Introduction to ideas and ideologies

What is IDEOLOGY? It’s a very complex concept.

  • An IDEOLOGYmay be a political belief system.
  • An IDEOLOGYmay be a set of beliefs that frame our outlook on the world, especially the political beliefs on which people, parties, or countries base their
  • An IDEOLOGYmay therefore be a political idea shared by a group of people. These political ideas may represent the ambitions, wishes and interests of a particular social class or other group in society.
  • IDEOLOGIESmay contain various sets of political ideas, not just one ‘big’ idea.
  • IDEOLOGIESmay offer systematic models of how a country / state should be run.
  • IDEOLOGIESmay seek to explain the world as it is and may also seek to CHANGE the world.
  • IDEOLOGIESmay therefore offer us a ‘world view’ and a possible glimpse of a ‘better world’ if the ideology where to be acted upon.
  • IDEOLOGIESmay be written and explained in key texts that offer a systematic view of the world. Alternatively . . .
  • IDEOLOGIESmay be abstract collections of ideas with no clear, defining point of agreement.

Origins of the term ‘ideology’

The term was first used during the French Revolution by Antoine Destutt de Tracy (1754-1836).

Tracy stated that ‘ideologie’ referred to the new ‘science of ideas’ – an idea-ology – similar to psychology, biology etc.

Examples of IDEOLOGIES include:

Liberalism. Read more . . .








Daria, Mark and Fiona each have a personal ideology


  • Daria is concerned about the
  • She wants a political system that explains how humans relate to the natural world and to the planet as a whole.
  • Daria is concerned that humans exploit the natural resources of the world in such a way that makes life difficult for us in the here and now and is likely to produce even bigger environmental problems for future generations.
  • Daria is seeking an ideology, belief system, that best fits her interests.
  • Daria joins the Green Party because she thinks they provide the best fit for her belief that humans need to improve their relationship with the environment and do less to exploit the earth’s natural resources.
  • Daria follows a set of ideas that explain how the world is,and how the world may
  • Daria supports the ideology of ECOLOGISM.
  • Not everyone will agree with Daria. Other people may have their interests and wishes represented by competing ideologies.


  • Mark likes the idea of an orderedand stable
  • Mark thinks that it’s better for society to conserve what is good about the way we live together.
  • Mark believes in tradition and custom.
  • Mark’s a bit suspicious of ‘big’ political ideas. He thinks ideas are a bit too precise and specific. Mark is a pragmatist, he wants government to do what’s best here and now, not to simply follow an idea set down at some point in the past.
  • He doesn’t mind political change when necessary, but not too much, not too rapidly. Mark thinks political change should be incremental and small scale.
  • The world is a dangerous and unpredictable place right now. Mark thinks we should not seek revolutionary change in society, it’s too
  • Mark has an ideology, belief system, that best fits his interests.
  • We could describe Mark’s ideologyas being broadly
  • Does this mean that Mark should join the Conservative Party? Not necessarily – Mark may instinctively ‘feel’ conservative but he may not be interested in becoming politically active.
  • Not everyone will agree with Mark. Other people may have their interests and wishes represented by competing ideologies.


  • Fiona wants to live in a society where people and groups work together to achieve their common goals.
  • Fiona thinks modern society is based on inequality and wants to live in a society that provides social equality.
  • In a society where the very poor outnumber the very rich, Fiona wants a political system where the state will attempt to redistribute This may include plans to tax the rich more.
  • Fiona is seeking an ideology, belief system, that best fits her interests.
  • Because Fiona has a very clear idea of what is wrong with society and how society could be improved: she already has an ideology, a set of political beliefs.
  • Fiona would describe herself as a Her ideology is SOCIALISM.
  • Fiona wants to be politically active, which political party should she join? She’s considering the Labour Party but isn’t convinced it’s socialist enough but she is influenced by Jeremy Corbyn’s views on socialism.
  • Not everyone will agree with Fiona. Other people may have their interests and wishes represented by competing ideologies.

Ideologies usually have a longer and more developed historical depth than the day to day decisions made by politicians and political parties. These decisions may be based on their current ideas and their need for a quick political ‘fix’ for short term problems.

For instance :

  • The 2016 UK referendum on membership of the European Union has been supported by politicians and political parties who think that the UK will be better off outside the EU.
  • This is their political idea which in turn is linked to the bigger political ideology of NATIONALISM which seeks to promote the best interests of the nation as its central theme and aim.
  • Nationalism isn’t a new  Modern ideas of nationalism can be found in the mid to late 18th century. The idea of the EU (and leaving it), however, is a relatively recent idea.

Or . . .

  • The UK government has recently announced its intention to drastically cut down the amount of plastic used in supermarket packaging (January 2018).
  • This is the political idea/policy designed to bring about a positive environmental impact even though the current Conservative government could hardly be said to follow the ideology of

Why do we have ideologies? What functions do they fulfil?

This is another very complex question. The answer will vary from country to country and will very much depend on the ideology of the person answering the question. Here are some general points to consider:

  • They help us connect with people holding similar views and beliefs and may also help us to recognise those who do not share our beliefs and views.
  • They may allow us to evaluate and to make a judgement on what we see in the world and to decide what is right and what is wrong.
  • They provide us with a perspectiveof the world and may help us to understand where we are and where might be heading.
  • They may provide us with a very personal perspectiveof who we are and what our role in the world might be. This is called ‘orientation’ – you’re a feminist? Then you think of yourself primarily as a woman. You’re a nationalist? Then you define yourself primarily as a member of a national group.
  • They may offer us solutionsto the problems we see. They may point us towards an answer to the question we all ask ourselves – what do we do now?

Key THEMES in the analysis of IDEOLOGIES

When studying ideologies it’s a good idea to do so through a core set of themes that will allow us to compare and contrast aspects of the different ideas on offer.

When considering any ideology, be ready to evaluate how they view the key themes in the list below.

Not every ideology will have an in-depth perspective on all the themes but they are central to your overall understanding.

Ideologies and –

  • The STATE. What role should the state play in society? Read more
  • The way they view HUMAN NATURE. What is it to ‘be’ human? Read more
  • The nature of RIGHTS and  DUTIES. What rights and responsibilities should we have? Read more
  • The structure of SOCIETY. What might the ‘ideal’ society look like? How might we live in society? Read more
  • The importance of ECONOMICS A capitalist economy? A state-controlled economy? Read more
  • Interpretations of HISTORY. How do we view the past? What influence, if any, does the past have on the present and the future? Read more
  • Visions of the FUTURE . Where are we going? Read more