1.3 General Ways in Which Ideologies Differ

Dr. Gregory Millard

Different ideologies are built on different concepts and vary in the way they organize and prioritize those concepts. It is not that there is no overlap between the concepts used by one ideology and those used by another. On the contrary, most ideologies affirm ideals such as equality, freedom, justice, order, and community. Nonetheless,

  1. they often define key concepts differently. Such concepts are “contested,” meaning that there is no single, universally shared or “correct” definition of what they mean. Rather, each such concept tends to have a range of possible meanings associated with it. If we learn that nationalism, socialism, and liberalism all have a commitment to “freedom,” therefore we cannot stop there. Rather, we have to inquire into what they mean by this term, and we must be prepared for the possibility that they use the same term to mean somewhat different things.
  2. different ideologies often prioritize key concepts differently. For instance, both liberalism and socialism endorse certain ideals of freedom, equality and community. But many would argue that socialism gives a degree of priority to equality and community that is not usually found in liberalism. Similarly, both socialism and liberalism recognize the value of the human individual; liberalism, however, gives this principle pride of place, while socialism tends to put greater emphasis on collective categories such as social class.
  3. sometimes ideologies are completely divergent in their key concepts. For example, fascism utterly rejects the principle of human equality. In this, it is deeply different from rivals such as liberalism, socialism, or feminism. Other times, an ideology will highlight a concept not shared in any important way by its rivals. Environmentalism thus makes the flourishing of the natural world absolutely central to its vision of social and political order, while no other ideology does this to anywhere near the same degree.

These, then, are some important ways in which ideologies can vary. But ideologies have similarities as well as differences. This brings us to the problem of how to generalize about the relationships between various ideologies.


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Political Ideologies and Worldviews: An Introduction Copyright © 2021 by Dr. Gregory Millard is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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