The “word” ideology is used at least three different ways in different intellectual communities or traditions:

  • It can mean the politically relevant opinions that any person holds. In that sense, we all have ideologies, even if we happen to hold few political opinions.
  • It can mean relatively organized, coherent, and recognizable systems of political belief, such as libertarianism, Marxism, liberalism, and many more. In that case, people can be more or less ideological. Being more ideological may help a person to navigate complex issues and make decisions. This is why people with stronger ideologies are often found to vote at higher rates. On the other hand, a strong ideology can be an obstacle to independent thought and complexity. It can encourage motivated reasoning.
  • It can mean a set of false beliefs that prevent people from seeing the social world accurately, usually to the benefit of the existing powers. An ideology may be reinforced by propaganda. “Racialism” would be an example of an ideology, in this sense. When the word is used this way, it is a term of criticism, and countering the power of ideology is a civic goal. Some deliberative democrats hope that robust and fair discussions counter ideology.
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