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Ideology has poisoned the West We are living through a dictatorship of ineptitude

The new revolution (Scott Olson/Getty Images)


July 2, 2022   9 mins

A century has passed since William Butler Yeats sensed the stirrings of a “rough beast” with a gaze “blank and pitiless as the sun”. That beast’s apocalyptic hour has come around again, its rebirth announced by the galloping horsemen of war and pestilence, with what looks to be famine trailing in the dusty distance. It calls itself Legion, but is today better known as Ideology.

The word “ideology” is often used as a synonym for political ideas, a corruption of language that conceals its fundamentally anti-political character. In the ancient republics of Greece and Rome, primary models for English republicanism and the American Founders, politics was understood to be the collective determination of matters of common concern through public debate. As Aristotle taught, politics consists in the citizenly exercise of logos, the uniquely human power of intelligent speech. While voice registers private feelings — think of animal purrs and yelps — speech reveals what is good and bad, just and unjust, binding us together in the imperfect apprehension of realities greater than our individual selves.

But ideology is incapable of treating human beings as participants in a shared life, much less as individuals made in the image of God. Like the party hack whose spectacles struck Orwell as “blank discs which seem to have no eyes behind them”, it sees them only as groups to be acted upon. The term idĂ©ologie was coined during the French Revolution by Antoine Destutt de Tracy, an anti-clerical materialist philosopher who believed that reason offered a way of uncovering general laws of social relations. Tracy conceived of idĂ©ologie as a social science of “ideas” that would inform the construction of a rational progressive society governed by an enlightened elite, whose technical expertise would justify their claim to rule. The illiberalism of this progressive-technocratic ideal became fully apparent in the West only with the onset of Covid. It is now widely understood that the subordination of public life to ostensibly scientific guidance and the effective transfer of sovereignty from the body of citizens to an unelected overclass are fundamentally inconsistent with liberty and individual dignity.

The political philosopher Raymond Aron defined ideology quite precisely as “the synthesis of an interpretation of history and of a programme of action toward a future predicted or hoped for”. In this synthesis, a theory about the historical origins of real or alleged social ills is pressed into the service of an imagined future in which those ills will be cured. The theory is not to be judged solely, or even primarily, by its adequacy in describing the historical record as it presents itself to an informed and inquiring mind. Rather, it is to be judged by the promised consequences of the programme of action it underwrites. Of course, ideological prophecy, appearing in times of organic or manufactured crisis when everything assumes an air of urgency, must be taken on faith.

It follows that the ideological synthesis remains incomplete until the programme of action is implemented. Marx famously claimed that “Philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it”. But Marx, whose broad classical education informed his great critique of capitalism, remained at the level of philosophy. His interpretation of history achieved its stated end only when it was put into practice, however crudely, by Communist revolutionaries, starting with Lenin. By his own standards, Marx’s philosophy cannot be cleanly separated from the historical depredations of Marxism.

Although ideological regimes were not unheard of in antiquity, ideology’s focus on efficacy rather than truth, its assumption that history is a problem awaiting a rational solution, and its elevation of the possibilities of a deliberately constructed future over the present constraints of the actual world, are characteristically modern. Its closest analogue is the phenomenon of technology, the harnessing of significant social resources to achieve mastery over nature through mathematical and experimental science. Formulated by the early modern philosophers Francis Bacon and RenĂ© Descartes, the programme of technology rejected inherited intellectual foundations, including the guidance of God or nature.

Descartes, a professed believer whose pencil-thin moustache gave him an unmistakable air of duplicity, reduced the natural or created world to the mathematical abstraction of spatial extension, which is perfectly accessible to algebraic geometry but bears no trace of implicit order or divine goodness. And he divided his profoundly skeptical Meditations and Discourse on Method into six parts, in rivalrous imitation, scholars tell us, of the first six days of God’s creation. Liberated by technology from dependence on God and history, man and world could be fashioned in the image of human desires.

Descartes prophesied a future in which “the common good of all men” would be secured by “an infinity of devices that would enable us to enjoy without pain the fruits of the earth”, and by the elimination of “an infinity of maladies, both of body and mind”. Should biological science ever eliminate death due to “the infirmities of old age”, as he dared to hope, what would likely be a fresh earthly hell would render the question of the afterlife largely moot. Here, too, an ill-formed utopian vision licenses fundamental social transformation.

But there is a deeper and more important connection between ideology and technology. Ideology is in fact a social technology. The implementation of an ideological programme is an experiment testing the hypothesis that a radiant future can be achieved if only political, social, and economic relations are radically restructured, a process that always involves the preliminary destruction of existing realities. That future, like Descartes’s infinity of satisfactions, is never concretely described and never actually arrives. (Marx imagined a leisurely existence spent fishing, hunting, and philosophising, although philosophising would presumably be pointless when the world no longer needs changing.) This unscientific hypothesis is then tested on actual human subjects.

In the United States, we are currently engaged in many such experiments simultaneously, all undertaken in the name of social justice. What happens when violent protestors are encouraged to riot in our cities, crimes go unprosecuted, and bails are waived? Or biological males are permitted to use women’s restrooms and live in their cellblocks? Or schoolchildren are indoctrinated with identity politics, while professors are required to pledge support for diversity, equity, and inclusion agendas as a condition of employment? Or borders are thrown open to illegal immigrants who enjoy privileges and benefits not extended to citizens? No sensible person would want to find out. But ideology is always and everywhere opposed to the moderate middle ground, not only of politics, but of the general opinion and sentiment that goes by the name of common sense.

History is littered with examples of malicious ideological experiments, which in good Baconian form observe nature — in this case, human nature — not “free and large”, but “under constraint and vexed
 forced out of her natural state, and squeezed and moulded”. What is to my knowledge the first such experiment occurred after the Athenians were starved into submission at the end the Peloponnesian War in 404 BCE, when the Spartans installed an oligarchy known as the Thirty. The regime was led by Plato’s aristocratic cousin Critias, who flattered himself with the thought that he was a greater philosopher, statesman, and poet than his illustrious ancestor Solon. In Plato’s dialogue Charmides, Critias advances a vacuous conception of rule by a “science of sciences” — an ancient prototype of idĂ©ologie, which Tracy considered to be a “theory of theories”. According to Lysias, an eyewitness, the Thirty proposed “to purge the city of unjust men, and to turn the rest of the citizens toward virtue and justice” by restoring what they claimed was the ancestral Athenian constitution. The oligarchs proceeded to disenfranchise, disarm, and expel large segments of the population and finally to rob and murder their political opponents, putting to death roughly 1,500 Athenians — perhaps 3% of the citizen body.

The ideological tyranny of the Thirty left no lasting mark outside of Athens. This was not the case with Communism and Nazism, which also disenfranchised, robbed, deported, and murdered large numbers of people, but did so with modern managerial and industrial efficiency. As Alain Besançon observes in his short but indispensable book A Century of Horrors, these ideologies had much in common. They both aimed to achieve a perfect society by eliminating the evil that hindered its creation. They claimed to seek the good, either of the German people or of all mankind. They used pseudo-sciences like dialectical materialism and race-based eugenics to justify and wield their power. Most important, they claimed the right to kill, and did so on an unprecedented scale.

The Nazis murdered roughly 17 million unarmed civilians, not including those who died in aerial bombings and other ordinary acts of war. After almost 80 years, historians are still compiling a list of ghettoes and camps in Germany and Nazi-occupied territory. As of March 2013, the total number identified by researchers stood at 42,500. But here as elsewhere, the National Socialists were students of the Marxist ones. It was the Soviets who invented and systematised the use of combination slave-labour and death camps, and the concentrationary universe of the Gulag covered an even greater geographical area than the Nazi Lagers. Lenin and Stalin also anticipated Hitler in the use of poison gas (including mobile gas vans), mass deportation, and, in the great famines of 1921-22 and 1930-33, targeted starvation to liquidate what Lenin called “harmful insects”.

The Black Book of Communism estimates that Communist regimes murdered between 85 and 100 million of their own people during the 20th century, fulfilling the eerie prophecy in Dostoevsky’s Demons that socialism’s cure for the world’s ills would involve “lopping off a hundred million heads”. And while Besançon regards the Holocaust as the “absolute zero” of murderous intensity, he rightly observes that “communism brought about a more widespread and deeper moral destruction” than Nazism. Thoroughly discredited by the Holocaust, Nazism exited the world stage in 1945, but Communism officially endures today in China, North Korea, Cuba, Laos, and Vietnam. Marxism furthermore remains a respectable alternative to capitalism in the eyes of many Westerners, even including some who acknowledge the aforementioned facts. This is itself due, in large measure, to the ideological distortion and suppression of history.

Ideology’s most horrific social experiments illustrate several points that apply also to the “Totalitarianism Lite” of contemporary American life. First, while human beings naturally form social groups for common purposes, ideology assumes that organic associations cannot support a good society, which must be engineered from the top down. This assumption, which no ideological experimentation has ever sustained, makes up in arrogance what it lacks in humility.

Second, ideology abjures persuasion, preferring what Hannah Arendt called “mute coercion”. We see this today in the insistence that certain widely-shared opinions that were uncontroversial only a few years ago are so morally illegitimate that they do not deserve a hearing. We see it in the fact that those who publicly voice such opinions are commonly smeared, hounded, denied financial services, investigated, and fired, even by institutions that are publicly committed to diversity of opinion and freedom of speech.

Third, ideology always involves the scapegoating and purging of opponents. Today these primitive religious rituals, enacted within the framework of a secularised and apocalyptic Christianity, include the sanctification of “victims” and the (for now metaphorical) public crucifixion of “oppressors”. Those who are targeted by, or resist, the ideological programme — denounced variously as kulaks, capitalist roadsters, vermin, or white supremacists — must, with the exception of a few penitents who are mercifully spared, be decisively defeated in battle with the forces of good. For only then will the earthy salvation of a just and harmonious society be achievable.

In modern times, the template for the use of violence in the name of the highest political and moral ideals was established in the French Revolution. Marching under the banner of liberty, equality, and fraternity, the Revolution took less than five years to move from the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen to the Terror of Robespierre and the genocidal destruction of the Vendée, a French Department where the Revolutionaries responded to a peasant rebellion by slaughtering roughly 15% of the population. The trajectory from utopian fervour to nihilistic bloodshed, traversed over the past century in countries scattered across Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America, is unsurprising. One could hardly expect a programme of radical social transformation that demonises its opponents to be free of bloodshed.

Anyone who thinks that the United States could not descend into similarly horrifying violence is deluded. Ideology is a highly communicable social contagion that infects people who are morally immunocompromised, and today it poses a far greater threat to human beings than any merely biological virus. It always attracts thugs, sadists, and those who lust for power, groups that, once revolutionary fervour gives way to dictatorship, always outnumber true believers. But it also exploits the universal human longing for social validation and fear of being cast out. These risk factors are exponentially amplified by the tribalising social and news-media feedback loops that now fill the vacuum left by a permanent moral order, inherent in nature or revealed by God —notions that, owing to the seductions of technology, were arguably doomed at modernity’s inception.

The inevitable consequence of ideological infection is brain rot. Besançon justly remarks that “it is not possible to remain intelligent under the spell of ideology”. Intelligence, after all, is an ongoing attentiveness to reality that is inconsistent with wilfulness and fantasy. Nor can it take root in the sterile soil of widespread cultural repudiation. This is why all ideological regimes are without exception plagued by sheer ineptitude.

