The term ideology is etymologically divergent. A derivation from the rarely transmitted Greek ideologia (opinion, discourse) must be denied due to the extremely differing meanings of the term today. Ideology rather derives from a combination of the Greek nouns eidos (appearance, form, term, imagination, idea, archetype) or eidolon (picture, illusion, idol) and logos (speech, doctrine, reason) and hence represents a scientifically sound examination of human ideas, which are naturally imperfect. Francis Bacon’s “theory of the idols” is founded in the human mind, with its idols (pictures, imaginations) that are innate or input, although it has not much in common with the modern term ideology. With ideology in the broadest sense, we mean system of conceptions or ideas that are not based on revelation, but made by man. Therefore, ideology can in that sense mean a “system of ideas or history of ideas.”
Terry Eagleton characterizes ideology in general as (a) the process of production of meanings, signs and values in social life; (b) a body of ideas characteristic of a particular social group or class; (c) ideas which help to legitimate a dominant political power; (d) false ideas which help to legitimate a dominant political power; (e) systematically distorted communication; (f) that which offers a position for a subject; (g) forms of thought motivated by social interests; (h) identity thinking; (i) socially necessary illusion; (j) the conjuncture of discourse and power; (k) the medium in which conscious social actors make sense of their world; (l) action-oriented sets of beliefs; (m) the confusion of linguistic and phenomenal reality; (n) semiotic closure; (o) the indispensable medium in which individuals live out their relations to a social structure; (p) the process whereby social life is converted to a natural reality.
Ideology does not necessarily signify “the dominant forms of thought in a society,” but it is the fundament of thinking and therefore constitutional for “a particular social group or class.” Consequently, Eagleton centers in his definition of the term its power to integrate, which in most cases aims at political rule or social dominance.
Ideology therefore pursues worldly aims mostly on a political or economical level. In that, it demands ideological neutrality and represents itself as objective theory; it does not actually want to be ideological. Ideology does predominantly serve a certain Weltanschauung (worldview), though. This can be seen quite clearly in the modern development of the term ideology since the French Revolution and the times of Napoleon I: With Antoine L. C. Destutt de Tracy in 1801, it meant a certain philosophical or political doctrine for the very first time. Ideology often connects secular interests with religious language and symbols, in order to strengthen its own position and to have an effect on people without losing the secular context completely. The unlimited realization of its purposes, while not thinking about the moral value of its methods, is the aim of ideology. It strives for a realization of salvation, in order to win people’s favor with their doctrine.
Time and world and man are to be changed by ideology and to be seen in a different light. In that, a field of tension between present and future becomes discernible, which releases powerful, sometimes even revolutionary energies. Ideologies often have totalitarian features, as no totalitarian regime can live without ideology or without ideologization of its political ideas. The expectation of salvation and the benefactor in such systems prove to be a political messianism that gives people the strength to believe in the ideology of these political systems. With this kind of devoutness to ideologies, many people are monopolized, won totally, whereby such political systems develop totalitarian effects and become totalitarianisms.
It is an important task for ideologies to find new myths, especially myths about the origin of a nation or people, and consequently implant the newly created tradition of the ideological weltanschauung. Based on such new myths and fake traditions, a specific newly created culture can develop, as we can see in the images. These images integrate ideology in everyday life of people. Therefore, they even build an individual form of cults and feasts. In this fake-liturgical and ritual style of celebrations, National Socialism celebrated the sacrifice as self-sacrifice. Ideology is therefore mostly based on a constructed myth and artificial traditions. It gives a utopian aim to its followers that proposes salvation. The totalitarian system with its leader at the top, whose requests the crowd has to follow, whatever they express, leads to the beneficial intention. Without the crowd following their leader’s requests, the beneficial destination would be endangered.
Paradoxically, ideologies do definitely not want to be regarded as religions, and in consequence, present themselves accordingly. The strengthening of the religion, though, can preserve from seductions of worldly ideologies. The totalitarian regimes let lose their forces in creating a short-lasting connection between the overcoming of this life and the salvation of mankind. Here, the power of utopia plays a big role, as it is important for the realization of inhuman ideologies because of the alleged paradisial final condition. Every ideology needs a specific utopia. Religion is regarded as an obstacle and is consequently monopolized, removed, or simply pushed aside, as it competes with the totalitarian ideology and has the same universal claim. The totalitarian ideologies are mostly atheistic and materialistically orientated. They are the base for objectification and dehumanization of the enemy, the Volksschadling (parasite), which is only mass and matter and can be eliminated industrially and with machine, for welfare’s sake.
