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Essay: Theory of Ideologies: The Good and the Bad

Ideology has been understood and a widely used term around the globe. Even used academically, ideology has become an integrated part of lives, and society. The word ideology has various meanings and has been read on by many scholars, with varied opinions. Sitting deep-rooted in the society and the mental institute of people around the world, ideologies are have sparked talks, debates and commentaries. The concept and the theory of ideology have mixed opinions from scholars and researchers. Additionally, the role of the same can be found in many areas of life, all of which have a direct effect on the quality of life and the society that functions now (Maynard, 2017).

To break ideology in its most elemental form would be to describe it as an institution or school of thought. Majorly studied under sociology, ideology is the concept through which one views the world. The concept of ideology is extremely broad, and can apply to a society with a similar thought or view of the world or could be within some people. Ideology can also be described as the thought process that exists amongst the people in the society, which shapes the world and the society, and controls what happens in society. Relating to matters of utmost importance in the world, ideology has direct implications and effect on the social structure, political structure and the economic system of production in a society (Cole, 2019).

Ideology can be described as a form of the social or political element, which is responsible for shaping the society as a whole. Cranston explains the term as “a system which aspires to change the world and explain the world.” Ideology, however, first came into being during the French Revolution, where it was introduced by a philosopher, Destutt de Tracy, who had borrowed it from an English Philosopher, Francis Bacon. Tracy had wished to create an education system for a better and scientific country, which was at first supported by Napoleon himself. However, later, Napoleon turned against Tracy. Cranston (2014) explained in his paper that Ideology and the theory of ideology gained popularity and undeniable attention strictly from academic point of view during three very certain parts of history, which were World War II, Cold War and post Cold War.

The theory of ideology began to take form after the French Revolution and was later on discussed by various scholars. Even today, scholars study and look for the true meaning behind it. Marx and Althusser had studied the theory of ideology as well, and both of them had varying opinions about the same. In modern times, Michael H. Hunt’s words on ideology ring true. Hunt called ideology as a slippery subject and stated that ideology itself was a confusing matter. Hunt’s opinion on the matter that ideology was difficult to explain was backed by the fact that throughout time, scholars had studied ideology, and the opinions about it remain vague and varying. 

Ideology was first discussed during the French Revolution and had been described as a science of ideas. During the time it was first coined, the term was only used to describe political ideology. However, since then, the term and the meaning of the same has changed and taken a different form. In the present-day scenario, the term is usually used in terms of a haphazard school of thought, the “opposite of truth” and the opposite of science of ideas. 

The theory of ideology was heavily criticized by many thinkers and liberals, including Marxists, Karl Popper and much more. As the theory of ideology gained popularity, the term began to gain different characteristics, and attributes. The primary reason for such criticism for the theory was the fact that it provided a cloak for people’s intentions and interests (Moazzam, 2017).

Ideologies are very different from the generic notions that the world has conceived. There are various types of ideologies, which include political, economic, religious and moral ideologies. The subdivisions can be many. Cole (2019) explained that Truth be told; the theory of ideology is really as slippery as Hunt suggested. At one point there is the fact that it was supposed to be a school of intellectual thoughts and process, and on the other hand, the theory of ideology has developed into the opposite of truth in modern times. However, the one true silver lining of the theory of ideology is that it offers an aspect of realism into the jaded world, which allows for a better perspective. The conceptualization of theory of ideology can vary and depend on the factors or the actors (Martin, 2015).

The two primary examples of modern use or effect of ideologies are religious and political ideologies. It is safe to say that in certain aspects, the two even overlap, as seen in third world countries even in the 21st century. In the context of politics, politicians have always sought power, and to seek power, ideologies are formed. The outcome for the politician depends on the resources, ideologies and the political circumstances of the environment at the moment. Usually, ideologies are not termed as ideologies by the press but are reported as “errors” in judgement (Harrison and Boyd, 2018).

The difference in political ideologies can be seen as in the case of the 2008 US elections, wherein the voters were not found in the middle. The voters in 2008 were on the opposite side of the spectrum, majorly. Furthermore, the US public, as per data collected through different studies, has been found to become polarized and aggressive (Carmines and D’Amico, 2015). The effect of ideologies of a political party and the change in the form of society has also been seen in the case of China (Klimeš and Marinelli, 2018). Furthermore, scholars believe that theorizing political theory gives rise to a negative impact of ideology theory and favors only the privileged groups of the society (Ng, 2018).

