Political ideas is a certain ethical set of ideals, principles, doctrines, myths or symbols of a social movement, institution, class, and or large group that explains how society should work, and offers some political and cultural blueprint for a certain social order. A political ideology largely concerns itself with how to allocate power and to what ends it should be used. Some parties follow a certain ideology very closely, while others may take broad inspiration from a group of related ideologies without specifically embracing any one of them. The popularity of an ideology is in part due to the influence of moral entrepreneurs, who sometimes act in their own interests. Political ideology and political action committee are in a form related Political ideas have two dimensions:

  1. Goals: How society should be organized.
  2. Methods: The most appropriate way to achieve this goal.
An ideology is a collection of ideas. Typically, each ideology contains certain ideas on what it considers to be the best form of government (e.g. democracy, autocracy, etc.), and the best economic system (e.g. capitalism, socialism, etc.). Sometimes the same word is used to identify both an ideology and one of its main ideas. For instance, "socialism" may refer to an economic system, or it may refer to an ideology which supports that economic system.
Ideologies also identify themselves by their position on the political spectrum (such as the left, the centre or the right), though this is very often controversial. Finally, ideologies can be distinguished from political strategies (e.g. populism) and from single issues that a party may be built around (e.g. opposition to European integration or the legalization of marijuana).
The following list attempts to divide the ideologies found in practical political life into a number of groups; each group contains ideologies that are related to each other. The headers refer to names of the best-known ideologies in each group. The names of the headers do not necessarily imply some hierarchical order or that one ideology evolved out of the other. They are merely noting the fact that the ideologies in question are practically, historically and ideologically related to each other. Note that one ideology can belong to several groups, and there is sometimes considerable overlap between related ideologies. Also, keep in mind that the meaning of a political label can differ between countries and that parties often subscribe to a combination of ideologies.
The list is strictly alphabetical. Thus, placing one ideology before another does not imply that the first is more important or popular than the second.

The five major political ideologies have played a key role in history by shaping governments and political movements.
The belief that the best government is absolutely no government is known as anarchism. This ideology argues that everything about governments is repressive and therefore must be abolished entirely. A related ideology known as nihilism emphasizes that everything—both government and society—must be periodically destroyed in order to start anew. Nihilists often categorically reject traditional concepts of morality in favor of violence and terror. Anarchism and nihilism were once associated with socialism because many anarchists and nihilists supported the socialists’ call for revolution and the complete overhaul of government and society in the early to mid-twentieth century.
Traditionally, much of Western civilization’s history was dominated by absolutism, the belief that a single ruler should have control over every aspect of the government and of the people’s lives. Absolute rulers had a variety of titles, including chieftain, king, shah, pharaoh, emperor, sultan, and prince. In some cultures, the absolute ruler was seen as a god in human form. Other peoples believed that their ruler had the divine right of kings, meaning that God had chosen the ruler to govern the rest. As a result, many cultures with absolute rulers practiced some form of caesaropapism, the belief that the ruler is head of both the governmental authority and the religious authority.
Example: In the Byzantine Empire, the double-headed eagle symbolized caesaropapism. The two heads stood for church and state. This symbol clearly and graphically portrayed the unity of religious and secular power in one person.
Advocates of Absolutism
A number of political philosophers have advocated absolutism. The Greek philosopher Plato, for example, firmly believed that the best government would be run by a benevolent absolute ruler who would have the people’s best interests at heart. English philosopher Thomas Hobbes, meanwhile, was perhaps the most persuasive proponent of absolutism. In his book Leviathan (1651), he argued that life without governments was “nasty, brutish, and short” and that people must willingly submit to absolute rulers—even tyrannical ones—in order to live longer, more stable lives.
Absolutist Beliefs
Absolutism emphasizes:
  • A strong sense of order: Everything should be carefully structured, including society. Disorder and chaos are generally considered to be dangerous.
  • A clear-cut law of nature (or law of God): This law must be obeyed. According to this law, some people are inherently better than others. A natural hierarchy (a power structure in which some people have authority over others) exists. Therefore, the superior should rule the inferior. This general view is called elitism, or elite theory.
