Ideology: an excuse to oppress people.
Some kind, considerate, insightful editor nuked my write-up that read as above in its entirety. But I am serious. This is all that you need to know about ideologies.
As my audience didn't get it, I will elaborate. However bear in mind that I am no expert on politics. Please excuse me if my analysis is naïve.
An ideology is an overarching system that attempts to unify all experience. It is a political theory of everything.
Nelson Mandela, in his book Long walk to freedom describes the transition from racism to a racist ideology:
Apartheid was a new term but an old idea. … The often haphazard segregation of the past three hundred years was to be consolidated into a monolithic system that was diabolical in it’s detail, inescapable in it’s reach and overwhelming in it’s power.
I am talking here about overarching systems of political thought, but it should apply to other contexts as well.
Apartheid was more theological than political in it's justifications. Jung Chang’s excellent Wild Swans describes how China’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution resembled a brainwashing cult. Ideology requires the true believer. An ideology is not just facts, ideas and theories about the world. It is a paradigm, a mindset. It is a fact-proof screen through which the world is viewed.
An important (and perhaps defining) feature of ideologies is in how those who disagree or who point out inconvenient facts, have other theories are treated. Since the ideology must be right, the dissident must be wrong in their thinking. Not only that, but as they are wrong in ideology but often right in practice, and this truth cannot be acknowledged, they are dangerous.
Rather than a pragmatic reassessment of the situation or a rational debate, or even an acceptance of diversity, anyone who is at odds with the ideology must be neutralised. They are either criminal by virtue of their opinion, immature and in need of education, deviant and in need of readjustment, or deranged and in need of treatment.
No matter how good the ideals of an ideology, its inflexibility dictates that it will not work as well as a pragmatic, flexible set of ideas and theories, and the disparity with reality induces either cynicism or cult-like blind fervour. I'm not sure, but perhaps the only states that need an ideology (as opposed to a more flexible political method) are totalitarian ones.
Calling an ideology an excuse to oppress implies that either the state develops the ideology, or rides to power on the back of the ideology as a ploy to gain or keep power; or that the sincere ideals decay, and nothing is left but the power. Beware of people who want to fix all the world's problems - they are the cause of most of the world's problems.
States that have deployed ideologies include The Soviet Union, Red China under Mao Zedong, North Korea, Apartheid South Africa. I will try to avoid running afoul of Godwin's law in thinking up examples here.
The 20th century has seen the failure of ideology – not just particular ideologies, but of ideology in general. But is that simply because the successful systems of thought have escaped this derogatory label? IMHO things that work, do so for pragmatic reasons and are thus strategies not ideologies. A case in point is that it is actually hard to find people to sing the unreserved praises of Capitalism, even though it is in various forms the dominant economic system. When megacorp inc starts to sell you an ideology, that is when you should start to worry.
says: I feel that you're employing a definition of ideology which makes your conclusion inevitable.
Perhaps, but it is a good definition, and no one else here is employing it, then it needs to be noded.