by Paul Lucardie
Whereas the 20th century could be considered the apex of comprehensive or thick-centred ideologies like fascism, socialism, or liberalism, the 21st century looks like an era of partial or thin-centred ideologies, such as ecologism, nationalism, and populism. Animalism can be included here as the most recent addition. In philosophy, the term denotes the view that human beings should be regarded as animals. This view seems to be shared generally by the animal advocacy parties that have sprung up in several countries during the last two decades. Some of them explicitly call themselves ‘animalist party’: the French Parti animaliste (PA) and the Spanish Partido Animalista Contra el Maltrato Animal (PACMA). If they articulate a relatively coherent set of ideas organised around core concepts that could qualify as an ideology, why not refer to it as ‘animalism’? Insofar as the parties focus mainly on the relationship between human and other animals, animalism must be a thin ideology.
In order to explore this question, I analysed the programmes and manifestos of seven parties that participated in national or European elections between 2014 and 2019: the Australian Animal Justice Party (AJP), the French Animalist Party (Parti animaliste, PA), the Spanish Animalist Party Against the Maltreatment of Animals (Partido Animalista Contra el Maltrato Animal, PACMA), the Portuguese Party Persons, Animals and Nature (Pessoas Animais Natureza, PAN), the German Party Man, Environment and Animals (Partei Mensch Umwelt Tierschutz (PMUT, also called the Tierschutzpartei), and the Dutch Party for Animals (Partij voor de Dieren, PvdD). They were all founded in the 21st century, except for the German PMUT which dates from 1993. The PMUT and the Dutch PvdD won a seat in the European Parliament in 2014 and again in 2019, while the PvdD and the Portuguese PAN have been represented in national parliament since 2006 and 2015 respectively.
Five out of seven parties investigated here presented broad programmes dealing not only with animal rights and with environmental questions but also human problems like health care, migration, foreign policy, education, and constitutional reforms; only the relatively new parties in Australia and France focused (in this period) purely on animal-related issues.
Compassion seems to be the core concept in the programmes, while equal rights (progressively extended to men, women, migrants, animals) and interdependence of all living beings can be considered adjacent concepts. Compassion seems broader than commiseration and less condescending than pity. It may entail awareness of both the suffering as well as the joy of another being and a desire to act, e.g., to alleviate the suffering. Compassion is decontested by the animalist parties as a political principle rather than a private virtue. It should be stimulated and implemented by the government, rather than by corporations, churches, or charity institutions. The state should legislate and implement compassion for non-human as well as human animals, such as discriminated minorities, migrant workers, and refugees, unemployed, and handicapped people. More specifically, it should ban cruel practices like hunting, scientific experiments with animals, and—in the long run—all livestock farming as well as all forms of discrimination between human beings. And it should provide welfare or a basic income for the poor at home and increase foreign aid to the poor abroad. The central position and specific meaning of compassion seems to distinguish animalism from other ideologies. Christian democracy and ‘compassionate conservatism’, as advocated in the US around 2000, do not imply strong state intervention but rely more on civil society.
The experience of compassion with non-human animals might facilitate the advocacy of animal rights by animalists. The extension of equal rights from human beings to (at least some) non-human animals seems to me the second basic element in the animalist ideology, or in Freeden’s terms, an adjacent concept. Parties like PACMA, PAN, and PvdD often compare the struggle for animal rights to the liberation of (black) slaves in the 19th century and the emancipation of women in the 20th century. Basic rights to life, liberty, and well-being are and should be progressively extended, and inequalities and discrimination progressively reduced, if not eliminated. To justify this claim, some parties refer to the argument of the Australian philosopher Tom Regan that non-human animals have an intrinsic value and are each ‘subject-of-a-life’, having desires, memories, emotions, and a psychophysical identity. Non-human animals and animals share this quality, and some animals like primates or dolphins may be similar or even superior to some human beings (e.g., infants or old people with severe dementia). Whereas other parties might agree that non-human animals have an intrinsic value and as a consequence should not be used and abused at will by human beings, they rarely argue for a progressive extension of equal rights (by the state) to non-human animals, as animalists do.
A third essential component of animalism appears to be the idea that all living beings are interdependent. Even if Christian democrats and conservatives may adhere to a more or less organicist view of society, they would not claim that ‘man, animal, and nature form a unity’ or advocate a vegan diet as a consequence. Interdependence is illustrated by the impact of human activities on biodiversity and climate, which in turn affects the life of plants as well as human and non-human animals. Animalist parties share this idea with green parties, but the latter regard animals as part of an ecosystem rather than as individuals, and do not use compassion as a core concept.
Therefore, it seems fair to conclude that animalism can be considered a thin ideology organised around the concepts of compassion, the progressive extension of equal rights and the interdependence of all living beings. However, it may be an ideology in statu nascendi. Though it seems coherent up to a point, some important questions have not been dealt with yet. How far should equal rights be extended from human to non-human animals? Should domesticated animals acquire full citizenship rights, while animals living freely in a human (urban) environment should be tolerated as ‘animal denizens’ with limited rights and animals in the wild should be left alone as much as possible, as Sue Donaldson and Will Kymlicka have suggested? Will the animal-citizens need some kind of guardian to protect them, like children and mentally disabled human beings? Is a subtle or ‘stratified’ hierarchy among citizens inevitable? At some point in time, animalist parties may have to find answers to these questions, in particular when they continue to grow and acquire political responsibility. Their relatively coherent ideology might help the animalist parties to grow further and prove to be more durable than many other new parties. Besides, their emphasis on compassion might be a source of inspiration beyond their own electorate.
 M. Freeden, Ideologies and Political Theory. A Conceptual Approach (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), pp. 485-487; see also M. Freeden, ‘Is Nationalism a Distinct Ideology?’, Political Studies, 46 (1998), pp. 748-765; B. Stanley, ‘The thin ideology of populism’, Journal of Political Ideologies, 13 (2008), pp. 95-110.
 Animalism has been defined as ‘the view (..) that each of us is an organism of the species Homo sapiens and that the conditions of our persistence are those of animals’, see: S. Blatti, ‘Animalism’, in E.N. Zalta (ed.) The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2014 Edition), available at https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2014/entries/animalism (accessed 28 July 2016).
 Here I follow S. Bein, Compassion and Moral Guidance (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2013) especially pp. 1-2, 88, 95.
 See G. Dierickx, ‘Christian Democracy and its ideological rivals’, in: D. Hanley (Ed) Christian Democracy in Europe. A Comparative Perspective (London&New York: Pinter Publishers, 1994); B. Pilbeam, ‘The Tragedy of Compassionate Conservatism’, Journal of American Studies, 44 (2010), pp. 251-268.
 PACMA, ‘Declaración de principios del PACMA’, available at www.pacma.es/principios (accessed 21 July 2011); PAN, ‘Declaração de Principios e Objectivos do PAN’ (2009), available at www.pan.com.pt/declaracao-de-principios.html (accessed 6 March 2014); Partij voor de Dieren, ‘220x liever voor mens, dier, natuur en milieu. Verkiezingsprogramma Partij voor de Dieren’, in: H. Pellikaan et al. (Eds) Verkiezing van de Tweede Kamer der Staten-Generaal 22 november 2006. Verkiezingsprogramma’s (Amsterdam: Rozenberg Publishers 2006), pp. 373-405, especially p. 373.
 T. Regan, The Case for Animal Rights (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004, revised edition, e.g. on pp. 243-244; not surprisingly, the Australian Animal Justice Party quotes Regan in its charter, available at www.animaljusticeparty.org/about/charter (accessed 12 May 2016).
 In German: ‘Mensch, Tier und Natur sind eine untrennbare Einheit.’ This is the first sentence in the basic programme of the German party (‘Grundsatzprogramm Tierschutzpartei’, p. 3, available at https://www.tierschutzpartei.de/wp-content/uploads/grundsatzprogramm.pdf (accessed 26 January 2021)); veganism is advocated on p. 13.
 See A. Dobson, Green Political Thought (London: Unwin Hyman, 1990) p. 20; Freeden, Ideologies and Political Theory, p. 527; R. Goodin, Green Political Theory (Cambridge: Polity, 1992); M. Smith, Ecologism. Towards Ecological Citizenship (Buckingham: Open University, 1998) pp. 1-17; Y. Stavrakakis, ‘Green ideology. A discursive reading’, Journal of Political Ideologies, 2 (1997), pp. 259-280.
 S. Donaldson & W. Kymlicka, Zoopolis. A Political Theory of Animal Rights (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011); see also see T. Benton, ‘Animal Rights: An Eco-Socialist View’, in R. Garner (Ed.), Animal Rights. The Changing Debate (Basingstoke: Macmillan Press, 1996), pp. 19-41.
 The AJP suggested human guardians to administer the rights of animals, in its policy paper on Animal Law (on-line: http://animaljusticeparty.org/policies (accessed 26 May 2016)); Donaldson and Kymlicka do not seem to like the term ‘guardian’, without being able to get around the idea altogether, using clumsy terms like ‘human enablers’ (Ref. 3, p. 115) or ‘collaborators’ (p.153), ‘ombudsmen’ or ‘defenders’ (p.154).
 Even Regan, the philosopher who inspired not only the AJP but several other animal advocacy movements and parties across the world, discriminates between men and dogs in a crisis situation. In a sinking life boat or a boat without food a dog should be sacrificed to save a human life, as death would be a greater harm to a human being than to a dog, Regan argues (The Case for Animal Rights pp. 285-286, 324-327, 351). So implicit in Regan’s theory is a moral hierarchy, and some paternalism as well. In fact, he admits human beings have to be paternalistic when caring for animals as well as children (pp. 82-120). In the eyes of a more radical theorist like Gary Steiner, the Australian philosopher is too anthropocentric; see G. Steiner, Animals and the Moral Community. Mental Life, Moral Status, and Kinship (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008) pp. 99-101. Yet even if Steiner’s theory of ‘cosmic holism’ based on ‘felt kinship’ with other living beings may be less anthropocentric than Regan’s right-based theory or theories based on compassion, in practice it might also imply a subtle hierarchy, as we, the dominant human beings, tend to feel more kinship with people of our own kind and more with furry or feathered animals than with snails, spiders and mosquitoes (ibidem, pp. 111, 117-163).
by David Benbow
The concept of ideology seems to have been supplanted in contemporary critical theory by the concept of discourse. Postmodernist scholars, such as Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, have criticised the concept of ideology. Nonetheless, the two concepts are potentially compatible. I believe that the concept of ideology is superior to the concept of discourse because, as David Hawkes noted, it mediates between the ideal and the material. The work of the Frankfurt School philosopher, Theodor Adorno, and his conceptualisations of ideology, are particularly useful in examining the relationship between the ideal and the material in modern neoliberal societies. The contemporary relevance of Adorno’s work is evident in the burgeoning literature concerning the philosopher—see, for example, Blackwell’s A Companion to Adorno, published in 2020, which contains the largest collection of essays by Adorno scholars in a single volume. I have utilised Adorno’s conceptualisations of ideology, within my own work, to examine different aspects of the law relating to health and healthcare.
Adorno’s distinction between liberal ideology and positivist ideology, and his conceptualisations of reification, informed my analysis of reforms which have marketised and privatised the English National Health Service (NHS). I also made use of Adorno’s method of ideology critique to demonstrate how many public statements regarding the high-profile Charlie Gard and Alfie Evans cases (which involved disputes between parents and clinicians regarding the treatment of young infants), for example by United States (US) politicians (such as Donald Trump and Ted Cruz), were unjustifiably critical of socialised medicine. The cases led to renewed proposals for the best interests test, which is currently determinative in such cases, to be replaced with a significant harm test. I employed Adorno’s notion of the dialectic of enlightenment (the idea that reason can engender unreason) to undermine the argument that parents would make better decisions in these types of cases. I contended that the clinicians in such cases reflexively acknowledged the limits of medicine, in contrast to the parents, who appear to have suffered from false hope. Adorno’s ideas are also informing my current research projects on vaccine confidence (and the influence of anti-vaccination ideology) and the potential of human rights to address health injustices in states within the Global South. In respect of the former, I have employed the psycho-social dialectic methodology that Adorno developed in his research into anti-Semitism to identify the objective social factors which have influenced the increase in vaccine hesitancy. In respect of the latter, Adorno noted that rights may be tacitly critical of existing conditions and thus I am developing a paper regarding how they may be used to articulate present injustices within the Global South (and elsewhere) with a view to their remedy.
In the chapter on the topic of the concept of ideology, published as part of the Frankfurt School’s book Aspects of Sociology, Adorno distinguished between liberal ideology and positivist ideology. In Adorno’s view, positivist ideology, which he thought was becoming more prominent in modern societies, hardly says more than ‘things are the way they are’. By contrast, the emphatic concepts of liberal ideology, such as freedom, equality and rights, are often used, within discourse, to justify certain states of affairs (or changes to them). Such emphatic concepts can also be used to critique existing conditions. There are different modalities of the related concept of reification in Adorno’s work. One modality of reification in Adorno’s work is philosophical reification, which refers to phenomena being treated as fixed. An example of philosophical reification is the exchange principle, which treats unlike things alike. Another modality of reification in Adorno’s work is social reification, which refers to means becoming ends in themselves. Both of these modes are evident in consumerism. Reification may lead to estrangement, whereby people become strangers or enemies to one another. Estrangement is the opposite of solidarity, which Rahel Jaeggi defines as ‘standing up for each other because one recognises one’s own fate in the fate of the other’. Reification may undermine the solidarity which has been pivotal in the creation and continuation of the NHS.
I have analysed the emphatic concepts of freedom and equality and how they have been used within the discourse of successive governments regarding the English NHS. I have also considered the potential reifying effects of the market reforms that successive governments have implemented within the English NHS. When the NHS was established, in 1948, it was to be publicly answerable via ministerial accountability to Parliament. However, this was deemed to be a constitutional fiction. Since the 1970s, there have been efforts to enhance patient and public involvement within the NHS via two types of mechanisms, identified by Albert Hirschman: voice and choice. In the neoliberal era, the preference has been for choice mechanisms (although attenuated voice mechanisms have persisted). This preference is evident in the use of indicators and market mechanisms to facilitate competition among NHS providers. The internal market introduced by the Conservatives, in the 1990s, was justified on the basis of enhancing patient choice, although evidence indicates that it reduced the choices available to patients. The mimic-market established in the English NHS by the New Labour governments, in the 2000s, afforded private healthcare companies increasing opportunities to deliver NHS services and gradually extended patient choice to any willing provider. New Labour sought to naturalise the relationship between patients and the NHS as a consumerist one. However, studies indicate that many patients were recalcitrant in this regard and often did not utilise the opportunity to exercise choice when it was available to them.
The latest English NHS market was introduced by the Health and Social Care (HSC) Act 2012. This statute places duties on commissioners to act with a view to enabling patients to make choices. Such commissioners are also required to comply with regulations passed pursuant to S.75 of the statute, and, prior to Brexit, with European Union (EU) public procurement law, in tendering services. Such laws have coaxed many commissioners into tendering services in circumstances where they did not think that it was best for patients,  which is symptomatic of social reification, as the market has become an end in itself. New methods for enabling patients to compare providers, such as friend and family test (FFT) scores, have also been introduced. These are symptomatic of philosophical reification, as the process of reducing quality (patient experiences) into quantity (a number) is one of abstraction, which is unlikely to capture the complexity of patient experiences. In any event, patient choice, which was used to justify the coalition’s reforms, has taken a backseat, and the market created by the HSC Act 2012 has primarily involved providers competing for tenders. The intention of many of the policymakers who designed the market reforms to the English NHS thus seems to have been to get private providers into the NHS, rather than to extend patient choice. I contend that voice mechanisms are a preferable method of empowering patients by allowing them to convey the complexity of their experiences and to influence clinical practices.
