This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

Ideology

Ideologies are what we get when we try to explain reality—which is vast, complex, and mysterious—with a few simple formulas. It is another fallacy of oversimplification, although this one is particular to democracies. Alexis de Tocqueville observed that in such societies “the craving to discover general laws in everything, to include a great number of objects under the same formula, and to explain a mass of facts by a single cause, becomes an ardent, and sometimes an undiscerning, passion in the human mind.”

He said that, because we see everyone as equal politically, we also treat everyone as equal mentally. Thus, we act as if we should need no recourse to outside sources in order to understand life’s problems. He says we “would fain succeed brilliantly and at once, but they would be dispensed from great efforts to obtain success. These conflicting tendencies lead straight to the research of general ideas, by aid of which they flatter themselves that they can figure very importantly at a small expense.”

The popular ideologies in America are: capitalism, liberalism, and democracy. Each of these pretends to provide intuitive, simple explanations to overwhelmingly complex problems. But they are rigid and always incomplete. Thus, they create minds equally rigid and incomplete.

Ideology is about taking an idea, perhaps even a very good idea, and making it the measure of all other ideas. It is not about error as such, but about taking a small truth and making it the only truth, the “Big Idea” that displaces every other truth. It has but two rules: 1) The Big Idea is always right; 2) If the Big Idea proves wrong, see rule one.

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