You have learned in the previous post that politics is a social activity through which people make and amend the general rules that guide their political life. As a phenomenon, politics is studied using different theoretical perspectives. The connection between political theory and practice is established by ideologies, among many others.
Following Aristotle’s contention that man is by nature a political animal, all individuals are, in essence, political thinkers. Have you heard your parents express their opinions on an issue of political relevance? How about you? Have you not noticed that individuals use political ideas and concepts when they share their opinions or whenever they speak their mind? This post explores these ideas from the perspective of major political ideologies.
The Role of Ideas
Why did the Filipinos march against the dictator Ferdinand Marcos in what became known as the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution? Why did people do the same during the time of former President Joseph Estrada in 2001? What are the reasons behind the Million People March in 2013? There must be some motivating ideas behind their actions.
Ideas, however abstract they may seem, govern individual behavior. While they are not ideologies by themselves, they constitute a part of the raw material needed to create one coherent doctrine. How did the individuals who participate in rallies perceive the existence of inequality and injustice during their time? How did they look at equality? What for them is justice? Surely, these political ideas are not merely a passive reflection of their personal interests because these inspired and guided them in their political action.
As what has been highlighted earlier, political theory and political practice are inextricably linked. Political ideas did not come out of nowhere. They are shaped and continuously reshaped by current socio-historical, economic, and political circumstances. Whether you are conscious or not, your behavior is guided by a set of ideas, beliefs, or value systems you adhere to. At a more general level and at a definitely larger scale, political ideas shape the nature of political systems and serve as glue that binds societies together.
The Nature of Political Ideology
An ideology is more or less a coherent set of ideas that direct or organize a specific political action (Heywood 2013). It consists of belief and value systems, a discussion of existing power relationships, an exploration of how political change is achieved in line with these power relations, and an illustration of a desired future. The following are several definitions of political ideology according to Heywood (2013).
A political belief system
An action-orientated set of political ideas
The ideas of the ruling class
The world-view of a particular social class or social group
Political ideas that embody or articulate class or social interests
Ideas that propagate false consciousness amongst the exploited or oppressed
Ideas that situate the individual within a social context and generate a sense of collective
An officially sanctioned set of ideas used to legitimize a political system or regime
An all-embracing political doctrine that claims a monopoly of truth
An abstract and highly systematic set of political ideas
Before focusing on the major political ideologies, it is important to present first the spectrum of political attitudes. Whether an individual is radical, liberal, moderate, conservative, or reactionary is largely represented by his or her political values and beliefs in political change. You must have heard before the terms leftist or rightist, and you might have wondered what they really mean in political discourse. Each of the political attitudes mentioned are positioned in a linear spectrum —either on the left, on the middle, or on the right. Thus, to be a leftist means being supportive of the values on the left of the spectrum, while being a rightist means espousing the value of those on the right.
Each of these is an advocate of a particular political value and possesses a political attitude about changing the status quo, or the existing conditions. Given the illustration in the first picture, to be considered a leftist means supporting the causes of those on the left of the spectrum, where the radicals and the liberals are located. These groups advocate changes in the status quo. The conservatives and the reactionaries, on the other hand, are located on the right side. The conservatives are the most supportive of the status quo, which lies between the conservatives and the reactionaries. The reactionaries, like the conservatives, are reluctant to progressive change. Therefore, the farther one is from the status quo, the more dissatisfied he or she is with it, and hence more likely to be supportive of fundamental changes. The closer a person to the status quo, the less likely he or she is going to call for change.
Regarding values, people on the left of the spectrum emphasize political liberty, social change, human equality, and human rights; while those on the right revere authority, tradition, elitism, and property rights (Baradat 2012). With these values and attitudes about change, the different major political ideologies can be positioned in the spectrum and be labeled as radical, liberal, moderate, conservative, and reactionary.
This linear spectrum of political attitude is criticized for not being able to accommodate other groups. What are the other ways by which attitudes are presented in a political spectrum? Who are those considered to be part of the “center”? Where do terrorists, religious fundamentalists, and military adventurists fall?
Major Political Ideologies: Key Ideas and Theories
In this section, you will learn the basic tenets of the classical ideologies (liberalism, conservatism, and socialism) and other ideological traditions that emerged as a reaction to these classical ones. To review, it was mentioned that these ideologies offer a specific lens on how to see the political world. The following presents a way of looking at this world, particularly in terms of power relations, the type of change that is sought and ways on how to achieve it, and a view of the desired future.
Major Political Ideologies and Their Key Tenets (Heywood 2013)
- Belief in individualism underscores the importance of the human individual compared to any other group.
- Liberty of the individual must be protected. An individual has freedom when he or she is able to act as he or she pleases.
- Reason can lead individuals to make wise judgments, which could solve issues or differences.
- Equality implies that individuals are born equal, at least in moral terms. Equal rights and entitlements are at its core. It must be noted, however, that liberals do not endorse social equality or equality of outcome.
- Tolerance is the willingness of individuals to allow others to think and behave in ways they do not approve. It is a guarantee of individual liberty.
- Authority and social relationships must also be based on agreement or consent.
Tradition must be conserved. These traditions include established customs, institutions, and ways of doing things that have endured through time.