Adorno was critical of the concept of equality, on the basis that it could obscure important differences. Nonetheless, equality of access to the NHS (based on need) and the reduction of health inequalities are principles which, I contend, are compatible with an Adornian perspective. The Welsh Marxist theorist, Raymond Williams, helpfully distinguished between dominant, residual, and emergent norms within his work.  I have conceptualised neoliberal norms (such as competition and choice) as dominant norms, the founding principles of the NHS (such as equality of access, comprehensiveness, and universality) as residual norms (as they are remnants from the era of the social democratic consensus, which preceded the neoliberal era) and the reduction of health inequalities as an emergent norm. In the neoliberal era, different UK governments have all articulated their support for the residual norm of equality of access. However, this has been undermined, for example, by the ability of foundation trusts to earn 49% of their income from private patients. The other residual norms, such as comprehensiveness, have also been undermined by successive governments, within the neoliberal era, thereby extending the exchange principle (as patients are now required to pay for some health services). The issue of health inequalities was not a priority of the Conservative governments between 1979 and 1997, which sought to bury the Black Report and which rebranded such inequalities, in a positivistic manner, as health variations. In contrast, both the New Labour governments between 1997 and 2010 and the Conservative-led governments since 2010 have adopted the goal of reducing health inequalities. The HSC Act 2012 created statutory duties for different actors to have regard to the need to reduce such inequalities. However, the impact of the main economic policy (austerity) pursued by governments since 2010, has increased such inequalities. Austerity negatively affected NHS capacity and resources, as well as population health, rendering the NHS less resilient to the current Covid-19 pandemic. The reduction of health inequalities requires alternative economic policies to austerity.
Ultimately, I have identified both liberal and positivistic elements in the discourse of successive governments, in the neoliberal era, in relation to the English NHS. Consequently, government discourse pertaining to the English NHS has not become completely positivistic. Rather, there are liberal elements which provide members of the public and scholars with a basis for critique. The statements of successive governments that they were desirous of empowering patients, respecting the NHS’ founding principles and reducing health inequalities can be used to critique their policies (which have not empowered patients, have undermined the NHS’ founding principles and are likely to exacerbate health inequalities) and to conceive alternative policies. The development of sustainability and transformation plans (STPs), integrated care systems (ICSs) and integrated care providers (ICPs), and the increased emphasis on integration in the discourse of the government and NHS England (a non-departmental body which oversees the day-to-day operation of the NHS in England and commissions primary care and specialist services) has been interpreted by many as a move away from the competition that has dominated the English NHS in the neoliberal era. A recent Kings Fund report found that there has been a move away from procurement to collaboration within the English NHS (with the former being used as a method of last resort). However, some fear that the new structures being established within the English NHS may undermine its founding principles and afford new opportunities for private companies.
I have argued elsewhere that the policies of successive governments pertaining to the English NHS were indicative of market fetishism. The recent award of many contracts to private companies under special powers that circumvent normal tendering rules, during the Covid-19 pandemic, suggests a fetishism for private companies and not necessarily with competitive processes. I have identified the corporate influence on the reforms to the English NHS of successive governments. Such corporate influence has ostensibly also affected the current government’s response to the pandemic. Although I have identified several potential reifying effects of government reforms to the NHS, which could undermine the solidarity which led to its creation and continuation, the adherence of the public to unprecedented rules, such as national lockdowns, during the Covid-19 pandemic, to ‘Protect the NHS’ (as government slogans state), is a palpable contemporary manifestation of such solidarity. The pandemic has also exposed the impact of persistent health inequalities. If efforts to undermine the founding principles of the NHS continue, the slogan ‘Protect the NHS’ will persist as a powerful means of providing an immanent critique of government policies. Additionally, growing awareness of health inequalities may lead to increased clamour for more action than government promises and statutory duties.
 Rahel Jaeggi, ‘Rethinking Ideology’, in Boudewijn de Bruin and Christopher F. Zurn (eds.), New Waves in Political Philosophy (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), 63.
 Michel Foucault, Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972–1977 (Brighton: Harvester Press, 1980), 118.
 Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus (London: Continuum, 1987), 76.
 Trevor Purvis and Alan Hunt, ‘Discourse, Ideology, Discourse, Ideology, Discourse, Ideology...’, The British Journal of Sociology, 44(3) (1993), 498.
 David Hawkes, Ideology: 2nd Edition (London: Routledge, 2003), 156.
 See, for example, Charles A. Prusik, Adorno and Neoliberalism: The Critique of Exchange Society (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2020); Deborah Cook, Adorno, Foucault and the Critique of the West (London: Verso, 2018).
 Peter E. Gordon, Espen Hammer, and Max Pensky (eds.), A Companion to Adorno (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2020).
 See Theodor Adorno, ‘Ideology’, in Frankfurt Institute of Social Research (ed.), Aspects of Sociology, (London: Heinemann, 1973), 202.
 David Benbow, ‘An Adornian Ideology Critique of Neo-liberal Reforms to the English NHS’, Journal of Political Ideologies 26(1) (2021), 59–80.
 Great Ormond Street Hospital v Constance Yates, Chris Gard and Charles Gard (A Child by his Guardian Ad Litem)  EWHC 972 (Fam) .
 Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust v Mr Thomas Evans, Ms Kate James, Alfie Evans (A Child by his Guardian CAFCASS Legal)  EWHC 308 (Fam) .
 David Benbow, ‘An Analysis of Charlie’s Law and Alfie’s Law’, Medical Law Review 28(2) (2020), 227.
 Children Act 1989, S.1(1).
 See Theodor Adorno, and Max Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2010), xvi.
 Benbow, ‘An Analysis’, 237–8.
 Theodor Adorno, The Psychological Technique of Martin Luther Thomas' Radio Addresses (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2010).
 The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared this to be a global health threat in 2019. See WHO, ‘Ten threats to global health in 2019’, available at https://www.who.int/news-room/feature-stories/ten-threats-to-global-health-in-2019 (accessed 29 October 2020).
 Adorno and Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment, 141.
 Adorno, ‘Ideology’, 202.
 Deborah Cook, ‘Adorno, Ideology and Ideology Critique’, Philosophy & Social Criticism 27(1) (2001), 10.
 Anita Chari, A Political Economy of the Senses: Neoliberalism, Reification, Critique (New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2015), 144.
 David Held, Introduction to Critical Theory: Horkheimer to Habermas (Cambridge: Polity, 2004), 220.
 Chari, Political Economy of the Senses, 144.
 John Torrance, Estrangement, Alienation and Exploitation: A Sociological Approach to Historical Materialism (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1977), 315.
 Rahel Jaeggi, ‘Solidarity and Indifference’, in Ruud ter Meulen et al (eds.), Solidarity and Health Care in Europe (London: Kluwer, 2001), 291.
 Alec Merrison, Report of the Royal Commission on the National Health Service, Cmnd 7615. (London: HMSO, 1979), 298.
 Albert O. Hirschman, Exit, Voice and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organisations and States (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1970).
 Via the National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990.
 Department of Health, Working for Patients (London: Stationery Office, 1989), 3–6.
 Marianna Fotaki, ‘The Impact of Market-Oriented Reforms on Choice and Information: A Case Study of Cataract Surgery in Outer London and Stockholm’, Social Science & Medicine 48(100 (1999), 1430.
 Department of Health (DOH), Principles and Rules for Co-operation and Competition (London: DOH, 2007), 10.
 For example, the word consumer appeared more in Labour’s health policy documents than in its policy documents for other policy areas. See Catherine Needham, The Reform of Public Services under New Labour: Narratives of Consumerism (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2007), 115.
 John Clarke, Janet Newman, and Louise Westmarland, ‘Creating Citizen-Consumers? Public Service Reform and (Un)willing Selves’ in Sabine Maasen and Barbara Sutter (eds.), On Willing Selves: Neoliberal Politics vis-à-vis the Neuroscientific Challenge (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2007), 136.
 Anna Dixon, Patient Choice: How Patient’s Choose and How Providers Respond (London: Kings Fund, 2010), 20.
 NHS Act (2006), S.13I and S.14V as amended by HSC Act (2012), S.23 and S.25.
 National Health Service (Procurement, Patient Choice and Competition) Regulations (No.2) (S.75 Regulations), SI 2013/500.
 Directive 2014(24) EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 26 February 2014 on Public Procurement and repealing directive 2004/18/EC, OJ L. 94, 28 March 2014. This was implemented in the UK via the Public Contracts Regulations, SI 2015/102. Such regulations are still in force.
 D. West, ‘CCGs open services to competition out of fear of rules’, Health Services Journal, 4 April 2014.
 Theodor Adorno, Lectures on Negative Dialectics: Fragments of a Lecture Course 1965–1966 (Cambridge: Polity, 2008), 127.
 Chris Ham et al., The NHS under the Coalition government part one: NHS Reform (London: Kings Fund, 2015), 18.
 Theodor Adorno, Negative Dialectics (New York: Continuum, 1973), 309.
 Raymond Williams, Marxism and Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), 122.
 David Benbow, ‘The sociology of health and the NHS’, The Sociological Review 65(2) (2017), 416.
 NHS Act (2006), S.43(2A) as amended by Health and Social Care (HSC) Act (2012), S.164(1).
 Department of Health and Social Service (DHSS), Inequalities in Health: Report of a Research Working Group (London: DHSS, 1980).
 Clare Bambra, Health Divides (Bristol: Policy Press, 2016), 185.
 For example, the Secretary of State for Health is required to have regard to the need to reduce health inequalities in exercising their functions (NHS Act (2006), S.1C as amended by the HSC Act (2012), S.4.) and NHS England and CCGs are required to have regard to the need to reduce inequalities in respect of access (NHS Act (2006), S.13G(A) and S.14T(A) as amended by HSC Act (2012), S.23 and S.25) and outcomes (NHS Act (2006), S.13G(B) and S.14T(B) as amended by HSC Act (2012), S.23 and S.25).
 Clare Bambra, ‘Conclusion: Health in Hard Times’ in Clare Bambra (ed.), Health in Hard Times: Austerity and Health Inequalities (Bristol: Policy Press, 2019), 244.
 Chris Thomas, Resilient Health and Care: Learning the Lessons of Covid-19 in the English NHS (London: Institute for Public Policy Research, 2020), 3.
 Hugh Alderwick et al., Sustainability and Transformation Plans in the NHS: How are they being developed in practice? (London: Kings Fund, 2016), 7.
 Ruth Robertson and Leo Ewbank, Thinking Differently about Commissioning (London: Kings Fund, 2020).
 Allyson M. Pollock and Peter Roderick, ‘Why we should be concerned about Accountable Care Organisations in England’s NHS’. British Medical Journal 360 (2018).
 Benbow, ‘The sociology of health and the NHS’, 420.
 British Medical Association (BMA), The role of private outsourcing in the Covid-19 response (London: BMA, 2020), 4.
 Benbow, ‘An Adornian Ideology Critique’, 66, 68.
 Peter Geoghegan, ‘Cronyism and Clientelism’, London Review of Books 42 (2020).
 Abi Rimmer, ‘Covid-19: Tackling health inequalities is more urgent than ever, says new alliance’. British Medical Journal 371 (2020).
by Ico Maly
We are all living algorithmic lives. Our lives are not just media rich, they increasingly take place in and through an algorithmically programmed media landscape. Algorithms, as a result of digitalisation and the de-computerisation of the internet, are ubiquitous today. We use them to navigate, to buy stuff, to work from home, to search for information, to read our newspaper and to chat with friends and even people we never met before. We live our social lives in post-digital societies: societies in which the digital revolution has been realised. As a result, algorithms have penetrated and changed almost every domain in those societies.
Algorithms have become a normal and to a large extent invisible part of our world. Hence they are rarely questioned. Only when big issues erupt—think about Facebook’s role in Trump’s election, the role of conspiracy theories in the raid on Capitol, or content moderation failures— do debates on the role of digital platforms and their algorithms become prominent. Otherwise, they just seem to be “there”, just as the old media is part of our lives. As Barthes eloquently argued, normality is always a field of power. Normality and normativity, he argued, are not neutral or non-ideological. On the contrary, they are hegemonic. Other ideologies and normativities are measured against this ideological point zero. We could expand his logic and argue that digital platforms, their algorithms, and the ideologies that are embedded in them are part of the invisible and self-evident systemic core organising daily life. Just because we fail to recognize those algorithms and platforms as ideologically grounded, it is necessary to examine and study the impact of this algorithmic revolution in general, and its impact on politics—and the production and distribution of ideology—in particular.
Ideology and the algorithmic logic of post-digital societies
Digitalisation and algorithmic culture have rapidly reshuffled the media system and the information flows and interactions within that system. Politicians, activists, journalists, intellectuals and common citizens politically engage in a very different context than in the 1990s, let alone the 1950s. We now live with an algorithmically-powered attention-based hybrid media system. The different types of media—newspapers, television, radio, and social media platforms—do not merely coexist, but form a media system that is constantly changing. That perpetual change is, according to Chadwick, the result of the reciprocal actions and interactions between those different media and their media logics. In that new media system, the distinction between “old” and “new” media or digital and non-digital media has almost become non-existent. Tweets become news and the newspaper tweets. Moreover, the newspaper is also more and more algorithmically produced.
All media in this hybrid media system are increasingly grounded in an algorithmic logic. Our interactions with algorithms determine which information becomes visible to whom and on which scale. Algorithms, datafication, and the affordances of digital media that allowed for the democratisation of transmission and the banalisation of recording disrupt the status quo. We cannot understand the rise of Trump and Trumpism, or the rise of Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and the Squad without taking this new media environment into account. While we should carefully avoid the trap of technological determinism, we cannot disregard the importance of including this new socio-technological context in our analysis of ideology and political discourse in contemporary societies. Post-digital societies create new possibilities and constraints for the production and circulation of discourse. New producers and new relationships have been established between the different actors in this media system and they have had fundamental effects on the construction and circulation of (meta-)political messages and meanings.
In the last two decades, the digital infrastructure has become an inherent part of the social fabric of society. It is one of the deep, generic drivers of concrete human behaviour in hypermediated societies. Without attention to this social structure, one risks the fallacy of internalism, as J.B. Thompson called it. With this concept, Thompson pointed to the widespread idea that the meaning of a text is only to be found in the text itself (and thus not in the attribution of meaning through the uptake and reproduction of texts). He stressed that ‘the analysis of ideology in modern societies must give a central role to the nature and impact of mass communication’, and argued that cultural experience is profoundly shaped by the diffusion of symbolic forms distributed through mass media. As a result, the study of ideology should—if one wants to avoid the fallacy of internalism—be focused on all three aspects of mass communication: ‘the production/transmission, construction, and reception/appropriation of media messages’. If we follow Thompson’s argument, we should at least direct some attention to the algorithmic nature of the distribution of discourse and ideology in contemporary societies.
Algorithmic culture and the attention-based media system
It is important to note here that algorithms are much more than mere technological instruments. They are socio-technical assemblages. Algorithms only work if they are fed with data. In other words, algorithms should be understood from a relational perspective. Not only do programmers (their values and their companies’ goals) matter, but also the interfaces, the data structures, and what people do with algorithms deserve our attention. The idea—so prevalent in public debate—that algorithms just do things and that users do not have impact is false. The recommended videos on YouTube are the result of the interactions between the recommendation algorithms of YouTube, viewers, and how producers prepare their content for uptake. Algorithmic culture matters. People will try to optimise their content, link to each other, have a network of fans which they ask to share content, or even have bots to push certain content.
Algorithms and people have agency. It is in the interaction between humans and algorithms that the contemporary production and circulation of ideology should be understood. When we take the assumption on board that algorithms have agency, then it is important to understand the socio-technical but also the economic context in which they are created. The objectives of the platforms are clear. Beneath all the fine talk of big tech boasting about ‘connecting the world’ and ‘doing no evil’ lies the quest for profit. Social platforms make profit by commodifying our digitally networked social relationships: our emotions, photos, posts, shares and likes are repackaged into ‘tradable commodities’. Or more concretely, data is used to predict the likelihood that certain audiences will be receptive or give attention to certain messages from companies or politicians. The more data those companies have about their users, the more accurately they think that sellers can target them and the more profit big tech can extract from that behavioural data. The result is an unbridled surveillance and datafication. Even if users don’t post or like and don’t leave comments, they still produce data that can be processed and traded.
