The Anti-Ideology Syndrome
by Nelson Hultberg | Americans for a Free Republic
Modern intellectuals are anti-ideology. They shun its use like kings and high priests shun voting. One of the first putdowns a student receives from a liberal professor when expounding the basic principles of capitalism in a college classroom is, “Oh, that’s too ideological. Your thinking is too rigid. You’re trying to label things! You must be more open to progressive experimentation and creative government. The Constitution is a living document. The use of any strict ideology or rigid set of political principles is impractical and reactionary. In a modern world, we must be flexible, pragmatic, willing to tolerate a new and ever changing role for government.”
Such is the usual response given to any student daring to declare that government’s functions should be limited to a Constitution that is strictly, i.e., literally interpreted, or that capitalism is the only socio-economic system that is capable of protecting the individual’s rights, or that without upholding the principle of “equal rights under the law,” there can be no true or lasting freedom, etc.
It’s not difficult to understand why our liberal-dominated intellectual establishment opposes ideology and its use of labels to define government’s role in society. Precisely because it does just that – it defines government’s role in society! The statist mind wants a vaguely and loosely defined government, unfettered by the restrictions of theory or principle or rights or labels or moral judgment. He seeks blanket power over men and their production. Thus it is only natural for him to be antagonistic toward the use of an overall ideology that labels his approach dictatorial, statist, neo-fascist, authoritarian, etc. and backs it up with rational arguments. Such intellectual labeling inhibits his power.
Defining Our Terms
Webster’s Dictionary defines ideology as: the integrated assertions, theories, and aims that constitute a socio-political program.
To expand the concept further, it could be said that an ideology is a set of political principles and ideas that define the way the individuals, institutions, and governments of a country should interact and be organized. It is a basic framework of rules and guides that set the course for a nation’s individuals and their government, establish the limits of that government’s power, and clarify what rights (if any) the individual is to retain.
As an example, America, for the first 125 years of her history (1787-1913), operated under the individualist ideology of laissez-faire capitalism with the principles of “private property,” “equal rights under the law,” and “individual sovereignty” predominant throughout her culture.
Most of the world today operates under the collectivist ideology of authoritarian statism (labeled by various terms such as socialism, social welfarism, corporatism, liberalism, etc.). The collectivist ideology’s undergirding principles are “public property,” “corporate-state collusion,” and “equal results in life” predominant throughout their cultures.
Labels and Identification
Some points to consider about ideology and labeling:
1) If you don’t label things, you can’t identify things; and if you can’t identify things, you can’t possibly know what is happening around you.
2) Labeling is defining, and defining is the establishment of distinctions, and distinctions show one what is right or wrong, strong or weak, beautiful or ugly about what is being labeled. Such distinctions require that we make judgments.
3) Labels clearly identify the policies of statism as dictatorial. Naturally, those who wish to establish such policies frown on the use of labels.
4) Today’s anti-ideology thinkers are advocating the initial stages of a dictatorship! Do they think because they refuse to label it as what it is, it somehow means it is not what it is? Hiding from the reality of one’s convictions and advocacies will not change their nature. Evil, evaded, is still evil.
It’s easy to see why liberals oppose ideology and labeling. It defines in clear terms what they are up to. They would prefer to muddy up the intellectual waters with backdoor socialism. Clarity is not their friend.
But unfortunately many conservative intellectuals also oppose the use of political ideology and its concomitant of labeling? These are the followers of Russell Kirk. Why do they adopt the same antagonism as liberals? I believe it is because of an erroneous syllogistic process that takes place in their brains. They see the evil of socialism. They realize that socialism is an ideology, and thus they reason that since socialism is evil, ideology is evil.
This, of course, is the crudest of non sequiturs. It’s not the use of ideology that is evil. It’s the use of irrational ideology that is evil. Ideology itself is not responsible for the tyranny in the world. False ideology is. The false ideologies of socialism, welfarism, liberalism, corporatism.
