Political Ideology

Instructions: You must choose two (2) essay prompts to answer from the assignment sheet. Be sure to address all facets of the questions in a thorough manner that draws upon the assigned course readings (no external readings should be included in your answers). Remember, you are expected to provide page numbers and proper citations in Chicago Manual Style to back up your argument.

Possible points: 50 points each (per question). Total: 100 points

In this section, pick two (2) of the essay prompts to answer. Each essay prompt answer should be between 500 – 800 words. This means that the total word count for the entire document should be between 1000 – 1600 words. 

  1. On page 26 of Political Liberalism, John Rawls writes:

“The reason the original position must abstract from and not be affected by the contingencies of the social world is that the conditions for a fair agreement on the principles of political justice between free and equal persons must eliminate the bargaining advantages that inevitably arise within the  background institutions of any society from cumulative social, historical, and natural tendencies.”

Though Rawls notes that there are other differences that are rooted in identity, status, and natural cognitive abilities, he sets forth a political model of democratic deliberation that is primarily aimed at addressing how individuals who subscribe to different philosophical belief systems and worldviews (“comprehensive doctrines”) might come to an agreement on political matters. Rawls specifies that he is not explicitly dealing with differences rooted in identity (e.g., race, class, age) because it assumes that the individual can easily disregard these differences in their employment of “public reason.”

Drawing on the writings of Silvia Federici and Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, how might feminist scholars and activists problematize and critique the above quote? In what ways might they argue that the “justice as fairness” model of deliberative democracy that Rawls sets forth is itself an ideology and/or comprehensive doctrine? Additionally, how might they critique Rawls’s understanding and theorization of difference? Do you think that they might problematize the way that Rawls separates differences based in comprehensive doctrines from those based in identity? If so, why?

  1. On page 376 of Selections from the Prison Notebooks, Antonio Gramsci specifies that:

“‘ideology’ itself must be analyzed historically, in the terms of the philosophy of praxis, as a superstructure.”

Indeed, Gramsci argues that “it seems to me that there is a potential element of error in assessing the value of ideologies, due to the fact (by no means casual) that the name ideology is given both to the necessary superstructure of a particular structure and to the arbitrary elucabrations of particular individuals.”

Gramsci goes on to identify three processes that lead up to what he believes is an erroneous theorization or “bad sense” of ideology, writing that the first error occurs when “ideology is identified as distinct from the structure, and it is asserted that it is not ideology that changes the structure but vice versa.”

Compare and contrast Gramsci’s critique of ideology on pages 376-377 to Michel Foucault’s claim that “a régime of truth is not merely ideological or superstructural; it was a condition of the formation and development of capitalism” (in Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews & Other Writings, pages 131-133), and also to Louis Althusser’s argument that under ideological state apparatuses, “individuals are always-already subjects” (On the Reproduction of Capitalism: Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses, page 192). Additionally, how does Gramsci’s conception of organic ideologies, hegemony, and common sense compare to, and differ from, Michel Foucault’s and Louis Althusser’s respective theorizations of power?

  1. On pages 28-31 of Ideology: An Introduction, Terry Eagleton provides six definitions of ideology. After reading the selected texts in this course, which author most sparked your intellectual passion, and which of Eagleton’s six conceptions of ideology most closely connects to, and describes, their general school of thought? Additionally, which of Eagleton’s definitions most closely aligns with the ways in which the selected author writes about ideology and power in their text?

    eology An Introduction



    London· New York



    FiIStpublished by Verso 1991 @Verso1991 All rights resenred

    Veno UK: 6 Meard Street, London WI V 3HR USA: 29 West 35th Street, New York, NY 10001-2291

    Verso is the imprint of New Left Books

    British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data Eagleton, Terry. 1943-

    Ideology; an introduction. 1. Ideologies L Tide 140

    ISBN 0-86091-319-8 ISBN 0-86091-538-7 pbk

    us Library of CODgress CatalogiDg-in-Public:ation Data Eagleton, Terry. 1943 –

    Ideology; an introduction / Terry Eagleton, p. em.

    Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 0-86091-319-8. – ISBN 0-86091-538-7 (pbk.) 1. Ideology-History. L Tide.

    B823.3.E17 1991 140-dc20

    Typeset by Leaper & Gard Ltd. Great Britain Printed and bound in Finland by Werner SOderstrom Oy



    For Norman Feltes





    Introducuon xi

    1 What Is Ideology?

    2 Ideological Strategies 33

    :1 From the Enlightenment to the

    Second International 63

    4 From Lukacs to Gramsci 93

    5 From Adorno to Bourdieu 125

    6 From Schopenhauer to Sorel 159

    7 Discourse and Ideology 193

    Conclusion 221

    Notes 225

    Further R.eading – 233

    Index 235




    Consider, as a final example, the attitude of contemporary American liberals to the unending hopelessness and misery of the lives of the

    young blacks in American ciries. Do we say that these people must be helped because they are our fellow human beings? We may, but it is

    much more persuasive, morally as well as politically, to describe them as our fellow Americans – to insist that it is outrageous that an American

    should live wichout hope.

    RICHARD RoRTY, Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity

    On the uselessness of the norion of’ideology’, see Raymond Geuss, The Idea ofa Critical Theory

    RlCHAIlD RoIlTY, Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity





    CONSIDER the following paradox. The last decade has wimessed a remark- able resurgence of ideological movements throughout the world. In the Middle East, Islamic fundamentalism has emerged as a potent political force. In the so-calied Third World, and in one region of the British Isles, revolu- tionary nationalism continues to join battle with imperialist power. In some of the post-capital~t states of the Eastern bloc, a still tenacious neo-Stalinism remains locked in combat with an array of oppositional forces. The most powerful capitalist nation in history has been swept from end to end by a peculiarly noxious brand of Christian Evangelicalism. Throughout this period, Britain has suffered the most ideologically aggressive and explicit regime ofliving political memory. in a society which traditionally prefers its ruling values to remain implicit and oblique. Meanwhile, somewhere on the left bank, it is announced that the concept of ideology is now obsolete.

    How are we to account for this absurdity? Why is it that in a world racked by ideological conflict, the very notion of ideology has evaporated without trace from the writings of poscmodernism and post-structuralism?l The theoretical due to this conundrum is a topic that shall concern us in this book. Very briefly, I argue that three key doctrines of posrmodernist thought have conspired to discredit the classical concept of ideology. The first of these doctrines turns on a rejection of the notion of representation – in fact, a rejection of an empiricist model of representation, in which the




    representational baby has been nonchalantly slung out with the empiricist bathwater. The second revolves on an epistemological scepticism which would hold that the very act of identifying a form of consciousness as ideological entails some untenable notion of absolute truth. Since the latter idea attracts few devotees these days, the former is thought to crumble in its wake. We cannot brand Pol Pot a Stalinist bigot since this would imply some metaphysi~al certitude about what not being a Stalinist bigot would involve. The third doctrine concerns a reformulation of the relations between rationality, interests and power, along roughly neo-Nietzschean lines. which is thought to render the whole concept of ideology redundant. Taken together, these three theses have been thought by some enough to dispose of the whole question of ideology, at exactly the historical moment when Muslim demonstrators beat their foreheads till the blood runs. and American farmhands anticipate being swept imminently up into heaven, Cadillac and all.

    Hegel remarks somewhere that all great historical events happen. so to speak. twice. (He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.) The current suppression of the concept of ideology is in one sense a recycling of the so-called ‘end of ideology’ epoch which followed the Second World War; but whereas that movement was at least partially explicable as a traumatized response to the crimes of fascism and Stalinism. no such political rationale underpins the present fashionable aversion to ideological critique. Moreover, the ‘end-of-ideology’ school was palpably a creation of the political right, whereas our own ‘post-ideological’ complacency often enough sports radical credentials. If the ‘end-of-ideology’ theorists viewed all ideology as inherently closed. dogmatic and inflexible, poscmodernist thought tends to see all ideology as tdeologicaI. ‘totalitarian’ and meta- physically,grounded. Grossly travestied in this way. the concept of ideology obedien’tIY,~tes itself off.

    The abai\lonment of the notion of ideology belongs with a more pervasive political faltering by whole sections of the erstwhile revolutionary left:. which in ‘th~ face of a capitalism temporarily on the offensive has beaten a steady. shamefaced retreat from such ‘metaphysical’ matters as class struggle and modes of production. revolutionary agency and the nature of the bourgeois state. It is. admittedly. something of an embarrassment for this position that. just at the moment when it was denouncing the concept of revolution as so much metaphysical claptrap, the thing itself broke out where it had been least expected. in the Stalinist bureaucracies of Eastern




    Europe. No doubt President Ceausescu spent his last moments on earth reminding his executioners that revolution was an outmoded concept, that there were only ever micro-strategies and local deconstIUctions, and that the idea of a ‘collective revolutionary subject’ was hopelessly passe. The aim of this book is in one sense suitably modest – to clarify something of the tangled conceptual history of the notion of ideology. But it also offers itself as a political intervention into these broader issues, and so as a political riposte to this latest treason of the clerks.

    A poem by Thom Gunn speaks of a German conscript in the Second World War who risked his life helping Jews to escape the fate in store for them at the hands of the Nazis:

    I know he had unusual eyes, Whose power no orders could determine, Not to mistake the men he saw, As others did, for gods or vermin.

    What persuades men and women to mistake each other from time to time for gods or vermin is ideology. One ~n understand well enough how human beings may struggle and murder for good material reasons – reasons connected. for instance, with their physical survival. It is much harder to grasp how they may come to do so in the name of something as apparently abstract as ideas. Yet ideas are what men and women live by, and will occasionally die for. If Gunn’s conscript escaped the ideological conditioning of his fellows, how did he come to do so? Did he act as he did in the name of an alternative, more clement ideology, or just because he had a realiStic view of the nature of things? Did his unusual eyes appreciate men and women for what they were, or were his perceptions in some sense as much biased as those of his comrades, but in a way we happen to approve rather than condemn? Was the soldier acting against his own interests. or in the name of some deeper interest? Is ideology just a ‘mistake’, or has it a more complex. elusive character?

    The study of ideology is among other things an inquiry into the ways in which people may come to invest in their own unhappiness. It is because being oppressed sometimes brings with it some slim bonuses that we are occasionally prepared to put up with it. The most efficient oppressor is the one who persuades his underlings to love, desire and identify with his power; and any practice of political emancipation thus involves that most difficult



    .. Ideology

    of all forms ofIiberation. freeing ourselves from ourselves.1he other side of the story, however, is equally important. For if such dominion fails to yield its victims sufficient gratification over an extended period of time, then it is certain that they will finally revolt against it. If it is rational to settle for an ambiguous mixture of misery and marginal pleasure when the political alternatives appear perilous and obscure, it is equally rational to rebel when the miseries clearly outweigh the gratifications, and when it seems likely that there is more to be gained than to be lost by such action.

    It is important to see that, in the critique of ideology, only those inter- ventions will work which make sense to the mystified subject itself In this sense, ‘ideology critique’ has an interesting affinity with the techniques of psychoanalysis. ‘Criticism’, in its Enlightenment sense, consists in recounting to someone what is awry with their situation, from an external, perhaps ‘transcendental’ vantage-point. ‘Critique’ is that form of discourse which seeks to inhabit the experience of the subject from inside, in order to elicit those ‘valid’ features of that experience which point beyond the subject’S present condition. ‘Criticism’ instructs currently innumerate men and women that the acquisition of mathematical knowledge is an excellent cultural goal; ‘critique’ recognizes that they will achieve such knowledge quickly enough if their wage packets are at stake. The critique of ideology, then, presumes that nobody is ever wholly mystified – that those subject to oppression experience even now hopes and desires which could only be realistically fulfilled by a transformation of their material conditions. If it rejects the external standpoint of Enlightenment rationality, it shares with the Enlightenment this fundamental trust in the moderately rational nature of human beings. Someone who was entirely the victim of ideological delusion would not even be able to recognize an emancipatory claim upon them; and it is because people do not cease to desire, struggle and imagine, even in the most apparently unpropitious of conditions, that the practice of political emancipation is a genuine possibility. This is not to claim that oppressed individuals secretly harbour some full-blown alternative to their unhappiness; but it is to claim that, once they have freed themselves from the causes of that suffering, they must be able to look back, re-write their life- histories and recognize that what they enJoy now is what they would have previously desired, if only they had been able to be aware of it. It is testi- mony to the fact that nobody is, ideologically speaking, a complete dupe that people who are characterized as inferior must actually learn to be so. It is not enough for a woman or colonial subject to be defined as a lower form oflife:




    they must be actively taught this definition. and Some of them prove to be brilliant graduates in this process. It is astonishing how subde, resourceful and quick-witted men and women can be in proving themselves to be uncivilized and thickheaded. In one sense, of course, this ‘performative contradiction’ is cause for political despondency; but in the appropriate circumstances it is a contradiction on which a ruling order may come to grief

    Over the past ten years I have discussed the concept of ideology with Toril Moi perhaps more regularly and intensively than any other intellectual topic, and her thoughts on the subject are now so closely interwoven with mine that where her reflections end and mine begin is, as they are fond of saying these days, ‘undecidable’. I am grateful to have had the benefit. of her keener, more analytic mind. 1 must also thank. Nonnan Geras, who read the book and gave me the benefit of his valuable judgement; and I am grateful to Ken Hirschkop. who submitted the manuscript of the book to a typically meticulous reading and thus saved me from a number oflapses and lacunae. I am also much indebted to Gargi Bhattacharyya. who generously spared time from her own work to give me valuable assistance,. with research.