Ideology follows the compulsory maxim this way and not any other and is based on only one (political) truth. Both are very important for the totalitarian thinking. This criterion of truth is totally subject to the ideological propaganda. At the same time, political ideology is normally proclaimed as a salutary political doctrine that can solve the actual critical state of affairs. This political ideology is represented by one party, which very often is personified by one person only. Ideology and utopia too serve as a motor for totalitarianism and support its enforcement. Hannah Arendt sees in political ideology that is being spread and popularized by propaganda one of the most important features of a totalitarian system. In Carl Joachim Friedrich’s and Zbigniew Brzezinski’s theory of totalitarianism, ideology is also put at a structurally important place. Hannah Arendt emphasizes not only ideology, but terror as supporting pillar of totalitarian tyranny, like Eugen Kogon before her. A totalitarian ideology, as Marxism or Fascist and National Socialist ideologies, for example, never ceases to announce the desired final state in a prophetical way. To get over the current state of affairs, it uses all forms of power and violence. Historical and religious facts are connected and are used for secular prophecies, as one can see in Hegel’s philosophy and in its completion by Marx and later, in a different form, with Max Weber. Jacob Taubes is right in connecting Joachim da Fiore with Hegel, whereby the tension between religious and secular aspects in history are recognized quite well. This field of tension influences in a special way the intellectual milieu in Europe at the beginning of the 20th century, which in one way or another smoothed the way for both world wars.
Ernst Bloch makes out The Spirit of Utopia (1918) in the ideologically tense time and political situation at the end of World War I, leading into the first half of the 20th century. The utopia presents the positive aim that makes the realization of totalitarian ideologies bearable and permissible. So ideology gets the opportunity to countermand the critical awareness of the people in some way. In that, it shows a big resistance and permanence; one could say ideology sticks like pitch, it is very long lasting. Without the power of utopia, the totalitarian ideology would not be able to display its effects, because nobody would be ready to carry out its cruel sanctions and to put into practice the mass destruction in factories of death. Only with utopia do ideologies have the power to drive their men, despising aims and their inhumanity, because the goal of a harmonic ideal state that one has never seen is proposed. With the help of utopia, totalitarian ideology creates a new image of man that does not accept any universal humanity and so denies the nature of mankind. To be human cannot, as a matter of course, be awarded to everyone. So the human is being defined and judged in a new way.
Norman Cohn sees the driving power of medieval mass movements more in common need and common fate, like poverty or epidemics for example, than in a worldly ideology. Secular ideologies were too weak in medieval Europe to be accepted against the predominant doctrine of the church. Cohn’s and also Talmon’s works show that the research of militaristic and messianistic movements in the 1940s and 1950s were very important, because of the disastrous, fresh impressions of World War II. Very often one misses that the church did not by any means forbid a reasonably processing research. She only fought against the self-idolizing attitude of man, who saw himself, following the homomensura sentence of Protagoras, as the center and measure of all things: Man is the measure of all things: for the being that they are; for the not-being that they are not.
The biased ideology, which is oriented to certain interests of power, follows the truth neither of revelation nor secular reason and so draws a distorted image of reality. A world that closes itself more and more in itself holds necessarily the dangers of ideologization, as Romano Guardini in the 1920s and 1930s, being in Berlin, was aware of. Ideology supports, with its wrong understanding of world and reality, a wrong weltanschauung. The center of all knowledge, of all wisdom and of the truth cannot be grasped by humans alone; it is and will always be never ending and divine. Guardini said in his inaugural lecture in Berlin, 1923, that the church did by no means forbid the discovering in whatever part it may be, not even in the center of everything. The church allowed it and was happy that man wanted to do so, but drew people’s attention to the point, however, that this center may not necessarily be reached in this life. Ideology did, in contrast to that, not in any way limit the cognition of man. Nothing in the world or in man was, according to the ideologies, undiscoverable.