Just consider: the anti-Jewish decrees of April 1933 stripped a quarter of Germany’s physicists of their livelihood, including 11 who had earned or would earn Nobel prizes, and left German research in atomic physics in shambles—  a lucky break for the Allies. Trofim Lysenko, a barely literate agronomist who won Stalin’s ear, vilified the work of the geneticist Gregor Mendel, an Augustinian friar, as “fascist, bourgeois-capitalistic, and inspired by clerics”. Thousands of biologists were fired, imprisoned, or executed for opposing Lysenko’s crackpot theories, which exacerbated famines that killed many millions of people in the U.S.S.R. and China (where Mao adopted his methods in the Fifties). Up to 70% of the U.S.S.R.’s active engineers were arrested and sentenced without trial in 1930, while Stalin’s first Five-Year Plan to build heavy industry was in full swing. Not to be outdone, China has now painted itself into a corner with its brutally tyrannical zero-Covid lockdowns, which immiserated its population and destroyed the economy but cannot be fully lifted without destroying the credibility of the Communist Party.

And then there is the gross incompetence of the Biden administration. While ideologically-induced stupidity may not fully explain this phenomenon, it’s a huge contributing factor. The administration’s ineptitude is already provoking what looks to be a strong political backlash, and if we are very, very lucky, we may be able to avoid major disasters before the 2024 elections. But a new government will make little difference. The rot has penetrated every essential institution in the United States, and the long-term picture is bleak. Nor is there solace in the fact that we Americans are by no means alone. Whoever said misery loves company wasn’t thinking about the ideological endgame of liberal democracy.


Jacob Howland is Provost and Dean of the Intellectual Foundations Program at the University of Austin.


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Jim Jam
Jim Jam
2 years ago

Trofim Lysenko, a barely literate agronomist who won Stalin’s ear, vilified the work of the geneticist Gregor Mendel, an Augustinian friar, as “fascist, bourgeois-capitalistic, and inspired by clerics”.

The DEI officers and their strongarmed subordinates now installed in almost all institutions are to me not much different to an army of little Lysenkos – using an almost identical justification to accrue ever more influence, undermine established (effective) practices, and to replace them only with those conforming to their ideology –  ultimately subordinating the original role of the institution or organisation to the perpetuation of this ideology.

From the classrooms of schools and unis, to the police force, to the art galleries, to the highest offices of government, we see this everywhere. And though bad enough now – only once these tentacles begin extering influence over the hard sciences, engineering, and medicine (as they are beginning to) will the true horror of this ‘Lysenkoism’ and its attendant ideology become apparent.

Richard Hopkins
Richard Hopkins
2 years ago
Reply to  Jim Jam

You are spot on. I would suggest though that the use of ideology is even more pernicious than you state. It goes beyond ‘subordinating the original role’ – it actually subverts the role. The Orwellian Ministries are everywhere.

bert brech
bert brech
1 year ago

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AC Harper
AC Harper
2 years ago
Reply to  Jim Jam

Quite so. Heraclitus observed that all things change. Often the changes result in the original things eventually becoming the reverse or negative of themselves.
Utopia into Dystopia, Ideology into thoughtless brutalism, and so on.

Last edited 2 years ago by AC Harper
Richard Hopkins
Richard Hopkins
2 years ago
Reply to  AC Harper

Alexander Solzhenitsyn summarised things as follows:

‘Ideology – that is what gives devil-doing its long sought justification and gives evildoers the necessary steadfastness and determination. That is the social theory which helps to make his acts seem good instead of bad in his own and others’ eyes, so that he won’t hear reproaches and curses but will receive praises and honors.’

‘Thanks to ideology, the Twentieth Century was fated to experience evildoing on a scale calculated in the millions.’

bert brech
bert brech
1 year ago

This Howland article is unblanced reactionary propaganda of a very bad type. Howland writes as if the world was all cream pie until the French Revolution and Marxism. He forgets that the old monarchy in France derived a large part of its wealth from one of the most horrific slave societies ever – that in Saint Domingue, later Haiti. The French Revolution not only brought the idea of Libery, Equality, Fraternity to France and Europe, but it helped to abolish black slavery. The Vendee was just one episode in the French Revolution; its enemies resorted to massive killings to defend the old regime. Similarly, on the Russian Revolution Howland overlooks the horrific crimes of the White Guard counterrevolutionaries – millions killed, and as many as 100,000 Jews. This was by people who inspired Hitler. The Western right collaborated in the rise of fascism and Nazism. The Bolshevik Revolution challenged Western racism and helped crucially in destroying the Western racist empires. Howland repeats vastly exaggerated claims about the numbers of victims of Soviet repression. Since Soviet records have become available historians have scaled the numbers down hugely. Several millions, not scores of millions. Though still a terrible and unforgiveable crime. See the anti-Soviet historian Timothy Snyder, “Who Was Worse, Hitler or Stalin?”, New York Review of Books

Andy O'Gorman
Andy O'Gorman
2 years ago
Reply to  Jim Jam

You need not look any further for evidence of this than Biden’s Democrat Party and the insane ‘Progressives’ that are doing their damnedest to bring the USA to her knees.

Paula 0
Paula 0
2 years ago
Reply to  Jim Jam

Apres moi, le deluge.

we will take care of our families, and close the drapes to what is happening down the street. Maybe we will even get their crockery, or their houses, if they are taken away?

Our congressional representatives are on welfare. They only need to nod and draw their pensions, topping it up to extreme jackpots with books and lobbying and inside stock tips for their husbands.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is offering fast tracks for a lotta, lotta people.Ready, set, go!

We don’t worry about China, because they would never sell OUR organs, right?

I wonder at people over 30 who can say, “HOW could Hitler have come to power and everyone go along with things?” People under 30, or maybe 40, don’t ask themselves this. Surely it was just white folks and white problems


John Coe
John Coe
2 years ago

An extremely thought provoking essay written in elegant plain English. I was interested in your tracking down the originator or the term, de Tracy. I didn’t know that. I also note your reference to the massacres at the Vendee. I, for one, think the historiography of the French Revolution needs revisiting. I rather suspect that this will reveal much that France should be ashamed of.

Alan Thorpe
Alan Thorpe
2 years ago
Reply to  John Coe

You could be right about the French Revolution. I saw a brief reference to it being the cause of Europe’s problems for years after, including the two world wars. Unfortunately it didn’t expand on this thinking.

Martin Butler
Martin Butler
2 years ago
Reply to  Alan Thorpe

Remember the US Constitution draws on the very ideas which motivated the French Revolution.

Richard MacNaughton
Richard MacNaughton
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

The US Constitution totally rejects Equality which is part of the French big three: Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. In a pluralistic nation, Equality destroys Liberty and results in civil war. The differences between the US and France are too vast and complex for a meaningful comparison.

Simon Mundy
Simon Mundy
2 years ago

Agreed. The US Revolution avoided the romantic idealism that characterised the French excesses.

Matt Hindman
Matt Hindman
2 years ago
Reply to  Simon Mundy

The aftermath is even more impressive. I am almost through reading the Federalist and the Anti-federalist papers. The big difference in the American Colonies is they said, “Hey we have these ideals, a the opportunity for a fresh start, and quite a few forceful disagreements. How do we go from here and make a functioning government and constitution that will last?” The answer was a lot of vigorous debate between men who cared, boring legal frameworks, lots of compromise, severe restrictions on government power, and enough common sense to realize they and those that would come after them would not be infallible.

Last edited 2 years ago by Matt Hindman
harry storm
harry storm
2 years ago
Reply to  Simon Mundy

On Revoltion by Hannah Arendt makes a strong argument as to why that happened. Short version: The wretched poverty of France compared to the relative prosperity and optimism of the 13 colonies.

Martin Butler
Martin Butler
2 years ago

Equality under the law, and equal protection are key ideals expressed in the US constitution. (It also appears in the first sentence of the declaration of independence!) The US constitution is a far more sophisticated document than anything produced during the French Revolution of course, but to claim that the notion of equality is not to be found there is just nonsense. The very notion of having rights implies equality. We all have the same rights.

Last edited 2 years ago by Martin Butler
Steve Elliott
Steve Elliott
2 years ago

But wasn’t France heavily involved in the American Revolution? Lafayette and all those perhaps had some influence.
This from a Brit.

P Lamp
P Lamp
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

Two distinct branches from the same tree. The Constitution was also influenced by the English experience with a long history of established common law and restraints on the exercise of power. This in opposition to the long French history of absolute monarchy.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
2 years ago
Reply to  P Lamp

I would suggest any difference between French and English absolute monarchy was marginal. The real difference is that England shed it earlier but it prevailed for a very long time. Btw who is king of France now?

Andy O'Gorman
Andy O'Gorman
2 years ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

Macron – at least he thinks he is!

M. Jamieson
M. Jamieson
2 years ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

I’m not sure I’d say English monarchs ever clearly had the same kind of ideological hold on centralized power that the French did.

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
2 years ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

I disagree, except for the period between 1066 and 1215.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
2 years ago
Reply to  John Coe

The Vendee is indeed a modern ideological driven genocidal incident that receives insufficient attention. I knew nothing about it until learning recently through Ancestry that my mother’s family came to England to escape the terror of the massacres in the Vendee where one brother was killed, one managed to escaped to England and the youngest survived to serve in Napoleon’s army before escaping to join his brother in England. A story my mother, a great grandchild of the third was totally unaware of.

Men who are certain they know the true purpose of life and how to achieve it are dangerous ideologs who should be opposed at all times. We seem to be in a period of such poisonous ideologies at present unfortunately.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
2 years ago
Reply to  John Coe

There are plenty of good books in English on the French Revolution which deal in detail with the Terror and the civil war and subsequent massacres in the Vendée. There is hardly a conspiracy of silence.

Raymond Inauen
Raymond Inauen
2 years ago
Reply to  John Coe

Summed up, ideology = dogma, and dogma always leads to tyranny!

julie bush
julie bush
2 years ago

This article resonated with many things I have been thinking/reading about. In light of what Professor John Vervaeke calls ‘the meaning crisis’ – many of us are stuck in a world where traditional religion doesn’t appeal and we feel lost to find something that will hold us against the onslaught of the world and yet take us to a horizon of awe and wonder – we end up either going to an extreme of narcissistic religion of ‘I’ or to extreme ideology to find ‘home’ and the rest of us are blundering around in the middle.
We are at a ‘a place between worlds’ as John Rowson called it . Modernity took us away from our connections to nature and the sacred – post modernity deconstructed everything and said nothing matters, and here we are . ..lost in a world where the meaning seems elusive
Hyper modernity beckons .. and yet we need meaning and connection and coherent views and our place in a world.
Ideology and extremes and breakdowns of consensus reality are symptoms of losing our fundamental connections, meaning, and that which holds us against the onslaught – where do we go for wisdom?

Alan Thorpe
Alan Thorpe
2 years ago
Reply to  julie bush

Mattias Desmet says one of the reasons for mass formation is lack of meaning in our lives some of it related to pointless jobs that have been created.

Helen Sherriff
Helen Sherriff
2 years ago
Reply to  julie bush

Go for wisdom where it has always been found- in Jesus Christ. There are still Christian believers around, but there is a great variety, as there should be, with freedom to doubt, to disagree, and to think independently.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
2 years ago
Reply to  Helen Sherriff

..to be fair Christianity doesn’t have a monopoly on wholesome values: Buddhism and some other religions are also well stocked with wisdom abd compassion.