    NOBODY has yet come up with a single adequate definition of ideology, and this book will be no exception. This is not because workers in the field are remarkable for their low intelligence, but because the term ‘ideology’ has a who.le range of useful meanings, no.t all o.f which are compatible with each o.ther. To. try to ,co.mpress this wealth o.f meaning into. a single co.mprehen- sive definition Wo.uld thus be unhelpful even if it were possible. The word ‘ideo.logy’, o.ne might say, is a text, wo.ven of a whole tissue of different concepmal strands; it is traced thro.ugh by divergent histo.ries, and it is probably mo.re impo.rtant to. assess what is valuable o.r can be discarded in each of these lineages than to merge them fo.rcibly into some Grand GIo.bal Theory.

    To indicate this variety of meaning. let me list more or less at random some definitio.ns of ideology currently in circulation:

    (a) ~e process o.f pro.duction of meanings, signs and values in social life; (b) a body of ideas characteristic o.f a particular social group o.r class; (c) ideas which help to legitimate a dominant political po.wer; (d) false ideas which help to legitimate a dominant political power; (e) systematically distorted communication; (f) that which offers a Po.sitio.n for a subject; (g) fo.rms of thought mo.tivated by So.cial interests;





    (h) identity thinking; (i) socially necessary illusion; u) the conjuncture of discourse and power; (k) the medium in which conscious social actors make sense of their world; (I) action-oriented sets of beliefs; (m) the confusion oflinguistic and phenomenal reality; (n) semiotic closure; (0) the indispensable medium in which individuals live out their relations to a social structure; (P) the process whereby social life is converted to a natural reality.1

    There are several points to be noted about this list. First, not all of these formulations are compatible with one another. If, for example. ideology means any set of beliefs motivated by social interests, then it cannot simply signify the dominant forms of thought in a society. Others of these definitions may be mutually compatible. but with some interesting implications: if ideology is both illusion and the medium in which social actors make sense of their world. then this tells us something rather depressing about our routine modes of sense-making. Secondly. we may note that some of these formulations are pejorative. others ambiguously so, and some not pejorative at all. On several of these definitions. nobody would claim that their own thinking was ideological, just as nobody would habitually refer to them- selves as Fatso. Ideology, like halitosis, is in this sense what the other person has. It is parr of what we mean by claiming that human beings are somewhat rational that we would be puzzled to encounter someone who held convic- tions which they acknQwledged to be illusory. Some of these definitions, however, are neutral in this respect – ‘a body of ideas characteristic of a particular social group or class’, for example – and to this extent one might well term one’s own views ideological without any implication that they were false or chimerical. ,

    Thirdly, we can note that some of these formulations involve episte- molog~cal questions – questions concerned with our knowledge of the world – while others are silent on this score. Some of them involve a sense of not seeing reality properly, whereas a definition like ‘action-oriented sets of beliefs’ leaves this issue open. This distinction, as we shall see, is an important bone of contention in the theory of ideology, and reflects a dissonance between two of the mainstream traditions we find inscribed




    What Is Ideology?

    within the term. Roughly speaking, one central lineage, from Hegel and Marx to Georg Lukacs and some later Marxist drinkers, has been much preoccupied with ideas of true and false cognition, with ideology as illusion, distortion and mystification; whereas an alternative tradition of thought has been less epistemological than sociological, concerned more with the function of ideas widUn social life than with their reality or unreality. The Marxist heritage has itself straddled these two intellectual currents, and that both of them have somedring interesting to tell us will be one of the con- tentions of chis book.

    Whenever one is pondering the meaning of some specialized term, it is always useful to get a sense of how it would be used by the person-in-the- street, if it is used there at all. This is not to claim such usage as some final court of appeal, a gesture which many would view as itself ideological; but consulting the person-in-the-street nonetheless has its uses. What, then, would be meant if somebody remarked in the course of a pub conversation: ‘Oh, that’s just ideological!’ Not, presumably, that what had just been said was simply false, though dUs might be implied; if that was what was meant, why not just say so? It is also unlikely that people in a pub would mean something like ‘That’s a fine specimen of semiotic dosure!’ or hody accuse one another of confusing linguistic and phenomenal reality. To claim in ordinary conversation that someone is speaking ideologically is surely to hold that they are judging a particular issue through some rigid framework of preconceived ideas which distorts their understanding. I view things as they really are; you squint at them though a runnel vision imposed by some extraneous system of doctrine. There is usually a suggestion that this involves an oversimplifying view of the world – that to speak or judge ‘ideologically’ is to do so schematically, stereotypically, and perhaps with the faintest hint of fanaticism. The opposite of ideology here, then, would be less ‘absolute truth’ than ’empirical’ or ‘pragmatic’. This view, the person-in-the- street might be gratified to hear, has the august support of the sociologist Emile Durkheim, who characterized the ‘ideological method’ as consisting in ‘the use of notions to govern the collation of facts rather than deriving notions from them.’2

    It is surely not hard to show what is wrong with such a case. Most people would not concede that without preconceptions of some kind – what the philosopher Martin Heidegger calls ‘pre-understandings’ – we would not even be able to identify an issue or situation, let alone pass judgement upon it. There is no such ching as presuppositionless thought, and to this extent all





    of our thinking might be said to be ideological. Perhaps rigid preconceptions makes the difference: I presume that Paul McCartney has eaten in the last three months, which is not particularly ideological. whereas you presuppose that he is one of the forty thousand elect who will be saved on the Day of Judgement But one person’s rigidity is, notoriously, another’s open- mindedness. His thought is red-neck, yours is docainal, and mine is deliciously supple. There are certainly forms of thought which simply ‘read off’ a particular situation from certain pre-establishedgeneral principles, and the style of thinking we call ‘rationalist’ has in general been guilty of this error. But it remains to be seen whether all that we call ideological is in this sense rationalistic.

    Some of the most vociferous persons-in-the-street are known as American sociologists. The belief that ideology is a schematic, inflexible way of seeing the world, as against some more modest, piecemeal. pragmatic wisdom. was elevated in the post-war period from a piece of popular wisdom to an elaborate sociological theory.3 For the American political theorist Edward Shils, ideologies are explicit, closed, resistant to innovation, promulgated with a great deal of affectivity and require total adherence from their devotees. ~ What this comes down to is that the Soviet Union is in the grip of ideology while the United States sees things as they r~ly are. This, as the reader will appreciate. is not in itself an ideological viewpoint To seek some humble. pragmatic political goal. such as bringing down the democratically elected government of Chile, is a question of adapting oneself realistically to the facts; to send one’s tanks into Czechoslovakia is an instance of ideological fanaticism.

    An interesting feature of this ‘end-of-ideology’ ideology is that it tends to view ideology in two quite contradictory ways, as at once blindly irrational and excessively rationalistic. On the one hand, ideologies are passionate. rhetorical, impelled by some benighted pseudo-religious faith which the sober technocratic world of modem capitalism has thankfully outgrown; on the other hand they are arid conceptual systems which seek to reconstruct society from the ground up in accordance with some bloodless blueprint. As Alvin Gouldner sardonically encapsulates these ambivalences, ideology is ‘the mind-inflaming realm of the doctrinaire, the dogmatic. the im- passioned. the dehumanising, the false, the irrational, and, of course. the “extremist” consciousness’.s From the standpoint of an empiricist social engineering, ideologies have at once too much heart and too little, and so can he condemned in the same breath as lurid fantasy and straigacketing




    Whatb Ideo./ogy?

    dogma. They arnact, in other words. the ambiguous response tradiqonally accorded to intellectuals. who are scomed for their visionary dreaming at the very moment they are being censured for their clinical remoteness from common affections. It is a choice irony that in seeking to replace an im- passioned fanaticism with an austerely technocratic approach to social problems, the end-of-ideology theorists unwittingly re-enact the gesture of those who invented the term ‘ideology’ in the first place, the ideologues of the French Enlightenment.

    An objection to the case that ideology consists in peculiarly rigid sets of ideas is that not every rigid set of ideas is ideological. I may have unusually inflexible beliefs about how to brush my teeth, submitting each individual tooth to an exact number of strokes and favouring mauve toothbrushes only, but it would seem strange in most circumstances to call such views ideological. (‘Pathological’ might be rather more accurate.) It is true that people some- times use the word ideology to refer to systematic belief in general, as when someone says that they abstain from eating meat ‘for practical rather than ideological reasons’. ‘Ideology’ here is more or less synonymous with the broad sense of the term ‘philosophy’, as in the phrase ‘The President has no

    ‘” philosophy’, which was spoken approvingly about Richard Nixon by one of his aides. But ideology is surely often felt to entail more thanjust this. If! am obsessional about brushing my teeth because if the British do not keep in good health then the Soviets will walk. all over our flabby, toothless nation, or if I make a fetish of physical health because I belong to a society which can exert technological dominion over just about everything but death, then it might make more sense to describe my behaviour as ideologically motivated. The term ideology, in other words, would seem to make reference not only to belief systems, but to questions of power.

    What kind of reference, though? Perhaps the most common answer is to claim that ideology has to do with legitimating the power of a dominant social group or class. ‘To study ideology’, writes John B. Thompson, ‘ … is to study the ways in which meaning (or signific~tion) serves to sustain relations of domination.’6 This is probably the single most widely accepted definition of ideology; and the process of legitimation would seem to involve at least six different strategies. A dominant power may legitimate itself by promoting beliefs and values congenial to it; naturalizing and universalizing such beliefs so as to render them self-evident and apparendy inevitable; denigrating ideas which might challenge it; excluding rival forms of thought, perhaps by some unspoken but systematic logic; and obscuring social reality in ways convenient





    to itsel£ Such ‘mystification’, as it is commonly known. frequently takes the form of masking or suppressing social conflicts, fJ,”om which arises the conception of ideology as an imaginary resolution of real contradictions. In any actual ideological formation, all six of these strategies are likely to interact in complex ways.

    There are, however. at least two major difficulties with this otherwise persuasive definition of ideology. For one thing. not every body of belief which people commonly term ideological is associated with a dominant political power. The political left, in particular, tends almost instinctively to think of such dominant modes when it considers the topic of ideology; but what then do we call the beliefs of the Levellers, Diggers, Narodniks and Suffragettes. which were certainly not the governing value systems of their day? Are socialism and feminism ideologies, and if not why not? Are they non-ideological when in political opposition but ideological when they C9me to power? If what the Diggers and Suffragettes believed is ‘ideological’. as a good deal of common usage would suggest. then by no means all ideologies are oppressive and spuriously legitimating. Indeed the right-wing political theorist Kenneth Minogue holds, astoundingly, that all ideologies are politically oppositional. sterile totalizing schemes as opposed to the ruling practical wisdom: ‘Ideologies can be specified in terms of a shared hostility to modernity: to liberalism in politics, individualism in moral practice, and the market in economics.’7 On this view, supporters of socialism are ideological whereas defenders of capitalism are not. The extent to which one is prepared to use the term ideology of one’s own political views is a reliable index of the nature of one’s political ideology. Generally speaking, conservatives like Minogue are nervous of the concept in their own case, since to dub their own beliefs ideological would be to risk turning them into objects of contestation.

    Does this mean, then, that socialists, feminists and other radicals should come clean about the ideological nature of their own values? If the term ideology is confined to dominant forms of social thought, such a move would be inaccurate and needlessly confusing; but it may be felt that there is need here for a broader definition of ideology, as any kind ofintersection between belief systems and political power. And such a definition would be neutral on the question of whether this intersection challenged or confirmed a particular social order. The political philosopher Martin Seliger argues for just such a formulation, defining ideology as ‘sets of ideas by which men [sic} posit, explain and justify ends and means of organised social action, and




    What Is Ideology?

    specifically political action, irrespective of whether such action aims to preserve, amend, uproot or rebuild a given social order’.8 On this formanon. it would make perfect sense to speak of’socialist ideology’, as it would not (at least in the West) if ideology meant just ruling belief systems, and as· it would not, at least for a socialist, if ideology referred inescapably to illusion. mystification and false consciousness.

    To widen the scope of the term ideology in this style has the advantage of staying faithful to much common usage. and thus of resolving the apparent dilemma of why, say, fascism should be an ideology but feminism should not be. It carries, however, the disadvantage of appearing to jettison from the concept ofideology a number of elements which many radical theorists have assumed to be central to it: the obscuring and ‘namralizing’ of social reality, the specious resolution of real contradictions, and so on. My own view is that both the wider and narrower senses of ideology have their uses, and that their mutual incompatibility, descending as they do from divergent political and concepmal histories, must be simply acknowledged. This view has the advantage of remaining loyal to the implicit slogan of Berrolt Brecht – ‘Use what you can!’ – and the disadvantage of excessive charity.

    Such charity is a fault because it risks broadening the concept of ideology to the point where it becomes politically toothless; and this is the second problem with the ‘ideology as legitimation’ thesis, one which concerns the nature of power itsel£ On the view of Michel Foucault and his acolytes, power is not something confined to armies and parliaments: it is, rather, a pervasive, intangible network of force which weaves itself into our slightest gestures and most intimate utterances.9 On this theory, to limit the idea of power to its more obvious political manifestations would itself be an ideological move, obscuring the complex diffuseness of its operations. That we should think of power as imprinting our personal relations and routine activities is a dear political gain, as feminists, for instance, have not been slow to recognize; but it carries with it a problem for the meaning of ideology. For if there are no values and beliefs not bound up with power, then the term ideology threatens to expand to vanishing point. Any word which covers everything loses its cutting edge and dwindles to an empty sound. For a term to have meaning, it must be possible to specify what, in particular circumstances, would count as the other of it – which doesn’t necessarily mean specifying something which would be always and everywhere the other of it. If power, like the Almighty himself. is omnipresent, then the word ideology ceases to single out anything in particular and becomes





    wholly uninformative – just as if any piece of human behaviour whatsoever, including torture, could count as an instance of compassion, the word compassion shrinks to an empty Signifier.

    faithful to this logic, Foucault and his followers effectively abandon the concept of ideology altogether. replacing it with the more capacious ‘discourse’. But this may be to relinquish too quickly a useful distinction. The force of the term ideology lies in its capacity to discriminate berween those power strUggles which are somehow central to a whole form of social life. and those which are not. A breakfast-time quarrel between husband and wife over whq exacdy allowed the toast to tum that grotesque shade of black need not he ideological; it becomes so when, for example, it begins to engage questions of sexual power, beliefs about gender roles and so on. To say that this sort of contention is ideological makes a difference, tells us something informative, as the more ‘expansionistic’ senses of the word do not. Those radicals who hold that ‘everything is ideological’ or ‘everything is political’ seem not to realize that they are in danger of cutting the ground from beneath their own feet. Such slogans may valuably challenge an excessively narrow definition of politics and ideology, one convenient for a ruling power intent on depoliticizing whole sectors of social life. But to stretch these terms to the point where they become coextensive with everything is simply to empty them of force. which is equally congenial to the ruling order. It is perfecdy possible to agree with Nietzsche and Foucault chat power is everywhere, while wanting for certain practical purposes to distin- guish between more and less central instances of it.