In order to gather more data on their users, digital media platforms nurture a specific culture in which audience labour takes a central place. We have all become prosumers: we do not only consume information, we also produce it. This has crucial consequences: information—including good quality information—is now abundant. It is no longer a scarce commodity. A wealth of information creates a lack of attention. We have ended up in the opposite of an information economy: an attention economy. In order to convert that attention into profit, attention is codified and categorised. The like, the comment, the view, the click, the share function as proxies of attention. The digital infrastructures of the attention economy are not only organised to keep the users hooked, they facilitate audience labour and thus data production.
This commercial algorithmically-programmed attention economy creates a very specific environment in which we develop our social relationships. “Popularity” has become a crucial factor. The more followers you have, the more likes your posts generate, the more you contribute to the goals of the platform, the more valuable you are for the platforms, and the more visible you and your discourse becomes. As a result, people increasingly present themselves as public personas in search for an audience. In order to capture the attention of platform users, we see that branding strategies have been democratised. People create their brand in relation to the so-called vanity metrics: they monitor the likes, followers and uptake and use it to gain insight in what works, when, and why. Or in other words, they try to acquire and apply algorithmic knowledge to produce attention-grabbing content. The influencer or micro-celebrity is a structural ingredient of this new media environment: they help platforms in realising their goals. These new human practices are best seen as result of their interaction with the algorithms and values of that platform.
The management of visibility and ideology research
The algorithmic logic of this attention-based media environment forces us to understand the importance of algorithmic knowledge in the dissemination of ideologies on the rise. Not only the management of visibility, but also avoiding non-visibility as Bucher stresses is a constant worry for all actors in this media system and is thus of crucial importance for all ideological projects. In line with Thompson, Blommaert argued that ideologies need to ‘be understood as processes that require material reality and institutional structures and practices of power and authority’. Ideologies are thus not just a cognitive phenomenon, they have a material reality. Hence, they cannot be understood without looking at how people spread those ideas, who they address, which media they use, and how those media format the discourses. Studying ideologies in the contemporary era means not only looking at the input, but also at the uptake. Uptake here refers to
(1) the fact that within the digital ecology users are not only consumers but also (re)producers of discourse, so-called prosumers; and
(2) that algorithms and the interfaces of digital media play an important role in the dissemination and reproduction of ideas.
Uptake realises visibility. Human and non-human actors (from bots over the algorithms organising the communication on a platform) are a crucial part of any ideological and political battle. Note here that seemingly simple ‘reproduction’ actions like retweeting, reposting, liking, and sharing are not just ‘copies’ of the same discourse, but ‘re-entextualisations’: a share (and sometimes even a like depending on the algorithms of the platform) is the start of a new communication process where the initial message is now part of a new communicative act performed by a new producer who communicates to new addressees in a new type of interaction. It is also a meaningful act seen from the perspective of the algorithm: a share and a comment adds to the ‘popularity’ of the post and thus can also contribute to its visibility far beyond the audiences of the people who have shared it. Digital media are thus not just intermediaries, they affect the input and the uptake.
Messaging in the digital age is thus not a linear process between sender and receiver, but involves a multitude of human and non-human actors that are all potential senders and receivers and even co-constructs the message. This ‘uptake’ is as crucial as the input and this again highlights why it is important that ideological and discourse-analytical research not only focusses on the content, but also on the different actors and the systems of communication.
Myths, ideology, and the far-right
We can illustrate the importance of the new communicative environment when we zoom in on the emergence of the far-right in the last decades. Although it is certainly not the only factor, the algorithmic hybrid media system is unmistakably an important ingredient in this rise. It has reshaped and re-organised the far-right. The far-right has always used digital media to propagate their ideologies, but in the last decades, we see a fundamental change in the form, content and strategies that are being used today. The far right’s adoption of meme-culture, LARPing (the ironic and metapolitical use of Live Action Role Playing in order to do or say things that are too outrageous for “normies”), digital harassment, trolling, conspiracy theories, and the adoption of influencer culture for metapolitical goals are all relatively new practices that have contributed not only to the spread of their ideologies, but also to recreation, re-emergence, and the mobilisation power of the so-called true right on a global scale.
In post-digital societies, the far-right rarely manifests itself as a hierarchical organisation with one stable ideology or a mass party. More commonly it takes the form of a polycentric and layered network of niched ideological groups. Maly and Varis coined the term micro-populations to describe such social groups. They argued that micro-populations are the material expression of temporary and emerging micro-hegemonies. The Capitol riots in the US are a clear example of how all those digital practices have shaped a wide range of such micro-populations that were moulded into a militant offline mass on 6 January 2021. An analysis of the linguistic signs on display during the storming of Capitol shows us how Trump-supporters are a loose, unstable, and temporal coalition of micro-populations. Next to the red and camouflage MAGA caps and Trump hats, one could spot Confederate flags, QAnon t-shirts, Kek and “three-percenter” flags, Neo-Nazi hoodies, ‘stop the steal’ boards, and of course the Proud Boys themselves.
All these signs and emblems refer to different groups who occupy different (4chan, thedonald.win) or sometimes overlapping online spaces (GAB, Parler, MeWe). Trump—with his massive reach in the hybrid media system—was potentially most important, but he was clearly not the only communicator. Key influencers like Nick Fuentes, Dan Bongino, and Gavin McInnes all collaborated in the production and distribution of discourse. In many cases, we see a complex, layered and ‘democratic’ network of influencers that co-constructs a (micro)-ideology. If we zoom in on QAnon, then we see that even that niche is a decentralised and polycentric pyramid-like conspiracy theory that is constantly being produced and reproduced in different niches by different producers. Mom-influencers, yoga communities, 4channers, and MAGA-activists all prosume the theory and make it ready for uptake in their niches using different angles and discourse strategies.
Trying to understand 6 January means understanding how many of those micro-populations merge to become a mass. One key element is understanding that since Election Day, influencers and prosumers in all those different niches started adopting some version of the conspiracy theory that claims that this election was stolen. This particular type of coalition is grounded in a network of social media sites and of course in the digital campaign of Trump itself. These groups were born within mainstream platforms like Twitter, Reddit, YouTube, and Facebook before some had to move to more fringe platforms like Gab, Parler, and thedonald.win after being deplatformed. In the months before the riot, all those niched groups used digital media to construct their own normalities, their partisan views of the world. In that world, the election was stolen by the left, the liberals, or the deep state. The enemy was accused of manipulating the voting machines, stealing or throwing away ballots, or organising fraud with mail-in and absentee ballots. The seeds for this myth were planted by Trump in the even before his election in 2016—but of course they resonated with discourses on the deep state that were already popular in many of those niches—and were carefully constructed by many of his performances during and after the elections. Trump’s electoral loss was read as the deep state taking over control again. It created a sense of urgency and opposition to the democratic institutions of the US.
We can best understand those conspiracy theories as contemporary and vulgar variants of the Sorelian myth. The Frenchman George Sorel was a prominent and influential anti-elitist and anti-democratic philosopher within revolutionary syndicalism that had a prominent impact on fascism. Myth was central to Sorel’s thinking about revolution and the overthrow of the bourgeois order. He saw myths as “groups of ideas” or knowledge-constructs that can direct reality, people, and movements. Those ideas didn’t need to be rational or true. What was important according to Sorel was that they had affective power. For him, myths had a social function. He saw them as means to mobilise people.
If we look at the role of conspiracy theories from the perspective of this Sorelian concept of myth, we see how they function as a site of ideology:
All those political conspiracy theories create a world in which the liberal elites are destroying traditional societies, enable multiculturalism, feminism, and the destruction of Western culture. That is why debunking the myths doesn’t work. It didn’t matter that Pizzagate was debunked; the general idea—that the liberals are morally rotten—was still seen as true. Important to note again is that those myths are not only cognitive-ideational phenomena, they are grounded in a material reality which is as important as the affective qualities of those myths in the mobilisation of people.
Ideology and algorithmic politics
If we understand ideologies as ideas that penetrate the whole fabric of communities and result in normalised, naturalised patterns of thought and behaviour, then we should realise how important the role of algorithms is in the construction of that normality. The reach of these groups cannot be solely explained by the discourse they produce; all of those influencers and groups deploy ‘algorithmic knowledge’ to spread their discourse and to construct a community around their profiles. Even more, their discourse on ‘censorship’ from the mass media and mainstream digital media platforms helps them to spread digital knowledge. Far-right influencers constantly stress the importance of getting the news out by sharing and liking. This produces fertile ground to grow a supportive culture. The other side of the coin is that the interaction with the personalisation algorithms contributes to the construction of the niched groups circling around specific influencers and pages, whereas the recommendation algorithms help to build a network of different micro-populations.
If we want to analyse ‘political ideologies’, we must not only focus on the content or the large ‘isms’, but also on the form, the communication economy, and the uptake. We need to understand how politicians and activists adapt to this new communicative economy and understand how they use it for their political struggle. What is clear by now is that this new communicative economy creates a polycentric world of communication. Such a world is far more complex than a world dominated by the so-called “mass media”. It thus creates an enormous challenge for scholars of ideology, because we will need to update our toolkit. The good news is that it may help us to develop more fine-grained analysis that takes into account the full context, including the socio-technical context.
 Taina Bucher, If… Then: Algorithmic power and politics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018).
 Florian Cramer, ‘What Is “Post-digital”?’, in David M. Berry and Michael Dieter (eds.), Postdigital Aesthetics (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).
 Roland Barthes, Mythologies (Hill and Wang, 1957).
 Jan Blommaert, Discourse: A Critical Introduction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 160.
 Andrew Chadwick, The Hybrid Media System: Politics and Power (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017); John B. Thompson, ‘Mediated Interaction in the Digital Age’, Theory, Culture & Society 37(1) (2020), 3–28; Tommaso Venturini, ‘From fake to junk news: The data politics of online virality’, in Didier Bigo, Engin Isin, and Evelyn Ruppert (eds.), Data Politics. Worlds, Subjects, Rights (Abingdon: Routledge, 2019).
 Bucher, If… Then.
 Tarleton Gillespie, ‘The relevance of algorithms’, in Tarleton Gillespie, Pablo Boczkowski, and Kristen Foot (eds.), Media Technologies (Cambidge, MA: MIT Press, 2014).
 Ico Maly, ‘The global New Right and the Flemish identitarian movement Schild & Vrienden: a case study’, Tilburg Papers in Culture Studies no. 220 (2018); Ico Maly, ‘New Right Metapolitics and the Algorithmic Activism of Schild & Vrienden’, Social Media + Society (2019); Ico Maly, ‘Metapolitical New Right Influencers: The Case of Brittany Pettibone’, Social Science (2020), 9(7); Ico Maly, ‘Algorithmic populism and the datafication and gamification of the people by Flemish Interest in Belgium’, Trabalhos em Linguística Aplicada 59(1) (2020) .
 Jan Blommaert, ‘Political discourse in post-digital societies’, Trabalhos em Linguística Aplicada 59(1) (2020).
 John B. Thompson, Ideology and modern culture: Critical social theory in the era of mass communication (Cambridge: Polity, 1990).
 Ibid., 264.
 Ibid., 24.
 Shoshana Zuboff, The age of surveillance capitalism: The fight for a human future at the new frontier of power (New York, NY: Profile Books, 2019).
 Venturini, ‘From fake to junk news’, 130.
 Vincent Miller, Understanding digital culture (London: SAGE, 2011).
 José Van Dijck, The Culture of Connectivity: A critical history of social media (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013).
 Nir Eyal, Hooked: How to build habit-forming products (London: Penguin, 2014).
 Van Dijck, Culture of Connectivity.
 Alice Marwick, ‘You May Know Me from YouTube: (Micro)-Celebrity in Social Media’, in P. David Marshall and Sean Redmond (eds.), A Companion to Celebrity (Hoboken, NY: John Wiley & Sons Inc., 2015).
 Richard Rogers, ‘Digital Traces in Context| Otherwise Engaged: Social Media from Vanity Metrics to Critical Analytics’, International Journal of Communication 12 (2018).
 Bucher, If… Then; Maly, ‘The global New Right’; Maly, ‘New Right Metapolitics’.
 Bucher, If… Then.
 Blommaert, Discourse, 163
 Blommaert, ‘Political discourse’; Maly, ‘The global New Right’; Maly, ‘New Right Metapolitics’; Maly, ‘Metapolitical New Right Influencers’; Maly, ‘Algorithmic populism’.
 Blommaert, ‘Political discourse’; Piia Varis and Jan Blommaert, ‘Conviviality and collectives on social media: Virality, memes, and new social structures’, Multilingual Margins 2(1), 31–45.
 Thomas Poell and José Van Dijck, ‘Social Media and Journalistic Independence’, in James Bennett and Niki Strange (eds.), Media independence: working with freedom or working for free? (Abingdon: Routledge, 2014), 182–201.
 Maly, 2018.
 Maly, 2018, Maly, ‘New Right Metapolitics’; Maly, ‘Metapolitical New Right Influencers’; Maly, ‘Algorithmic populism’.
 Ariel Winter, ‘Online hate: From the far right to the ‘Alt-Right’, and from the margins to the mainstream’, in Karen Lumsden and Emily Harmer (eds.), Online Othering: Exploring Violence and Discrimination on the Web (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2019).
 Lisa Bogaerts and Maik Fielitz, ‘Do you want meme war? Understanding the visual memes of the German Far Right’, in Maik Fielitz and Nick Thurston (eds.), Post-Digital Cultures of the Far Right: Online Actions and Offline Consequences in Europe and the US (Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag, 2019); Daniele Conversi, ‘Irresponsible radicalisation: Diasporas, globalisation, and Long-distance nationalism in the Digital age’, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 38 (2012), 1357–79; Edwin Hodge and Helga Hallgrimsdottir, ‘Networks of Hate: The Alt- right, “Troll Culture”, and the Cultural Geography of Social Movement Spaces Online’, Journal of Borderlands Studies (2019), 1–8; Rebecca Lewis, Alternative Influence: Broadcasting the Reactionary Right on YouTube, Data & Society (2018); Ico Maly, ‘Populism as a mediatized communicative relation: The birth of algorithmic populism’, Tilburg Papers in Culture Studies no. 213 (2018); Maly, ‘New Right Metapolitics’; Maly, ‘Metapolitical New Right Influencers’; Angela Nagle, Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars from 4chan and Tumblr to Trump and the Alt-Right (Washington, DC: Zero Books, 2017); Marc Tuters, ‘LARPing and Liberal tears: Irony, Belief, and Idiocy in the deep vernacular web’, in Maik Fielitz and Nick Thurston (eds.), Post-Digital Cultures of the Far Right: Online Actions and Offline Consequences in Europe and the US (Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag, 2019).
 Blommaert, ‘Political discourse’; Maly, ‘Populism as a mediatized communicative relation’; Maly, ‘The global New Right’.
 Ico Maly and Piia Varis, ‘The 21st-century hipster: On micro-populations in times of superdiversity’, European Journal of Cultural Studies 19(6) (2015), 637–53.
 Blommaert, ‘Political discourse’.
 Ico Maly, ‘The Army for Trump and Trump’s war against Sleepy Joe’, Diggit Magazine (2020), https://www.diggitmagazine.com/articles/trump-war-sleepy-joe.
 Georges Sorel, Reflections on violence (New York, NY: Dover Publications, 2004).
 Blommaert, Discourse, 159.
 Maly, ‘The global New Right’; Maly, ‘New Right Metapolitics’; Maly, ‘Metapolitical New Right Influencers’; Maly, ‘Algorithmic populism’.
by Sabrina Martin
The Covid crisis has, by and large, been a positive time for ethical consumerism. Numerous people have used lockdown as an impetus to review their purchasing habits and make more conscious decisions about what and where they buy. Last year The Guardian reported that UK spending in the ‘ethical market’ is now worth £41bn (though statistics on this vary widely). Accenture has even predicted that Covid has ushered in a new era of ethical consumerism for at least the next decade.
Ethical consumerism has been around, in some form, since the early days of capitalism, with activist producers and abolitionists stamping ‘not made by slaves’ on various consumer goods to signify they were made ethically with free labour. Around the turn of the 20th century, it evolved into a consumer protection movement calling for product standards to be better regulated. Public regulation of goods and production standards remained at the forefront of what it meant to consume something ethically until the late 1980s and, in the UK, led to the passage of the Consumer Protection Act. The rise of our current version of ethical consumerism dates to approximately 1989 and the establishment of Ethical Consumer Magazine, which helps readers to “Discover the truth behind the products we buy and the companies we buy them from” and is still in publication today.
