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Friday, October 08, 2010

Rehabilitating ideology

Andrew Coyne has hit the nail on the head with his recent article on the use of the word ‘ideology’ as a pejorative:

There is no more serious accusation in Canadian politics than that of having an ideology. Politicians would confess to killing their own grandmother rather than own up to such a thing: what the dictionary defines as “a body of ideas.” Possession of cocaine is a charge you can probably survive. But possession of ideas is career-ending.

I have heard the accusation of ‘ideology’ used so often that I think people have lost any sense of what the word means. To have an ideology, as Mr. Coyne points out, is to have a consistent conceptual framework for understanding the world around you. This is not only a good thing, but it is required if you are to have any sanity at all.

Everyone needs some way to decide what is right and wrong, everyone needs some basis to discern what action is appropriate. Without an ideology to guide your choices you would be stuck motionless, unable to pick from an infinite variety of possible decisions. Even if your ideology is nothing but a set of normative assumptions, you still have an ideology.

So what do politicians and journalists mean when they say someone is “ideological.” I think Mr. Coyne is almost right when he says that it is meant to be anyone who opposes the status quo. In actuality it is about defining the status quo as the only rational option.

If you believe that something is in need of a fundamental change then you are not practical, because only the status quo is practical. You are too ideological, because the status quo is somehow beyond ideology. You must accept the status quo because nothing else is possible.

All this has led me to a conclusion, an ideological concept, if you will: anyone who uses the word ‘ideological’ as an insult loses my respect.

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on October 8, 2010 | Permalink


Mr. Coyne is spot on concerning politicians of all parties and stripes. When accused of having an ideological view they will back peddle faster than one can blink instead of defending their view/ideology. It has become the standard to use such accusations as an insult, and by back peddling and denial the accused appears to confirm that having an ideology is automatically a negative. As a result we have politicians of all parties and at every level who stand for nothing.

Posted by: Alain | 2010-10-08 1:51:00 PM

If I were Coyne, I would amend my statement about ideology as follows: "There is no more serious accusation for a conservative in Canadian politics than that of having an ideology."

The left seems curiously exempt from such smears. They can be as ideological as they want, because they adhere to the "correct" ideology as opposed to those evil conservatives.

Posted by: Dennis | 2010-10-08 3:27:55 PM

Dennis, I agree that the Left seems exempt from such smears, but I would also argue that the majority on the Left have no true ideology. I mean that apart from parroting slogans they are incapable of articulating, explaining and defending a given ideology. The so-called conservatives aren't much better, since instead of clearly articulating, explaining and defending their ideology (ideas) they immediately begin to back peddle and shrink like wilting violets when attacked by the Left. A case in point was the long gun registry where there was not a peep about the true cost, what the registry actually is and what it has proved incapable of doing. I noted a large number of urbanites in big need of education on the topic. Most seemed to think the registry is about preventing access to illegal and assault weapons. I saw no attempt by our existing government to explain to the public what the issue was.

Posted by: Alain | 2010-10-08 7:51:08 PM

All this proves to me is that there is a need for a severe and widespread cleaning of Canadian politics, now more than ever. What must be ingrained into the eunuchs that form the rank and file of Canadian politcos is that to not have an ideology is to lack the balls to act when you know right from wrong. The only way to accomplish this is to storm local riding associations and assure that only conservatives will stand for election. And they will be require to submit a waiting letter of resignation the moment they deviate from their conservatism. Remember when the Reform Party promised to refuse the MP's pension, and then changed their minds soon after? This must never, ever happen again. The moment an MP fails their ideology, they will be expected to deliver their head.

Posted by: AB Patriot | 2010-10-09 6:36:12 PM

Everyone has an "ideology." The only question is do you have the correct one? The political right, and libertarians and especially Christians, do not have the right ideology.

Posted by: TM | 2010-10-10 12:34:25 AM

There is only one correct ideology: the one that defends Liberty. All others are evil and must be defeated and destroyed.

Posted by: AB Patriot | 2010-10-10 3:31:35 PM

propose a tax cut and you are a extreme right wing idealogue, propose a scam carbon tax and you are a caring visonary and humanitarian; go figure.

Posted by: x2para | 2010-10-15 1:43:15 PM

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