    There are those on the political left, however. who feel uneasy about this whole business of deciding between the more and less central. Isn’t this merely a surreptitious attempt to marginalize certain power struggles which have been unduly neglected? Do we really want to draw up a hierarchy of such conflicts, thus reproducing a typically conservative habit of thought? If someone actually believes that a squabble between two children over a ball is as important as the EI Salvador liberation movement, then you simply have to ask them whether they are joking. Perhaps by dint of sufficient ridicule you might persuade them to become properly hierarchical thinkers. Political radicals are quite as dedicated to the concept of privilege as their opponents: they believe, for example. that the level of food supplies in Mozambique is a weightier issue than the love life of Mickey Mouse. To claim that one kind of conflict is more important than another involves, of course, arguing for this priority and being open to disproval; but nobody actually believes that




    What Is Ideology?

    ‘power is everywhere’ in the sense that any manifestation of it is as signifi- cant as any other. On this issue, as perhaps on all others, nobody is in fact a relativist. whatever they may rhetorically assert.

    Not everything, then, may usefully be said to be ideological. If there is nothing which is not ideological, then the term cancels all the way through and drops out of sight. To say this does not commit one to believing that there is a kind of discourse which is inherently non-ideological; it just means that in any particular situation you must be able to point to what counts as non-ideological for the term to have meaning. Equally, however, one might claim that there is no piece of discourse which could not be ideological, given the appropriate conditions. ‘Have you put the cat out yet?’ could be an ideological utterance, if (for example) it carried the unspoken implication: ‘Or are you being your usual shiftless proletarian self?’ Conversely, the state- ment ‘men are superior to women’ need not be ideological (in the sense of supporting a dominant power); delivered in a suitably sardonic tone, it might be a way of subverting sexist ideology.

    A way of putting this point is to suggest that ideology is a matter of ‘discourse’ rather than ‘language’.lo It concerns the actual uses of language between particular human subjects for the production of specific effects. You could not decide whether a statement was ideological or not by inspecting it in isolation from its discursive context, any more than you co!ll.d decide in this way whether a piece of writing was a work of literary art. Ideology is less a matter of the inherent linguistic properties of a pronouncement than a question of who is saying what to whom for what purposes. This isn’t to deny that there are particular ideological ‘idioms’: the language of fascism. for example. Fascism tends to have its own peculiar lexicon (Lebensraum, sacrifice. blood and soil), but what is primarily ideo- logical about these terms is the power-interests they serve and the political effects they generate. The general point, then. is that exactly the same piece of language may be ideological in one context and not in another; ideology is a function of the relation of an utterance to its social context

    Similar problems to those of the ‘pan-powerist’ case arise if we define ideology as any discourse bound up with specific social interests. For, once again, what discourse isn’t? Many people outside right-wing academia would nowadays suspect the notion of some wholly disinterested language; and if they are right then it would seem pointless to define ideology as ‘socially interested’ utterances, since this covers absolutely anything. (The very word ‘interest’, incidentally, is of ideological inrerest: as Raymond





    Williams points out in Keywords, it is significant that ‘our most general word for attraction or involvement should have deVeloped from a fonnal objective term in property and finance … this now central word for attraction, atten- tion and concern is saturated with the experience of a society based on money relationships’, II) Perhaps we could try to distinguish here between ‘social’ and purely ‘individual’ kinds of interest, so that the word ideology would denote the interests of specific social groups rather than, say, someone’s insatiable hankering for haddock. But the dividing line between social and individual is notoriously problematic, and ‘social interests’ is in any case so broad a category as to risk emptying the concept of ideology once more of meaning.

    It may be useful, even so, to discriminate between two ‘levels’ of interest, one of which might be said to be ideological and the other not. Human beings have certain ‘deep’ interests generated by the nature of their bodies: interests in eating, communicating with one another, understanding and controlling their environment and so on. There seems no very useful sense in which these kinds of interest can be dubbed ideological, as opposed, for example. to having an interest in bringing down the government or laying on more childcare. Postmodernist thought, under the influence of Friedrich Nietzsche, has typically conflated these different sorts ofinterests in an illicit way. fashioning a homogeneous universe in which everything from tying one’s shoelaces to toppling dictatorships is levelled to a matter of’interests’. The political effect of this move is to blur the specificity of certain forms of social conflict, grossly inflating the whole category of , interests’ to the point where it picks out nothing in particular. To describe ideology as ‘interested’ discourse, then, calls for the same qualification as characterizing it as a question of power. In both cases, the term is forceful and informative only if it helps us to distinguish between those interests and power conflicts which at any given time are fairly central to a whole social order, and those which are not.

    None of the argument so far casts much light on the epistemological issues involved in the theory of ideology – on the question, for example, of whether ideology can be usefully viewed as ‘false consciousness’. This is a fairly unpopular notion of ideology nowadays, for a number of reasons. For one thing, epistemology itself is at the moment somewhat out of fashion, and the assumption that some of our ideas ‘match’ or ‘correspond to’ the way things are, while others do not, is felt by some to be a naive, discreditable




    What Is Ideology?

    theory of knowledge. For another thing, the idea of false consciousness can be taken as implying the possibility of some unequivocally correct way of viewing the world. which is today under deep suspicioJL Moreover. the belief that a minority of theorists monopolize a scientifically grounded knowledge of how society is, while the rest of us blunder around in some fog of false consciousness. does not particularly endear itself to the democratic sensibility. A novel version of this elitism has arisen in the work of the philosopher Richard Rorty, in whose ideal society the intellectuals will be ‘ironists’, practising a suitably cavalier, laid-back attitude to their own beliefs. while the masses, for whom such self-ironizing might prove too subversive a weapon. will continue to salute the flag and take life seriously.12

    In this situation, it seems simpler to some theorists of ideology to drop the epistemological issue altogether, favouring instead a more political or sociological sense of ideology as the medium in which men and women fight out their social and political battles at the level of signs, meanings and representations. Even as orthodox a Marxist as Alex Callinicos urges us to scrap the epistemological elements in Marx’s own theory ofideology,ll while GOran Therbom is equally emphatic that ideas of false and true cons~ious-‘ ness should be rejected ‘explicitly and decisively, once and for all’.I~ Martin Seliger wants to discard this negative or pejorative meaning of ideology altogether, IS while Rosalind Coward and John Ellis. writing in a period when the ‘false consciousness’ thesis was at the height of its unpopularity, peremptorily dismiss the idea as ‘ludicrous’.16

    To argue for a ‘political’ rather than ‘epistemological’ definition of ideology is not of course to claim that politics and ideology are identical. One way one might think of distinguishing them is to suggest that politics refers to the power processes by which social orders are sustained or challenged, whereas ideology denotes the ways in which these power processes get caught up in the realm of signification. This won’t quite do, however, since politics has its own sort of signification, which need not necessarily be ideological. To state that there is a constitutional monarchy in Britain is a political pronouncement; it becomes ideological only when it begins to involve beliefs – when. for example, it carries the implicit rider ‘and a good thing too’. Since this usually only needs to be said when there are people around who consider it a bad thing. we can suggest that ideology concerns less signification than conflicts within the field of signification. If the members of a dissident political group say to each other, ‘We can bring down the government’, this is a piece of political discourse; if they say it to





    the government it becomes instandy ideological (in the expanded sense of the term), since the utterance has now entered into the arena of discursive struggle.

    There are several reasons why the ‘false consciousness’ view of ideology seems unconvincing. One of them has to do with what we might call the moderate rationality of human beings in general, and is perhaps more the expression of a political faith than a conclusive argument. Aristode held that there was an element of truth in most beliefs; and though we have wimessed enough pathological irrationalism in the politics of our own century to be nervous of any too sanguine trust in some robust human rationality. it is surely hard to credit that whole masses of human beings would hold over some extensive historical period ideas and beliefs which were simply nonsensical. Deeply persistent beliefs have to be supported to some· extent, however meagrely, by the world our practical activity discloses to us; and to believe that immense numbers of people would live and sometimes die in the name of ideas which were absolutely vacuous and absurd is to take up an unpleasantly demeaning attitude towards ordinary men and women. It is a typically conservative estimate of human beings to see them as sunk in irrational prejudice, incapable of reasoning coherendy; and it is a more radical attitude to hold that while we may indeed be afflicted by all sorts of mystifications, some of which might even be endemic to the mind itself, we nevertheless have some capacity for making sense of our world in a moderately cogent way. Ifhuman beings really were gullible and benighted enough to place their faith in great numbers in ideas which were utterly void of meaning, then we might reasonably ask whether such people were worth politically supporting at all. If they are that credulous, how could they evt:r hope to emancipate themselves?

    It follows from this view that if we come across a body of, say, magical or mythological or religious doctrine to which many people have committed themselves, we can often be reasonably sure that there is something in it. What that something is may not be, for sure, what the exponents of such creeds believe it to be; but it is unlikely to be a mere nonsense either. Simply on account of the pervasiveness and durability of such doctrines, we can generally assume that they encode, in however mystified a way, genuine needs anp desires. It is false to believe that the sun moves round the earth, but it is not absurd; and neither is it absurd to hold that justice demands sending electric currents through the bodies of murderers. There is nothing ridiculous in claiming that some people are inferior to others, since it is




    Whatls Ideology?

    obviously true. In certain definite respects, some individuals are indeed inferior to others: less good-tempered, more prone to envy. slower in the fifty-yard dash. It may he false and pernicious to generalize these particular inequalities to whole races or classes of people, hut we can understand well enough the logic by which this comes about. It may be wrong to believe that the human race is in such a mess that it can be saved only by some transcendental power, but the feelings of impotence, guilt and utopian aspiration which such a dogma encapsulates are by no means illusory.

    A further point can be made here. However widespread ‘false conscious- ness’ may be in social life, it can nevertheless be claimed that most of what people say most of the time about the world must in fact be true. This, for the philosopher Donald Davidson, is a logical ~ther than an empirical point. For u~ess, so Davidson argues. we are able to assume that most people’s observations are most of the time accurate, there would be an insuperable difficulty in ever getting to understand their language. And the fact is that we do seem to be able to translate the languages of other cultures. As one of Davidson’s commentators formulates this so-called principle of charity: ‘If we think we understand what people say, we must also regard most of our observations about the world we live in as correct.’17 Many of the utterances in question are of a fairly trivial sort, and we should not under- estimate the power of common illusion: a recent opinion poll revealed that one in three Britons believes that the sun moves round the earth, and one in seven holds that the solar system is larger than the universe. As far as our routine social life goes. however, we just could not in Davidson’s view be mistaken most of the time. Our practical knowledge must be mostly accurate. since otherwise our world would fall apart. Whether or not the solar system is bigger dian the universe plays little part in our daily social activities. and so is a point on which we can afford to be mistaken. At a fairly low level. individuals who share the same social practices must most of the time understand one another correctly, even if a small minority of them in universities spend their time agonizing over the indeterminacy of discourse. Those who quite properly emphasize that language is a terrain of conflict sometimes forget that conflict presupposes a degree of mutual agreement: we are not politically conflicting if you hold that patriarchy is an objection- able social system and I hold that it is a small town in upper New York state. A certain practical solidarity is built into the structures of any shared language, however much that language may be traversed by the divisions of class, gender and race. Radicals who .regard such a view as dangerously





    sanguine, expressive of too naive a faith in ‘ordinary language’, forget that such practical solidarity and reliability of cognition are testimony to that basic realism and intelligence of popular life which is so unpalatable to the elitist.

    What Davidson may be accused of overlooking, however, is that form of ‘systematically distorted communication’ which for Jurgen Habermas goes by the name of ideology. Davidson argues that when native speakers repeatedly point at a rabbit and utter a sound, this act of denotation must for most of the time be accurate, otherwise we could never come to learn the native word for rabbit, or – by extension – anything else in their language. Imagine, however, a society which uses the word ‘duty’ every time a man beats his wife. Or imagine an outside observer in our own culture who, having picked up our linguistic habits, was asked by his fellows on returning home for our word for domination, and replied ‘service’. Davidson’s theory fails to take account of these systematic deviations – though it does perhaps establish that in order to be able to decipher an ideological system of discourse, we must already be in possession of the normative, undistorted uses of terms. The wife-beating society must use the word ‘duty’ a sufficient number of times in an appropriate context for us to be able to spot an ideological ‘abuse’.

    Even if it is true that most of the ideas by which people have lived are not simply nonsensical, it is not clear that this charitable stance is quite enough to dispose of the ‘false. consciousness’ thesis. For those who hold that thesis do not need to deny that certain kinds of illusion can express real needs and desires. All they may be claiming is that it is false to believe that murderers should be executed, or that the Archangel Gabriel is preparing to put in an appearance next Tuesday, and that these falsehoods are significantly bound up with the reproduction of a dominant political power. There need be no implication that people do not regard themselves as having good grounds for holding these beliefs; the point may simply be that what they believe is manifestly not the case, and that this is a matter of relevance to political power.

