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Ideology

The meaning of «ideology»

An ideology (/ˌʌɪdɪˈɒlədʒi/) is a set of beliefs or philosophies attributed to a person or group of persons, especially as held for reasons that are not purely epistemic,[1][2] in which "practical elements are as prominent as theoretical ones."[3] Formerly applied primarily to economic, political, or religious theories and policies, in a tradition going back to Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, more recent use treats the term as mainly condemnatory.[4]

The term was coined by Antoine Destutt de Tracy, a French Enlightenment aristocrat and philosopher, who conceived it in 1796 as the "science of ideas" to develop a rational system of ideas to oppose the irrational impulses of the mob. In political science, the term is used in a descriptive sense to refer to political belief systems.[4]

The term ideology originates from French idéologie, itself deriving from combining Greek: idéā (ἰδέα, 'notion, pattern'; close to the Lockean sense of idea) and -logíā (-λογῐ́ᾱ, 'the study of').

The term ideology, and the system of ideas associated with it, was coined in 1796 by Antoine Destutt de Tracy while in prison pending trial during the Reign of Terror, where he read the works of Locke and Condillac.[5] Hoping to form a secure foundation for the moral and political sciences, Tracy devised the term for a "science of ideas," basing such upon two things:

He conceived ideology as a liberal philosophy that would defend individual liberty, property, free markets, and constitutional limits on state power. He argues that, among these aspects, ideology is the most generic term because the 'science of ideas' also contains the study of their expression and deduction.[6] The coup that overthrew Maximilien Robespierre allowed Tracy to pursue his work.[6] Tracy reacted to the terroristic phase of the revolution (during the Napoleonic regime) by trying to work out a rational system of ideas to oppose the irrational mob impulses that had nearly destroyed him.

A subsequent early source for the near-original meaning of ideology is Hippolyte Taine's work on the Ancien Régime, Origins of Contemporary France I. He describes ideology as rather like teaching philosophy via the Socratic method, though without extending the vocabulary beyond what the general reader already possessed, and without the examples from observation that practical science would require. Taine identifies it not just with Destutt De Tracy, but also with his milieu, and includes Condillac as one of its precursors.

Napoleon Bonaparte came to view ideology as a term of abuse, which he often hurled against his liberal foes in Tracy's Institutional. According to Karl Mannheim's historical reconstruction of the shifts in the meaning of ideology, the modern meaning of the word was born when Napoleon used it to describe his opponents as "the ideologues." Tracy's major book, The Elements of Ideology, was soon translated into the major languages of Europe.

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