Mikey Mike
Mikey Mike
2 years ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

No doubt about it. Those other religions are woefully bereft of Jesus, the only begotten son of God who died on the Cross and rose from the dead to purchase for us eternal life. That’s what I like about Christianity. That’s what I like about praying the Rosary. I get to meditate on and examine the reality that life involves a great deal of suffering and when it’s over I have the opportunity to live forever in the presence of the Holy Trinity, the angels and saints (and, I’m really hoping, my Mom too). There is no enlightenment to be found on earth. There is only the promise of mercy at the time of judgment.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
2 years ago
Reply to  Mikey Mike

You seem very sure of yourself: verging on the dogmatic I fear: beware of dogma and associated certainty. Its history is a bloody one. Compassion and inclusivity are very much part of the message I get from Him.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
2 years ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

I’d rather bet on God than on anything modern mankind gins up. The risk is very low but the payoff is eternal.

Ormond Otvos
Ormond Otvos
2 years ago
Reply to  Warren Trees

Which God? Pascal didn’t specify.

Ukunda Vill
Ukunda Vill
1 year ago
Reply to  Ormond Otvos

The God of Jesus and everyone and everything in the past, present and future.

Ormond Otvos
Ormond Otvos
2 years ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

Define God.

Gary Knight
Gary Knight
2 years ago
Reply to  Ormond Otvos

That than which nothing greater can be conceived (thank you St. Anselm). Does this mean that God is a concept? Not at all, since greater than a numinous concept is that which – or indeed He who – exists and gives the capacity even to conceive.

Ukunda Vill
Ukunda Vill
1 year ago
Reply to  Ormond Otvos

The creator and maintainer of the universe.

Paula 0
Paula 0
2 years ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

You must have been disappointed when Jesus told his apostles and disciples to shake the dust from their feet and walk away from households and villages who would not hear the Word of God?

Ormond Otvos
Ormond Otvos
2 years ago
Reply to  Helen Sherriff

Christianity: homogenized for your mental health!

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
2 years ago
Reply to  julie bush

In my experience the wisdom is everywhere to be found but we must be careful to make sure it is yruly grounded in genuine values: eg does it promote love (including, at a minimum tolerance and forgiveness) of one’s neighbour? Oops I may have given it away..

Ormond Otvos
Ormond Otvos
2 years ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

That’s OK. Buddhism and Confucius are well loved here.

Paula 0
Paula 0
2 years ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

Love God and Love they neighbour as thyself. Well done! Got it in one! ;- )
May I extend an invitation to you and to others to study, contemplate, and pray every day, finding online resources to catechize yourselves, every day for a year? There are refreshing wells to drink from!

Martin Butler
Martin Butler
2 years ago
Reply to  julie bush

This is all very well but the the phenomenon you identify is no more than the individualism of the US Constitution with its ideological emphasis on abstract rights and freedoms. I bet many of thosing commenting here would not want to classify those as ideological but they certainly are. The right wing gun lobby are just as much prey to ideology as the woke left. The author seems to want to pin the label ‘ideolological’ simply on those he doesn’t like.

Last edited 2 years ago by Martin Butler
Alan Girling
Alan Girling
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

Is the right to self defence ideological (in the terms of this article)? Or is it just the available means? Here in Canada we were recently told by our PM that we don’t have the right to own a gun for self defence. Is that just one ‘ideology’ vs. another?

Martin Butler
Martin Butler
2 years ago
Reply to  Alan Girling

The right to self-defence is certainly not the same as the right for an 18 year old to buy military grade weapons! The US is obsessed with rights, if someone attacks me I defend myself – does that mean I am exercising my right to self-defence? No, it simply means I am doing what just about all human beings would have done since the beginning of time – way before anyone thought of ‘rights’. It also means, within reason, a just court of law will not find me culpable if I injure my attacker. That’s enough. Why do we need to frame it in terms of rights? Rights are often frozen in time completely abstracted from the detailed nature of human interaction. Rights are through and through ideological. We need just laws that’s it. Laws that can be updated as society and technology changes. The rightwing are just as mired in ideology as the left.

Alan Girling
Alan Girling
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

The question of who can own what is entirely up for debate, but you seem to be ignoring the pragmatics of the situation. Guns are unfortunately a fact. As is evil in the world. Therefore it would seem necessary for self defence that one should be at least reasonably capable of fighting off that evil, ie with a gun. Whether you call it ‘rights’ or not, if that cannot be recognized, I think we have a problem. Can this be dismissed as ‘ideology’? I don’t think so. What is ideological is the notion that evil can somehow be eradicated through laws and policies. Mitigated yes but not eliminated.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
2 years ago
Reply to  Alan Girling

Why do you suppose the enormously high ownership of guns in the US lies right alongside with the enormously high number of deaths by guns? In my country no one carries guns: not even the police! And our death by gun rate is almost zero.
Are we so much better than you: or might it be the proliferation of guns is what causes the problem?

Alan Girling
Alan Girling
2 years ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

Besides the fact that one has to make a proper comparison, ie. homicides (and suicides) by any means, to begin to understand the impact of guns, I agree. That’s why I emphasized the pragmatics, the reality on the ground. I too live in a country where very few own a gun, so I don’t feel the need to own one either. That’s lucky. At the same time, it does concern me that I am literally not allowed to have one if for some reason I needed to protect myself or my family. I don’t want to live like that, and don’t intend to, but the world doesn’t always behave the way I would like it to.

Dominic A
Dominic A
2 years ago
Reply to  Alan Girling

What is ideological is the notion that evil can somehow be eradicated through laws and policies”

As far as I can see nobody said evil can be eradicated, at all, let alone through laws an policies.
 I too live in a country where very few own a gun, so I don’t feel the need to own one either. That’s lucky”

Well it’s not luck is it? It’s the application of social sciences (politics, psychology, etc) – basically it has been discovered that strict gun laws very effectively reduces gun crime, and almost every sane person is happy enough to endure that terrible restriction of not being able to easily own a killing machine. Even a majority of Americans want stricter regulation, and the gun fans favourite amendment calls for that right to be balanced by ‘a well maintained regulation’. It doesn’t take a lawyer to see that the current situation in the States is neither wise, nor constitutional, but a stunningly greedy, corrupt mess.

Oh, and guns in the home for self-defense… – more likely to be used against a member of your family than in Liam Neeson style.

Alan Girling
Alan Girling
2 years ago
Reply to  Dominic A

Well, one, I do take any ideology, such as communism, that contends that the source of evil lies purely in systems and not in the heart of each individual as one that does believe evil can be wholly eradicated. That’s exactly the problem. Two, I meant that I am lucky to live in such a place that has few guns, not that the societal conditions came about by mere chance. Of course they didn’t. As for the 2nd amendment, the language is ‘well-regulated militia’ and I would dispute your easy dismissal by pointing out that the SCOTUS ruled 5-4 in 2008 and 2010 that it protects the rights for individuals to own guns for self defence, and I am pretty sure they are all lawyers. The particular context of the US is indeed lamentable and unwise in many ways but it’s a lot more complex a problem, historically and culturally, than the question of rights or the number of guns.

Last edited 2 years ago by Alan Girling
Ormond Otvos
Ormond Otvos
2 years ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

Sugar doesn’t cause cavities!
Bacteria do.

s johnson
s johnson
2 years ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

Your country (an outlier in the world) is small, homogenous, and… an island
If you’re focused on removing the rights of individuals in favor of a strong central government, I’m afraid you missed the point of the entire article

nigel roberts
nigel roberts
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

An AR15 is not a military grade weapon except insofar as it has a black plastic stock and is modular. There is not one army or police force in the world that uses the AR15.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
2 years ago
Reply to  nigel roberts

Ah that’s okay then. No need to worry..

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
2 years ago
Reply to  nigel roberts

I seem to remember that the Colt AR15 ” Armalite .223 5.56 mm weapon was almost identical to the M16, when I fired them both?

Ormond Otvos
Ormond Otvos
2 years ago
Reply to  nigel roberts

That would be why all those cops in Buffalo and Chicago were carrying fake AR15’s then.

Walter De Havilland
Walter De Havilland
2 years ago
Reply to  nigel roberts

Wrong. The AR15 is used by the Hong Kong Police for starters. I’ve also seen AR15s carried by US police officers. Moreover, being hit with 5.56 round whether it comes from an M4 or AR15 hardly makes a difference.

Last edited 2 years ago by Walter De Havilland
Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

Well put. It’s time for every right to have its corresponding responsibilities listed alongside it! Rights devoid of responsibilities are mere tyrannies..

John deSpondon
John deSpondon
2 years ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

Inalienable human rights are rarely or never mentioned in Bible texts, which instead claim we are all slaves; either slaves to sin or slaves to righteousness, and they only emphasize our responsibilities to each other, whether to our parents, children, or neighbours, or to aliens and strangers. Perhaps the various charters, bills, declarations, and acts have misdirected the world, and concern for and wanting the best for each other should be our motivational ordinance?

s johnson
s johnson
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

This entire article is about how ideology pushed by the ruling class is inconsistent with liberty and individual dignity
And here you are, saying the rights of individuals are meaningless and should be folded into the ideology of the ruling class… bravo… I guess

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
2 years ago
Reply to  Alan Girling

Ideology is not inherently wrong. However, it depends on your definition of the word. Age old wisdom from enlightened spiritual leaders is one kind. Man made dogma is another. The author seems to favour the former as infinitely superior to the latter. So much so we need to be very clear that idealogy and wisdom are not close friends.

Alan Girling
Alan Girling
2 years ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

True. The author takes pains to define his terms. That’s the sense I am following. I don’t agree with those who try to relativise the term to make it meaningless, as if that’s an argument.

Ormond Otvos
Ormond Otvos
2 years ago
Reply to  Alan Girling

Since some nut may have a grenade launcher, must you then have one?

julie bush
julie bush
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

I don’t disagree that both the far edges of the right wing and the far edges of the left wing are ideological – they are for sure – push progressive liberal views far enough and you become regressive

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

I felt the author was describing a contemporary movement that could very easily become a threat to the West. Gun lobbyists aren’t forcing people to carry guns, but educators and health service personnel are at real risk of losing their jobs if they don’t go along with the new gender and racial ideology.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

It’s not ideological to believe in the 2nd amendment, just like it’s not ideological to believe in the 1st.

Ormond Otvos
Ormond Otvos
2 years ago
Reply to  Warren Trees

What does inalienable rights mean, then?

Ormond Otvos
Ormond Otvos
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

The author is a covert ideologue, it seems.
Lotsa swipes at progressives.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
2 years ago
Reply to  julie bush

The world has been in this place several times before. And each time, a revival takes place. It’s no coincidence that the revival is of the teaching of Christ in the New Testament. There is hope!

Ormond Otvos
Ormond Otvos
2 years ago
Reply to  Warren Trees

Will Jesus survive a nuclear winter?

NCFC Paul
NCFC Paul
2 years ago

It strikes me that the solution, or perhaps the opposite to ideology is pragmatism. Something England, and partly by extension the United States has historically favoured.
That ideology attacks pragmatism is itself an attack on Anglo-Saxon ideals, no surprise that it is in America and Britain where the woke ideology is so targeted and pernicious.