    Part of the opposition to the ‘false consciousness’ case stems from the accurate claim that, in order to be truly effective, ideologies must make at least some minimal sense of people’s experience, must conform to some degree with what they know of social reality from their practical interaction with it As Jon Elster reminds us, ruling ideologies can actively shape the wants and desires of those subjected to themjl8 but they must also engage




    What Is Ideology?

    significandy with the wants and desires that people already have, catching up genuine hopes and needs. reinflecting them in their own peculiar idiom, and feeding them back to their subjects in ways which render these ideo- logies plausible and attractive. They must be ‘real’ enough to provide the basis on which individuals can fashion a coherent identity, must furnish some solid motivations for effective action. and must make at least some feeble attempt to explain away their own more flagrant contradictions and incoherencies. In short, successful ideologies must be more than imposed illusions, and for all their inconsistencies must communicate to their subjects a version of social reality which is real and recognizable enough ~ot to be simply rejected out of hand. They may, for example, be true enough in what they assert but false in what they deny, as John Stuart Mill considered almost all social theories to be. Any ruling ideology which failed altogether to mesh with its subjects’ lived experience would be extremely vulnerable, and its exponents would be well advised to trade it in for another. But none of this contradicts the fact that ideologies quite often contain important propositions which are absolutely false: that Jews are inferior beings, that women are less rational than men, that fornicators will be condemned to perpetual torment.19 If these views are not instances of false consciousness, then it is difficult to know what is; and those who dismiss the whole notion of false consciousness must be careful not to appear cavalier about the offensiveness of these opinions. If the ‘false consciousness’ case commits one to the view that ideology is simply unreal, a fantasy entirely disconnected from social reality, then it is difficult to know who, these days at least, actually subscribes to such a standpoint. 1£ on the other hand, it does no more than assert that there are some quite central ideological utterances which are manifesdy false, then it is equally hard to see how anybody could deny this. The real question, perhaps, is not whether one denies this, but what role one ascribes to such falsehood in one’s theory of ideology as a whole. Are false representations of social reality somehow constitutive of ideology, or more contingent to it?

    One reason why ideology would not seem to be a matter of false consciousness is that many statements which people might agree to be ideological are obviously true. ‘Prince Charles is a thoughtful, conscientious fellow, not hideously ugly’ ~s true, but most people who thought it worch saying would no doubt be using the statement in some way to buttress the power of royalty. ‘Prince Andrew is more intelligent than a hamster’ is also probably true, if somewhat more controversial; but the effect of such a





    pronouncement (if one ignores the irony) is again likely to be ideological in the sense of helping to legitimate a dominant power. This, however, may not be enough to answer those who hold that ideology is in general falsifying. For it can always be argued that while such utterances are empirically true, they are false in some deeper, more fundamental way. It is true that Prince Charles is reasonably conscientious, but it is not true that royalty is a desir- able institution. Imagine a management spokesperson announcing that ‘If this strike continues, people will be dying in the streets for lack of ambulances.’ This might well be true, as opposed to a claim that they will be dying of boredom for lack of newspapers: but a striking worker might nevertheless see the spokesperson as a twister, since the force of the observa- tion is probably ‘Get back to work’, and there is no reason to assume that this, under the Circumstances, would he the most reasonable thing to do. To say that the statement is ideological is then to claim that it is powered by an ulterior motive bound up with the legitimation of certain interests in a power struggle. We might say that the spokesperson’s comment is true as a piece of language, but not as a piece of discourse. It describes a possible situation accurately enough: but as a rhetorical act aimed at producing certain effects it is false, and this in two senses. It is false because it involves a kind of deception – the spokesperson is not really saying what he or she means; and it carries with it an implication – that getting back to work would be the most constructive action to take – which may well not be the case.

    Other types of ideological enunciation are true in what they affirm but false in what they ex~lude. ‘This land of liberty’, spoken by an American politician, may be true enough if one has in mind the freedom to practise one’s religion or turn a fast buck, but not if one considers the freedom to live without the fear of being mugged or to announce on prime-time television that the president is a murderer. Other kinds of ideological statement involve falsity without either necessarily intending to deceive or being significantly exclusive: ‘I’m British and proud of it’, for example. Both parts of this observation may be true, but it implies that being British is a virtue in itself, which is false. Note that what is involved here is less deception than self-deception, or delusion. A comment like ‘If we allow Pakistanis to live in our street, the house prices will fall’ may well be true, but it may involve the assumption that Pakistanis are inferior beings, which is false~

    It would seem, then. that some at least of what we call ideological discourse is true at one level but not at another: true in its empirical content




    Whatls Ideology?

    but deceptive in its force, or true in its surface meaning but false in its underlying assumptions. And to chis extent the ‘false consciousness’ thesis need not be significandy shaken by the recognition that not all ideological language characterizes the world in erroneous ways. To speak, however, of ‘false assumptions’ broaches a momentous topic. For someone might argue that a statement like ‘Being British is a virtue in itself’ is not false in the same sense that it is false to believe that Ghengis Khan is alive and well and running a boutique in the Bronx. Is not this just to confuse two different meanings of the word ‘false’? I may happen not to believe that being British is a virtue in itself; but this is just my opinion, and is surely not on a level with declarations like ‘Paris is the capital of Afghanistan’, which everyone would agree to be factually untrue. .

    What side you take up in this debate depends on whether or not you are a moral realist. 20 One kind of opponent of moral realism wants to hold that our discourse divides into two distinct kinds: those speech acts which aim to describe the way things are, which involve criteria of truth and falsity; and those which express evaluations and prescriptions, which do not. On this view, cognitive language is one thing and normative ot prescriptive language quite another. A moral realist, by contrast, refuses this binary opposition of ‘fact’ and ‘value’ (which has in fact deep roots in bourgeois philosophical history), . and ‘denies that we can draw any intelligible distinction between those parts of assertoric discourse which do, and those which do not, genuinely describe reality’.21 On this theory, it is mistaken to think that our language separates out into steel-hard objectivism and soggy subjectivism, into a realm of indubitable physical facts and a sphere of precariously floating values. Moral judgements are as much candidates for rational argumentation as are the more obviously descriptive parts of our speech. For a realist, such normative statements purport to describe what is the case: there are ‘moral facts’ as well as physical ones, about which our judgements can be said to be either true or false. That Jews are inferior beings is quite as false as that Paris is the capital of Afghanistan; it isn’t just a question of my private opinion or of some ethical posture I decide to assume towards the world. To declare that South Africa is a racist society is not just a more imposing way of saying that I happen not to like the set-up in South Africa.

    One reason why moral judgements do not seem to us as solid as judge- ments about the physical world is that we live in a society where there are fundamental conflicts .of value. Indeed the only moral case which the liberal pluralist would rule out is one which would interfere with this free market





    in values. Because we cannot agree at a fundamental level, it is tempting to believe that values are somehow free-floating – that moral judgements cannot be subject to criteria of truth and falsehood because these criteria are as a matter of fact in considerable disarray. We can be reasonably sure about whether Abraham Lincoln was taller than fo~r feet, but not about whether there are circumstances in which it is permissible to kill. The fact that we cannot currently arrive at any consensus on this matter, however. is no reason to assume that it is just a question of some unarguable personal option or intuition. Whether or not one is a moral realist. then, will make a difference to one’s assessment of how far ideological language involves false- hood. A moral realist will not be persuaded out of the ‘false consciousness’ case just because it can be shown that some ideological proposition is empirically true, since that proposition might always be shown to encode a normative claim that was in fact false.

    All of this has a relevance to the widely influential theory of ideology proposed by the French Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser. For Althusser. one can speak of descriptions or representations of the world a~ being either / true or false; but ideology is not for him at root a matter of such descriptions at all. and criteria of truth and falsehood are thus largely irrelevant to it. Ideology for Althusser does indeed represent – but what it represents is the way I ‘live’ my relations to society as a whole. which cannot be said to be a question of truth or falsehood. Ideology for Althusser is a particular organ- ization of signifying practices which goes to constitute human beings as social subjects, and which produces the lived relations by which such subjects are connected to the dominant relations of production in a society. As a term, it covers all the various political modalities of such relations, from an idennfication with the dominant power to an oppositional stance towards it. Though Althusser thus adoptS the broader sense of ideology we have examined. his thinking about the topic. as we shall see later. is covertly constrained by an attention to the narrower sense of ideology as a dominant formation.

    There is no doubt that Althusser strikes a lethal blow at any purely rationalistic theory of ideology – at the notion that it consists simply of a collection of distorting representations of reality and empirically false propositions. On the contrary, ideology for Althusser alludes in the main to our affective. unconscious relations with the world. to the ways in which we are pre-reflectively bound up in social reality. It is a matter of how that reality ‘strikes’ us in the form of apparently spontaneous experience. of the




    What Is Ideology?

    ways in which human subjects are ceaselessly at stake in it, investing in their relations to social life as a crucial part of what it is to be themselves. One might say that ideology, rather like poetry for the literary critic I.A Richards, is less a matter of propositions than of ‘pseudo-propositions’.22 It appears often enough on its grammatical surface to be referential (descriptive of states of affairs) while being secredy ’emotive’ (expressive of the lived reality of human subjects) or ‘conative’ (directed towards the achievement of certain effects). If this is so, then it would seem that there is a kind of slipper- iness or duplicity built into ideological language, rather of the kind that Immanuel Kant thought he had discovered in the nature of aesthetic judge- ments.23 Ideology, Althusser claims, ‘expresses a will, a hope or a nostalgia, rather than describing a reality’;2~ it is fundamentally a matter of fearing and denouncing, reverencing and reviling, all of which then sometimes gets coded into a discourse which looks as though it is describing the way things actually are. It is thus, in the terms of the philosopher J L. Austin, ‘performa- tive’ rather than ‘constative’language: it belongs to the class of speech acts which get something done (cursing, persuading, celebrating and so on) rather than to the discourse of description.25 A pronouncement like ‘Black is beautiful’, popular in the days of the Ainerican civil rights movement, looks on the surface as though it is characterizing a state of affairs, but is in fact of course a rhecorical act of defiance and self-affirmation.

    Althusser tries to shift us, then, from a cognitive to an affective theory of ideology – which is not necessarily to deny that ideology contains certain cognitive elements, or to reduce it to the merely ‘subjective’. It is certainly subjective in the sense of being subject-centred: its utterances are to be deciphered as expressive of a speaker’s attitudes or lived relations to the world. But it is not a question of mere private whim. To assert that one doesn’t like tinkers is unlikely to have the ·same force as asserting that one doesn’t like tomatoes. The latter aversion may just be a private quirk; the former is likely to involve certain beliefs about the value of rootedness, self- di~cipline and the dignity oflabour which are central to the reproduction of a particular social system. On the model of ideology we are examining, a statement like ‘Tinkers are a flea-ridden, thieving hunch oflayabouts’ could be decoded into some such performative utterance as ‘Down with tinkers!’, and this in turn could be decoded into some such proposition as ‘There are reasons connected with our relations CO the dominant social order which make us want to denigrate these people.’ It is worth noring, however, that if the speaker himself could effect the second decodement, he would already





    be well on the way to overcoming his prejudice. Ideological statements. then, would seem to be subjective but not private;

    and in this sense too they have an affinity with Kant’s aesthetic judgements. which are at once subjective and universal. On the one hand, ideology is no mere set of abstract doctrines hut the stuff which makes us uniquely what we are, constitutive of our very identities; on the other hand, it presents itself as an ‘Everybody knows that’~ a kind of anonymous universal truth. {Whether all ideology universalizes in this way is a question we shall take up later.} Ideology is a set of viewpoints I happen to hold; yet that ‘happen’ is somehow more thanjust fomiitous, as happening to prefer parting my hair down the middle is probably not. It appears often enough as a ragbag of impersonal, subjectless tags and adages; yet these shop-soiled platitudes are deeply enough entwined with the roots of personal identity to impel us from time to time to murder or martyrdom. In the sphere of ideology, concrete particular and universal truth glide ceaselessly in and out of each other, by-passing “the mediation of rational analysis.

    If ideology is less a matter of representations of reality than of lived relations, does this fmally put paid to the truth/falsehood issue? One reason to think that it might is that it is hard to see how someone could be mistaken about their lived experience. I may mistake Madonna for a minor deity, but can I he mistaken about the feelings of awe this inspires in me? The answer. surely, is that I can. There is no reason to believe in a post- Freudian era that our lived experience need be any less ambiguous than our ideas. I can be as mistaken about my feelings as I can be about anything else: ‘I thought at the time I was angry, but looking back I see that I was afraid: Perhaps my sensation of awe at the sight of Madonna is just a defence against my unconscious envy of her superior earning-power. That I am experi- encing something can’t be doubted, any more than I can doubt that I ~ in pain; but what precisely my ‘lived relations’ to the social order consist in may be a more problematical affair than the Althusserians sometimes seem to think. Perhaps it is a mistake to imagine that Althusser is speaking here primarily of conscious experience, since our lived relations to social reality are for him largely unconscious. But if our conscious experience is elusive and indeterminate – a point which those political radicals who appeal dogma- tically to ‘experience’ as some sort of absolute fail to recognize – then our unconscious life is even more so.