  • The wisdom of traditional values and institutions: New ideas are considered dangerous to the order of things.


In the early modern age of the Western world (beginning roughly in the early 1500s and running for about 200 years), a number of changes occurred that led to new ideologies: The European discovery of the Americas, the rise of Protestantism, the beginnings of the free-market economy, and the early stages of the scientific revolution fundamentally altered Europe. People began developing different ways of thinking to take account of these changes.
Perhaps the most important of the new ideas is liberalism (also known as classical liberalism). This type of liberalism, which began in England in the 1600s, differs from American liberalism. Classical liberalism developed when such thinkers as John Locke (in his Second Treatise of Government in 1690) rethought the relationship between the individual and society, as well theorized about the rights and responsibilities of the individual. These ideas formed the foundation for many political systems still operating today.
Liberalism in Action
During the French Revolution (1789–1799), the monarchy and much of the church were destroyed, as were traditional laws and habits in different parts of the country. The revolutionaries exalted reason, to the point of literally creating a temple to it (the revolutionaries renamed the Church of Notre Dame in Paris “the Temple of Reason”) in 1793. But as a result of the revolution, France plunged into years of civil war and violence. Only the emergence of Napoleon—an authoritarian ruler—brought stability back to the country.
Liberal Beliefs
Liberalism emphasizes:
  • Individualism: The individual takes priority over society.
  • Freedom: Individuals have the right to make choices for themselves. This freedom is not absolute, and some behaviors, such as murder, are prohibited. Freedom of religion is a particularly important freedom to come out of liberalism because so many governments at the time were very closely tied to a particular religious creed.
  • Equality: No person is morally or politically superior to others. Hierarchies are rejected.
  • Rationalism: Humans are capable of thinking logically and rationally. Logic and reason help us solve problems.
  • Progress: Traditions should not be kept unless they have value. New ideas are helpful because they can lead to progress in the sciences, the economy, and society.
  • The free market: Liberalism and capitalism go hand in hand. Liberals like the free market because it more easily creates wealth, as opposed to traditional economies, which often have extensive regulations and limits on which occupations people can hold.
These basic characteristics of liberalism have led liberals to argue in favor of a limited government, which draws its power from the people. In practice, this has meant favoring a democratic government.


Conservatism (also known as classical conservatism) began as a reaction against the liberal ideas taking hold of Europe during the French Revolution in the late eighteenth century. This type of conservatism differs from American conservatism. Edmund Burke, a British member of Parliament, observed the early stages of the French Revolution with great distress and predicted the violence and terror that would ensue. His book, Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790), is one of the founding texts of classical conservatism.
Burke and other conservatives attacked liberalism for many reasons. They argued that liberalism destroyed tradition. In its rush to overturn the old and bring in the new, liberalism and capitalism ruthlessly attacked traditional institutions and beliefs.
Conservative Beliefs
Conservatism emphasizes:
  • Stability: Stability is a precious thing, and change must be made gradually in order to preserve it. Undermining stability is very dangerous because societies can easily fall into chaos and violence. Classical liberals frequently called for revolution, which opens the door to great turbulence, according to the classical conservative view.
  • Concreteness: Liberalism is too abstract. It focuses on freedom and equality, not on the concrete way people live every day.
  • Human fallibility: Liberalism overestimates human beings. Humans are frequently ignorant, prejudiced, and irrational. By ignoring these defects, liberalism becomes unrealistic.
  • Unique circumstances: There is no universal answer to the problems of society; the circumstances are unique in each country.
Classical Conservatism and Democracy
Many early conservatives favored authoritarian government. In the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars (roughly 1792–1815), for example, most European governments actively worked to stop the spread of liberalism and democracy. Nevertheless, conservatives were not necessarily hostile to democracy. Generally these conservatives argued that some sort of monarchy was necessary, but some were more open to popular government. Burke, in particular, thought that limited democracy was a good form of government for England, as long as it maintained the customs and mores it inherited from its predecessors.
Classical Conservatism Today
For the most part, classical conservatism has faded. Most people who label themselves conservatives are more like American conservatives than classical ones. But there are still some classical conservatives. Many of them in Europe have ties to old noble families, and some advocate monarchism. Classical conservatives can also be found in other parts of the world.