Ethical consumerism starts with the premise that goods and a growing number of targeted services available on the market have moral shortcomings: they may contribute to pollution or deforestation, they may perpetuate cruelty to animals, or use low-wage labour. Ethical consumers show their dissatisfaction with this status quo by purchasing products or services that don’t engage with these practices. On the face of it, it appears to be an individualist act of moralism and activism targeted at collective problems that relies on the market as its mechanism of action: ‘voting with your dollar’, as the saying goes. Yet, even the most self-interested or -regarding consumer is still, by definition, participating in a social act through the use of the market, so the individualism that we observe in ethical consumerism actually gives way to an acknowledgement of collective responsibility. So we have to ask to what extent the market is an effective tool for our activism.
There are myriad criticisms to be levied against ethical consumerism, ranging from the use of the free market to advance causes of justice to the claim that the onus of justice shouldn’t and can’t fall solely on individuals, from the fact that it’s a privilege to be able to choose to consume ethically to the idea that any system that tries to redress capitalism is doomed to fail. These criticisms are the subject of a later blog. Yet, given ethical consumerism’s growing prevalence, even among those who are critical of the movement (cards on the table: I count myself among these participant-critics), it’s worth asking what the ideological underpinnings of the movement are, and to what extent ethical consumerism is or can be seen as a critique of capitalism.
For one thing, to anti-capitalists, the use of market mechanisms to execute ethical behaviour or acts of justice seems counterintuitive and counterproductive. Further, ethical consumerism has been seen as a way for companies to greenwash or pinkwash—when companies play up their environmental and feminst credentials, respectively—our moral concerns away about their production practices. At the same time, at the very least, ethical consumerism does seem to be very much a critique of certain aspects and ‘negative externalities’ of capitalism. To the extent that externalities of capitalism can be separated from the market system itself we can see ethical consumerism as a type of repudiation of capitalist practices. The neoliberal backdrop against which we believe in and practice ethical consumerism, however, makes this separation nearly impossible.
To clarify, ethical consumerism isn’t trying to encourage us to buy or consume less. This is what we would refer to as ‘the ethics of consumption’ (see Crocker and Linden 1998), and seems to be more in line with an anti-capitalist stance. Instead, ethical consumerism’s main purpose is to make us think about the things we do consume, and treats the buying of goods and services as a moral and political action. But what are consumers doing when engaging with ethical consumerism? Is it simply ‘virtue signalling’ or ‘middle class guilt’? Figures seem to back this up: statistics commonly cite that the majority of people report that they are willing to buy ethical brands, but only about 26% actually do so. Lending more credence to this idea, another study shows that people are substantially more likely to participate in sustainable consumption if someone else is reported having done it first. Or is there ideologically something deeper to it?
Ethical consumer options exist in most markets: from FairTrade and Rainforest Alliance foods and other consumable goods, to sustainable fashion, even to finances and banking and investing in the covid vaccine. In addition to being able to buy ‘ethically’ for your chosen product or service, you can also find brands in almost every market to match your pet cause or ideology: animal rights, shattering the glass ceiling, environmentalism, human rights, etc.
For this reason, coupled with its use of the market to coordinate its outcomes, ethical consumerism is by no means a unified ideology or movement. As an ideology it seems to be ‘thin-centered’ in that it has a singular central theme, which seems to be a broad commitment to avoiding or rectifying some of the ails of capitalism. (Indeed, its supposed thinness is what seems to make it compatible with other ideologies like environmentalism and feminism.) As an activist movement it consists of a collection of consumer activists, kitemarking labels, and companies trying to make capitalism more palatable for buyers and suppliers, and the laborers in between. What’s important to note here is the use of the market as an activist platform and the use of a dollar as a mechanism of free speech.
The use of the market here seems to be a reappropriation of the free market, which is seen as an unalloyed good in traditional liberal and converservative thinking, but is so often criticised in more progressive ideologies. This in turn, signals participants not only seeing the economy as a site of social and political struggle, but actively using it in its current form as a front to exert ideological pressure on political, economic, and cultural institutions. Ultimately, then, it seems that ethical consumerism may not be quite as ‘thin’ as it originally appears, and there may be a thicker set of concepts lurking within it. It shows a commitment to markets, which is of course compatible with economic systems other than just capitalism. It also speaks to an affirmation of the power of the consumer and an acknowledgement that that power can and should be used responsibly. Finally, as noted above, it also seems to be a nod towards the collectivity that markets and a globalised society create and a move away from a value-neutral picture of economics.
Further complicating the conceptualisation of ethical consumerism, it bucks trends in several established fields of study. Activism is usually portrayed as a social movement and therefore a collectivist project, making the individual purchases in ethical consumerism a bit of an anomaly in the world of activism; markets are usually studied (at least in modern-economics) as value-neutral, making the morally targeted purchases in ethical consumerism a bit of an anomaly in the observance of markets. Seeing the economy as value-laden was commonplace in classical economics, but largely went out of fashion alongside the rise of the predominance of liberalism (for an interesting analysis of the history of linkage, see Machan 1995). There is, however, a recent trend in economics contesting the value-neutrality of markets and economics trying to introduce alternative norms into the economy, for example, Raworth’s doughnut model of the economy, Mazzucato’s Mission Economy, and the Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi Commission. While these are centered on the top-down policy or supply-side of the economy, like ethical consumerism, they show a tendency towards a belief in a moralised economy.
When studying capitalism in various disciplines from sociology to media studies, individuals’ motives are often divided into ‘citizen’ where people act outwardly, or in the interest of the common good, and ‘consumer’ where they act privately in their own interests. A prevailing theory of ethical consumerism argues that the movement bridges this gap with people acting as consumers by purchasing goods they want or need while simultaneously expressing outward, citizen commitments to a more just world (see Schudson 2007). From an ideological perspective, however, we might see less as bridging a gap and instead contesting the constructed binary between public and private, individual and collective, and indeed therefore citizen and consumer.
In the study of market economics, buyers are motivated by self-interest. This doesn’t seem to be the case with ethical consumers. Instead, they might be motivated by any number of private ethical commitments all of which express some discontentment with the status quo. For example, when it comes to buying FairTrade products, consumers might buy FairTrade because they believe they contribute to development (though the economic gains are dubious). Others might argue that it reduces poverty, and we therefore have a moral obligation to purchase these goods. Yet others still might be less focused on the consequences of Fair Trade and argue that there is a deontological moral imperative to pay a ‘fair price’ for all goods.
Under ethical consumerism, these individual moral commitments don’t actually matter; people don’t have to agree on ideologies to pursue their activism collectively or even hold internal consistent comprehensive moral positions. Instead, the invisible hand of the market takes care of the coordination of the activism and the ideology. It’s almost like seeing Rawlsian overlapping consensus being played out in the real world: individuals hold a plurality of moral commitments and the market coordinates and executes them. The problem is that the market is therefore the primary social institution of justice, which seems counter-intuitive in that the market is what brought about the injustices in the first place. This means either that a) ethical consumerism could have radical potential because it has found a way to bring justice into the workings of a previously unjust institution or b) ethical consumerism is doomed to fail because it relies on an inherently anti-justice (as well as unjust) institution.
Under capitalism, it’s essentially impossible to avoid being a consumerist. The extent to which we can see ethical consumerism as a critique of capitalism, it seems, depends on where we think the onus of responsibility lies and what follows from our ethical consumerism practices.
One theory on the motivations behind ethical consumerism says that individuals believe that the onus of responsibility for these moral shortcomings falls on them because of their previous purchases, and it's therefore their responsibility to rectify. On this view, it seems impossible to view ethical consumerism as a critique of capitalism because it fails to acknowledge the structural backdrop against which the markets operate, and the causality of the moral failings. Under this version, participants of ethical consumerism are broadly committed to capitalism, but think that it can do better and that ethical consumerism is the best way to nudge the markets in that direction. In other words, they think that the exploitative production processes, environmental damage, racism, sexism, etc. perpetuated by these companies can be separated from capitalism.
Alternatively, we might see participants of ethical consumerism as individuals who are unconvinced by capitalism in its entirety, but feel that ethical consumerism is one course of action for improving it, either because it is low-risk activism, they don’t know what else to do, or don’t see any viable alternatives. Ethical consumers who fall into this camp, would seem to think that capitalism is at fault for the unethical products being produced (making it a supply-side, rather than a demand-side issue), but understand that market—not capitalist—mechanisms can be used as a means improving but not rectifying, the system. This conceptualisation relies on a reimagining of markets and their purpose, and being able to disentangle them from the capitalist system in which they exist. Here, we must believe that markets are capable of expressing civic will, rather than simply being an instrument of (profit-seeking) exchange.
The problem seems to be that by continuing to buy, it doesn’t really matter what they believe. The choices on the market take a lot of the individual onus of responsibility away from them. Whether or not ethical consumers are critical of capitalism, the outcome seems to be the same: they use the market to make a statement about what goods are acceptably just and purchase those both as a signal of their own virtue as well as a sign to ‘unjust’ corporations that their products aren’t of an acceptable standard. Market mechanisms should then respond to these cues and slowly move towards a more ethical equilibrium.
Fashion brands have started putting out sustainable clothing lines, and supermarkets now offer ranges like ‘plant kitchen’ or products kitemarked with ‘sustainably sourced’ to satiate the concerned consumer. It’s worth noting that these are often sold alongside, rather than in place of, ‘normal’ product lines. What ethical consumerism has done is, in effect, created a separate market (markets) for these conscientious consumers. It exists alongside the ‘regular’ or ‘unethical’ markets. Ethical consumerism has, in effect, created more consumerism. It might drive demand down a bit in these regular markets, but because not everyone is buying from ethical markets, it doesn’t seem likely to drive demand down enough to replace them. Eventually an equilibrium will be reached, unethical capitalist practices will continue to be perpetuated, and a select few who purchase exclusively ethical products can be satisfied that they are not perpetuating any of the problematic externalities of capitalism that they have identified.
Indeed, it’s hard to view ethical consumerism as a wholescale critique of capitalism, because it works with and within the system, but it seems reasonable to see it as a critique—from any number of ideological standpoints—of the problems that capitalism perpetuates.
I propose that the best way to view ethical consumerism is as a belief that consumers have so that they can bridge a broad commitment to neoliberalism, capitalism, or market economics to more specific ideological environmentalism, anti-racism, feminism, etc. Participants view ethical consumerism as bringing these values into supply chains so that we eventually have a more moral global system of production and consumption. In this way, we might see ethical consumerism as a manifestation of a sort of intersectional capitalism.
The market itself does not yet actively reward ethical consumerism. Indeed, ethical consumers willingly pay a premium. But the market-based reward is not the point; instead it’s societal betterment that matters. Ethical consumerism does not (yet) have the power to reconstruct the structure of the market so that its guiding norms foster or indeed reward ethical-consumerist activism. But, in theory, it does seem to have that potential. This is why we can imagine ethical consumerism as a means by which consumers act as citizens, thereby breaking down the public vs private illusion and the individualist vs collectivist mentality that both liberalism and capitalism can perpetuate. More than the ethical consumerism itself, it seems to me that the ideological standpoint(s) from which ethical consumers make their purchases are more telling and what those purchases signify is more important.
Instead of seeing themselves as atomistic individuals being swept along by the tides of capitalism, ethical consumers are using the system to try to speak out and acknowledge some of global collective responsibility.
As any good economics student knows, however, the consumer (demand) side is only half of the story. Perhaps ethical consumerism is a radical instrument for change. But in order for the goals of ethical consumerism to be met, and for the market to truly be a meaningful tool of activism, both the supply-side conditions and the policy will have to be put in place, as well.
Other pieces in this series will include, a history of ethical consumerism, critiques of ethical consumerism, and a discussion of ethical consumerism’s varying ideological compatibility with some of the causes it purports to support.
 Note that while the markets for ‘ethical’ and ‘non-ethical’ goods are often treated separately in the literature, the goal for ethical consumerism is for ethical products to replace non-ethical ones in terms of demand. The degree to which we have separate markets seems to depend on the industry in which the ethical goods and services are being offered. Despite the separation of markets, the consumers are likely the same people. So instead of seeing ethical consumers and markets as separate entities, it seems more accurate to see them as counter-hegemonic tendencies within the bigger scheme of the global economy.
by Benedict Coleridge
In the course of a 2018 interview undertaken with Jürgen Habermas by the Spanish newspaper El País, the visiting journalists noted that Habermas’ residence, decorated with modern art, presented ‘a juxtaposition of Bauhaus modernism and Bavaria’s staunch conservatism’. While the shelves were lined with the German Romantics, the walls were adorned with icons of European aesthetic modernism, fitting the style of the house itself. In an autobiographical preface to his essays on Naturalism and Religion, Habermas gives an account of the confluence of his decorative and intellectual tastes, highlighting the distinctive experiences and hopes to which they testify. He writes of the post-war revelations that disclosed a civilisational rupture after 1945, along with the sense of cultural release brought about by the doors being opened ‘to Expressionist art, to Kafka, Thomas Mann, and Hermann Hesse, to world literature written in English, to the contemporary philosophy of Sartre and the French left-wing Catholics, to Freud and Marx, as well as to the pragmatism of John Dewey’. He goes on to suggest that ‘contemporary cinema also conveyed exciting messages. The liberating, revolutionary spirit of Modernism found compelling visual expression in Mondrian’s constructivism, in the cool geometric lines of Bauhaus architecture, and in uncompromising industrial design.’ Together, these aesthetic movements espoused what Virginia Rembert calls a determination to develop an artistic practice that conveyed a ‘new world image’. And according to Habermas, the ‘cultural opening’ instigated by these aesthetic pursuits ‘went hand in hand with a political opening’, which primarily took the form of ‘the political constructions of social contract theory … combined with the pioneering spirit and the emancipatory promise of Modernism’.
In the imaginative resources it marshals, and in its fixation with conceptual transposability, formality, and procedural neutrality, contemporary political liberalism of the Habermasian variety interacts with modernist visions of social transformation and stabilisation, even while it refuses an account of historical change spurred on by abrupt or destructive rupture. And if political and social theory leans frequently upon structuring metaphors, then it’s worth wondering whether a picture, or in this case an aesthetic, holds the Frankfurt School captive rather more literally than Wittgenstein’s phrase intends: a ‘picture’ that insists upon a conceptual and practical association between modernity, emancipation and abstraction.
On the one hand, modernism seems an unlikely inspiration for a movement concerned to integrate a textured and historically alert account of social life into its theory of normativity. As William Rehg and James Bohman point out, the reformulation of Frankfurt School critical theory undertaken by Habermas and Karl-Otto Apel, while more heavily indebted to Kant than to Marx, also sought to be ‘increasingly attuned to the challenges of social complexity and cultural pluralism’. That’s an attunement prompted by the pragmatist commitment to deriving moral norms from social experience rather than transcendental ideals, partly out of an aversion to the imperial chauvinisms unleashed by strong universalist accounts of truth, rationality, or progress.
On the other hand, however, the turn to experience is made in an effort to re-found a critical normativity beyond the impasse of the Linguistic Turn, so prising open the horizon of modernity and sustaining the kind of ‘emancipatory promise’ at which post-modernists direct suspicion. And while, unlike the Bauhaus and its drive towards an aesthetically and politically cleansed future, Habermas and his intellectual heirs refuse Walter Gropius’ mantra of “starting from zero”, modernism’s ‘cool geometry’ remains in view as an intellectual ideal and structuring metaphor. Its emancipatory promise rests primarily upon a claim, made on behalf of abstract formalism, to culture-transcending ethical neutrality—that is, the notion that we can develop normatively resonant aesthetic forms that do not suffer from the perspectival limitation that the articulation of experience generally bears with it.
To pursue the neo-Kantian ‘project of modernity’ in political theory is to search for a culturally neutral vantage-point from which to establish a universal rule morality capable of conditioning diverse ethical personalities. Of course, the powerful ideological dimension to this project is its self-construal as an essentially moral rather than a political enterprise drawing from pre-political, rational, insights. And if secular reason has been dethroned, or at least seriously challenged, by post-colonial critiques of hegemonic rationalism, then the search is on for a more diminutive, yet nevertheless critically powerful, foundation for Kantian normative universality.
