Sunday, September 13, 2009

What is ideology?

The concept "ideology" has itself been the subject of considerable debate among social scientists. The very term has been confused by a plethora of definitions and made disreputable through its association with fascism and communism, compelling one writer to suggest that it be discarded altogether, in favor of "belief systems." I still prefer the simpler term "ideology," but in this work I shall not use it in the recent sense which implies dogma, a rigid, doctrinaire, black and white understanding of the world, but, rather, as the system of beliefs, values, fears, prejudices, reflexes, and commitments-in sum, the social consciousness- of a social group, be it a class, a party, or a section. Genovese uses the term more or less interchangeably with "world view," which also has a certain value (although it hardly conveys the full meaning of the German Weltanschauung), because an important aspect of ideology involves the way in which a group perceives itself and its values in relation to the society as a whole. when I speak of the Republican ideology, therefore, I am dealing with the party's perception of what American society, both North and South, was like in the 1850s, and its view of what the nation's future ought to be.

Eric Foner in Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party before the Civil War. (highly recommended)

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