Part Two

Concepts of Ideology

by Arne Næss et al

4. Definitions of the term "ideology" today.

Any thorough analysis of how the words "ideology" and "ideological" are used today, would have to include an occurrence analysis of the term. This demands a great deal of work if carried out in a way that can yield reliable results. The following remarks are mainly based on less exact sources of information, namely normative and descriptive definitions by social and political scientists. To avoid confusion and grave mistakes, it should be borne in mind that if a scientist proposes that "ideology" should stand for this or that concept, it does not imply that he ever uses the term as his normative definition prescribes, or even that a possible usage has been delimited by the definiens formulation. Its vagueness and ambiguity may prevent its application in concrete cases.

Similarly, if an author maintains that the term "ideology" has been used in a certain way, it is very possible that he is mistaken, because the formula he offers may not be based on other evidence than the normative definitions stated by others.

With these cautions concerning the value of definitions as sources of information about usage, a survey will be given of contemporary definitoid statements on "ideology".

The usages seem to be classifiable into groups roughly indicated by the following definiens key words:

A. Definitional neutrality. Static key terms.

(Al) Patterns (or schemes, systems, syntheses) of ideas (thoughts, values, convictions, beliefs)

a) characteristics of (or belonging to, adhered to by) a group (or class, epoch). Or:

b) characteristic of an individual or of a group, class, epoch.

c) characteristic of an individual.

This formulation indicates three concepts which have one common conceptual characteristic, ‘patterns of ideas’. Let us call it "the conceptual characteristic Al". Each concept has one specific conceptual characteristic,

[p. 161]


a), b) or c). The three concepts are accordingly defined by the conjunctions Al & a), Al & b) and Al & c). The analysis of the three specific characteristics shows that a) and c) are narrow compared with b), which is simply a disjunction (or — connection) between a) and c). Therefore, the concept Alb is a wider concept, a genus, having Ala and Alc as species.

The formulation (Al) was said to "indicate" three concepts. Actually, the expressions used in the definiens formulations are so ambiguous and normally used with such a low degree of definiteness of intention that no set of distinctive concepts is expressed by (Al). On the other hand, (Al) is intended to suggest that current terminology is such that one might expect a trichotomy of concepts to offer a convenient classificatory basis. The mutual relationships of the triple elements are suggested by using certain terms, "groups" and "individual". By the use of precizations of these terms, well delimited sets of relations are expressed. Thus, by the process of making (Al) more precise, sets of trichotomies emerge which have the requisite definiteness of a conceptual structure.

The classification made above has a fundamentum divisionis, the occurrence of certain terms as definiens expressions. It does not rely on concepts that are believed to be expressed by those terms: For all we know, a theorist using the term "group" in a particular context may or may not mean something that as a special case includes groups with only one member, that is, individuals. A theorist whose formulation is classified into class Al, sub-class Ala, may therefore, for all we know, intend to express the same concept of ideology as a theorist whose formulation is classed in sub-class Alb.

Here are some examples of definitoid statements falling into the main group Ala:

"At the present time, the term "ideology" has become current to mean any scheme of thinking characteristic of a group or class." (R. M. MacIver, The Web of Government, N. Y. 1947, p. 454).

"Every pattern of thought, every philosophical or other cultural product, belongs to the specific social group with which it originated and with whose existence it is bound up. These patterns of thought are "ideologies"." (Joseph S. Roucek, ."A History of the Concept of Ideology", in Journal of the History of Ideas, N. Y., Vol. V, 1944, p. 479).

"Ideology. The sum of political ideas or doctrines of a distinguishable class or group of people, such as the communist, fascist or middle-class ideology." (White’s Political Dict., N. Y. 1947, p. 137).

"Ideology. The aggregate of the ideas, beliefs, and modes of thinking characteristic of a group, such as a nation, class, caste, profession or occupation, religious sect, political party, etc." (Maurice Parmelee, in Dict. of Sociology. N. Y. 1944.)


Examples of definitoid statements of class Alb:

"/Ideology:/ — A systematic scheme of ideas about life — —. Manner or content of thinking characteristic of an individual or class; as, bourgeois ideology." (Webster’s New International Dictionary of the English Language. 2nd ed., Springfield 1947, p. 1237).

