Many of the –isms we are now familiar with date back to existence as early as the fifteenth century. Every –ism knew to man as we know it, has had the privilege of shaping and/or influencing the contemporary world. Despite its effect and the role played throughout society, all have (needless to say) laid the foundation for what exists now and what is to come.
An –ism is nothing more than a political ideology. The term “ideology” was coined during the French Revolution by Antoine Destutt de Tracy (who lived during the times of 1754-1836) and used in public for the first time in 1796.
The new term- ideologies derived from the literal meaning ‘a science of ideas’, thus becoming known as an ideology. However, political ideologies are simply ideas that are linked to form the basis of some actions, arguments, organizations, etc. “They are the sets of basic beliefs about the political, economic, social and cultural affairs held by the majority of people within as society.
” These ideologies are crucial in the understanding and comprehension of Political Science itself, in addition to those developments within the contemporary world. Political ideologies are formed both logically and rationally as they serve key roles in the world’s numerous governments. For this reason, they are exceptionally responsible for performing four main functions for a group/s of people.
According to Political Science major Benjamin Cloninger, the first function of political ideologies is to explain why life is the way it is.
With this said only describes one’s surroundings and simply puts forth an answer behind why specific aspects of life appear as they are, thus, creating understanding. Rarely do people see the world as it is, but rather as a replica of what one desires it to be. In simplicity, it is seen through a veil of beliefs, assumptions, opinions, and uncertainty. This, the first step, stands solely as the basis for the remaining three functions to come. The second of the four functions is to have some form of evaluation of said surroundings. From function two, sprouts the fact that one decision must be made: what is good, bad, or indifferent? Answering this question and making the decision goes to give meaning to life’s events based on society’s policies (laws, rules, and regulations) and therefore shapes the nature of political systems as a whole. The third function of an ideology is to form “social cement”. It provides a person or group of people with orientation or a sense of belonging and identity to yet another group or whole society that already has established a set of unifying beliefs and values. The fourth and final function is the programmatic aspect. When this aspect is put into play, ideas then transform into instruments that can and will be used toward application- actions. From this point on, these same actions are then justified by the world’s countless ideologies.
Cloninger indicates, “It is important to have some conception of human nature in a political ideology because regardless of what viewpoint you hold, you must be able to give a foundational understanding of why…A political ideology is like a revolutionary movement first and foremost because both try and change things from a fundamental level through any particular prism. An ideology will try and create change so that it mirrors their [people] goals and life is how they wish to see it. A revolution will try and change things by obliterating the very structure in which it currently resides. Working within the “system” will not do because the issue is within the “system” itself. Both wish to seek change in hopes of progress, however one sees it. There is a certain hopefulness shared by a revolutionary outlook and an ideologue.”
Karl Marx, a German revolutionary, sociologist, historian, and political economist who lived between the years 1818 and 1883 used the term “ideology” in the title of his book The German Ideology. The book was written in the year 1846, which was a mere ten years following the death of the late de Tracy (founder of the term) in which Marx went on to describe how he viewed ideologies. When referring to Karl Marx and Marxism itself (one of many prime examples of a political ideology), one automatically refers to the three social classes of society: upper, middle, and the working class. The members belonging to the upper class include society’s owners, entrepreneurs, capitalists, and those who have acquired the means of production. As far as the middle class is concerned, there is a mixture of both those who participate in manual labor, as well as those who possess some means of production, but never as much as those residing within the upper class. On the other hand, there indeed lies a group of people who spend a vast majority of their lives working to make it in life. Although they are made to believe that through hard work and determination they will ascend the social ladder, in actuality, this perception is nothing more than fraudulent optimism. The rich will continue to remain wealthy and purchase workers’ labor, while those slipping beneath them will continue to hold the same position on the ladder, forced with no other option than to sell their labor to obtain a source of income needed for survival. Labor itself, in reality, creates wealth. The only issue with this is that the laborer only receives a fraction of what his/her labor is worth. One word found submerged within the English dictionary, defines this very concept- exploitation. That was the way things were as early as the nineteenth century; that is the way things currently are; that is the way things will be in the future.
