Letter from the author

Paul Wetherly

This book provides an introduction to the range of ideologies that frame the way political debates are conducted and political issues are decided. These debates and decisions are not the preserve of ‘specialists' such as academics and politicians for, as argued in Chapter 1, we are all ideologists in the sense that we have understandings of the way the world works and values which guide our assessments of how it could be improved.

As the subtitle of the first chapter suggests, ideologies can be seen as contesting the nature of the ‘good society’ – advancing rival claims about how the world works and could be improved through political action – and this conception is used throughout the book to set out and analyse each ideology. However, it is important to understand that ideology is a contested concept which can be defined and used in different ways, and developing this understanding is one of the main objectives of the first chapter.

The approach to the study of ideologies in this book involves a number of aspects. We consider the origins and development of each ideology and, in doing so, we distinguish between ‘classical’ (Chapters 2-7) and ‘new’ ideologies (Chapters 9-12). However, we also note that this should be treated with caution as some of the new ideologies go back quite a long way. We also examine how ideologies that may be characterized as Western and modern in their origins have subsequently become globalized, a process that has been driven largely by the expansion of the West and that has involved resistance and adaptation.

Ideologies are identified by familiar labels – liberalism, conservatism, socialism etc. – and this can create the impression that each ideology is a distinct and self-contained set of ideas that can be placed in its own separate ‘box’. Of course, each ideology must be substantially distinct, or ideological labels would have little meaning. In each chapter this distinctiveness is analysed in terms of the ideology’s key concepts and vision of the good society. However, the book emphasizes the complex place within as well as between ideologies as they contain internal variants – there is more than one way to be, say, a liberal or a socialist. Ideologies may share some key concepts, such as liberty and equality, and contest their meanings. There may be blurred edges rather than sharp boundaries between some ideologies, such as versions of liberalism, socialism, and anarchism. And there are some ideological ‘marriages’, such as between liberalism and feminism or environmentalism and socialism.

In considering the development of ideologies we consider them not just as abstract sets of ideas but as action-oriented, and we therefore consider the connections between ideology and politics and the way ideologies are embodied in political movements and parties. This also leads us to consider the impact of ideologies in the world and how we can assess their influence. In this respect a key argument is around the status of liberalism as a dominant ideology, and contemporary claims that liberalism has triumphed in the ideological contest.

Most readers of this book will be using it as a textbook. I hope that it helps them to be successful in their studies. More than that, though,  I hope they find the book a stimulating guide to political ideologies that helps them to develop their own thinking as critical ideologists.

There are many people who deserve my thanks for their help in making this book possible and with whom it has been a pleasure to work.

First, the contributors, without whom this book would literally not have been possible (or certainly would have taken a lot longer and not been as good). I am very grateful to colleagues from Leeds Beckett University and elsewhere who have very generously given their time and expertise to write chapters for the book. This collective approach means that the book draws on a stock of knowledge that is vastly greater than any single author could muster. It is also, I think, a strength that although there are common features in the chapters they benefit from the individual voice and approach of each author. As contributors, they have had to put up with my editorial suggestions and occasional pesterings, which I hope they have not found too irksome.

It has been a pleasure to work with the team at Oxford University Press, and I am particularly grateful to Sarah Iles who commissioned the book and, latterly, Emily Spicer. Both have been extremely helpful and supportive throughout.

Finally, the book has benefitted from the thorough and constructive feedback given by a group of academic reviewers. Their assistance is greatly appreciated, and has helped to shape the book. In alphabetical order they are:

Robin Barklis, University of Oregon

Tom Bentley, University of Aberdeen

Simon Birnbaum, Stockholm University

Jacqueline Briggs, University of Loncoln

Michael L. Coulter, Grove City College

Ashley Dodsworth, University of Bristol

Paul Flenley, University of Portsmouth

Ian Fraser, Loughborough University

Antje Grebner, The Hague University of Applied Sciences

Mathew Humphrey, University of Nottingham

Robert Jackson, Manchester Metropolitan University

Malte Kaeding, University of Surrey

Rasmus Karlsson, Umeå University

Aynsley Kellow, University of Tasmania

Alia Middleton, University of Surrey

David S. Moon, University of Bath

Saul Newman, Goldsmiths University of London

Niklas Olsen, University of Copenhagen

Phil Parvin, Loughborough University

Andy Price, Sheffield Hallam University

Sam Raphael, University of Westminster

Paola Rivetti, Dublin City University

Geoffrey Robinson, Deakin University

Andrea Schapper, University of Stirling

Finally, it is one of the little privileges and pleasures of being editor that I get to dedicate the book, as I do to my wonderful daughters, Laura and Becky.

Yours sincerely,

Paul Wetherly


Political Ideologies   |   First Edition   |   Edited by Paul Wetherly   |   May 2017   |   456 pages   |   Paperback   |   ISBN: 9780198727859