    There is another, rather different sense in which the categories of truth and falsehood may be said to apply to one’s lived experience, which returns




    What Is Ideology?

    us to the issue of moral realism. I really am furious that my teenage son has shaved off his hair and dyed his skull a flamboyant purple, but I retain enough shreds of rationality to acknowledge that this feeling is ‘false’ – in the sense of being, not illusory or a self-misinterpretation, but one based upon false values. My anger is motivated, by the false belief that teenagers ought to appear in public like bank managers, that they should be socially conformist and so on. One’s lived experience may be false in the sense of’inauthentic’, untrue to those values which can be held to be definitive of what it is for human beings in a particular situation to live well. For a moral realist of radical persuasion, someone who believes that the highest goal in life is to amass as much private wealth as possible, preferably by grinding others into the dust, is just as much in error as someone who believes that Henry Gibson is the name of a Norwegian playwright.

    Althusser may be right that ideology is chiefly a question of ‘lived relations’; but there are no such relations which do not tacitly involve a set of beliefs and assumptions, and these beliefs and assumptions may themselves be open to judgements of truth and falsehood. A racist is usually someone in the grip of fear, hatred and insecurity, rather than someone who has dis- passionately arrived at certain intellectual judgements on other races, but even if his feelings are not motillatedby such judgements, they are likely to be deeply entwined with them; and these judgements – that certain races are inferior to others, for example – are plainly false. Ideology may indeed be primarily a matter of performative utterances – of imperatives like ‘Rule, Britannia!’, of optatives like ‘May Margaret Thatcher reign for another thousand years!’, or interrogatives like ‘Is not this nation blessed under heaven?’ Bu’t each of these speech acts is bound up with thoroughly questionable assumptions: that British imperialism is an excellent thing, that another thousand years of Thatcher would have been a deeply desirable state of affairs, that there exists a supreme being with a particular interest in supervising the nation’s progress.

    The Althusserian case need not be taken as denying that judgements of truth and falsehood may be at some level applicable to ideological discourse; it may simply be arguing that within such discourse the affective typically outweighs the cognitive. Or – which is a somewhat different matter – that the ‘practico-social’ takes predominance over theoretical knowledge. Ideologies for Althusser do contain a kind of knowledge; but they are not primarily cognitive, and the knowledge in question is less theoretical (which is strictly speaking for Althusser the only kind of knowledge there is) than





    pragmatic, one which orients the subject to its practical tasks in society. In fact, however, many apologists for this case have ended up effectively denying the relevance of truth and falsehood to ideology altogether. Para- mount among such theorists in Britain has been the sociologist Paul Hirst, who argues that ideology cannot be a matter of false consciousness because it is indubitably real. ‘Ideology … is not illusion, it is not falsity, because how can something which has effects be false? … It would be like saying that a black. pudding is false, or a steamroller is false.’26 It is easy enough to see what kind of logical slide is taking place here. There is a confusion between ‘false’ as meaning ‘untrue to what is the case’, and ‘false’ as meaning ‘unreal’. (As if someone were to say: ‘Lying isn’t a matter of falsehood; he really djd lie to me!’) It is quite possible to hold that ideology may sometimes be false in the first sense, but not in the second. Hirst simply collapses the epistemological questions at stake here into ontological ones. It may be that I really did experience a group of badgers in tartan trousers nibbling my toes the other evening, but this was probably because of those strange chemical substances the local vicar administered to me, not because they were actually there. On Hirst’s view, one would have no way of distinguishing between dreams, hallucinations and reality, since all of them are actually experienced and all of them can have real effects. Hirst’s manoeuvre here recalls the dodge of those aestheticians who, confronted with the knotty problem of how art relates to reality, solemnly remind us that art is indubitably reaL

    Rather than ditching the epistemological issues altogether a la Hirst, it might be more useful to ponder the suggestion that ideological discourse typically displays a certain ratio between empirical propositions and what we might roughly term a ‘world view’, in which the latter has the edge over the former. The closest analogy to this is perhaps a literary work. Most literary works contain empirical propositions; they may mention, for example, that there is a lot of snow in Greenland, or that human beings typically have two ears. But part of what is meant by ‘fictionality’ is that these statements are not usually present for their own sake; they act, rather, as ‘supports’ for the overall world view of the text itsel£ And the ways in which these empirical statements are selected and deployed is generally governed by this requirement. ‘Constative’ language, in other words, is harnessed to ‘performative’ ends; empirical truths are organized as com- ponents of an overall rhetoric. If that rhetoric seems to demand it, a particular empirical truth may be bent into falsehood: a historical novel may find it more convenient for its suasive strategies to have Lenin live on for another




    What Is Ideology?

    decade. Similarly, a racist who believes that Asians in Britain will outnumber whites by the year 1995 may well not be persuaded out of his racism if he can be shown that this assumption is empirically false, since the proposition is more likely to be a support for his racism than a reason for it. If the claim is disproved he may simply modify it, or replace it with another, true or false. It is possible, then, to think of ideological discourse as a complex network of empirical and nonnative elements, within which the nature and organization of the former is ultimately determined by the requirements of the latter. And this may be one sense in which an ideological formation is rather like a novel.

    Once again, however, this may not be enough to dispose of the truth! falsity issue, relegating it to the relatively superficial level of empirical state- ments. For there is still the more fundamental question of whether a ‘world view’ may not itself be considered true or false. The anti-false-consciousness case would seem to hold that it is not possible to falsify an ideology, rather as some literary critics insist that it is not possible to falsify or verify the world view of a work of art. In bom cases, we simply ‘suspend our disbelief’ and examine the proffered way of seeing on its own terms, grasping it as a symbolic expression of a certain way of ‘living’ one’s world. In some senses, this is surely true. If a work of literature chooses to highlight images of human degradation, then it would seem futile to denounce this as somehow incorrect. But there are surely limits to this aesthetic charity. Literary critics do not always accept the world view of a text ‘on its own terms’; they some- times want to say that this vision of things is implausible, distorting, over- simplifying. If a literary work highlights images of disease and degradation to me point where it tacitly suggests that human life is entirely valueless, then a critic might well want to object that this is a drastically partial way of seeing. In this sense, a way of seeing, unlike a way of walking, is not necessar- ily immune to judgements of truth and falsehood, although some of its aspects are likely to be more immune than others. A world view will tend to exhibit a certain ‘style’ of perception, which cannot in itself be said to be either true or false. It is not false for Samuel Beckett to portray the world in spare, costive, minimalist terms. It will operate in accordance with a certain ‘grammar’, a system of rules for organizing its various elements, which again cannot usefully be spoken of in terms of truth or falsehood. But it will also typically contain other sorts of component. both normative and empirical, which may indeed sometimes be inspected for their truth or falsity.

    Another suggestive analogy between literature and ideology may be





    gleaned from the work of the literary theorist Paul de Man. For de Man. a piece of writing is specifically ‘literary’ when its ‘constative’ and ‘performa- tive’ dimensions are somehow at odds with each otherP Literary works, in de Man’s view, tend to ‘sat one thing and ‘do’ another. Thus, W.B. Yeats’s line of poetry, ‘How can we know the dancer from the dance?’, read litera~y, asks about how we can draw the distinction’ in questiop; but its effect’as a rhetorical or performative piece of discourse is to suggest that such a distinc- tion cannot be drawn. Whether this will do as a general theory of the ‘literary’ is in my view distinctly dubious; but it can be coupled with a certain theory of the workings of ideology, one outlined by Denys Turner. Turner has argued that one notable problem in the theory of ideology turns on the puzzle of how ideological beliefs can be said to be both ‘lived’ and false. For our lived beliefs are in some sense internal to our social practices; and if they are thus constitutive of those practices, they can hardly be said to ‘correspond’ (or not correspond) to them. As Turner puts its: ‘Since, there- fore, there seems to be no epistemic space between what is socially lived and the social ideas of it, there seems to be no room for a false relationship between the twO.’28

    This, surely, is one of the strongest points which the anti-false-conscious- ness case has going for it. There cannot be a merely external or contingent relation between our social practices and the ideas by which we ‘live’ them; so how can these ideas, or some of them, be said to be false? Turner’s own answer to this problem resembles de Man’s case about the literary text. He claims that ideology consists in a ‘performative contradiction’, in which what is said is at odds with the situation or act of utterance itsel£ When the middle class preaches universal freedom from a position of domination, or when a teacher hectors his students at tedious length about the perils of an authoritarian pedagogy, we have ‘a contradiction between a meaning conveyed explicitly and a meaning conveyed by the act itself of conveying?’) which for Turner is the essential structure of all ideology. Whether this in fact covers all that we call ideological practice is perhaps as doubtful as whether de Man’s case covers all that we call literature; but it is an illumin- ating account of a particular kind of ideological act.

    So far we have been considering the role within ideology of what might be called epistemic falsehood. But as Raymond Geuss has argued, there are two other forms of falsity highly relevant to ideological consciousness, which can be termedfonctional and genetic.30 False consciousness may mean not that a body of ideas is actually untrue, but that these ideas are functional




    What Is Ideology?

    for the maintenance of an oppressive power, and that those who hold them are ignorant of this fact. Similarly, a belief may not be false in itself, but may spring from some discreditable ulterior motive of which ~ose who hold it are unaware. As Geuss summarizes the point: consciousness may be false because it ‘incorporates beliefs which are false, or because it functions in a reprehellSible way, ~r because it has a tainted origin’.3l Epistemic, functional and genetic forms of false consciousness may go together, as when a false belief which -rationalizes some disreputable social motive proves useful in promoting the unjust interests of a dominant power; but other permutations are also possible. lhere may, for example, be no inherent connection between the falsity of a belief and its functionality for an oppressive power; a true belief might have done just as well. A set of ideas, whether true or false, may be ‘unconsciously’ motivated by the selfish interests of a ruling group, but may in fact prove dysfunctional for the promotion or legitimation of those interests. A fatalistic group of ,oppressed individuals may not recognize that their fatalism is an unconscious rationalization of their wretched conditions. but this fatalism may well not prove serviceable for their interests. It might, on the other hand, prove functional for the interests of their rulers, in which case a ‘genetic’ false consciousness on the part of one social class becomes functional for the interests of another. Beliefs functional for a social group. in other words, need not be motivated from within that group. but may. so to speak, just fall into its lap. Forms of consciousness functional for one social class may also prove functional for another whose interests are in conflict with it. As far as ‘genetic’ falsity goes, the fact that the true underlying motivation of a set of beliefs sometimes must be concealed from view is enough to cast doubt on its reputability; but to hold that the beliefs which disguise this motive must be false simply on account of their contaminated origin would be an instance of the genetic fallacy. From a radical political viewpoint. there may be positive kinds of unconscious motivation and positive forms of functionality: socialists will tend to approve of forms of consciousness which, however displacedly. express the underlying interests of the working class. or which actively help to promote

    .. those interests. The fact that a motivation is concealed, in other words. is not enough in itself to suggest falsity; the question is rather one of what sort of motivation it is, and whether it is of the kind that has to remain hidden from view. Finally. we can note that a body of beliefs may be false but rational, in the sense of internally coherent. consistent with the available evidence and held on what appear to be plausible grounds. The fact that ideology is not at




    Ideology \,.

    root a matter of reason does not license us to eq~ie it with irration- ality.

    Let us take stock of some of the argument so far. Those who oppose the idea of ideology as false consciousness are right to see that ideology is no baseless illusion but a solid reality, an active material force which must have at least enough cognitive content to help organize the practical lives of human beings. It does not consist primarily in a set of propositions about the world; and many of the propositions it does advance are actually true. None of this, however. need be denied by those who hold that ideology often or typically involves falsity, distortion and mystification. Even if ideology is largely a matter of ‘lived relations’, those relations, at least in certain social conditibns, would often seem to involve claims and beliefs which are untrue. As Tony Skillen scathingly inquires of those who reject this case: ‘Sexist ideologies do not (distortingly) represent women as naturally inferior? Racist ideologies do not confine non-whites to perpetual savagery? ‘Religious ideologies do not represent the world as the creation of gods?’32

    It does not follow from this, however, that all ideological language necessarily involves falsehood. It is quite possible for a ruling order to make pronouncements which are ideological in the sense of buttressing its own power, but which are in no sense false. And if we extend the term ideology to include oppositional political movements, then radicals at least would want to hold that many of their utterances, while ideological in the sense of promoting their power-interests. are nonetheless true. This is not to suggest that such movements may not also engage in disrortion and mystification. ‘Workers of the world, unite; you have nothing to lose but your chains’ is in one sense obviously false; workers have a good deal to lose by political militancy, not least, in some cases, their lives. ‘The West is a paper tiger’, Mao’s celebrated slogan, is dangerously misleading and mumphalist.

    Nor is it the case that all commitment to the dominant social order involves some sort of delusion. Someone might have a perfectly adequate understanding of the mechanisms of capitalist exploitation. but conclude that this kind of society. while unjust and oppressive, is on the whole prefer- able to any likely alternative. From a. socialist viewpoint, such a person is mistaken: but it is hard to call them deluded, in the sense of systematically misinterpreting the real situation. There is a difference between being mistaken and being deluded: if someone lifts a cucumber and announces his telephone number we may. conclude that he has made a mistake, whereas if




    What Is Ideology?

    he spends long evenings chatting vivaciously into a cucumber we might have to draw different conclusions. There is also the case of the person who commits himself to ; the ruling social order on entirely cynical grounds. Someone who urges you to get rich quick may be promoting capitalist values; but he may not necessarily be legitimating these values. Perhaps he simply believes that in a corrupt world you might as well pursue your own self-interest along with everyone else. A man might appreciate the justice of the feminist cause, but simply refuse to surrender his male privilege. It is unwise, in other words, to assume that dominant groups are always victims of their own propaganda; there is the condition which Peter Sloterdijk calls ‘enlightened false consciousness’, which lives by false values but is ironically aware of doing so~ and so which can hardly be said to be mystified in the traditional sense of the tenn.33

    If dominant ideologies very often involve falsity, however, it is parcly because most people are not in fact cynics. Imagine a society in which every- body was either a cynic or a masochist, or bach. In such a situation there would be no need for ideology, in the sense of a set of discourses concealing or legitimating injustice, because the masochists would not mind their suffering and the cynics would feel no unease about inhabiting an exploita- tive social order. In fact, the majority of people have a fairly sharp eye to their own rights and interests, and most people feel uncomfortable at the thought of belonging to a seriously unjust fonn of life. Either, then, they must believe that these injustices are en route to being amended, or that they are counterbalanced by greater benefits, or that they are inevitable, or that they are not really injustices at all. It is part of the function of a dominant ideology to inculcate such beliefs. It can do this either by falsifying social reality, suppressing and excluding certain unwelcome features of it, or suggesting that these features cannot be avoided. This last strategy is of interest from the viewpoint of the truth/falsity problem. For it may be true of the present system that, say, a degree of unemployment is inevitable, but not of some future alternative. Ideological statements may be true to society as at present constituted, but false in so far as they thereby serve to block off the possibility of a transformed state of affairs. The very truth of such state- ments is also the falsehood of their implicit denial that anything better could be conceived.

