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Psychology Of Political Ideology Essay


Surprisingly little is known about the self-control consequences of individuals’ political ideologies, given the centrality of political ideology to people’s self-identity and the vitality of self-control to human functioning. This research addresses this unexplored gap by offering insight into the processes (freewill beliefs) and factors (the value of freewill for effective self-control) that lead both conservatives and liberals to demonstrate greater self-control. In doing so, these findings provide a platform by which to broaden our understanding of the underlying mechanisms impacting self-control as well as an alternative perspective for interpreting previously documented differences between conservatives and liberals (e.g., intelligence, academic success).


Evidence from three studies reveals a critical difference in self-control as a function of political ideology. Specifically, greater endorsement of political conservatism (versus liberalism) was associated with greater attention regulation and task persistence. Moreover, this relationship is shown to stem from varying beliefs in freewill; specifically, the association between political ideology and self-control is mediated by differences in the extent to which belief in freewill is endorsed, is independent of task performance or motivation, and is reversed when freewill is perceived to impede (rather than enhance) self-control. Collectively, these findings offer insight into the self-control consequences of political ideology by detailing conditions under which conservatives and liberals are better suited to engage in self-control and outlining the role of freewill beliefs in determining these conditions.

Political ideologies loosely represent a shared set of beliefs that define both a specific social order and the means to attain it (1). These ideologies are often categorized into two broad groups—those who endorse traditional values and the status quo (conservatives) and those who endorse egalitarian ideals and progressive change (liberals) (2). Although research demonstrates the various consequences of these distinct ideologies (3), of primary interest to the present research is the unexplored possibility for self-control differences between conservatives and liberals. In particular, we hypothesize that conservatives will demonstrate greater self-control than liberals.

This proposition—although untested—is not without indirect support. Kemmelmeier et al. (4) demonstrate that conservative students earn higher grades in college than liberals (controlling for general intellect). The authors interpret this finding as a function of social dominance, arguing that doing well in these disciplines promotes the existing social hierarchy that conservatives seek to maintain. However, a complementary position is that conservatives more strongly embrace the belief that they are responsible for their actions (i.e., freewill beliefs) (5⇓⇓–8). For instance, it could be that conservatives believe they have greater control over their performance and thus expend greater self-control in their academic pursuits.

The possibility that conservatives and liberals differ in their freewill beliefs would be consistent with the attributional proclivities of conservatives and liberals. Specifically, conservatives tend to attribute causality to internal or dispositional factors (e.g., personal effort and control), whereas liberals tend to attribute causality to external factors (e.g., systemic or sociocultural forces) (9⇓⇓⇓–13). Given that conservatives are more likely than liberals to make internal attributions for their actions, it follows that conservatives should also more strongly endorse the belief in freewill than should liberals. Indeed, believing outcomes are determined by internal factors such as personal effort not only implies but essentially requires the belief that one possesses the freewill to affect change. Consistent with this logic, research demonstrates that freewill beliefs are associated with several constructs indicative of a conservative ideology (i.e., authoritarianism, religiosity, belief in a just world) (14).

This potential discrepancy in freewill beliefs is critical to the proposition that conservatives demonstrate greater self-control than liberals. Recent work, for instance, demonstrates that freewill beliefs are intricately linked to basic motor processes critical to effective self-control (15, 16). Indeed, discouraging a belief in freewill decreases activation in brain regions associated with intentional—and arguably goal-directed—action (i.e., readiness potential) (16). Similarly, the belief in freewill appears critical to individuals’ ability to overcome the temptation to engage in self-detrimental and antisocial behavior (6, 17, 18). In fact, hallmark indicators of self-control are the abilities for individuals to regulate their attention and to persist at challenging tasks (19, 20), and the belief that individuals possess the ability to monitor and regulate their vigilance on a given task (e.g., attention regulation, persistence) would seem inherently beneficial to self-control.

Three studies, then, tested the hypotheses that (i) political ideology is associated with individuals’ self-control performance and (ii) freewill beliefs are central to these performance differences. Of note, we investigated this framework across a distinct mix of well-documented indices of self-control. Finally, all survey materials and informed consent procedures were approved by the Institutional Review Board at the researchers’ home institutions. [A priori power analyses were computed to estimate appropriate sample sizes for each study using standard criteria: power of .8, medium effect sizes, and an alpha level of .05 (21). However, to take into account the specifications of the analyses—a single-item predictor of ideology (22) and multiple covariates (23, 24)—we elected to use more conservative minimum sample size estimates by increasing the power to .95.]

Study 1


One hundred and forty-seven undergraduates completed a modified Stroop task where only incongruent trials were presented, given the attentional demands required to identify words that mismatch (versus match) the background (25). The average response latency across trials served as our index of self-control (26). Participants also reported their political ideology, along with standard demographics (i.e., sex, age, race), which we controlled for in the analysis to isolate the unique influence of ideology on freewill beliefs and self-control performance.


Given that the latency scores were highly skewed, we first performed a log transformation on the response latency scores before submitting the values to a simple linear regression, with political ideology as the predictor and demographic variables as covariates. Results revealed an association between political ideology and response latency (β = –0.21), t(142) = –2.59, P = 0.011, R2 = 0.14; as political conservatism increased, response latencies on the Stroop task decreased. Importantly, we also assessed the number of correct solutions identified by participants as an index of response accuracy. However, analysis of the response accuracy data revealed no association between political ideology and response accuracy (P = 0.79). Political conservatives, then, showed greater self-control than did political liberals—a difference that did not occur at the expense of response accuracy.

Study 2

As noted, we propose these ideological differences in self-control are due to discrepancies in the endorsement of freewill beliefs. We therefore directly tested the possibility not only that conservatives will show greater belief in freewill than liberals but also that this difference in freewill beliefs will mediate this association between political ideology and self-control performance.


