For years I’ve tried to create an awareness here on what constitutes ideology, and why it’s important. It’s plainly obvious that I’ve failed.
Fom my POV, one of the greatest problems we confront in today’s political discourse is the lack of ideologies. In the US and in many other countries, people are “divided” by “values”, but largely obviate the means to achieve common goals. This, to me, is the artificial wedge used to differentiate parties and candidates.
Back when it was Kerry vs. Dubya, I pointed out that the candidates respective websites proclaimed a series of goals which were almost identical. Even the means to achieve those goals were almost identical, and the differentiation between the two were obviously products of Madison Ave.-style marketing: similar goals and means to acheive said goals were described in different ways in order to attract different market segments.
This is shallow democracy, this is a farce.
The rise of the concept of the “third way” was the death knell of ideology in most of the West. The concept of “centrism” and the fallacy of “being all things for all people” was the ideal scenario for the absolute corruption of democratic systems and the inexorable move to the right – and the current crisis.
Ideology, however, isn’t entirely abandoned in current political discourse. Aspects of ideology are apparent in the undercurrents of political parties, particularly with regards to the policy makers in the corporate-funded thinktanks. Those aspects are overridingly economic, and for the most part are atuned to neoliberalism.
So I ask again - why is ideology important? Are not the ends enough, or are the means important as well?
Hereabouts, with a national healthcare system, the rw is on a binge of privatization. National healthcare is being farmed out to private companies, purportedly because they are more efficient than government-run healthcare. This is a case of neoliberalism in action.
What’s the difference for the tax-payer or those who need healthcare? They have publicly-mandated health coverage as part of the social safety net. What does it matter if it’s a private company or the government who actually provides the service, as long as the public receives the service?
The answer is not simple and has many facets. On one side, by giving control of healthcare to private companies, governments are recognizing their own incompetence, which in itself is an incredibly undemocratic way of interpreting things:
- If a government doesn’t provide a service efficiently, it is the fault of elected officials that aren’t doing their job properly.
- By outsourcing a fundamental (over here at least) public service to private corporations, whose only raison d’être is to make a profit for its stock-owners, there’s an initial inefficiency (the margin of profit) that can never be amended.
- By outsourcing a fundamental public service that is not amenable to competition, the government is permanently abdicating its control over it.
- A private corporation without competition invariably incurs the same inefficiency as an incompetent government would do, with the added fillip of the profit motive.
So while the European rw does not question the right to healthcare (which would be electoral suicide), it changes the means to achieve the ends. And the means, as I showed above, are incredibly important. As Overton’s Window shifts over time, inexorably to the right in the absence of an ideological opposition, at some point the right to healthcare will be questioned, and the neoliberal dream of a serviceless government will come to pass.
David W. Minar describes six different ways in which the word “ideology” has been used:
- As a collection of certain ideas with certain kinds of content, usually normative;
- As the form or internal logical structurethat ideas have within a set;
- By the role in which ideas play in human-social interaction;
- By the role that ideas play in the structure of an organization;
- As meaning, whose purpose is persuasion; and
- As the locus of social interaction, possibly.
For Willard A. Mullins, an ideology is composed of four basic characteristics:
- it must have power over cognition
- it must be capable of guiding one’s evaluations;
- it must provide guidance towards action;
- and, as stated above, it must be logically coherent.
Points 2 and 3 are, for me, of tantamount importance, and the source of my displeasure with the center-left in general and the DNC/Obama in particular.
Electoral plausibility has taken the place of ideology. The third way drive towards appealing to a majority, over having an actual content that can be checked and balanced against a road map, is an egregious error. It can only lead to what we have seen in spades since Carter – a continuous move to the right.
So I say that we need ideology to measure what our politicians and parties are doing, in order to keep them kosher. It might make for some electoral defeats, but it might also avoid others – since a level of ideological “purity” will lead to less cases of Obama Hangovers, and a real distinguishing characteristic that will differentiate parties and politicos. We need a series of goals, a measuring rod to judge not only results but the means to the end.
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