Why Are Ideologies So Catchy?

    • By,
      Shivangi Sharma – Executive Assistant to Dean, Kautilya

We hear about several ideologies today. From Liberalism, Feminism, Nazism, Communism, Socialism, Capitalism, and so on. These ideologies have philosophical and socio-political origins. For example, the first wave of feminism emerged during the late 19th and early 20th century with the demand for the right to suffrage for women. More importantly, they are essential to understand as ideological politics define legitimacy in modern times.

Ideologies contain a system of beliefs and tend to explain an event, a story, an issue from the perspective of those fundamental beliefs. Critical theory in the study of literature involves explaining a piece through a particular form of analysis. However, this kind of study helps us form a perspective, but it is just one perspective and not reality. Plato’s allegory of the cave comes in handy to explain the difference between perception and reality.

There is an affinity to understand all and define all using a single premise or logic. Such a premise can be helpful when we need to understand an issue. But with the faith-like character that ideology puts into danger our conversations, personal and professional relations, and is dangerous territory. Free and respectful exchanges can broaden our horizon of understanding of the realities of the world. Let’s embrace reality with all its complexities; as a Slogan on the walls of Paris (May 1968) says,


Going to the roots, we get ideo + logy as a study of the ideas. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, ideology is described as ‘the study of ideas’ in its earliest definitions. It referred to the philosophical study of the mind where ideas are sensory. It also relates to the study of historical and socio-political concepts. Today the word is used in a political context rather than just understanding the origins of ideas in our minds.

A German- Jewish political thinker Hannah Arendt gives a very eclectic explanation of ideology and its implications in her text The Origins of Totalitarianism. She provides a moral, psychological, and anthropological account of a totalitarian regime in both its Marxist and its Nazi forms in the book. She argues that totalitarian regimes thrive on the fictional reality created by their ideology. In her words, their ‘appeal’ lies in ideology. It shows how people seek refuge in the idea of a single logic/premise which can show them the whole historical movement. Ideology, hence, gives a straightforward explanation or a closure to the issue which might otherwise cause anxiety to us- hope to escape the complexities and suffering of the world. Ideologies play an essential role in such regimes; they combine factual elements from reality with dreams, promises, and hopes for the future. In a nutshell, ideology carries an element of emotion and timelessness. They have hopes for the future and dreams originating in the glorious view of history, which are easier to linger to with human life’s constant anxiety and misery.

Ideologies are essentially ‘pseudo-scientific theories’ that put the follower under the illusion that they have a logical explanation of the past, a correct understanding of the present, and can reliably predict the future. This kind of thinking is at the heart of polarization in our society today. But more importantly, it takes away the space of conversations between individuals, groups, or even political parties. The conversation becomes a debate instead because the other person’s answer is already in their head. ‘Ideology is like a stone in the head,’ as my Professor Dilip Simeon used to speak. We should be cautious of the potential of the ideologies and keep the conversations going.