If used in the realm of “is,” the term “law” denotes regularity of interrelations. Propositions intended to describe regularities (laws) are, in principle, always subject to challenge in view of conflicting observations. Strictly speaking, therefore, there are no “statements” of laws but only “hypotheses” about laws. If used in the realm of “ought,” the term “law” denotes a “norm of conduct” that has been set by someone, man or God. To enumerate “nature” among the potential originators of moral norms is logically objectionable unless nature is conceived of as itself having a moral will or purpose; otherwise the moral norms cannot be logically regarded as “set” by nature. If, however, moral norms are conceived of as set by God, it is not in conflict with logic to look to nature for intimations of the moral intentions of its creator. Theories of this kind, therefore, are not blocked by the demands of logic; but they are “nonscientific” (except in hypothetical terms) because of their reference to premises that can be neither confirmed nor refuted with scientific means.
POLITICAL CONCEPTUALIZATION IS THE SAME AS POLITICAL THEORY, Political theory looks at philosophical questions such as: What is the proper role of government? What makes a legitimate government? And what duties do citizens owe to their state and to each other? The study of political theory also encompasses a number of different themes, such as democracy, as well as different political concepts, such as the concept of rights and the concept of justice. Political theory, as an academic study, is built upon a foundation laid by the work of indisputable classic philosophical thinkers: Plato, Aristotle, St. Augustine, Aquinas, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Hegel, Mill, Marx, and Nietzsche.
Many courses on political theory begin with the work of Thomas Hobbes, who established the foundation of Western political theory from the perspective of social contract theory, outlined in his 1651 book Leviathan. Hobbes’ advocated for the absolutism of state sovereignty; however, these views were moderated in part by his recognition of some liberal fundamentals, such as the right of the individual. John Stuart Mill later championed these fundamentals of liberty. Contrary to Hobbes, Mill asserted that the concept of freedom justified an individual’s opposition to unlimited state control. Mill’s ideas of freedom continue to be championed by American politicians today.
Thus politicians often champion ideas found in political theory. When these ideas are promoted as a coherent system of beliefs, we refer to these systems of beliefs as political ideologies. Political ideologies are typical derived from particular themes or concepts in political theory, and are established as a set of ethics, morals, philosophies, doctrines, myths, and symbols that are adopted by a social movement or a particular class of people.
Political ideologies often contain ideas about the best form of government (such as democracy) and the best economic system (such as capitalism). As a result, ideologies are often identified by their position on the political spectrum: fascism and conservatism are considered right wing; and socialism and communism are considered left wing. Politicians, activists, voters and citizens who subscribe to a particular ideology often view political events and debates through the particular lens that their ideology provides. For example, in the current American gun debate, conservatives see the right to bear arms as an expression of their individual freedom, and liberals view the same right as threatening collective security. Thus it is in the form of political ideology that political theory manifests itself in real-life domestic (and international) politics.

There has been a growing trend recently toward “conceptualization” in political theory, especially a search for “basic” concepts apt to be useful as building stones for a mature political theory. To be useful they have to be not only clear but realistic in the sense that they or their analytical derivatives correspond to carefully observed and politically relevant facts. The following concepts have been suggested as basic:
Equilibrium (same authors). Borrowed from physics and economics, this concept is considered particularly useful for political theory as well, although some writers have wondered whether “disequilibrium” would not be more realistic as a focal point in politics since no full equilibrium ever seems to be established.
Power, control, influence (George E. G. Catlin, Charles Merriam, Harold Lasswell, C. Wright Mills, Bertrand Russell, Hans Morganthau, James G. March, et al.). These have been called the “most basic” concepts for political theory.
Action (Talcott Parsons, Edward Shils, Hannah Arendt, et al.). This concept, in the sense of a deliberate new start from a given situation directed toward some anticipated goal and engaged in with intelligence and expense of energy, puts emphasis on a distinctly human factor.
Elite (Vilfredo Pareto, Harold Lasswell, Milovan Djilas, et al.). The idea of elite emphasizes the basic relevance of the phenomenon that there are leading groups or strata in any system of society.
