The thesis is divided into four parts. Each part deals with one
aspect of ideological thought.
The first part attempts to define the area for study by indicating how
the terms ideology and ideological will be understood, and some reasons
for dissatisfaction with previous attempts to define the term. It
then considers the objection that any attempt to examine the concept
of ideology must itself be a rival ideological version of events. This
objection is examined by contrasting philosophy as an activity with
ideology and offering reasons for holding that they are a) different
activities b) philosophy does not underpin a particular ideological
model. Thus, it is possible to offer a disinterested study of our
The second part examines the relationship between history and ideology.
It attempts to show that history is an autonomous enterprise and that
it offers a special and particular understanding of the past. In
contrast, it is suggested that there are other ways of understanding
the past (of which ideology may be one) but that we can distinguish
between them and the historical understanding of the past by looking
at the appropriate context.
The third part looks at three particular ideologies - Marxism, Liberalism,
and Conservatism. It attempts to illustrate the part played by the
past in these ideologies and to thus make concrete the argument of part II
that ideologiets are interested in the past, but not in history. The
argument looks at the relationship between the past and the other
aspects of each ideology, for example, the view of human nature, of
political activity and of social change. It is suggested that the
important feature of the past for ideologists is the practical information it can provide, rather than the knowledge it can generate at a
theoretical level. The vision of the past which Marxists, Liberals
and Conservatives have is determined by these other elements, such
that even if we wanted to, examining the Marxists view of the past,
as history, would be to distort it.
Having contrasted ideological understanding of the past with an 'academic'
understanding in the shape of history, part four looks at the relation¬
ship between ideology and religion. The purpose here is to see
whether understandings of the past which are not academic (they are
termed 'practical' here) are of the same type. The conclusion is that
there are as many differences between two 'practical' entities such as
ideology and religion, as there are between ideology and 'academic'
disciplines. Thus the 'shape' of ideology is thrown into relief from
two sides, that of 'academic disciplines' and that of 'practical activity'.
The fourth part continues by raising the question of disagreements
between ideologists and poses some questions about their capacity for
resolution. It is argued that disputes between ideologists are not
like disputes or arguments between scientists of philosophers, because
they lack appropriate criteria. A more illuminating parallel, it is
claimed, is with moral disagreements, where fundamental values rather
than 'facts' are at stake.
The thesis seeks, by looking at how ideologists understand the past, and
by relating that understanding to the other aspects of ideological thought
to try and make clear the status of ideologies in relation to other areas
of thought. It concludes that though ideologies do not offer us an
objective or theoretically illuminating understanding of events, they
should not be dismissed as a mere parasite on political activity. They are closer to religion and to morality than to science, philosophy or
history, without being identical to them. Thus, to dismiss them as
if they were the poor relations of academic enquiry may be to