It is an election campaign, and therefore it is currently common to accuse political opponents of this or that of being “ideologists”. But you don’t have to look for interviews with politicians or opinions. It is often enough to read the discussions on social media on topics that are relatively manageable for local politics: Tempo 30, waste separation, free parking for residents, a youth center – everything can seemingly be underestimated as “just an ideology” or at least “ideological form”. This can give the impression that “ideology” is just an empty phrase: when in doubt, whatever does not suit you is always ideological. One of the things that resonate here is that human action, especially in politics, must Always as “ideologically free” as possible Ideology seems to be a certain kind of absurdity.
No matter how efficiently the term ideology is used in the depths of political communication, in its common philosophical usage it actually has a core that can be very well reformulated. My colleague from Jena, Peggy H. Breitenstein, put this briefly in 2016: Ideologies are beliefs that can be explained and somehow justified by those who adhere to them, but are wrong. And not because of blatant ignorance, but because of “higher errors of reasoning” – errors in reasoning in one’s own thinking. The core of ideology in this concept is always false beliefs about one’s own beliefs.
Anti-feminism and cats
That is: to consider simple false statements to be true is not yet ideological. If someone is told that cats are deceptive and unbelieving animals, and this belief (let’s call it the “beast thesis”) is espoused without question, it is nonsense. Let’s imagine, however, that someone is 1) convinced of the monster hypothesis; and 2) he was also convinced that the monster hypothesis was merely a biological fact. In fact, however, he believes that the beast thesis is because 3) influenced by his misogynistic environment, he considers cats to be “non-manly” pets, and presents cats with the negative traits that misogyny ascribes to women. This is an impeccable ideology. (If you think that’s too farfetched, take a look at what anti-feminist circles think about cats.)
What makes the whole thing more complicated than it is anyway is that ideologies today usually keep themselves alive by masquerading as non-ideological, such as “common sense”, “logical reasoning”, “simple scientific truth”. Irrational ideology arises as a mind. To survive, ideology may have to turn a great wheel, developing and activating an entire system of institutions and teachings. In principle, nothing escapes the ideological charge. Therefore, it is possible (and is also common) that the entire society in which we live is ideological as a whole and therefore wrong.
But in fact, all forms of ideological-philosophical criticism are accused by one side or the other of being ideology in themselves. Thus, forms to be taken more seriously also recognize that all of us, especially when we try to debunk ideology, can always be part of ideological contexts without being able to think about them fully. This means that even if we strive for the most accurate and most reflective theorizing, we can never free ourselves securely from ideology—even if there is no shortage of people in politics who are absolutely convinced of this. If anything is definitely ideology, it is this: to make sure you don’t have an ideology.