Commentary Magazine

Ideology-A Debate

The following exchange was occasioned by Henry David Aiken's article, “The Revolt Against Ideology,” which appeared in the April COMMENTARY. Daniel Bell is professor of sociology at Columbia and the author of The End of Ideology. Mr. Aiken is professor of philosophy at Harvard: his books include The Age of Ideology and Reason and Conduct.

Daniel Bell: Define your terms, the philosophers enjoin us. One of the difficulties with Henry David Aiken's essay, “The Revolt Against Ideology,” is the multiplicity of senses in which he uses the word “ideology,” as well as the ambiguity of his prescriptions. He begins by citing with approval the Marxian conception that ideologies are “inverted images of reality”—ideas falsely divorced from the material conditions that produce them—and that the function of social analysis is to “demythologize ideology”; and he concludes—no longer mincing words!—by saying that persons like myself, who talk of the “end of ideology,” would “render us helpless in the world struggle against the ideology of Communism” and weaken “what remains of our national commitment to the ideological principles that animate our constitutional system.”

Now, since I accept a Marxian conception of ideology as the starting point for analysis, and since I call myself a pragmatist (as does Mr. Aiken), I am puzzled by the transitions through which I end up as subversive of my own ideals, if not of my country's. Let me therefore indicate what I mean by the “end of ideology,” and later confront Mr. Aiken himself directly.

The Marxian discussion of ideology flows from the concern with alienation. But the context is as broad as the “human condition” itself. The root of it all is in man's unhappy awareness of a divided consciousness, and his yearning or search for an Absolute. In Christian terms, man is separated from God and searches for re-unification through the figure of Christ. For Hegel, religious alienation is but one aspect of a cosmic drama in which everything is rent by duality—spirit and matter, nature and history, God and man—and the “realization,” or the “end of philosophy,” will occur when all dualities are overcome, when man no longer is both subject and object, or lives between society and State.

Marx's great vision provided a naturalistic foundation for the Hegelian drama. The source of man's duality, he said, lay not in thought but in the division of labor and in the social classes. The “realization” of philosophy, in other words, lay in economics, and the agency of human fulfillment was not the Idea but the Proletariat. The unity of “thought and being,” the union of appearance and reality, and the end of all ideology (a phrase, as Lewis Feuer reminds us, that was first used by Engels in his essay on Feuerbach) would come, said Marx, when man finally conquered material necessity and began living in a purposeful, self-directed community.

Marxism itself, however, became an ideology with the assumption, to be found in Marx's later work as well as in the vulgarization of his thought by Engels, that there was a single key to the “realization” of philosophy—the abolition of private property. Abolish private property, and all exploitation would disappear. As Communist apologists later put it, there could be no classes and exploitation in the Soviet Union because there was no private property in Soviet society.

It is necessary to emphasize some distinctions in order to focus the questions that divide us. Originally, “ideology” simply meant sense impressions; in opposition to the rationalists, the ideologues sought to “purify” ideas by accepting only those which come through the senses. For Marx, “ideology” referred to beliefs which masked private interests; thus, such doctrines as natural rights, with their claim to a universal transcendental validity, were really constructed to justify the needs of the bourgeoisie. Among the specific examples of ideology that Marx gives (in the essays on The Jewish Question) are the guarantees of property rights and civil rights in the various state constitutions of the United States. In the 20th century, “ideology” acquired a broader and more impassioned meaning. As the political struggles of the age took on the intensity of the earlier religious wars, the word came to denote in politics what the terms “creed” or “faith” had meant in religion.

During its crusading Bolshevik phase, Marxism became a total ideology. As I used the term: “A total ideology is an all-inclusive system of comprehensive reality, it is a set of beliefs, infused with passion, and seeks to transform the whole of a way of life. This commitment to ideology—the yearning for a ‘cause’ or the satisfaction of deep moral feelings—is not necessarily the reflection of interests in the shape of ideas. Ideology . . . in the sense used here is a secular religion.”


Those of us who speak of the “end of ideology” mainly mean to reject this mode of commitment, which had such a disastrous effect on the thought and politics of the radical and Utopian movements of the past two generations. As developed by such writers as Raymond Aron, Edward Shils, C. A. R. Crosland, and S. M. Lipset, the theme of the “end of ideology” has become a call for an end to apocalyptic beliefs that refuse to specify the costs and consequences of the changes they envision. The “end-of-ideology” school (if a school it is) is skeptical of rationalistic schemes that assume they can blueprint the entire life of a society; it argues that the existing political tags “conservative” and “liberal” have lost their intellectual clarity; it is critical of existing institutions, but it does not accept the assumption that social change is necessarily an improvement. In short, it is pragmatic in the triple sense in which Dewey used the term: it defines the consequence of an action as a constitutive element of the truth of a proposition; it assumes the inextricable relation of ends and means; and it believes that values, like any empirical proposition, can be tested on the basis of their claims.