Jim Jam
Jim Jam
2 years ago
Reply to  NCFC Paul

This is no doubt true, though – perhaps expecting this proposed and eminently sensible solution – much of the literature informing this new ideology explicitly rejects notions of incremental change and (perhaps more disturbingly) enlightenment rationalism itself.

Deb Grant
Deb Grant
2 years ago
Reply to  NCFC Paul

Australia too.

M. Jamieson
M. Jamieson
2 years ago
Reply to  NCFC Paul

That’s true to some extent, though absolute pragmatism can be pretty evil as well.

Gary Knight
Gary Knight
2 years ago
Reply to  M. Jamieson

You’re quite right: pontius Pilate was a pragmatist in the extreme: so much so that he asked the world’s greatest question of the one perfectly able to answer, and then turned to dismiss any answer given. The question was “what is truth”. The answer: “that’s the wrong question: the proper question is ‘Who is Truth?’, and your are looking at him.”

Dermot O'Sullivan
Dermot O'Sullivan
2 years ago

One of the best articles I have read on Unherd.

Douglas McNeish
Douglas McNeish
2 years ago

“Ideology is a highly communicable social contagion that infects people who are morally immunocompromised.” An observation brilliantly expressed.

Democrats take great pains to conceal the fact that they were the party of slavery in the Civil War, Jim Crow laws and the KKK – whose founding members and leadership were nearly all elected Democrat office-holders. And one of them was Senator Byrd, Joe Biden’s mentor as a junior congressman.

All of which may suggest that it is guilt which motivates the ideological fervour of many Dem pols infected with Wokery, in atonement for the hyper-racism of the party’s past.

And the “inevitable consequence of ideological infection is brain rot,” since intelligence requires an “ongoing attentiveness to reality that is inconsistent with wilfulness and fantasy, ” explains the readiness of the Woke faithful to repudiate observed and scientific reality in favour of felt or theoretical agendas such as gender theory.

Excellent article which warns of what Wokery could develop into.

Last edited 2 years ago by Douglas McNeish
Martin Butler
Martin Butler
2 years ago

You forget to mention that the US Constitution is based on the same ideology as the French Revolution. Ideology freezes a set of ideas in time and abstracts them from the everyday reality of actual social interaction. That’s why the US gun lobby who endlessly refer back to constitutional ‘rights’ are just as ideological as the woke left. In fact I would go as far as to say that the very same abstract notion of absolute freedom lies behind the absurdity of gender self identity and the right of an 18 year-old to buy military grade weapons. Both utterly divorced from the reality of human experience.

Last edited 2 years ago by Martin Butler
Douglas McNeish
Douglas McNeish
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

Hyper-individualism, more than “absolute freedom” engendered by the Constitution, is at the root of the current woke culture war. “My truth” and “my lived experience” trump all discussions based on observable facts for its combatants. The writers of the Constitution were mindful of community and shared values, and the current chaos of self-proclaimed identities, and their demands, would be quite alien to any of them.

Douglas Proudfoot
Douglas Proudfoot
2 years ago

The real problem is that the left wants the rule of “experts” to replace the rule of law. For example, the left thinks the EPA should be able to outlaw coal fired electricity generation even though Congress failed to pass a CO2 cap and trade law, or any other legislation authorizing outlawing coal. The “experts” supposedly know better than Congress what should be done, and what economic tradeoffs need to be made.

The “experts” want to impose woke values contrary to law. For example, wokesters say that “colorblind” and meritocracy” are white supremacist terms. Under the 14th Amendment and the Civil Rights Act, they’re mandated.

nigel roberts
nigel roberts
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

We heard you the first time and you were wrong then, too.

Gary Knight
Gary Knight
2 years ago
Reply to  nigel roberts

Not wrong, just incomplete. The failure of an extreme right interpretation of what not-so right founders intended is that it takes individual freedoms as mandates for libertarianism: i.e. individualism of the Ayn Rand variety. Nothing could be less cohesive or convivial for a strong society. It’s as divisive as regarding everything as in essential conflict, as marxism does.

Hardee Hodges
Hardee Hodges
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

You forget to mention that the US Constitution is based on the same ideology as the French Revolution” – As you asserted in an earlier comment, but the results were quite different.

Ormond Otvos
Ormond Otvos
2 years ago
Reply to  Hardee Hodges

When did the French abolish slavery or enfranchise women? 1848. 1944.

Gary Knight
Gary Knight
2 years ago
Reply to  Ormond Otvos

Not the historical record of actions, which vary place to place, but the underlying ideologies. These are what place groups against groups.

Douglas Proudfoot
Douglas Proudfoot
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

The American love of guns is based on self defense and distrust of the federal government. An armed population can organize itself into a militia to resist any power grab that the federal government attempts in violation of the Constitution. That’s the argument in Federalist Papers 46, in favor of adopting the Constitution. It’s still how a lot of gun owners view the attempts to limit gun ownership today.

You should also know that gun laws on the books are selectively enforced in the US. In Cook County (Chicago), Prosector Kimm Foxx (D, Soros) refuses to prosecute gang members for shootouts, as long as it was a fair fight, even though the guns were possessed illegally, discharged unlawfully and were used in attempted homicides. Why put more gun restrictions on the books when the current gun laws are not enforced?

Maureen Finucane
Maureen Finucane
2 years ago

Persuading children to have irreversible surgery will probably be regarded on the same light as lobotomies in years to come.

Elena Lange
Elena Lange
2 years ago

Very good piece. I disagree with the judgement on Marx remaining in the “philosophical realm” (all his theory pointed toward action, as he was an active revolutionary himself). The real stakes of the problem are however in characterizing the present post-modern technocratic social engineering experiment we live in “ideological”. It is not. In fact, it is far worse. We live in an age that psychoanalyst Massimo Recalcati called “post-ideological totalitarianism”. The disaster of the present then is in having no ideology at all: if it did, it would be easier to dismantle and criticize it. But the late neoliberal order has eliminated all meaning and replaced meaning or significance with itself. It has become tautological. You must accept COVID measures, because it’s the right thing to do. You must accept men in women’s sport because it’s the right thing to do. You must replace Philip Larkin for an African poet because it’s the right thing to do. There is no coherent ideological model behind this. Only pure tautology which is the hallmark of totalitarianism.

Douglas McNeish
Douglas McNeish
2 years ago
Reply to  Elena Lange

On reflection I see you are correct: Wokery is not a coherent utopian structure, as compared with the examples given by the writer. And therein lies its resistance to argument or contradiction – or even conversion by the unwoke. It evades them by morphing, regularly changing its terminology and demands, to remain ahead of the non-believers, and keep them wrongfooted.

It is indeed a tautology, and demands religious obedience. It’s inquisitors are the Diversity, Inclusion and Equity experts, who have infiltrated every institution in our society, who set codes of behaviour, and mete out punishment to the disobedient.

Martin Butler
Martin Butler
2 years ago

Why is the comments section here full of people obsessed with ‘wokery’? It really has little to do with 99% of ordinary people’s lives.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

True, it passes by most people, but these same people will wake up one morning and find that many things that they had taken for granted are suddenly no longer allowed. Having said that, it’s not just the ideology of the ‘wokery’ that we need to watch out for, there are plenty on the anti-woke wing who are ideologically intolerant too.

Ludwig van Earwig
Ludwig van Earwig
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

Little to do with ordinary people’s lives? Tell that to the parents whose children have been encouraged (by schools and by medical professionals) to believe they were “born in the wrong body”. In New Zealand it is now a criminal offence to recommend any treatment of gender dysphoria other than “gender affirmation” (an Orwellian term if ever I heard one), because that would be an attempt to “convert” the child. Tell it to the three academics who were threatened with expulsion from the Royal Society of NZ, for daring to question current government policy giving mātauranga Māori (indigenous beliefs and practices) equal status with modern science in the school curriculum.

Last edited 2 years ago by Ludwig van Earwig
Jo Nielson
Jo Nielson
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

That depends on your place in the culture.
As a woman, I find the trend of disappearing women horrifying. I believe there can and should be single gender spaces. My son recently went to an all boys camp. I’m glad he could be around guys his own age and have fun. It’s okay if women have their own spaces too. But this idea that a bio man can be legit be put in a women’s prison or should be able to use domestic assault shelters makes me sick. That puts us at risk as women. So, it affects me when community leaders and politicians go along with these crazy ideas about gender. It puts my life and other lives at risk, should we need to use these facilities.
I’m also a parent of a teenager, so I need to be up on the culture crazy so that I can help steer my kid away from these regressive ideas that are just everywhere in schools and the mainstream culture these days.
Because we are a religious family, we are able to steer away from a lot of it because we actively promote Christian living, but we can’t even watch superhero movies without lectures about how to be woke. It’s so frustrating that it’s hard to just enjoy a movie and a bit of escapism w/o being lectured to.
My husband works in a field that’s super Progressive and woke, so he resents having to go to anti-bias trainings and having to censor himself so he doesn’t out himself as someone not on the Left. He has his dream job, except he hates the culture that’s crept in and it’s not like any other work place these days is going to be much different. Managers go along because they think they are being kind and want to attract younger workers.
A lot of our friends spend a lot of time making sure the religious schools and churches they pick for their families actually teach the faith and isn’t just ‘Christian’ or ‘Catholic’ in name only A lot of churches are infected with this woke poison too.
It’s great to hear that some people aren’t bothered by this, but a lot of us simply can’t avoid it. Unless we decide to go full ‘off the grid’ and do the extreme prepper lifestyle, we simply can’t avoid this derangement because it’s just everywhere in youth culture.
I live in a smallish suburb in Michigan, USA. We try to keep our lives as drama free as possible. We are what you’d call ordinary, boring, bland people. We try to avoid the woke culture and fail -a lot. I made sure we moved to a ‘red area’ in my ‘blue county’ because the cultural stuff is slower to creep into ‘red areas’, but you still can’t avoid it when you are out and about just living and enjoying your life.
This stuff affects more people than you think.

Ormond Otvos
Ormond Otvos
2 years ago
Reply to  Jo Nielson

Nothing autocratic or dogmatic about Christianity and Christian nationalism in “red areas.”
Be careful how you speak. Christian cancellation is called “shunning.”

Ukunda Vill
Ukunda Vill
1 year ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

10% of the world (the west) are thinking about woke matters. The rest of the world are busy with regular issues.

Elena Lange
Elena Lange
2 years ago

Yes, its incoherence is the point. That’s why the cancellers of today could be the cancelled of tomorrow.

Martin Butler
Martin Butler
2 years ago
Reply to  Elena Lange

There are, as far as I can see, some good arguments for covid measures, no coherent arguments for men competing in women’s sport, and arguments on both sides for the Larkin issue. What’s this got to do with totalitarianism? Unless you think that governments enforcing anything in times of crisis is totalitarian. (Would you demonstrate against the blackout in London during the blitz and claim it was totalitarian?) Can we just drop all the fancy terminology (post-ideological totalitarianism!!) and just look at the individual cases on their own merits. BTW most sports don’t allow those who have been through male puberty to compete as women.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

Agreed.

Ludwig van Earwig
Ludwig van Earwig
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

Agreed the “totalitarian” label is OTT – the author does himself no favours by exaggerating.