"The group ideology usually comprises four features a set of theories, a social ideal, slogans and symbols. The theories contain an explanation of: (1) the existing society, (2) the group’s role and position within the social order, (3) its institutions and procedures and (4) a prediction of the future of society, including the groups ideas and functions in social change." (Arthur Schweitze, "Ideological Groups" in American Sociological Review, vol. 9, 1944, p. 416).

The expression "usually comprises" would seem to indicate that the sentence quoted is not intended to be a definition.

Let us then pass to a second and third main class of definiens expressions of ‘ideology’. They have certain terms in common, and certain individual peculiarities. In the following schema the similarities and differences are indicated.

(A2) Patterns of attitudes.

a) characteristic of a group (or class, epoch). Or:

b) characteristic of an individual or a group (or class epoch).

(A3) Patterns of attitudes and ideas, thought, values, convictions, beliefs.

a) characteristic of "a group, class, or epoch. Or:

b) characteristic of an individual, group, class, or epoch.

A sample of definitoid statements roughly classifiable under A2 or A3:

"A unified totality of beliefs and attitudes /of a person] is an ideology, or life philosophy." (David Krech & Richard S. Crutchfield, Theory and Problems of Social Psychology, N. Y. 1948, p. 162).

"The term ideology is used in this book, in the way that is common in current literature, to stand for an organization of opinions, attitudes, and values — a way of thinking about man and society." (T. W. Adorno, and others, The Authoritarian Personality, N. Y. 1950, p. 2).

"— — a highly structured system of official beliefs and attitudes of a social organization." (Op. cit., p. 162, 388.)

In this connection a rather philosophical kind of concept should be mentioned: (A4) Total structure of the mind of an epoch.

"Here we refer to the ideology of an age or of a concrete historico-social group, e. g. of a class, when we are concerned with the characteristics and composition of the total structure of the mind of this epoch or of this group." (Karl Mannheirn, Ideology and Utopia, English edition, London 1936, p. 49).


B. Definitional neutrality. Dynamic key terms.

The delimitations of ideology concepts so far mentioned do not use expressions suggesting action, or purpose. The following kinds at definiens expressions do have such references:

(B1) Patterns of ideas, thought, beliefs

a) giving general and specific directives of political action. Or:

b) giving general and specific directives of political or social action.

Three Scandinavian definitoid statements might be mentioned as examples:

"Med ideologier — d.v.s. system av forestallningar, som anses skola egga till politisk handlande eller allmänt antas spela denna roll — aro icke, sasom stundom tanklost pâstäs, vasentligen serier av varderingar. Verklighetsomdomena spela huvudrollen." (Herbert Tingsten, De konservativa idéerna, Stockholm 1939, p. 5).

"Ordet ideologi reserveras for en samling politiska foreställningar, som tankas bilda ett mera systematisk hela och angiva generella och bestämda direktiv for handlandet. Det är giver, art nâgon klar avgransning hat icke finnes, och art det sagda blott avser art antyda en i sprakbruket härskande tendens." (Herbert Tingsten, ldékritik, Stockholm 1941, p. 9).

H. Tingsten makes it plain that he does not intend to give a normative definition, but to suggest a descriptive one which does not pretend to have any definite field of application. On the whole, those shortcomings which we analyzed in our discussion of the definitoid statements on democracy make themselves felt in studying those on ideology. Few theorists are as explicit as H. Tingsten.

(B2) Patterns of ideas, thoughts, beliefs, stimulating or apt to stimulate social, political action, "making people march".

"En ideologi er "idéer pu marsj", idéer som far mennesker ru a marsjere. I politiske og sociologiske verker fra senere rid kan vi finne dette anryder: en ideologi er, heter det, et system av tanker som skal anspore dl handling." (Eiliv Skard, Ideologienes tidsalder, Oslo 1950, p.15).

C. Definitional neutrality. Value-orientation stressed.

(Cl) Systems of thought, or ideas derived from a conception of what ought to be. Social theory from the point of view of the ideal.

"There /in sociological analysis (Insertion by A. N.)/ "ideology" means strictly a system of ideas elaborated in the light of certain conceptions of what "ought to be". It designates a theory of social life which approaches the facts from the point of view of an ideal, and interprets them, consciously or unconsciously, to prove the correctness


of its analysis and to justify that ideal. The starting-point is essentially extra scientific — the ideal. Thus every ideological construction involves the projection of a certain ideal into the future, into the evaluation of the present, and into the past". (J. S. Roucek, "A History of the Concept of Ideology", in Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 5, No. 4, Oct. 1944, p. 279).