Now the curious thing is that none of this history—either of the term “ideology” or of the background of radicalism—is reflected in Mr. Aiken's discussion of ideology. He does not say whether these judgments on the past were wrong or right. He treats the word “ideology” only as a formal problem for analysis. The reason, perhaps, is that he is out to make a case—a lawyer's case, not a philosopher's case—and he goes at it in the best lawyer's manner.

The central point in his discussion of my own contribution to the theme is his analysis of the word “rhetoric.” I wrote: “If the ‘end of ideology’ has any meaning, it is to ask for the end of rhetoric, and rhetoricians, of ‘revolution,’ of the day when the young French anarchist Vaillant tossed a bomb into the Chamber of Deputies and the literary critic Laurent Tail-hade declared in his defense: ‘What do a few human lives matter; it was a beau geste!

After quoting this passage, Mr. Aiken comments: “If by ‘rhetoric’ Bell means the use of language in order to persuade or influence others—and many things suggest that this is his meaning—then his vision of the end of ideology as an end to rhetoric is a Utopian fantasy. Worse, it is an evil fantasy, for it implies a conception of human relations which would deprive us of the right to address one another except for the purposes of comparing notes about matters of fact.”

I submit that the two paragraphs have nothing to do with each other. I was calling attention to the distortion of the discourse of persuasion—after all, what is a bomb?—rather than its classical use. The “end of rhetoric,” in the context I gave it, plainly means an end to a way of thinking and acting which substitutes the worship of the Word—the verbal fetish of Revolution—for a moral analysis of consequences. If the fetishism of commodities is the “secret” of capitalism, is not the fetishism of rhetoric—the reliance on political slogans—the “secret” of radicalism?1

Next: I wrote that American life has suffered from an excess of “moralism.” My examples were the small-town fundamentalist restrictions on personal conduct; McCarthyism—an extension of such moralizing in politics; and the formulation of foreign policy from one administration to the next in moralistic terms. (And, one can now say, the political rhetoric of Barry Goldwater.)

Writes Mr. Aiken: “In asking for an end to rhetoric, what Bell appears to be calling for is, among other things, an end to moral discourse and a beginning of consistent ‘pragmatic discourse’ in every sphere of political life. What does this mean? So far as I can make out, it means an end to judgment and to principle [my italics], to praise and to blame, in the political domain and a beginning of plain, unvarnished ‘politicking’ in the name of our ‘realistic’ national, social, or individual ‘interests.’”

Again I call foul, this time at the shift from moralistic to moral. Moralizing, or being moralistic, is a distortion of the moral mode. It is the “ideological” use of morality for the sake of a hidden purpose.

As it happens, I do believe in “pragmatic discourse”; but is pragmatic discourse without principle? Isn't Locke's Letter on Toleration a form of pragmatic discourse? Isn't Kant's distinction between public and private—one the realm of agreed-upon procedure, the other the realm of conscience—a pragmatic one in its context? Pragmatic discourse in politics emphasizes the search for a reasoned consensus, rather than treating political issues as a war-to-the-death. It involves an “ethic of responsibility,” but as Richard McKeon has pointed out, “responsibility is determined by the reciprocities in the actions of men.” Where there is no reciprocity, conflict may—and at times should—develop. Between a racist and myself there is no reciprocity; between a Nazi and myself there is no reciprocity; between a Communist and myself there is no reciprocity. But where there is, or can be, an acceptance of the rules of the game—of the process of open discourse and reciprocity-there should be social compromise. Is this not judgment—and principle?


What is the lawyer's case that Mr. Aiken is seeking to make? On the one hand, it is a cumbersome theoretical formulation; on the other, a simplified political point.

Mr. Aiken writes: “Now political ideology is nothing but political discourse . . . on its most general formative level. It is, that is to say, political discourse insofar as the latter addresses itself, not just to specific, piecemeal reforms, but to the guiding principles, practices, and aspirations by which politically organized societies, absolutely or else in certain typical situations, ought to be governed. . . . Here words must not only predict what will be but determine what shall be; they must not only inform but also prepare and initiate lines of action. And what is it that is being determined, prepared, and initiated? This, so I contend, can be fully revealed only through the ‘poetry’ which the ideologist may afford us.”

