominated European thought for centuries even unto the Renaissance.
Medieval political philosophers, such as Aquinas in Summa Theologica, developed the idea that a king who is a tyrant is no king at all and could be overthrown.
Magna Carta, cornerstone of Anglo-American political liberty, explicitly proposes the right to revolt against the ruler for justice sake. Other documents similar to Magna Carta are found in other European countries such as Spain and Hungary.
During the Renaissance secular political philosophy began to emerge after about a century of theological political thought in Europe. While the Middle Ages did see secular politics in practice under the rule of the Holy Roman Empire, the academic field was wholly scholastic and therefore Christian in nature.
One of the most influential works during this burgeoning period was Niccolò Machiavelli's The Prince, written between 1511–12 and published in 1532, after Machiavelli's death. That work, as well as The Discourses, a rigorous analysis of the classical period, did much to influence modern political thought in the West. A minority (including Jean-Jacques Rousseau) could interpret The Prince as a satire meant to be given to the Medici after their recapture of Florence and their subsequent expulsion of Machiavelli from Florence. Though the work was written for the di Medici family in order to perhaps influence them to free him from exile, Machiavelli supported the Republic of Florence rather than the oligarchy of the di Medici family. At any rate, Machiavelli presents a pragmatic and somewhat consequentialist view of politics, whereby good and evil are mere means used to bring about an end, i.e. the secure and powerful state. Thomas Hobbes, well known for his theory of the social contract, goes on to expand this view at the start of the 17th century during the English Renaissance. Although neither Machiavelli nor Hobbes believed in the divine right of kings, they both believed in the inherent selfishness of the individual. It was necessarily this belief that led them to adopt a strong central power as the only means of preventing the disintegration of the social order.
John Locke in particular exemplified this new age of political theory with his work Two Treatises of Government. In it Locke proposes a state of nature theory that directly complements his conception of how political development occurs and how it can be founded through contractual obligation. Locke stood to refute Sir Robert Filmer's paternally founded political theory in favor of a natural system based on nature in a particular given system. The theory of the divine right of kings became a passing fancy, exposed to the type of ridicule with which John Locke treated it. Unlike Machiavelli and Hobbes but like Aquinas, Locke would accept Aristotle's dictum that man seeks to be happy in a state of social harmony as a social animal. Unlike Aquinas's preponderant view on the salvation of the soul from original sin, Locke believes man's mind comes into this world as tabula rasa. For Locke, knowledge is neither innate, revealed nor based on authority but subject to uncertainty tempered by reason, tolerance and moderation. According to Locke, an absolute ruler as proposed by Hobbes is unnecessary, for natural law is based on reason and equality, seeking peace and survival for man.
European Age of Enlightenment
During the Enlightenment period, new theories about what the human was and is and about the definition of reality and the way it was perceived, along with the discovery of other societies in the Americas, and the changing needs of political societies (especially in the wake of the English Civil War, the American Revolution and the French Revolution) led to new questions and insights by such thinkers as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Montesquieu and John Locke.
These theorists were driven by two basic questions: one, by what right or need do people form states; and two, what the best form for a state could be. These fundamental questions involved a conceptual distinction between the concepts of "state" and "government." It was decided that "state" would refer to a set of enduring institutions through which power would be distributed and its use justified. The term "government" would refer to a specific group of people who occupied the institutions of the state, and create the laws and ordinances by which the people, themselves included, would be bound. This conceptual distinction continues to operate in political science, although some political scientists, philosophers, historians and cultural anthropologists have argued that most political action in any given society occurs outside of its state, and that there are societies that are not organized into states which nevertheless must be considered in political terms. As long as the concept of natural order was not introduced, the social sciences could not evolve independently of theistic thinking. Since the cultural revolution of the 17th century in England, which spread to France and the rest of Europe, society has been considered subject to natural laws akin to the physical world.
Political and economic relations were drastically influenced by these theories as the concept of the guild was subordinated to the theory of free trade, and Roman Catholic dominance of theology was increasingly challenged by Protestant churches subordinate to each nation-state, which also (in a fashion the Roman Catholic Church often decried angrily) preached in the vulgar or native language of each region. However, the enlightenment was an outright attack on religion, particularly Christianity. The publication of Denis Diderot's and Jean d'Alembert's Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers marked the crowning intellectual achievement of the epoch. The most outspoken critic of the church in France was François Marie Arouet de Voltaire, a representative figure of the enlightenment. After Voltaire, religion would never be the same again in France.