In this spirit, contemporary Frankfurt school theorists of the Habermasian variety seek to sustain the ‘new world image’ of Kantian universalism without resorting to ethically parochial or rampantly metaphysical idealisations. To do so they require a kind of normativity that’s substantively ‘empty’ and open to transposition across different political and cultural sites, even while ensuring the possibility of moral imperatives in the style of basic norms, rights, and deliberative procedural commitments. For Habermas this, famously, means the rational presuppositions of communicative action, while for fourth-generation Frankfurt School theorists such as Rainer Forst and Alessandro Ferrara it entails a basic right to justification and a shared mode of aesthetic judgment respectively. By construing normativity as a matter of ‘higher level internalism’ free from dependence upon particular ethical languages (Forst), or as a matter of discerning ethical-aesthetic forms like ‘exemplary self-congruence’ in ethical traditions (Ferrara), contemporary Frankfurt School theorists, for all their internal differences, lean upon the ideal of generalisable normative forms unimpaired by narrative content, ethical convention, or cultural substance. In so doing, they recognisably accord with mid-century modernist attempts at signifying experience through an idealised aesthetic formalism that eschews cultural ‘likeness’, hoping to elude ideological parochialism via the surreal, the impressionistic, and the abstract.
But for what kind of modernity might the cool geometry and abstraction of Western modernism supply allegorical inspiration? And how might aesthetic modernism mould the relation envisaged by Frankfurt School theorists between an emancipatory spirit and a perplexingly multivalent social world? Contemporaneous with Habermas’ own career, the prominent American art critic Clement Greenberg elucidated and developed the aesthetic instincts to which Habermas has evidently gravitated, his views about artistic modernism (including Mondrian) offering some possible insights into Habermas’ own inclinations. Consider, for example, Greenberg’s influential, and controversial, articulation of the raison d’être of the avant-garde in twentieth-century art, by which painters such as Mondrian and Kandinsky produced work the excitement of which lay ‘in its pure preoccupation with the invention and arrangement of spaces, surfaces, shapes, colours, etc., to the exclusion of whatever is not necessarily implicated in these factors’. What marks aesthetic modernism, writes Greenberg, is a turn away from the ‘the subject matter of common experience’ towards the ‘medium’ of one’s own craft, meaning that the ‘nonrepresentational or “abstract”’ must ‘stem from obedience to some worthy constraint or original’. This ‘constraint’, which might once have been located in ‘the world of common, extroverted experience’, has collapsed and can now ‘only be found in the everyday processes or disciplines by which art and literature have already imitated the former’.
Note here the manner in which Greenberg associates modernism with a fixation upon the power of the medium to generate its own principles of rational construction; hence, the artist may produce and deploy colour or form in a manner that isolates them from antecedent aesthetic traditions and the cultural narratives towards which they gesture. One may thereby mobilise colour in a manner that makes the colour itself the subject of the work, rather than an element involved in the culturally defined ‘subject matter of common experience’ from which modernism, on Greenberg’s reading, turns. The implication here is that such an act of ‘pure’ aesthetic formalism is, firstly, possible and, secondly, emancipatory in its liberation of the elements that together constitute the work of art so as to establish their aesthetic relevance upon medium-specific principles—that is, as elements autochthonous to the work itself rather than bearers of cultural sediment.
The emancipatory power of the ‘spirit of modernism’—at least in the Western forms that appear on Habermas’ wall—rests upon its refusal of co-dependence between aesthetic form and cultural substance or, in relation to the social process of normative ideation, the manner in which ‘precepts and narratives operate together to ground meaning’. To flesh out this refusal in more concrete terms let’s briefly attend to one of Greenberg’s critics (and Habermas’ contemporary), Rosalind Krauss, who presents an analysis of ‘the grid’ as ‘a structure that has remained emblematic of the modernist ambition within the visual arts.’ For Krauss the grid, employed and developed by Mondrian, in whom Habermas takes express interest, ‘announces, among other things, modern art’s will to silence, its hostility to literature, to narrative, to discourse.’ If we follow Krauss’ argument, the will to silence performed by abstract forms amounts to a rejection of antecedence and postcedence, as well as any relationship of dependence upon ethically- or socially-embedded forms and traditions, thereby enacting the ‘emancipatory promise of Modernism’ to which Habermas’ project cleaves.
In so doing, an abstraction such as the grid performs a function that is ultimately non-discursive, working visually to declare its autonomy from the social or natural worlds from which aesthetic creativity might conventionally draw form. It does so, argues Krauss, by enacting a regularising and levelling function upon the artwork, ‘crowding out the dimensions of the real and replacing them with the lateral spread of a single surface.’ By means of its organised regularity the grid enacts an ‘aesthetic decree’, rather than an entry into discourse that evokes objects external to the artwork in its technical dimension.
The key point here, relevant to an assessment of aesthetic modernism’s relation to contemporary iterations of Frankfurt School social and political theory, is the notion that form, disassociated from the ‘dimensions of the real’ or from ‘the world of common experience’, possesses an internal logic that validates its own enterprise. The grid operates independently of any specific content or traceable lineage, working to order the artwork by marginalising the hinterland of cultural discourse that gives it its political and social intelligibility. Of course, intelligibility still relies upon an audience with some understanding of what is being enacted through the refusal of narrative and the rejection of precedent, but the claim that is made by the abstract self-reliance of the grid is nevertheless one of control and self-authorisation. In its avoidance of any mimetic relation to the natural or social worlds the grid sets out to establish itself as the product of ‘pure relationship’, so ‘abrogating the claims of natural objects to have an order particular to them’. And, as the scholar of African and African diaspora art history, Salah Hassan, reminds us, this has a powerful political dimension. Twentieth-century Western modernism’s emphasis on the experimental and alienated avant-gardes worked to exclude ‘realist and narrative modes’, including those produced outside of the Euro-Atlantic metropolitan art world; the narrative dissonance of the experimental performed the essential ‘purifying’ and emancipatory functions.
None of this is to say that all modernist departures from aesthetic realism or naturalism amount to a fixation upon ‘pure’ formalism at the expense of culturally-configured restatements of identity. Just as modernity remains a polysemic phenomenon, modernism as an account of the relationship between past and present takes different forms, shaped by distinct political projects and social resources. And, of course, post-war artistic modernism was as pluralistic and varied as the novel intellectual resources being generated at that moment in post-colonial constitutional and political thought. Kobena Mercer points for example to the ‘modernist strategies of formal experimentation’ present in mid-century ‘Afro-Modernism’, which destabilised an established image of ‘Africa’ available in Western societies and ‘opened a space for new understandings of black cultural influences as a core feature of global modernity.’
Afro-Modernism, suggests Mercer, was capable of establishing ‘multi-perspectival viewpoints’ by integrating the miniature and the monumental, thereby asserting their mutual dependence and the potential for non-dichotomous interaction. Jacob Lawrence’s The Life of Toussaint L’Ouverture, produced between 1986 and 1997, for example, is composed out of 15 prints developed from 41 tempera paintings, conveying episodically the dramas of the Haitian Revolution in tandem with stylistic hints at Soviet monumentalism (perhaps reflective of Lawrence’s interest in Soviet silent cinema). Afro-Modernists such as Lawrence developed formal innovations so as to produce a ‘pictorial narrative’ that ‘addressed the past genealogically’ so as to discern its political relevance. Intimate narrative scenes were made central to discerning the direction of modern emancipatory efforts. Differently, the Cuban sculptor Agustín Cárdenas, who joined the surrealist movement in Paris in the 1950s, reconciled more formal considerations in sculpture with references to totemic symbolism drawn from the Dogon ethnicity of present-day Mali. And artists like Ibrahim El-Salahi of the Khartoum School of African modernist painters have drawn upon obviously paideiac calligraphic practices derived from Qur’anic transcription, even while working under the eaves of the ideologically powerful avant-garde encountered in the former imperial metropole, London.
The ‘spirit of modernism’, therefore, doesn’t necessarily entail a disjuncture between cultural particularity and critical power of the kind pursued visually by some Western modernists and philosophically by neo-Kantians. Rather, when experimenting with form in open contact with genealogy, history, and experiential specificity, it enables the emergence of new claims to recognition through the re-conceptualisation of modernity as ambiguous, locally-determined, and hermeneutically challenging. This form of modernism moves within the contingent parameters of a particular or localised identity, making its emancipatory effort one of hermeneutical ‘amalgamation’, rather than displacement. In this sense, it arguably refuses the more canonically Western modernist program that, in Greenberg’s terms, ‘rejects the subject matter of common experience’ to pursue aesthetic and social transformation through the development of autonomous form and abstract solidarity.
Whereas, according to Kant’s definition in the Groundwork, ‘practical principles are formal if they abstract from all subjective ends’, Afro-modernism held subjective—which is to say, locally, customarily, formed—ends and their cultural signifiers to be the material from which to compose a pluralised modernity, so challenging the presuppositions of the Western art schools. This isn’t to say that, in the conventional role allotted to the non-Western post-colonial world, Afro-modernism supplied some kind of folkloric antidote to the rationalism of Weberian modernity. Rather, Afro-Modernism, amongst other post-colonial artistic movements, prised open discursive opportunities for transculturation, which made ‘modernism’ into something that conveyed multifarious cultural symbols and aesthetic ideals. Resourced by experiences and political hopes for transformation from beyond the former metropole, it began to visualise the ‘spirit’ of the avant-garde not as the displacement of customary practices but in terms of their entry, re-fashioned, into the dialogue of social and political modernity, with its novel experiences of the state, mass society, and post-coloniality.
Given the intellectual and aesthetic movement from which they stem, the visions of Bauhaus modernism and constructivism that adorn Habermas’ walls presumably convey notions of unity, abstraction, anti-historicism, and world-creation, all of which are recognisable features of his moral and political project—a project that responds to the barbarities of World War Two with the re-assertion of progressive social order based normatively upon an inter-subjective continuation of Kantianism. There are, of course, ideological connections between this interest in abstraction and the kind of modernity to which Habermas’ project strives—connections that belie the claim to normative system unburdened by cultural or ideological particularism. Indeed, without a testing stretch of the imagination a definitively modernist form such as the aforementioned grid might be construed as an aesthetic paradigm that corresponds with the broader high-modernist ambition for a rationally-designed social order, with its inevitably fraught relation to the “non-rational” and non-secular.
James Scott’s well known exploration of high modernism and state planning alerts us to the optical dimension involved in establishing a ‘rationally’ ordered relation between the social and natural worlds and over social life through the centrally enacted visions involved in urban-planning and design. But perhaps the more important point to make here is that there are imaginative alternatives that continue to move in an experimentally avant-garde direction. Instead of developing the ideological claim to authoritative cultural neutrality via formal abstraction, non-European movements like Afro-modernism and the Khartoum School actively inserted particular, historically over-shadowed identities into the modernist frame, so making the ‘new world image’ of modernity more multiform than Habermas’ domestic collection might suggest. Thought-provokingly for the political theorist, they signify that particular, local experiences, crafts, and customs may themselves propel critical social and intellectual re-arrangement and, with it, the struggle for a shared modern horizon.
 Borja Hermoso, ‘Philosophy: Jürgen Habermas: “For God’s Sake, Spare Us Governing Philosophers!”’, El País Semanal (25 May 2018),
 Jürgen Habermas, Between Naturalism and Religion: Philosophical Essays, Ciaran Cronin (tr.) (Cambridge: Polity, 2008), 19.
 Virginia Rembert, Piet Mondrian (New York, NY: Parkstone Press, 2015), 40.
 Habermas, Between Naturalism and Religion: Philosophical Essays, 19.
 William Rehg and James Bohman, “Introduction,” in Pluralism and the Pragmatic Turn (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001), 1.
 Steffen de Rudder, ‘The Bauhaus and the City as a White Spot: How Gropius Lost His Reputation on the Streets of New York’, in Laura Colini and Frank Eckardt (eds.), Bauhaus and the City: A Contested Heritage for a Challenging Future (Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 2011), 82.; Tom Wolfe, From Bauhaus to Our House (London: Abacus, 1986), 14.
 Clement Greenberg, Art and Culture (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1965), 7.
 Ibid., 6.
 Robert Cover, ‘Nomos and Narrative’, in Martha Minnow, Michael Ryan and Austin Sarat (eds.), Narrative, Violence and the Law (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press), 139.
 Rosalind E. Krauss, ‘The Grid, the True Cross, the Abstract Structure’, Studies in the History of Art 48(1) (1995), 50.
 Habermas, Between Naturalism and Religion: Philosophical Essays, 19.
 Krauss, #The Grid, The True Cross, The Abstract Structure’, 50.
 See Salah M. Hassan, ‘African Modernism: Beyond Alternative Modernities Discourse’, South Atlantic Quarterly 109(3) (2010).
 For example, see Frederick Cooper on constitutional rearrangements of post-war French West Africa. Frederick Cooper, Citizenship Between Empire and Nation: Remaking France and French Africa 1945-1960 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014); and see Adom Getachew on postwar anticolonial ‘worldmaking’ in Worldmaking After Empire: The Rise and Fall of Self-Determination, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2019).
 Kobena Mercer, ‘Cosmopolitan Contact Zones’, in Tanya Barson and Peter Görschluter (eds.) Afro Modern: Journeys Through the Black Atlantic (exh. cat., Tate Liverpool, 2010), 43.
 Ibid., 42.
 James C. Scott, Seeing like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998).
by Bruno Leipold
Bruno Leipold: This book is the culmination of a long engagement of yours with the German council movement that emerged during the Revolution of 1918-19. You wrote your PhD on Hannah Arendt’s account of council democracy and have also edited two volumes on the subject: Council Democracy: Towards a Democratic Socialist Politics (2018) and, with Gaard Kets, The German Revolution and Political Theory (2019). What is it about the councils that keeps drawing you back to them?
James Muldoon: The councils offer an alternative vision of democracy that expands our political imagination and questions the compatibility of democracy with capitalism. This perspective helps us to see our political inheritance of liberal democratic capitalism from a new perspective. The council movements believed it was necessary to extend a program of democratisation into a range of social and economic institutions such as schools, universities, workplaces, industry bodies, economic regulatory institutions and the civil service.
Many political theorists and actors come back to some form of council model when they are searching for alternative forms of political organisation outside of the state. The classic image of a council democracy is of a federal structure of councils with local and regional councils electing delegates leading to a national council that would exercise political and economic powers.
For those interested in examining more democratic ways to organise the economy, the experience of the council movements still provides a guiding light for what could be possible. There are specific institutional features such as recallable delegates, imperative mandate and average wages for political representatives that I think should get more of a hearing in contemporary debates, but which aren’t necessary for some form of council system.
Studying these bottom-up democratic institutions might seem anachronistic today, but what I find most interesting isn’t necessarily the precise institutional features, but the unfulfilled aspirations for political transformation which remain alive in the present. They show that a participatory society with more institutions organised along democratic lines is not only desirable but could be within reach.
BL: The title of your book seems to be a sceptical nod towards John Holloway’s Change the World Without Taking Power, a book that encapsulated the anti-hierarchical ideology of the Occupy movements. Do you see your book as challenging that model of political organisation and strategy?
JM: The title of my book, Building Power to Change the World implies a different strategy and approach to the ‘horizontalist’ tendency that was prominent in social movements in the 2010s. When I started this project on the workers’ councils of the 1917-1923 era, there had been a return to public assemblies and anarchist-inspired direct democratic methods as part of the global “squares movements”. Movements such as the Spanish 15M movement, Occupy Wall Street and other square and assembly-based protests sought to negate principles of hierarchy and representation and advocated for strategies of withdrawal and autonomous self-activity.
I participated in these movements as part of Occupy Melbourne and what many of us started to see was the limitations of such an ephemeral form of organisation. There was a sense in the neo-anarchist currents of these square movements that we could just re-create the world anew without having to engage with what was perceived to be an outdated and archaic form of democratic government. By refusing to engage with the domain of the state and parliamentary struggle these movements did not build up long-term organisational power or challenge the power of neoliberal capitalism head on.