Here Mr. Aiken completely muddies the waters. For he has simply taken an old-fashioned definition of political philosophy and arbitrarily called it—despite the tortuous history of the word—political ideology. In fact a number of writers today—usually conservative ones who ask for a return to first principles—have decried the absence of political philosophy in the schools, charging modern political theory with “scientism.” By calling for political ideology, Mr. Aiken has given us a stylish way of posing the problem. But otherwise the only gain is in confusion.

His political barb is more pointed: “I do not mean to attack our latter-day anti-ideologists by innuendo. I do mean to say that the plain effect of their rhetoric is to reinforce acceptance of our institutional status quo and to declass those ‘intellectuals’ who seek to modify in any radical way the fundamental structures of ‘Western’ political life.”

If you set up a straw man, it will burn brightly when you put a match to it. As in so much of Mr. Aiken's essay, there is a fine resonance but an astonishing lack of specificity in these statements. I don't know what Mr. Aiken regards as the “fundamental structures of ‘Western’ political life.” To my mind, the fundamental structure is the democratic process, and this I do not want to change. To speak further for myself, since the question of political identification is at issue, I am a democratic socialist, and have been for almost all of my politically conscious years. As such, I wish to see a change in the fundamental structures of our economic life. I deplore the social and economic power of the corporation. I detest the cult of efficiency which sacrifices the worker to the norms of productivity. I favor national planning in the economy. I want to see more public enterprise. And I want to introduce other criteria than those of the market or the private profit motive as means of allocating resources in the society. I have guiding general principles, rooted in conceptions about the nature of work and community, which shape these views. But I also have a test which guides the introduction of these changes; and I think the differences between Mr. Aiken and me on this question are the nub of the issue.

I wrote: “There is now more than ever some need for Utopia, in the sense that men need—as they have always needed—some vision of their potential, some manner of fusing passion with intelligence. . . . The ladder to the City of Heaven can no longer be a ‘faith ladder,’ but an empirical one; a Utopia has to specify where one wants to go, how to get there, the costs of the enterprise, and some realization of, and justification for, the determination of who is to pay.”

To this, Mr. Aiken retorts: “Were one seriously to try, in detail and at the outset, to meet all his requirements for a ‘good’ Utopia, the magnitude and complexity of the task would paralyze thought.”


I find it hard to understand these remarks. The context of my discussion was quite clear. I pointed out that Lenin instigated the Russian Revolution with no idea at all of the meaning of planning or socialization (other than the simple-minded notion, expressed in State and Revolution, that the entire economy would be run like a single enterprise), and that the lives of millions of people were thus committed on the basis of an abstract promise. Or, to take another example: when Stalin decided in 1929 on the ruthless collectivization of agriculture in line with the ideological premise that individual peasant property should be eliminated, was not the question of costs and consequences relevant? Or again, to bring the issue closer to home: if an urban renewal program bulldozes a neighborhood in response to the liberals' ideological image of “slum clearance,” should one not apply tests of the consequence of this action for community life?

Does Mr. Aiken want to build a bridge to the future without any tests of costs and consequences? His fear is that such a demand would inhibit all change. But why? Is it really so difficult? Have we no resources at all in sociological and economic knowledge to assess the social costs of change? Surely we know enough by now about the effects of social change—the devastation in the depressed areas, the school dropouts, the manifold impact of automation—to understand what our failure to plan has cost.

But all this is bootless, for I am asking Mr. Aiken to be concrete, and he is relentlessly abstract. Yet if the debate is to have any meaning, if Mr. Aiken wants to be radical, let him state in detail what he wants to be radical about. Then we can argue whether it is desirable or not, and what criteria we should use. But is it not the mark of the ideologue that he is usually so general and vague?

From past experience as well as from this exchange, I feel that what is really involved here is not a conflict of intellectual positions but a conflict of contrasting temperaments. Once upon a time there was a primary and meaningful tension between the orthodox and the antinomians. The orthodox, whether priests, clerks, or scholars, believed in a ritual or a tradition, a set of “right” beliefs, which were enforced in varying degrees on the society. The antinomians—gnostics, vagabonds, bohemians, rebels—resisted institutional authority, were defiant of tradition, law, and system, and sought to guide their lives by esoteric standards of conduct.

