Theory on framework issues

Sunday, July 7, 2013

15.3. Why ideology types and the political spectrum match: The theory of ideological concealment

The correspondence problem in general

The unanticipated correspondence between ideology types and segments of the left-right political spectrum posed an unexpectedly difficult theoretical problem. The solution is now at hand: you must consider not only what the types each tell but also what they conceal. But first, a review of the basics of construal-level theory and the theory of ideology types.

Construal-level theory from social psychology deals with abstract construal (or far-mode) and concrete construal (or near-mode), where abstract means lower granularity achieved by deeper cognitive processing and far means distant (primarily) in time. The alternative names for these perspectives on reality correspond to two facets of construal level, which are correlated but can diverge. Managerialism is concrete and present-oriented, Utopianism abstract and future-oriented; but Demagogism is abstract and present-oriented, Monomaniacalism concrete and future oriented.

The unexpectedly difficult problem is to explain why the far political right fits the Demagogist pattern, the far left the Utopianist, the broad center Managerialist. To understand why, first notice that construal-level theory can seem to contradict an earlier claim: ideologists view abstract or far components of ideologies as more important than concrete or near components. How can this be, when construal-level theory informs us that the concrete and near seem more important? The key to resolving the apparent contradiction is that what’s ideologically most important isn’t the same as what’s simply most important. In fact, what’s most important ideologically serves to conceal what’s really more important to typical individuals espousing the ideologies.

Explaining the correspondence of each ideology type

In Managerialism, the typical ideology of modern, stable regimes, the low commitment to both components of ideology conceals the strength of its nonideological commitment to practical policies favoring particular interests. Managerialists portray themselves as flexible, as carrying their ideologies lightly, because they want the population to think they are more open to input and pressure than they are. President Obama, the complete Managerialist, concealed his political commitment to the survival of the banking monopolies, under a pragmatic rhetoric according to which the old bank “regulators” were simply the most capable candidates available. Managerialism corresponds to a broad centrism because powerful interests support the status quo and must look flexible to appear less powerful than they are. The commitment to the status quo is paramount.

Utopianism shows the opposite pattern where intransigence is exaggerated rather than downplayed. Utopianism is often the ideology of those of the downtrodden who have the capacity to resist by collective action. While powerful individuals must try to appear flexible, those in a position to offer contest should appear implacable. They must downplay what is really most important to them, concrete improvements, since by concealing their willingness to compromise they can extract better compromises. The Social Democratic Parties of the Second International often emphasized their Maximum Program, which was socialism, while in practice pursuing concrete, less ideological concrete measures. The Maximum Program improved their bargaining position in pursuing their Minimum Program.

Demagogists are ideologically committed to abstract means and seem to choose issues without concern for consistency, but their commitment to abstract means conceals their opportunistic orientation to immediacy. Demagogists are on the far right because Demagogism appeals to peasants and small businessmen who, in their social isolation, flounder and are unable to resist. They lack the raw collective strength of the workers or the individual power of the capitalists and high managers, so they desperately want immediate relief. The issues may vary, but they always deal with the immediate. The Tea Party campaigned under an abstract ideology of privatization of government services, but when it came to their own benefits, they were grasping; aged Tea Partiers wanted above all to preserve their Medicare “entitlements.” Demagogists must conceal their real concern about their narrow and immediate self-interest because even the transitory political coalitions they enter would come apart if the narrowness of its components was understood.

Monomaniacalists are unique in spanning the ideological spectrum, and they correspond to amorphous class interests. What they conceal is the rigidity of their very outlook, its obsessional quality, which can preclude getting serious support. Ron Paul’s ideological emphasis on abstract liberty concealed the primacy of his fetishistic support of the gold standard and his mechanical negative votes on any tax bills.

The two sources of ideology

Not one singly but two bases in practical life jointly support ideologies: the interests of social classes and the habitual thought patterns of occupations. These don’t always correspond. Engineers are prone to Monomaniacalist thinking, but if an engineer becomes very wealthy, Managerialist ideology will better express his interests. As his interests won’t support his Monomaniacalist tendencies and his Monomaniacalism doesn’t support his Managerialist interests, he is an unlikely ideologist.


  1. "habitual thought patterns of occupations" link is dead


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