(C2) Systems of thought, ideas, plans of action derived from conceptions of what ought to be.

"Today even the newspapers occasionally refer to ideologies when they wish to allude to a complex of ideas, a body of doctrines, the programs of movements, the platform of parties — in fact, to any creed or theory that takes on an intellectualized and rationalized form." (Louis Wirth, "Ideological Aspects of Social Disorganization", in American Sociological Review, Vol. 5, 1940, p. 472).

(C3) Systems, patterns of values from which objectives are derived.

"A political ideology is a system of political, economic, and social values and ideas from which objectives are derived. These objectives form the nucleus of a political program." (European Ideologies, ed. F. Gross, N. Y. 1948, p. 5).

D. Definitional neutrality. Causation or finality stressed.

(Dl) Patterns of thought, ideas, beliefs based on or founded on certain social, cultural, economic conditions.

"— sâ har man i den politiska debatten kominit att stempla sasom ideologisk varje allman overtygelse och teori som get uttryck at eller beroende av det sociale lage." (Psykologisk pedagogisk uppslagsbok, Stockholm 1944, vol. 2, p. 825).

(D2) Patterns of thought, opinions, attitudes, identifications showing psychological purpose, adaptability to personality needs or demands.

"The structure /of ideology (Insertion by A. N.)/ may not be integrated, it may contain contradictions as well as consistencies, but it is organized in the sense that the constituent parts are related in psychologically meaningful ways." (T. W. Adorno and others, The Authoritarian Personality, N. Y. 1950, p. 5).

E. Negative evaluation implied. Stress on mistakes, incorrectness,
but not on insincerity.

The definiens expressions we have quoted so far have not contained words clearly and strongly suggesting a positive or negative evaluation. The neutrality of concepts does not, of course, rule out the possibility of strong positive or negative valuations being expressed by assertions


which contain those concepts. A species of tulip is normally defined inneutral botanical terminology, and in saying it is beautiful, the positive evaluation is made independent of the conceptual characterization.

In the following, definiens expressions which are not neutral are indicated.

(El) Patterns of distorted, mythologizing conceptions of situations, processes; guiding fictions characteristic of groups, classes.

"Marx and Engels did distinguish between illusion, the unclear ideas of the majority of the people, and knowledge, the results of scientific investigation. "A clear ideology", Engels concurs with Marx, is "the deduction of a reality not from the reality itself, but from imagination." Engels adds, "The real driving force which moves it /ideology/ remains unconscious, otherwise it would not be an ideological process." (Joseph Roucek "A History of the Concept of Ideology," in Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 5, No. 4, 1944, p. 482).

"The ideology is the political myth functioning to preserve the social structure; — —". (H. D. Lasswell and A. Kaplan, Power and Society, New Haven 1950, p. 117). The authors say that the "term "myth" is not to be interpreted as necessarily imputing a fictional, false, or irrational character", but one may predict that the term will frequently be thus interpreted.

(E2) Convictions about social or political matters cherished by one’s opponent (by the opponent of the user of the term), with the implicit contention that they are untenable, false.

"The particular conception of ideology is implied when the term denotes that we are sceptical of the ideas and representations advanced by our opponent. They are regarded as more or less conscious disguises of the real nature of a situation the true recognition of which would not be in accord with his interests." (Karl Mannheim, Ideology and Utopia, English ed., London 1936, p. 49).

F. Negative evaluation. Stress on insincerity, rationalization, concealed
interest and power orientation.

(Fl) Patterns of ideas, thoughts, beliefs intended to protect interests, power-structure, to justify a struggle to increase power

a) not presented as such. Or:

b) giving a distorted picture of situations, rationalizations apt to conceal real motives.

"With much insight Marx and Engels developed the doctrine that their economic interests bred in each group a corresponding "ideology", a protective web of beliefs that held no intrinsic validity but were the


rationalization of their struggle to gain or maintain place and power." (R. M. Maclver, The Web of Government, N. Y. 1947, p. 54).