In the Ottoman Empire, these ideological reforms did not take place and these views did not integrate into common thought until much later. As well, there was no spread of this doctrine within the New World and the advanced civilizations of the Aztec, Maya, Inca, Mohican, Delaware, Huron and especially the Iroquois. The Iroquois philosophy in particular gave much to Christian thought of the time and in many cases actually inspired some of the institutions adopted in the United States: for example, Benjamin Franklin was a great admirer of some of the methods of the Iroquois Confederacy, and much of early American literature emphasized the political philosophy of the natives.
Industrialization and the Modern Era
The industrial revolution produced a parallel revolution in political thought. Urbanization and capitalism greatly reshaped society. During this same period, the socialist movement began to form. In the mid-19th century, Marxism was developed, and socialism in general gained increasing popular support, mostly from the urban working class. Without breaking entirely from the past, Marx established the principles which would be used by the future revolutionaries of the 20th century namely Lenin, Mao Tse Tung, Ho Chi Minh and Fidel Castro. Although Hegel's philosophy of history is similar to Kant's, and Marx's theory of revolution towards the common good is partly based on Kant's view of history, Marx is said to have declared that on the whole, he was just trying to straighten out Hegel who was actually upside down. Unlike Marx who believed in historical materialism, Hegel believed in the Phenomenology of Spirit. Be that as it may, by the late 19th century, socialism and trade unions were established members of the political landscape. In addition, the various branches of anarchism, with thinkers such as Bakunin, Proudhon or Kropotkin, and syndicalism also gained some prominence. In the Anglo-American world, anti-imperialism and pluralism began gaining currency at the turn of the century.
World War I was a watershed event in human history. The Russian Revolution of 1917 (and similar, albeit less successful, revolutions in many other European countries) brought communism - and in particular the political theory of Leninism, but also on a smaller level Luxemburgism (gradually) - on the world stage. At the same time, social democratic parties won elections and formed governments for the first time, often as a result of the introduction of universal suffrage. However, a group of central European economists lead by Austrians Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek identified the collectivist underpinnings to the various new socialist and fascist doctrines of government power as being different brands of political totalitarianism.
Contemporary political philosophy
After World War II political philosophy moved into a temporary eclipse in the Anglo-American academic world, as analytic philosophers expressed skepticism about the possibility that normative judgments had cognitive content, and political science turned toward statistical methods and behavioralism. The 1950s saw pronouncements of the 'death' of the discipline, followed by debates about that thesis. A handful of continental European émigrés to Britain and the United States—including Hannah Arendt, Karl Popper, Friedrich Hayek, Leo Strauss, Isaiah Berlin, Eric Voegelin and Judith Shklar—encouraged continued study in the field, but in the 1950s and 60s they and their students remained somewhat marginal in their disciplines.
Communism remained an important focus especially during the 1950s and 60s. Colonialism and racism were important issues that arose. In general, there was a marked trend towards a pragmatic approach to political issues, rather than a philosophical one. Much academic debate regarded one or both of two pragmatic topics: how (or whether) to apply utilitarianism to problems of political policy, or how (or whether) to apply economic models (such as rational choice theory) to political issues. The rise of feminism, LGBT social movements and the end of colonial rule and of the political exclusion of such minorities as African Americans and sexual minorities in the developed world has led to feminist, postcolonial, and multicultural thought becoming significant.
In Anglo-American academic political philosophy the publication of John Rawls's A Theory of Justice in 1971 is considered a milestone. Rawls used a thought experiment, the original position, in which representative parties choose principles of justice for the basic structure of society from behind a veil of ignorance. Rawls also offered a criticism of utilitarian approaches to questions of political justice. Robert Nozick's 1974 book Anarchy, State, and Utopia, which won a National Book Award, responded to Rawls from a libertarian perspective and gained academic respectability for libertarian viewpoints.
