Diana Silberman-Keller: Systematic Ideology, a New Hegelian or Functionalist Critique of Ideologies?
This paper introduces Systematic Ideology (SI) as a theoretical approach to ideology critique. The theory was initially developed by Harold Walsby (1947), who worked in a line of descent from F.S. Johnson, Francis Sedlak, the English Hegelians and Karl Marx to Hegel. George Walford (1979, 1990) further enlarged Walsby’s approach and Zvi Lamm (2002) has contributed to the field by linking it to education.
The first part of the article describes SI by presenting its main characteristics. This includes the definition of ideology as a primum datum in the generation of social life. It also includes the hierarchical ordering of ideologies into seven archetypes. This part moreover explains how ideologies function in the construction of society as a result of individuals’ quest for freedom.
The second part of the article presents SI with reference to Zizek’s (1999) logical-narrative mapping of ideologies. Zizek points at ideologies’ paradoxical self-effacing nature. This limits individual freedom by relying on economic coercion, legal and state regulations, etc. It is therefore impossible to isolate a reality whose consistency is not maintained by ideological mechanisms.
SI, acknowledging this paradoxical situation, proposes ideology critique whose main target is to deal with ideological assumptions and identifications as problems and not as articles of faith. As such SI considers itself an ideology of ideologies.
The third part of this article begins where the mirroring effect of ideology, identified by Zizek, is taken up as part of the practice of ideology critique itself. This part proposes adopting two so-called distantiation mechanisms.
One of these is proposed by Zizek, by way of Lacan’s assertion that what we experience as reality is always already symbolized. Here, distantiation is attained through finding the hard kernel of the Real: in psychoanalysis this is done by capturing the Real in the “dream within the dream,” while in SI the target is the spectre of ideology within ideology itself.
The other distantiation mechanism consists of an aesthetic approach to ideology critique by centering on the way symbolization (or signification) is construed through narrative and textual procedures. Aesthetic distance allows us to observe how rhetoric, communicational functions, inter-textual relations, plot and character, specific images of time and place, or built-in interpretive models construe reality narratives, which reinforce each other by creating an effect of plausibility so that, often, they come to appear as “facts that speak for themselves.”
Systematic Ideology’s Definition of Ideology
Systematic Ideology defines ideology as a complete system of cognitive assumptions and affective identifications, which manifest themselves in, or underlie, the thought, speech, aims, interests, ideals, ethical standards, actions – in short, the behavior – of an individual human being (Walsby, 1947).
Walford clarifies that the ordinary and academic usage of ideology usually refers to a relatively superficial expression of something deeper (such as class interest, or psychological disposition). This reduces the significance of ideology and the importance of its study. In Walford’s view rather than interests governing ideologies, ideologies determine interests. Thus, for instance, Communists promote the interests of the working class because of the beliefs they hold, and not vice versa, because they are workers (Walford, 1990, p. 50).
SI is an ideology of ideologies, assuming the only way to study ideologies is ideological. “Ideology” does not bear a pejorative connotation although it includes a twofold hierarchy. One hierarchical element is linked to the relation between time and social construction and the other to a social group’s size. Hence ideological hierarchies do not reflect positive or negative attitudes toward the ideologies they include but only toward their chronological order and the amount of people who practice or profess them.
Although individuals, groups and social constructs perform and reflect specific ideological archetypes, they are all pluri-ideological because they hold various ideas or perform various behaviors simultaneously and are part of different social institutions deriving from different ideological archetypes.
An ideological archetype is based on specific assumptions and identifications that generate and reflect entire doctrines or social institutions, social and cultural phenomena that prescribe and reflect specific ideas and practices.
Moving from one ideology to another in the hierarchy of ideologies implies changing basic assumptions and identifications. Such movement usually occurs when individuals or groups feel constrained in fulfilling their needs. The attainment of increased degrees of freedom in order to perform social functions is what motivates the passage from one ideological archetype to another one placed higher in the hierarchy. When there is a reduction in degrees of freedom this leads to a return to an inferior ideological archetype. Hence this hierarchy does not constitute a continuous progress but rather an order of social functioning described by means of more or less degrees of freedom.
