What is Wrong With Ideology?
“Ideology is an intellectual pathology that has gripped the West for about three centuries. At times, we have been told that ideology is at an end. That was said after the close of World War II, when the most ideological age yet, was just beginning. After its collapse, some 50 years later, we were again said to be entering an age without ideology.
Ideologies come in wildly different forms: liberalism, Marxism, socialism, fascism, conservatism, neoconservatism, feminism; but as “isms,” they are all corruptions of reason. And because they mimic reason, the corruption lies hidden. At bottom, the error of ideology is that it values one kind of knowledge too strongly over another.
We are educated to think that a political ideology is both source and guide of political society. History, of course, will be taught, but only insofar as it conforms to the ideology.
Hume contemptuously described his age as the first “philosophic age,” a time in which warring philosophical abstractions would dominate public speech and conduct. Legitimate parties of interest would continue to exist, but they would be stained, distracted, and distorted by an arbitrary and destructive ideological mode of politics.
This style of politics was resisted by Americans after it already held sway in Europe, but the temptation was here from the beginning. The watershed occurred when Abraham Lincoln presented the War Between the States not as a battle between concrete historic interests but as an ideological conflict between those who subscribe to certain abstract propositions about liberty and equality and those who do not. Before Lincoln began to employ such rhetoric, political parties openly pursued what Hume called “interests” (i.e, the whole ways of life binding generations) and would debate whether the States or the federal government had authority to enact preferred policy.
Afterward, politics would be progressively trained to conceive of interests through the intoxicating and distracting fumes of an ideology. In time, only the abstract principles and slogans would remain, and people would eagerly embrace ideological political parties were positively against their culture and way of life.
Rather than recognize this style of politics as a moral catastrophe….Americans would celebrate it as a “progressive” achievement rooted in “American exceptionalism.” America is the first “proposition nation,” the first “universal nation,” the first “credal nation,” and because of her ideological credentials, she is uniquely endowed, as President George W. Bush has said, to lead a “global democratic revolution.”
(What is Wrong With Ideology?, (excerpt), Dr. Donald W. Livingston, Chronicles Magazine, Jan. 2008, pp. 19-21)