One hundred and seventy-six undergraduates completed the Stroop task described in the initial study. Participants then completed the Freewill Subscale of the FAD—Plus (5) before reporting their political ideology along with demographics.


We again performed a log transformation on the response latency scores before submitting the transformed response latencies and freewill beliefs to a simple linear regression (with demographic variables as covariates). The results revealed an association of political ideology with both response latencies (β = –0.20), t(171) = –2.62, P = 0.009, R2 = 0.071, and scores on the freewill subscale (β = 0.18), t(171) = 2.29, P = 0.024, R2 = 0.043; as political conservatism increased, response latencies decreased and belief in freewill increased. Subsequent bootstrapped mediation tests (27) revealed an indirect path of political ideology on Stroop performance through freewill beliefs [95% CI (–0.099, –0.008)] (see Fig. 1 for full path model). [We also included measures of both task effort (28) and resource conservation (29) at the same time as freewill beliefs to ensure any differences in participants’ endorsement of freewill were independent of potential motivational differences. Political ideology was unrelated to either task motivation (p > .23) or resource conservation (p > .11). That liberals and conservatives were equally motivated to perform the self-control task (and conserve mental resources) suggests that the diverging task performances cannot be explained by motivational differences between liberals and conservatives. Indeed, the path analysis through freewill beliefs remained significant even after controlling for both motivation indices (95% CI [–.036, –.003]).]

Fig. 1.

Path analysis in study 2. Values in parentheses indicate standardized beta coefficients before controlling for other variables in the model. *P < 0.05.


As in the initial study, conservatives showed better self-control performance than liberals; however, here we demonstrate that individuals’ freewill beliefs mediated the relationship between political ideology and self-control. Moreover, these effects occurred despite any differences in motivation, suggesting the ideological differences in self-control performance observed cannot be explained by differences in task motivation or effort (see Study 2, Results).

Study 3

The findings of the prior studies provide consistent evidence that conservatives exhibit greater self-control relative to liberals due to their enhanced endorsement of freewill. However, this effect presumes that individuals hold the theory that freewill is beneficial for self-control; if individuals held the theory that freewill is detrimental to self-control, then we would expect liberals rather than conservatives to demonstrate greater self-control performance.

To address this possibility, study 3 directly manipulated participants’ theories about the value of freewill for effective self-control (following the procedures used in past research to vary self-control theories) (30⇓–32). Specifically, we told one group that freewill beliefs are associated with feelings of progress and peace of mind, feelings that enhance self-control. The other group was told that freewill beliefs are associated with feelings of frustration and anxiety, feelings that impede self-control. Given that conservatives demonstrate greater belief in freewill than liberals (see Study 2), we predicted that conservatives should show greater self-control when told that freewill beliefs facilitate self-control, whereas liberals should show greater self-control when told that freewill beliefs inhibit self-control.


One hundred and thirty-five recruits from Amazon Mechanical Turk were led to believe either the presence or absence of freewill benefits self-control. Specifically, participants read that belief in freewill has consistently been associated with feelings of either progress and peace of mind (which enhances self-control) or frustration and anxiety (which impedes self-control) (for full wording, see SI Text). Participants then responded to multiple solution anagrams, with the amount of time participants persisted on the task serving as our index of self-control (29, 33). Finally, participants reported their political ideology along with demographics.


The persistence data were log-transformed and then submitted to a hierarchical regression, with political ideology (continuous, mean-centered) and freewill theory (0, belief in freewill impedes self-control; 1, belief in freewill enhances self-control) as predictors in the first step (along with demographics) and their interaction term in the second step (34). Neither main effect was significant (ts < 1). However, the results revealed a Political Ideology × Freewill Theory interaction (β = 0.68), t(126) = 3.25, P = 0.002, R2 = 0.19 (Fig. 2). Conservatives (+1 SD on the ideology scale) persisted longer when induced to believe that freewill enhances (versus impedes) self-control (β = 0.22), t(127) = 1.84, P = 0.068. Liberals (–1 SD on the ideology scale), on the other hand, persisted longer when induced to believe that freewill impedes (versus enhances) self-control (β = –0.32), t(127) = –2.70, P = 0.008.

Fig. 2.

Persistence on the anagram task as a function of freewill theory and political ideology in study 3. Values reflect untransformed times in seconds and are plotted at ±1 SD on the political ideology scale.


These findings support the importance of individuals’ lay beliefs regarding the effects of freewill on self-control performance. In particular, conservatives showed greater self-control when led to believe that freewill benefits self-control, whereas liberals showed greater self-control when led to believe that freewill undermines self-control. Moreover, the lay theory manipulation did not affect individuals’ endorsement of freewill (see SI Text), a finding that only further supports the claim that the self-control success of conservatives and liberals stems from the value attributed to freewill beliefs for effective self-control. Said differently, these findings are consistent with the documented discrepancy in endorsement of freewill beliefs and demonstrate the importance of these lay beliefs in determining when conservatives and liberals will exhibit greater self-control.

SI Text

Study 1.

One hundred and forty-seven undergraduates (four undergraduates were dismissed for failing attention checks) (40), participating for course credit, completed a modified Stroop task. This task exposed participants to a series of color words (e.g., blue) presented on a colored background that mismatched the word (e.g., the word “blue” presented on a yellow background). Only incongruent trials were presented given the attentional demands required to identify words that mismatch (versus match) the background (25). Participants were instructed to press the spacebar when they could identify the word on the screen and were further instructed to respond as quickly and accurately as possible. They were presented with 75 trials, with the average response latency across trials serving as our index of self-control (26). Participants then reported their political ideology on a seven-point scale (1, very liberal; 4, neutral; 7, very conservative) (41). The ideology measure was embedded in the demographic section that also assessed participants’ age, sex, and ethnicity. Upon completing these measures, participants were thanked for their participation and dismissed from the study.