I believe that individuals constantly move up and down these ideological hierarchies not only due to these dynamics but as a consequence of their participation in different situational contexts simultaneously. For instance, one can be an anarchist, as well as a citizen in a national state, while working, at the very same time as a teacher. Each of these practices is guided and justified by different ideologies deriving from three ideological archetypes, yet they are performed or held by one and the same person. It is this possibility to combine an infinite number of ideologies stemming from seven SI archetypes that generates nets of explanations, justifications, practices and beliefs. Freedom, then, is ideologically situated and its interpretation differs in relation to specific ideological stances contemporarily and locally determined. For being an anarchist, and a citizen and a teacher can be considered as free floating, possible ideological performances that takes on certain ideological contents when matched with certain specifications.
Thus it is possible to be an anarchist either individually or socially, to either actively participate in, or repudiate, a national state and still be a citizen of that state, and to be either a conservative or a radical teacher.
The way in which SI configures reality resembles ideology as portrayed by Geertz (1973), who found it comes to address people’s need to find plausible symbolic explanations and justifications for their existential conditions.
Zizek’s (1999) psychoanalytical-philosophical critique of ideologies adds to this the idea that this quest for symbolization is ever frustrated. I moreover believe that Zizek further expands Walsby’s and Walford’s explanation of dynamic ideological production by adding that this production does not only emerge as a result of limitations on the realization of needs. Zizek proposes that the frustrated possibility of symbolization and the impossibility to leave assumptions and identifications aside are, together, what causes the difficulty in becoming completely conscious. Much like repression and resistance in psychoanalysis, ideology intervenes to oppose the attempt to bring the unconscious into consciousness (Walsby, 1947), thereby projecting this symptomatic situation and creating mundane reality (Zizek, 1999).
SI, as a critique of ideology, assumes its own limited condition by considering how its very object, i.e., ideology, resists the possibility of being investigated from an external vantage point, though it does suggest the possibility of augmenting knowledge about what ideologies are and how they function.
SI’s major contribution is a critique of ideologies that balances between the anthropological and political analysis of ideologies. That is, SI considers the political organization of societies as the way human social life generates and reflects itself.
SI’s central concepts of identification and assumption – which do not only refer to ideological thinking but also to the ways in which ideological archetypes differ from one another, subsuming not only political ideologies but entire systems of ideas and practices that link between social and individual life; between occupations and social theories and between science and every-day life – enlarge the scope of ideological critique.
Assumptions and Identifications
Walsby (1947, p. 153) defines an assumption as something in one’s experience which, under some sort of compulsion or force, however great or small, is given independent or real existence, i.e., is given the status of reality, or an identity of its own similar to the one’s own identity. The act of assuming something involves a process in which something is taken and given: What is taken, accepted or received is really the compulsion, the limiting pressure or force exercised by that which is being assumed. In other words, when one makes an assumption one takes or accepts a limitation upon oneself. What is given is one’s own independence of the limitation: the limitation is itself given a measure of independence, i.e. is “given” real existence. Walsby further associates assumption with certain psychoanalytic processes, claiming that it involves the introjection of a limitation or determining influence of some kind and the projection of independence or – what amounts to the same thing – the projection of self–dependence or self-determination.
According to Walsby, when, in the process of assumption, we introject a limitation (in the form of either a sensory or abstract stimulus) we react against or “resist” that limitation, by “giving” it “reality” or independence – i.e., by the projection of self determination. And by doing so, by so giving the stimulus the fundamental character of our own identity, we come to identify ourselves with the stimulus. As an assumption it becomes part of our own being. We thus come to identify ourselves with what we “know,” or, in other words, we identify ourselves with the objects of our perception and understanding -that is to say, with that to which our perception and understanding refers (Walsby, 1947, p. 193).
Assumptions are implicit in all expressions of meaning, purpose, design and intelligent action. They underlie, as implications, all statements of fact, expressions of opinion, belief and understanding. And what is particular to assumptions is that they are absolute.
Even those ideologies that affirm that every thing is relative must treat the “relative” as ultimate, fundamental and absolute, since there can be nothing that is not relative to itself alone or relative to nothing apart from itself. This absolute nature of assumptions is what forms the basis of all our reality conceptions.
Identification, according to Walsby (1947), is involved in the process of assumption, and arises, fundamentally, from the projection of one’s own independent identity, of one’s own inborn assumption of independence or self-determination. Identification differs from assumption because the former is based on and generated by a feeling of dependence upon some person, act, thing, idea – or a collection, class, or group of these. This notion differs from Freud’s definition of identification since we stick to the object of assumption even when stimuli distract our attention from it.