By denying the belief in Trinity, ideologies destroy the center of Christian religion. That means ideology shows in its naturalistic features a seeming omniscience, but it adopts no kind of transcendent model. The model of an ideology, be it nature, history, or a certain race, is a worldly quantity that has been lifted to a Realissimum, in which man is reflected. That leads to self-idolizing of man in ideology. Gnostic sect movements of Late Antiquity, the Manichaeism for example, and Christian sects of the Middle Ages, the Waldensians and the Cathari, supported with their views the ideologies of modern age, which are characterized by their belief in sciences and a strict dualism between the kingdom of good and the kingdom of evil. In this context, it is interesting to see that Raymond Aron especially points out the Manichaeistic, strictly dualistic character of modern ideologies when describing political/secular religions, as they see everything that is good in their own teachings and the evil in everything that does not support their views. Harald Strohm also refers in his portrayal of National Socialism as gnosis to its Manichaeic features. He further deals with the gnostic mythology of National Socialists and analyzes Hitler’s psyche, which can be compared, according to Strohm, to that of a gnostic leader, that of Mani, for example. One can also see these gnostic features in the secular doc-trines of salvation of the totalitarian ideologies whose logical consequences were the extermination of dissidents and the cancellation of mental freedom. Hans Blumenberg looks at the unvanquished gnosis from a contemporary point of view in a quite similar way as Voegelin. Alan Besançon arrives at this conclusion as well. He claims that ideology that was in terms of content a perversa imitatio of science, was in terms of form a perversa imitatio of religion. And as its fundament stained by gnosis and idolizing stood in contrast to Christianity, ideology did constitute itself as counterchurch with its countercouncils, counter-popes, and so on.
Besançon does not go as far as to regard ideology as political or secular religion. The reason for it is that persons who follow an ideology can feel the religious character and consequently show an attitude toward ideology as a religion. Ideology is thus no secular religion, as it is not recognized as one by its followers. Furthermore, ideologies are in nearly all cases antireligious or atheistic. For this reason, people in countries with ideologized regimes, and after their decline, need an inward reform to reshape their lives and to resist the dangers of relativism, as the development of Eastern Europe showed after the decline of the communist system. In that way, they do not have to flee in the cul-de-sac of an ideology, but can live a self-responsible life. In this case, religion can work as an effective shield against the secular ideology, which wants to monopolize them totally and makes it impossible to confess one’s religion in freedom.
This is why, for many Christians, the way into resistance was the only answer to totalitarian heresies, called ideologies. In that way, the untruth of ideologies that pervert the truth and constitute themselves as doctrine of salvation becomes clear. Raymond Aron analyzes this religious dimension of 20th century political ideologies in his concept of a political/secular religion.
Aron predominantly examines the phenomena of totalitarian tyrannies in their religious quantity, especially in their self-redeeming character. The political/secular religion represents its ideological content as doctrine of salvation. The concept of political religion clearly shows that ideologies of totalitarian regimes are founded on secular ground. Ideology, however, as originally political doctrine becomes related with religious features, as the religious interest of man nearly imperceptibly leads toward these ideologies. At the same time, church and religion are weakened and marginalized, sometimes even persecuted. The people’s interest in salvation is focused on genuine political theories, which means that ideologies are distorted images of religion, that is, a negative reflection of religion, which is a religio falsa, in the Augustine sense of the word, or “a perversa imitatio of religion,” as it is called by Alain Besançon. At the same time, the development of ideologies out of the mainstream of political ideas shows religious features. Ideologies often develop like Christian heresies of the Middle Ages did. They found a way to stand out of the mainstream of Christian doctrine: to absolute a part of the total doctrine, which led to a schism from the original theory.
In this way, it is completely appropriate to define the totalitarian ideology as political heresy, as it separates itself from the mainstream of political ideas. Ideology generally already shows in its development features of a religion, and it behaves like heresy in politics. Eric Voegelin confirmed this statement in his work The People of God (about 1940). He arrived at the conclusion that the church was, approximately since the year 1300, no longer able to integrate eschatological and gnostic splinter groups, which is important for the preservation of its authority. In consequence, revolutionary movements developed, which led via the Protestant reformation to further schisms. This development finally revealed its secularistic, anti-Christian character and culminated in political mass movements of the 20th-century totalitarianisms. According to Voegelin, totalitarian systems and their ideologies show features of political heresies.
