Below are three real-life cases “torn from the headlines,” as they say. What is your reaction to these examples? And what reasons can you give for your response?
“A couple of years before he was convicted of securities fraud, Martin Shkreli was the chief executive of a pharmaceutical company that acquired the rights to Daraprim, a lifesaving antiparasitic drug. Previously the drug cost $13.50 a pill, but in Shkreli’s hands, the price quickly increased by a factor of 56, to $750 a pill. At a health care conference, Shkreli told the audience that he should have raised the price even higher. ‘No one wants to say it, no one’s proud of it,’ he explained. ‘But this is a capitalist society, a capitalist system, and [with] capitalist rules’” (Desmond, 2019).
A major investigative report by The Globe and Mail newspaper stated that it has been “fifty years since governments began enacting laws that banned discrimination in hiring, firing and promotions on the basis of sex. Forty years since the federal government made it illegal for employers to fire a woman for becoming pregnant. Thirty years since women overtook men in university graduating classes. And it’s been 10 years since the wage gap budged in any significant way, progress has stalled. By almost every metric, they continue to lag generations behind men” (Doolittle & Wang, 2021).
Reports from China’s Xinjiang region indicate that atrocities are being systematically committed by the Chinese government against the mostly Muslim Uighur community. The BBC reports that “as well as interning Uighurs in camps, China has been forcibly mass sterilising Uighur women to suppress the population and separating Uighur children from their families. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute found evidence in 2020 of more than 380 of these ‘re-education camps’ in Xinjiang, an increase of 40% on previous estimates. … People who have managed to escape the camps have reported physical, mental and sexual torture – women have spoken of mass rape and sexual abuse. … In December 2020, research seen by the BBC showed that up to half a million people were being forced to pick cotton in Xinjiang. There is evidence new factories have been built within the grounds of the re-education camps” (BBC, 2021).
Consider your response to each case. Do you find yourself reaching for ideas such as fairness, equality, freedom, justice, human rights, and nationhood in articulating your response? If so, then you are beginning to speak the language of political ideology.
As Michael Freeden has argued, a political ideology is a “configuration of concepts” (Freeden, 1996) – a set of ideas we use to make sense of our political and social world. Each political ideology interprets that world (describing it in certain ways) and either justifies or challenges the prevailing state of affairs in light of a set of ideas about how things ought to be. This will be key to our definition of political ideology. But before getting to that, let’s take a quick look at how scholars before us have approached the subject.