Study 2.

One hundred and seventy-six undergraduates (six undergraduates were dismissed for failing attention checks), participating for course credit, completed the modified Stroop task described in study 1. Participants then completed the Freewill Subscale of the FAD—Plus (α = 0.69) (5) along with two items (r = 0.49) related to task motivation (e.g., “How motivated were you to perform well on the cognitive process task?”) (41) and two items (r = 0.73) related to resource conservation (e.g., “How motivated were you to conserve your resources on the cognitive process task?”) (29). Lastly, participants reported their political ideology along with their age, sex, and ethnicity. Upon completing these measures, participants were thanked for their participation and dismissed from the study.

Study 3.

One hundred and thirty-five recruits from Amazon Mechanical Turk (13 participants were dismissed for not following instructions) were welcomed to the study, where they were first randomly assigned to our manipulation of freewill theory. This manipulation followed the procedures used in past research to vary self-control theories (30–32). Specifically, participants read the abstract of a manuscript ostensibly published in a prestigious academic journal. The abstract described the benefits of either the presence or absence of freewill beliefs on self-control. Specifically, all participants were told the following: “Freewill is defined as the belief in one’s responsibility over his/her actions. Not surprisingly, researchers have long been interested in the effects of this belief (i.e., freewill) on self-control.” For those led to believe freewill enhances self-control, the abstract further stated:

For those led to believe freewill impedes self-control, the abstract further stated:

To ensure the manipulation did not influence individuals’ freewill beliefs, participants completed the Freewill Subscale of the FAD—Plus (5). Analysis of the freewill composite (α = 0.87) revealed only a main effect of political ideology in a pattern consistent with our second study [b = 0.18 (95% CI, 0.10, 0.25)], t(127) = 4.49, P = 0.001. Neither the main effect of the manipulation nor the interaction term was significant (all ts < 1).

After the prime manipulation, participants received a pair of multiple solution anagrams presented in random order as our index of self-control. Importantly, participants were told to take as much time as needed. These instructions are based on prior research, and consistent with that research, we focused on the amount of time participants spent on the task as our index of self-control (29, 33).

Lastly, participants reported their political ideology along with their sex, age, race, educational attainment, and personal income. Upon completing these measures, participants were thanked for their participation and received payment.

Summary of Findings

Three studies document a clear difference in self-control as a function of political ideology, as political conservatism (versus liberalism) was consistently related to greater self-control. Indeed, this enhanced self-control manifested in the form of attention regulation and task persistence. Moreover, these effects occurred across not only different indices of self-control but also different paradigms and different participant samples (see Table S1 for demographics by study). Indeed, these effects occurred across different dimensions of ideology (35). That is, we included assessments of both social and economic dimensions of ideology (36) in studies 2 and 3, and analysis of both dimensions mirrored the results for the global ideology measure in those studies (see Table 1 for intercorrelations).

Importantly, this relationship was shown to stem from differences in freewill beliefs, a finding consistent with work on the attributional proclivities of conservatives and liberals (9). Moreover, this association held when we experimentally induced the theory that freewill is beneficial to self-control and reversed when we experimentally induced the theory that freewill is detrimental to self-control. Thus, freewill beliefs appear central to understanding the association between political ideology and self-control.

Of course, despite addressing potential differences in performance (study 1) and motivation (study 2), other explanations remain possible for the relationship between political ideology and self-control apart from differences in freewill beliefs. Specifically, conscientiousness (37), religiosity (38), and even happiness (9) are associated with conservatism, each of which could contribute in some way to the present findings. As one possibility, positive mood (which could be a by-product of happiness) elicits greater self-control (31), and the association between conservatism and happiness could result in elevated levels of self-control if happiness elevates positive mood. However, despite these other correlates of ideology (and possibly self-control), the present findings offer compelling support for the impact of freewill beliefs in dictating the self-control performance of conservatives and liberals.

Table 1.

Correlations between different dimensions of ideology in studies 2 and 3

Table S1.

Sample demographic across studies 1–3

Theoretical Contributions

As noted, research has recently linked freewill beliefs to basic motor processes fundamental to self-control (15, 16) as well as to more overt behaviors related to avoiding temptation to engage in self-detrimental and antisocial behavior (6, 17). The present work aligns with this research by offering insight into the impact of freewill beliefs on cognitive processes underlying self-control. Indeed, self-control is traditionally defined as the ability to regulate one’s impulses (39), and given the documented differences in attention regulation and persistence, freewill beliefs appear instrumental to impulse regulation.

Additionally, researchers have suggested a possible link between political conservatism and greater belief in freewill (12). Here, we not only offer direct support for this association but also further demonstrate the consequences of this association for self-control. That is, conservatives not only claimed to believe more strongly in freewill than liberals, but this claim manifested in differences in actual exertion of self-control. As such, these findings offer a unique perspective by which to interpret differences between conservatives and liberals.

Practical Implications

Central to the present findings is the extent to which individuals believe they are responsible for their actions. Importantly, however, endorsement of this belief need not enhance self-control (see Study 3). That is, the effects of freewill beliefs are critically dependent on peoples’ lay theories concerning the value of freewill for effective self-control, theories shown here to be quite malleable. This distinction is important because it offers critical implications for the self-control performance of both conservatives and liberals. For instance, the belief that effective self-control stems from freewill should elicit greater reliance on internal factors (e.g., belief in personal control, achievement motivation) to enhance performance, whereas the belief that effective self-control does not stem from freewill should elicit greater reliance on external factors (e.g., responsiveness to contextual or social cues in one’s environment) to enhance performance. Consequently, focusing conservative individuals on the importance of internal factors, and liberal individuals on the importance of contextual or social factors, should increase their ability to achieve their goals (e.g., educational pursuits). Thus, we view this work as a previously unidentified lens to better understand the conditions under which both conservative and liberal individuals can elicit greater self-control.