Karl-Dietrich Bracher is of the opinion that the breeding ground for ideologies of the 20th century was built at the beginning of the century. New political-religious tendencies developed in relationship to racial conflict and class conflict movements toward a nationalistic ideology that finally led to totalitarianism. It was during this period of time, as well, that political religions emerged, which, according to Bracher, were established artificially: were created. Political religions are pseudoreligious ideologies, demanding a scientific validity as well as a religious absoluteness. They promised to unite what was separated through modern science and secularization and to harmonize them with culture and technology, with politics and culture. In doing so, they tried to promise everybody everything, to be collective movement and collective faith and at the same time, to be in strong confrontation with an absolute ideological enemy: an ideology of integration and hostility in one.
Claus-Ekkehard Barsch makes it clear that National Socialism used in its ideology the power of religion to guide people’s actions to lead the broad mass of people into the direction of its doctrines. According to Barsch, imagination, faith, wrong consciousness, lies, nonsense, and mania became the realities that influenced the way people acted. The terms people, nation, race, Third Reich, and anti-Semitism have religious implications. They are based on a feeling of being chosen, on an honor and a priority of the Germans, in contrast to other peoples or persons who have to be exterminated as they stand in contrast to the chosen, and as such are regarded as evil.
Barsch already recognizes in this fact an important feature of a political religion. He points out that if you assumed an extraordinary relationship with God which can only be the own collective in the qualification of the own collective, the fixation of the own identity in contrast to other people, the New Socialism-ideology would correspond to the content of a political religion. Different from an ideology in form of a political religion or a political messianism, the relationship between religion and politics, channeled in civil religion, does originally not portray an ideology, as it is stated by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the first version of Contrat social (1760): You have to think like me to be saved. This is the terrible dogma, that destroys the earth. You have done nothing for public peace, if you do not expel that diabolic dogma from the republic. Whoever does not think of it as disgusting, can neither be a Christian nor a civilian nor a human being: he is a monster, who must be sacrificed for peace of mankind’s sake” This form of criticism of the ideological thinking and the consequence, not to allow such ways of thinking in a free system, can especially remind us of terrifying omissions in free European states of totalitarian ideologies in the second half of the 20th century. So, the criticism of ideologies, which has, according to Hans-Georg Gadamer, its base in the hermeneutics as well, is an important task for the philosophy. Many supporters of the Frankfurt School have vouched for criticism of ideology as well: Theodor W. Adorno, Max Horkheimer, Herbert Marcuse, and, last but not least, Jürgen Habermas. Karl Jaspers regards ideology as a kind of modern sophistic, which manipulates people not least by language. So do, in a similar way, Victor Klemperer in 1947 with his book Lingua Tertii Imperii (Language of the Third Reich); George Orwell with “Newspeak” in his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949); and Josef Pieper and Alain Besançon with the ruin of the language by ideology, which has its own manner of speaking. An influential literary review of ideology and propaganda of the totalitarianism and of the events of World War II follows in the collection of essays The Captive Mind, by Czeslaw Milosz, published in Paris in 1953, in which he sharply attacks the Polish communist regime. The concept of political religion takes on an especially important role with regard to the people’s growing sensitivity toward totalitarian ideologies, as it does reveal symptoms of totalitarian ideologies. In this point it is also possible to strengthen the circumspection of people toward dangerous ideological weltanschauungs. It will never be possible to prevent the influence of ideologies completely, as their attracting power, by which many people will always be confused, remains virulent.
Man is homo religiosus. His nature is deeply shaped by the pursuit for the absolute and transcendent. This religious pursuit needs necessary satisfaction, be it in a traditional, historically grown religion or in a secular ideology that leads to terror and destruction. Man always stays unready in the search for happiness and salvation on earth, as, according to St. Augustine (Confessiones), true salvation that will not be given by any worldly movement; it can only be found in God: “Restless is our heart until it rests in Thee [my God].”
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