Such divisions used to be clear. But the history of the past several hundred years has seen the absorption, or containment, of heresy. Religious antinomianism and “enthusiastic” movements became orthodoxies after the Reformation. The aesthetic rebellion that emerged after 1885 was largely drained into politics in the 1920's and 1930's, as seen most markedly in the movement of the Dadaist leaders—Aragon, Tzara, and Eluard—into the Communist party. And the most subterranean of traditions, which runs from de Sade through Lautréamont to Genet and Burroughs, is today publicly acclaimed by the chic avant-garde and its camp-followers.

The point of all this is that the currently fashionable talk about Establishments and anti-Establishments, of cultural radicalism and the official academy, is substantially meaningless. What is one to make of the state of cultural criticism when Harold Rosenberg attacks F. R. Leavis as a cultural fascist in the columns of the New Yorker and Richard Poirier defends Leavis in the pages of The New York Review of Books? In Playboy sexual radicalism is “philosophically” intertwined with economic free enterprise; in the Herald Tribune, Leslie Fiedler explains the avant-garde to the stockbrokers. The notion that Mr. Aiken is a critic of society and that I am not, that Norman Podhoretz is a radical and Lionel Trilling a “revisionist liberal,” makes no sense. Today our entire society is committed to change, and in a direction which was first pointed out by the Left. In the realm of “culture” the ramparts have been manned, and each is at the station perhaps appropriate to his distinction: Harold Rosenberg is at the New Yorker, Norman Mailer and Dwight Macdonald at Esquire, Alfred Chester at Book Week, Seymour Krim at Nugget, Nicholas Calas at the Village Voice; and Paul Goodman is almost in the academy. Everyone is happily playing the heretic in the fields of official clover and busily exposing the nakedness of everyone else.

The shock of change, though, is real enough: the realization that escapes no one is that the egalitarian and socially mobile society which the “free-floating intellectuals” associated with the Marxist tradition have been calling for during the last hundred years has finally emerged in the form of our cumbersome, bureaucratic mass society, and has in turn engulfed the heretics. With this realization begins the process of disengagement. But it is not generally a process of responsible social thought and self-scrutiny, not an attempt to find out what kind of institutional structures in a large-scale society will best accommodate the older visions of community and individual freedom and self-determination. One simply labels oneself a radical, calls for (but rarely produces) Utopian thought, and argues that the great need is to be “critical.” Such disengagement is, quite simply, an escape from intellectual responsibility. Mr. Aiken's essay, with its abstract talk of moral discourse, provides a lovely cover for such an escape.


But if the old division of political temperaments into orthodox and antinomian has apparently broken down, there is still perhaps some usefulness in a three-part classification: the ideologues, the moralists, and the skeptics.

Ideologies, as organized systems of belief with ready formulas for the manipulation of the masses, are, in effect, new orthodoxies. The yearning for an ideology, the hunger for a cause, the craving for belief often mask the conformist's desire for power or the rebel's unconscious need to submit to authority. Such a reductive analysis, of course, risks the traducing of individuals who may be genuinely motivated to serve mankind selflessly or to search for new means of implementing their ideals. However, the judgment itself is not of persons but of the nature of ideologies, and of the way in which the “functional necessities” of organizing and implementing ideologies traduce all idealism.


To go back to Marx's original sense of the term, an ideology is an illusion, a false consciousness. Or, as Philip Rieff has recently remarked, “only an illusory history, or an illusory religion, or an illusory politics, could lead humans to the therapy of commitment.” The yearning for a cause, for some transcendent purpose, is, of course, one of the deepest impulses of the sentient human being. The danger, always, is that this impulse will be manipulated in ways that betray its idealism. Such seductions are rarely overt or crude. It is usually the apocalyptic element, the call for a last act of violence in order to end violence, of a final deed of murder to eliminate murder, which is the agency of the ideologue's betrayal. In the dialectic of betrayal, means become ends and justifications of themselves.

Then there are those often lonely protestants who have stood outside the corridors of ideology or the pathways of power, and have spoken as moralists. In the tradition of prophecy, the moralists, on the basis of conscience, call injustice to account. In his tone and in his wrath, Mr. Aiken strikes me as a quondam moralist—which makes me all the more puzzled by his present effort to patch shreds of ideology into an intellectual argument. He does so, as I have pointed out, only by tearing the word “ideology” from its historical and sociological context, and by arbitrarily identifying it with political philosophy and moral discourse.

