From Hobson's Choice
An ideology is an application of a philosophical analysis to a peculiar set of conditions that may or may not apply. Ideologies include an ethical structure from which a critique of social relations can emerge; it also includes an ordering of steps from positive methods to normative goals.
Exposition of an Ideology
Marxism as a Philosophy
An example of a fully-formed ideology is Marxism, which begins with the derivation of the ethics of the social relations of production from the philosophy of Ludwig Feuerbach (dialectical materialism). Hegel was a political conservative and defender of religious orthodoxy; Feuerbach was a political liberal and atheist; Marx and Engels were political radicals and materialists whose radicalism stemmed from the new "Hegelian" (actually, "Feuerbachian") intuition of historical progress. From the analogy of ideas to historical progress, the Marxists developed the idea of a progression from feudalism to capitalism to Communism.
Marx and Engels were students of philosophy who were in a position to examine historic conditions over the entire course of their adult lives. As a result, their work begins with a germ of an idea and proceeds to accrete, as it were, successive shells of supporting evidence (the middle and late writings of M&E). Marx's acerbic relations with other luminaries of 19th century radicalism, such as Bakunin and Lassalle, was wrongly attributed to a defect of character, when in reality it arose from Marx's dedication to the kernel of his ideology. Marx had little patience for those who failed to take the philosophical underpinnings of Communism seriously.
Now, the point that needs to be understood here is not Hegel or Feuerbach, but the philosophical basis of an authentic ideology. Marx and Engels were unusual in working as a team of experts, with an explicit body of antecedent work to which they made themselves answerable. Criticism of the ideology of Marxism, confronted by such formidable philosophical underpinnings, has focused on ethical inferences of Capital plus the efforts of Marxists to resolve the Positive-Normative Paradox, viz., the proposal of an extremely difficult political means to achieve an end.
Marx and Engels had an ocean of material on the ethical side of their task: the capitalist system had created immense wealth, but in the mid-19th century was killing workers faster than they could reproduce; London's population was fed by migrants forced off the land in the surrounding English countryside. Radicals tended to focus on Britain because of its hegemony, but M&E reminded readers that conditions in Germany or France were often worse—just less well documented. No one could challenge Marx on the conditions of the working class in England, since the British authorities had factory inspectors whose reports were a matter of public record. Therefore, attacks focused on the practical aspects of achieving Communism (Marx believed an intermediate phase of state socialism and class dictatorship was essential; Bakunin, among others, saw that such a "stage" would merely lead to endless tyranny); and how Communism would be recognized (the state would wither away, said Marx, since the contradictions of society would be resolved).
Marxism's pitfall was to derive a political system from metaphysics, and rely on that system to produce a program of political action. Nineteenth century radical philosophy tended to assume that the problems of contemporary society were the result of a flawed system imposed by some malign agency and held in place by coercion. Hence, there is no recognition of a Positive-Normative Paradox; the long-anticipated revolution will remove the girdle that clasps society into its social order, and like so much water, it will fall into the natural (and ideal) order. If M&E were not already aware of the problem in this thinking, they must have gotten an inkling with their endless clashes and gradual isolation in the First International. Rather than hope, as the Proudhonists had, that a spontaneous revolution would "smash" the state and all its accoutrements, M&E were insisting that a violent revolution would have to rule for a time without laws, in open class warfare, until the class enemy (the bourgeois and its associates) was defeated. M&E never spelled out clearly what this dictatorship would mean, or how it would be possible to manage a former market economy once the means of production had been expropriated by the dictatorship.
Worse, there was the headache of the Blanquists, a political movement described by Engels thus:
The Blanquists fared no better. Brought up in the school of conspiracy, and held together by the strict discipline which went with it, they started out from the viewpoint that a relatively small number of resolute, well-organized men would be able, at a given favorable moment, not only seize the helm of state, but also by energetic and relentless action, to keep power until they succeeded in drawing the mass of the people into the revolution and ranging them round the small band of leaders. This conception involved, above all, the strictest dictatorship and centralization of all power in the hands of the new revolutionary government. And what did the Commune, with its majority of these same Blanquists, actually do? In all its proclamations to the French in the provinces, it appealed to them to form a free federation of all French Communes with Paris, a national organization, which for the first time was really to be created by the nation itself.Engel's criticism here and elsewhere was that Blanqui was not a proper socialist, but a conspirator who had not relied on the masses. But exactly how was one to rely on the masses to carry out a military operation sophisticated enough to smash what Engels described as a "dictatorship of the bourgeoisie"? Especially when Blanqui's revolution in Paris was so well-timed and skillfully executed? Aside from waiting for the true objective conditions to develop, what was Blanqui supposed to have done? (Answer: seize the national bank).