Contemporaneously with the rise of analytic ethics in Anglo-American thought, in Europe several new lines of philosophy directed at critique of existing societies arose between the 1950s and 1980s. Many of these took elements of Marxist economic analysis, but combined them with a more cultural or ideological emphasis. Out of the Frankfurt School, thinkers like Herbert Marcuse, Theodor W. Adorno, Max Horkheimer, and Jürgen Habermas combined Marxian and Freudian perspectives. Along somewhat different lines, a number of other continental thinkers—still largely influenced by Marxism—put new emphases on structuralism and on a "return to Hegel". Within the (post-) structuralist line (though mostly not taking that label) are thinkers such as Gilles Deleuze, Michel Foucault, Claude Lefort, and Jean Baudrillard. The Situationists were more influenced by Hegel; Guy Debord, in particular, moved a Marxist analysis of commodity fetishism to the realm of consumption, and looked at the relation between consumerism and dominant ideology formation.
Another debate developed around the (distinct) criticisms of liberal political theory made by Michael Sandel and Charles Taylor. The liberalism-communitarianism debate is often considered valuable for generating a new set of philosophical problems, rather than a profound and illuminating clash of perspectives.
Today some debates regarding punishment and law center on the question of natural law and the degree to which human constraints on action are determined by nature, as revealed by science in particular. Other debates focus on questions of cultural and gender identity as central to politics.
Influential political philosophers
A larger list of political philosophers is intended to be closer to exhaustive. Listed below are a few of the most canonical or important thinkers, and especially philosophers whose central focus was in political philosophy and/or who are good representatives of a particular school of thought.
- Confucius : The first thinker to relate ethics to the political order.
- Chanakya : Founder of an independent political thought in India, laid down rules and guidelines for social, law and political order in society.
- Mozi : Eponymous founder of the Mohist school, advocated a strict utilitarianism.
- Socrates/Plato: Named their practice of inquiry "philosophy", and thereby stand at the head of a prominent (often called "Western") tradition of systematic intellectual analysis. Set as a partial basis to that tradition the relation between knowledge on the one hand, and a just and good society on the other. Socrates is widely considered founder of Western political philosophy, via his spoken influence on Athenian contemporaries; since Socrates never wrote anything, much of what we know about him and his teachings comes through his most famous student, Plato.
- Aristotle: Wrote his Politics as an extension of his Nicomachean Ethics. Notable for the theories that humans are social animals, and that the polis (Ancient Greek city state) existed to bring about the good life appropriate to such animals. His political theory is based upon an ethics of perfectionism (as is Marx's, on some readings).
- Mencius : One of the most important thinkers in the Confucian school, he is the first theorist to make a coherent argument for an obligation of rulers to the ruled.
- Han Feizi : The major figure of the Chinese Fajia (Legalist) school, advocated government that adhered to laws and a strict method of administration.
- Thomas Aquinas : In synthesizing Christian theology and Peripatetic teaching, Aquinas contends that God's gift of higher reason—manifest in human law by way of the divine virtues—gives way to the assembly of righteous government.
- Niccolò Machiavelli: First systematic analyses of: (1) how consent of a populace is negotiated between and among rulers rather than simply a naturalistic (or theological) given of the structure of society; (2) precursor to the concept of ideology in articulating the epistemological structure of commands and law.
- Thomas Hobbes: Generally considered to have first articulated how the concept of a social contract that justifies the actions of rulers (even where contrary to the individual desires of governed citizens), can be reconciled with a conception of sovereignty.
- Baruch Spinoza: Set forth the first analysis of "rational egoism", in which the rational interest of self is conformance with pure reason. To Spinoza's thinking, in a society in which each individual is guided of reason, political authority would be superfluous.
- John Locke: Like Hobbes, described a social contract theory based on citizens' fundamental rights in the state of nature. He departed from Hobbes in that, based on the assumption of a society in which moral values are independent of governmental authority and widely shared, he argued for a government with power limited to the protection of personal property. His arguments may have been deeply influential to the formation of the United States Constitution.
- Baron de Montesquieu: Analyzed protection of the people by a "balance of powers" in the divisions of a state.
- David Hume: Hume criticized the social contract theory of John Locke and others as resting on a myth of some actual agreement. Hume was a realist in recognizing the role of force to forge the existence of states and that consent of the governed was merely hypothetical. He also introduced the concept of utility, later picked up on and developed by Jeremy Bentham.
- François-Marie Arouet (Voltaire): French Enlightenment writer, poet, and philosopher famous for his advocacy of civil liberties, including freedom of religion and free trade.
- Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Analyzed the social contract as an expression of the general will, and controversially argued in favor of absolute democracy where the people at large would act as sovereign.
- Immanuel Kant: Argued that participation in civil society is undertaken not for self-preservation, as per Thomas Hobbes, but as a moral duty. First modern thinker who fully analyzed structure and meaning of obligation. Argued that an international organization was needed to preserve world peace.
- Adam Smith: Often said to have founded modern economics; explained emergence of economic benefits from the self-interested behavior ("the invisible hand") of artisans and traders. While praising its efficiency, Smith also expressed concern about the effects of industrial labor (e.g. repetitive activity) on workers. His work on moral sentiments sought to explain social bonds outside the economic sphere.
- Edmund Burke: Irish member of the British parliament, Burke is credited with the creation of conservative thought. Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France is the most popular of his writings where he denounced the French revolution. Burke was one of the biggest supporters of the American Revolution.
- Benjamin Franklin: Enlightenment statesman, politician, civic activist and philosopher during and after the American Revolution
- John Adams: Enlightenment writer who defended the American cause for independence. Adams was a Lockean thinker, who was appalled by the French revolution. Adams is known for his outspoken commentary in favor of the American revolution. He defended the American form of republicanism over the French liberal democracy. Adams is considered the founder of American conservative thought.
- Thomas Jefferson: Politician and political theorist during the American Enlightenment. Expanded on the philosophy of Thomas Paine by instrumenting republicanism in the United States. Most famous for the United States Declaration of Independence.
- James Madison : American politician and protege of Jefferson considered to be “Father of the Constitution” and “Father of the Bill of Rights” of the United States. As a political theorist, he believed in separation of powers and proposed a comprehensive set of checks and balances that are necessary to protect the rights of an individual from the tyranny of the majority.
- Thomas Paine: Enlightenment writer who defended liberal democracy, the American Revolution, and French Revolution in Common Sense and The Rights of Man.
- Jeremy Bentham: The first thinker to analyze social justice in terms of maximization of aggregate individual benefits. Founded the philosophical/ethical school of thought known as utilitarianism.
- Georg Hegel: Emphasized the "cunning" of history, arguing that it followed a rational trajectory, even while embodying seemingly irrational forces; influenced Marx, Nietzsche, and Oakeschott.
Joseph Proudhon considered the father of anarchism
- John Stuart Mill: A utilitarian, and the person who named the system; he goes further than Bentham by laying the foundation for liberal democratic thought in general and modern, as opposed to classical, liberalism in particular. Articulated the place of individual liberty in an otherwise utilitarian framework.
- Thomas Hill Green: modern liberal thinker and early supporter of positive freedom.
- Karl Marx: In large part, added the historical dimension to an understanding of society, culture and economics. Created the concept of ideology in the sense of (true or false) beliefs that shape and control social actions. Analyzed the fundamental nature of class as a mechanism of governance and social interaction.
- Martin Heidegger: Distilled, in his seminal book Being and Time, his view of the three possible political "systems" of the future, after nihilism has pervaded the world: Americanism, Marxism, and Nazism.
- Carl Schmitt: German political theorist, loosely tied to the Nazis, who developed the concepts of the Friend/Enemy Distinction and the State of Exception. Though his most influential books were written in the 1920s, he continued to write prolifically until his death (in academic quasi-exile) in 1985. He heavily influenced 20th century political philosophy both within the Frankfurt School and among others as diverse as Jacques Derrida, Hannah Arendt, and Giorgio Agamben. Much of his extensive bibliography remains to be translated.
- Giovanni Gentile: Known as the 'Philosopher of Fascism' and ghostwrote the Doctrine of Fascism with Benito Mussolini and argued that the Fascist State is an ethical and educational state and that the individual should put the interests of the State first.
- John Dewey: Co-founder of pragmatism and analyzed the essential role of education in the maintenance of democratic government.
- Franz Leopold Neumann: Jewish German expatriate, highly relevant in denazification and famed for his posthumously published The Democratic and Authoritarian State, which ends with a chapter (Anxiety in Politics) which analyzes the extent and kind of fear present in states.
- Antonio Gramsci: Instigated the concepts hegemony and social formation. Fused the ideas of Marx, Engels, Spinoza and others within the so-called dominant ideology thesis (the ruling ideas of society are the ideas of its rulers).