"By ideologies we understand those interpretations of situations which are not the outcome of concrete experiences but are a kind of distorted knowledge of them, and which serve to cover up the real situation and work upon the individual like a compulsion. (Karl Mannheim, Diagnosis of Our Time, London 1943, p. 83).

(F2) Presentation of value-judgments as empirical truths in order to justify material and prestigial rewards.

"By "ideology" I mean a system of beliefs that presents value-judgments as empirical truths in order to justify, with or without conscious intent, a particular socio-economic group’s claim to material and prestigial rewards." (Walter P. Metzger, "Ideology and the Intellectual", in Philosophy of Science, 16, 1949, p. 125).

G. Miscellaneous, borderline cases.

(G1) Concepts implying that adherents conceive their so-called "ideology" as a logical system, a scientific doctrine.

"For those who accept it, the ideology is a "logical" system of thought, which is either entirely valid or entirely invalid." (Richard T. LaPiere, Sociology, N. Y. 1946, p. 285).

(G2) Concepts implying that adherents conceive their ideology as embodying duties, they have verpflichtende Character.

"En ideologi er forpliktende, den tar hele mennesket i sin tjeneste, toed tanke og folelse og vilje, og far det til a leve pa en bestemt mate;" (Eiliv Skard, Ideologienes tidsalder, Oslo 1950, p. 15).

(G3) Affective and cognitive factors manifest in the behaviour of an individual.

"Our revised, more dynamic and concrete conception of an ideology may now be defined as the complete system of cognitive assumptions and affective identifications which manifest themselves in, or underlie, the thought, speech, aims, interests, ideals, ethical standards, actions — in short, in the behaviour — of an individual human being." (Walsby, H., The Domain of Ideologies, Glasgow 1947).

In the above list, we have not included formulations which assert common characteristics of usages or concepts or denotata of "ideology", because the common characteristics or denotata may not be meant to express or delimit a total definiens of any concept determination. The following formulation seems to be meant to assert that ideologies are always systems of ideas or that concepts of "ideology" always have ‘systems of ideas’ as a characteristic:

"The term ideology is currently used in a number of somewhat


distinct, though partially overlapping, senses. It always refers to a system of ideas, but the system is sometimes construed to be based on the special interests of some segmental or distributive minority within the society, sometimes upon a supernatural revelation, sometimes upon any non-empirical, non-scientific norm." (C. Kluckhohn, "Values and Value-Orientations in the Theory of Action", in Toward a General Theory of Action, ed. Parsons and Shils, Camb. 1951, p. 432).

— The above arrangement of definitoid statements does not pretend to furnish a classification of directions of precization. It is a classification according to key terms in the definiens-expressions, not according to what these terms mean to the definer. Key terms are used, which may be interpreted in such different directions that no fairly clear delimitation of classes of usage can be obtained by using them. Words such as "ideas", "attitudes", "patterns", "rationalizations", "values", "objectives", "illusions" are, without explanation and precization, of small value in descriptions of opinions or concepts.

But even if the above arrangement of definitoid statements does not correspond to a classification of cognitive meanings, it can be of some help in our present inquiry. Let us ask the following question in relation to each of the definitoid statements: can the term "Ideology", introduced by the statement to hand, be useful in research for ordering observational data or formulating confirmable hypotheses or classes of hypotheses?

The most direct material relevant to this question is found in those texts in which the definitoid statements are found. Inspection of the texts shows that the definiens expressions are hardly ever used in classification of reported observational data or in formulating confirmable hypotheses which are introduced in relation to data already collected or data expected to be gathered in research projects already planned. In this respect the definiens expressions of "ideology" resemble those of "democracy". There is a difference, however. Many of the texts from which the sample of democracy statements was drawn have no scientific pretensions. In the case of texts of social psychology and related fields there are, however, implicit or explicit pretensions of this kind.

Even if the definiens expressions of "ideology" are not actually used for research purposes, they might be useful in the future. It is unlikely, however, that one can work with them in research. Who can work with an entity introduced by the expression "total structure of the mind of this epoch or of this group"? (Mannheim, Ideology and Utopia, London 1936, p. 50).

It is difficult for us to imagine an observational report, or a set of observational reports, with a content that could be ordered in a fruitful way by use of the expression. It seems to us rather obvious that


Mannheim could not, even if he had wished to, use the definiens expression in research work.