Choice and decision making (Max Weber, Gustav Radbruch, Chester I. Barnard, Herbert Simon, Talcott Parsons, Arnold Brecht, et al.). These are concepts that have risen sharply in the esteem of political theorists as basic ones for descriptive as well as theoretical work .
Anticipated reaction (Carl J. Friedrich) and game (John von Neumann, Oskar Morgenstern, et al.). Both are subconcepts within the general theory of choice and decision making—and they have led to a particularly intensive, highly technical series of studies .
Function (Robert K. Merton, Talcott Parsons, et al.). In the sense of a function or dysfunction performed—either purposively or with no purpose —for or against society as a whole or some part of it by any socially relevant factor (including usage, belief, behavior pattern, institution, science), this is primarily a sociological concept apt to serve descriptive purposes, but it also has some explanatory merit .
There is, furthermore, a marked tendency to form concepts that are apt to serve as basic units not for one field alone but for all the social sciences or indeed for all science.
Useful as the newly developed concepts are, it would be misleading to expect that they will supplant the continuing relevance of older concepts, such as institution, government, justice, liberty, equality, and—more basic perhaps than all others —cause and effect, consequences, risks, possibility and impossibility (see section 8), and universal human features. No all-comprehensive political theory can be based on only one of the older or newer concepts in isolation, and no single concept is likely to emerge as the most basic, most constructive one. Each deals with a different aspect of the multifaceted phenomena referred to when we say “political.”
This warning applies, in particular, to overestimating the concept of “power” as the basic unit of political science. This concept, not unlike that of happiness, which previously had long dominated Anglo-American political theory, is too broad and too vague to serve as a well-defined basic unit. It disregards the great variety of both means and purposes of power. Brute force or threat of its use, prestige, authority, persuasion, wealth, personal attraction, beauty, charisma, heroic deeds, prominence in sports or arts, humility, altruism—all give “power.” Even ideas have often been called powers. Furthermore, a person may not have sought the power he has and may not use it for political purposes. Although not apt to be treated as the basic unit in political theory, the concept of power, if used with care and qualification, is indispensable for it. We must, in particular, distinguish between that type of power (“p-power”) that denotes the constitutional or legal right or authority to do something (for example, the power of a legislature to issue valid laws), and the factual power (“7r-power”) to influence the use of the legal power or to circumvent it .
Historical context is the political, social, cultural, and economic setting for a particular idea or event. In order to better understand something in history, we must look at its context--those things which surround it in time and place and which give it its meaning. In this way, we can gain, among other things, a sense of how unique or ordinary an event or idea seems to be in comparison to other events and ideas.

History of political theory

Writing on the history of political theory has rarely if ever been limited to “explanations” and even less so to strictly “scientific” efforts in this direction. Rather; employing the term “theory” in its broadest sense, it has generally included (a) nonscientific types of explanation, especially those of a religious and philosophical character, (b) nonscientific value judgments, especially moral ones, (c) proposals offered for the selection of political goals and for political actions, and (d) mere descriptions of phenomena as seen by political philosophers of the past. It has, therefore, been a blend of philosophy, scientific theory, and description, with far more space and emphasis given to nonscientific philosophical aspects than to strictly scientific ones. Typical issues have included Plato’s “ideas” conceived of as essences having some sort of reality, Christian theological dogmas based on revelation and tradition, and philosophical doctrines that claim to constitute superior knowledge, especially those ascribing to pure reason the power to reveal truth independently of experience. They have included, more specifically, the doctrines of natural law in the sense of a code of moral prescriptions allegedly to be found in nature or reason, and its progeny, the doctrines of natural rights. Indeed, natural law constituted the very core of political science and political theory from about 1600 to 1900. The main topics treated under the guidance of the various doctrines and approaches were the state, its nature, origin, and proper ends; the theory of social contract; the proper relationship between church and state; sovereignty; the best form of government; and the implications of natural law for politics.