Both assumptions and identifications occur in two modes, positive and negative, that construct and reflect their structure. Positive assumption structures organize the narrative of how things should be and negative ones organize the narrative of how they should not be.
Negative identification takes place when the object is rejected or repudiated. The object of negative identification must be overcome, must be banished or destroyed as a limitation upon the assumption of self-determination. Positive identification takes place with the removal of a limitation and from this point of view positive and negative identification are not mutually exclusive, but rather, interpenetrative and complementary.
Walsby’s definitions were contextually situated in the knowledge available in his time. Nevertheless these definitions have served students and researchers of SI to explain the relation between the cognitive and emotive factors participating in ideological perceptions and reflections of reality, on one hand, as well as specific issues in the ideological domain such as individuals’ and groups’ persistent fidelity to ideologies even when such issues may play a negative role and ideological change is clearly necessary.
The Ideological Archetypes
Walsby (1947) and Walford (1979, 1990) studied ideology diachronically, thereby creating a description of the domain of ideologies that includes seven ideological archetypes according to the functions they have in the generation and/or reflection of social phenomena.
These seven ideological archetypes were classified in terms of their attitude toward change. Static ideological archetypes include the protostatic, epistatic and parastatic ideologies and dynamic ideological archetypes include the protodynamic, epidynamic and paradynamic ideologies. The seventh archetype is meta–ideology whose function is to study ideologies.
Differences in assumptions and identifications regarding the structural image of reality (uniform, dual or multiple), positive or negative group identification, individual or collective attitude toward economics, intellectualism, are seen as a negative factor in solving social problems, or positively as the unique way to solve these problems. The attitude toward the cosmos, i.e., the natural and social environment, what – together with the above presented factors- determines the differences among the ideological archetypes.
The Protostatic Archetype
This ideological archetype emerges around the needs of production and defense so that it organizes individual and social survival in its basic sense. The social group that behaves according to this type of ideology tends to develop a positive attitude toward the pertinent group (the family, tribe, community or the state). Its attitude toward the cosmos, by contrast, is negative implying that everything that is external to the group (whether it is natural or social) is a threat. Although the social group identified with these major assumptions develops- whether consciously or unconsciously- individual economical behaviors and though politically it behaves as a collective its attitude toward reality is undifferentiated and it negates “intellectuality.” [footnote] Lamm (1984) remarked that when an ideology is accepted by either an individual or a group, and it alone fulfills all the functions of an ideology, this ideology is usually situated on the right side of the range of possible ideologies; it might find expression in fascism or in nationalism. But ideologies do not only direct people’s political behavior (Walford, 1979). Thus we can find signs of protostatic ideology in the basic ideas underlying the military and militarism or in the ideas underlying mass communication when it refers to consumer profiles, or when it involves a rock performance.
The need to enlarge freedom is what leads to the passage to the next ideological archetype: the epistatic archetype.
The Epistatic Archetype
Lamm (1984) characterizes the epistatic ideological archetype as the one sanctioning the existing situation. Nevertheless it is, under certain conditions, ready to approve change and to condone the existence of other groups. This, therefore, reflects an attitude toward reality that allows for perceptions of mutuality. The social group identified with this ideology might accept that other groups also have a claim on truth or justice, and in peaceful times they might be critical about their own society. Nevertheless this ideological archetype rejects intellectual activity as a praxis though it is not hostile to it. Since its basic function is the maintenance of society, this ideological archetype can motivate or justify change but only with the ultimate aim to conserve society as it is. This ideology formulates itself around the danger of destruction of the pertinent group and it is from this point of view that we must consider the formulations and justifications of its social institutions and phenomena such as police, education, entertainment, diplomacy and conservation professions (librarians, archivists and museum workers) whose main function is to conserve the present and the past. In the realm of politics this ideological archetype supports conservative parties.
The Parastatic Archetype
The parastatic attitude toward reality is not dualistic, as was the case with the epistatic archetype, but multiple. This ideology motivates or justifies every action undertaken to understand the world with the overarching aim to conserve the reality that backs the pertinent group’s existence. Perhaps this is why it is difficult to find sociologists or psychoanalysts fostering parastatic attitudes in their professional lives. It is easier to find these attitudes among researchers in the exact sciences.