Paul Nathanson
Paul Nathanson
2 years ago

Not so fast. A key feature of totalitarianism is not the degree of its evil but the degree to which it invades private life. Mind control is a characteristically totalitarian weapon. Wokers don’t ban some words and invent others, for instance, as an end in itself; they do so to control the use of language and therefore of thought itself (which is impossible without language). This is not a distinctively modern or secular phenomenon, but it has ravaged the modern world to an unparalleled degree by virtue of its technologically advanced context.

michael stanwick
michael stanwick
2 years ago
Reply to  Paul Nathanson

Interesting comment. The abuse of language. It is something I have been attempting to clarify on various forums for some time. I think in the theatre of gender marxism and to some extent queer marxism, the abuse of pronouns is a tool that is enforced in order to facilitate a validation of the self perception of an individual as having a sexed soul, that does not cohere with their physical form in reality.
I don’t agree that the control of language – what I call the abuse of language – necessarily controls thought itself. Thought relies on language but the acceptance of that control is another matter.

Last edited 2 years ago by michael stanwick
Gary Knight
Gary Knight
2 years ago

Yes; but although language may not control thought (still debatable given the neuropsychological understanding of the primacy of language in brain development), it tends to contrive its predicates. Not only that, but a controlled uber-narrative (via language) makes it that much harder to have a voice. What’s the value of good thoughts if you cannot share them in some convivial space? That’s what’s excluded by ‘control of language’ – starting even at the pronouns as you say.

John deSpondon
John deSpondon
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

I pondered the similarities of blackout rules and our pandemic lockdowns. I found that there is a view held by some that blackout was largely ineffective because rivers, cloud streets, and bodies of water allowed towns and cities to be located on clear nights, and there was enough imprecision to the dropping process that it was hard to hit a specific target, and even more difficult to do it repeatedly. Were there any blackout dissenters at the time? I don’t know, but failure to comply would get them a fine or jail time, and opprobrium from their neighbours, so perhaps we’ll never know.

Gary Knight
Gary Knight
2 years ago
Reply to  John deSpondon

Still .. it’s less invasive to turn out or cover some maverick’s lights than it is to shut them up.

Douglas Proudfoot
Douglas Proudfoot
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

Wokery tells you what you can say, what you can think and what you can teach your children. Step out of line and you’re canceled. Complain at a school board meeting and the secret police (FBI) investigate you as a domestic terrorist. You lose your social accounts. Your friends and family shun you. You can be fired and black listed much more thoroughly than any Hollywood writer on Sen. Joe McCarthy’s 1950’s blacklists. If you give a straight answer to the question, “What is a woman?” you’re fired. (Pun intended.) To say wokery isn’t a totalitarian ideology is disingenuous. Wokery surely aspires to be totalitarian. If wokery ain’t there yet, it ain’t for lack of trying.

Jacob Howland
Jacob Howland
2 years ago
Reply to  Elena Lange

That’s a very good point. Stalin had to take out the old Bolsheviks because they remained committed to the ideology, not to the “pure tautology” of the Party. But the old Bolsheviks were deluded. Ideology is always implicitly tautological, and generally reveals itself to be such very quickly. (As Gary Saul Morson shows in “Leninthink,” it was not philosophy that supplied the “coherence” of dialectical materialism–its capacity to resolve social “contradictions”–but sheer power.) The line between ideological and post-ideological totalitarianism seems hopelessly blurred.

Elena Lange
Elena Lange
2 years ago
Reply to  Jacob Howland

Thanks. I would observe, however, that the classical ideologies of liberalism, communism, and even fascism (and you make that point in the article, too) are still attached to the idea of making life better in this way or that for the designated populations (the “Aryan race”, or “mankind”, respectively). Today’s post-ideological conundrum is exhausted in a reductionist notion of the advancement of Science and Management to which the notion of “human progress” is totally alien. The focus is on Things (the Climate, the NHS), not on humans. The idea that it was *our duty* to protect the NHS, and not the other way around, was the clearest manifestation of this post-humanist, Post-ideological “ideology”.

Gary Knight
Gary Knight
2 years ago
Reply to  Elena Lange

Agreed. Secular humanism is the (malicious) ape of Christian humanism which seeks to bring each person to a realization of their full and eternal dignity.

Elena Lange
Elena Lange
2 years ago
Reply to  Jacob Howland

Thanks. I’d like to observe, however, that in contrast to our post-ideological era all of the classical ideologies – liberalism, communism, even fascism – had the benefit of humans as their goal, as you correctly point out, whether it’s that of the “Aryan race” or mankind in general. This is no longer true today. The protection of things (Climate, the NHS) has replaced humans as the objective of history. Human progress is an alien concept to techno-managerial society. That we were told it was our duty to protect the NHS during the pandemic, and not the duty of the NHS to protect us, was just the tip of the iceberg of the inversion of the sphere of humans and things – reification in its purity. Ideology is political, but our era is post-political.

michael stanwick
michael stanwick
2 years ago
Reply to  Elena Lange

Our duty to protect the NHS to protect us?

Gary Knight
Gary Knight
2 years ago
Reply to  Jacob Howland

..” it was not philosophy that supplied the ‘coherence’ of dialectical materialism … but sheer power” : yes indeed, and it’s the power of constant repetition. However, an agenda to repeat, repeat no matter what, is still a philosophy – or rather a praxis of philosophy. Young atheists even refer to their particular choice of yoga as their ‘practice’: in effect their liturgy. This word is apt, as it speaks of an inchoate spiritual decision. The liturgy of repeated praise and worship of the Truth is most salutary (even for elevation of philosophy); it is the repetition what what would ape (and deny) this truth that is deleterious to mind and heart.

bert brech
bert brech
1 year ago
Reply to  Jacob Howland

Your article is unblanced reactionary propaganda. You write as if the world was all cream pie until the French Revolution and Marxism. You forget that the old monarchy in France derived a large part of its wealth from one of the most horrific slave societies ever – that in Saint Domingue, later Haiti. The French Revolution not only brought the idea of Libery, Equality, Fraternity to France and Europe, but it helped to abolish black slavery. The Vendee was just one episode in the French Revolution; its enemies resorted to massive killings to defend the old regime. Similarly, on the Russian Revolution you overlook the horrific crimes of the White Guard counterrevolutionaries – millions killed, and as many as 100,000 Jews. This was by people who inspired Hitler. The Western right collaborated in the rise of fascism and Nazism. The Bolshevik Revolution challenged Western racism and helped crucially in destroying the Western racist empires. You repeat vastly exaggerated claims about the numbers of victims of Soviet repression. Since Soviet records have become available historians have scaled the numbers down hugely. Several millions, not scores of millions. Though still a terrible and unforgiveable crime. See the anti-Soviet historian Timothy Snyder, “Who Was Worse, Hitler or Stalin?”, New York Review of Books

Last edited 1 year ago by bert brech
M. Jamieson
M. Jamieson
2 years ago
Reply to  Elena Lange

I took him to mean that for Marx personally it remained philosophy, he wasn’t going about doing anything concrete.

Gary Knight
Gary Knight
2 years ago
Reply to  M. Jamieson

Nothing is more concrete than persuading for ideas. Ideas have consequences. And this is the primary reason that continued and rational ideation (not to say ideology) is now closely surveilled and cancelled – to preserve the hegemony of the reigning ideology. That reigning ideology is a deconstruction of man, to the point of his radical de-constitution: a reversal of every single aspect of creation as outlined in Revelation.

michael stanwick
michael stanwick
2 years ago
Reply to  Elena Lange

The tautology works if the “you must” is another way of saying “it is the right thing”. In other words, The demand is made because it is assumed to be right by the demander.
Further, the various utopian “wokeries” or “theories” – such as critical race theory, gender theory, feminist theory, fat studies, ableist theory, queer theory etc., pace James Lindsay, are the result of a common marxist analysis that is applied to identity. They are all marxism. As such, he labels them as race marxism, gender marxism, feminist marxism, fat marxism, ableist marxism and queer marxism etc.

Gary Knight
Gary Knight
2 years ago

All of these flavours of marxism, or what used to be called ‘socialism’ in the ideological sense, are aspects of ideological pluralism. Pluralism is that system (with agenda) that declares all beliefs except itself to have only a ‘tolerated’ right to exist ‘at the pleasure’ of pluralism. Therefore in a pluralist social order (I don’t mean a plural or diverse one), political correctness is the canon law of social converse. Any other claims (then called ideologies or ‘dogma’) that there are disorders in man to be avoided or overcome – such as a lust for self determination (eg. the abortion mentality) – is to be silenced and even its past salvific record cancelled.

Lindsay S
Lindsay S
2 years ago

This reminds me of the film Rude Awakenings, when the CIA officer is shown a picture of the hippies getting off the bus “Are they Terrorists, Sir?” He is asked. “No, Worse!” He replies “they’re idealists”.

Gary Knight
Gary Knight
2 years ago
Reply to  Lindsay S

Yes, but of course you and I will be called idealists for bucking the hegemony of the woke. Idealism is not the same thing as forceful ideology. They may have a similar starting point; but as another commentator mentions, by its praxis ideology acquires teeth.

Saul D
Saul D
2 years ago

Ideology requires its adherents to believe in a ‘truth’ that describes the future world as some sort of perfection compared to ‘the enemy’ who will destroy that perfection. Anyone against their ‘truth’ is therefore evil and must be destroyed in turn. This is what makes ideology the most dangerous and terrible of human inventions – good people will do unspeakable acts if they believe it is to defend the ‘truth’.
We have to teach uncertainty, doubt, possibilities and likelihoods and that the world is too complex and too interconnected to be understood purely by ‘thinking about it’ as philosophers and ideologues would have you believe.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
2 years ago
Reply to  Saul D

Agreed: but please add Paradox to the list. How much evil emerges from good intentions (along the road to Hell I guess?)..

Tony Price
Tony Price
2 years ago
Reply to  Saul D

If you replace ‘ideology’ with ‘religion’ in that post it fits perfectly!

Alan Girling
Alan Girling
2 years ago
Reply to  Tony Price

There’s a difference. The real danger of ideology is that it is of this world, whereas religion, at least traditionally, is of the next. Per Nietzsche, the death of God is the birth of ideology. The communists and the Nazis both forgot to  “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s”.

Ormond Otvos
Ormond Otvos
2 years ago
Reply to  Alan Girling

Islam vs Hinduism. Protestantts vs Catholics. Christian Nationalism in Hungary and Poland?
Eastern Orthodox chumming up Putin?
Are you serious?

Ormond Otvos
Ormond Otvos
2 years ago
Reply to  Saul D

You’re down on “thinking about it”?
A bit imprecise, I’d say.

Gary Knight
Gary Knight
2 years ago
Reply to  Saul D

Unfortunately yours is the view of pluralists, which is the most subtle of ideologies. Having a grasp of truth is only salvific if it begets a love of truth (in all its places: some more perfect than others) and neighbour. The appeal of Judeo-Christian revelation is that it does just that, and (as is more than available in other partial truths like Sufism or Buddhism) brings one to personal oneness and friendship with He who is the author of life, and the very omega-point (also alpha) of Truth itself.

Michael Coleman
Michael Coleman
2 years ago

Anyone who thinks that the United States could not descend into similarly horrifying violence is deluded.”
Unfortunately I know many that are still deluded – the common factor: they live in restricted information bubbles with sources carefully curated by ideologues and they have no desire to discuss facts in conflict with their reality (none read unHerd and likely won’t bother to open a link to this great piece) Up until a few years ago I would avoid initiating political discussions in social settings and online to avoid conflict but I’ve come to believe the US is dangerously close to a tipping point and feel we all must try to stop the progressive disease any way we can.

