August 19, 2022

Ideology is the complex of beliefs, opinions, representations, values ​​that orient a particular social group. The term ideology appears for the first time in the 1796 work Mémoire sur la faculté de penser by Antoine-Louis-Claude Destutt de Tracy (1754-1836) with the meaning of "science of ideas and sensations". Subsequently, the term took on the more generic meaning of a more or less coherent and organized "system of ideas" (according to a logos, each time with negative, positive or neutral connotations) above all through the work of Karl Marx and his critique of 'idealism. In particular, the term is used in reference to political doctrines, to social movements characterized by a theoretical elaboration, to ideal-cultural orientations and to economic and social policy.

History of the term

"Ideology" originally refers to "idéologues" (ideologues), a current of thought active in France between the 18th and 19th centuries. The ideologues referred mainly to the thinking of Helvetius, John Locke and Condillac. Using a strongly materialistic basis and also using the studies on the physiology of the nervous system by Pierre Jean Georges Cabanis, they tried to investigate the origin of ideas by attributing it to sensory data, which for subsequent compositions would have originated every psychic phenomenon. Morality, understood in a utilitarian sense, and politics, conceived in a liberal sense, were also considered as "applied ideology". The ideologues, rejecting metaphysics and at the same time the ideal contents of Enlightenment thought, devoted themselves to narrow fields of investigation of a social and economic nature, to which they applied mathematical and statistical methods in order to obtain reliable predictions in sectors of human reality generally considered unpredictable and impossible to direct rationally. Due to the opposition expressed by ideologues to his system of government, Napoleon transformed the meaning of the term in a derogatory way, indicating in ideologues the "doctrinaires", those who had little contact with reality and little sense politic. The original meaning of the term in fact, as a method of correct reasoning, rational discourse on ideas, assumed a pejorative meaning with Napoleon, who no longer needed to pose as a supporter of the Enlightenment ideas of these ideologues, atheist and rationalist progressives, of whom he it had served early in his career. He stated in a speech of 1812: From that moment on, the original meaning of ideology as a philosophical and scientific attitude was lost almost immediately, as well as the link with materialism and sensism, acquiring connotations ever closer to the modern notion, very close to those of dogmatism and bias. The term therefore began to assume for political reasons the meaning of a distorted vision of reality, with the unsuccessful ambition of wanting to give a rational order to society, of wanting to scientifically found the social order.

Ideology in Europe

Melchiorre Gioia and Carlo Cattaneo

The concepts of French ideologues aroused interest also in Italy, with Melchiorre Gioia, one of the first scholars to apply the concepts of statistics to the economic management of public accounts and author of the work "Ideologia" (1822) and with Carlo Cattaneo, who supported the social character of human experience, considered as the foundation of a new social psychology. Cattaneo observed that if "the most social act of man is thought", the results of this speculative activity will present an "ideological polyhedron", a vast variety of ideas and behaviors linked to civilization, which can be investigated and defined by a "social ideology" or "ideology of peoples" understood as a "history of ideas among peoples" as both Vic