Like the preceding ideologies, this one too seeks to maintain the existing situation, although its adherents believe that they are better at doing it. Parastatic ideology does not advocate the maintenance of the prevailing situation regardless of its character, but preaches for its continuous improvement. This ideology has developed ethics and formal logic as well as the physical sciences.
Dynamic Archetypes of Ideologies
Walford (1979) and Lamm (1984) situate the difference between static ideological archetypes and dynamic ones in society’s awareness of the limitations of its freedom. This awareness gives rise to the so-called eidodynamic ideologies, which regard poverty, disease, and cruelty as restricting human freedom. Their criticism is directed against society and therefore dynamic ideological archetypes’ identification with society is negative. On this approach, society is the target against which, or at least within which, it is necessary to act in order to improve man’s lot. On the other hand, the cosmos is positively considered as such, and preserved and defended.
Hence holding dynamic ideologies means to be ready to fight in order to correct society and even to change it fundamentally.
Under dynamic ideologies, attitudes toward economics and politics change by developing collectivism toward economy and individualism in politics. The attitude toward “intellectuality” is positive for in these ideologies people are expected to base their action in critical thinking, develop individual responsibility as well as viewpoints. Reality is considered to be a human product and as such subject to change.
The protodynamic archetype considers reality as constructed by internal relatedness, i.e. as composed of many interconnected parts. Change in one part supposes change in all parts of the society and hence this archetype’s main function is reform. This ideology underlies Systems Theory’s explanation of social change and dynamics. Similarly it can be found in every theory that favors gradual structural change. Its political manifestation is Socialism.
The epidynamic archetype favors revolution as the only strategy capable of truly changing reality, to install freedom, and create social justice. Here revolution is considered not as catastrophe but as the inevitable fulfillment of history as it advances toward its aims. Reality is considered in epidynamic ideologies as an arena of conflicts that cannot be solved by gradual change. The political manifestation of this type of ideology is Communism as an ideology, not as it was practiced in former Communist states, which all carried traces of static ideological archetypes. This difference between Communist ideology and Communist states is exemplified by Zizek (2002) with reference to Cuba. Cuba, according to Zizek, is awaiting its messianic salvation while watching English language lessons five or six hours daily on state television. Thus the Cuban people are exercising what in psychoanalysis is called the logic of castration, indeed, demonstrating fidelity to castration, the ultimate act of fidelity to Fidel Castro, as they wait for change to come from above.
The epidynamic ideological archetype is constantly present in the work of theoreticians in a variety of areas whose main occupation is to develop a critique that aims to uncover the basic contradictions that cause human suffering, together with the ways in which political ideologies function to efface the causes of this suffering.
The paradynamic ideological archetype takes the negative identification with society to its extreme by opposing the state as the main agent of social control over the individual. The form of organization, according to this ideological archetype, that has to take the place of the state is an administration that exists only to guarantee individual freedom. Politically, this translates into anarchism. ‘Disarm Authority! Arm Your Desires’, is the slogan of an actual anarchist web site, repudiating any form of authority and calling for absolute freedom. According to Newman (2003) it is this refusal of centralist and hierarchical politics, this openness to a plurality of different identities and struggles, which makes the anti-globalization movement an anarchist movement. The anti-globalization movement, without being consciously anarchist, embodies an anarchistic politics in its structure and organization. Just as classical anarchists like Bakunin and Kropotkin insisted, in opposition to Marxists, that the revolutionary struggle could not be confined to or determined only by the class interests of the industrial proletariat, and must be open also to peasants, the lumpenproletariat, and déclassé intellectuals, so too the contemporary movement includes a broad range of struggles, identities and interests—trade unions, students, environmentalists, indigenous groups, ethnic minorities, peace activists, and so on.
Beyond politics, paradynamic assumptions and identifications can be found in the narratives that characterize every social practice directed to free individual humans from social compulsion. Among these are psychoanalytic or educational theories that aim toward the removal of impediments of any kind so as to support an analysand’s or student’s drive toward finding either the “stuff from which he/she is made” (Zizek, 1999) or his/her motivations and capacities toward getting or enlarging knowledge (Lamm, 2002).
Critics of anarchism claim that it is largely based on the paradigm of enlightenment humanism with its essentialist notions of the rational human subject, and its positivistic faith in science and objective historical laws, just as Marxism was limited politically by its own categories of class and economic determinism, as well as by its dialectical view of historical development. (see Newman 2003, p.).
