“Ideology” is a distinctly modern word that helps us to discern a distinctly modern phenomenon.
Whenever we have a world picture, an essential decision occurs concerning beings as a whole. The being of beings is sought and found int eh representendess of beings. Where, however, beings are not interpreted in this way, the world, too, cannot come into the picture – there can be no world picture. That beings acquire being in and through representedness makes the age in which this occurs a new age, distinct from its predecessors.
Yeah, well… you know, that’s just like… uh… your opinion, man.-Mark Shiffman, What is Ideology? | -Martin Heidegger, Die Zeit des Weltbildes | -The Dude, Big Lebowski
Understanding the World(view)
What do we mean by the common term “worldview”? Our English word originates from the German Weltanschauung (from Welt, meaning “world”, and Anschauung, “view”, “perception”, or even “perspective”). Often, the term is used as though it needs no explanation: “That’s your worldview”, “My worldview is…”, “The Roman worldview” or “The Catholic worldview”, etc. But the German philosophical traditions from which the notion arose, and through which it develops, course in diverse and confusing ways. Kant, Humboldt, Hegel, Husserl, Jaspers, Heidegger, and many others all spoke meaningfully about the world, about worldviews, and/or about the “world-picture”.
In a similar vein, Karl Marx developed (in a departure from its origins in the late eighteenth-century French thinker, Antoine Destrutt de Tracy) a notion of the “ideology” that shapes thinking to this day in a similar fashion. In Marx’s bending of ideology, it was put forward as a “set of ideas whose purpose is to legitimate a set of social and economic relations, and which originates from those same relations.” As the twentieth-century Italian Marxist Gramsci furthered this interpretation, ideologies were not only echoes of our economically-shaped consciousness, but themselves a real battleground for social and political struggle. Thus, ideology is understood as “a set of ideas justifying a power agenda and helping it to obtain cultural sway by dominating the minds of those who can be brought to accept it”.
Thus, the contemporary notion of “ideology” is narrower than that of “worldview”, which comprises a sense of the whole, whereas the ideology concerns itself only with what fits inside the “idea”.
Constraining the World
But are these really different? If the “world” is encompassed in the “view”, or its meaning restrained to what can be viewed—or, given in a picture—do we not thereby restrict the being of the world? Let us take, for instance, the “American worldview” as experienced in the 1950s. Fresh off the victory of World War II, and confronted by tensions with the growing power of the USSR, the American worldview was truly a “view of the world”, as a stage upon which conflict with the Soviets was to be won or lost. The American represented freedom, justice, prosperity, and faith; the Soviet oppression, abuse, poverty, and godlessness. One held to the dignity of the individual and the family; the other Procrustean conformity to the collective.
How much of the real world was omitted through such myopic lenses?
Or consider the idea of a “Catholic worldview”—a claim today so vague as to be all-but-meaningless. Why? Should there not be a common, underlying view through which all Catholics view the world? Perhaps, yes; but the very notion of a “Catholic worldview” seems more and more to be coopted into one or another ideological claim: that of care for the poor and marginalized, the “open arms”; or one of returning to tradition, beauty, and “rigid” codes of behavior. What causes this divergence? The lenses appear to be narrowing—letting in less and less light as each day passes.
Realism and the World
Central to most claims touting the advance of a “worldview”, “world-picture”, or “ideology” one finds, I believe, either an inherent skepticism or a deliberate agnosticism about humans’ common possession of the ability to know what truly, really is, independent of the mind. No wonder the world ends up constrained!
Doubtless there is much more to be said—so come say it! Join us for our Philosophical Happy Hour this Wednesday (11/8/2023) from 5:45–7:15pm ET.
Philosophical Happy Hour
Come join us for drinks (adult or otherwise) and a meaningful conversation. Open to the public! Held every Wednesday from 5:45–7:15pm ET.
 Shiffman 2023: What is Ideology? 10.
 Ibid. Cf. Zizek 1989: Sublime Object of Ideology, 49-51.