Concluding Remarks

This research offers insight into the processes (freewill beliefs) and factors (the value of freewill for effective self-control) that lead both conservatives and liberals to demonstrate greater self-control. In doing so, these findings provide a platform by which to broaden our understanding of the underlying mechanisms impacting self-control as well as an alternative perspective by which to promote greater self-control in individuals as a function of their political ideology.


The authors would like to thank Erin Hennes, Alan Lambert, and Ryan Rahinel for their helpful feedback on prior versions of the manuscript.


  • Author contributions: J.J.C., J.R.C., E.R.H., A.S.O., F.R.K., and C.L. designed research; J.J.C. and A.S.O. performed research; J.J.C. and A.S.O. analyzed data; and J.J.C., J.R.C., E.R.H., and A.S.O. wrote the paper.

  • The authors declare no conflict of interest.

  • This article is a PNAS Direct Submission. J.W.S. is a guest editor invited by the Editorial Board.

  • This article contains supporting information online at www.pnas.org/lookup/suppl/doi:10.1073/pnas.1503530112/-/DCSupplemental.


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Ideology is a comprehensive set of normativebeliefs, conscious and unconscious ideas, that an individual, group or society has.

An ideology is narrower in scope than the ideas expressed in concepts such as worldview, imaginary and ontology.[1]

Political ideologies can be proposed by the dominant class of society such as the elite to all members of society as suggested in some Marxist and critical-theory accounts. In societies that distinguish between public and private life, every political or economic tendency entails ideology, whether or not it is propounded as an explicit system of thought.[further explanation needed]

In the Althusserian sense, ideology is "the imagined existence (or idea) of things as it relates to the real conditions of existence".

Etymology and history[edit]

The term "ideology" was born during the Great Terror of French Revolution, and acquired several other meanings thereafter.

The word, and the system of ideas associated with it, was coined by Antoine Destutt de Tracy in 1796,[2] while he was in prison pending trial during the Terror. The word was created by assembling the words idea, from Greekἰδέα (near to the Lockean sense) and -logy, from -λογία.

The coup that overthrew Maximilien Robespierre allowed Tracy to pursue his work. [3][4]

Tracy reacted to the terroristic phase of the revolution by trying to work out a rational system of ideas to oppose the irrational mob impulses that had nearly destroyed him. He devised the term to refer to a "science of ideas" which he hoped would form a secure foundation for the moral and political sciences by examining two things: 1) sensations people experienced as they interact with the material world; and 2) the ideas that formed in their minds due to those sensations. He conceived of "Ideology" a liberal philosophy which provided a powerful defense of individual liberty, property, free markets, and constitutional limits on state power. He argues that among these aspects ideology is the most generic term, because the science of ideas also contains the study of their expression and deduction. [5]

Tracy worked this out during the Napoleonic regime, and Napoleon Bonaparte came to view 'Ideology' a term of abuse which he often hurled against his liberal foes in Tracy's Institut National. According to Karl Mannheim's historical reconstruction of the shifts in the meaning of ideology, the modern meaning of the word was born when Napoleon used it to describe his opponents as "the ideologues". Karl Marx adopted this negative sense of the term and used it in his writings (he described Tracy as a "fischblütige Bourgeoisdoktrinär", a fishblooded bourgeois doctrinaire). [6]

Tracy's major book, The Elements of Ideology, was soon translated into the major languages of Europe, and in the next generation, when post-Napoleonic governments adopted a reactionary stance, influenced the Italian, Spanish and Russian thinkers who had begun to describe themselves as "liberals" and who attempted to reignite revolutionary activity in the early 1820s (these included the Carlist rebels in Spain, the Carbonari societies in France and Italy, and the Decembrists in Russia).

In the century after Tracy, the term ideology moved back and forth between positive and negative connotations.

(Perhaps the most accessible source for the near-original meaning of ideology is Hippolyte Taine's work on the Ancien Régime (the first volume of "Origins of Contemporary France"). He describes ideology as rather like teaching philosophy by the Socratic method, but without extending the vocabulary beyond what the general reader already possessed, and without the examples from observation that practical science would require. Taine identifies it not just with Destutt De Tracy, but also with his milieu, and includes Condillac as one of its precursors. (Destutt de Tracy read the works of Locke and Condillac while he was imprisoned during the Reign of Terror.))

The term "ideology" has dropped some of its pejorative sting, and has become a neutral term in the analysis of differing political opinions and views of social groups.[7] While Karl Marx situated the term within class struggle and domination,[8][9] others believed it was a necessary part of institutional functioning and social integration.[10]


There has been considerable analysis of different ideological patterns. This kind of analysis has been described by some as meta-ideology—the study of the structure, form, and manifestation of ideologies. Recent analysis tends to posit that ideology is a coherent system of ideas, relying upon a few basic assumptions about reality that may or may not have any factual basis. Ideas become ideologies (that is, become coherent, repeated patterns) through the subjective ongoing choices that people make, serving as the seed around which further thought grows. According to most recent analysis, ideologies are neither necessarily right nor wrong. Believers in ideology range from passive acceptance through fervent advocacy to true belief. An excessive need for certitude lurks at fundamentalist levels in politics and religions.

