Tuesday, April 25, 2017

When Idea Becomes Ideology

But patterns of thought, and patterns within thought, are also organic. If civilizations grow and decay, the same might be said of philosophical systems. They become rigid, hard and unyielding, forgetful of their first impulses. A theory becomes a Truth; an idea becomes an Ideology. […] Consider Dawson’s account (in “Progress and Decay in Ancient and Modern Civilization”) of the revolutionaries and reformers of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. All of them believed in “the coming reign of the great abstractions—Humanity, Liberty, and Progress” (57). The phrase is pure Dawson, capturing at once the naïveté and dogmatism of the revolutionary generation. Promoters of enlightenment never understood that worship of rationality was itself irrational; that systematic and compulsory optimism was a guarantee of pessimism and gloom. They never understood that their contempt for history was itself historically rooted, the product of a particular time and place. The slow, vegetable growth of human communities meant nothing to them. All that mattered was mechanics. A new society, precise as a piece of clockwork, promised the happiness to which all men were entitled.


Dermot Quinn, “Introduction,” in Dynamics of World History, ed. John J. Mulloy (Washington, DE: ISI Books, 2002), xx.

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