But why not speak directly in the language of morals and ethics? I can account for this failure only by the fact that the religious tradition—which has been the foundation of prophecy—has itself been undermined, and that the moralist has consequently lost much of his basis of judgment. Jeremiah and Deutero-Isaiah could call for a return to tradition, a departure from the merely ritualistic observance of the law; but what can Mr. Aiken ask us to return to? The modern moralist can become either an existentialist or an ideologue, and the option now seems to be running in the latter direction.

Most skeptics, I suppose, are lapsed ideologues. This, in turn, may explain why the theme of the “end of ideology” has so often had a negative side. It began as a recoil from the easy optimism of “illusory politics” and found its texts in such documents of disillusionment as John Milton's Ready and Easy Way and Alexander Herzen's Letters from the Other Shore. Skepticism does have its dangers—it can lead to cynicism, quietism, or despair.

Where the theme of the “end of ideology” is currently most relevant is in Eastern Europe, among the intellectuals who have experienced at first hand the deadening effects of an official ideology, and among the young generation for whom ideology is simply flatulent rhetoric. (It is curious that Mr. Aiken seems to assume that ideology is always nascent and passionate, and neglects its more pervasive role as a coercive, official force.) In a recent issue of Survey, a Czech writer describes the calloused attitude to politics of those who have grown up in an ideological regime: “A strange, frightening breed, this new generation, these men and women born during the last war or even later, who never knew any other social order and who are the products of our society. Purposeful, tough, smart, resourceful in handling their own affairs, down-to-earth, uncommunicative outside their own group, full of obvious pity for their fathers and their ridiculous manoeuvers, full of energy to get the best out of life now and for themselves.

“To them, ideology and politics and, indeed, any form of public activity are a lot of bunk, just hollow words with little relation to reality. Not that they are anti-Communists, a meaningless term in their ears: they just could not care less. They were born into socialism and they live in socialism and what they see around is socialism. Pretty dull and shabby, and certainly nothing much to write home about. . . .

“If there is still to come the final ignominy of a burial of Marxism-Leninism as we understand it today, it will be effortlessly carried out by these generations already born into socialism. And so it should be! For I believe that these young people, these young socialists will at last realize, because of what we did, that there is no socialism without freedom and that life is far more important than ideology.”


The intention, then, of the “revolt against ideology” is not to make one insensitive to injustice or to the need for a transcendent moral vision. It is, rather, to make one wary of the easy solution and to deny that any embodiment of community is final. I once wrote that one of the tragedies of Marxism was that Marx, having provided a naturalistic explanation of the meaning of alienation, then narrowed the concept by locating its source entirely in the rule of private property. As we know now, to our sorrow, there are other, more debasing forms of degradation and dehumanization—the systems of totalitarianism—than economic exploitation.

However, the thinking connected with the “end of ideology” is not directed against Marxism or any other radical creed; nor does it involve a quarrel with utopianism and its visions. What it does is give us a perspective on modern history which emphasizes that the achievement of freedom and the defense of the individual constitute a permanent revolution; and it tells us that this revolution resists any final definition. It is for the sake of individual freedom that the claims of doubt must always take precedence over the claims of faith, and that the commitment to action must proceed from the ethic of responsibility.


* * *

Henry David Aiken:

On the whole Mr. Bell's reply confirms my earlier impression of the essential intellectual and spiritual confusion of the anti-ideology movement, the poverty of its ideas, and its total lack of a coherent, substantive social and political philosophy that goes a step beyond reaffirmation of shibboleths about which both of our major political parties (at least until Goldwater's ascendancy) have been in all-too-complete agreement for a generation.

There is, to be sure, one small part that doesn't quite jibe with this impression, but it is so curiously, almost touchingly, inconsistent with the remainder that I can only wonder about the degree of Mr. Bell's self-awareness in mentioning it. Specifically, he says that he has been a “democratic socialist for almost all of [his] . . . politically conscious years.” Can he be serious? In other writings, including The End of Ideology, he has opted emphatically and without qualification for “the mixed economy”—which, of course, no socialist could accept save as a temporary stop-gap.

Socialism, I take it, is above all the position that at least the control and operation of the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be in the hands of society as a whole rather than of private individuals, groups, or corporations. Actively to take steps to bring about socialism in the United States would at once involve Mr. Bell (or anyone else) in a very sharp and deep disensus, both politically and ideologically, with the great majority of the American people, including virtually the whole industrial-business-governmental-scholarly establishment. In this country the existing democracy, or republic, is for practical purposes incompatible with socialism. And just for that reason, as S. M. Lipset, Mr. Bell's ally, has pointed out, socialism is here politically and ideologically a dead issue. Mr. Bell knows this. He must realize therefore that being a socialist in America is, for most men, rather like being a Christian: it is entirely safe to be one because socialism, for all but a revolutionary few, is outside the bounds of political possibility. In short, Mr. Bell's “socialism,” the wishful and wistful sincerity of which we need not question, is, in Marx's sense, entirely Utopian, and hence practically and functionally meaningless. Mr. Bell often has written perceptively and relevantly about sources of alienation among American workers. But what has he to offer, as a socialist, toward its drastic alleviation? I submit: nothing, or next to nothing. Here is precisely the sort of ideological schizophrenia which, in part, my essay was designed to expose.