In contrast to this strategy of refusal, the central point that most participants in the council movements of the inter-war period agreed upon was that in order to secure lasting social change the movement should develop the independent power of the working class. There were many disagreements over methods, but there was a shared horizon of acknowledging the importance of strategising ways in which workers’ power could be enhanced while diminishing the organisational and ideological power of the capitalist class.
BL: That would seem to involve a quite distinct understanding of organisation and power than we find in the horizontalism of Occupy and Holloway?
JM: There are many similarities between the approach of the Councils and that adopted by Holloway so the differences should not be overstated. However, his idea of “not taking power” relies on an ontological distinction between a “power to” (potentia) and a “power over” (potestas) and the presumption that there is some qualitative difference between the organisational form of parliaments versus other more grassroots forms of organisation. We can supposedly build our capacity for collective action (potentia) without creating new structures for controlling others (potestas).
I have always found this distinction dubious to hold in practice. It ends up valorising forms of political activity seen as “from below” or “of the people” while demonising strategies that involve forms of parliamentary struggle or action in and against the state.
Any movement seeking to form a more emancipatory society will eventually have to confront the question of which institutions will manage political conflict and enforce collective decisions in a post-capitalist polity. When you start to ask the question of how these institutions would be structured, what participatory rights and legal protections citizens would have, and how law would be created, the distinction between two separate kinds of power seems less helpful.
BL: One of my favourite lines that you quote in the book is by the Revolutionary Shop Steward Ernst Däumig who said he wanted ‘a Germany whose affairs are really determined by active people doing more than running to the ballot box every two or three years’, which sounds like the model of a good Rousseaian republican citizen! What role do you think republicanism plays in the ideology of the Council movement?
JM: The tradition of republicanism has some deeply conservative and even anti-democratic tendencies, but there are also prominent forms of radical republicanism. We are beginning to understand in more detail how the socialist tradition emerged from radical strands of republicanism in the 19th century.
Theorists of the council movements inherited a democratic republican legacy through the writings of Marx and Engels. Rosa Luxemburg is somebody who at different points has been seen as exemplary of a radical republicanism due to her calls for greater participation in public life and her defence of democratic freedoms. The council movements represent some of the more radical elements of the German socialist movement who favoured “bottom up” forms of socialist organising in comparison to the more statist versions of socialism in the German Social Democratic Party.
The real gambit of theorists like Anton Pannekoek and Rosa Luxemburg is on the question of citizen participation. Their entire political theory relies on a conception of democratic citizenship which demands a lot of citizens in terms of their commitment to public life. There is a kind of Rousseauian idea here of active citizens tending to public institutions, but it’s a form of republicanism beyond the state - a republic of councils perhaps.
BL: An important contribution of your book is that it reconstructs some of the core concepts of the ideology of the Council movements, including Rosa Luxemburg’s account of ‘socialist civic virtues’. How do these socialist civic virtues differ from what we traditionally understand by civic virtue?
JM: When I first read Luxemburg’s account of socialist civic virtues I was surprised by the use of such republican language. But the more closely I followed her thought in the 1917-1919 period, I began to see how much she had turned her attention to the cultural transformations that would be needed for a democratic socialist revolution to be successful. She thought that worker-controlled institutions such as workers’ councils would need to be accompanied by new social norms and widespread modes of relating to others that would protect and maintain these new institutions.
The content of these socialist civic virtues mirrors certain aspects of republicanism: the need for an orientation towards the common good, the negation of egoism, the development of political judgement and the importance of self-discipline and personal sacrifice. But the way these virtues figure in Luxemburg’s thought is very different to traditional republican theory. It’s not the state that cultivates these virtues in citizens through education, but the workers themselves that develop them in political struggle. They are also not oriented towards preserving the state as in republican theory, but towards an emancipatory political movement of overcoming relations of domination.
It’s for these reasons that I wouldn’t go as far as interpreters such as Hannah Arendt who sees Luxemburg as some kind of ‘republican’, however broadly understood. Although there are interesting elements of republican language and themes in her writings, they are thoroughly transformed and reconfigured within a revolutionary socialist outlook.
BL: Another important conceptual innovation of the councils that you highlight is idea of ‘freedom as collective self-determination’, which you particularly associate with Anton Pannekoek. Where does this conception of freedom lie in relation to some of the classic debates, including the distinction between positive and negative liberty?
JM: The council movements envisioned a new participatory society of democratic collectives involved in public life and democratically managing all of societies major institutions. Their ideal of political freedom involved democratic collective participating in their community and helping to shape its underlying character, laws and future direction.
The revival of republican accounts of freedom as non-domination have all been tied to negative ideals of liberty. Even radical republicans such as Alex Gourevitch – who has reconstructed the political thought of the Knights of Labour – situate their own interpretations primarily within the negative liberty tradition. For many of the radical council theorists, freedom was best understood as an activity – and indeed a movement – rather than a status or condition of non-domination. Democratic participation was seen as a necessary aspect of freedom rather than something auxiliary that was need to secure its conditions.
This view of freedom goes back to an older Athenian tradition (“the liberty of the ancients”) of active participation in exercising collective power. But this wasn’t just a nostalgic view of direct democracy. It was also attentive to how the state and modern labour market were two of the principal sources of domination in modern life.
It is a demanding view of freedom, but one that is too often discounted in debates between liberals and republicans as either conceptually incoherent or not worth considering. I think such a dismissal is too hasty. The ideal of freedom as collective self-determination has important resonances with a range of emancipatory social movements who see freedom as a collective practice and a constant struggle. It captures something attractive about our intuitive ideas of freedom that are left out of a purely negative lens.
BL: One subsidiary aim of the book is to rehabilitate the reputation of Karl Kautsky. You argue that during the German Revolution he advocated for a kind ‘socialist republicanism’ that combined elements of both parliamentary and council democracy. How does that position differ to some of the other positions taken by socialists and social democrats at the time?
JM: Karl Kautsky is little read today, even by Marxists. Mostly he is associated with the rigid orthodoxy of the Second International. He is said to have vulgarised Marxism into a crude economic determinism in which revolution was seen as a historical inevitability and all the party needed to do was passively wait for capitalism’s downfall. The book attempts to show that Kautsky was a far more sensitive and dynamic thinker than this characterisation implies.
I focus on his writings leading up to and during the German Revolution. During this period, Kautsky found himself occupying a middle position between two different groups. The moderate social democrats wanted the workers’ councils demobilised and for a speedy transition to a parliamentary republic. The radicals in the party called for a council republic with the workers’ councils forming the basis of the new structures of political authority.
In many ways, Karl Kautsky was the goldilocks of the German Revolution. He supported the workers’ councils and thought they played a valuable role in the initial phases of the revolution. But he didn’t see the councils as sufficiently universal or indeed that well suited to administering a future socialist society. In practice, rule by the councils had excluded many groups of people from any form of political suffrage: from many women, to the unemployed, peasants and even some male workers outside densely populated industrial areas.
But he didn’t think the councils should disappear after the revolution. He advocated for retaining the workers’ councils alongside parliamentary institutions to maintain an institutionalised power base for safeguarding workers’ interests and for the organisation of the economy.
BL: What did this ‘goldilocks’ position on the councils mean for Kautsky’s relations to those political factions, such as the leaders of the SPD, that rejected this hybrid approach?
JM: The leadership of the SPD at the time represented a social democratic compromise with capital and the state. They wanted to take over the reins of power but for private property to remain largely unchanged and for German industry to continue on as before. Kautsky is widely seen as going along with this basic idea and as having effectively sold out his radical roots by the time of the Revolution. His writings during this period show this not to be the case. Kautsky still advocated for a thoroughgoing socialisation of the economy and a transformation of the state.
One of the more innovative aspects of his program was his call for the radical decentralisation of the administrative apparatus and for power to be devolved to municipal apparatuses including the power of taxation, policing and the delivery of basic services. The radical housing projects and cultural life of “Red Vienna” in the 1920s stands as a living experiment of the kinds of policies Kautsky was advocating at the time.
Kautsky could be criticised for his naivety in relation to the true intentions of the SPD leadership, but he was pushing for far more radical policies than what he is usually given credit for.
BL: And what about Kautsky’s positioning beyond Germany? How did his socialist republicanism influence his view of the concurrent revolutionary events in Russia?
JM: What makes Kautsky’s position a socialist republican one is its starting point of political democracy, universal suffrage, parliamentary elections, a multi-party electoral system, and its insistence on maintaining civil and political rights. Kautsky was therefore critical of the Bolsheviks for what he argued were the use of ‘methods of violence’ which he contrasted with the ‘methods of democracy’.
One of the key points of difference between Lenin and Kautsky is on the role of the state. Lenin models the Russian soviet system on the Paris Commune with workers’ councils as the main institutions of political power. Kautsky doesn’t think the state should be abolished, but rather transformed into a democratic and then socialist republic. Kautsky finds in Marx a distinction between a “military autocratic” aspect of the state which should be abolished, and the democratic republican institutions which would need to be transformed for a future socialist society.
He argues that institutions such as a parliament with free elections, a multi-party system, a civil service and some kind of basic administrative apparatus would be necessary in a future socialist society. The purportedly “anti-bureaucratic” institutions of the Commune were simply no longer suitable for a large, complex and industrialised nation state. The socialist party needed to take what was best from the tradition of democratic republicanism and push it to its radical edges.
I think the identification of socialist republicanism as an ideology is a useful way of revealing significant differences within socialist ideology and an under-examined strand of democratic socialism in contrast to the more insurrectionary communism of the Bolsheviks.
BL: The Bolsheviks and the Russian Revolution have, of course, played a much greater role in the political imagination of the Left. What do you think explains the relative neglect of the Councils of the German Revolution?
JM: The various strands of socialist democracy that existed within pre-revolutionary Germany were eventually overtaken by the communism of the Bolshevik Party.
The experience of the councils was also not well incorporated into the history of political thought. Every historical event will be subject to partisan interpretations, but as John Medearis has shown, three of the most well-known interpreters of the councils, V. I. Lenin, Hannah Arendt and Joseph Schumpeter, each offer distorted readings of the councils that have led to confusions over their reception.
Lenin’s admonishing of the ‘infantile leftism’ of council theorists such as Anton Pannekoek had perhaps done the most to sink the reputation of theorists associated with this strand of socialism. Contrary to Lenin’s interpretation, many of the council theorists made significant theoretical innovations within Marxism, particularly by advancing democratic republican aspects of Marx’s political thought.
BL: Do you think that anything has been lost in our political vocabulary as a result of that neglect?
JM: I think the biggest neglect has been of these more ‘bottom up’ and democratic approaches to socialist organising which have been marginalised both with social democratic and communist discourse.
This relates to both strategy and institutions. On the strategic front, we have seen insurrectionary forms of socialism and vanguardist theories of political parties dominate for most of the twentieth century. For the most part, parliamentary politics has been seen as corrupted and not worth pursuing leading to a marginalisation of small socialist groups.
In terms of institutions, there has been very little theorising about what these would look like in a future socialist society or how you would practically organise the economy and manage political conflict. The idea that with the end of capitalism the majority of conflict would disappear has never really been plausible. In this respect, socialist republicanism adds an important political and institutional dimension to the socialist tradition.
BL: Finally, if you could pick out one text from the German council movement for people to read today, what would it be?
JM: I’ll cheat slightly and recommend one in German and one in English. For those who read German, I would get a copy of the stenographic report of the National Congress of Workers’ and Soldiers Councils which met from 16-20 December 1918. This was dubbed the “Parliament of the Revolution” and was the meeting at which the councils decided on a number of important questions such as whether Germany would be a council republic or a liberal democracy and how far it would go in socialising the economy. The debates at the Congress are insightful for how the workers and soldiers understood their choices.
It was republished on the centenary of the revolution in 2018 by Dieter Braeg and Ralf Hoffrogge as Allgemeiner Kongress der Arbeiter- und Soldatenräte Deutschlands. Unfortunately, it’s yet to be published in English, although certain speeches have been translated in Gabriel Kuhn’s All Power to the Councils! A Documentary History of the German Revolution of 1918-1919.
My personal favourite from this period that has been translated in English is a short pamphlet by Karl Kautsky written in January 1919 entitled “Guidelines for a Socialist Action Programme”. It provides an overview of how a democratic republic could be expanded into a socialist republic through a dual strategy of democratisation and socialisation and offers a different perspective on Kautsky’s political views during this period.
by John-Erik Hansson
The pages of the Journal of Political Ideologies testify to the resurgence of interest in anarchism in the last couple of decades. The number of articles on anarchism in the journal has increased rapidly in recent years; the last five years alone has seen articles covering everything from punk collectives and non-domination to anarchist hybridisation with other ideologies. This suggests that there is more work to be done to reconsider anarchism as a dynamic ideology concerned with contemporary political problems.
Three recent works on anarchism, the Palgrave Handbook of Anarchism (2019), Anarchism: A Conceptual History (2018) and Kropotkin, Read and the Intellectual History of British Anarchism (2015), show how the field of anarchist studies has benefited from engaging with Michael Freeden’s morphological approach to the study of ideologies. They have done so in two ways. Firstly, from the perspective of political theory, these works—and especially the first two—have helped clarify the conceptual constellations of anarchism. This is useful for rethinking what contemporary anarchism is, even if the precise morphological structure of anarchism may still be up for debate. Secondly, from a more historical perspective, these works—and especially the first and third—have foregrounded the dynamic process of the constestation and decontestation of concepts. This helps us understand the agency of anarchist thinkers and activists in their geographical and chronological contexts and offers fresh and much needed perspectives on the intellectual history of anarchism. Beyond anarchism, this latter point hints at the potential rewards of a closer collaboration between historians of political thought and scholars in ideology studies.
The Palgrave Handbook of Anarchism, edited by Carl Levy and Matthew Adams, is an essential resource for anyone interested in contemporary developments in anarchist studies. Its four parts provide a masterful overview of the theory, history, and practice of anarchism from a global perspective. Eschewing the well-trodden path of reconstructing anarchism and anarchist political theory on the basis of a set of canonical thinkers, the first part of the handbook introduces the subject through nine chapters dedicated to what the editors consider to be the “core problems / problématiques” of anarchism. This provides a solid base for understanding anarchism in the variety of traditions, historical circumstances, and applications presented in the rest of the work. The second, “core traditions”, outlines the diversity of intellectual and political tendencies in anarchism, from mutualism to anarcha-feminism, green anarchism, and post-anarchism. Part III of the handbook then deals with the history of the anarchist movement through a set of “key events” and moments from the late 18th to the 21st centuries; from the revolutions that form the historical perspective of early anarchism to the alterglobalisation movement. The last part explores the applications and limits of anarchist theories and perspectives. It explores the breadth of anarchist studies and suggests possible trajectories for the development of the field. Issues broached include, for example, anarchism’s relation to post-colonialism, indigeneity, food security, and digital society. As a whole, the handbook successfully delivers what the editors wanted: a “rich tour d’horizon” of anarchism and anarchist studies.
Although the editors do not frame it this way, the first part provides one plausible way of considering the morphological structure of anarchism. It even might be seen as progressing from core to peripheral concepts. In this reading, the state, the individual, the community, and freedom stand at the core (chapters 2, 3, and 4). They constitute the basis of the identity of anarchism throughout its history and remain stable components of anarchism today, regardless of internal divisions between, for instance, anarcho-syndicalists, mutualists, and anarcho-communists. Political economy, social change, revolution, and organisation (chapters 5 and 6) can then be seen as adjacent concepts that help understand the grounds for internal divisions within anarchism. The emergence of different perspectives and arguments on the desirability and viability of an anarchist market society, for instance, explain the split between mutualists and anarcho-communists. Finally, cosmopolitanism, anti-imperialism, religion, and science appear as peripheral concepts (chapters 7–10). These are concepts that became part of anarchism’s morphology in more specific circumstances and that informed political action and fostered dialogue with other ideologies and intellectual traditions.