In the authoritative Social Psychology of D. Krech & R. S. Crutchfield one might expect to find fairly precise concepts. But "ideology" is introduced as follows: "The degree to which the beliefs and attitudes of a person are embedded in an orderly pattern may be taken as the degree of unity of the individual’s personality. A unified totality of beliefs and attitudes is an ideology, or life philosophy. Only rarely will an individual exhibit such a high degree of unity of beliefs and attitudes that we are justified in saying that he has a single ideology. More commonly, an individual’s political, religious, artistic, and scientific ideologies are somewhat separable . ." (p. 162).

From the wording of this definitoid statement, it might be expected that "ideology" is a term intended to express a concept adapted to be used in fairly precise hypotheses. But firstly, do "the beliefs and attitudes of a person" include all his opinions? If not, which are the criteria of ideological opinions? How is "unified totality" found and tested? What kind of unification is relevant. Unity of a purely logical or cognitive kind? If so, who are able to judge the degree of unification if opinions on [t]echnical or political issues are included? How are tests of such unification worked out? If purely "psychological unity" is meant, what does it imply? How is it tested? If both cognitive and other aspects are relevant, how are they worked out, compared, evaluated? In what sense can an individual exhibit such a high degree of unification that his scientific and artistic ideology are inseparable?

One might expect that the answer is to be found in the textbook, but it is not. The definiens expression is not, as far as we can see, used for research purposes.

Similar conclusions are pertinent to other texts in the social sciences. The term is there, but not as a term used in research or useful for research as introduced by the definiens expressions.

"Ideology" is one of the key terms in the important work The Authoritarian Personality N. Y. 1950 by T. W. Adorno, F. Frenkel-Brunswik, D. J. Levison and R. Nevitt Sanford. Several fruitful concepts are suggested, but not clearly differentiated.

The definitoid statements suggest a neutral, static concept: "The term ideology is used in this book, in the way that is common in current literature, to stand for an organization of opinions, attitudes, and values — a way of thinking about man and society. We may speak of an individual’s total ideology or of his ideology with respect to different areas of social life: politics, economics, religion, minority groups, and so forth." (P. 2). "Since the term "ideology" has acquired many negative connotations, particularly in the realm of political thought, we wish again to


emphasize that this concept is used here in a purely descriptive sense: "ideology" refers to an organized system of opinions, values, and attttudes." Any body of social thought may, in this sense, be called an ideology, whether it is true or false, beneficial or harmful, democratic or undemocratic." (p. 151).

The "organization", "consistent pattern", "system", binding opinions etc. together, is at one place conceived to be one of psychological meaningfulness rather than "consistency" in those senses in which opinions are compared with respect to truth-value or tenability: "The structure may not be integrated, it may contain contradictions as well as consistencies, but it is organized in the sense that the constituent parts are related in psychologically meaningful ways." (The Authoritarian Personality, p. 5).

To include psychological meaningfulness in the definition creates many difficulties, apart from the vagueness of that phrase. Suppose clinical interviews reveal that a person subscribes to a group of 10 opinions on Jews, and rejects a group of 10 opinions. If some of the opinions are found not to be psychologically meaningful, they are not part of an ideology. If the opinions are held by the person, it is difficult to see how the conclusion could possibly be such that they are found not to be psychologically meaningful, whatever that might mean.

Considering these difficulties, we are not surprised that the authors make little or no use of their complicated definiens expressions for research purposes.

If some kind of psychological cause-effect, or means-end relations are by definition demanded of ideologies, the main difficulties will be to find out which structures are ideologies, not to find out things about (already identified) ideologies. If the two concept classes, the static (class A) and the causal or final (class D) are left undistinguished, it is difficult to test conclusions expressed in terms of "ideologies". One does not know what is asserted.

It is not dogmatically asserted here that the distinction is not implicitly made in the work under consideration, but that much would be gained by explicitness. Probably the questions put before the subjects interviewed were selected partly on the basis of expectations about psychological meaningfulness and other causal or final structures. For example, the subjects were not asked to elaborate on such factual questions about Jews as are considered non-controversial. Not all opinions are considered equally relevant to an "ideology" as soon as a causal or final view is included in its definition. In that case, however, conclusions about psychological meaningfulness are less interesting and striking. The opinions and other observational material were sifted prior to the


investigation in such a way that some of the conclusions must have been anticipated.