But let me at once remove a possible source of misconception. Mr. Bell has spoken for himself; as for me, I am not a Marxist, vestigial, revisionist, or otherwise. My fundamental intellectual and moral antecedents are British, American, and Jewish. And although I mean always to speak of Marx and Engels with respect, I find it hard to understand how Mr. Bell could have gained the impression that my “citing” [sic] of the Marxist conception of ideology as “inverted images of reality” was meant to be approving.

However this may be, let me say for the record that I consider the Marxist (and hence Bellean) theory of ideology itself as at once vague, confused, programmatic, and useful nowadays only for purposes of popular polemicizing. On this score, Lenin's theory of ideology is surprisingly better, since it freely acknowledges Marxism to be an ideology, and since it perceives that, in general, ideology can be properly conceived, not in aprioristic, metaphysically pejorative terms, but functionally and dynamically as a form of thought which, for better or for worse, is meant to focus, guide, and energize the minds (and bodies) of men in society. As Lenin saw, it is the role, not the content, which determines whether a theory or doctrine is working ideologically. Thus, in the context of social action, scientific theories, philosophiical doctrines, religious creeds, and even sociological statistics, may all serve an ideological role, just as well, or better, than ideas that are, or are supposed to be, “inverted images of reality.” And let me add, finally, lest again I be misunderstood, that I am not remotely a Leninist either—although, in justice, I am bound to say that, after Marx himself, Lenin remains the most interesting and suggestive among Marxist thinkers. Lenin is, above all, an institutionalist in his approach to the problems and tasks of socialism, which is precisely what Bell is not. Alas, it was my reading of Lenin that, ironically, convinced me that world socialism is probably a utopian dream.

Mr. Bell's own variations on a theme by Marx are, from my point of view, conceptually and historically regressive, polemically misleading, and ultimately (when taken seriously) debilitating so far as the causes of the alienated, the disenfranchised, and the disinherited are concerned. Moreover, they leave our “confrontation,” as Mr. Bell calls it, quite unaffected—except insofar as they inadvertently help to show (what I myself earlier pointed out) that the anti-ideologists, and especially Mr. Bell, are in effect merely quasi-Marxian conservatives who have done little or nothing to advance the master's theory of ideology, but on the contrary have merely applied his ideas rather mechanically and obviously to Communism itself in defense of the primary political and social status quo in the “free world.” My contention was—and is—that the anti-ideologists leave us at once morally, intellectually, and, if I may say so, metaphysically helpless in “our” confrontation not only with the Communist world, but also with the great “neutralist” movements that are emerging all over the globe, and especially in the ex-colonial areas where neither socialism nor (political) democracy appears to stand a chance of realization. Now is a time, if there ever was one, for creative and constructive social and political thought. In such a situation what are the anti-ideologists doing, really, but warning us against the dangers of the faith ladder? Well, maybe we just do need a bit of faith in the future of humanity.

Mr. Bell says that pragmatism, at least in Dewey's version, defines “the consequences of an action as a constitutive element of the truth of a proposition.” This, I would say, is rather the way Dewey must look under water. I myself think that Dewey's doctrine of the continuum of means and ends is a notable contribution to moral philosophy. But Mr. Bell makes no genuine use of it; he merely says he does. Marx, I may add, was implicitly employing this methodological principle in his own attacks upon utopianism, and especially Utopian socialism. Mr. Bell and his “socialist” friends do not employ it; quite the contrary, theirs is a merely ideal, sentimental socialism, untouched by the slightest hesitation about what socialist aspirations can mean in a historical context in which no determinate program exists for realizing it. As for the thesis that “values, like any empirical proposition [sic], can be tested on the basis of their claims,” it is one of the weirdest attempts at redaction of the Dewey-Hook theory regarding the empirical, or even scientific, verifiability of value judgments that I have yet seen.2

