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Symbols and Signs. Understanding Political Ideologies. Why Study and Compare Ideologies?. Help us understand: Beliefs and Values that shape our world Why we think the way we think Why others think the way they think To learn tolerance. Ideology Decides. Timothy McVeigh  Mass Murderer?

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Symbols and Signs

Understanding Political Ideologies

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Why Study and Compare Ideologies?

  • Help us understand:

  • Beliefs and Values that shape our world

  • Why we think the way we think

  • Why others think the way they think

  • To learn tolerance

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Ideology Decides

  • Timothy McVeigh Mass Murderer?

  • Should Government be big or small?

  • Should the US have gone to war with Iraq?

  • Should the US stay in Iraq?

  • Should the government have a right to read people’s emails?

  • Should we be able to steal songs/movies from the internet?

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  • A Sign is something that gives us direction but does not tell us what to think. It does not give us a description.

  • Examples? Stop, Restroom, Yield, Green light,

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  • A symbol, on the other hand, tells us what images to look for in our culturally encoded experience in order to determine how we should feel about the thing represented.

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Golden Arches,

Statue of Liberty,

the scales of justice,



apple pie,

baseball, the Stars and Stripes, the bible,




human rights.







terrorist and terrorism,

taxes, politician,



Examples of Symbols

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In other words:

  • Signs give directions while symbols tell us how we should feel about something.

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  • An ideology is a system of values and beliefs regarding the various institutions and processes of society that is accepted as fact or truth by a group of people. An ideology provides the believer with a picture of the world both as it is and as it should be, and, in doing so, organizes the tremendous complexity of the world into something fairly simple and understandable (3).

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In other words:

  • Ideologies are stories about the world we live in and our place in it (3).

  • They help us make choices based on beliefs and values

  • They simplify our complex world.

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Four Functions of Ideology

  • Provides an explanation of reality

  • Set of standards for normative evaluation

  • Guide and compass for action

  • Simplifies reality

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Political Symbols

  • How should we feel about a particular political issue, party, or moment?

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Political Ideology:

  • an ideology that focuses on the political (3).

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  • Sargent tells us that the political is “who gets what, when, how.” As well as the “authoritative allocation of values” for a society (3-4).

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Political Theory

  • Sargent writes that “when narrowly defined, political theory refers to theories or generalizations about politics and society that are based on data, just like any generalization in any science” (4).

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Definitional Problem

  • We can’t test political theories like scientists test their theories.

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Political Philosophy:

  • Sargent writes: political philosophy “is explicitly evaluative or normative. It is a set of ideas about how governments and people should behave” (4).

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In other Words:

  • Our view is ideological if we see the world only in one way

  • Our view is theoretical if we are asking a question about the way the world is and/or the way the world should be

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Examination of Beliefs

  • Socrates: “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

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  • If Freedom is the ability to make choices within a set of rules/limits, and

  • If Understanding (examining) ideas, values and beliefs enhances choice,

  • Then, An unexamined life is an “un-free” life.

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Reminder knees.”

  • Ideologies are tied to power interests (e.g. social movements).

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Ideas & Change knees.”

  • Over time, old ideologies transform into new ones

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Theory & Practice knees.”

  • Social movements help us understand the relationship between theory and practice

  • Civil Rights (egalitarianism + Liberalism)

  • Women’s Rights (Feminism)

  • The Environment (“ecologism”)

  • Tradition (Conservatism)

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Theories of Ideology knees.”

  • Ideologues and their heirs

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Ideologies blind people to facts about their place in society.

Workers are taught to think by capitalists.

Karl Marx (1818-1883)

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Used “myth” as ideology. society.

General Strike

Mass movement develops a vision of the future which might be utopian but motivates people

Georges Sorel (1847-1922)

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Belief systems are illusions based on the repression of our psychological needs.

Ideologies keep us deluded, but they also keep us oriented.