    If ideology is sometimes falsifying, then, it is for what are on the whole rather hopeful reasons: the fact that most people react strongly to being u.yustly treated, and that most people would like to believe that they live in





    reasonably just social conditions. It is strange in this light for some radicals to argue that deception and concealment play no part in a dominant ideological discourse, since to be a political radical commits one to the view that the current social order is marked by serious injustices. And no ruling class concerned with preserving its credibility can afford to acknowledge that these injustices could only be rectified by a political transformation which would put it out of business. If, then, ideology sometimes involves distortion and mystification. it is less because of something inherent in ideological language than because of something inherent in the social struc- rure to which that language belongs. There are certain kinds of interests which can secure their sway only by practising duplicity; but this is not to claim on the other hand that all of the statements used to promote those interests will be duplicitous. Ideology. in other words. is not inherently constituted by distortion, especially if we take the broader view of the concept as denoting any fairly central conjuncture between discourse and power. In an entirely just society. there would be no need for ideology in the pejorative sense since there would be nothing to explain away.

    It is possible to defme ideology- in roughly six different ways. in a progressive sharpening of focus. We can mean by it. first, the general material process of production of ideas, beliefs and values in social life. Such a defInition is both politically and epistemologically neutral, and is close to the broader meaning of the term ‘culture’. ideology, or culture, would here denote the whole complex of signifying pra~tices and symbolic processes in a particular society; it would allude to the way individuals ‘lived’ their social practices. rather than to those practices themselves, which would be the preserve of politics, economics. kinship theory and soon. This sense of ideology is wider than the sense of ‘culrure’ which confmes itself to artistic and intellectual work of agreed value, but narrower than the anthropological defmition of culture, which would encompass all of the practices and institutions of a form of life. ‘Culture’ in this anthropological sense would include, for example, the financial infrastructure of sport, whereas ideology would concern itself more particularly with the signs, meanings and values encoded in sporting activities.

    This most general of all meanings of ideology stresses the social deter- mination of thought, thus providing a valuable antidote to idealism; but otherwise it would seem unworkably broad and suspiciously silent on the question of political conflict. Ideology means more thanjust, say. the signify- ing practices associated by a society with food; it involves the relations




    What Is Ideology?

    between these signs and processes of political power. It is not coextensive with the general field of ‘culture’, but lights up this field from a particular angle.

    A second, slightly less general meaning of ideology turns on ideas and beliefs (whether true or false) which symbolize the conditions and life- experiences of a specific, socially significant group or class. 1he qualification ‘socially significant’ is needed here, since it would seem odd to speak of the ideas and beliefs of four regular drinking companions or of the Sixth Form at Manchester Grammar School as an ideology all of its own. ‘Ideology’ is here very close to the idea of a ‘world view’, though it can be claimed that world views are usually preoccupied with fundamental matters such as the meaning of death or humanity’s place in the universe, whereas ideology might extend to such issues as which colour to paint the mail-boxes.

    To see ideology as a kind of collective symbolic self-expression is not yet to see it in relational or conflictive tenns; so there might seem to be a need for a third definition of the term, which attends to the promotion and legitimation of the interests of such social groups in the face of opposing interests. Not all such promotions of group interests are usually dubbed ideological: it is not particularly ideological for the army to request the Ministry of Defence to supply it on aesthetic grounds with flared trousers rather than with straight ones. 1he interests in question must have some relevance to the sustaining or challenging of a whole political form of life. Ideology can here be seen as a discursive field in which self-promoting social powers conflict and collide over questions central to the reproduction of social power as a whole. This definition may entail the assumption that ideology is a peculiarly ‘action-oriented’ discourse, in which contemplative cognition is generally subordinated to the futherance of ‘arational’ interests and desires. It is doubtless for this reason that to speak ‘ideologically’ has sometimes in the popular mind a ring of distasteful opportunism about it, suggesting a readiness to sacrifice truth to less reputable goals. Ideology appears here as a suasive or rhetorical rather than veridical kind of speech. concemed less with the situation ‘as it is’ than with the production of certain ‘useful effects for political purposes. It is ironic, then, that ideology is regarded by some as too pragmatic and by others as not pragmatic enough, as too absolutist. otherworldly and inflexible.

    A fourth meaning of ideology would retain this emphasis on the promo- tion and legitimation of sectoral interests, but confine it to the activities of a . dominant social power. This may involve the assumption that such





    dominant ideologies help to unify a social formation in ways convenient for its rulers; that it is not simply a matter of imposing ideas from above but of securing the complicity of subordinated classes and groups, and so on .. We shall be examining these assumptions more closely later on. But this meaning of ideology is still epistemologically neutral and can thus be refined further into a fifth definition, in which ideology signifies ideas and beliefs which help to legitimate the interests of a ruling group or class specifically by distortion and dissimulation. Note that on these last two definitions, not all of the ideas of a ruling group need be said to be ideo- logical, in that some of them may not particularly promote its interests, and some of them may not do so by the use of deception. Note also that on this last defmition it is hard to know what to call a politically oppositional discourse which promotes and seeks to legitimate the interests of a sub- ordinate group or class by such devices as the ‘naturalizing’, universalizing and cloaking of its real interests.

    There is, finally, the possibility of a sixth meaning of ideology, which retains an emphasis on false or deceptive beliefs but regards such beliefs as arising not from the interests of a dominant class but from the material strucrure of society as a whole. The term ideology remains pejorative, but a class-genetic account of it is avoided. The most celebrated instance of this sense of ideology, as we shall se~, is Marx’s theory of the fetishism of commodities.

    We can return finally to the question 9f ideology as ‘lived relations’ rather than empirical representations. If this is crue, then certain important political consequences follow from this view. It follows, for instance, that ideology cannot be substantially transformed by offering individuals true descriptions in place of false ones – that it is not in this sense simply a mistake. We would not call a form of consciousness ideological just because it was· in factual error, no matter how deeply erroneous it was. To speak of ‘ideological error’ is to speak of ~n error with particular kinds of causes and functions. A transformation of our lived relations to reality could be secured only by a material change in that reality itsel£ To deny that ideology is primarily a matter of empirical representations, then, goes along with a materialist theory of how it operates, and of how it might be changed. At the same time, it is important not to react so violently against a rationalistic theory ofideology as to abstain from trying to put people right on matters of fact. If someone really does believe that all childless women are thwarted and embittered, introducing him to as many ecstatic childfree women as possible




    What Is Ideology?

    might just persuade him to change his mind. To deny that ideology is fundamentally an affair of reason is not to conclude that it is immune to rational considerations altogether. And ‘reason’ here would mean something like: me kind of discourse that would result from as many people as possible actively participating in a discussion of these matters in conditions as free as possible from domination.







    BEFORE advancing any further, it may be as well to ask whether the topic of ideology really merits the attention we are lavishing upon it Are ideas really so important for political power? Most theories of ideology have arisen from within the materialist tr~dition of thought, and it belongs to such material- ism to be sceptical of assigning any very high priority to ‘consciousness’ within social life. Certainly. for a materialist theory, consciousness alone cannot initiate any epochal change in history; and there may therefore be thought to be something self-contradictory about such materialism doggedly devoting itself to an inquiry into signs, meanings and values.

    A good example of the limited power of consciousness in social life is the so-called Thatcherite revolution. The aim ofThatcherism has been not only to transform the economic and political landscape of Britain, but to effect an upheaval in ideological values too. This consists in converting the moder- ately pleasant people who populated the country when Thatcher first arrived in Downing Street into a thoroughly nasty bunch of callous. self- seeking oafs. Unless most of the British have become completely hideous and disgusting characters. Thatcherism has failed in its aims. Yet all the evidence would suggest that the Thatcherite revolution has not occurred. Opinion polls reveal that most of the British people stubbornly continue to adhere to the vaguely social democratic values they espoused before Thatcher assumed office. Whatever it was that kept her in Downing Street.





    then. it cannot primarily have been ideology. Thatcher was not where she was because the British people loyally identified with her values; she was where she was despite the fact that they did not. If there is indeed a ‘domi- nant ideology’ in contemporary Britain. it does not appear to be particularly successful.

    How then did Thatcher secure her power? The true answers may be a good deal more mundane than any talk of ‘hegemonic discourses’. She was Prime Minister pardy on account of the eccentricities of the British electoral system, which can put a government rejected by most of the electorate into power. She set out from the beginning to break the power of organized labour by deliberately fostering massive unemployment, thus temporarily demoralizing a traditionally militant working-class movement. She succeeded in winning the support of an electorally crucial skilled stratum of the working class. She traded upon the weak, disorganized nature of the political opposition. exploited the cynicism, apathy and masochism of some of the British people, and bestowed material benefits on those whose support she required. All of these moves are caught up in ideological hectoring of one kind or another; but none of them is reducible to the question of ideology.

    If people do not actively combat a political r~gime which oppresses them, it may not be because they have meekly imbibed its governing values. It may be because they are too exhausted after a hard day’s work to have much energy left to engage in political activity, or because they are too fatalistic or apathetic to see the point of such activity. They may be frightened of the consequences of opposing the regime; or they may spend too much time worrying about their jobs and mortgages and income tax returns to give it much thought. Ruling classes have at their disposal a great many such techniques of ‘negative’ social control, which are a good deal more prosaic and material than persuading their subjects that they belong to a master race or exhorting them to identify with the destiny of the nation.

    In advanced capitalist societies, the communications media are often felt to be a potent means by which a dominant ideology is disseminated; but this assumption should not go unquestioned. It is true that many of the British working class read right-wing Tory newspapers; but research indicates that a good proportion of these readers are either indifferent or actively hostile to the politics of these journals. Many people spend most of their leisure time watching television; but if watching television does benefit the ruling class, it may not be chiefly because it helps to convey its own ideology to a docile populace. What is politically important about television is probably less its




    Ideological Strategies

    ideological content than the act of watching it. Watching television for long stretches confirms individuals in passive. isolated, privatized roles, and consumes a good deal of time that could be put to productive political uses. It is more a form of social control than an ideological apparatus.

    This sceptical view of the centrality of ideology in modem society finds expression ill The Dominant Ideology Thesis (1980). by the sociologists N. Abercrombie. S. Hill and B. S. Turner. Abercrombie and his colleagues are not out to deny that dominant ideologies exist; but they doubt that they are an important means for lending cohesion to a society. Such ideologies may effectively unify the dominant class; but they are usually much less successful. so they argue, in infiltrating the consciousness of their sub- ordinates. In feudalist and early capitalist societies, for example, the mechan- isms for transmitting such ideologies to the masses were notably weak; there were no communications media or institutions of popular education, and many of the people were illiterate. Such channels of transmission do of course flourish in late capitalism; but the conclusion that the subaltern classes have thus been massively incorporated into the world view of their rulers is one which Abercrombie, Hill and Turner see fit to challenge. For one thing, they argue. the dominant ideology in advanced capitalist societies is internally fissured and contradictory, offering no kind of seamless unity for the masses to internalize; and for another thing the culture of dominated groups and classes retains a”good deal of autonomy. The everyday discourses of these classes, so the authors claim, is formed largely outside the control of the ruling class, and embodies significant beliefs and values at odds with it.

    what then does secure the cohesion of such social formations? Aber- crombie et at.’s first response to this query is to deny that such cohesion exists; the advanced capitalist order is in no sense a successfully achieved unity, riven as it is by major conflicts and contradictions. But in so far as the consent of the dominated to their masters is won at all, it is achieved much more by economic than by ideological means. What Marx once called ‘the dull compulsion of the economic’ is enough to keep men and women in their places; and such strategies as reformism – the ability of the capitalist system to yield tangible benefits to some at least of its underlings – are more crucial in this respect than any ideological complicity between the workers and their bosses. Moreover, if the system survives, it is more on account of social divisions between the various groups it exploits than by virtue of some overall ideol<?gical coherence. There is no need for those groups to endorse or internalize dominant ideological values, as long as they do more or less





    what is required of them. Indeed most oppressed peoples throughout history have signally not granted their rulers such credence: governments have been more endured than admired.

    The Dominant Ideology Thesis represents a valuable corrective to a left idealism which would overestimate the significance of culture and ideology for the maintenance of political power. Such ‘culturalism’, pervasive throughout the 19705, was itself a reaction to an earlier Marxist economism (or economic reductionism); but in the view of Abercrombie and his co- authors it bent the stick too far in the other direction. When one em- phasizes, as Jacques Derrida once remarked, one always overemphasizes. Marxist intellectuals trade in ideas, and so are always chronically likely to overrate their importance in society as a whole. There is nothing crudely economistic in claiming that what keeps people politically quiescent is less transcendental signifiers than a concern over their wage packets. By contrast with the patrician gloom of the late Frankfurt School, this case accords a healthy degree of respect to the experience of the exploited: there is no reason to assume that their political docility signals some gullible, fu11- blooded adherence to the doctrines of their superiors. It may signal rather a coolly realistic sense that political militancy, in a period when the capitalist system is still capable of conceding some material advantages to those who keep it in business, might be perilous and ill-advised. But if the system ceases to yield such benefits, then this same realism might well lead to revolt, since there would be no large-scale internalization of the ruling values to stand in the way of such rebellion. Abercrombie et aL are surely right too to point out that subaltern social groups often have their own rich, resistant cultures, which cannot be incorporated without a struggle into the value-systems of those who govern them.