Mr. Bell claims that I treat the word “ideology” only as a formal problem for analysis, and that the reason for this is that I am out to make a lawyer's rather than a philosopher's case. How odd. Well, I did mean to make a case, the best I knew how to make. And it is all the same to me how Mr. Bell chooses to classify it, so long as it is, as he allows, “the best” of its kind. As a means to a moral and ideological end, I was and am interested in the “formal” problem which the word “ideology” presents to the logical analyst, although Mr. Bell at the outset appears to deny this when he complains that I do not “define” ideology. It was not my purpose to define it, but to study and to characterize what other people, including Mr. Bell, seem to think about it. I tried to determine what Mr. Bell might be taken to mean and then to show that, once his rhetoric was stripped to its fighting weight, even his notions of ideology did not commit him, or us, to an across-the-board attack upon ideology as such. Again, I suggested that all ideologies should be judged, not en bloc, but in the light of their own respective practices and envisageable consequences. And it was precisely in these terms that I attempted to appraise the merits of Mr. Bell's own anti-ideological ideology. He doesn't reply to my specific contentions—including in particular the charge that the anti-ideological school has fallen into a weary, disillusioned carpe diem philosophy which may be suitable for self-centered valetudinarians but is certainly unsuitable for determined, untired, radical liberals who believe that the free world has a real future if it moves boldly and creatively and immediately on its own terrible problems of poverty, inequality, prejudice, and fear. In short, my aim has been to employ the study of a word in use, in order to expose, and if possible transcend, a point of view which in the past I myself have found all too tempting.


Eventually, Mr. Bell gets around to quoting a passage from my essay in which, after the preparation I thought I needed, I state what in my judgment a political ideology, if not a total ideology, really comes to. By extrapolation it would be easy to derive from this my views about “total ideology,” were these not already available in my little book, The Age of Ideology. So the charge that I don't provide a “definition” of political ideology (at the outset?) strikes me as somewhat perverse. As for the point that the “definition” of political ideology which I offer is merely a misleading definition of political philosophy, let me reply that if Mr. Bell can bring himself to take another look at my essay, he will find that I myself actually lead off by asking why so many people declare political philosophy to be dead. I turn later to a consideration of ideology precisely in order to find an answer to that question. And in fact I was led in the first instance into a discussion of the end-of-ideology school through an attempt to discover what, at bottom, people now object to in political philosophy. If my “definition” of political ideology turns out to be nothing but a “stylish” redaction of “the old-fashioned definition of political philosophy,” so be it. For then in refurbishing ideology, I shall have done, as I meant to do, two jobs at once.

On this score, there remains only to be added that in my opinion the ideologists often have treated the problems of political philosophy more imaginatively and in greater depth than their more classical predecessors. And the reason for this is that they nearly always see the necessity of viewing a political philosophy (or ideology) not only in the perspective of a system of moral principles, but also within the context of a philosophy of history, a metaphysical Weltanschauung, and, if one can be found, a theology. It is this context, largely lacking except in negative terms in the works of the anti-ideologists, which gives depth and range and power to a political ideology. And, indeed, if one knows where to look for it, the greatest classical political philosophies, such as Plato's and Aquinas's, have always provided it.

Mr. Bell's cry of “foul” in response to my charge, or informed guess, that the anti-ideologists are not only anti-moralistic but also anti-moralists who really mean to go altogether beyond “good and evil,” is premature. My advice to him here is to re-read, not my words, but his own. In the passage about total ideology which he quotes from his own book, there is this sentence: “This commitment to ideology—the yearning for a cause, the satisfaction of deep moral feelings—is not . . .” etc. (my italics.). Here, plainly, is not the obvious pejorative adjective “moralistic” but the now pejorated adjective “moral” itself. There are other analogous passages in Mr. Bells writings, as well as a good many that might be quoted to advantage from the writings of his allies. I stand my ground: Mr. Bell's attack is not directed merely against “moralism”—which, of course, is nothing but the other chap's morals—but against morality as a form of discourse, a form of policy, a way of deciding what is to be done (and said).