- Herbert Marcuse: One of the principal thinkers within the Frankfurt School, and generally important in efforts to fuse the thought of Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx. Introduced the concept of repressive desublimation, in which social control can operate not only by direct control, but also by manipulation of desire. Analyzed the role of advertising and propaganda in societal consensus.
- Friedrich Hayek: He argued that central planning was inefficient because members of central bodies could not know enough to match the preferences of consumers and workers with existing conditions. Hayek further argued that central economic planning - a mainstay of socialism - would lead to a "total' state with dangerous power. He advocated free-market capitalism in which the main role of the state is to maintain the rule of law and let the spontaneous order develop.
- Hannah Arendt: Analyzed the roots of totalitarianism and introduced the concept of the "banality of evil" (how ordinary technocratic rationality comes to deplorable fruition). Brought distinctive elements of and revisions to the philosophy of Martin Heidegger into political thought.
- Isaiah Berlin: Developed the distinction between positive and negative liberty
- Leo Strauss: Strauss is known for his writings on the classical and modern philosophers and for denouncing modern politics.
- John Rawls: Revitalised the study of normative political philosophy in Anglo-American universities with his 1971 book A Theory of Justice, which uses a version of social contract theory to answer fundamental questions about justice and to criticise utilitarianism.
- Robert Nozick: Criticized Rawls, and argued for libertarianism, by appeal to a hypothetical history of the state and of property.
- Michael Oakeshott: Provided a conservative philosophy anchored in history and Hegelianism.
- William E. Connolly: Introduced post modern philosophy into political theory, and promoted new theories of pluralism and agonistic democracy.
Some notable contemporary political philosophers are Amy Gutmann, William E. Connolly, Seyla Benhabib,James Buchanan G.A. Cohen, George Kateb, Wendy Brown, Stephen Macedo, Martha Nussbaum, Ronald Dworkin, Thomas Pogge, Philip Pettit, Raymond Geuss, Will Kymlicka, James Tully, Charles Taylor, Philippe Van Parijs, Michael Walzer, Sheldon Wolin, Jacques Derrida, Talal Asad, and Giorgio Agamben, Thomas Scanlon
A concept (abstract term: conception) is a cognitive unit of meaning—an abstract idea or a mental symbol sometimes defined as a "unit of knowledge," built from other units which act as a concept's characteristics. A concept is typically associated with a corresponding representation in a language or symbology such as a single meaning of a term.
There are prevailing theories in contemporary philosophy which attempt to explain the nature of concepts. The representational theory of mind proposes that concepts are mental representations, while the semantic theory of concepts (originating with Frege's distinction between concept and object) holds that they are abstract objects. Ideas are taken to be concepts, although abstract concepts do not necessarily appear to the mind as images as some ideas do. Many philosophers consider concepts to be a fundamental ontological category of being.
The meaning of "concept" is explored in mainstream cognitive science, metaphysics, and philosophy of mind. The term "concept" is traced back to 1554–60 (Latin conceptum - "something conceived"), but what is today termed "the classical theory of concepts" is the theory of Aristotle on the definition of terms
Origin and acquisition of concepts
A posterior abstractions
John Locke's description of a general idea corresponds to a description of a concept. According to Locke, a general idea is created by abstracting, drawing away, or removing the common characteristic or characteristics from several particular ideas. This common characteristic is that which is similar to all of the different individuals. For example, the abstract general idea or concept that is designated by the word "red" is that characteristic which is common to apples, cherries, and blood. The abstract general idea or concept that is signified by the word "dog" is the collection of those characteristics which are common to Airedales, Collies, and Chihuahuas.
In the same tradition as Locke, John Stuart Mill stated that general conceptions are formed through abstraction. A general conception is the common element among the many images of members of a class. "...[W]hen we form a set of phenomena into a class, that is, when we compare them with one another to ascertain in what they agree, some general conception is implied in this mental operation" (A System of Logic, Book IV, Ch. II). Mill did not believe that concepts exist in the mind before the act of abstraction. "It is not a law of our intellect, that, in comparing things with each other and taking note of their agreement, we merely recognize as realized in the outward world something that we already had in our minds. The conception originally found its way to us as the result of such a comparison. It was obtained (in metaphysical phrase) by abstraction from individual things" .
