Ideology in contemporary politics

In today’s world of politics one often hears about how different political parties diverge from their supposed political ideologies. This is most commonly seen when a party introduces legislation which wouldn’t be supported by their self-professed ideological beliefs, which in concept should serve as a basis upon which all political decisions should be taken.

However as contemporary party politics, both locally and abroad seems to be moving away from these ideologies and towards a seemingly more post-ideological form of decision making, it is well worth asking what these political ideologies in theory consist of, as well as why they were needed.

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Through discussing these issues we can hopefully come to an understanding of the causes of the current situation and what repercussions this can have on society.

So what do political ideologies consist of? In theory the objectives, expectations and actions of a political party are represented by a political ideology. The beliefs held in this political ideology derive from various principles, ideals, social movements and doctrines which cover anything from economics to education and healthcare. Together they form a shared vision of the preferred order for society of each political party. Political ideologies are further complemented by overarching economic systems such as Capitalism, Communism and others which are variations of these two.

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Socialism, social democracy, Leninism, Fascism, Nazism and Right libertarianism on the other hand are examples of political ideologies. Although these are the most commonly heard of, others which tend to be variants of these exist. Typically political ideologies are categorized and placed on a spectrum from left wing to right wing – an idea that hails from seating arrangements in parliament during the French revolution.

While most political organisations used the ideological beliefs of these systems as a foundation for their parties, the varying nature of both the contemporary political world as well as the ever-changing modern needs of a globalised society, are resulting in political parties finding it harder than ever to rely on traditional ideologies.

One can therefore argue that political ideology has lost its power, as rather than relying on the ideological bases, parties are basing their decision-making on adjustments to the systems already put in place. This is done in accordance with lobby groups and other advocacy groups which exert pressure on politicians. This often results in a problematic relationship with the electorate as each party tends to alter or modify its ideology on the basis of pragmatic (and populist) considerations in order to sway voters in their favour. This switch in positions is made easier for the parties to carry out due to the fact that there are fewer ideological divisions then there used to be before, hence making the change less obvious. The result is therefore a series of unsystematic partial measures taken over a period of time with no particular end-goal or final shared vision, and thus paving the road towards a post-ideological political scene.

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Furthermore, it may also be argued that since ideology itself forms the basis of all politics it is impossible to separate it from the latter since all policies which are conceived by political parties contain some elements of ideology. Ideology is still present to a certain extent in modern-day politics, most likely due to the significant part it itself has played in the political process for many years prior. Up to this day one can still see considerable ideological tension, and this not just between opposing parties, but within them as well. This can also be seen both locally and internationally, especially where left wing parties have shifted more or less to the centre of the political spectrum with some of their policies becoming arguably indistinguishable from traditional economically conservative positions (see footnote).

In conclusion, it seems that whilst political ideology is still in existence, it manifests a more problematic and fluid relation to the basis of political decisions than one would a first suppose. Furthermore it has become unwise for political parties to rely solely on traditional values especially since the growing priority for parties, is to embrace change and alter their respective ideological directions according to the needs of modern society.

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An option which could prevent the abandonment of political ideology is the creation of newer ideologies so that a complete overhaul of the political process can be made. This would enable the ideologies to be more reflective of today’s society and it would allow the values and beliefs of each party to be more easily recognisable thus making it easier for citizens to identify and support a clear political project. This is in fact already being done with protests taking place wherever a breach of the rights of the collective peoples is felt. Such groups do not believe in a ‘post ideological society’, viewing it as an idea created by those in power for the purpose of silencing the discontentment of the masses. In their eyes the only way to combat this and to create change is by creating clear shared visions and ideals in order to better understand the roots of their ideology and movements (see second footnote for example).

Footnotes:

I: www.researchgate.net/publication/312167931_New_Labour_or_the_Normalization_of_NeoLiberalism

II: occupywallst.org

Written by: Veronika Mercieca

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