Don Butler
Don Butler
2 years ago

The high quality of thinking and expression in this article is not only the reason so many of us subscribe to “Unherd”, but why Amerca’s elite universities, save for their obscene endowments, should be terrified by the prospect of UATX. If this new institution survives, a group of intellectual paladins could ride from its walls and rescue the hostage we call the United States of America.

Douglas McNeish
Douglas McNeish
2 years ago
Reply to  Don Butler

The current era’s answer to the Frankfurt School?

Don Butler
Don Butler
2 years ago

One can hope, Douglas.

Ormond Otvos
Ormond Otvos
2 years ago
Reply to  Don Butler

Maybe they’ll hire Elon as Professor of Climate Change.

Ormond Otvos
Ormond Otvos
2 years ago
Reply to  Don Butler

I hope the author is not the best of UATX…

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
2 years ago

Perhaps the postscript to this superb piece is that 90 percent of nu britns and Americans would not have a blind clue as to what the author was writing about, in a macabre Quod Est Demonstradum ….

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
2 years ago

..sadly, yes: though I see you qualify the Brits (nu) but not the Yanks? Mmmm

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
2 years ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

nu yanks! apologies- the Ivy League wasps whom I first met in investment banking were the most complete, eloquent, intelligent, cultured charming and capable people whom I have ever encountered.

Ormond Otvos
Ormond Otvos
2 years ago

Didn’t get out much, I gather.

John Hicks
John Hicks
2 years ago

If the quality of this article is a continuing example of what students enrolling at UATX can anticipate, they are indeed a very fortunate cohort. So perhaps are we to dare hope again for the leadership of common sense in our lives

Howard Gleave
Howard Gleave
2 years ago

Among several memorable turns of phrase in this excellent essay, the following, IMO, takes the biscuit:

“Ideology is a highly communicable social contagion that infects people who are morally immunocompromised.”

Ormond Otvos
Ormond Otvos
2 years ago
Reply to  Howard Gleave

Not morally. Culturally.

Gary Knight
Gary Knight
2 years ago
Reply to  Ormond Otvos

Have you noticed how few people trouble to answer a troll? But I will condescend. There is no culture without a moral basis. Cheers.

Dick Illyes
Dick Illyes
2 years ago

Excellent article.
There is an answer, widespread adoption of the ideal of non-aggression and limited government.
Jefferson: “A wise and frugal government that prevents men from injuring one another and leaves them otherwise free”
Kibbe: “Don’t Hurt People and Don’t Take Their Stuff”
Me: “To have the best possible human society no one should initiate force against another, or deceive them so that they do something they would not otherwise do. The proper role of government is to prevent force and fraud. Beyond this government itself becomes the problem.”

Micael Gustavsson
Micael Gustavsson
2 years ago
Reply to  Dick Illyes

Isn’t that also a kind of ideology? You think a society ordered the way you describe is better.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
2 years ago

It’s not so much ideology taht is the problem, it’s how (in)tolerant one’s ideology is. All political parties have some ideology, but mostly (in the past at least) this was tempered by a good dollop of pragmatism.

Gary Knight
Gary Knight
2 years ago

Or a good dollop of respect for human dignity.

Ormond Otvos
Ormond Otvos
2 years ago
Reply to  Dick Illyes

Non-aggression pacts like the one between Ukraine and Russia? Remember, we’re talking about humans here.

Russ W
Russ W
2 years ago

To the Author, Jacob – You summarized, clarified, and expanded a review history and the concept of “ideology” I undertook three years ago and only recently completed. I came to the same, sad conclusions. You also expressed it all quite effectively.
With equal vigor and creativity, please explore how we get out of this mess before it is too late. Assuming it is not already “too late.” Has it been accomplished in the past?

Andrew Raiment
Andrew Raiment
2 years ago

Ideology is entropy in social contruct form.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Raiment

Hmmm… an interesting thought. Can physical laws be applied to the social realm?

What the essay neglects to mention is that all of the historical precursors laid before us as illustrations of where we’re headed eventually ran out of road, or ‘mutated’ into more stable forms. Perhaps we could also invoke epidemiology into our current malaise!

I’m treating the essay as a useful guide to both ancient and modern examples of breakdowns in collective intelligence, which the author hints as being self-defeating but without analysis of how those societies went about their reformations. And indeed, the Reformation itself shows how a corruption of intelligence can be turned around. So whilst the author leaves us with an apparently bleak future to contemplate, i’m more inclined to take heart from the ability of humans to eventually break free from the moral and intellectual straightjackets we impose upon ourselves, albeit after some serious disturbances including bloodletting.

Have a good weekend everyone!

Andrew Raiment
Andrew Raiment
2 years ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Thank you, good post.

Russ W
Russ W
2 years ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Steve – thought the last clause is painful, thanks for “So whilst the author leaves us with an apparently bleak future to contemplate, i’m more inclined to take heart from the ability of humans to eventually break free from the moral and intellectual straightjackets we impose upon ourselves, albeit after some serious disturbances including bloodletting.”

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
2 years ago
Reply to  Russ W

Yes, the examples from history tend to point in that direction.
Ultimately though, it’s rooted in the positivity of overcoming our lapses into what the author terms ideology. It’s a useful way of capturing certain historical tendencies.
We’re still here, kicking and screaming from birth onwards, so we must be getting something right.

Ormond Otvos
Ormond Otvos
2 years ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Hi, Pollyanna. It has occurred to me that the modern equivalent of “hanging the last priest with the entrails of the last King” would be a small tactical nuke of the Vatican.
Think on it: Might lead to nuclear disarmament…

Gary Knight
Gary Knight
2 years ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Unfortunately, it is the social engineers and woke who suppose that moral and intellectual boundaries are ‘straightjackets’ and further that we impose them on ourselves. That makes the natural boundaries and moral order just so much fodder for tossing out and replacing with any form of self-determination, all of which leads to anarchy. It is a veiled ideology to say that there is no truth.

Gary Knight
Gary Knight
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Raiment

Except that entropy (disorder) runs off in all directions at once. Perhaps it would be fairer to say that ideology is the secular humanist attempt at a utopian lassoing of entropy – a program destined to fail because it is necessarily temporal. Only the abiding trans-temporal can put entropy in its place.

Dustshoe Richinrut
Dustshoe Richinrut
2 years ago

It’s easy, I think, to look back and recognise an ideology. Much harder to see it going on around one. In its more benign form?

Let’s talk technology then.
In the second half of the 20th century, as screens got bigger, and better, what with colour TV coming in, Americans in greater numbers continued the enthusiasm and cheer of the post-war period, the entertainment having become more prominent and accessible, too. For the world, too, as the numbers of cinemas proliferated and TV stations set up. A satellite dish on the side of a house in the 1990s spelled out an entertainment zone.
But then a kind of decay began to creep in. Screens have become gradually tinier since the millennium, since most of the increase in their most recent surge in numbers sits on the lap or in the palm of the hand. Tinier and more tyrannical. Icons of 20th century entertainment sit miniaturised at any moment next to a forbidding figure: Elvis, diminished, one second, flicked bizarrely, insanely, the next second to, say, Pol Pot. Both figures, in the palm of the hand, can be crushed, erased, forgotten. And entertainment, of a middling brow kind, that would aspire to gladden a multitude and variety of folk, has been drowned out by the mountain of noise and frivolities of the internet era. Moreover, Goebbels, Goering and co now come in the digital age enhanced like never before: into the palm of the hand, in glorious Technicolor, with new information or theories about them. The welter of information never ends. No longer do audiences look up at a big screen at an icon of western entertainment. At a larger than life vision of such. They look down into a tiny screen at the diminutive figure of such on their tiny screen and are unimpressed.

The screens tinier, angrier. The people using them vexed, irascible, unable to put their hands to making something useful or beautiful, their fingers every day glued to their hi-tech devices. Maybe that was one reason for the zeal with which well-dressed and well-fed young Americans pulled down statues in 2020. They were envious of the perceived leisure time afforded to great sculptors who could while away the time in a previous analogue era carving out the so-called insults or follies on plinths targeted for toppling in 2020. Technology such as it has become has given new life to the Marxist mind-set. Technology, which had enabled the accessibility of entertainment distribution in the olden days, has come to diminish the old pleasures of gathering around to enjoy a show in the company of others.

In the olden days, the bigger the screen, the grander the entertainment. Not like now, eh? Maybe if smart phones did not exist, young folk would march off to watch Top Gun 2. The Maverick one. And shout, “USA number 1!” (Like people used to around the world in the old days). There were no mobile phones in 1986 with the first Top Gun.

It’s hard to believe the movie Tootsie is forty years old now. Couldn’t make a movie like that now. The West has lost the urge. What a pity! Iran hasn’t really changed, in that time, since the making of Tootsie (which would have coincided with the immediate aftermath of the conclusion to the Iran hostage crisis which had had a detrimental effect to America as a whole). And the West now shoots itself in the foot as it goes about trendily feeling ashamed of itself.

Ormond Otvos
Ormond Otvos
2 years ago

Tootsie and Top Gun? Wow.
Do you know about Khan Academy? Wikipedia? Unherd? Medical sites? Netflix? Ipads?
You’re as dumb as you wanna be. Wake up.

Gunner Myrtle
Gunner Myrtle
2 years ago

The fact that several Western jurisdictions have suffered energy grid failures is proof enough that ideology leads to inept governance. Maybe freezing in the dark all winter will wake Europeans up to the colossal folly of the progressive agenda.

Ormond Otvos
Ormond Otvos
2 years ago
Reply to  Gunner Myrtle

Are you a KGB troll?
Texas also has outages from inept governance by ideology.

Last edited 2 years ago by Ormond Otvos
nnnn hhhhhg
nnnn hhhhhg
2 years ago

Brilliant article.

Martin Adams
Martin Adams
2 years ago

A fascinating essay, all the more engaging for being so lucidly written. Thank you, Dr Howland!
I was struck by the author’s comments about the effects of ideology on individuals — third paragraph from the end:

The inevitable consequence of ideological infection is brain rot. ï»ż

This and the observations that follow bear close comparison with the observations made by the German theologian and pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his essay “On Stupidity”, which is part of his unfinished book on ethics (the Nazi’s murdered him in 1945). Bonhoeffer sees that stupidity is not necessarily inherent in those who exercise it. It is often produced by their acceptance of an ideology; and so its defects are not intellectual but a result of flaws in human nature to which some of us are more prone than others.
Bonhoeffer says:

. . . that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom declares that the internal liberation of human beings to live the responsible life before God is the only genuine way to overcome stupidity.

If you are not a Christian, Bonhoeffer’s solution might not be acceptable. Nevertheless, it is striking that so many of the ideologies discussed in this essay are anti-religious and, above all, anti-Christian. It dismays me that so many Christians have been, and still are, taken in by such ideologies, often because they become persuaded that, through them, believers might build God’s kingdom on Earth. It’s dangerous territory!

Ormond Otvos
Ormond Otvos
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Adams

Bonhoeffer suffered from an ideology: Christianity.
“The word of the Bible that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom declares that the internal liberation of human beings to live the responsible life before God is the only genuine way to overcome stupidity.

Gary Knight
Gary Knight
2 years ago
Reply to  Ormond Otvos

You apparently suffer from the Nietzsche ideology. What the bible also says (in more than two places) is that true religion that is undefiled is to act justly, love tenderly, and walk humbly before God. Oh, and by the way, those words predate their fulfilment.