This accords with definitions such as given by Manfred Steger and Paul James which emphasize both the issue of patterning and contingent claims to truth:

Ideologies are patterned clusters of normatively imbued ideas and concepts, including particular representations of power relations. These conceptual maps help people navigate the complexity of their political universe and carry claims to social truth.[11]

The works of George Walford and Harold Walsby, done under the heading of systematic ideology, are attempts to explore the relationships between ideology and social systems. Charles Blattberg has offered an account which distinguishes political ideologies from political philosophies.[12]

David W. Minar describes six different ways in which the word "ideology" has been used:

  1. As a collection of certain ideas with certain kinds of content, usually normative;
  2. As the form or internal logical structure that ideas have within a set;
  3. By the role in which ideas play in human-social interaction;
  4. By the role that ideas play in the structure of an organization;
  5. As meaning, whose purpose is persuasion; and
  6. As the locus of social interaction.

For Willard A. Mullins an ideology should be contrasted with the related (but different) issues of utopia and historical myth. An ideology is composed of four basic characteristics:

  1. it must have power over cognition
  2. it must be capable of guiding one's evaluations;
  3. it must provide guidance towards action; and
  4. it must be logically coherent.

Terry Eagleton outlines (more or less in no particular order) some definitions of ideology:[13]

  1. the process of production of meanings, signs and values in social life;
  2. a body of ideas characteristic of a particular social group or class;
  3. ideas which help to legitimate a dominant political power;
  4. false ideas which help to legitimate a dominant political power;
  5. systematically distorted communication;
  6. that which offers a position for a subject;
  7. forms of thought motivated by social interests;
  8. identity thinking;
  9. socially necessary illusion;
  10. the conjuncture of discourse and power;
  11. the medium in which conscious social actors make sense of their world;
  12. action-oriented sets of beliefs;
  13. the confusion of linguistic and phenomenal reality;
  14. semiotic closure;
  15. the indispensable medium in which individuals live out their relations to a social structure;
  16. the process whereby social life is converted to a natural reality.

The German philosopher Christian Duncker called for a "critical reflection of the ideology concept" (2006). In his work, he strove to bring the concept of ideology into the foreground, as well as the closely connected concerns of epistemology and history. In this work, the term ideology is defined in terms of a system of presentations that explicitly or implicitly claim to absolute truth.

Though the word "ideology" is most often found in political discourse, there are many different kinds of ideology: political, social, epistemological, ethical, etc.

Marxist view[edit]

In the Marxisteconomic base and superstructure model of society, base denotes the relations of production and modes of production, and superstructure denotes the dominant ideology (religious, legal, political systems). The economic base of production determines the political superstructure of a society. Ruling class-interests determine the superstructure and the nature of the justifying ideology—actions feasible because the ruling class control the means of production. For example, in a feudalmode of production, religious ideology is the most prominent aspect of the superstructure, while in capitalist formations, ideologies such as liberalism and social democracy dominate. Hence the great importance of the ideology justifying a society; it politically confuses the alienated groups of society via false consciousness.

Some explanations have been presented. György Lukács proposes ideology as a projection of the class consciousness of the ruling class. Antonio Gramsci uses cultural hegemony to explain why the working-class have a false ideological conception of what are their best interests. Marx argued that "The class which has the means of material production at its disposal has control at the same time over the means of mental production."[14]

The Marxist formulation of "ideology as an instrument of social reproduction" is conceptually important to the sociology of knowledge,[15] viz. Karl Mannheim, Daniel Bell, and Jürgen Habermas et al. Moreover, Mannheim has developed, and progressed, from the "total" but "special" Marxist conception of ideology to a "general" and "total" ideological conception acknowledging that all ideology (including Marxism) resulted from social life, an idea developed by the sociologistPierre Bourdieu. Slavoj Žižek and the earlier Frankfurt School added to the "general theory" of ideology a psychoanalytic insight that ideologies do not include only conscious, but also unconscious ideas.

Louis Althusser's ideological state apparatuses[edit]

Louis Althusser proposed both spiritual and materialistic conception of ideology, which made use of a special type of discourse: the lacunar discourse. A number of propositions, which are never untrue, suggest a number of other propositions, which are. In this way, the essence of the lacunar discourse is what is not told (but is suggested).

For example, the statement "All are equal before the law", which is a theoretical groundwork of current legal systems, suggests that all people may be of equal worth or have equal "opportunities". This is not true, for the concept of private property and power over the means of production results in some people being able to own more (much more) than others. This power disparity contradicts the claim that all share both practical worth and future opportunity equally; for example, the rich can afford better legal representation, which practically privileges them before the law.

Althusser also proffered the concept of the ideological state apparatus to explain his theory of ideology. His first thesis was "ideology has no history": while individual ideologies have histories, interleaved with the general class struggle of society, the general form of ideology is external to history.

For Althusser, beliefs and ideas are the products of social practices, not the reverse. His thesis that "ideas are material" is illustrated by the "scandalous advice" of Pascal toward unbelievers: "kneel and pray, and then you will believe". What is ultimately ideological for Althusser are not the subjective beliefs held in the conscious "minds" of human individuals, but rather discourses that produce these beliefs, the material institutions and rituals that individuals take part in without submitting it to conscious examination and so much more critical thinking.