Indeed, the paradynamic ideologies are limited by the very virtue of being an ideology in the first place, because even though they envisage complete freedom, their nature as ideologies as such becomes a factor limiting that very freedom (Lamm, 1984, p.9):
“…Anyone living in a society where anarchist freedom reigns must be an anarchist. If he is not and, for example, upholds the principle of private property, his very existence makes anarchist society untenable. If this society recognizes his right to own private property it will cease being anarchist and will betray its own principles; and if it forbids him to own private property it will no longer be anarchist because it will exert authority and force to limit the freedom of one of its members. Some anarchists ignore this paradox in their ideology, because it undermines the foundations of their beliefs. Some of them, though a very small number, according to Walford, will continue along the path to freedom, attempting to cope with the dilemma posed by the ideology they accept…”
Walford assumes (1979) that a small group of anarchists, facing this paradox of the paradynamic ideological archetype, will endeavor to understand the phenomenon itself known as ideology, and thus defeat ideologies as factors limiting their freedoms.
The metadynamic ideological archetype – according to Walsby (1947) – recognizes itself as an ideology, and problematizes all ideologies: they have to be dealt with ad hoc and are not articles of faith. In this sense SI is an anti-ideology whose main purpose is to develop an inclusive ideological critique.
According to SI it is in the interest of mankind to be released from ideology. Ideology is a kind of distraction that governs human behavior more than humans govern their own fate. Walsby believed that ideology could be researched from within thus offering ideological groups more knowledge about themselves:
Only when this study and understanding of the ideological nature of groups is accomplished by a sufficient number of the more scientifically minded members of the community, will the scientific and-at the same time-democratic control of the group become possible as a really practicable proposition.With the development of scientific knowledge of the various ideologies or ideological levels, and of the different orientations of their underlying structures of positive-negative assumptions and identifications, it becomes possible to apply this knowledge in the sphere of education, publicity, propaganda, and in social and political aims, ideas etc., of the broader, more inclusive kind, can henceforth be presented to an ideological group in terms of their particular structure of assumptions and identifications, with their practical certainty of acceptance and agreement by the majority within the group.
Human society, with the aid of science and the deterministic principle, has largely conquered the limitations and problems imposed upon it by material nature. With the aid of science and the self – deterministic principle, these problems, too, may eventually be conquered. Human society would then be master, not only of inanimate nature, but of itself. ( Walsby 1947, p. 231)
Writing in 1947, Walsby had an idealistic view of science as the major contributor towards the amelioration of the human condition. Walsby seems to have believed that mankind’s liberation from ideological thinking would be difficult to achieve through discussion or controversy. Instead he proposes to enable all ideological groups to become conscious about the assumptions and identifications that underlie their own actions. Walsby, I think, thus hoped to make possible the passage from one ideology to another and in this way to enlarge the group of “scientifically” – minded members of the community. This would eventually lead individuals and groups to free themselves of the need of living by unconsciously held ideologies.
Eschatologically speaking, SI is either paradoxical or includes a hidden revolutionary assumption. This is so because ideologies, according to SI, have generated society as it is and from this point of view they also have an important role in maintaining society. Knowledge about ideology as a phenomenon leads to the conclusion that parallel to maintaining society it is also necessary to have and constantly bring to bear scientific knowledge about ideologies… In this sense SI ascribes a fundamental and transformational role to the study of ideologies.
Reading Systematic Ideology Through Zizek: Between New Hegelianism and Functionalism
Systematic Ideology as Walsby and Walford developed it, was never fully taken on board by the academic establishment. Yet, several scholars have compared some of its aspects to major, accepted theories (Lamm, 1984).
I was introduced to SI during my doctoral studies and even engaged in some correspondence with George Walford whose enthusiastic support of my work encouraged the theoretical linking between SI and the characterization of the texts of educational ideologies as a genre (Silberman – Keller, 1994). I must confess that on first reading, on Lamms’ recommendation, Walfords’ book, A Study of Systematic Ideology, I felt a strong apprehension. I felt that Walfords’ explanations of the relations among what I then considered as disconnected phenomena, such as social functions, mundane behavior and ideologies, were too associative, especially when compared with other theories of ideologies I was studying at the time. On re- and re-reading his book, though, I became more and more convinced of the common sense underlying his explanations. It is when I came across Zizek’s analysis of ideologies that I could see the relevance of these ideas to a critique of ideology or/and its further development. Zizek (1999) offers a logical-narrative reconstruction of the notion of ideology centered on repeated reversals of non-ideology into ideology, or as he himself refers to it: “…of the sudden awareness of how the very gesture of stepping out of ideology pulls us back into it”…(Zizek, 1999, p. 63).