What is needed is not to abandon the use of ideology in the structuring of society, but to devise a rational ideology based upon right principles. Ideological principles are crucial theoretical guides for men’s actions. Without them and their concomitant of labels, we would be nothing but a nomadic assortment of subhumans with no rules or laws or theories or ideals to direct us.
No society in the history of man has ever existed, nor will one ever exist, without the use of some form of ideology and its building blocks of terms (i.e., labels). Even primitive tribes have their body of thought, theories, and definitional terms that guide their way of life. Granted, their ideology is usually ritualistic dogma and voodoo. But nevertheless, they do make use of some system of ideological thought and labeling to guide them, irrational though it is.
What Ideology Is Proper?
Therefore, we must ask: if ideology itself is good, but socialist, welfarist, liberal, and corporatist ideology is bad, where are we to turn? What ideology should we adopt as our guide? The answer lies in the wisdom that we have forsaken – the great principles that first created America. Our founding fathers were ideologues that posited a rational idealism in governmental affairs. This is what led to the Declaration of Independence and its enshrinement of the “rights of mankind.”
The ideology that we must utilize is the individualist ideology of the founding fathers and their philosophical mentors, John Locke, Thomas Aquinas, and Aristotle. The framers of the Constitution were not flexible advocates of détente with King George when it came time to design the type of government they wanted. They were men of intensely held political convictions. They adhered to clear-cut ideological principles and strict rules of law based upon those principles. They knew that this was the only way to preserve the rights of the individual, which in turn was the only way to maintain a free society.
The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution resulted from the American revolutionaries’ adherence to an overall political ideology. The creation of these documents would have been impossible without formulation of ideological principles. Thus the creation of America herself would have been impossible without such a formulation. And just as it would have been impossible to create America without ideological principles, it will be impossible to preserve her without them.
So beware. When a professor or politician tells you that he’s against the use of labels and political ideology, he’s setting in place the destruction of the proper guidelines and governmental limits requisite for a free society to exist. That is what ideology and labeling give to us: guidelines, definitions, and limits for our rulers. Most importantly, such a professor or politician is telling you that he prefers a government that is not limited or defined by any of those old fashioned ideological notions such as “inalienable rights,” or “equality under the law.” He’s telling you that he doesn’t like being labeled a statist or a collectivist or a liberal because it identifies the evil of his beliefs if he’s a professor, or the evil of his ambitions if he’s a politician.
The Choice Before Us
Ideology is theory, theory is thinking, and labels are our tools to construct proper theory. The man who wants to erect a government and oversee society without thinking and labeling is a thug or a fool, or both.
The choice before us is not ideology or no ideology! It is which ideology do we employ? Socialism or capitalism? Collectivism or individualism? Statism or freedom? Liberalism or conservatism or libertarianism?
The collectivist ideology (along with its welfarist variants) has ruled the world since the early twentieth century, and its brutal irrationality is directly responsible for the tyranny that prevails over three-quarters of the globe. It is time to restore the only rational ideology that exists – laissez-faire capitalism. The socialists and the liberals have had their chance, and they have failed.
Libertarians and true conservatives advocate laissez-faire capitalism. Liberals and neo-conservatives advocate authoritarian statism. Freedom cannot be defended without identifying the essentials of these ideologies and the intellectuals and politicians who advocate them. Without political-philosophical-moral clarity, tyranny wins.
Modern day tyrants want a vague pragmatism that is not defined (i.e., labeled) as to what it is. In this way, they can violate our rights and say that they are only implementing necessary policy for the emergency of the moment, or the good of the group, or to serve the will of the people. They can seek arbitrary, unfettered power and feel justified in doing so. Freedom demands clear labels and rational ideology. Never let the statist mentalities take these intellectual tools away from you.
Nelson Hultberg is a freelance writer in Dallas, TX and the Director of Americans for a Free Republic www.afr.org. His articles have appeared in such publications as the Dallas Morning News, The American Conservative, Insight, The Freeman, andLiberty, as well as on numerous Internet sites. He is the author of The Golden Mean: Libertarian Politics, Conservative Values. Email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org