Many of these historical efforts have been important stages in the development of human thought and Western civilization; they have influenced ideals, actions, and the history of institutions. As theories, however, most of them were based on belief rather than science in the narrower sense of the term. This is not meant to say that their results must have been false or that religious or philosophical reasoning ought to be abandoned. The only concern here is with the fact that the history of “scientific” political theory must be culled from its fusion with nonscientific religious or philosophical thought.
Ideas and methods of a strictly scientific character have rarely been entirely absent in political thought. The ancient Greek ability of abstraction and of logical and mathematical thinking laid the foundation of modern science. Sophists and their opponents amply referred to empirical observations. The Socratic method of confronting debaters with questions on the meaning and the implications of their propositions and with objections that led them to reconsideration, modification, or selfcontradiction was the early prototype of good scientific method (“clarification of the meaning of propositions and of their implications”). Plato’s and Aristotle’s works abound in psychological observations that, although not subjected to tests in the modern sense, still offer valuable scientific contributions or cues. Aristotle cultivated the methodical gathering of factual data as the base for theoretical work; he carefully examined the risks and consequences involved in institutional arrangements, actual or imagined ones. There has hardly been a political philosopher who did not take some time off from speculation to examine facts and human motives. The preponderance of religious authority in medieval thought, however, beginning with St. Augustine (354–430), led to a millennium of dearth in strictly scientific work. There was a partial revival when reason and Aristotelian thought were being readmitted into scientific work as supplementary sources of knowledge to the extent that they were not in conflict with revealed religious truth (Thomas Aquinas, 12257–1274). But several centuries were still to pass before the typically modern type of scientific theory emerged in the realistic examination of actual conditions and motivations by Machiavelli (1469–1527), the emphasis on inductive methods by Bacon (1561–1626), the experimental and mathematical approaches of Galileo (1564–1642), Kepler (1571–1630), and Newton (1642–1727), and the ensuing ascendancy of empiricism. These new methods stimulated scientific reflection in political theory. No sharp lines, however, were being drawn yet between religion, philosophy, and science. The various approaches were used side by side, often queerly intermingled and, even if scientific in intent, frequently based on erroneous factual assumptions (for example, social contract) or fallacious logical thinking (for example, inferring “ought” from “is,” as in natural law, or necessity from consistency, as in theories of sovereignty [see section 11]).
Important further steps toward modern scientific theory include the emphasis on the significance of “doubt” in the works of Descartes (1591–1650) and Hume (1711–1776), and the rejection of “pure reason” as a source of knowledge by Hume and, less radically, by Kant (1724–1804). Kant restricted the reliability of pure reason as a source of theoretical knowledge in the realm of “is” to only a few conditions and steps of thought, such as the “categories” of mental operations; in moral (“practical”) questions, however, his doctrine that we have a priori knowledge of the basic moral law still maintained an absolutistic approach. Another great scientific impulse for political theory sprang from the work done by Montesquieu (1689–1755) on the political influence of environment (geography, milieu, etc.) and on methods that are apt to check the abuse of power (separation of powers). The vigor with which, pursuing these approaches, the founding fathers of the United States studied the implications, risks, and consequences of institutions and the methods by which the abuse of power could be checked (separation, federalism, a bill of rights) highlighted the development of scientific political thought. For this reason, the Federalist became a milestone in the evolution of scientific political theory. But the authors blended scientific with religious and philosophical approaches (trust in God, natural law, natural rights). Characteristic of this promiscuity are the celebrated words in the Declaration of Independence that proclaim not that all men are equal but that they are “created” equal, and not that they possess certain inalienable rights but that they are “endowed by their Creator” with them. Indeed, to an extent seldom fully realized, our Western values are based not on science but on religion, history, tradition, and the creative idealism of man intent on forming a world in which he considers life worth living.
The separation of philosophical and scientific ways of thinking from religious ones began in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in England and France. Philosophical and scientific approaches remained interwoven, however, until, in the course of the nineteenth century, they, too, began to part company; indeed, their separation did not grow sharp and consistent until the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth. What finally brought it to completion, at least within a broad and influential section of social theorists, was the deliberate elimination of nonscientific elements in what came to be called “scientific method” and in its offspring, “scientific value relativism”
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