What is ideology?
Ideology can be defined as a set of ideas and practices which is conceived to bring about social-political, economic, or cultural changes in the ways of perception along with implementing certain changes that entail it. The term ideology was coined by Antoine Destutt de Tracy, is French philosopher, he coined this term in the 18th century, he used the term to denote what he called the ‘science of ideas’ which was the study of nature and origin or the knowledge about things. There are two main types of ideologies: political ideologies, and epistemological ideologies.
Ideology shapes our actions, thoughts, interactions, etc. which in turn shapes the processes of society. An ideology often stems out of the social structure and is expressive of the social interests of the society.
We use the term ideology today to refer to the political ideas of those in power, which thus becomes the dominant ideology of society.
E.g. democracy is a political ideology which we see in practice in India today, a totalitarian regime follows the ideology of totalitarianism as in the Soviet Union under the leadership of Joseph Stalin. When we look back at the past scholars we find that Karl Marx was the first of the scholars to give a theoretical understanding of the term ideology in the discipline of sociology. Marx said that the ideology would arise out of the mode of production of the society, the focus of his study was the societies where capitalism was the mode of production.
His theory was formed on the idea that in the society there was base/substructure and the superstructure, while the base was the relation of production the superstructure consisted of the culture, institutions, political power structures, etc of the society. This superstructure grew out of the base and was often representative of the class interests and what Marx has called the dominant ideology, which is the ideology of the owner class or the bourgeois. According to Marx the base and the superstructure had a dialectical relationship, the effect one another and the dominant ideology is imposed on the working class, once the working class becomes aware of this ideology, they will act on it, which will lead to class consciousness, thus leading to a revolution.
Much of Marx’s ideology is based on the occurrence of this revolution which is based on the shift of ideology. Thus it can be said that the ideology has the power to form an entire basis on which the social processes can be based on.
We see that the ideology in the United States is the one that supports a capitalist society, similarly, the ideology will be different for India, and for other countries and will not be the same for all societies, as they are based on how the society is structured to a very large extent.
It can be in a way understood that ideology tends to explain the phenomenon which has occurred or is occurring and aims to bring about an alternative to understand and work on the socio-political situation. For example- After World War I when Germany lost, then there was a major ideological shift among the people which was reflected in their government too. After the democratic party lost Nazism took up the reins of Germany reflecting the positional and the ideological shift of the country’s outlook.
Ideology, more specifically political ideology, should not be understood as something singular but instead more of a spectrum. Each ideology contains certain notions towards issues like rights, duties, laws, and liberties and these specific takes on these issues become components of this spectrum under political ideologies like- capitalism, libertarianism, feminism, etc.
This spectrum is most often than not simplified into the left-right spectrum. Both left and right signifying the extremes of the spectrum especially when it comes to striking a balance between the power of the individual and the power of the government. The intermediate ideology is called centrism.
Right ideology can be defined as one end of the political ideology spectrum which is characteristically defined by the notions of nationalism, authority, hierarchy, and traditionalism. There are various categories that are utilised to define the right ideology like conservatives right- imperialists, fascists and traditionalists each displaying varying amount fright wing politics and upholding those beliefs. For example- Germany under Hitler’s rule displayed fascism which curtailed rights extremely and let one man be at the helm of all power. On the other hand, the Republicans of America are often compared with being traditionalists due to their belief in the norms of Christianity and the Church. Its economic features can be defined by encouraging the least possible intervention by the government in economic markets and encouraging a laissez-faire economy where the individual takes up the onus to conduct their own transactions within minimal to absolutely no state intervention. For example- if a person wants to be involved in trade and conduct their own business and earn profits it is their discretion how they choose to start the business and build its customer base. The government has no say in the same and the individual can control whatever they choose to. Culturally the right adheres to a strict policy of sticking with traditionalism and the norms of the society by preserving the notions of the past. For example- In Egypt abortion is prevented as a whole, often in most societies, abortion is considered as a means to disintegrate the family unit and is thus prevented.
Left ideology on the other hand lies on the opposite side of the spectrum and principally is opposite to exactly what right ideology stands for. Left ideology entails the principles of freedom equality, reform, and internationalism. Economically, the left ideology stands for central planning and adequate government intervention ensuring a welfare state and protectionism. For example- In India, we have the concept of reservation and it is because for several generations SC’s, ST’s and OBC’s have been oppressed and deprived of economic powers and thus through these schemes the government aims to bring all of them around the same level. Culturally, the left ideology aligns with the fact that there should be a sense of progression and equality. For example- the several pride marches and LGBTQIA+ movements are supported by most of the left parties across the world. The left has always emphasised on the separation of state and religion and highlights the importance of secularism. For example- In India through the 42nd Amendment the term ‘secular’ was added to ensure that the country adheres to no specific religion while creating laws and the public and private spheres are separate.
Centrist ideology falls somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. It aims to highlight the pros and the cons of both extreme ideologies and tries to define itself through moderation. Centrism only arises from a very relational context and arises to strike a balance between the two extreme ideologies. For example- National People’s Party which was formed in India aimed to have centrism as its core value and has significant influence over the Northeast especially Meghalaya. It is also significantly fluid as it is more contextual in nature and the policies or laws which are aligning to the centrist position is often subject to change and alteration depending on the situation and the circumstances within which it was created. In recent days also the ideology has biome significantly popular due to its moderate take on issues and seems to align with a vast majority of the people. This trend has been specifically observed in the post cold war era which encourages both democracy and capitalism to thrive. It must also be noted that most people often adhere to this ideology specifically when capitalism has created a massive ‘middle class’ whose needs are best looked after by the centrist perspectives. This is also more all-encompassing in nature as it applies to not just one specific constituency or situation but extends to a larger area.
All three ideologies have cropped up at varying times describing the needs of the society and the immediate situations the people had to tackle and encounter. While neither right ideology nor left ideology has been historical successes ( as observed for Hitler in the case of right-wing politics and Stalin for left-wing politics) a number of scholars believe that the way forward is centrism. Centrism brings with itself a sense of balance that aspires to bridge the extremities and work on situations to ensure that adequate measures are being undertaken. However, it must be noted that ideology is not simply categorised under three banners and centrism is not exactly the solution for a lot of issues as post-truth and mainstreaming of ideologies along with effects of media has made this spectrum even more complex and the politics even more dynamic.