“...someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas with-out rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people — their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, and their civil liberties — someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a 'Liberal', then I’m proud to say I’m a 'Liberal'.” ~ John Kennedy
Ideology can be seen as a “system of social beliefs: a closely organized system of beliefs, values, and ideas forming the basis of a social, economic, or political philosophy or program.” Ideology is a meaningful belief system: a set of beliefs, values, and opinions that shapes the way a person or a group such as a social class thinks, acts, and understands the world.
Ideology revolves around two central principles: time - what was, is, or will be, the best or perfect society; and method - what are the best means to achieve that society. These paradigms are accepted on faith as true. Collectively they are the general worldviews of both individuals and cultures. It is the various ways that we see the world and our role in it, particularly those ideas that form the basis of economic or political views. It also has application in other areas as well, such as social, religious, and ethical beliefs. Ideology determines the way that we all make subjective choices based upon basic assumptions about reality that may or may not have any factual basis. All further thought develops around these assumptions.
Willard A. Mullins states in Truth and Ideology: Reflections on Mannheim’s Paradox, that an ideology is composed of four basic characteristics: it must have power over cognition; it must be capable of guiding one's evaluations; it must provide guidance towards action; and it must be logically coherent. Ideology provides the means for analyzing the nature of knowledge and how it relates to connected notions such as truth, belief, and justification. Ideology ranges from the mildly interested to the vigor, fervor, and ideological infallibility of the true believers. Most of us are impacted to various degrees by our ego; sense of self. An important identification of the ego for many is to make oneself right and others wrong. To the degree that individuals unconsciously believe this is the degree of extremism in their ideology. If this subject interests you, I suggest that you read Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose.
There are five basic ideologies: moderate, liberal, conservative, radical, and reactionary. When a society is stable, these five ideologies reflect the rigidity/flexibility spectrum in a bell-shaped curve. Most people are moderates or in the middle of this spectrum. They reflect the views of approximately sixty percent of society. In normal times if basic needs of society are met, moderates think that the current society is the best society, if they conscientiously think about. They tend to be casually involved in politics but tend to vote in elections as their civic responsibility. They tend to vote for personalities, or rather qualities that they like in individuals, such as having a strong will, charisma, honesty, etc. Moderates are either causally associated with a political party or tend not to be politically affiliated and consider themselves to be “independents”. Moderates are the “swing” voters that usually determine which party will win a particular election.
Liberals are sometimes referred as progressives. For them the best society is in the future and they will work within the system to obtain their goals. In normal times they comprise fifteen percent of the population. Liberals are often actively involved in politics and are the core constituency of the Democratic Party in the United States. Liberals tend to be tolerant of divergent views, believe in the importance of liberty (the ability to believe and do whatever one wants as long as those actions do not interfere with others) and equal rights. In general, liberals espouse a wide array of views depending on their understanding of these principles, but generally liberals support ideas such as (in the US) underlying principles of the Constitution, liberal democracy, free and fair elections, human rights, regulated capitalism, the free exercise of religion, choice of life-styles, and the responsibility of the state is the general welfare of all of its citizens.
Wikipedia states that “liberalism first became a powerful force in the Age of Enlightenment, rejecting several foundational assumptions that dominated most earlier theories of government, such as nobility, established religion, absolute monarchy, and the Divine Right of Kings. The early liberal thinker, John Locke, who is often credited for the creation of liberalism as a distinct philosophical tradition, employed the concept of natural rights and the social contract to argue that the rule of law should replace absolutism in government, that rulers were subject to the consent of the governed, and that private individuals had a fundamental right to life, liberty, and property.”
The American and French Revolutions were based on liberal philosophy. All of the original documents promoting and justifying the formation of the United States, such as the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, the Preamble to the Constitution, and the Constitution itself were, by definition, liberal documents. Perhaps the most known clashes of personalities in US history are between conservative Alexander Hamilton and liberal Thomas Jefferson. By the nineteenth century liberal governments were established in nations in Europe, the Americas, and the English colonies around the world. Liberal ideas spread even further in the twentieth century, when liberal democracies triumphed in two world wars and the Cold War; survived major ideological challenges from fascism and communism. Today, liberalism in its many forms remains as a political force to varying degrees of power and influence on all major continents. In this century there is developing an emerging new liberalism, centered on the concept on universal freedom for all people and even transcending human rights to other life-forms and the planet itself.