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)

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Ruling class dominates means of socialization (education, religion, media, family).

It rules, not by force, but by “consent.”

Result: Hegemony

Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937)

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Particular: My view is correct, yours is wrong religion, media, family).

Total: “group think”; belief held in common; “socialism is bad”; Don’t trust anyone over 30.

Karl Mannheim (1893-1947)

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Ideologies are systems of symbols that bring order to the world.

Symbols derive from culture, they create a matrix that provides orientation for individuals

Clifford Geertz (1926-)

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Ideologies tell us what “core values” mean. world.

“Equality”: everyone is equal but some are more equal than others.

Through ideologies we come to know the “right” meaning of justice, liberty, equality.

Michael Freeden (1944-)

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The End of Ideology Debate world.

  • 1950s & 1960s: Did ideology end in the West?

  • 1960s & 1970s: No!

  • 1989-1991: Yes!

  • 1999: Definitely not!

  • 2001: Definitely not!

  • Today?

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Did ideology end in the West? world.

No social conflict

Cooperation and compromise

1950s & 1960s

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1960s & 1970s: Definitely not! world.

  • Civil Rights movement (who participates?)

  • Vietnam (Who decides foreign policy?)

  • Cold War (Capitalism vs. Communism)

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1989: The End of Ideology world.

  • Soldiers on the Wall at the Brandenburg Gate: Berlin Wall comes down

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Communism Loses world.

Capitalism Wins

No more ideology…?

December 31, 1991The Soviet Union officially becomes the Russian Federation with Boris Yeltsin as President.

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1999 world.

The Battle for Seattle

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Maybe Capitalism hasn’t won? world.

  • Perhaps America, and the rest of the world, have woken up to the deep feelings of people who do object to some of the ways of world trade.

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Today? world.

  • Free Trade vs. Fair Trade

  • Democracy vs. Everything else?

  • The old ways vs. the new

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Summary: Remember Gramsci? world.

  • 1950s & 1960s: Did ideology end in the West? (Hegemony)

  • 1960s & 1970s: No! (counter hegemony)

  • 1989-1991: Yes! (hegemony)

  • 1999: Definitely not! (Counter Hegemony)

  • 2001: Definitely not! (Counter Hegemony)

  • Today?

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Why compare ideologies? world.

  • Remember differences and the plurality of values that exist in the world.

  • Better understanding of why people believe in different ideas ability to put ourselves into other people’s shoes (tolerance).

  • Reflect and rethink our own ideas and values  no ideology is perfect to see weaknesses is to become a critical citizen, the task of this course

  • Understand similarity of many different beliefs and ideas they all seek to identify the Good in various ways.

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Human Nature world.

Origin of society and government or state

Political Obligation


Freedom and Liberty


Community (Fraternity)

Power (Authority)


The end of society or government

Structural characteristics of government

11 Core Issues: study pp. 15-16

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The Social System world.

  • 5 Segments:

  • Value System

  • Socialization System

  • Social Stratification and Social Mobility Systems

  • Economic System

  • Political System

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Value System world.

  • The Value system provides us with the basis for evaluating each ideology from within that ideology (17).

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Socialization System world.

  • The socialization system is the process by which individuals accept the values of the society as their own

  • Family

  • Education

  • Religion

  • Mass media and peer group

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Social Stratification world.

  • Social stratification is usually summed up within a political ideology by the question of equality.

  • Is there a class system?

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Social mobility world.

  • How easy/difficult is it to move from one group to another?

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The economic system world.

  • Production (Who works?)

  • Distribution (Who benefits?)

  • Relationship of the economic system to the political system (command economy vs. market economy).

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The Political System world.

  • The political system is that segment of the society that draws together or integrates all the others.

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Importance of Critical Thinking world.

  • We critique in order to progress.

  • Understanding ideologies and their weaknesses provides the key for critical citizenship.

  • A strong democracy depends upon an active citizenry

  • We get the government we deserve