Whether this is the best or most accurate conceptual characterisation of anarchism may be a matter of legitimate debate. As we will see with Anarchism: A Conceptual Approach, others exist. Still, it is a reasonable morphology. It accounts for the diversity of anarchist traditions and the distinctiveness of anarchism. To do so, it highlights many of the fault lines within anarchism and between anarchism and other major ideologies—such as liberalism or socialism—that have emerged over the last century and a half. The authors thus show that anarchism has been and remains a dynamic ideology, developed by a diverse set of actors in a variety of political and intellectual contexts. Moreover, chapters in this section are both analytical and programmatic. In his chapter on “Freedom” (chapter 4), Alex Prichard suggests that seeing anarchist freedom as a (radicalised) version of freedom as non-domination helps make sense of and overcome debates on the nature of liberty in anarchism. Contributors to the handbook not only track the different ways of thinking about the central concepts of anarchism, they also offer new perspectives on these concepts, thus feeding the process of (de)contestation.
In that sense, part I of the Palgrave Handbook of Anarchism both describes anarchism as an ideology but also intervenes in contemporary debates about its nature and identity. In Freeden’s terms, the handbook is at once interpretative and prescriptive; that is one of its strengths. Although the editors of the handbook do not frame it as such, the perspective that emerges may usefully be seen as a historically inclined response to a slightly earlier volume: Anarchism: A Conceptual Approach, edited by Benjamin Franks, Nathan Jun, and Leonard Williams. Whereas the Palgrave Handbook of Anarchism is a wide-ranging overview of the field of anarchist studies, the explicit purpose of this latter volume is to present anarchism’s morphological structure of core, adjacent, and peripheral concepts. Among the core concepts are to be found what the editors identify as anarchism’s “basic values”—anti-hierarchy, freedom, and prefiguration (chapters 1–3), and the concepts that ground what anarchists do—agency, direct action, and revolution (chapters 4–6). Adjacent concepts—horizontalism, organisation, micropolitics. and economy (chapters 7–10)—complement the core and provide a more nuanced understanding of how anarchists think and act politically together. Finally, the peripheral concepts—intersectionality, reform, work, DIY [Do It Yourself], and ecocentrism (chapters 11–15)—relate the conceptual core of the ideology to more concrete forms of political actions given contemporary political concerns.
As is to be expected, there is much overlap between the two morphologies. However, one of the central differences between may be the absence of a chapter entirely dedicated to the State in Anarchism: A Conceptual Approach. Other differences of note regard what I have identified as the peripheral concepts of the Palgrave Handbook of Anarchism’s morphology. In Anarchism: A Conceptual Approach, they include notions such as intersectionality (chapter 11), DIY (chapter 14), and ecocentrism (chapter 15). By contrast, peripheral concepts of the handbook include, for example, religion and science (chapters 9 and 10). This suggests important differences of ideological commitments within anarchism—and there are—but there is another explanation for such variation.
In my view, this has to do with the different intellectual projects related to anarchism that these two works pursue. The Palgrave Handbook of Anarchism seems to me to be more concerned with anarchism’s history than Anarchism: A Conceptual Approach. While the former volume builds a morphology that is perhaps more appropriate to understanding anarchism in the longue durée, the latter provides a morphology that is especially appropriate for both interpreting 21st century anarchism and defining possible political strategies for anarchists. By proposing a more systematic analysis of key concepts in anarchism, Anarchism: A Conceptual Approach suggests a definition of anarchism as a political ideology deeply embedded in contemporary politics. This proposed morphological structure, the editors hope, can then be used to spark further discussions in the field as well as suggest “the possibilities for developing solidarities based on shared norms and practices”. However, this does not mean that the morphological structure proposed in The Palgrave Handbook of Anarchism is solely historical and interpretative. While it recasts anarchism in its conceptual history, it suggests new paths to explore for contemporary scholars of anarchism and for anarchists alike. If Prichard’s account of anarchist freedom is correct, then new “solidarities” and discussions could emerge between contemporary anarchists and republicans and anarchists might be encouraged to rethink their approach to rulemaking in relation to those of other activists.
Taken together, then, Anarchism: A Conceptual Approach and the first part of the Palgrave Handbook of Anarchism offer two distinct perspectives on anarchism as a political ideology, by considering its relationship to different if broadly overlapping concepts. In and of itself, this is a valuable addition to discussions of contemporary anarchist political theory. What it also provides is a framework for recasting the intellectual history of anarchism. The development of anarchist ideology can be understood in terms of two intertwined dynamics: (1) that of the contestation and decontestation of concepts (including their adoption and abandonment), and (2) that of the ordering of concepts as core, adjacent, or peripheral. Late nineteenth-century debates in the First International, which led to clearer distinctions within socialism between Marxists and anarchists, are classic instances of particularly intense processes of ideological contestation and decontestation. Matthew Adams, in his chapter on “Anarchism and the First World War” in Part III of the Palgrave Handbook of Anarchism (chapter 23), makes the case that the diversity of anarchist responses to the First World War also constitutes a peculiarly intense moment of ideological contestation. He demonstrates how the disagreement on the war between Pëtr Kropotkin and his supporters (who supported the Entente) and Errico Malatesta and his supporters (who opposed the war altogether) was not so much a betrayal of anarchist ideas and ideals as a reconfiguration based on local circumstances.
What makes Adams’s chapter particularly compelling, however, is what the framework of ideology studies lacks from theoretical perspective: an understanding and account of context. Against what social, cultural, political, and intellectual backdrop do the morphological structures of ideologies change? What local problems were thinkers and activists trying to solve? Combining the study of ideology and a broadly contextualist approach to intellectual history gives us the tools to rethink the development of traditions of thought as they become essential parts of political ideologies.
Matthew Adams’s Kropotkin, Read, and the Intellectual History of British Anarchism, is a prime example of such a successful combination. It is an attempt to shed new light on and account for the development of (British) anarchism through the sustained contextualisation of the Pëtr Kropotkin’s and Herbert Read’s anarchist theories. It shows both continuities and discontinuities in the British anarchist tradition. Kropotkin and Read reformulated their commitments to “the rejection of authority encapsulated in the modern state, trust in the constructive abilities of free individuals, faith in the unitary potential of communalist ethics, and belief in the equity of communised distribution” to respond to locally specific circumstances and political languages. The consequence was that, while such core claims remained, new adjacent and peripheral claims were made. As Read contributed to the re-circulation of Kropotkin’s thought, he developed anarchist theory in directions which would either not have been available to or contextually strategic for Kropotkin in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
For instance, although Adams considers that Herbert Read developed a more systematic anarchism than is often recognised, he also demonstrates that the language and concepts of nineteenth-century sociology, so useful to Kropotkin, “could be an impediment” to the further circulation of his philosophy, which emphasised culture, art and aesthetics. Reviving Kropotkin’s ideas in the mid-twentieth century led Read to reformulate them and bring them in relation to new concepts in a new context, in which “systematic ambitions were unfashionable and brought to mind a particularly uninspiring form of Marxism”. The relative stability of the core claims of anarchism from Kropotkin to Read is then best understood as an agent-driven reconstruction of anarchism’s conceptual constellations, its morphological structure, given new political, social, and cultural contexts.
The key to Adams’s insights into the intellectual history of (British) anarchism is methodological. His work testifies to the fruitfulness of the combination of a contextualist approach to the history of political thought and a morphological approach to the study of ideologies. The history of anarchism has benefited from this methodological insight, but other ideologies should as well. The field of the history of political thought as a whole would benefit from greater engagement with Freeden’s approach to ideologies. Conversely, the field of ideology studies would likely also benefit from greater engagement with more historical approaches, from contextualism to Begriffsgeschichte. Further embracing interdisciplinarity and such methodological combinations can only sharpen our understanding of the political ideologies and traditions that structured and continue to structure our worldviews.
 Michael Freeden, “Interpretative Realism and Prescriptive Realism”, Journal of Political Ideologies 17(1) (2012), 1–11, https://doi.org/10.1080/13569317.2012.651883.
 Benjamin Franks, Nathan J. Jun, and Leonard A. Williams (eds.), “Introduction”, in Anarchism: A Conceptual Approach (New York: Routledge, 2018), 8.
 Franks, Jun, and Williams, 10.
by Emily Katzenstein
In a recent piece in ROAR Magazin, William Callison and Quinn Slobodian make a provocative claim: they argue that a short-lived German leftists’ populist experiment, Aufstehen (literally: ‘Stand Up’ or ‘Get Up’), and the far right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) both lay claim to ordoliberalism, a German variant of neoliberalism. Callison and Slobodian argue that “while the partial symmetry between new would-be populist movements on the left and right is often observed—and the similarities often exaggerated—the curious fact that both the AfD and Aufstehen [draw] on the heritage of the German form of neoliberalism, better known as “ordoliberalism,” is often overlooked.
As Callison and Slobodian point out, the AfD’s neoliberal leanings are well known. Aufstehen’s ordoliberal overtures, on the other hand, seem not just surprising but quite perplexing. What, one might ask, is going on with the German Left? Why would a nascent left populist movement turn to a variant of neoliberalism as a source of inspiration?
The political figure that best represents this ordoliberal turn on the German Left is Sahra Wagenknecht, the former parliamentary chairperson of the Die Linke, and a co-founder of Aufstehen. In fact, Callison and Slobodian are not the first to point out Wagenknecht’s turn to ordoliberalism. While the scholarly literature, especially in English, has only remarked in passing on Wagenknecht’s ordoliberal turn, Wagenknecht’s appeals to ordoliberalism have been widely noted and discussed in the German press, especially in reviews of Wagenknecht’s recent books, Freiheit statt Kapitalismus (2011) and Reichtum ohne Gier (2016). The titles alone foreshadow a shift in Wagenknecht’s rhetoric--Freedom instead of Capitalism is a play on the 1976 CDU campaign slogan Freedom instead of Socialism (it sounds catchier in German, I promise), and Prosperity Without Greed evokes the Christian-democratic former German Chancellor Ludwig Erhard’s Prosperity for All, published in 1957.
But one hardly needs to decipher clues like these in order to notice Wagenknecht’s—some might claim fatal—attraction to ordoliberalism. In both Freedom instead of Socialism and Prosperity without Greed, Wagenknecht draws heavily on the writings of ordoliberals such as Walter Eucken, Alexander Rüstow, and Alfred Müller-Armack, and evinces a certain nostalgia for the so-called ‘golden years,’ the ‘economic miracle’ of postwar West Germany, when ordoliberalism, as a political ideology, was arguably at its most influential. Wagenknecht portrays ordoliberalism as an alternative to neoliberalism understood as a doctrine of market radicalism, the destruction of the welfare state and rampant privatization, and sees Eucken, Rüstow, and Müller-Armack as proponents of a third way between capitalism and a planned economy. In other words, Wagenknecht contests the understanding of ordoliberalism as a German variant of neoliberalism by interpreting it as a German alternative to neoliberalism. She strongly implies that her own political vision of a “creative socialism” has more in common with the ordoliberal tradition than the current neo-liberal policies of the FDP, CDU, and SPD.
She has also repeated these claims in interviews and political speeches. In a 2017 interview with WirtschaftsWoche, for example, Wagenknecht argues that “if you take Ludwig Erhard seriously, you have to vote for Die Linke”. Similarly, in a 2010 speech before the Bundestag, Wagenknecht cited Eucken and Erhard in support of her own proposals, and suggested, tongue-in-cheek, that none of her conservative or liberal colleagues had ever even bothered to read Eucken’s work. Wagenknecht, in other words, presents herself as the better heir of ordoliberalism.
Wagenknecht’s turn to ordoliberalism has gained her some new—and quite unlikely—fans. After the publication of Prosperity Without Greed, the well-known conservative newspaper, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), published an article entitled: Über diesen Kommunismus könnte man reden (This is the kind of communism we could talk about). Similarly, Peter Gauweiler, a prominent member of the arch-conservative CSU not exactly known for his leftist views, found much to like in Wagenknecht’s Freedom Instead of Capitalism (), welcomed her turn to ordoliberalism, and seems to have had to try hard to find anything to criticise in Prosperity without Greed. To the collective astonishment of the German press, even the economist Hans-Werner Sinn, who is commonly seen as a die-hard neoliberal, found common ground with Wagenknecht’s new political vision and welcomed Prosperity without Greed as a “hymn to ordoliberalism”.
But not everyone is equally delighted with Wagenknecht’s appropriations of Eucken and Rüstow. Some of her critics—mostly, but not exclusively from the right—have criticised Wagenknecht’s ordoliberal manoeuvres. Some have argued that Wagenknecht is an anti-capitalist wolf in ordoliberal clothing (“im Schafspelz des Ordoliberalismus”), and that her engagement with ordoliberalism is a marketing ploy at best and a transparent attempt at political deception at worst. A commentator in ORDO, the flagship ordoliberal publication, for example, warns Wagenknecht’s readers not to be “seduced” by the “intellectual charms” of the “Jeanne d’Arc of anticapitalism” and imagines the ordoliberals’ horror-stricken exclamation in the face of any ‘ordo-socialist’ appropriations: “What would Walter Eucken and Alfred Müller-Armack have said to [Wagenknecht’s] […] proposals? Probably: Divine Comedy, Inferno III: All abandon hope, ye who enter here.”.
Some of these critiques are, no doubt, hyperbolic, but they do raise a set of tricky questions: Firstly, has Wagenknecht actually taken an ordoliberal turn? Or is she merely deploying ordoliberalism strategically, cherry-picking her way through a tradition so routinely invoked in German politics that some have compared it to liturgy? Secondly, how expansive or flexible is the ordoliberal tradition? Can it be appropriated for Wagenknecht’s “creative socialism?” Or is any attempt to appropriate the ordoliberal tradition for a left project “perverse”? What does it mean—and what does it do—to claim ordoliberalism for a left political project? In other words, Wagenknecht’s self-representation as the “better” ordoliberal raises some pressing questions about what ordoliberalism is, and, maybe more importantly, what it is good for.
One way of assessing the plausibility of Wagenknecht’s self-representation as the better, if unorthodox, heir of ordoliberalism—as an “ordo-socialist,” as Callison and Slobodian quip—is to define ordoliberalism in terms of its core policy positions, preoccupations, questions or “problematic”, and then to show that Wagenknecht, in her recent political writings, has not merely claimed ordoliberal ideas strategically and superficially in support of positions that she already held, but has engaged seriously and substantively with ordoliberalism in a way that has influenced her political thinking.
So what is ordoliberalism? Many of the most recent attempts to define ordoliberalism have taken place in the context of trying to explain Germany’s “inflexibility on austerity measures” and its punitive stance during the Eurozone crisis. In this context, ordoliberalism is commonly described as a German variant of neoliberalism that prescribes a strong regulatory state, strict anti-trust policies aimed at bolstering competition in the market, and a commitment to price stability that is guaranteed by an independent monetary authority. In Austerity: The History of A Dangerous Idea, for example, Mark Blyth has claimed that ordoliberalism was the “instruction sheet” for “Germany’s response to the [Eurozone] crisis”.
If one understands ordoliberalism primarily as an “instruction sheet” for austerity, Wagenknecht’s ordoliberal overtures appear deeply misguided. Wagenknecht, after all, was highly critical of the German government’s push for austerity politics during the Eurozone crisis and sharply criticised Schäuble’s punitive stance with regards to Greece. So why should she, of all people, turn to the authors of the “instruction sheet” for austerity for inspiration?
But we don’t have to understand ordoliberalism as a blueprint for austerity politics. As many scholars of ordoliberalism have argued, ordoliberalism is more than a set of principles for economic policy making, austerity politics or not, and can be best understood as a social and political theory. Walter Bonefeld, for example, has argued that ordoliberalism cannot be reduced to a set of policy prescriptions. While ordoliberalism does focus on the economic sphere, he claims, it does not “conceive of the free economy in narrow economic terms” but sees it as a “universal form of life,” a “definite moral order” that requires a political and social framework which has to be created and sustained by the state.