Keeping this in mind, Marx wrote within the very pages of his book, “The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time the ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it.”
By writing this book, Marx attempted to display crucial aspects of his conception of ideology by noting four key points. First and foremost, that ideology is strictly about fantasy and bewilderment, causing a mistaken view of the world (false consciousness) as he goes into the contrasting both ideology and science which results in falsehood VS. truth. Secondly, the fact that ideology is linked to the caste system. Ideology stems from and reflects the interests and perspectives on society of the ruling class. Following this, Marx believed that ideology was just a demonstration of power. Ideology serves the purpose of disguising exploitation, thereby upholding a system of unequal class power. With wealth, there comes too, an extreme amount of power. Those possessing this power are more than likely to “be heard” and “catered to” over those who do not even know where to go about obtaining it. Lastly, Marx shared that he would treat ideology as a mere phenomenon. Ideology will only continue to thrive so long as the caste system (its generator) survives as well.
Since its existence, all of the –isms have their obvious benefits, and in contrast, each has its detriments as well. Political ideologies, -isms, must (in some way) remain consistent over a plethora of political topics and/or issues. Consistency is the major trademark overall political ideologies and therefore acts as a vital building block. Conversely, being as though numerous paradoxical elements go into influencing public opinion and political values, there has been reason to question whether or not Americans think ideologically at all. It seems as though the only exceptions to the previous assumption are those third-party activists who emerged in political parties and other special interest groups that advocate specific causes, people, and beliefs.
The influencing the public opinion is fairly easy depending on who is in charge, consequently holding the most power. A leader is chosen by the people and it then becomes his/her job to speak on the behalf of these people and to their benefit and self-interest. For all of this to be possible, all of the people must first surrender a piece of their power and delegate it to “the voice of the people”. When one has power, s/he has the sole ability to influence an outcome to achieve an objective on the ability to influence someone to act in a way contrary to how s/he would choose to act. There are a total of two power establishments: the macro level and the micro-level. The macro-level gives the leader national power over both the country and the many states lying within it, while the micro-level allows the leader to rule at a lower capacity- communities and individuals. Nevertheless, each establishment of power involves the exercise of will all while altering someone else’s, can be latent or manipulative, is relational (depending on the circumstances), consists of differing types, and can be well blended. Although there are two power establishments, there are many different types of power and contributors. Some of these include: control, resources, education, persuasion, strategy, rules and regulations, force, fear, respect, trust, etc.
Being that a leader is chosen to speak for a large number of people, more than likely, all of the people will follow in suit whatever is said by the chosen speaker. With that said, despite what comes out of the mouth of a national leader, whether good or bad, s/he will continue to have followers. Since this is true, these disciples have unknowingly allowed the opinions of the public to be heavily influenced, shaped, and swayed by the opinions of someone else. When an instance such as this occurs, the people can’t think for themselves, let alone think ideologically. In my personal opinion, there is absolutely no way that one can develop any kind of independent wants, needs, aspirations, and yearnings if s/he is constantly following the exact desires of another; someone that is not them.
In contrast to other countries, America has shown little to no interest in political ideologies neither on the extreme left nor on the extreme right. To the extreme left lies Communism (the belief of a classless society and all means of production belonging to the community as a whole). Communists live by three main principles: liberty, equality, and fraternity. Liberty- being the freedom of speech and the right to rebel and differ against the government, suffering no harsh consequences. Equality- the fact that society has no classes or social ladders to be thrown onto. There is a redistribution of wealth throughout the entire welfare state and all private ownership has been abolished. The last, fraternity, simply stands for the communal brotherhood. Every communist wants nothing more than to see all of the inhabitants within society working and living together as one, equally.