Ideology and the Commodity in the works of Guy Debord[edit]

The French Marxist theorist Guy Debord, founding member of the Situationist International, argued that when the commodity becomes the "essential category" of society, i.e. when the process of commodification has been consummated to its fullest extent, the image of society propagated by the commodity (as it describes all of life as constituted by notions and objects deriving their value only as commodities tradeable in terms of exchange value), colonizes all of life and reduces society to a mere representation, The Society of the Spectacle.[16]

Silvio Vietta: ideology and rationality[edit]

The German cultural historianSilvio Vietta described the development and expansion of Western rationality from ancient times onwards as often accompanied by and shaped by ideologies like that of the "just war", the "true religion", racism, nationalism, or the vision of future history as a kind of heaven on earth in communism. He said that ideas like these became ideologies by giving hegemonic political actions an idealistic veneer and equipping their leaders with a higher and, in the "political religions" (Eric Voegelin), nearly God-like power, so that they became masters over the lives (and the deaths) of millions of people. He considered that ideologies therefore contributed to power politics irrational shields of ideas beneath which they could operate as manifestations of idealism.[17][18]

Eric Hoffer: unifying agents[edit]

The American philosopher Eric Hoffer identified several elements which work to unify followers of a particular ideology:[19]

1) Hatred: "Mass movements can rise and spread without a God, but never without belief in a devil."[20]. The "ideal devil" is a foreigner.[21]

2) Imitation: "The less satisfaction we derive from being ourselves, the greater is our desire to be like others ... the more we mistrust our judgment and luck, the more are we ready to follow the example of others."[22]

3) Persuasion: The proselytizing zeal of propagandists derives from "a passionate search for something not yet found more than a desire to bestow something we already have."[23]

4) Coercion: Hoffer asserts that violence and fanaticism are interdependent.[24] People forcibly converted to Islamic or communist beliefs become as fanatical as those who did the forcing.[25] "It takes fanatical faith to rationalize our cowardice."[26]

5) Leadership: Without the leader, there is no movement. Often the leader must wait long in the wings until the time is ripe. He calls for sacrifices in the present, to justify his vision of a breathtaking future. The skills required include: audacity, brazenness, iron will, fanatical conviction; passionate hatred, cunning, a delight in symbols; ability to inspire blind faith in the masses and a group of able lieutenants.[27] Charlatanism is indispensable, and the leader often imitates both friend and foe, "a single-minded fashioning after a model". He will not lead followers towards the "promised land", but only "away from their unwanted selves".[28]

6) Action: Original thoughts are suppressed, and unity encouraged, if the masses are kept occupied through great projects, marches, exploration and industry.[29]

7) Suspicion: "There is prying and spying, tense watching and a tense awareness of being watched." This pathological mistrust goes unchallenged and encourages conformity, not dissent.[30]

Ronald Inglehart[edit]

Ronald Inglehart of the University of Michigan is author of the World Values Survey which since 1980 has mapped social attitudes in 100 countries representing 90% of global population. Results indicate that where people live is likely to be closely correlated with their ideological beliefs. In much of Africa, South Asia and the Middle East, people prefer traditional beliefs and are less tolerant of liberal values. Protestant Europe, at the other extreme, adheres more to secular beliefs and liberal values. Alone among high-income countries, the United States is exceptional in its adherence to traditional beliefs, in this case Christianity.

Political ideologies[edit]

See also: List of political ideologies

In social studies, a political ideology is a certain ethical set of ideals, principles, doctrines, myths, or symbols of a social movement, institution, class, or large group that explains how society should work, and offers some political and cultural blueprint for a certain social order. Political ideologies are concerned with many different aspects of a society, including (for example): the economy, education, health care, labor law, criminal law, the justice system, the provision of social security and social welfare, trade, the environment, minors, immigration, race, use of the military, patriotism, and established religion.

Political ideologies have two dimensions:

  1. Goals: how society should work
  2. Methods: the most appropriate ways to achieve the ideal arrangement

There are many proposed methods for the classification of political ideologies, each of these different methods generate a specific political spectrum.[citation needed] Ideologies also identify themselves by their position on the political spectrum (such as the left, the center or the right), though precision in this respect can very often become controversial. Finally, ideologies can be distinguished from political strategies (e.g., populism) and from single issues that a party may be built around (e.g. legalization of marijuana). Philosopher Michael Oakeshott provides a good definition of ideology as "the formalized abridgment of the supposed sub-stratum of the rational truth contained in the tradition".

A political ideology largely concerns itself with how to allocate power and to what ends power should be used. Some parties follow a certain ideology very closely, while others may take broad inspiration from a group of related ideologies without specifically embracing any one of them. Each political ideology contains certain ideas on what it considers to be the best form of government (e.g. democracy, demagogy, theocracy, caliphate etc.), and the best economic system (e.g. capitalism, socialism, etc.). Sometimes the same word is used to identify both an ideology and one of its main ideas. For instance, "socialism" may refer to an economic system, or it may refer to an ideology which supports that economic system.

Studies of the concept of ideology itself (rather than specific ideologies) have been carried out under the name of systematic ideology.

Post 1991, many commentators claim that we are living in a post-ideological age,[31] in which redemptive, all-encompassing ideologies have failed, and this view is often associated[by whom?] with Francis Fukuyama's writings on "the end of history".[32] On the other hand, Nienhueser sees research (in the field of human resource management) as ongoingly "generating ideology".[33]

Slavoj Zizek has pointed out how the very notion of post-ideology can enable the deepest, blindest form of ideology. A sort of false consciousness or false cynicism, engaged in for the purpose of lending one's point of view the respect of being objective, pretending neutral cynicism, without truly being so. Rather than help avoiding ideology, this lapse only deepens the commitment to an existing one. Zizek calls this "a post-modernist trap".[34]Peter Sloterdijk advanced the same idea already in 1988.[35]

There are several studies that show that affinity to a specific political ideology is heritable.[36][37][38][39][40][41][42][43][44]

Government ideology[edit]

When a political ideology becomes a dominantly pervasive component within a government, one can speak of an ideocracy.[45] Different forms of government utilize ideology in various ways, not always restricted to politics and society. Certain ideas and schools of thought become favored, or rejected, over others, depending on their compatibility with or use for the reigning social order.


"Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back", said John Maynard Keynes.[46] How do ideologies become part of government policy? In The Anatomy of Revolution, Crane Brinton said that new ideology spreads when there is discontent with the old regime.[47] Extremists such as Lenin and Robespierre will overcome more moderate revolutionaries.[48] This stage is soon followed by Thermidor, a reining back of revolutionary enthusiasm under pragmatists like Stalin and Napoleon Bonaparte who bring "normalcy and equilibrium".[49] A very similar sequence ("men of ideas>fanatics>practical men of action") occurs in Eric Hoffer, The True Believer,[50] and Brinton's sequence is reiterated by J. William Fulbright.[51] The revolution thus becomes established as an Ideocracy but its rise is likely to be checked by a Political midlife crisis.

Epistemological ideologies[edit]

Even when the challenging of existing beliefs is encouraged, as in scientific theories, the dominant paradigm or mindset can prevent certain challenges, theories, or experiments from being advanced.

A special case of science adopted as ideology is that of ecology, which studies the relationships among living things on Earth. Perceptual psychologistJames J. Gibson believed that human perception of ecological relationships was the basis of self-awareness and cognition itself. LinguistGeorge Lakoff has proposed a cognitive science of mathematics wherein even the most fundamental ideas of arithmetic would be seen as consequences or products of human perception—which is itself necessarily evolved within an ecology.

Deep ecology and the modern ecology movement (and, to a lesser degree, Green parties) appear to have adopted ecological sciences as a positive ideology.

Some accuse ecological economics of likewise turning scientific theory into political economy, although theses in that science can often be tested. The modern practice of green economics fuses both approaches and seems to be part science, part ideology.

This is far from the only theory of economics to be raised to ideology status—some notable economically based ideologies include neoliberalism, monetarism, mercantilism, mixed economy, social Darwinism, communism, laissez-faire economics, and free trade. There are also current theories of safe trade and fair trade which can be seen as ideologies.

Psychological research[edit]

Psychological research[52] increasingly suggests that ideologies reflect (unconscious) motivational processes, as opposed to the view that political convictions always reflect independent and unbiased thinking. Jost, Ledgerwood and Hardin proposed in 2008 that ideologies may function as prepackaged units of interpretation that spread because of basic human motives to understand the world, avoid existential threat, and maintain valued interpersonal relationships.[52] These authors conclude that such motives may lead disproportionately to the adoption of system-justifying worldviews. Psychologists have generally found that personality traits, individual difference variables, needs, and ideological beliefs seem to have a common thread.[citation needed]

Ideology and semiotic theory[edit]

According to the semiotician Bob Hodge, ideology "identifies a unitary object that incorporates complex sets of meanings with the social agents and processes that produced them. No other term captures this object as well as 'ideology'. Foucault's 'episteme' is too narrow and abstract, not social enough. His 'discourse', popular because it covers some of ideology's terrain with less baggage, is too confined to verbal systems. 'Worldview' is too metaphysical, 'propaganda' too loaded. Despite or because of its contradictions, 'ideology' still plays a key role in semiotics oriented to social, political life."[53] Authors such as Michael Freeden have also recently incorporated a semantic analysis to the study of ideologies.


  • "We do not need ... to believe in an ideology. All that is necessary is for each of us to develop our good human qualities. The need for a sense of universal responsibility affects every aspect of modern life." – the Dalai Lama.[54]
  • "The nice thing about an ism is how quickly it becomes a wasm." – Richard Taruskin.[55]
  • "The function of ideology is to stabilize and perpetuate dominance through masking or illusion." – Sally Haslanger[56]

See also[edit]