The belief in pragmatism highlights the limits of human reason. As a belief, pragmatism emphasizes that action should be shaped by practical circumstances and goals.
Human imperfection presents the pessimistic view of conservatives on the individual. Accordingly, individuals are morally corrupt and are therefore the sources of crime and disorder. Order could thus be achieved through a strong state.
Conservatives believe that society is an organic whole and is a living entity, more than being an artifact of human ingenuity. This belief is known as organicism.
Conservatives also believe that social position and status are only natural. With this, hierarchy is thought to be inevitable.
Authority must be exercised from above. Leadership is provided to guide and support those who lack knowledge and education and those who have little capacity to act for their own interest.
Conservatives look at property as significant because it is the individual’s source of security and independence from the government.
- Belief in the community highlights the degree to which the individual is connected with others. Identity is therefore a product of social interaction more than innate qualities.
- Brotherhood or fraternity speaks of a shared common humanity. Socialists thus prefer cooperation rather than competition and collectivity rather than individualism.
- Socialists put primacy on social equality over other values. This is believed to be the basis for social stability and cohesion.
- Socialists look at society in terms of differences in the distribution of income or wealth. Social class is believed to be an important social cleavage, which divides societies. The interests of the working class and the oppressed should be upheld. With this, eradicating economic and social inequalities is deemed as the primary goal of socialism.
- Common ownership is also central to socialist thought. Unlike private property, common ownership is a means to harness material resources for the common good.
Historical materialism or the materialist conception of history provides that the economy (mode of production) conditions all other aspects of social life—including the law, government, politics, education, etc.
The dialectic, a process of interaction between competing forces, drives change and leads to a higher stage of development. Historical change is therefore a consequence of contradictions in the mode of production, as reflected in class conflict.
The exploitation of the proletariat (workers) by the capitalists (owners of the means of production) would develop class consciousness among the former, hence ushering a proletarian revolution which will facilitate the creation of a communist society.
A communist society—one that is classless and stateless—will arise when class antagonisms fade.
Social democrats stand for a balance between the market and the state, and between the individual and the community.
This ideology promotes compromise between the acceptance of capitalism and the distribution of wealth according to moral, rather than market principles.
Social democratic thought is concerned with the weak, the vulnerable, and the underdog.
Compassion, common humanity, freedom, equal opportunities, paternal duty, and care are among the values social democracy recognizes.
Fascism is an ultranationalist ideology. As such, it subscribes to the idea of a supreme race, whose members should enjoy the natural resources. It is by nature exclusive as it excludes nonmembers of the race.
Fascism was manifested during Mussolini’s fascist dictatorship in Italy and Hitler’s Nazi dictatorship in Germany.
Common values upheld are struggle, leadership, power, heroism, and war.
The “new man” or a hero who is motivated by duty, honor, and self-sacrifice; and gives unrelenting obedience to the supreme leader is a fascist ideal.
Fascists believe in a unified national community or strength through unity. As such, individual identity is not as important as that of the social group or community.
- Fascism has an anti-character: antiliberalism, anti-individualism, anticapitalism, etc.
The state, or any political authority, is seen as both evil and unnecessary.
Anarchists prefer a stateless society. Individuals can best manage their own affairs through voluntary agreement and cooperation.
Anarchism is thus at the intersection of liberalism and socialism.
Feminism is diverse but its unifying theme is the desire to enhance the social role of women.
Society is characterized by sexual or gender inequality.
The structure of male power must be overturned, hence the
belief in gender equality.
Its strands include liberal feminism, socialist feminism, and radical feminism. There are also “new feminisms” thatemerged.
Green Politics/ Ecologism
This ideology is linked with the emergence of environmental movement. It also rose as a revolt against industrialization.
It is concerned with the damages brought by economic development and by the declining quality of human existence.
Conventional ideologies are a vehicle of ecologism. Ecosocialism looks at the destruction of the environment due to capitalism; ecofeminism traces this crisis to male power; and ecoconservatism links the cause of conservation to the desire to preserve tradition and institutions.
- Ideological expression of globalization
It is a belief in a cosmopolis or a world state. It is thus associated
with the project of world government.
Modern cosmopolitanism tends to have a moral or a cultural character, believing that the world constitutes a single moral community.
Cosmopolitanism focuses on the idea that all other people in the world have obligations to each other regardless of nationality, ethnicity, and the like.
Ideologies and the Philippine Society
One may ask how political ideologies have affected Philippine politics and society. According to Buendia (1992), ideologies are critical in a country’s political life as they make and unmake regimes and governments. He continued, “in the Philippines, ideologies remain to be sharpened and fashioned to the country’s needs and demands for development. Many of the solutions proposed by various ideologies are shaped by the way the national problems are defined or seen.”
Which values and beliefs materialized in the course of Philippine political history? Has liberalism triumphed over other beliefs in the country? Or has communism weakened in the Philippines? Is feminism present and how has it influenced our society?
While the larger portion of the Philippine society is not motivated by any ideology, several groups, political parties, and sections of the country espouse certain ideologies. As Buendia (1992) claimed, these organizations and their ideologies continue to compete in offering solutions and programs of government to respond to the nation’s problems.