To this end Zizek adopts the Hegelian triad: In-itself, For-Itself and In-and-For-itself to analyze different types of ideological conceptualization. Zizek warns that in order to avoid a fatal misunderstanding no one of these categories is to be read as constituting a hierarchical progress, including the suppression of the preceding mode.
According to Zizek, an ideology–in–itself is a composite of ideas, beliefs and concepts, destined to convince us of its “truth,” yet actually serving some un-avowed power interests. The strategy of ideology critique, which Zizek calls symptomal reading uncovers un-avowed bias used by the ideology. Thus we can identify the gap between an ideology’s meaning and its intentions, which are determined by un-avowed social interests.
In his discussion of Habermas, whom he considers the last representative of the Enlightenment, Zizek claims that just when he is on his way of stepping out of ideology, Habermas re-enters the domain of ideology by installing a critique of ideology as blurring reality and as a pathological interest. This critique of ideology in itself can be identified as an ideology, one that I believe Walsby and Walford might have identified with the epidynamic ideological archetype.
Zizek’s (1999, p.p. 61-68) own definition of ideology–in–itself can be juxtaposed to what SI would identify as the epidynamic tradition, by stressing the gradual contribution of what he calls “discourse analysis.” He includes Barthes’ Mythologies among ideologies-in-themselves for in this work ideology is considered as the “naturalization” of the symbolic order and as relating “textual procedures” to “things,” i.e., to the epistatic ideology itself. Zizek situates Ducrot’s theory of argumentation in the same line of thinking: his major claim is that it is impossible to create a clear-cut distinction between the argumentative and descriptive levels of language. Pecheux’s contribution, according to Zizek is regarding one of the fundamental stratagems of ideology, namely the reference to something as self-evident. The sentence: “Let the facts speak for themselves” is, according to Zizek, perhaps the arch-statement of ideology. The point is of course, precisely, that facts never “speak for themselves,” but are always made to speak by a network of discursive devices. Laclau, in his study on Fascism and populism, added the insight that meaning does not inhere in elements of an ideology as such –these elements rather function as “free floating signifiers” whose meaning is fixed by the mode of their hegemonic articulation. By way of an example, Zizek adds that ecology is never ecology as such. This argument, I suppose, Walsby and Walford would have agreed with, then to show the possible pluri–ideological declinations of the term.
Ecology, according to SI, adopts different meanings depending on the ideological construction of different practices, theories or rituals matching different assumptions and identifications. Furthermore, I believe, Walsby and Walford could have linked the case of ecology to attitudes toward the cosmos, not only in the realm of politics but also in that of the sciences where assumptions and identifications feed epistemologies of “hard” scientific theories and methodologies of research generally and mundanely disconnected from the realm usually linked to ideologies.
Zizek (1999), when dealing with ideology-for–itself, refers to Althussers’ Ideological Apparatuses, which situate ideology as having a material existence in ideological practices, rituals and institutions. Comparing Foucault’s approach to Althusser’s, Zizek
argues that Foucault resorts “to the extremely suspect rhetoric of complexity, evoking the intricate network of lateral links, left and right, up and down…a clear case of patching up, since one can never arrive at Power this way – the abyss that separates micro-procedures from the spectre of Power remains unbridgeable” (p.66). Althusser, Zizek believes, has a better approach, when he, quite to the contrary, conceives these micro-procedures as parts of ideological state apparatuses, mechanisms that, in order to be operative, i.e., to “seize” the individual, must always already presuppose the massive presence of the state, the transferential relationship of the individual with state power, or – in Althusser’s own terms – with the ideological Big Other.
Ideology–in-itself and Ideology-for-itself
Zizek’s last category (of ideology-for-itself) suggests that today when the expansion of the new mass media enables ideology to penetrate every pore of the social body, the impact of ideology as such is diminished. Individuals do not act as they do primarily on account of their beliefs or ideological convictions- that is to say, the established system for the most part bypasses ideology in reproducing itself and relies on economic coercion, legal and state regulations, and so on.