On the far right of the political spectrum, lies Fascism (the belief in an authoritarian and hierarchical structure in which some sort of prejudice is shown about who/whatever is specified). Similar to communists, fascists also live by three main principles: authority, hierarchy, and property. Authority- i the preservation of order through an evolved leader, hierarchy- the continuation of the existing social order (ex. England’s royal government), and to finish, property- the right to private ownership of one’s belongings. Fascists are known to be greedy, stingy, and very selfish when it comes to their money as they are in high favor of making the rich richer, while discriminating against those who are poor.
As a result of both the freethinking and the old-fashioned traditionalist, American politics function largely in the middle of the political spectrum as a contest mutually between the liberals and the conservatives.
“Classic liberalism held to the doctrine of laissez-faire, which holds that the government should be small and keep out of most areas of American life (such as the economy, community life, and personal morality). What is called liberalism today is quite different. Liberals believe the government has an important place both as a regulator in the public interest and to assist those with lower incomes. On the other hand, they still oppose government intervention in matters of personal autonomy. Only libertarians still espouse classical liberalism, but Americans holding this political ideology are scattered across various political parties, including the Republicans, the Democrats, and various third parties such as the Libertarian, Reform, and Green parties.
Conservatives feel there is too much government interference, particularly at the federal level, in the economy. This belief translates into calls for lower taxes, reduced spending on social programs, and deregulation. However, many conservatives welcome government support to further their moral agenda. Liberals and conservatives also take opposing positions on crime, with the former concerned with the underlying socioeconomic causes and the latter focusing on the deterrent effect of punishment.”
The many –isms of the world have caused it to be exactly what it is today. In my opinion, I feel as though all of the founding credit should be given to imperialism, also known as colonialism. Imperialism occurs when one country dominates and/or influences another one (usually one that is weak, dependent, and underdeveloped) t, expand its own power. The term itself derives from the Latin word imperium meaning “to command”.
The first occurrence of imperialism took place in the fifteenth century; however modern imperialism did not take place until around the year backed1870 during the Age of Exploration. The ideas of imperialism influenced Europe heavily during the 19th century as the country began importing goods and raw materials from other countries, thus resulting in Europe becoming the manufacturing center of the world. Being that imperialism was manipulating many other countries besides that of Europe alone, the United States did not want to be overthrown and therefore opposed the act. Immediately following, the U.S back its firm decision by then drawing up a popular document- the Monroe Doctrine. This particular text stated that no other country is allowed to invade the United States of America whatsoever, under any circumstances.
Both imperialism and colonialism eventually led up to the First World War. While the nation’s men were busy fighting in World War I, the women of the nation had no other choice but to step up and assume the roles and duties of the men by working in the factory and manufacturing business. When the machinery and working conditions began to cause illness, they all sought better working conditions. This incident sparked the first act of feminism as women from all over the world looked tofor liberation of political, economical, and cultural inferiority. In addition to fair working conditions, women also sought things such as equality, voting rights, and identical pay as men received.
Soon after World War I, came the Great Depression. Following resulted in the Great Upheaval and with this arrived Fascism (as earlier explained) and Nazism. The Second World War sprouted from all of these events, thus, Communism (the inverse of Fascism, also explained earlier) emerged.
The chronological and sequential order of the world’s many events could go up as far as present-day- now, May 1, 2012. In the end, every –ism/political ideology has played a role in shaping the contemporary world, despite how big of a role was played in influence. If it had not been for the desires, and aspirations of others, in addition to the mental replicas of the world being exactly as one would want it to be, there is no way to tell what position the inhabitants of the contemporary world, not to mention the contemporary world itself, would be in. In conclusion, a special thanks of gratitude and appreciation goes to every idealist known to man: Charles Darwin, Bentham John Stuart Mill, Edmund Burke, Ron Paul, Karl Marx, and all of the other idealists who were criticized for their model of a better society for its people, for without these people, there would indeed be no contemporary world.