  1. ^Steger, Manfred B.; James, Paul (2013). "Levels of Subjective Globalization: Ideologies, Imaginaries, Ontologies". Perspectives on Global Development and Technology. 12 (1–2.). 
  2. ^Hart, David M. (2002) Destutt De Tracy: Annotated Bibliography
  3. ^Kennedy, Emmet (Jul–Sep 1979). ""Ideology" from Destutt De Tracy to Marx". Journal of the History of Ideas. 40 (3): 353–368. doi:10.2307/2709242. JSTOR 2709242. 
  4. ^Hart, David M. (2002) Destutt De Tracy: Annotated Bibliography
  5. ^Kennedy, Emmet (Jul–Sep 1979). ""Ideology" from Destutt De Tracy to Marx". Journal of the History of Ideas. 40 (3): 353–368. doi:10.2307/2709242. JSTOR 2709242. 
  6. ^De Tracy, Destutt (1801) Les Éléments d'idéologie, 3rd ed. (1817), p. 4, cited by: Mannheim, Karl (1929) Ideologie und Utopie, 2nd footnote in the chapter The problem of "false consciousness"
  7. ^Eagleton, Terry (1991) Ideology. An introduction, Verso, pg. 2
  8. ^Tucker, Robert C (1978). The Marx-Engels Reader, W. W. Norton & Company, pg. 3.
  9. ^Marx, MER, pg. 154
  10. ^Susan Silbey, "Ideology" at Cambridge Dictionary of Sociology.
  11. ^James, Paul; Steger, Manfred (2010). Globalization and Culture, Vol. 4: Ideologies of Globalism. London: Sage Publications. 
  12. ^Blattberg, Charles, "Political Philosophies and Political Ideologies", in Patriotic Elaborations: Essays in Practical Philosophy, Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2009.[1]
  13. ^Eagleton, Terry (1991) Ideology: An Introduction, Verso, ISBN 0-86091-319-8
  14. ^Marx, Karl (1978a). "The Civil War in France", The Marx-Engels Reader 2nd ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. 
  15. ^In this discipline, there are lexical disputes over the meaning of the word "ideology" ("false consciousness" as advocated by Marx, or rather "false position" of a statement in itself is correct but irrelevant in the context in which it is produced, as in Max Weber's opinion): Buonomo, Giampiero (2005). "Eleggibilità più ampia senza i paletti del peculato d'uso? Un'occasione (perduta) per affrontare il tema delle leggi ad personam". Diritto&Giustizia edizione online.   – via Questia(subscription required)
  16. ^Guy Debord (1995). The Society of the Spectacle. Zone Books. 
  17. ^Silvio Vietta (2013). A Theory of Global Civilization: Rationality and the Irrational as the Driving Forces of History. Kindle Ebooks. 
  18. ^Silvio Vietta (2012). Rationalität. Eine Weltgeschichte. Europäische Kulturgeschichte und Globalisierung. Fink. 
  19. ^Eric Hoffer, The True Believer, Harper Perennial, 1951, p. 91 et seq.
  20. ^Eric Hoffer, The True Believer, Harper Perennial, 1951, p. 91.
  21. ^Eric Hoffer, The True Believer, Harper Perennial, 1951, p. 93.
  22. ^Eric Hoffer, The True Believer, Harper Perennial, 1951, pp. 101-2.
  23. ^Eric Hoffer, The True Believer, Harper Perennial, 1951, p. 110.
  24. ^Eric Hoffer, The True Believer, Harper Perennial, 1951, p. 107.
  25. ^Eric Hoffer, The True Believer, Harper Perennial, 1951, pp. 107–8.
  26. ^Eric Hoffer, The True Believer, Harper Perennial, 1951.
  27. ^Eric Hoffer, The True Believer, Harper Perennial, 1951, pp. 112-14.
  28. ^Eric Hoffer, The True Believer, Harper Perennial, 1951, pp. 116-19.
  29. ^Eric Hoffer, The True Believer, Harper Perennial, 1951, pp. 120-21.
  30. ^Eric Hoffer, The True Believer, Harper Perennial, 1951, p. 124.
  31. ^Bell, D.The End of Ideology: On the Exhaustion of Political Ideas in the Fifties (2000) (2nd ed.). Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, pg. 393
  32. ^Fukuyama, F. (1992)The End of History and the Last Man. USA: The Free Press, xi
  33. ^Nienhueser, Werner (2011). "Empirical Research on Human Resource Management as a Production of Ideology"(PDF). Management Revue. Rattner Hampp Verlag. 22 (4): 367–393. doi:10.1688/1861-9908_mrev_2011_04_Nienhueser. ISSN 0935-9915. Retrieved 2015-08-27.  
  34. ^Zizek, Slavoj (2008). The Sublime Object of Ideology (2nd ed.). London: Verso. pp. xxxi, 25–27. ISBN 9781844673001. 
  35. ^Sloterdijk, Peter (1988). Critique of Cynical Reason. US: University of Minnesota Press. ISBN 9780816615865. 
  36. ^Bouchard, T. J., and McGue, M. (2003). "Genetic and environmental influences on human psychological differences." Journal of Neurobiology, 54 (1), 44–45.” https://isites.harvard.edu/fs/docs/icb.topic1169974.files/Bouchard%20McGue%202003.pdf
  37. ^Cloninger, et al. (1993).
  38. ^Eaves, L. J., Eysenck, H. J. (1974). "Genetics and the development of social attitudes." Nature, 249, 288–289.” http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v249/n5454/abs/249288a0.html
  39. ^Alford, (2005). "Are Political Orientations Genetically Transmitted?" http://www.uky.edu/AS/PoliSci/Peffley/pdf/Alford,%20et%20al%202005%20APSR%20Genetics.pdf
  40. ^Hatemi, P. K., Medland, S. E., Morley, K. I., Heath, A. C., Martin, N.G. (2007). "The genetics of voting: An Australian twin study." Behavior Genetics, 37 (3), 435–448. https://genepi.qimr.edu.au/contents/p/staff/Hatemi501Published.pdf
  41. ^Hatemi, P. K., Hibbing, J., Alford, J., Martin, N., Eaves, L. (2009). "Is there a 'party' in your genes?" Political Research Quarterly, 62 (3), 584–600. https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1276482
  42. ^Settle, J. E., Dawes, C. T., and Fowler, J. H. (2009). "The heritability of partisan attachment." Political Research Quarterly, 62 (3), 601–613. http://jhfowler.ucsd.edu/heritability_of_partisan_attachment.pdf
  43. ^Anonymous Conservative. "The Evolutionary Psychology Behind Politics."
  44. ^Trust, Michael. "Modern Political Thought in the Context of Evolutionary Psychology"(PDF). Retrieved 26 March 2017. 
  45. ^Jaroslaw Piekalkiewicz, Alfred Wayne Penn. Politics of Ideocracy. 
  46. ^The General Theory, p383-4
  47. ^Brinton, chapter 2
  48. ^Brinton, CH 6
  49. ^Brinton , CH 8
  50. ^Hoffer, chapters 15, 16,17
  51. ^Fulbright, The Arrogance of Power, 1967, chapters 3-7
  52. ^ abJost, John T., Ledgerwood, Alison, & Hardin, Curtis D. (2008). "Shared reality, system justification, and the relational basis of ideological beliefs." Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 2, 171–186
  53. ^Bob Hodge, "Ideology", at Semiotics Encyclopedia Online.
  54. ^The Dalai Lama's Book of Wisdom, edited by Matthew Bunson, Ebury Press, 1997, p. 180.
  55. ^The dangers of Music and other essays, p86
  56. ^https://doi.org/10.1093/arisup/akx001


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  • Marx, Karl ([1845–46] 1932) The German Ideology
Karl Marx posits that a society's dominant ideology is integral to its superstructure.

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