[Engels, postscript to 1891 edition of The Civil War in France] (originally published 1871)
This was a weak point of Marxism, and it quite naturally led to a period afterwards of revolutionaries agonizing over whether the objective conditions had developed in this or that country, and what segments of the masses were "politically mature" enough to participate in the dictatorship of the revolution. Leninism therefore developed the position (without saying so, naturally) that Blanqui was right except for the specific act that Engels criticized him, viz., not being audacious enought. The ideology of Marxism had applied its political "metaphysics" so to speak to a set of historical conditions that were rapidly passing away; unable to adapt to the new reality of increasingly authentic parliamentary democracy, the Marxists were confined to being a conspiratorial movement of their own, and eventually became a crunchier version of the Social Democrats they despised.
I have used Marxism as an illustration because it illustrates so well the philosophical origins of an ideology, as well as the ideology's birth from the application of ethics and materialism to a specific historical condition. As time passed, Marxists struggled to adapt to the new historical conditions, and gradually developed some remarkably perverse permutations.
Ideologies may not confront identical problems; for example, some fairly profound thinkers have harbored Christianity and Marxism as ideologies, partly by proposing a "meta-philosophy" that acknowledges Feuerbach's dialectical materialism as well as the existence of God. The case could also be made that ideologies can be legitimately mixed regardless of the incompatibility of their philosophical underpinnings, simply because the universe is too complex to be reliably understood by a single explanatory model.
Christianity is actually an ideology that subsequently evolved many philosophical interpretations; a familiar case is the philosophical doctrine of Thomas Aquinas embraced by the Roman Catholic Church, which coalesced into a dogma. Philosophies of religion attempt to devise a general analysis of the universe of which the believer's religion is a special case, as, for example, Catholic theologians tried to develop a metaphysics that proved the need for God, and proved that God was righteous (theodicy). Catholicism was thence a special case of an existing universe (as opposed to potential, but non-existing universes) in which God was a trinity, and remission of sins required the sacrifice of God's Son.
- ↑ Karl Marx, Capital, Vol I (1867), esp. Part I : "Commodities & Money." The philosophical outlook of Marx and Engels was their own, of course, but emerges from Hegel's and Feuerbach's works. For an introduction to Hegelian philosophy, see Paul Redding, "Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Edward N. Zalta (ed.) (2006); unfortunately, Redding's article inexplicably neglects to explain the dialectic, which is presented in a handy format by Daniel S. Waldspurger's "The Hegelian Dialectic" (with charts). For an introduction to Feuerbach, see Van A. Harvey, "Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach", Ibid (2007). While Marx (and Engels) were famously said to have turned "Hegel on his head," Feuerbach was actually the one who took Hegel's concept of the dialectic (of ideas) and applied it to materialism.
- ↑ The exceptional difficulty of actually getting another person to recognize one's ideas in such detail, and completing the task of arbitrating disputes through some rigorous discipline, does set Marx and Engels apart from loners like Proudhon, Bakunin, and others. Marx and Engels also exposed themselves to criticism of their interpretation of Feuerbach and Hegel, which was quite audacious for 19th century Germans (See Marx's Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right (1843) & Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy in General; Engel's Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy Die Neue Zeit ). This is not an endorsement of Marxism, but an explanation of how their work spawned an entire collateral branch of the social sciences. In contrast, the many enemies of Marxism have failed to devise an enduring alternative.
- ↑ I am not sure why Blanqui and the anarchists failed to seize the Central Bank, but I am skeptical that it would have made any difference and I suspect Engels knew this was an historical fudge.
- ↑ Feuerbach's atheism is, like all metaphysical atheism, circumstantial. The fact that human conception of God can be explained anthropologically doesn't necessarily mean the intuition is nullified.
James R MacLean (01:57, 21 November 2007 (PST))