Over the course of the last few years, the concept of ideology and ideologues has become a topic of much interest. To lay the groundwork, let us establish what ideology is and what it can become. Ideology can be easily defined as a set of somewhat coherent but not always rational, belief systems that a social group adheres to or ritualizes. Although it has been said ideology solely rests in the seat of the mind, this is untrue. A belief system, or ideological structure, resides in the gut as well as the mind hence why empirical observations cannot resolve instinctual differences. To untangle this further, of all the villains in Shakespearean plays and folklore, the death toll usually stopped in the single digits. Why is this? It is simply due to the fact that the villain lacked an ideology. Looking back on the 20th century, millions were killed in the name of socialism and the utopian tomorrow. Socialism, communism, and syndicalism all fulfilled a spiritual need and a longing for social structure where religion, the predominate ideology, had been reduced by the Hegelian God-state.
It is true that people want affirmations, not hard truths. When you attack or question a man’s ideology, you’re attacking his spiritual core and his perceptual undergirding of how the world operates. Nothing can be more of an affront to strip a man of his reality, although subjective, that he has worked so hard at building and internalizing. Unfortunately for the wounded man, this process of mental strip-mining is crucial for growth. Honest conflict is more important than dishonest harmony. When society is complacent with their belief structures, and everyone is on the same page, at once that society atrophies and becomes impotent. Any coercive power, whether it be a religious or state apparatus, that stifles ideological evolution shall be deemed tyrannical and should be actively reduced. One of the most important characteristics of objective science is its dogmatic approach to prove theories and individual researchers wrong. This is not done out of scorn or resentment but out of an ideological driver to find truth. This same methodology should be implanted into the back of society’s hindbrain. Once an ideology becomes rigid and unwelcomes change, that belief system is no longer beneficial to the whole. This rigidity can often be exploited by the state to preserve order or silence dissonance.
This same phenomenon of enforcement and rigidity is what lead to the socialists morphing into the Nazi’s in Germany or the social democratic party evolving into the Bolsheviks in Lenin’s Russia. Those ideologues, so blinded by a vision, are the most argumentative, dogmatic and unforgiving. Everything is black and white for them, that is, they are especially impelled by their belief system. It is within these contexts that ideology controls the ideologue and compels him to act out in perverse ways that he otherwise would not. In short, the belief system is the driver, the ideologue the vehicle.
Language and rhetoric are especially calming to those entranced by the radiant glow of ideology. Politicians utilize these tools with great ease and virtuosity. The politician can easily attract votes by romanticizing a reform that will fix all the community’s qualms. Furthermore, he can play to the people’s emotions and invoke the poor, downtrodden masses. Obviously, the ways in which the government has hurt the poor by implementing social programs is voluminous but the politician uses this to his advantage by simply saying not enough resources were pooled in this or that plan and the program needs more growth to succeed. Politicians, like ideologues, exploit crises to gain power.
Crises are an interesting resource for the ideological entrepreneur. As times become more uncertain, a whole marketplace of belief structures grows and those opinion leaders of the time that use the most plausible rhetoric and emotion will dominate the social opinion. Again, this is how the socialists in the 20th century consolidated their power. For example, the czarist regime did not “care” for the proletariat, so the warm embrace of Marxist-Leninism soothed the masses and put them under a spell, which caused many to turn a blind eye to the obvious immorality of the revolution. Powerful slogans which resonated inside the common man prevailed rather than the harsh reality that his brother or friend were to be rounded up as “enemies of the state” ad hoc. As Robert Higgs states, “as absurd as Communist ideology may appear from the outside, it provides a consistent view of history to those who adhere to it and makes even the simplest citizen feel as though his life has meaning, thus fulfilling a basic spiritual need. By internalizing the values and precepts of their communities of shared belief, people not only feel better about themselves but become trustworthy adherents who will act in accordance with their ideology without, or even in opposition to, common external material enticement.”
The need to belong is a fundamental trait of humans. It is no wonder people get involved with cults, fringe political parties or otherwise unsavory groups. We all yearn to be a valuable member of the tribe and it is out of this social want that ideology flowers. Opinion and belief structures are like the membership cards of society and flashing your card lets others know who is trustworthy or untrustworthy. Moreover, the man with no principles is the most susceptible to be ensnared by any ideology that offers any somewhat coherent world view. The more desperate and alone a man, the more entranced he is by the sickly throes of perceptual distortion. Ideology knows how to torture powers out of even the weakest person.
The next point being who shapes ideologies, and is this necessarily important? Political opinion leaders and the elite are generally the ones who are thought to sell in the ideological marketplace. The elites certainly exploit their powers to manipulate the masses and to mobilize them into action. Today, Hollywood and its films certainly have an agenda in the case to be the most “woke” and inclusive. Unfortunately, this ideological need subtracts any sort of meritocracy within the art of film and thus what we’re left with is sterile propaganda that leaves one inevitably cringing at the lack of self-reflection within the ideologues and their “art”. The self-deception is truly something to behold in some cases among the elite. For instance, Jane Fonda, a woman known to be a humanitarian and adamantly for the protection of species at risk of climate change, had no problem posing with a group of Viet Cong and their large ant-aircraft gun that was known to bring down American pilots in the Vietnam war. Humanitarian, indeed. As to why celebrities get swept up into this frenzy is probably for the simple need to belong as discussed above. Hollywood is a tribe and at this particular moment, the tribe values virtue-signaling as standard currency. Each person eager to pass the ideological purity test and gain social coinage but because humans are human and are forever with their foibles, one can never be truly “clean” and therefore, never rich. In short, the tribe is engaging in a bizarre circus of Freudian projection and virtue-signaling that we all must bear witness to, no matter how excruciating. Politicians likewise are obviously important opinion leaders, and in this case the reason is much more transparent as they need votes to continue their political legacy. The only difference with these opinion leaders is that they hold arbitrary and capricious power once elected to implement and enforce their ideologies upon the people. Politicians are the most dangerous of all the entrepreneurial ideologues, no matter the party.
To wrap this up, the ideology of a man is the crux of his inner mental frame and his external perceptual mapping, so the philosophy of belief systems needs to be understood on both the micro and macro scale. While this discussion could certainly go on ad infinitum, I will spare the reader his patience. Humans are easily persuaded by affirmations and emotional invocations rather than by cool, dispassionate reasoning. As Clifford Geertz has said, “ideological expression derives its strength from its capacity to grasp, formulate, and communicate social realities that elude the tempered language of science.” Following this logic, ideologues may understand the energy of language far better than most and use this to pull all the levers of power and build spheres of influence. If a society wants to remain free from the terrors of the socialist utopias of the 20th century, ideology and its consequences must be fully understood at a more robust level. Cursory research into the subject of belief systems will turn up Karl Marx initially and this is because of the attractive ideology he sold to the world. A world of absolute equality and freedom from want. It does not matter how many people were thrown under the jackboot of statism in the name of “justice and equality”, what matters is the promise to belong to something bigger than what we have now. Something we can all build together for the tribe. And while the tribe is harmoniously building, the ideologue endlessly toils. So, with the conclusion of this piece comes the most important truth from within it, how to spot the ideologue. The ideologue always reverts to valuational defenses when confronted, always has a knack for charisma and impassioned emotiveness, and, finally, always has an orientation toward urgent action. With the advent of technology and instant international communication, either the globe will become more cognizant of the nefarious powers of ideology and become freer from it or it will become enamored and conquered by it. The author sincerely hopes for the former.