Alien Powers

I see that Kenneth Minogue has a new book, provocatively titled The Servile Mind: How Democracy Erodes the Moral Life. Although the library doesn’t have it yet, I did find a copy of his 1985 classic  Alien Powers: The Pure Theory of Ideology. His commentary is comparable to Eric Voegelin, whom he frequently cites. Minogue’s definition of ideology is superb: “The idea is so abstract that it is less a doctrine than a machine for generating doctrines, and its simplest formulation is that all evils are caused by an oppressive system.” Ideologies present “the hidden and saving truth… in the form of social analysis” and “theories of liberation.”

Whether they are Marxist, feminist, or nationalist (anti-imperialist) they all evince a similar psychology. Traditional philosophical and religious structures posited a world that was flawed, but that could be transcended morally or spiritually. Reform was possible. Perfection, however, remained elusive. According to radical theorists it is the structure of reality itself that must be changed. For example, Marx (contra the theologians) held that “it is not man who misuses money, but money which misuses man. Moral responsibility disappears and greed is transferred from men to institutions.” Ideologues mistake the abuse for the essence, and are intolerant of imperfection in the systems they oppose (though they carefully rule out criticism of their own actions as invalid).

Political thought in the tradition of Aristotle discussed “intentions.” Ideology is “results” oriented. In this way, ideologies, even when in power, are essentially anti-political. They force facts to fit theory. They are also opposed to genuine dialogue and philosophical discipline.

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