Introduction to Political Theory

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However, the term soon became pejorative: Napoleon denounced ideology as an
idea that was radical, sinister, doctrinaire and abstract – a ‘cloudy metaphysics’ that
ignores history and reality (McLellan, 1995: 5). This seems to have been the view
that Marx and Engels put forward in The German Ideology(1845), but they inject
into the term two new connotations. First, ideologies are seen as infused with
idealism – ideas held by individuals are substituted for reality: the belief that people
drown because they subscribe to the notion that gravity exists is supremely
ideological, as it blithely ignores the harsh facts of material reality. Second, ideologies
appear to be ideas that mask material interests. Bourgeois ideologies may support
the proposition that it is natural for people to exchange products and for the thrifty
to accumulate wealth, but these beliefs merely reflect the interests of the capitalist
class. Unmasking such an ideology requires placing such ideas in their historical
and social context.
Does that mean that Marxism itself cannot be ideological? Lenin and his
Bolshevik supporters used the term ideology positively, so that Marxism was
described as a scientific ideology that reflected the class interests of the proletariat.
Because the proletariat was the class whose historical mission is to lead the struggle
to convert capitalism into communism, its outlook (as interpreted by Marxists) is
deemed scientific andideological. Leninist Marxists would have no problem in
describing their views as both ideological and true. Having nothing to fear from
history and reality, the outlook of the proletariat is free from the ‘cloudy
metaphysics’ that characterises the thought of classes that are in decline.
Is it possible to reconcile the views of Marx and Lenin on this matter? It could
be argued that when Marx and Engels speak negatively of ideology, they are
referring to idealist ideology. There is an analogy here with their use of the term
‘philosophy’. Marx refers dismissively to philosophers, not because he rejects
philosophy, but because he challenges those who substituted philosophy for a study
of historical realities. In other words, the term ideology is used negatively when it
refers to idealists like the Young Hegelians, but Marx and Engels’s own theories
are themselves ideological in the sense that they seek to transform society and the
state through a political movement.
In the post-war world, many academic political theorists argued that ideology
was dead – by which they meant that ideas like Marxism that sought to transform
society from top to bottom, were now archaic and dated. However, this was itself
the product of a political consensus as Partridge (1967) pointed out at the time,
and it was a view held not only by academics, but by politicians as well. The
argument was that all sensible people agreed on the foundations of society – liberal,
welfare state capitalism – so that disagreements were over details and not the overall
direction of society. Bernard Crick wrote a lively book In Defence of Politics in
1962 ,in which he argues that politics is a flexible, adaptive and conciliatory activity.
As such, it needs defending, he argues, against ideology. Ideological thinking is
totalitarian in character: it reduces activity to a ‘set of fixed goals’. It is rigid and
extremist, and should be rejected by conservatives, liberals and socialists who believe
in debate, toleration and the resolution of conflict through negotiation (Crick, 1982:
55). However, Crick also identifies politics with the state, and, in our view, this
makes his own definition of politics ideological.

164 Part 2 Classical ideologies

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