In conclusion, we venture to predict that the movement of the term "ideology" into social science,200) social psychology and political science will, within a generation, be followed by a movement in the other direction. It will continue to be used in headlines, in summaries and in popularizations, but scarcely in statements intended to express comparatively precise theories, hypotheses or classifications of observations.

The unfavourable history of its use and the present muddle create biases too strong to be overcome by possible future investigators introducing the term in a precise way. Instead there will probably be a group of concepts, — without "ideology" as a concept designation — all somewhat reminiscent of ideology concepts or of components of such concepts.

Any of the definiens classes mentioned above may eventually lead to fruitful concepts But the multiplicity of possibilities will tend to create a multiplicity of concept designations. There will be no need for the old vague term.

If "ideology" is too much misused from the point of view of research, perhaps some related terms in current use may be better? Lasswell 201) seems to believe that "political myth" might be useful in the sense of fundamental assumptions as predicted by Dicey202): "The whole body of beliefs existing in any given age may generally be traced to certain fundamental assumptions which, at the time, whether they be actually true or false, are believed by the mass at people to be true with such confidence that they hardly appear to bear the character of assumptions."

But does not a term like "myth" suggest too strongly some sort of lack of justification? Not as defined by Lasswell. "The term "myth" is not to be interpreted as necessarily imputing a fictional, false or irrational character to the symbols, though such an imputation is often correct. The present concept is close to a number of others which have played an important part in classical literature: Plato’s "noble lie", Marx’s "ideology", Sorel’s "myth", Mosca’s "political formula", Pareto’s "derivations", Manheim’s "ideology" and "utopia", and others.

It is amusing to note, however, that just as Marx does not seem to be glad to have an ideology, Pareto does not like to put forth his own fundamental beliefs as derivations. We doubt whether Lasswell would propagate his fundamental assumptions under the heading of myths. It is even less likely than in the case of "ideology" that neutral definitions of "myth" will be followed in practice. The non-cognitive connotations, the whole reductionist tradition of "nothing but", and the severe criti-


cism frequently implied in the use of terms such as "ideology", "myth", "derivation" — not to speak of Plato’s "noble lies" — make them unfit for unbiased use.

The objection that it suffices to give a neutral definition of a term to ensure neutral use is based on an illusion and does not take into account the backward state of research in those fields in which the term is to be used. In mathematics a term such as "imaginary number" does not provoke biased use because of the mature state of mathematical terminology and research techniques. The tradition emanating from Napoleon and from Marx and marxists is very strong and there is no established body of reliable knowledge, as in mathematics, which can counteract the influence of irrelevant associations from past and abandoned usages.

Our argumentation in the last few sections is methodological. It belongs to a part of methodology in which conclusions are uncertain, vague, and research techniques crude or non-existent. In spite of this, it is our hope that the argumentation will be discussed, accepted or rejected, and not merely explained away.

A note on the motives of the authors of these sections may nevertheless be of interest — at least as a psychological document. We have a feeling that the use of the term "ideology" in post-war social science helps to keep prejudices alive. It contributes towards superficial classification of out-groups in relation to groups of social scientists, or in general. We doubt that people have ideologies in most senses of the term suggested by definitoid statements. The belief in existence of ideologies in those senses may help Gleichschaltung. Our argument against the adoption of the term "ideology" in social science, is due partly to the expectation that it will carry with it unwarranted beliefs in common characteristics of so-called "anti-Semites", "communists", "nazi", "nationalists", etc. 

SOURCE: Næss, Arne Main, and associates Jens A. Christophersen and Kjell Kvalø. Democracy, Ideology, and Objectivity: Studies in the Semantics and Cognitive Analysis of Ideological Controversy. Oslo: Published for the Norwegian Research Council for Science and the Humanities [by] University Press, 1956. From Part B, Chapter 1, section 4, pp. 161-172.

Concepts of Ideology, part 1

Ideology Study Guide

Home Page | Site Map | What's New | Coming Attractions | Book News
Bibliography | Mini-Bibliographies | Study Guides | Special Sections
My Writings | Other Authors' Texts | Philosophical Quotations
Blogs | Images & Sounds | External Links

CONTACT Ralph Dumain

Uploaded: 4 September 2001

Site ©1999-2017 Ralph Dumain