Martin Smith
Martin Smith
2 years ago

I enjoyed this, thank you, but Descartes’ ‘pencil thin moustache’ lending his alleged ‘air of duplicity’…? Did the author meet him in some intermediate time zone?

Last edited 2 years ago by Martin Smith
polidori redux
polidori redux
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Smith

C’mon. To affect a moustache like that is telling you something.
I was tempted myself, but my mistress dissuaded me.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Smith

Sadly, indeed disastrously, we meet the deluded Descartes everywhere these days! He was close but deserves no cigar: it’s “I am therefore I think”

Micael Gustavsson
Micael Gustavsson
2 years ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

”I am therefore I think” would be a correct ontological statement. But Descartes statement was meant as an epistemological statement. It means, not that his thinking is causing his existence, but that he can know that he exists because he thinks.
And if you wonder why that would be necessary, it is in a context of a philosophical experiment to doubt anything that you could doubt (the existence of the physical universe etc), to arrive at a possible truth that you cannot doubt.

Ormond Otvos
Ormond Otvos
2 years ago

Nice explanation.

Gary Knight
Gary Knight
2 years ago

A truth such as the necessary existence of “than than which nothing greater can be conceived.”

Ormond Otvos
Ormond Otvos
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Smith

The Wikipedia article has that portrait.
What a silly presumption, far sillier than any moustache.

susan bellush
susan bellush
2 years ago

A scholarly explanation why our government is filled with morons. I have long noticed that there is an inverse relationship between the stature of the university from which a person graduated to that person competence.

Paul Nathanson
Paul Nathanson
2 years ago

The word “ideology” is problematic throughout these comments. Howland does refer to the word’s origin, but it has had a long history since revolutionary France. Marx used it for an elite (feudal or bourgeois) culture that hoodwinked the lower orders by preventing them from understanding or even recognizing their true condition (as victims of “false consciousness”) and thus from imagining the revolution that would liberate them. By now, many people use “ideology” as a synonym for any “set of ideas” or any “worldview” that they dislike. And many others use it even more generally for any set of ideas or any worldview at all–in which case almost everything is an ideology. I think that the word “ideology” can still have a useful meaning in discussions of this kind but only if we define from the get-go precisely how we intend to use it. A working definition, even a brief one, can clarify what follows.
In one book, Spreading Misandry: The Teaching of Contempt for Men in Popular Culture (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991), my colleague and I did precisely that in a chapter called “Making the World Safe for Ideology.” There, we present several diagnostic features of ideology as we use that word in our book (and three additional volumes). Ideology, as we describe it, is a worldview (whether of the Left or the Right, whether religious or secular) that relies on most (though not necessarily all) of the following closely interrelated ways of thinking: (1) dualism (“we” are victims; “they” are oppressors); (2) essentialism (“we” are innately good; “they” are innately evil); (3) hierarchy (“we” must dominate; “they” must submit); (4) collectivism (at stake are group rights, not personal rights); (5) revolutionism (eradicating the current society and building its replacement on the ruins, not merely reforming the ancien regime); (6) utopianism (the goal of a perfect society within history); (7) selective cynicism (trust no one except “us”); (8) consequentialism (the end justifies the means); and (9) quasi-religiosity (not only public rituals, special times and places but also reliance on canonical texts and doctrines along with the expulsion or annihilation of heretics and infidels–but in the specific context of fundamentalist religion).

Ormond Otvos
Ormond Otvos
2 years ago
Reply to  Paul Nathanson

You don’t want hierarchy of competence?
You do your own brain surgery?

Mike Bell
Mike Bell
2 years ago

Beware the philosopher who sprinkles their essay with names of other philosophers and selects quotes which support their argument.
They are perfectly capable of proving black is white and twisting your mind into believing they must be wise through their erudition.
Given that this essay is of this type, I have no way of knowing whether I can agree with it or not.
So much better to simply ‘make the case’ than to rely on these intellectual props.
I fear his chosen definition of ‘ideology’ allows him to label those he disagrees with as ‘bad’, while convincing us of his intellectual neutrality.

FacRecte NilTime
FacRecte NilTime
2 years ago
Reply to  Mike Bell

I fear his chosen definition of ‘ideology’ allows him to label those he disagrees with as ‘bad’,
You make a key point. We can agree with him about the evils of fascist and communist ideologies, as well as (I hope!) of post-modernism and critical theory.

But ideology as such is not necessarily bad. Christianity (along with religions in general) is a kind of ideology. So are the theories that underpin rule of law, property rights, human rights, and classical liberal democracy.

Equally, the human desire to develop ideological systems and technologies, to change reality and build better futures, is not in itself bad, as the author seems to suggest from the selective examples given.

Human progress from the invention of agriculture onwards has required them. First an ideology of property rights and governance to enforce these rights. Then beyond self-sufficiency an ideology of specialisation, trade, labour and resource allocation, leading to the invention of money, and taxes pay for security from internal and external threats as well as public infrastructure (roads, irrigation
) and other shared services.

The correct response to bad ideologies is to identify and make the case for good ones, not to revert to appeals to a reality that in human societies everywhere is itself already the result of millennia of competing ideologies and technologies. Making that case requires pragmatism and a political process.

A ‘curse on all your houses’ approach to ideology won’t achieve that. And even if it did, would imply an end to human progress. We are better than that.

Mike Bell
Mike Bell
2 years ago

I agree. If we define ‘ideology’ as a set of primary assumptions, then we can never be free, we are always starting from ideology.
Not quite the same, but Maynard Keynes made a similar point about those who think themselves free of theory:  â€œPractical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist” 

FacRecte NilTime
FacRecte NilTime
2 years ago
Reply to  Mike Bell

That Keynes quote is new to me, and a good one. Thank you. Maybe the notion that progress comes from an iterative dialogue between ideas and the reality of ‘practical men’ is classical liberalism’s version of Marx’s dialectical materialism?

Ormond Otvos
Ormond Otvos
2 years ago
Reply to  Mike Bell

Instead of ideology, Elon Musk says “Start from basic principles.”
Works for him, and us. All his inventions are responses to basic principles.
When examining problems, look for ideologies.

Douglas Proudfoot
Douglas Proudfoot
2 years ago
Reply to  Mike Bell

Keynes also said, “In the long run, we’re all dead.” Keynes’ arguments for government action to offset recessions were based on liquidity traps and impatience. The end results have been rapid advances toward bankruptcy by governments enslaved by Keynes, or at least claiming to be stimulating through pork and patronage.

Fact is that stimulus, like most things, has a point of diminishing returns. Perhaps it’s time to admit we’re there now?

Mike Bell
Mike Bell
2 years ago

I agree that Keynes would have used his own quote against those who treated his ‘demand management’ ideas as though they were universal truths and used them to boost a non-recession economy in the belief that there would be no negative consequences.

Dave Weeden
Dave Weeden
2 years ago
Reply to  Mike Bell

But you do have ways of knowing whether you (can) agree with it or not. You can find (or already know) other possible definitions of ‘ideology’ for a start. (FWIW, I think it’s a bit of a blob of a word, which means different things in different contexts, and different things to different people, but most of the time, it’s fairly pejorative as in the irregular verb: I am intellectually neutral; You have certain biases; he/she have caught an ideology!
There are certain elisions I find dubious. For example:
Tracy conceived of idĂ©ologie as a social science of “ideas” that would inform the construction of a rational progressive society governed by an enlightened elite, whose technical expertise would justify their claim to rule. The illiberalism of this progressive-technocratic ideal became fully apparent in the West only with the onset of Covid.
It’s not at all obvious that an ideal conceived of nearly two and a half centuries ago has become reality. In other words, I’m not sure that the subject of the second sentence is the object of the first. Science has moved on a lot, for one thing. For another, government by an elite is not a new concept, and wasn’t new in 1779, and the usual justification is something like “the world would be a better place if people like me were in charge” the only think military men, clerics, scientists, and house-painters cum jailbirds can agree on. They then prove their assumption wrong, in every case where they’ve managed to get in charge, of course.
I’m reading “The Pursuit of the Millennium” at the moment, and the desire to improve the world by exterminating all the bad people, is much deeper than the French Revolution.
Anyway, I thought it a good essay. I’m no admirer of Lysenko, but “barely literate” seems a little harsh. https://www.famousscientists.org/trofim-lysenko/ mentions (without any other context) that he was “late in learning to read” but as the piece says elsewhere “it is not possible to remain intelligent under the spell of ideology” — there’s no need to deride him as particularly thick.

Ormond Otvos
Ormond Otvos
2 years ago
Reply to  Dave Weeden

What’s your take on Technocracy? (The American Movement of the 1930s?

Mike Bell
Mike Bell
2 years ago
Reply to  Dave Weeden

I think the author makes the mistake of thinking that he can give a definition of ‘ideology’ which is historically based, rather than the common usage of the word today.
It’s a common technique – define your terms in such a way that your argument makes the case you want. It’s hiding the assumptions at the start.

Dermot O'Sullivan
Dermot O'Sullivan
2 years ago
Reply to  Mike Bell

It can be as you describe but the quality of the writing counters this IMO. On rereading I might say the description of those with whom he disagrees touches on arrogance at times, but then again I’m not familiar with most of them and they might well deserve it.

Ormond Otvos
Ormond Otvos
2 years ago

I smelled arrogance from the beginning. Not unusual in an Unherd article.

Mike Bell
Mike Bell
2 years ago

the quality of the writing counters this “. On the contrary, the quality of the writing is hiding the mistakes in logic he is making.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
2 years ago
Reply to  Mike Bell

This writer is a man, singular, therefore he sprinkled HIS essay, etc., a fact you yourself acknowledge in your last paragraph. Beware the commenter who can’t keep his gender language straight.

Mike Bell
Mike Bell
2 years ago

It was a general point – ‘beware the philosopher’ refers to any doing this act and hence ‘their’ to refer to both sexes.

Dave Weeden
Dave Weeden
2 years ago
Reply to  Mike Bell

Thinking about this some more, the idea that the state should be run by an “enlightened elite” seems not only older than the French Revolution, but basic common sense in the way that wars should be fought by citizens who are brave and good at fighting, healing should be done by people who have studied illnesses and cures and so on. I’m pretty sure the idea (like so many others) is in Plato somewhere, and probably in the Pre-Socratics. It’s quite possible that this common sense idea doesn’t actually work in practice (and the evidence is that it doesn’t) but I don’t the current mess can be usefully traced back to Eighteenth Century France.
But as I said, I liked the essay. OTOH, I always think “philosophy is finding bad reasons for what we know already.”

Chris Cathcart
Chris Cathcart
2 years ago
Reply to  Dave Weeden

The idea of government by an enlightened “elite” is there in Plato’s Republic. The training that the philosopher-guardians have to go through is demanding enough that it’s supposed to filter out any bad apples. As for rule by philosophers we have few historical examples to go on but I can think of two: (1) Marcus Aurelius as emperor of Rome; (2) Jefferson served as president of the USA at the same time that he was president of the American Philosophical Society (which was co-founded by Ben Franklin and whose membership included many of the leading Framers).

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
2 years ago
Reply to  Mike Bell

Simple grammatical fix: Beware philosophers who sprinkle their essays . . .

