This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

Retroactive effects of ideology

 “Ideological entities have never been mere fictions rather, they are a distorted consciousness of reality, and, as such, real factors retroactively producing real distorting effects; which is all the more reason why that materialization of ideology, in the form of the spectacle, which is precipitated by the concrete success of an autonomous economic system of production, results in the virtual identification with social reality itself of an ideology that manages to remold the whole of the real to its own specifications.”

~ Guy Debord[1]

In the same work, Guy Debord speaks of ideology as “the abstract will to universality and the illusion thereof.”[2] A better definition could not be found. Modern man’s mania for generalization, which ends in the assembly of various ideological systems, is nothing else but the wish to explain with a few universal formulas the mysteries of the universe. And any apparent success in this endeavor must be purely illusory, because reality simply cannot be reduced in such a way.

But the more important point made by Debord here is that, just because the truth of the ideology is illusory, it does not mean that it does not produce real effects. Men perform actions based on their concept of reality, accurate or not, and acting men have the ability to transform patterns of development, modify interpretations of history, and reinvent culture. Thus, any ideology, although more or less false in itself, can and does lead men to remake reality in its image, at which point the ideology becomes descriptively true.

Because it represents a distortion reality, it is clear that reality can never completely be made to conform to it, but adherents of ideology expend massive effort in their project, and this is the explanation of much frustration and conflict in the modern world.

If an ideology happens to achieve total domination in a civilization, as Liberalism has in our period, then a final transformation occurs:

Once ideology…finds itself legitimated in modern society by universal abstraction and by the effective dictatorship of illusion, then it is no longer the voluntaristic struggle of the fragmentary, but rather its triumph. The claims of ideology now take on a sort of flat, positivistic exactness: ideology is no longer a historical choice, but simply an assertion of the obvious.[3]

In short, while in the beginning the adherents may have been aware that they were fighting in favor of a theory, by the end, through universal acceptance, it ceases to be perceived as theory and takes on the appearance of common sense. Its claims are at that point obvious, and the discussion is officially closed.

[1] Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, 212.

[2] Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, 213.

[3] Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, 213.

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