    Even so, they might have bent the stick too far in their turn. Their claim that late capitalism operates largely ‘without ideology’ is surely too strong; and their summary dismissal of the dissembling, mystificatory effects of a ruling ideology has an implausible ring to it. The auth, surely, is that the diffusion of dominant values and beliefs among oppressed groups in society has some part to play in the reproduction of the system as a whole, but that this factor has been typically exaggerated by a long tradition of Western Marxism for which ‘ideas’ are allotted too high a status. As Gramsci argued, the consciousness of the oppressed is usually a contradictory amalgam of values imbibed from their rulers, and notions which spring more directly from their practical experience. By lending too little credence to the




    Ideological Strategies

    potentially incorporative functions of a dominant ideology, Abercrombie and his fellow-authors are sometimes as much in danger of over-simplifying this mixed, ambiguous condition as are the left Jeremiahs who peddle the illusion that all popular resistance has now been smoothly managed out of existence.

    There are other grounds on which to question the importance of ideology in advanced capitalist societies. You can argue, for example, that whereas rhetorical appeals to such public values played a centtal role in the ‘classical’ phase of the system, they have now been effectively replaced by purely technocratic forms of management. A case of this kind is urged by the German philosopher Jurgen Habermas, in his Towards a Rational Society (1970) and Legitimation Crisis (1975); but one needs to distinguish here between the view that ‘ideology’ has yielded to ‘technology’, and the thesis that the more ‘metaphysical’ forms of ideological cona-ol have now given ground to ‘technocratic’ ones. Indeed we shall see later that, for many theorists of ideology. the very concept of ideology is synonymous with the attempt to provide rational, technical. ‘scientific’ rationales for social domination, rather than mythic, religious or metaphysical ones. On some such views, the system oflate capitalism can be said to operate ‘all by itself’. without any need to resort to discursive justification. It no longer, so to speak. has to pass through consciousness; instead, it simply secures its own reproduction by a manipulative, incorporative logic of which human subjects are the mere. obedient effects. It is not surprising that the theoretical ideology known as structuralism should have grown up injust this historical epoch. Capitalist society no longer cares whether we believe in it or not; it is not ‘conscmusness’ or ‘ideology’ which welds it together, but its own complex systemic operations. This case thus inherits something of the later Marx’s insistence on the commodity as automatically supplying its own ideology: it is the routine material logic of everyday life, not some body of doctrine, set of moralizing discourses or ideological ‘superstructure’, which keeps the system ticking over.

    The point can be put in a different way. Ideology is essentially a matter of meaning; but the condition of advanced capitalism, some would suggest, is one of pervasive non-meaning. The sway of utility and technology bleach social life of significance, subordinating use-value to the empty formalism of exchange-value. Consumerism by-passes meaning in order to engage the subject subliminally, libidinally, at the level of visceral response rather than reflective consciousness. In this sphere, as in the realms of the media and





    everyday culture. form overwhelms content. signifiers lord it over signifieds. to deliver us the blank, affeccless. two-dimensional surfaces of a post- modernist social order. This massive haemorrhaging of meaning then triggers pathological symptoms in society at large: drugs, violence, mindless revolt, befuddled searches for mystical significance. But otherwise it fosters widespread apathy and docility, so that it is no longer a question of whether social life has meaning. or whether this particular signification is preferable to that, than of whether such a question is even intelligible. To talk about ‘significance’ and ‘society’ in the same breath just becomes a kind of category mistake, rather like hunting for the hidden meaning of a gust of wind or the hoot of an owl. From this viewpoint, it is less meaning that keeps us in place than the lack of it, and ideology in its classical sense is thus superfluous. Ideology, after all, requires a certain depth of subjectivity on which to go to work, a certain innate receptiveness to its edicts; but if advanced capitalism flattens the human subject to a viewing eye and devouring stomach. then there is not even enough subjectivity around for ideology to take hold. The dwindled, faceless, depleted subjects of this social order are not up to ideological meaning. and have no need of it Politics is less a matter of preaching or indoctrination than technical management and manipulation, form rather than content; once more, it is as though the machine runs itself, without needing to take a detour through the conscious mind. Education ceases to be a question of critical self-reflection and becomes absorbed in its tum into the technological apparatus. providing certification for one’s place within it. lhe typical citizen is less the ideological enthusiast shouting ‘Long live liberty!’ than the doped, glazed telly viewer, his mind as smooth and neutrally receptive as the screen in front of him. It then becomes possible, in a cynical ‘left’ wisdom, to celebrate this catatonic state as some cunning last- ditch resistance to ideological meaning – to revel in the very spiritual blank- ness of the late bourgeois order as a welcome relief from the boring old humanist nostalgia for truth, value and reality. The work of Jean Baudrillard is exemplary of this nihilism. ‘It is no longer a question’. Baudrillard writes, ‘of a false representation of reality (ideology), but of concealing the fact that the real is no longer real … ‘.1

    The case that advanced capitalism expunges all traces of ‘deep’ subject- ivity, and thus all modes of ideology, is not so much false as drastically partial. In a homogenizing gesture ironically typical of a ‘pluralistic’ post- modernism, it fails to discriminate between different spheres of social exist- ence, some of which are rather more open to this kind of analysis than




    Ideological Strategies

    others. It repeats the ‘culturalist’ error of taking television. supermarket, ‘life style’ and advertising as definitive of the late capitalist experience, and passes in silence over such activities as studying the bible. running a rape crisis centre, joining the territorial army and teaching one’s children to speak Welsh. People who run rape crisis centres or teach their children Welsh also tend to watch television and shop in supermarkets; there is no question of a single form of subjectivity (or ‘non-subjectivity’) at stake here. The very same citizens are expected to be at one level the mere function of this or that act of consumption or media experience, and at another level to exercise ethical responsibility as autonomous, self-determining subjects. In this sense, late capitalism continues to require a self-disciplined subject responsive to ideological rhetoric. as father. juror. patriot, employee, houseworker. while threatening to undercut these more ‘classical’ forms of subjecthood with its consumerist and mass-cultural practices. No individual life, not even Jean Baudrillard’s. can survive entirely bereft of meaning. and a society which took this nihilistic road would simply be nurturing massive social dis- ruption. Advanced capitalism accordingly oscillates between meaning and non-meaning, pitched from moralism to cynicism and plagued by the embarrassing discrepancy between the two.

    That discrepancy suggests another reason why ideology is sometimes felt to be redundant in modem capitalist societies. For ideology is supposed to deceive; and in the cynical milieu of postmodernism we are all much too fly. astute and streetwise to be conned for a moment by our own official rhetoric. It is this condition which Peter Sloterdijk names ‘enlightened false consciousness’ – the endless self-ironizing or wide-awake bad faith of a society which has seen through its own pretentious rationalizations. One can picture this as a kind of progressive movement. First, a disparity sets in between what society does and what it says; then this performative con- tradiction is rationalized; next, the rationalization is made ironically self- conscious; and finally this self-ironizing itself comes to serve ideological ends. The new kind of ideological subject is no hapless victim of false consciousness;-but knows exactly what he is doing; it is just that he continues to do it even so. And to this extent he would seem conveniently insulated against ‘ideology critique’ of the traditional kind. which presumes that agents are not fully in possession of their own motivations.

    There are several objections to this particular ‘end of ideology’ thesis. For one thing. it spuriously generalizes to a whole society what is really a highly specific mode of consciousness. Some yuppie stockbrokers may be cynically





    aware that there is no real defence for their way of life, but it is doubtful that Ulster Unionists spend much of their time being playfully ironic about their commitment to keeping Ulster British. For another thing, such irony is more likely to play into the hands of the ruling powers than to discomfort them, as Slavoj ZiZek observes: ‘in contemporary societies, democratic or totalitarian, … cynical distance, laughter, irony. are. so to speak, part of the game. The ruling ideology is not meant to be taken seriously or literally.t2 It is as though the ruling ideology has already accommodated the fact that we will be sceptical of it. and reorganized its discourses accordingly. The government spokesman announces that there is no truth in the charges of widespread corruption within the Cabinet; nobody believes him; he knows that nobody believes him, we know that he knows it, and he knows this too. Meanwhile the corruption carries on – which is just the point that ZiZek makes against the conclusion that false consciousness is therefore a thing of the past. One traditional form of ideology critique assumes that social practices are real, but that the beliefs used to justify them are false or illusory. But this opposition, so Zttek suggests, can be reversed. For if ideology is illusion, then it is an illusion which structures our social practices; and to this extent ‘falsity’ lies on the side of what we do. not necessarily of what we say. The capitalist who has devoured all three volumes of Capital knows exactly what he is doing; but he continues to behave as though he did not, because his activity is caught up in the ‘objective’ fantasy of commodity fetishism. Sloterdyk’s formula for enlightened false consciousness is: ‘they know very well what they are doing, but they carry on doing it even so’. Zttek, by contrast. suggests a crucial adjustment: ‘they know that, in their activity, they are following an illusion, but still, they are doing it’. Ideology, in other words, not just a matter of what I think about a situation; it is somehow inscribed in that situation itselt It is no good my reminding myself that I am opposed to racism as I sit down on a park bench marked ‘Whites Only’; by the acting of sitting on it, I have supported and perpe- tuated racist ideology. The ideology, so to speak, is in the bench, not in my head.

    In much deconstructive theory, the view that interpretation consists in an abyssal spiral of ironies, each ironizing the other to infinity, is commonly coupled with a political quietism or reformism. If political practice takes place only within a context of interpretation, and if that context is notor- iously ambiguous and unstable, then ac~on itself is likely to be problematic and unpredictable. This case is then used, implicitly or explicitly, to rule out




    Ideological Strategies

    the possibility of radical political programmes of an ambitious kind. For if the complex effects of such practices are impossible to calculate in advance, then the logic of such a radical programme of action is ultimately unmastCf:- able, and may easily get out of hand. It is a case which the post-structuralist critic Jonathan Culler, among others, has several times argued. One would, then. be singularly ill-advised to attempt any very ‘global’ sort of political activity, such as trying to abolish world hunger; it would seem more prudent to stick to more local political interventions, such as making sure every one in five professors you hire is an orphan from Liverpool 8. In this sense too, irony is no escape from the ideological game: on the contrary, as an implicit disrecommendation of large-scale political activity, it plays right into the hands of Whitehall or the White House.

    It is in any case important not to underestimate the extent to which people may not feel ironic about their performative contradictions. The world of big business is rife with the rhetoric of trust; but research reveals chat this principle is almost never acted upon. The last thing businessmen actually do is put their trust in their customers or each other. A corporation executive who claims this virtue may not. however, be a cynic or a hypocrite; or at least his hypocrisy may be ‘objective’ rather than subjective. For the ethical values which capitalism lauds, and its actual cut-throat practices. simply move in different spheres. much like the relationship between religious absolutes and everyday life. I still believe that profanity is a sin, even though my conversation is blue with it much of the time. The fact that I employ a team of six ,hard-pressed servants around the clock does not prevent me from believing in some suitably nebulous way that all men and women are equaL In an ideal world I would employ no servants at all, but there are pressing pragmatic reasons just at the moment why I am unable to live up to my burningly held beliefs. I object to the idea of private education, but if I were to place my daughter with all her airs and graces in a compre- hensive school, the .other children might bully her. Such rationalizations are well-nigh limitless, and this is one reason to doubt the suggestion that in

    .• modem capitalist society cold-eyed cynicism has entirely ousted genuine self-deception.

    We have seen that the importance of ideology can be questioned on several grounds. It can he claimed that there is no coherent dominant ideology, or that if there is then it is much less effective in shaping popular experience than has sometimes been thought. You can argue that advanced capitalism is a· self-sustaining ‘game’ which keeps us in place much less





    through ideas than by its material techniques; and that among these techniques the coercion of the economic is far more effective than any sort of sermonizing. The system, so it is suggested. maintains itself less through the imposition of ideological meaning than through destroying meaning altogether; and what meanings the masses do entertain can be at odds with those of their rulers without any serious disruption ensuing. Finally. it may be that there is a dominant ideology at work, but no~ody is gullible enough to fall for it. All of these cases have their kernel of truth – not least the claim that material factors play a more vital role in securing submission than ideological ones. It is also surely true that popular consciousness is far from being some obedient ‘instantiation’ of ruling ideological values, but runs counter to them in significant ways. If this gap looms sufficiendy wide, then a crisis oflegitimacy is likely to ensue; it is unrealistic to imagine that as long as people do what is required of them, what they think about what they are doing is neither here nor there.

