DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-S030-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved April 18, 2019, from

3. Ideology, political science and culture

Ultimately, Mannheim too sought to transcend ideology, accepting its inevitability but arguing, somewhat unsatisfactorily, for a new objectivity alongside it. Mid-twentieth-century political scientists, while heavily influenced by Mannheim’s concentration on ideology as an ubiquitous social and political given, had no such epistemological and critical aspirations, and approached their subject-matter both as a conscious, empirically ascertainable product of politico-social groups, and as capable of rational assessment by external analysts. Furthermore, the location of ideology as the product of groups in specific historical situations was played down through employing a neo-positivist, individualist methodology. In particular, US political science adopted a functional approach, concentrating on the concrete phenomenon of ideologies rather than the category of ideology, and regarding them as necessary, often socially beneficial, and distinguishable from other types of thinking about society or in society (see Functionalism in social science §2). Political scientists, however, exhibited two different interpretations of ideologies. One, as exemplified in the work of Daniel Bell (1960) and Giovanni Sartori (1969), restricted them to doctrinaire, highly consistent and closed systems of ideas cum ‘social levers’, usually infused with extremist passion. These rationalist, deductive constructs, frequently having rhetorical purposes, were contrasted with pragmatic and empirical political belief systems. Given that distinction, it was possible to foresee the ‘end of ideology’ as passion and imperviousness to temporal and spatial influences apparently gave way, at least in the West, to pluralism and an exhaustion with the great ‘isms’. This approach underplayed both the ideological components of so-called ‘pragmatism’ and the emotive elements endemic to political argument.

The second and more prevalent interpretation conceived of ideologies as a general and omnipresent category encompassing all relatively coherent sets of cultural symbols - ideas, beliefs and attitudes - that are action-oriented, and whose function it is to interpret the political system and to direct and justify public policy aimed towards preserving or changing political institutions and processes. That approach emphasizes ideologies as consciously-held views of aggregates of individuals or of ruling groups who impose them on such aggregates. Individual conduct is thus organized and integrated by cognitive rational constructs - regarded as simplified selection rather than distortion - abetted by evaluation of the options for action in the social world. This return to the scientific study of ideology as a value-free activity differs from the Marxist juxtaposition of ideology and science, because the truth-distortion dimension is removed from the consideration of ideology, and science is employed to comprehend, not to replace, ideology. Such a concrete and empirical view of ideologies involves typologies frequently based on a left-right continuum, ranging from communism through socialism, social democracy, liberalism, conservatism and fascism. Newer belief systems such as feminism, nationalism or ecologism fit uneasily into that rubric, nor can they always claim the comprehensiveness expected of systemic political ideologies. Others, such as anarchism or libertarianism, cut across conventional boundaries. Psychological offshoots of this approach relate to the formation of attitudes and their classification.

The structural anthropology of Claude Lévi-Strauss (§6) and cultural anthropology of Clifford Geertz (1964) demonstrate affinity, although not identity, with such systemic, self-substantiating conceptions of ideology, as does Althusser’s analysis. For Lévi-Strauss myths, and ideology as modern myth, manifest an internal, self-contained logic and are endowed with unconsciously held meaning. Unlike Althusser, he regarded ideology as a ‘thought-of’ order external to objective reality, but like Althusser, he argued that they made sense only in their relationships with ‘lived-in’ orders. For Geertz, an ideology is an ordered system of cultural symbols, both cognitive and expressive, that is interpenetrated by social and psychological processes and in turn organizes them into patterns of meaning. Its systemic features are ‘maps of problematic social reality’ which enable purposive action and perform an integrative function, irrespective of whether those maps are accurate or not. The relationship of an ideology to the real world is no longer as centrally challenging, methodologically speaking, as it is for Marxist theories. It is primarily assessed as a cultural whole performing necessary functions.

Citing this article:
Freeden, Michael. Ideology, political science and culture. Ideology, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-S030-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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