Conservatives believe the best society is in the past. They want to preserve, or “conserve” traditional values, hence their name. One of the two known consistencies is change. Conservatives by nature resist change. The degree of rigidity is the degree by which individuals or nations are conservative. In normal times conservatives also comprise fifteen percent and work within the system to promote their programs that will return society to a better past. They are the core constituency of the Republican Party. Conservative ideology “is a political and social philosophy that promotes the maintenance of traditional institutions and supports at the most, minimal and gradual change in society. Some conservatives seek to preserve things as they are, emphasizing stability and continuity, while others oppose modernism and seek a return to "the way things were". The first established use of the term in a political context was by Francois-René de Chateaubriand in 1819, following the French Revolution.
Conservatism in the United States respects tradition, small government, often pro-business laissez-faire capitalism, low taxes, limited governmental regulation, has played an important role in American politics since Alexander Hamilton at the nation’s founding. Historian Gregory Schneider identifies several constants in American conservatism: respect for tradition, "the rule of law and the Christian religion", and a defense of "Western civilization from the challenges of modernist culture and totalitarian governments." There are two wings of conservatives in American conservative movement: social conservatives who see traditional social values as threatened by secularism, so they support school prayer, publicly supported religious charter schools, and oppose abortion and the legalization of same-sex marriage, decriminalization of drugs; and economic conservatives and libertarians. The Republican Party today is experiencing tension and competing ideologies between these two groups. Neoconservatives want to expand American ideals throughout the world by aggressively promoting US interests through a powerful military and show a strong support for Israel. Conservatives tend to oppose multiculturalism and press for restrictions on immigration. I would consider “Focus on the Family” and the “Tea Parties” to be major American conservative groups today.
William F. Buckley Jr., in the first issue of the prominent conservative magazine he founded, National Review, defined the beliefs of American conservatives this way, Among our convictions:
"It is the job of centralized government (in peacetime) to protect its citizens’ lives, liberty and property. All other activities of government tend to diminish freedom and hamper progress. The growth of government (the dominant social feature of this century) must be fought relentlessly. In this great social conflict of the era, we are, without reservations, on the libertarian side. The profound crisis of our era is, in essence, the conflict between the Social Engineers, who seek to adjust mankind to conform with scientific utopias, and the disciples of Truth, who defend the organic moral order. We believe that truth is neither arrived at nor illuminated by monitoring election results, binding though these are for other purposes, but by other means, including a study of human experience. On this point we are, without reservations, on the conservative side.”
Most of the history of the United States reflects cycles of liberal reform followed by a conservative push-back. Stress increases during times when the old ways of doing things are no longer working, order breaks down and basic needs become tenuous. At that point the middle of the bell-shape curve collapses, forming a bimodal curve. At times like these, individuals are forced to choose between radical and reactionary ideology. Liberals move toward radicalization and conservatives become more reactionary. An example of this would be the situation in the British colonies in North America prior to the American Revolution. As tension increased, the proportion of colonists who considered themselves to be either a Whig (liberal/pro-Independence) or Tory (conservative/pro-England) increased as those who remained non-involved decreased.
Radicals and reactionaries have similar views except for the direction of change. Both want complete change instantly to create a perfect society. They justify any means to obtain their ends. In normal times they each reflect five percent of the population. The difference is the direction of their utopian worlds. Radicals think the perfect society is in the future and the reactionaries think their perfect utopian society was in the past. They attract the fringe, unstable elements of any population. The preeminent book on this subject is The True Believer by Eric H offer. The book analyzes and attempts to explain the motives of the various types of personalities that give rise to mass movements; why and how mass movements start, progress and end; and the similarities between them, whether religious, political, radical or reactionary. As examples, the book often refers to Communism, Fascism, National Socialism, Christianity, Protestantism, and Islam. Hoffer believes that mass movements are interchangeable. He believes that adherents will often flip from one movement to another, and that the motivations for mass movements are interchangeable; that religious, nationalist and social movements, whether radical or reactionary, tend to attract the same type of followers, behave in the same way and use the same tactics, even when their stated goals or values differed.
The times when radicals or reactionaries are able to gain power are times of crisis within society often when society is not able to meet their basic survival needs. Under those conditions people are desperate. Under those conditions people are not thinking rationally but emotionally. Such a situation existed with the collapse of the Czars in Russia in 1917 which allowed the radical wing of the communist party under Lenin gain power. Lenin was followed by an even greater radical, Josef Stalin. Another example would be a generation later in Germany precipitated by the global Great Depression, hyper-inflation and political instability, which led to the reactionary Nazis under Hitler to gain power. This was also true of the other reactionary leadership in Japan and Italy as well as a host of lesser dictatorships in the world at the time. It is interesting to note that in March of 1933 both Adolf Hitler and Franklin Roosevelt were sworn in as the leaders of their respective countries. Both leaders were elected in response to the Great Depression. Hitler’s vision was based on exclusion and aggression and Roosevelt’s was based on love and inclusion. Views of radical and reactionary authors follow this essay.