For Schopenhauer, empirical concepts "...are mere abstractions from what is known through intuitive perception, and they have arisen from our arbitrarily thinking away or dropping of some qualities and our retention of others." (Parerga and Paralipomena, Vol. I, "Sketch of a History of the Ideal and the Real"). In his On the Will in Nature, "Physiology and Pathology," Schopenhauer said that a concept is "drawn off from previous images ... by putting off their differences. This concept is then no longer intuitively perceptible, but is denoted and fixed merely by words." Nietzsche, who was heavily influenced by Schopenhauer, wrote: "Every concept originates through our equating what is unequal. No leaf ever wholly equals another, and the concept 'leaf' is formed through an arbitrary abstraction from these individual differences, through forgetting the distinctions..."
By contrast to the above philosophers, Immanuel Kant held that the account of the concept as an abstraction of experience is only partly correct. He called those concepts that result of abstraction "a posteriori concepts" (meaning concepts that arise out of experience). An empirical or an a posteriori concept is a general representation (Vorstellung) or non-specific thought of that which is common to several specific perceived objects .
A concept is a common feature or characteristic. Kant investigated the way that empirical a posteriori concepts are created.
Kant's description of the making of a concept has been paraphrased as "...to conceive is essentially to think in abstraction what is common to a plurality of possible instances..." (H.J. Paton, Kant's Metaphysics of Experience, I, 250). In his discussion of Kant, Christopher Janaway wrote: "...generic concepts are formed by abstraction from more than one species."
A priori concepts
Kant declared that human minds possess pure or a priori concepts. Instead of being abstracted from individual perceptions, like empirical concepts, they originate in the mind itself. He called these concepts categories, in the sense of the word that means predicate, attribute, characteristic, or quality. But these pure categories are predicates of things in general, not of a particular thing. According to Kant, there are 12 categories that constitute the understanding of phenomenal objects. Each category is that one predicate which is common to multiple empirical concepts. In order to explain how an a priori concept can relate to individual phenomena, in a manner analogous to an a posteriori concept, Kant employed the technical concept of the schema.
It seems intuitively obvious that concepts must have some kind of structure. Up until recently, the dominant view of conceptual structure was a containment model, associated with the classical view of concepts. According to this model, a concept is endowed with certain necessary and sufficient conditions in their description which unequivocally determine an extension. The containment model allows for no degrees; a thing is either in, or out, of the concept's extension. By contrast, the inferential model understands conceptual structure to be determined in a graded manner, according to the tendency of the concept to be used in certain kinds of inferences. As a result, concepts do not have a kind of structure that is in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions; all conditions are contingent .
However, some theorists claim that primitive concepts lack any structure at all. For instance, Jerry Fodor presents his Asymmetric Dependence Theory as a way of showing how a primitive concept's content is determined by a reliable relationship between the information in mental contents and the world. These sorts of claims are referred to as "atomistic", because the primitive concept is treated as if it were a genuine atom.
Content as pragmatic role
In cognitive linguistics, abstract concepts are transformations of concrete concepts derived from embodied experience. The mechanism of transformation is structural mapping, in which properties of two or more source domains are selectively mapped onto a blended space (Fauconnier & Turner, 1995; see conceptual blending). A common class of blends are metaphors. This theory contrasts with the rationalist view that concepts are perceptions (or recollections, in Plato's term) of an independently existing world of ideas, in that it denies the existence of any such realm. It also contrasts with the empiricist view that concepts are abstract generalizations of individual experiences, because the contingent and bodily experience is preserved in a concept, and not abstracted away. While the perspective is compatible with Jamesian pragmatism (above), the notion of the transformation of embodied concepts through structural mapping makes a distinct contribution to the problem of concept formation.
Concepts and metaphilosophy
A long and well-established tradition philosophy posits that philosophy itself is nothing more than conceptual analysis. This view has its proponents in contemporary literature as well as historical. According to Deleuze and Guattari's What Is Philosophy? (1991), philosophy is the activity of creating concepts. This creative activity differs from previous definitions of philosophy as simple reasoning, communication or contemplation of universals. Concepts are specific to philosophy: science creates "functions", and art "sensations". A concept is always signed: thus, Descartes' Cogito or Kant's "transcendental". It is a singularity, not universal, and connects itself with others concepts, on a "plane of immanence" traced by a particular philosophy. Concepts can jump from one plane of immanence to another, combining with other concepts and therefore engaging in a "becoming-Other."
