Ideology, according to Merriam Webster Dictionary is the body of ideas characteristic of a particular individual, group or culture; the creed, theories, doctrine, or philosophy and aims that constitute a political, social, and economic program. George Marlen states that “ideology is an intellectual system of ideas or rigid abstract formulas mixed with scientific jargon and some empirical facts that claims knowledge about reaching perfection in the temporal order.”
Though it is wildly unpopular in the larger circles of academia, let us assume for the purposes of this discussion that things have final causes or real ends to which they portend. In the case of ideology let us stipulate that ideology’s telos is to reach perfection in the temporal order. In summation, ideologies are rigid schemes of ideas meant to organize individual lives, societies and cultures in a way that is intended to perfect the temporal order.
Surely it is a noble desire to try to create a heaven on earth, to make a paradise in this valley of tears, but that is an end that ultimately requires the denial of the reality of human existence. We are fallen, we are mortal, we are not meant to end in perfecting this created world that begins to decay at first touch.
Mr. Marlen correctly states that many of the ideas that comprise the various ideologies are empirical facts. There are in fact even many truths and truisms embedded in ideological schemes. But it is the nature of ideology to ill-weight truths and facts, to exaggerate some and minimize others in order to provide an apparently rational explanation for ideological structures and conclusions. I contend that artificially weighted facts and truths imposed on the human mind inherently harm a soul’s ability to see reality rightly.
Eric Vogelin said that ideology is “to mold reality into a scheme consistent with a posited or assumed idea.” Ideology embodies the philosophical error of thinking that the world is in us, rather than that we are in the world, or that the box is in the shoe, rather than the shoe is in the box. The examples may sound silly, but a real look at the past will bear out the reality that ideologies are not only dangerous, but deadly in their attempts to forcibly reduce reality into a set of inflexible ideas wholly unsuited to their application.
The violence to truth and human souls is incalculable when rulers try to impose the unreality of ideology onto its populace. Think of fascist Germany or Stalinist Russia or Maoist China or the feminist movements all across the globe. The common denominator in all four references is that death is a necessary evil to carry out the ideologies. The ideological projects are treacherous attempts to distort reality; thus they are evil. The fruits of history tell this devastating tale in gruesome, repetitive scenarios.
C.S. Lewis wrote: “If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth, only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.” While perfectly characterizing the dilemma facing the ideologue, Lewis alludes to his further explanations of first and second things. He tells us that if we put first things first and second things second we will get both first and second things, but if we put second things first and first things second, we lose both first and second things. The distinction between first and second things is that first things are eternal and true and second things are temporary and end up being false if we give them an improper weight or mistake them for first things. Truth is permanent, comfort is temporary. Confucius echoed this wisdom when he said “a wise man seeks virtue, a fool seeks comfort.”
Ideologies are evil because they are pseudo-religions; they reduce the human being to an item, a number. This shouldn’t be too difficult to see by way of the countless ideological groups expediting the decay of Western Civilization. Ideologues cling to their ideologies as fervently as addicts cling to their vice and they require an extraordinary amount blind faith to believe the false promises. It is human nature that we bind ourselves to something, either a set of ideas or a particular religion. It is the height of folly that some ideologues assert that they are liberated from religion when in reality they have only bound themselves to disbelief by the ideology of skepticism, the emptiest religion in human history.
Christians do not worship an idea, we worship God. No idea can ever begin to comprehend the reality of personal being. All ideologies fall afoul of the wisdom of the Psalmist, who says, “Put not thy trust in princes.” We have a free will choice to make in this world when we decide who or what is the arbiter of truth. If we pick ourselves, we have chosen poorly. If we choose an ideology we have chosen poorly as well. If we choose the Truth, not because we decide it to be true, but rather because we discover it to be true, then and only then do we have a chance to ascertain the proper order and ends of human existence.
Ideologies are arrogant and end in death and destruction partly because they portend to see all the angles and ends of the created order concerning the human person when this is impossible. Socrates said “all wisdom begins in wonder.” This is the recognition that no matter how wise a person or a society becomes, to see all the ends of reality is beyond the limits of human perception, intelligence, and knowledge. The appropriate wonder and awe that accompany the observation of the created order, which emanates from the eternal order, demands that we remain open to the gifts of revelation promised to men of good will who can be greatly aided by a developed character and a cultivated intellect.
You can read Steven J. Rummelsburg’s article “Are all ideologies evil?” in full at The Imaginative Conservative.