Having reached this point we are still in the realm of ideology but this time and according to Zizek, not as an explicit doctrine, or articulated convictions, nor indeed in its material existence (institutions, rituals and practices that embody it). Rather, ideology now is implicit in the quasi-spontaneous moment of the reproduction of “non-ideological” (economic, legal, political, sexual, etc.) practices.
Zizek’s mapping of ideologies seems to me, although presented in a more up-to-date theoretical and sophisticated way, to resemble SI very much. I believe that this similarity originates from the two approaches’ similar point of departure for they grant ideology an independent status in society by asserting that reality is the site of ideologies and not merely their distorted image. Moreover, SI, much like Zizek’s logical–narrative analysis of ideologies, includes a comprehensive view of ideologies as motivating and reflecting doctrines of every type as well as institutions, practices and rituals; both also attribute to ideology an implicit presence and this allows them to define reality as the ultimate domain of ideology.
Every single ideological archetype in SI includes doctrines and institutions, rituals and practices and therefore all ideological archetypes coexist simultaneously for they are installed in social reality as theories, practices, rituals, and institutions functioning as webs of significations that are hard to be discerned as such.
In this sense SI is both neo-Hegelian since ideologies are what motivate and reflect social action and functionalist for it explains how ideologies function phenomenologically. SI considers ideology as having two main characteristics. On one hand ideology contributes to social formation, and on the other it limits individual freedom not by its specific contents but by its very presence in-it-self, for- it- self, and in-it-self and for- itself.
The proactive strategy of critique, as a usual characteristic of the narrative of ideologies critique, doesn’t step out of ideology. Quite the contrary: it assumes itself an ideology, almost stating that homo sapiens is “homo ideologicus,” and it aspires to generate the science of studying the “thing itself.” This insight of SI implies that its need for other systems of knowing which will evolve as a result of the praxis of ideology critique. In this context, SI refers to freedom as the drive that generates the seven ideological archetypes. For it is by studying ideologies, or in other words, by acknowledging their contents, modalities, modes of functioning and effects, that it is assumed to be possible to gain, at least, a clue toward understanding understanding. Gaining knowledge about understanding will make it possible to exercise freedom, ideologically understood as the way of facing the most constraining effect of ideology.
Zizek characterized the moment of freedom as resisting symbolization because the “morose hyper-presence of ideology” constructs freedom as a spectre, representing either a higher stratum of reality or an “endeavor to gentrify the act of freedom,” to cope with its traumatic impact. By spectre he means to suggest the positive representation of the abyss of freedom, a void that assumes the form of quasi-being.
Paraphrasing Zizek, the spectral possibility of freedom from ideology, as portrayed by SI, appears to be attainable through ideology critique. Here we find ourselves paradoxically situated at the protostatic level where uniformity erases difference and controversy. New apparatuses and technologies like information technologies seem to emerge only to serve this inevitable and irreversible point of “more of the same” where the ideological labyrinth starts again.
“Images of freedom” are, then, ideologically constructed ad infinitum, each of them according to different and/or combined ideological archetypes.
It is at the precise moment and place where we are confronted with a new beginning of the endless play of ideological generation and its critique, that theoretically beautiful constructs, aesthetically coherent and offering different levels of new understanding, actually collapse. This forecloses the possibility of pleasure and interest that motivates our tendency to solve problems. In fact, the domain of ideologies may be best imagined as a labyrinthine hall of mirrors in which ideological critique is rendered an endlessly self-reproducing Sisyphean labor. Considering the era between 1947,when Walsby first published his study of the “origins development and structure of ideologies” and now, 2004, there has been an impressive amount of contributions, direct and indirect, to the study of this field: sociology, psychology, psychoanalysis, anthropology, political science, philosophy, history, neurology, linguistics, semiotics that have all added important perspectives.
Nevertheless, the problem of the mirroring effect of ideology critique has not been completely solved.
Lamm (2002), in response to this, has proposed adopting a pluralistic view regarding ideologies, that is to say: always to consider at least two ideologies as a way of taking into account their limiting effects and as a way of gaining a relative and critical point of view rather than obtaining absolute evaluations.
I would like to conclude this paper by a brief outline of two (ideological) alternatives to counteract the mirroring effect of ideology critique, though I do not pretend thereby to have found a solution. Each in its way suggests the necessity of “keeping distance”: in the first case, in order to apprehend the Real as what is covered by reality, and in the second as one of the ways of deconstructing the procedures that construct reality images.