Mr. Bell asks me, as I hoped he might, to be concrete. Very well (although it should be emphasized that there is nothing wrong with being abstract when the problems at issue are abstract and general, as they are to a degree in the present context). I believe in the necessity of constant, incessant pressure from the Left upon the Establishment and the status quo in order to rectify grave social wrongs: injustices, inequalities, and other miseries that are removable through collective social action. I believe, furthermore, in a never-ending “resistance” and spiritual rebelliousness. In our time, I think that the first order of business is a continuing, stop-at-nothing effort to obtain, not merely a nuclear test ban, but a progressive, ultimately total, dismantling of our entire machinery for nuclear warfare, lest some benighted Goldwater, unacquainted with the theory of games, should not merely threaten to use it, but use it. I believe in the necessity of a foreign policy for America which is predicated on the principle that any sort of brinksmanship, in whatever cause, is deeply immoral, a test not of courage but of inhumanity or madness or both. I seek, further, an approach to the problems of “underdeveloped” regions and nations which is radically non-military and which is completely indifferent to questions of ideology, race, color, or previous condition of servitude. I want us to pursue a realistic policy in regard to China, one which recognizes that China is a permanent, or semi-permanent, political and social reality which cannot be dealt with by the methods employed by the American government during the past decade. Whether we “like” the Chinese government is quite irrelevant. It belongs in the UN if Spain and Russia and Egypt belong. But this is merely emblematic. It is the “either-or” mentality exemplified by the anti-ideologists in their thinking about the confrontation between the Communist worlds and the “free” worlds which seems to me so inhuman, so dangerous, so suicidal.

Domestically, I applaud a hard, tough, uncompromising effort to bring the Negro people up to scratch, legally, politically, economically, humanly. People deplore the riots. What they should deplore are the causes of the riots: and what they should do about them is to remove those causes. This can be done, particularly if we divert a third or a half of the money and effort spent on building the military establishment, moon shots and all the rest of it, into imaginative public-works projects, educational developments, medical programs, and humanistic social activities in which all classes and colors of Americans participate together. Harlem (and “Harlem” works a bit like “Goldwater,” as a type-word) is a national, not a regional, problem, and it can't wait a generation for a solution. There is also the immense aesthettic and even religious problem of saving America and the world from total permanent disfigurement. Much of New York, for example, is now so hideous that one wonders how human beings can endure it. But it is a dream city by comparison with Detroit and Chicago. The countryside is in ruins. The air stinks. The water, what there is of it, is undrinkable. And so on. A world as ugly, as fearful, as uncertain of itself as ours needs sympathy, but it needs continual action—bold, determined, and radical. Nothing else will suffice.


In part the differences between Mr. Bell's party and my own are doctrinal. But there are indeed basic differences of attitude or posture toward the whole conduct of life of men in societies. This becomes apparent in our respective conceptions of the democratic process itself. For Mr. Bell, it seems, democracy virtually means compromise. For me, compromise is as compromise does: some compromises are desirable; some necessary; others are dishonorable. Where questions of civil liberty, economic equality, and social justice are concerned, I consider compromise with the “interests,” with prejudice, with indifference to be dishonorable, and I do not commend it. All too often, even in a democracy, compromise suggests, not sweet reasonableness and good will, but inaction, vacillation, collaboration, timidity. For me democracy is, minimally, a device for checking the accumulation of political power; maximally, it is a mode of participation in the communal life and a sharing of fundamental responsibilities toward the common good. What lies between seems to me, often, less admirable.

More broadly still, for Mr. Bell it appears that problems of politics generally are to be viewed, first, as problems of calculation and, secondly, as problems of adjustment (or compromise). For me, they involve much more, as is evident in my views about the role of rhetoric in political thought and discourse. To my mind, therefore, the end of ideology is, in a sense, almost tantamount to the end of politics itself. Beneath all, the anti-ideologists are men of doubt; their temperament, in the language of William James, is that of the “tough-minded.” All too often, sadly, the same is true of me, but I do not glory in the fact. Pessimism is a fact of life; optimism, in our time at least, almost a matter of grace. Thought, analysis, inquiry—and the itch of doubt which animates inquiry—are of course indispensable conditions of rational life. But aspiration, passion, hope, volition, and choice also belong inalienably to the life of the mind and the spirit. Without them, in the heat of the day, we languish, we perish. We must not allow ourselves to be paralyzed by thought; rather we must use it. We must not let it divert us from the necessity of action. We dare not forever stand and wait; we dare not continue to temporize. It is late, and there is a world at stake.


1 Even sillier is Mr. Aiken's next comment: “There remains a second sense of the term ‘rhetoric’ which Bell may also have in mind. [Italics mine.] In this sense, rhetoric means eloquence. So conceived, the demand for an end to rhetoric is tantamount to a request for plain talk, and, so to say, for the age of prose.” Now really!

2 Anyone interested in why I consider this theory indefensible can find the reason in my essays on Hook and Dewey. COMMENTARY, February and October, 1962. An earlier, more detailed version o£ the same position may be found in my book. Reason and Conduct.

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