Ideology The role of ideas in the political arena
Unit goals • In this unit, we discuss the question of systematic sets of ideas about politics, or ideologies. At the end of the unit, you should have gained four key pieces of conceptual information; • You should be able to define political ideology and distinguish it from other concepts such as political culture, etc. • You should be able to identify the main ideological strands of the 20th century • You should be able to discuss the roots of those political ideologies in normative theory • You should have a sharper perspective on the delicate question of the relationship between political Islam and democracy.
What is an ideology? • Ideologies can be defined as comprehensive sets of political ideas that: • Simplify political relationships and the role of the state (political institutions) • Idealize certain values and the construction of legitimacy • Prescribe a course of action, including goals, policies, and tactics • In short, ideologies are heuristics, “ rules of thumb” by which we gauge our place in the political arena. • Often, we use ideologies as a shortcut to political action; we know that people tend to take their cues from ideology, and that it helps them make up their minds on complicated and obscure issues.
What are the roots of ideologies? • Modern ideologies have their roots in large systems of philosophical thought. So, for every ideology, we can trace it back to a thinker or groups of thinkers. • Ideologies in general have arisen along with the emergence of the modern state and state institutions. This explains part two of the definition of ideologies; much of what they have to say to us is about the role of the state and government in people’s lives. • Ideologies have emerged around the core themes of modern society; they speak to issues such as inequality, rights, distribution, and economic management. They do not come to the same conclusions, of course (indeed, it is the clash of ideas around these core values in politics that makes ideologies so contentious), but a ‘good’ ideology has to be able to speak to all aspects of political life.
“Left” and “Right” and ideologies • Some suggest that ideologies can be arranged from left to right, as in the diagram below. (The concept of left and right goes back to the French revolution, when the defenders of the King sat on the right hand side of the first national assembly, while the more revolutionary elements sat on the left. The assembly was held in a tennis court, by the way). • What traditionally distinguishes them is the “degree of collective economic decision-making”, which means the degree to which we expect the government to be involved in regulating the economy and marketplace. Utopian Socialism Socialism Liberalism Religious regimes Social Democracy Anarchism Communism Fascism Conservatism
Critiques of Left and Right • Looking at the extremes, can we say that fascism and anarchism can be distinguished by the principle of economic intervention? • Some have proposed a modified “horseshoe” variant of ideology, which is portrayed on page 291 of the text. • Some argue that “left” and “right” have lost their salience, meaning that they no longer really capture what is interesting and unique about ideologies.
The normative component: what are the ideas? • As mentioned earlier, all ideologies have their roots in great systems of philosophical and social thought. Although the following is not an exhaustive list (more information is to be found in the text), it gives a sense of the diversity of modern ideologies. • Communism – the great theorist is Karl Marx (1818-83), with the stress upon the dialectic and class conflict. • Liberalism – the great liberal theorists are Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and James Madison (1751-1836). The stress is upon individual rights. • Social Democracy– the great theorist of social democracy is Edouard Bernstein (1850-1932). Social democracy places the emphasis on the pathway to socialism as being through the ballot-box, not revolution. • Conservatism – the great theorists are Edmund Burke (1729-97) and Joseph de Maistre (1753–1821). The stress is upon order and stability.
Focus: Political Islam • In recent times, we have, for relatively obvious reasons, become interested in the rise of political Islam as an ideology. • Islamic political philosophy has a long and studded history, going back to such greats as Taqi al-Din Ibn Taymiyya (1263-1328) and Abd al-Rahman ibn Muhammad ibn Khaldûn (1332-1406). Indeed, many later western political philosophers such as Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Montesquieu had read and appreciated Islamic political philosophy. • This tradition has continued in recent years, with the thought of people like Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966). However, Qutb is identified with the so-called Islamic revival, which many scholars have argued is fundamentally incompatible with democracy. Let us examine this question for a moment.
Freedom in the world • The following link will take you to a map of freedom in the world (2004) produced by a respected (but relatively conservative) organization, Freedom House. • What you will notice is that, with few exceptions, most Islamic countries are rated as unfree. Map of freedom according to Freedom House
Freedom in the Islamic world In 2002, the picture was a bit more bleak still: • Free: 75 non-Islamic countries, 1 Islamic • Partly Free: 49 Non-Islamic, 13 Islamic • Not Free: 24 non-Islamic, 29 Islamic • More than 50% of non-islamic countries were rated as free; • Only 2% of islamic countries were rated as free • On the basis of this evidence, we are entitled to ask a provocative question; is there something about Islam that makes it incompatible with our ideas of political freedom largely honed in the western political tradition?
The specificities of Islam • Let us consider some of the specificities of Islam that set it apart from some other religions. • Islam is a historical religion, meaning that much of its teachings are drawn from practice and tradition. • Islam is what we call an organic religion (the shariah, or religious law, is an integral part of the religious and political teachings). • Islam never experienced a separation between Church and State (“religion and temporal power are twins” – Al-Ghazali, 1058-1111). • Note that this makes Islam in some ways not too distinct from Judaism. • As a point of discussion; what are the critical differences, would you say, between the relationship that Islam and Christianity see for religion and politics?
Islam • Scholars are quick to show that not all Islamic thought is the same. Islam is a varied religion, with different sects that have sharp doctrinal differences (Sunnis and Shi’ites, for example). We can basically divide political Islam up into four distinct strands: • Fundamentalism. This is perhaps the most prominent face of Islam in the western media, but it actually accounts for less than 10% of all followers of Islam today (probably). • Traditionalism/Conservatives. Traditionalists are less militant than fundamentalists and are less concerned with the imposition of Islamic values by force. Traditionalism accounts perhaps for about 20% of the followers of Islam today. • Pragmatism/Authoritarian secularists. Pragmatists have been virtually secular in their political action, and see the ideal relationship between Islam and the state as being somewhat like the separation of church and state in the west. However, they have tended to be somewhat in the minority in the last 30 years or so. • Modernism/Democratic Islam Islamic modernism was actually probably the dominant form of Islam in the 20th century until the 1970’s. The main argument of modernists is that Islam need to undergo a period of renewal and rethinking, and that it can be fundamentally compatible with democracy. Modernists argue for the concept of an Islamic democracy.
Are Islam and Democracy Incompatible? • There are really two views of the question (not surprisingly). All of those who study Islam argue that one of the big complicating factors in understanding it is that is has often been linked to other political phenomenon. For example, Islam has served as a rallying force in the struggle against colonialism, it has opposed often brutal dictatorships, but it has also been used to bolster the power of anti-democratic elites and it is often seen as being very incompatible with questions of individual rights for women. • View no. 1: Resurgent Islam is mostly incompatible with democracy, as the will of Allah is always sovereign in Islamic political thought. In this view, Islamic movements are committed anti-democrats (see V.S. Naipul, Among the Believers). • View no. 2: Modernist and pragmatic Islam can be compatible with democracy, but only under the right external conditions. For this to happen, there has to be (a) the triumph of moderate Islamic thought over more traditionalist and fundamentalist versions that deny political sovereignty, and (b) genuine support for moderate Islam from the west. In this view, there can be something which we call Islamic democracy, and which might be a bit different in both institutions and political practice from its counterparts in the west (Mir Zohair Husain).