“Ideology”: the winning article of the Politics Writing Competition

History teaches that people fail to learn from history, so Hegel once quipped. Despite the seemingly unending march towards ‘progress’, human beings never seem to learn from their collective mistakes. Ironically this itself is not a new idea. Indeed, the Teacher in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes pessimistically, and perhaps prophetically, stated “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun”.[1]

The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 was thought by commentators at the time to be the end of this cycle, the end of this repeated failure to learn from history. With the end of the Soviet regime came the end of history itself- “the end point of man’s ideological evolution and the universalisation of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”[2] It was under this wave of optimism that New Labour surged to power in 1997, with the anthem ‘Things Can Only Better’ underpinning it all. The spectre of Communism lay defeated, enough had been learnt from history; liberal Western democracy was here to stay.

Despite the positivity it began with, the surge of this post-ideological world is very much on the wane. For the 12th year in a row, global freedom has been in decline, with 71 countries suffering net losses of political rights and civil liberties.[3] EU countries Hungary and Poland have experienced a rise in anti-democratic practices; under the stewardship of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan so too has NATO member Turkey. President Trump’s repeated undermining of the independent judiciary in the United States is a far-cry from Things Only Getting Better. Liberal Western democracy has not overseen the universalisation of its values but a full-on regress. What was touted as the end point of ideological evolution has been nothing but the soil from which ideology has regrown.

The resurfacing of old ideologies is not isolated to one side of the political spectrum, however. Far-right movements in Austria, France, the Netherlands, and indeed Germany all have increased their vote share. And with the results of the UK’s snap election last year, a self-proclaimed Marxist is only a step away from becoming the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Yet, despite the atrocities committed in the 20th century by Fascist and Communist regimes, the West seems to be drifting towards these dogmata once more. Worryingly, the post-ideological blancmange proffered by liberal democracy offers no bulwark against such movements. It is far easier to rally people under banners, flags, and ideas with passion than it is to inspire the utility of an ‘intercontinental car park where nobody is a foreigner, but nobody feels at home.’[4]

The rise of far-right and far-left movements is certainly cause for concern. For the extreme ends of both sides of the spectrum disagree with the fundamental assumption of Western civilisation- the value of the individual. Privileging the collective (be that the state, economic class, or ethnicity) over the individual has consistently led to tyranny. Those designated untermensch by the Nazi Party were exterminated with disturbing efficiency. Consequently, anything was deemed permissible in pursuit of the ‘universal triumph of Communism’.[5] In Ukraine, mere survival in the midst of The Holodomor automatically attracted suspicion of withholding food from the State- a crime which carried a 10-year sentence in the Gulag.[6] The slow embrace of such ideologies will bring about the death of the individual, and with it the death of civilisation as it is currently known.

Although, it may be necessary for the ideology of the West to die. The extreme privileging of the individual has often led to the suffering of the collective. The gap in wealth between the richest and the poorest in the UK is increasing[7] and the 2008 recession hit those from the lowest income backgrounds the hardest.[8] As the rich get richer, the poorer get left behind- and that is just within the West. Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, has more wealth than the GDP of over 120 countries.[9] When wealth disparity reaches that level, the ‘carpark’ does not seem like an attractive option.

What then is the solution to the malaise of the West? Political problems require political solutions but the problem the West faces is not at the purely political level, nor even the philosophical. The fundamental problem the West is grappling with is at the theological level. The fundamental presupposition of the West, that the individual has inherent worth is deeply rooted in a Judeo-Christian worldview- that human beings bear the imago Dei, the image of God. This idea is enshrined within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and holds a moral vision that transcends all nations, cultures, and ethnicities.

With individuals holding more wealth than entire nations and authoritarianism rearing its ugly head, perhaps the West ought to eschew political ideologies in favour of a religious one. As political ideologies that trample on the individual are resurrected, perhaps it might benefit from resurrecting an ideology in which resurrection is the key element. An idea and ideal that does not simply call for the protection of the individual from the collective, but calls for individuals to protect the collective. Christianity does not offer cosy ‘be nice to one another’ sentiment but a radical demand that the infinitely valuable individual offer their all for the betterment of all mankind and that mankind offer their all in service of the individual.

Conceivably this may come across as wishful thinking, naïveté, or even downright madness. Isn’t God dead, after all? However, for all the failures of those who profess to follow Christ, the Christian ideal still holds a tantalising image of a world made right. It is time for the resurrection of an ideology which was hastily discarded in humanity’s quest for perfection. It is time to resurrect the ideology which ends humanity’s pursuit of an unreachable utopia. It is time to resurrect and truly live out the ideology on which Western civilisation is based. For ‘the Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried’.[10]

 

[1] Ecclesiastes 1:9 New Revised Standard Version

[2] Francis Fuyukama, The End of History and the Last Man, 1992

[3] https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/freedom-world-2018

[4] Peter Hitchens, The Nation State is Not an Outdated Concept, Durham Union Address, 2016 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=piOGd4qaPwA

[5] Lev Kopelev, To Be Preserved Forever, 1977; Vladimir Lenin, The Tasks of the Youth Leagues, Collected Works Vol. 31, 1920, https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1920/oct/02.htm

[6] Anne Applebaum, Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine, 2017, p.233

[7] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-40318284

[8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4200506/

[9] https://www.forbes.com/profile/jeff-bezos/#; http://statisticstimes.com/economy/countries-by-projected-gdp.php

[10] G.K. Chesterton, What’s Wrong With the World, 1910, Ch. 1.5

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