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
2 years ago
Reply to  Mike Bell

..a little harsh perhaps. Referencing assertions is surely a good thing as it allows us to research them and importantly their context and possible detractors as well. If he made is own (?) assertions we’d be quick to demand justification and context wouldn’t we?

Mike Bell
Mike Bell
2 years ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

I have no problem with people referencing what they say, but that is not what he does here. He makes an assertion and gives it added credence by extracting a short quote from someone famous.
Many philosophers change their minds radically over their lifetime and there are many of them. It would be entirely possible to make any case about anything selecting quotes from famous people.

Ormond Otvos
Ormond Otvos
2 years ago
Reply to  Mike Bell

Sounds just like Twitter Mining!

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
2 years ago

A very thought provoking piece: not without its hyperbole and dubious conclusions I think? One line jumped out at me that I felt was telling:
“The Nazis murdered nearly 17 million unarmed civilians not counting those killed in aerial bombings and ordinary (!) acts of war”..
Is that because the US’s preferred method of mass murder is by the last two, more ‘hygienic” methods? And what, in God’s name are “ordinary acts of war”?
Ideology is surely the replacement of natural or God given order by man-made order on the assumption that man knows better. Clearly man does not know better and the sought after efficiency occurs only in relation to what man does best: brutality!
Granted, theocratic ideology can be as bad but only when skewed or twisted by the same evil degenerates that use any Ideology to serve their own narcissistic, wicked desires.
Maybe the Ideology itself isn’t the real problem but rather those who usurp the ideologies to further their evil desires: any Ideology will do for these greedy megalomaniacs. We see them in all regimes like the toxins that attack good food when it is not protected? It is time to out the evil doers and expose their wickedness for all to see.

Alan Hawkes
Alan Hawkes
2 years ago

Over a fairly long lifetime I have noticed the decline in the ability to accept losing a debate, or an election. In the UK the referendum on EU membership seemed to have been the tipping point in which lack of acceptance was justified by, not be claiming that the process was rigged, but that other factors – e.g. stupidity, or gullibility, of the voters, rendered the result open to challenge. This is not a criticism of all Remainers. I think that the same would have been true of a significant section of Leavers had the result gone the other way.

Gary Knight
Gary Knight
2 years ago
Reply to  Alan Hawkes

Yes, it’s the politics of polarization. Personally I think that is the desired end of the ‘Frankfurt school’ of so-called higher criticism: code for dialectical materialism.

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
2 years ago

The ideologues must eventually lose, because they are attempting the impossible. It is not possible to change human nature on any timescale that is meaningful to we mortals. Logically, however, any attempt to do so should necessarily involve selecting and preserving those with desirable traits and eliminating those with undesirable traits, hence the massive death tolls that always seem to follow these ideological regimes. The fact that this never works no matter how many millions of people are eliminated never seems to bother anyone. Every new group thinks that, somehow, they will succeed where every other generation of humanity has failed, that they are ‘better’, ‘smarter’, and that they have the answers. The question isn’t whether today’s ideologies will fail. They will. I am as sure of it as I am sure the sun will rise tomorrow. The question is how much damage will they do in the attempt. That won’t be the end either. Other ideologues will come, and they will also fail. Such is the nature of man. One might be forgiven for thinking, perhaps, that man really is a fallen and flawed creature, that remaining humble and meek, praying for mercy, refraining from judgement, and forgiving your neighbor for his sins so that you might yourself receive forgiveness is perhaps the nearest thing to righteousness man can ever achieve.

Last edited 2 years ago by Steve Jolly
Ormond Otvos
Ormond Otvos
2 years ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

Maybe not fallen. Try: evolved to fit a niche that we changed by becoming a too successful top predator.
Then, how to bioengineer some different human traits, maybe less desire to procreate (estrogens in the environment), less aggression, etc.Maybe more women, less men? In government? Putin as Ardern of NZ?

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
2 years ago
Reply to  Ormond Otvos

This falls under the heading of “how much damage will they do in the attempt.” Using words like ‘bioengineering’ and framing suggestions in the language of science probably makes this sound better to some and scarier to others, but while the language may be new, the ideas aren’t. It’s just using a new excuse, ‘Science’, to justify the manipulation and control of humanity toward some mystic utopia, the same tired old trope used by tyrants throughout history from the pharaohs to the Fuhrer. I am neither fooled nor frightened by the ideologues of the present, and I have little doubt that history will judge them no better than the puritans, crusaders, inquisitors, imams, and others who came before.

Last edited 2 years ago by Steve Jolly
Michael Keating
Michael Keating
2 years ago

Indeed, ideology needs to be problematized but the author fails to look at other case studies like the ideology of the ‘free market’, the ‘greed is good’ underpinnings of the capitalist project where shareholder value trumps all other indices of success. There is also the utilitarian ideology concerning nature whereby the unhindered exploitation of ‘natural’ resources, guaranteed by the ideology of ‘private ownership,’ has brought us to the brink of environmental collapse and ever increasing inequalities. “Know nothingness” is also an ideology of sorts, and a very effective one, because it makes the populous ripe for predation by elite power. As for the moral rot the author mentions, blaming poor Joe Biden (or even Trump) for its emergence misses the learnings from the last 250 years. Once the nobility and the priests lost control (because of their decadence and ineptitude and unconvincing ideology of ‘divine rights’), thus began a multidimensional scrum, with every side holding forth with their own self-interested set of prescriptions (i.e. ideologies)…how can anything useful and life-affirming come from such a mess? Ideology is a tool of power…and every group seeking power or wanting to hold on to power has one
problematizing some ideologies, but not all, is politics not philosophy. Thinking that an election in 2024 will change our trajectory is mental folly…
To quote Yeats again…”Cast a cold eye on life, on death…horseman pass by.”

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
2 years ago

Exactly, ideology comes from all sides; we should all be aware of our own ideological leanings and where they take us.

FacRecte NilTime
FacRecte NilTime
2 years ago

Ideology is surely also about values not just power and politics, despite the claims to the contrary of critical theory

michael stanwick
michael stanwick
2 years ago

Yes. A good point. I was thinking about it and attempted to see whether I could drill down even further to anything underlying your values or perhaps value hierarchy. An answer that presented itself, came from a question I asked myself – why do some people, when observing the unequal distribution of property, skills, traits, whatever, find it ‘painful’ – emotionally and cognitively? That produced another question – do individuals perceive and experience initially as a personality and it is personality traits that play some part in the manner the world is perceived? Shades of Jordan Peterson perhaps?

Nick Beard
Nick Beard
2 years ago

Very good piece. Certainly makes me think twice about using the word to speak about my own ‘body of political ideas and opinions’.
What word term should we use instead? “Policy proposal portfolio” doesn’t quite work, and manifesto is a not right.

Gary Knight
Gary Knight
2 years ago
Reply to  Nick Beard

The word(s) : political philosophy. The fact is, whether overt or inchoate, every ideology points back to a political philosophy: in other words everyone has a political ‘philosophical’ position whether they cognitively adopted it or not. Usually it is some blend of ideologies (and I agree with several commentators that in this sense ideologies are inevitable). But there remains the sense of active advocacy for a less mixed ideology, which is better called an “ism”. It is really “ism”s that the author is trying to address. And subtly-name pluralism – whose weapon or rubric for thought police is ‘political correctness’ – is in my view the worst. Note: this is not the same as plurality or diversity (those are not isms): it is the dogma that thou shalt not proselytize for what you hold as the truth. Nothing could be more inimical to lively conversation and meaning-seeking.

Everett Maddox
Everett Maddox
2 years ago

Brilliant! Not surpprising that this thought provoking essay has spawned an amplified dialogue. So many definitive staments, it was difficult to single out a best quote, but my choice is as follows: “Of course, ideological prophecy, appearing in times of organic or manufactured crisis when everything assumes an air of urgency, must be taken on faith.”

Martin Butler
Martin Butler
2 years ago

Yes ideologies of communism and of the nazis were indeed the big killers of the twentieth century. But what is not recognised in the article is that the ideology behind the French Revolution bears more than a passing resemblance to the ideology which lies behind the US constitution. The abstract, and free-floating notions of ‘freedom’ and ‘rights’ it employs lie behind, not only the absurdities of gender self-identity, but also the nonsense of the libertarian right, US gun law, and the voracious form of globalised capitalism that dominates the world.
It strikes me that in the modern world right wing zealots are no less in thrall to a pernicious ideology than leftwing wokists. Something the author does not seem to want to notice.

Last edited 2 years ago by Martin Butler
Alan Girling
Alan Girling
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

The framers of the Constitution, while inspired by the French, were a hell of a lot wiser, perhaps because they were English. The nightmare tyranny of Robespierre and the Terror were not possible in the US, as Edmund Burke recognized.

Last edited 2 years ago by Alan Girling
Martin Butler
Martin Butler
2 years ago
Reply to  Alan Girling

French society was upended by the Revolution, the authority of the aristocracy was destroyed. In contrast the American Revolution didn’t disturb the way of life and structures of authority which were already established at a more local level in the US. However, the abstract ideals behind both revolutions are pretty much the same.

Last edited 2 years ago by Martin Butler
Ormond Otvos
Ormond Otvos
2 years ago
Reply to  Alan Girling

We can repeat the Terror. Jan 6 was the warm-up.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

Well said.

Stephen Moriarty
Stephen Moriarty
2 years ago

Isn’t someone without ideology an absurdist?

Chauncey Gardiner
Chauncey Gardiner
2 years ago

Two points:
(1) Bravo!
(2) A puzzle: Why were folks who did not align themselves with Lysenko persecuted? The only idea I have is that Stalin’s regime perceived that Lysenko’s ideas about genetics could be implemented in a kind of re-engineering of the Soviet New Man. Or, at least, Stalin’s regime could use Lysenko’s ideas as an excuse for all the hardships everyone had to put up with. All that hardship was good for you, like broccoli.

Ormond Otvos
Ormond Otvos
2 years ago

Soon we will be able to CRISPR humans into the New Human, maybe more female in characteristics.

Christopher Chantrill
Christopher Chantrill
2 years ago

This is not that hard. The whole point of the separation of church and state is to separate religion and politics. And ideology is our modern form of religion.
But I say we need a Greater Separation of Powers between the political, the religious, and the economic. There shall be no combination of two against the other.
The whole point of the limitation of government power is that, in the notion of Nazi jurist Carl Schmitt, the political is all about friend vs. enemy. Unless you limit the power of the political you are going to get war: ideological, economic, or military.
As a racist-sexist-homophobe conservative, I always write about “our liberal friends.” Otherwise it is far too easy to slip into the trap of assuming that people that disagree with you are your enemies.

Ormond Otvos
Ormond Otvos
2 years ago

Yes, we all have a black Jewish female “friend”, don’t we?

Peter Green
Peter Green
2 years ago

Thank goodness there are still people like you. Writing articles like this.

Julian Pellatt
Julian Pellatt
2 years ago

“… the construction of a rational progressive society governed by an enlightened elite, whose technical expertise would justify their claim to rule. The illiberalism of this progressive-technocratic ideal became fully apparent in the West only with the onset of Covid. It is now widely understood that the subordination of public life to ostensibly scientific guidance and the effective transfer of sovereignty from the body of citizens to an unelected overclass are fundamentally inconsistent with liberty and individual dignity.”
Bullseye!
An outstanding article from start to finish. There were so many other excellent quotations I wished to highlight, but this one stood out – just!