Forms of Ideology

It has been previously argued that an 'ideology' expresses dissatisfaction with the current state of the world and aspires to change it, whereas a 'philosophy' might simply aspire to understand the world as it is. In this context, many aspects of politics are rooted in some form of ideology, often economical in scope, through which it is hoped the world might be changed for the better. While most forms of ideology only have indirect influence on the government in power, most governments are invariably driven by some form of political ideology. Again, attempting to list all variations of political ideology in existence is possibly a futile task and not particularly useful in the current generalised introduction, such that we might initially try to outline some of the general principles that underpin many political ideologies:

  •  Left-Wing Principles:
    • Liberty: Freedom of speech and the right to dissent.
    • Equality: Classless society with a fair distribution of wealth.
    • Fraternity:  Communal societies working together.

  •  Right-Wing Principles:
    • Authority: Preservation of order through established authority.
    • Hierarchy:  Continuation of the existing social order and structures.
    • Free Markets: Support of private ownership and entrepreneurship

How these principles are actually implemented by political parties within the many nation states around the world is subject to much variation, which often depends on history, culture and economic stability at any given point in time. However, we might start to outline the scope of some key ideologies within the spectrum of left/right politics by considering the basic tenets of communism, socialism and capitalism.

  • Communism:
    As an ideology, communism argues for a system of government in which the state generally plans and controls the economy. As a result of this centralised approach, most communist governments are often authoritarian in style in order to impose the necessarily level of state control, e.g. elimination of private ownership. Equally, in order to create a classless society, all people are 'conceptually' considered equal, where the state owns not only the means of production and land, but possibly everything else. In such a system, everybody effectively works for the state, which then hopefully redistributes the wealth of the state in a fair and equitable manner. Whether there is a real-world example of this ever happening might be debated.

  • Socialism:
    While socialism and communism can share some ideological goals, e.g. a classless and equitable society, the political implementation of socialism does not necessarily demand an authoritarian centralised approach. In this respect, socialism may only demand that people who work for private enterprise employers be paid a fair living wage that is adequate to cover normal basic needs. As such, many forms of government can support specific socialist principles in terms of their policies, e.g. minimum wage requirements, free or emergency health care and other social benefits in times of hardship or disability. In this form, socialism has often been marketed as 'caring capitalism', although many die-hard socialists might argue that this is just PR hype, which invariably lacks real social substance or commitment.

  • Capitalism:
    In principle, capitalism seeks to operate within a free-market, i.e. free from regulation. However, history suggests that this has encouraged banks, and other financial institutions, to take excessive risks and pursue profit through complex and convoluted financial arrangements. It might also be argued that the lack of adequate regulation can, and has, led to secret 'cartels' that have abuse the power entrusted to them to act honesty and responsibly for the good of society as a whole. As a side-effect, the general lack of regulation of the free-market economy has also led to labour markets with poor working conditions and when viewed from a global perspective, unregulated markets appear to find it easier to hire and fire workers with no warning and little to no compensation. In 1776, Adam Smith wrote his now famous work entitled 'The Wealth of Nations' in which he accepted the right of individual self-interest, but was not so naive as to believe that the 'self-interest' of all individuals would always be in the 'collective interest' of society, as a whole. As such, he believed that free-market capitalism had to be regulated in some form, which might then lead us to a description of 'state capitalism' or 'social capitalism'. In state-capitalism, the state may also own key industries/services that play a vital role within the market economy and the stability of the state overall. In this respect, we might cite China has an example of state capitalism. Alternatively, we might introduce the hybrid concept of social capitalism that operates within a free-market, but impose the necessary levels of economic regulation and social policies to avoid the excesses and inequalities of unregulated capitalism.

Of course, more authoritative discussions on such topics may cite many other forms of political ideology, e.g. anarchism, absolutism, liberalism, conservatism, because they represent slightly difference ideas that are mutually exclusive to each other to differing degrees. However, again, by simplifying the discussion to a left/right spectrum we might position the basic ideologies of communism, socialism and capitalism, which is sufficient for this general introduction of ideas to proceed.