The ideology of the economy is yet another example that highlights the true meaning of ideology and how it shapes society. The prime example of such is the modern US economy, which keeps up with the use of Marx’s theory and has capitalist dominant ideology. The theory sheds a light on the inequality amongst the people in the country, as some are exceptionally successful while others make little success in their chosen fields (Cole, 2019)

Beliefs can also be termed as ideologies, which can gain a bad press, depending on where it comes from. The concept and the theory of ideology differ from person to person. For one person, the theory is simple and holds nothing but the truth, while for someone else, the same thought and the same belief may not be true or correct. Even liberalism is an ideology, and it is believed to be true, like other ideologies. However, when looked at closely, it appears that liberalism was developed in order to protect a certain class of people in society while exploiting another class of society. As a consequence of this type of example of ideology, the negative impact on society would be too great to simply overlook and ignore. 

Furthermore, it can also be understood that the ideologies can be used and put in place as a tool for control and power by the dominant groups and the members of the groups. Dominant ideologies could be used to permeate society and change the very basics of society. As most of the dominant political ideologies are not always accepting of various aspects and are not accepted by the people, it gives rise to the ideology of resistance, which is also known as counter-ideologies (Harrison and Boyd, 2018).

 In other words, ideologies are deep-rooted and have become an intense part of the modern world. Even though various new ideologies have been birthed due to the older ones, the lines between the different ideologies remain to be blurry. Ideologies offer a core value to individual traits and beliefs, offer interrelated concepts, views and perspectives, and produce new literature (Moazzam, 2017).

The notion of the essence of ideology remains to be fleeting for scholars and the world. The reason can be attributed to the lost opinions and factors which were once a cornerstone for idealistic ideologies. The theory of ideology remains to be fleeting as the ideologies of religion, socialism, feminism and even the greener forms of ideologies have become thin and the worth of the same has disappeared over time. The theme of such ideologies has been lost in time, which has left, in its wake, something mutilated (Freeden, 2018).

The theory of ideology used to be a pristine school of thought which had nothing but the advancement of society in mind. However, with the change in the world and the opinions, the concept has become jaded and extremely difficult to process. Due to a lack of micro-foundations and the understanding of the elements in play, there is a huge risk of “slippery” understanding of the same, by scholars as well as the masses. Even though efforts are being made, as things stand, the theory of ideology remains to be a fleeting subject of discussion and belief.


Carmines, E.G. and D’Amico, N.J. (2015). The New Look in Political Ideology Research. Annual Review of Political Science, 18(1), pp.205–216.

Cranston, M. (2014). Ideology | society. In: Encyclopædia Britannica. [online] Available at: https://www.britannica.com/topic/ideology-society 

Cole, N.L. (2019). What Is Ideology? A Sociologist Explains. [online] ThoughtCo. Available at: https://www.thoughtco.com/ideology-definition-3026356#:~:text=Ideology%20exists%20within%20society%2C%20within%20groups%2C%20and%20between%20people.&text=Sociologists%20study%20it%20because%20it

Freeden, M. (2018). The coming realignment of ideology studies. Journal of Political Ideologies, 24(1), pp.1–10.

Harrison, K. and Boyd, T. (2018). The role of ideology in politics and society. Understanding political ideas and movements.

Klimeš, O. and Marinelli, M. (2018). Introduction: Ideology, Propaganda, and Political Discourse in the Xi Jinping Era. Journal of Chinese Political Science, 23(3), pp.313–322.

Martin, J.L. (2014). What is ideology? Sociologia, Problemas e Práticas, [online] 2015(77). Available at: http://home.uchicago.edu/~jlmartin/Papers/What%20is%20Ideology.pdf

Maynard, J.L. (2017). Idelogy.

Moazzam, A.A. (2017). Understanding Ideology: Dimensions and Influences. Journal of Politics and Governance, 6(2)

Ng, K. (2018). Social freedom as ideology. Philosophy & Social Criticism, 45(7), pp.795–818.

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