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3.1 The Classical Origins of Western Political Ideologies

Ancient Greek political ideologies emphasized the importance of consolidating political power in the hands of a virtuous ruler or group of rulers while also looking to design second-best models of government, usually involving a mixed system of government.

3.2 The Laws of Nature and the Social Contract

Hobbes and Locke developed the idea of the state of nature, wherein individuals are thought of as interacting in the absence of a ruling government. Hobbes and Locke both argued that governments should be judged according to what individuals in a state of nature would have freely consented for government to be. Hobbes conceived of the state of nature as one in which an unlimited ruler would be needed. In contrast, because Locke saw individuals as possessing inherent natural rights and interacting with others according to a rationally discernible set of moral rules known as the natural law, he argued that individuals in a state of nature would construct a government to enhance the protection of individual rights and the enforcement of that law. For Locke, individual rights included the right to private property and the free exchange of goods and services. Adam Smith applied Locke’s ideas on property rights and free markets to defend global free trade. Rousseau added to the social contract tradition the idea of government based on the general will.

3.3 The Development of Varieties of Liberalism

Classical liberals defend individual rights, limited government, and free trade. They favor capitalism, an economic system based on the freedom of owners to deploy their assets in whatever way they deem most profitable and the freedom of those without substantial assets to contract to sell their labor for wages. John Stuart Mill argued for enlarging the boundaries of personal freedom to include all endeavors that do not directly harm other individuals. In response to the Great Depression, a number of leaders advocated for including in the liberal tradition a more robust role for governmental regulation of the economy. Writers such as Hayek dissented, arguing for reduced government regulation of the economy and against the idea of a government-planned economy.

3.4 Nationalism, Communism, Fascism, and Authoritarianism

Nationalism, or pride in and celebration of a national identity based on shared blood, history, and soil, usually to the exclusion or detriment of other identities, rose to prominence as a political ideology in the 19th century. Marx and Engels argued that nationalism divided workers who should cooperate across national boundaries to respond to and eventually overthrow capitalism, which they argued was both inherently inhumane and inherently fraught with internal tensions that made it vulnerable to—or even destined for—replacement by the coordinated revolutionary actions of the working class. Gramsci, Lenin, and Stalin took Marxist thought in new directions. In part catalyzed by the growth of communism, new European political movements emerged, seeking to resist communist expansion. Fascism, and especially Nazism, argued for a heightened form of nationalism that could respond to the communist challenge, while at the same time advancing beliefs in Aryan racial superiority tied to a hateful form of exclusivism and anti-Semitism. Both the communism of the Soviet Union and its allies and the fascism of the Nazi regime were expressions of extreme authoritarianism known as totalitarianism. More moderate forms of authoritarianism have sought—and in a number of countries, such as Egypt, still seek—to maintain some degree of individual freedom while consolidating political power in individuals and institutions that are not democratically accountable. China has allowed some limited freedoms of property and religion while maintaining otherwise strict communist ideals.

3.5 Contemporary Democratic Liberalism

Democratic liberalism has been the predominant form of contemporary political ideology in the industrialized nations of North America and Europe and nations such as South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand for the past 60 years. This ideology combines democratically accountable government with government protections of individual rights and the promotion of a capitalist economy. Under this broad umbrella, the center left and center right constitute primary subgroups.

3.6 Contemporary Ideologies Further to the Political Left

Since the 1960s, a range of movements on the left of the political spectrum have emerged, forming a loose association of ideas sometimes referred to as the New Left. The New Left includes environmentalism, second- and third-wave feminism, critical race and gender theory, contemporary democratic socialism, globalism, and Indigenist federalism. Repudiating communism and other nondemocratic approaches, these movements seek to make society more progressive. The line between the center left and the New Left is a blurry one, as some New Left movements have become so mainstream among center-left advocates that they now form core elements of center-left ideology.

3.7 Contemporary Ideologies Further to the Political Right

Just as thinkers on the political left began to argue that the center left was insufficiently progressive, the past decade has seen the rise of a New Right that questions whether the center right is sufficiently protective of traditional cultural norms. This movement is associated with conservative populism and has seen electoral success not only in the United States but also in countries such as Hungary and Brazil.

3.8 Political Ideologies That Reject Political Ideology: Scientific Socialism, Burkeanism, and Religious Extremism

Some major political thinkers see themselves as eschewing the very concept of political ideology. Many Marxists have defined their cause as based not on philosophies about government but on the findings of hard social science. Thinkers such as Edmund Burke and Michael Oakeshott repudiate the overly abstract nature of political ideologies. Religious extremists reject the idea that humans can reason to the best form of political regime, asserting that a blueprint for society is readily at hand in the form of literal and inflexible readings of divine revelation.

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