The term reactionary refers to viewpoints that seek to return to a previous state, the status-quo, in a society. Reactionaries are a group of people who react to some political issue or event, hence the name. Reactionaries are the most rigid of all on the rigidity/flexibility spectrum, who tend to believe in social hierarchy and the superiority of earlier social values. They tend to blame the marginalized for society's problems, and espouse the undesirability of even basic social justice and the inherent supremacy of members of their own group which can include nation, faith, or race. In the US, this would include neo-Nazis, the KKK, and right wing anti-government and theocratic militias. Tim McVeigh is an example. Global examples are al-Qaida, some ultra-conservative Zionist Jews, and reactionary nationalistic Hindu and Sikh religious groups.
Societies and their representatives, nations, also have ideologies. I define national ideologies as a way of governing and as a way of life; otherwise the characteristics of national ideology are the same as individual ideologies. With governments these ideologies are manifested into policy.
There are three types of national ideologies: democracy, authoritarian, and totalitarian. In democracies the state exists for the benefit of the people. The citizens of a democracy choose who will govern them. In a democracy people are able to believe and behave in a manner of they choose as long as it doesn’t harm, or potentially harm, others. The state exits for the benefit of the people. Governmental structure is designed to create the conditions for the maximization of individual potential of its citizens and create the conditions necessary for happiness. It is an egalitarian form of government in which all the citizens of a nation together determine public policy, the laws and the actions of their state, requiring that all citizens (meeting certain qualifications) have an equal opportunity to express their opinion. In practice, "democracy" is the extent to which a given system approximates this ideal, and a given political system is referred to as "a democracy" if it allows a certain approximation to ideal democracy. Although no country has ever granted all its citizens, the vote, example excluding minors, most countries today hold regular elections based on egalitarian principles, at least in theory.
The most common system that is deemed "democratic" in the modern world is parliamentary democracy in which the voting public takes part in elections and chooses politicians to represent them in a Legislative Assembly. The Congressional system of checks-and-balances that has evolved in the United States is unique to that society. However, it functions similarly as the parliamentary one. The members of the assembly then make decisions with a majority vote. A purer form is direct democracy where the voting public makes direct decisions or participates directly in the political process. Elements of direct democracy exist on a local level and with some exceptions on national level in many countries, such as Switzerland, though these systems coexist with representative assemblies. In the division of power in the American system provides greater amount of direct democracy at the local level.
In my opinion it is the Scandinavian countries that comes the closest to achieving democracy. The United States is a conservative form of democracy, containing the basic democratic structures, particularly the US Constitution, necessary for a democracy but also contains elements of plutocracy which threatens it. This dynamics has been in play for at least the last 150 years.
Under an authoritarian form of government the people have little or no choice in who governs them. Having authority is the root word. However, the government does not generally interfere in the peoples’ lives. Hugo Chavez’ rule in Venezuela is an example of an authoritarian government. Answers.com defines authoritarianism as “An authoritarian government is the form of government based on the principle of requiring obedience to the authority of one person or a small group of people. Other people must be obedient to the will of the government and they have little or no influence over the decisions made by the government. Authoritarian government involves a "top-down" command structure, often with elements of a military or quasi-military dictatorship.”
Totalitarianism is total control. The people exist for the benefit of the state. The government tells them how they are to live and what to believe. The state belongs to the leader or a few individuals. North Korea, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, is probably the most totalitarian state in the world today. Answers.com also defines totalitarianism as a “form of government that subordinates all aspects of its citizens' lives to the authority of the state, with a single charismatic leader as the ultimate authority. The term was coined in the early 1920s by Benito Mussolini, but totalitarianism has existed throughout history throughout the world” at least as far back as the Qin dynasty China. It is different from and authoritarian dictatorships “by its supplanting of all political institutions and all old legal and social traditions with new ones to meet the state's needs, which are usually highly focused. Large-scale, organized violence may be legitimized. The police operate without the constraint of laws and regulations. Where pursuit of the state's goal is the only ideological foundation for such a government, achievement of the goal can never be acknowledged.” Hannah Arendt's Origins of Totalitarianism is the standard work on the subject.