The first approach is Zizek’s proposition of granting psychoanalysis the key role of providing the missing support for Marxist theory of ideology, which failed to conceptualize any materiality but class struggle:
Perhaps a comparison with Freud’s theory of dreams could be of some help here. Freud points out that within a dream we encounter the hard kernel of the Real precisely in the guise of a ‘dream within the dream’-that is to say, where the distance from reality seems redoubled. In some homologous way, we encounter the inherent limit of social reality, what has to be foreclosed if the consistent field of reality is to emerge, precisely in the guise of the problematic of ideology, of a ‘superstructure’, of something that appears to be a mere epiphenomenona, a mirror-reflection, of ‘true’ social life. We are dealing with the paradoxical topology in which the surface (‘mere ideology’) is directly linked to-occupies the place of, stands in for- what is deeper than depth itself’, more real than reality itself (Zizek, 1999, p.82).
The second possibility is the aesthetic one. It assumes the narrative construction, via ideologies, of reality as a primum datum (Polkinghorne, 1988). Here the impossibility of avoiding the mirroring effect of ideology and ideology critique is acknowledged and instead they are approached through a contemplative attitude and gaze that allow unmasking the procedures that construct ideological narratives.
As we have seen ideological narrative is implicitly omnipresent, i.e., in doctrines, social institutions and in our daily practices. Since narrative is a kind of text, textual procedures are what create the verisimilitude of ideological narratives (Todorov, 1972) by generating an effect of “naturalization” and effacing their ideological markers/characteristics. Thus, textual procedures such as rhetorical figures, communication functions, inter-textual relations between different texts, plots and characters, specific images of time and place (chronotopes) or built-in interpretation models construct reality narratives reinforcing each other by creating an effect of plausibility and popular acceptance, sometimes, indeed, to the effect of “masquerading” as if they were “facts that speak for themselves.”
This approach considers the text as an aesthetic object, to be observed from a contemplative distance that allows for critical analysis. It adopts Paul Ricoeur’s (1971) position regarding the possibilities that written texts offer by: ” escaping the momentary character of the event, the bounds lived by the author, and the narrowness of ostensive reference, discourse escapes the limits of being face to face.” Moreover, it assumes, with Serge Doubrovsky (1973), that the object of critical study should be the text. The encounter with the text is an absolute beginning for the researcher. Only subsequent to this encounter are classification, comparison, and interrelation between the different parts of the text possible. The object of this critique is not the truth. It offers, rather, a mode of perception that rejects any intention to explain the text. Instead, it proposes to make explicit the way the text (e.g., the ideological narrative) constructs itself. Quoting Lucien Goldman, Doubrovsky concludes that the valid signification of a text is the one that permits us to “re-find” its general coherence. Looking for, and exposing, the construal of coherence in ideological narratives can help, as Burbules (1992) proposes, “to model the virtues of a fairer and more reasonable way of thinking, speaking, and influencing others.” It moreover may allow us to enjoy the aesthetic pleasure of the text, as Barthes called it, including that of the ideological text – by turning the text from a readerly to a writerly one, or in other words, by becoming active participants in its construction while reading it.
The above exposed distancing strategies do not simply lead to the point of disappearance of the mirroring effect of ideology critique. What they can do, however, I believe, is to suspend, temporarily, the effects of ideology through a moment of contemplation, or in other words a unique “chronotope,” a moment “away from the clock” (Cortazar, 1977). From such a position it is possible to distinguish how ideological narratives construct themselves around our most terrifying nightmares or our most powerful desires.
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[Footnote. The idea of intellectualism is not analogous to intelligence but to intellectuality as a way (practice) of using thought in order to solve problems. It is opposed to expediency or instrumentality. One example can be using Social Sciences or Philosophy as a framework for solving (thinking) social problems.]
Copyright © 2004 Diana Silberman-Keller, All Rights Reserved.
- PSI Circular Number Two (February 1979)
- PSI Circular Number One (January 1979)
- Joshua Feldman: Reconceptualising (systematic) Ideology in the Wake of Political Psychology
- George Walford and Ike Benjamin: The Sad Case of the SPGB
- Linda Sloane: Systematic Ideology and Identity / The Triangle of Society, Ideology and the Individual
- Their “Operation Utopia”
- George Orwell Letters to George Walford
- George Walford: The New Magic
- George Walford: Exploring Ideology
- George Walford: Sciences