    Taken as a whole, however, this end-of-ideology thesis is vastly im- plausible. If it were true, it would be hard to know why so many individuals in these societies still flock to church, wrangle over politics in the pubs, care about what their children are being taught in school and lose sleep over the steady erosion of the social services. The dystopian view that the typical citizen of advanced capitalism is the doped telly viewer is a myth. as the ruling class itself is uncomfortably aware. The doped telly viewer will soon enough join a picket line if her wage-packet is threatened, or become politically active if the government contemplates driving a motorway through his back garden. The ‘left’ cynicism of a Baudrillard· is insultingly complicit with what the system would like to believe – that everything now ‘works all by itsel£\ without regard to the way social issues are shaped and defmed in popular experience. If that experience really was entirely two- dimensional, then the consequences for the system would be grim. For the result. as we have seen, would be an accelerated outbreak of ‘pathological’ symptoms in society as a whole, as a citizenry deprived of meaning sought to create it in violent, gratuitous ways. Any ruling order must throw its under- lings enough meaning to be going on with; and if the logic of consumerism, bureaucracy, ‘instant’ culture and ‘managed’ politics is to sap the very resources of social significance. then this is in the long run exceedingly bad news for the governing order. Advanced capitalist society still requires the dutiful. self-disciplined, intelligently conformist subjects which some see as typical only of capitalism’s ‘classical’ phase; it is just that these particular




    Ideological Strategies

    modes of subjectivity are locked in conflict with the quite different forms of subjecthood appropriate to a ‘postmodernist’ order, and this is a contradic- tion which the system itself is quite powerless ~o resolve.

    Raymond Geuss has suggested a useful distinction between ‘descriptive’. ‘pejorative’ and ‘positive’ defmitions of the term ideology.3 In the descriptive or ‘anthropological’ sense, ideologies are belief-systems characteristic of certain social “groups or classes, composed of both discursive and non- discursive elements. We have seen already how this politically innocuous meaning of ideology comes close to the notion of a ‘world view’, in the sense of a relatively well-systematized set of categories which provide a ‘frame’ for the belief. perception and conduct of a body of individuals.

    In its pejorative meaning, ideology is a set of values, meanings and beliefs which is to be viewed critically or negatively for any of the following reasons. True or false, these beliefs are sustained by the (conscious or un- conscious) motivation of propping up an oppressive form of power. If the motivation is unconscious. then this will involve a degree of self-deception on the part of those who adhere to the beliefs. Ideology in this sense means ideas contaminated at root, genetically flawed; and we shall see that this was the meaning of ideology embraced by the later Frederick Engels. Alterna- tively. ideology may be viewed critically because the ideas and beliefs in question, whether true or not, discreditably or deceptively motivated or not, breed effects which help to legitimate an unjust form of power. Finally, ideology may be thought to be objectionable because it generates ideas which either because of their motivation or their function or both are in fact false, in the sense of distorting and dissimulating social reality. This is ob- jectionable not only because it contributes to shoring up a dominative power, but because it is contrary to the dignity of somewhat rational creatures to live in a permanent state of delusion.

    Ideology in this negative sense is objectionable either because it gives birth to massive social illusion, or because it deploys true ideas to un- palatable effect, or because it springs from some unworthy motivation. This genetic fact is sometimes thought enough to render the beliefs in question epistemically false: since the beliefs have their root in the life-experience of a particular group or class, the partiality of that experience will bend them out of true. They will persuade us to see the world as our rulers see it, not as it is in itself Lurking in the background here is the assumption that “the truth resides only in some form of totalization which would transcend the




    · Ideology

    confines of any particular group’s perspective. What is sometimes felt ,to be primarily ideological about a form of

    consciousness, however, is not how it comes about, or whether it is true or not, but the fact that it is functional for legitimating an unjust social order. From this standpoint, it is not the origin of the ideas which makes them ideological. Not all of the ideas which originate in the dominant class are necessarily ideological; conversely, a ruling class may take over ideas which have germinated elsewhere and harness them to its purposes. The English middle class found the mystique of monarchy ready-made for it by a previous ruling class, and adapted it efficiently to its own ends. Even forms of consciousness which have their root in the experience of oppressed classes may be appropriated by their masters. When Marx and Engels comment in The Gennan Ideology that the ruling ideas of each epoch are the ideas of the ruling class, they probably intend this as a ‘genetic’ observation. meaning that these ideas are ones actually produced by the ruling class; but it is possible that these are just ideas which happen to be in the possession of the rulers, no matter where they derive from. The ideas in question may be true o~ false; if they are false, they may be considered to be contingently so, or their falsehood may be seen as the effect of the functional work they have to do in promoting shady interests, or as a kind of buckling they undergo in straining to rationalize shabby social motives.

    But ideologies can also be viewed in a more positive light, as when Marxists like Lenin speak approvingly of ‘ socialist ideology’. Ideology means here a set of beliefs which coheres and inspires a specific group or class in the pursuit of political interests judged to be desirable. It is then often in effect synonymous with the positive sense of ‘class consciousness’ – a dubious equation. in fact, since one could speak of those aspects of a class’s conscious- ness whjch are in this sense ideological, and those which are not. Ideology might still be viewed here as ideas importantly shaped by an underlying motivation, and functional in achieving ~ertain goals; it is just that these goals and motivations are now approved. as they were not in the case of a class regarded as unjustly oppressive. One can use the term ideology to signify a certain elevation of the pragmatic or instrumental over a theoretical concern for the truth of ideas ‘in themselves’, while not necessarily holding this to be a negative judgement. Indeed radical thinkers as divergent as Georges Sorel and Louis Althusser, ·as we shall see, have both approvingly seen ‘socialist ideology’ in this pragmatic light.




    Ideological Strategies

    The broad definition ofideology as a body of meanings and values encoding certain interests relevant to social power is plainly in need of some flOe tuning. Ideologies are often thought, more specifically, to be unifYing, action- oriented, rationalizing, legitimating, univmalizing and naturalizing. Whether these features apply to oppositional ideologies as well as to dominant ones is a question we shall have to consider. Let us examine each of these asswnp- tions in tum. Ideologies are often thought to lend coherence to the groups or classes which hold them, welding them into a unitary, if internally differentiated, identity, and perhaps thereby allowing them to impose a certain unity upon society as a whole. Since the idea of a coherent identity is these days somewhat unfashionable, it is worth adding that such unity, in the shape of political solidarity and comradely feeling, is quite as indispensable to the success of oppositional movements as it is part- of the armoury of dominant groups.

    How unified ideologies actually are, however, is a matter of debate. If they strive to homogenize, they are rarely homogeneous. Ideologies are usually internally complex. differentiated formations, with conflicts between their various elements which need to be contin~ally renegotiated and resolved. What we call a dominant ideology is typically that of a dominant social bloc, made up of classes and fractions whose interests are not always at one; and these compromises and divisions will be reflected in the ideology itsel£ Indeed it can be claimed that part of the strength of bourgeois ideology lies in the fact that it ‘speaks’ from a multiplicity of sites, and in this subtle diffuseness presents no single target to its antagonists. Oppositional ideologies, similarly, usually reflect a provisional alliance of diverse radical’ forces.

    If ideologies are not as ‘pure’ and unitary as they would like to think themselves, this is pardy because they exist only in relation to other ideo- IClgies. A dominant ideology has continually to negotiate with the ideologies of its subordinates, and this essential open-endedness will prevent it from achieving any kind of pure self-identity. Indeed what makes a dominant ideology powerful – its ability to intervene in the consciousness of those it subjects, appropriating and reinflecting their experience – is also what tends to make it internally heterogeneous and inconsistent. A successful ruling ideology, as we have seen, must engage significantly with genuine wants, needs and desires; but this is also its Achilles heel, forcing it to recognize an ‘other’ to itself and inscribing this otherness as a potentially disruptive force within its own forms. We might say in Bakhtinian terms that for a





    governing ideology to be ‘monological’ – to address its subjects with authoritarian certitude – it must simultaneously be ‘dialogical’; for even an authoritarian discourse is addressed to another and lives only in the other’s response. A dominant ideology has to recognize that there are needs and desires which were never simply generated or implanted by itself; and the dystopian vision of a social order which is capable of containing and controlling all desires because it created them in the first place is thus unmasked as a fiction. Any ruling power requires a degree of intelligence and initiative from its subjects, if only for its own values to be internalized; and this resourcefulness is at once essential for the smooth reproduction of the system and a permanent possibility of reading its edicts ‘otherwise’. If the oppressed must be alert enough to follow the rulers’ instructions, they are therefore conscious enough to be able to challenge them.

    For thinkers like Karl Mannheim and Lucien Goldmann, ideologies would seem to display a high degree of internal unity. But there are those like Antonio Gramsci who would view them as complex, uneven fOrInations, and theorists like Pierre Macherey for whom ideology is so ambiguous and amorphous that it can hardly be spoken of as having a significant structure at all. Ideology for Macherey is the invisible colour of daily life, too close to the eyeball to be properly objectified, a centreless, apparently limitless medium in which we move like a fish in water, with no more ability than a fish to grasp this elusive environment as a whole. One cannot for Macherey speak in classical Marxist.style of ‘ideological contra- dictions’, for ‘contradiction’ implies a definitive structure, of which ideology ill its ‘practical’ state is entirely bereft. One can, however, put ideology into contradiction by imbuing it with a form which highlights its hidden limits, thrusts it up against its own boundaries and reveals its gaps and elisions, thus forcing its necessary silences to ‘speak’. This, for Macherey, is the work upon ideology which is accomplished by the literary text.~ -If Macherey’s theory underestimates the extent to which an ideology is significantly structured, one might claim that Georg Lukacs’s notion of the revolutionary suqject overestimates the coherence of ideological consciousness.

    A similar overestimation, this time of the dominant ideology, is to be found fu the work of the later Frankfurt School. For Herbert Marcuse and Theodor Adorno, capitalist society languishes.i.n the grip of an all-pervasive reification, all the way from commodity fetishism and speech habits to political bureaucracy and technological thought.s This seamless monolith of a dominant ideology is apparently devoid of contradictions – which means,




    Ideological Strategies

    in effect, that Marcuse and Adorno take it at face value, judging it as it would wish to appear. If reification exerts its sway everywhere, then this must presumably include the criteria by which we judge reification in the first place – in which case we would not be able to identify it at all, and the late Frankfurt School critique becomes an impossibility. The final alienation would be not to know that we were alienated. To characterize a situation as reified or alienated is impiicidy to point to practices and possibilities which suggest an alternative to it, and which can thus become criterial of our alienated condition. For Jurgen Habermas, as we shall see later, these po~i­ bilities are inscribed in the very structures of social communication; while for Raymond Williams they spring from the complexity and contradictori- ness of all social experience. ‘No mode of production’, Williams arg~es, ‘and therefore no dominant social order and therefore no dominant culture ever in reality includes or exhausts all human practice, human energy, and human intention. ‘6 Every social formation is a complex amalgam of what Williams terms ‘dominant’, ‘residua1′ and ’emergent’ forms of consciousness, and no hegemony can thus ever be absolute. No sharper contrast could be found than with the later work of Michel Foucault, for whom regimes of power constitute us to our very roots, producingjust those forms of subject- ivity on which they can most efficiently go to work. But if this is so, what is there ‘left over’, so to speak, to find this situation so appalling? What. including one Michel Foucault, could conceivably protest against this condi- tion, given that all subjectivity is merely the effect of power in the first place? If there is nothing beyond power, then there is nothing that is bein~ blocked, categorized and regimented, and therefore absolutely no need to worry. Foucault does indeed speak of resistances to power; but what exactly is doing the resisting is an enigma his work does not manage to dispel.

    Ideologies are often seen as peculiarly action-oriented sets of beliefs, rather than speculative theoretical systems. However abstrusely metaphysical the ideas in question may be, they must be translatable by the ideological discourse into a ‘practica1’ state, capable of furnishing their adherents with goals, motivations, prescriptions, imperatives and so on. Whether this will do as an account of all ideology is perhaps doubtful: the kind of idealist ideology under fire in The German Ideology is lambasted by Marx and Engels precisely for its im practicality, its lofty remoteness from the real world. What is ideological about these beliefs for Marx and Engels is not that they pragmatically orientate men and women to objectionable political actions,





    but that they distract them from certain forms of practical activity altogether.

    A successful ideology must work both practically and theoretically, and discover some way of linking these levels. It must extend from an elaborated system of thought to the minutiae of everyday life, from a scholarly treatise to a shout in the street. Martin Seliger. in his IdeOlogy and Politics, argues that ideologies are typically mixtures of analytic and descriptive statements on the one hand, and moral and technical prescriptions on the other. They combine in a coherent system factual content and moral commitment, and this is what lends them their action-guiding power. At the level of what Seliger calls ‘operative ideology’ we find ‘implements’ (rules for carrying out the ideology’S commitments) which may conflict with the ideology’s fundamental principles. We are thus likely to find within an ideological formation a process of compromise, adjustment and trade-off between its overall world view and its more concrete prescriptive elements. Ideologies for Seliger blend beliefs and disbeliefs. moral norms, a modicum of factual evidence and a set of technical prescriptions, all of which ensures concerted action for the preservation or reconstruction of a given social order.

    The Soviet philosopher VN. Voloshinov distinguishes between ‘be- havioural’ ideology and ‘established systems’ ofideas. Behavioural ideology concerns ‘the whole aggregate of life experiences and the outward expres- sions directly connected with it’; it signifies ‘that atmosphere of unsystem- atised and unfixed inner and outer speech which endows our every instance of behaviour and action and our every “conscious”. state with meaning’.7 There is some relation between this conception and Raymond Williams’s celebrated notion of a ‘structure of feeling’ – those elusive, impalpable forms of social consciousness which are at once as evanescent as ‘feeling’ suggests, but nevertheless display a significant configuration captured in the term ‘structure’. ‘We are talking’, Williams writes, ‘about characteristic elements of impulse, restraint, and tone: specifically affective elements of conscious- ness and relationship: not feeling against thought, but thought as f~t and feeling as thought: practical consciousness of a present kind, in a living and interrelating continuity.’s

    What such a notion seeks to deconstruct is the familiar opposition between ideology as rigid, explicit doctrine on the one hand, and the supposedly inchoate nature oflived experience on the other. This opposition is itself ideologically eloquent: from what kind of social standpoint does lived experience appear utterly shapeless and chaotic? Virginia Woolf may




    Ideological Strategies

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