Concepts in epistemology
Concepts are vital to the development of scientific knowledge. For example, it would be difficult to imagine physics without concepts like: energy, force, or acceleration. Concepts help to integrate apparently unrelated observations and phenomena into viable hypotheses and theories, the basic ingredients of science. The concept map is a tool that is used to help researchers visualize the inter-relationships between various concepts.
Ontology of concepts
Although the mainstream literature in cognitive science regards the concept as a kind of mental particular, it has been suggested by some theorists that concepts are real things . In most radical form, the realist about concepts attempts to show that the supposedly mental processes are not mental at all; rather, they are abstract entities, which are just as real as any mundane object.
Plato was the starkest proponent of the realist thesis of universal concepts. By his view, concepts (and ideas in general) are innate ideas that were instantiations of a transcendental world of pure forms that lay behind the veil of the physical world. In this way, universals were explained as transcendent objects. Needless to say this form of realism was tied deeply with Plato's ontological projects. This remark on Plato is not of merely historical interest. For example, the view that numbers are Platonic objects was revived by Kurt Gödel as a result of certain puzzles that he took to arise from the phenomenological accounts.
Gottlob Frege, founder of the analytic tradition in philosophy, famously argued for the analysis of language in terms of sense and reference. For him, the sense of an expression in language describes a certain state of affairs in the world, namely, the way that some object is presented. Since many commentators view the notion of sense as identical to the notion of concept, and Frege regards senses as the linguistic representations of states of affairs in the world, it seems to follow that we may understand concepts as the manner in which we grasp the world. Accordingly, concepts (as senses) have an ontological status .
According to Carl Benjamin Boyer, in the introduction to his The History of the Calculus and its Conceptual Development, concepts in calculus do not refer to perceptions. As long as the concepts are useful and mutually compatible, they are accepted on their own. For example, the concepts of the derivative and the integral are not considered to refer to spatial or temporal perceptions of the external world of experience. Neither are they related in any way to mysterious limits in which quantities are on the verge of nascence or evanescence, that is, coming into or going out of appearance or existence. The abstract concepts are now considered to be totally autonomous, even though they originated from the process of abstracting or taking away qualities from perceptions until only the common, essential attributes remained.
Concepts in Empirical Investigations
Concepts, as abstract units of meaning, play a key role in the development and testing of theories. For example, a simple relational hypothesis can be viewed as either a conceptual hypothesis (where the abstract concepts form the meaning) or an operationalized hypothesis, which is situated in the real world by rules of interpretation. For example, take the simple hypothesis Education increases Income. The abstract notion of education and income (concepts) could have many meanings. A conceptual hypothesis cannot be tested. They need to be converted into operational hypothesis or the abstract meaning of education must be derived or operationalized to something in the real world that can be measured. Education could be measured by “years of school completed” or “highest degree completed” etc. Income could be measured by “hourly rate of pay” or “yearly salary” etc. The system of concepts or conceptual framework can take on many levels of complexity. When the conceptual framework is very complex and incorporates causality or explanation they are generally referred to as a theory. Noted philosopher of science Carl Gustav Hempel says this more eloquently “An adequate empirical interpretation turns a theoretical system into a testable theory: The hypothesis whose constituent terms have been interpreted become capable of test by reference to observable phenomena. Frequently the interpreted hypothesis will be derivative hypotheses of the theory; but their confirmation or disconfirmation by empirical data will then immediately strengthen or weaken also the primitive hypotheses from which they were derived.”
Hempel provides a useful metaphor that describes the relationship between the conceptual framework and the framework as it is observed and perhaps tested (interpreted framework). “The whole system floats, as it were, above the plane of observation and is anchored to it by rules of interpretation. These might be viewed as strings which are not part of the network but link certain points of the latter with specific places in the plane of observation. By virtue of those interpretative connections, the network can function as a scientific theory”.
Concepts, as abstract units of meaning, play a key role in the development and testing of theories in political enquiries. Concepts are vital to the development of scientific knowledge of politics.Concepts of state,sovereignty,power etc are key tools to analyse the every day life of people in every society.