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The Idol of Ideology

activism cancel culture capitalism collective unconscious communism competition conservative debate diabolical difference division dogmatism egoism fascism ideas identity ideology idolatry knowledge language games liberal partisan philosophy polarity polarization politics progressivism rivalry socialism traditionalism tribalism truth unity war Jan 26, 2023

“The idols and false notions which have already preoccupied the human understanding and are deeply rooted in it, not only so beset men’s minds that they become difficult of access, but even when access is obtained will again meet, and trouble us in the instauration of the sciences, unless mankind when forewarned guard themselves with all possible care against them.” – Francis Bacon

Do you think it is not impossible for human thought to move beyond ideology? I suppose that first we must supply a working definition of ideology in order to determine whether or not human thought can be set free from it. May I propose the beginning of a definition, as suggested by W. Julian Korab-Karpowicz? Ideology “represents a limited, often dogmatic, partisan worldview that is intended to persuade and manipulate political actors. The chief motive behind ideologies is not really to search for truth, but to achieve definite goals. In them, political action overcomes rational investigation.”[1]

So, the problem with ideology, at first glance, seems to be that it abbreviates rational thought for the sake of expedient political action. Perhaps an elevation of praxis above theory. Yet, if we would identify any theoretical justification for raising action above contemplation (Aristotle’s theoria), this may be found in the urgency of securing self-interests as a means of survival. How can human deliberation sidestep “the fact that interest is inevitably reflected in all thought,” as well as “those complexes of ideas which tend to generate activities toward changes of the prevailing order”?[2] After all, who has time or energy to contemplate in a non-ideological way when there is no food on the table, or when life feels imminently restricted or threatened?

Unum necessarium. "The one thing necessary." Yes, this concept brings us to the threshing floor upon which the idols of ideology are separated from the iconicity of truth. Indeed, it must be that objective value judgments could turn a person against his or her own perceived self-interest. At the same time, would you not agree that, in our era, “we are witnessing not only a general distrust of the validity of ideas but of the motives of those who assert them”? Moreover, is it not the case that “this situation is aggravated by a war of each against all in the intellectual arena where personal self-aggrandizement rather than truth has come to be the coveted prize,” and where “increased secularization of life, sharpened social antagonisms and the accentuation of the spirit of personal competition have permeated regions which were once thought to be wholly under the reign of the disinterested and objective search for truth”?[3] Is it not often the case that “the act comes before the thought,” and that “there is no value apart from interest and no objectivity apart from agreement” within what Karl Mannheim calls “the sociology of knowledge”?[4]

© Donald Wallenfang, My Interior Castle, 2023


[1] Korab-Karpowicz, On the History of Political Philosophy, xii.

[2] Louis Wirth’s Preface to Mannheim, Ideology and Utopia, xxi.

[3] Ibid., xi.

[4] Ibid., xi, xxii, xxv.

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