So, if we understand ordoliberalism as a social and political theory does it become easier to spot the ideas that might have attracted a “Jeanne d’Arc of anti-capitalism”? At first glance, it doesn’t seem so. Ordoliberalism is most commonly seen as centrally concerned with limiting or constraining the power of mass democracy; as having an elitist and technocratic view of political decision-making; and a conception of the social order that is both “patriarchal” and has undertones of a “natural hierarchy” to boot. Ordoliberalism—or rather the strand of neoliberal thought that would later be called ordoliberalism—emerged out of a deep sense of crisis in the 1920s. Ordoliberals recognised that the Great Depression had made the weaknesses of a laissez-faire economy painfully obvious, and sought to articulate a new liberalism that would no longer adhere to the fallacy that markets were quasi-natural phenomena that emerged as long as the state got out of the way. They developed the idea of the market as a “political event” to be carefully staged by a strong state. The state’s decision-making processes, the ordoliberals argued, had to be protected from the constant clamouring of special interests; a threat that had emerged full force with the development of pluralist mass democracy, according to the ordoliberals. Economic freedom thus had to be protected by a strong state and an economic constitution that would insulate the market economy from excess demands of pluralist mass democracies.
This account of ordoliberalism as a political theory with strong anti-democratic and technocratic tendencies doesn’t seem very promising for a left reimagination of the present economic order. So far, it’s difficult to see how and why Wagenknecht would look to such a political program for inspiration, especially since Wagenknecht, on her own account, understands her own political project in opposition to the present subordination of democratic self-determination to the whims of the markets. She opposes further European integration precisely for this reason—because she sees the EU as a political instrument that will dethrone democratic self-determination in favor of market rule. Whatever one’s quarrels with Wagenknecht’s political program might be, it is difficult to see her agenda as animated by the ordo-/neo-liberal “problematic” of safeguarding the market from the greedy tentacles of a mass-democratic kraken.
In order to understand why Wagenknecht chooses to venture into this seemingly hostile ideological territory, a closer look at her own reading of ordoliberalism is needed. In Freedom instead of Capitalism and Prosperity without Greed, Wagenknecht reads ordoliberalism as a political theory of a market economy with a human face. She draws on three aspects of ordoliberal thought for her own vision of creative socialism, namely on the ordoliberal theory of an active regulatory state, on ordoliberal critiques of the monopolistic and neo-feudal aspects of actually existing capitalist markets and the ordoliberals’ commitment to meritocracy, competition, and innovation; and, finally, on the ordoliberal concept of the social market economy, which Wagenknecht reads as entailing a commitment to a robust social welfare state and a mixed economy.
Wagenknecht portrays the current economic order as a system, in which inherited wealth, concentrated private economic power, and limited liability have distorted a competitive order and have abolished any relationship between merit, effort and reward: a neo-feudal rather than neo-liberal order that no longer serves the common good. She claims to derive this critique of actually existing capitalism from the ordoliberal critique of the monopolistic and neo-feudal elements of capitalist markets. For example, in support of her own critique of concentrated private economic power she draws on Eucken’s commitment to strong anti-trust policies and his insistence that the state has a primary responsibility to avert the very emergence of concentrated economic power in the form of monopolies, rather than merely seeking to control the abuse of monopolistic power.
Wagenknecht takes this concern with private economic power to what she claims is its logical conclusion—she argues that in order to foreclose the kind of concentrated private economic power that Eucken was worried about, one has to strictly limit the size of firms and transform them into worker-owned coops. Similarly, Wagenknecht explicitly draws on Rüstow’s critique of the “feudal-plutocratic” inequality of opportunity that is brought about by inherited wealth. She approvingly cites his claim that “inherited [my emphasis] inequalities of opportunity are the most important institutional features through which feudalism continues to live on in the market economy. It transforms the market economy into a plutocracy, a system governed by private wealth.”
Wagenknecht argues that Rüstow sought to limit inherited inequality of opportunity by radically curtailing cross-generational wealth transfers. In fact, Wagenknecht derives her own proposals for changes to the German inheritance law—namely, her proposal to tax all inheritance above €1 million at 100%—from this claim. And she takes up Eucken’s call for unlimited personal liability as the final pillar in her effort to abolish “unearned income”—i.e., income that is not generated by work performed or risk taken. Wagenknecht further argues that the ordoliberals were committed to robust social legislation, social welfare provisions, and a mixed economy that recognises the limits of markets instead of aiming at the marketization of everything.
In Freedom instead of Capitalism, Wagenknecht approvingly notes that “the ordoliberals assumed that a social market economy that is governed by strict rules and robust social legislation is no longer opposed to the common good but can serve it. But they also understood that the state had a primary obligation to ensure a social equilibrium [sozialer Ausgleich], and that this couldn’t be left to the market.” She goes on to quote Müller-Armack’s definition of the social market economy as a “consciously steered, social economy” as opposed to a “laissez-faire, liberal economy”. “The proponents of ordoliberalism,” she maintains, lobbied for robust social legislation, including “a functioning pension system and health insurance system [and] robust unemployment provisions.”
This reading of ordoliberalism does indeed seem much more promising for left appropriations than interpretations of ordoliberalism as an “instruction sheet” for austerity or an anti-democratic political theory. But Wagenknecht’s reading simply ignores many aspects of ordoliberal thought that are incompatible with her own political agenda. For example, Wagenknecht, unsurprisingly, makes an argument in favour of strengthening organised labour but doesn’t discuss the fact that ordoliberals saw organised labour as a prime example of the special interests from which the state had to be insulated. Similarly, she overestimates the extent to which the ordoliberals supported interventionist policies—or maybe misreads the nature of the interventions that ordoliberals supported. And she ignores the anti-democratic tendencies of one of some of the core ordoliberal commitments, namely that the ordoliberal insistence on an “economic constitution” was meant to serve as a bulwark against “excess” democratic demands.
Finally, while Wagenknecht is right that ordoliberals paid more attention to the “social question” than other variants of neoliberal thought, she nonetheless overestimates the concessions that ordoliberalism made. It is misleading to present ordoliberals as proponents of robust social welfare provisions and a mixed economy given that ordoliberals were strictly opposed to a strong welfare state. Wagenknecht’s reading of the ordoliberals as the “fathers of the social market economy” accepts a common but misleading narrative about the emergence of the social market economy that describes the social market economy as it actually existed as an ordoliberal achievement.
While it is true that the concept of social market economy was first popularised by Müller-Armack, the social market economy that actually came to be had relatively little to do with the original ordoliberal vision. In fact, the concept of the social market economy had been conceived as a conceptual and political alternative to the social welfare state; a way to make a market economy more palatable to the German public at a time when its fate seemed highly uncertain. As Ludwig Erhard once put it to Friedrich Hayek: “‘I hope you don’t misunderstand me when I speak of a social market economy [soziale Marktwirtschaft]. I mean by that that the market economy as such is social not that it needs to be made social”. Politically speaking, the concept of the social market economy proved a success, but it did so precisely because it did not stay ‘ideologically pure.’ Instead, it was subject to appropriations by the left, as social democrats, organised labour, and their political allies learned to appeal to the concept of the social market economy in order to do what the ordoliberals had sought to stave off—namely, to bring about a stronger welfare state.
In reading the ordoliberals as the “fathers of the social market economy,” Wagenknecht thus reproduces a historical narrative that underplays the contribution of the political left to the emergence of the social market economy as an actual historical phenomenon (rather than an ordoliberal counter-idea to the social welfare state). Admittedly, reading ordoliberalism in this way—a reading that enables Wagenknecht to draw a direct line from Walter Eucken and Ludwig Erhard to her own political project—has some key political advantages: Wagenknecht mobilises a language and an image of the past—a nostalgic vision of postwar West Germany—that has resonated broadly with the German electorate. She presents her own ambitious vision of the transformation of the German economic order as the logical conclusion of an interrupted ordoliberal project and portrays Die Linke not as the party of GDR-apologism but as the only party committed to realising the FRG’s original promise.
Her success in the German feuilleton and on the political talk show circuit shows that this strategy has been partially successful—at the very least, it makes it harder for her political opponents to dismiss her, and her ideas, as permanently stuck in a romanticised socialist past. Similarly, Wagenknecht’s appropriation of the ordoliberal language and her newfound focus on competition, individual effort, and just reward, for example, has some major strengths. Her takedown of liberal appeals to meritocracy that somehow never get around to tackling the issue of inherited wealth or what Wagenknecht calls “leistungsloses Einkommen” (unearned income that cannot be justified in terms of work performed or risk taken), for example, is a critique worth making in today’s German political discourse.
But there are costs to this strategy, too: First, by moving to an (ordo-)liberal language of effort, merit, and individuality, solidarity as a political principle no longer seems to have much of a presence in Wagenknecht’s political imaginary. This is unfortunate, especially at a moment where new left imaginaries of practices of solidarity that can integrate and connect struggles against different kinds of dominations are urgently needed. Second, by replicating the conservative narrative of ordoliberalism as all that was good and just in post-war West Germany, and by representing the social market economy as it actually existed as an ordoliberal achievement instead of seeing it as the outcome of processes of contestation that required a strong political left, Wagenknecht obscures the contribution that the political left made to the very system she invokes as the better alternative to the current economic order. And finally, by adopting the ordoliberal vision of a strong regulatory state—a state that is strong because it is sufficiently insulated from the noxious influence of special interests—Wagenknecht is less likely to stress the necessity for the mobilisation of countervailing forces that could contest the power of capital; the very forces that could back Wagenknecht’s proposal for a fundamental reorganisation of the economy.
In conclusion: It’s clear that Wagenknecht’s engagement with ordoliberalism, whatever its weaknesses, cannot be dismissed as a mere “marketing ploy”, as some of her critics have alleged. Wagenknecht’s engagement with the ordoliberal tradition seems both genuine and serious, and appears to have transformed her political language to significant degree, introducing a stronger focus on competition and innovation, merit and individual effort, as well as a mode of anti-capitalist critique that focuses primarily on the critique of concentrated economic power and unearned income (“leistungsloses Einkommen”) and sees these as contingent rather than necessary features of a market economy. On the other hand, Wagenknecht’s readings of Eucken, Rüstow, and Müller-Armack ignores core aspects of ordoliberalism that are in conflict with Wagenknecht’s vision, rather than engaging them critically. This move risks acquiescing to a conservative narrative about the economic successes of post-war (West-)Germany and underplaying the importance of a broad-based left movement that can win significant concessions from the right. Whether the political advantages of appealing to ordoliberalism from the left are worth the risks is yet to be seen.
 William Callison and Quinn Slobodian, “A Tale of Two Ordos: German Nationalism in Brown and Red”, ROAR Magazine 10 (2020), 3.
 Gareth Dale, “Justificatory Fables of Ordoliberalism: Laissez-faire and the ‘Third Way’”, Critical Sociology 45(7–8) (2019), 1049; Werner Bonefeld, The Strong State and the Free Economy (London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017), 5; William Callison (ed.), Mutant Neoliberalism: Market Rule and Political Rupture (New York, NY: Fordham University Press, 2019), 69.
 Sahra Wagenknecht, Reichtum ohne Gier: Wie wir uns vor dem Kapitalismus retten (Frankfurt: Campus, 2018), 15–17.
 Sahra Wagenknecht, Freiheit Statt Kapitalismus (Frankfurt: Campus, 2012), 62–8.
 Ibid., 70.
 Christian Schlesiger, “Wer Erhards Anspruch Ernst nimmt, müsste Die Linke wählen”, WirtschaftsWoche (22 June 2017).
 Deutscher Bundestag, “Stenografischer Bericht der 59. Sitzung, 16. September 2010”, Plenarprotokoll 17/59. Internetpräsenz des Deutschen Bundestages, 2010 (accessed online: http://dipbt.bundestag.de/dip21/btp/17/17059.pdf), 6161, as cited in Moritz-Peter Haarmann, Wirtschaft – Macht – Bürgerbewusstsein: Walter Euckens Beitrag Zur Sozioökonomischen Bildung (Wiesbaden: Springer Fachmedien, 2015), 85.
 Markus Günther, “Über diesen Kommunismus könnte man reden”, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (28 May 2016). All translations of the original German texts are mine, except where otherwise noted.
 Peter Gauweiler, “Die mit dem Wolf tanzt: Sahra Wagenknechts Plädoyer für Freiheit statt Kapitalismus stützt sich auf die marktwirtschaftlichen Theories der alten Bundesrepublik”, Süddeutsche Zeitung (11 June 2012); Peter Gauweiler, “Die Entfremdeten: Sahra Wagenknecht beschreibt die Welten der Real-und Finanzökonomie und entwickelt ihre Idee vom Kapitalismus. Die Analyse ist links—aber nicht nur. Der Politikerin geht es auch um die Marktwirtschaft und die Rettung der Demokratie”, Süddeutsche Zeitung (29 March 2016).
; Jörg Schindler, “Die Gewendete: Von der Kommunistischen Plattform in den Wohlstand für alle – Sahra Wagenknecht hat einen langen Weg hinter sich. Er könnte sie an die Spitze der Linkspartei führen”, Frankfurter Rundschau (30 May 2012).
 Pascal Beucker, “Vergiftetes Lob”, taz–die tageszeitung (14 April 2016).
 Norbert Häring, “Linkes Hohelied auf den Nationalstaat”, Handelsblatt (11 March 2016); Hauke Janssen, “Muenchhausen-Check: Was Sahra Wagenknecht bei Ludwig Erhard entdeckt”, Spiegel (30 January 2013) (accessed online: https://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/fakten-check-sahra-wagenknecht-ludwig-erhard-und-die-linkspartei-a-880253.html); Philip Plickert, “Kreativer Sozialismus: Sahra Wagenknecht und die Erhard Masche”, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (19 December 2011); Ulrich van Suntum, “Für eine Absicherung der Sozialen Marktwirtschaft im Grundgesetz”, ORDO 70(1) (2019), 293.
 Wilhelm Meyer, “Marx Reloaded. Anmerkungen zu dem Buch von Sahra Wagenknecht: Freiheit statt Kapitalismus”, ORDO 63(1) (2012), 505, 508, 510. Meyer’s quote is in German and the translation is mine except for the Dante quote, which I borrowed from H.F. Cary’s English translation of the Divine Comedy. See Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy; Or Vision of Hell, Purgatory, Paradise, Henry F. Cary (tr.) (New York: Cassell, 1891), 10:9.
 Dale, “Justificatory Fables of Ordoliberalism”.
 Callison, Mutant Neoliberalism, 69.
 Thomas Biebricher, The Political Theory of Neoliberalism (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2018).
 Sebastian Dullien and Ulrike Guérot, “The Long Shadow of Ordoliberalism: Germany’s Approach to the Euro Crisis”, Policy Brief: European Council on Foreign Affairs (February 2012), 1.
 cf. Mark Blyth, Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013); Dullien and Guérot, “The Long Shadow of Ordoliberalism”.
 Blyth, Austerity, 141.
 Werner Bonefeld, “Ordoliberalism and Political Theology: On the Government of Stateless Money”, in Josef Hien and Christian Joerges (eds.), Ordoliberalism, Law and the Rule of Economics (Oxford: Hart Publishing, 2017), 280–1. For ordoliberalism as a political theory, see also Thomas Biebricher, “Ordoliberalism as a Variety of Neoliberalism”, in Hien and Joerges, Ordoliberalism, Law, and the Rule of Economics, 103–14; Biebricher, Political Theory of Neoliberalism.
 Bonefeld, “Ordoliberalism and Political Theology”; Biebricher, “Ordoliberalism as a Variety of Neoliberalism”; Biebricher, Political Theory of Neoliberalism; Ralf Ptak, “Neoliberalism in Germany: Revisiting the Ordoliberal Foundations of the Social Market Economy”, in Philip Mirowski and Dieter Plehwe (eds.), The Road from Mont Pelerin: The Making of the Neoliberal Thought Collective (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009), 98–138; Ralf Ptak, “Der Staat im neoliberalen Denken”, in Thomas Biebricher (ed.), Der Staat des Neoliberalismus (Baden-Baden: Nomos, 2016), 31–73.
 Biebricher, “Ordoliberalism as a Variety of Neoliberalism”; Ptak, “Neoliberalism in Germany”.
 Ptak, “Neoliberalism in Germany”, 100–6.
 Ibid., 108–9.
 Ordoliberalism, as a term, only emerged in the 1950s, but I’m here using it to refer to individuals and ideas that were later closely identified with ordoliberalism even when I’m referring to a period prior to the 1950s. It’s anachronistic but hopefully makes for easier reading. See Ptak, “Neoliberalism in Germany”, 108.
 Michel Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1978–1979, Graham Burchell (tr.) (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), 75ff.
 Bonefeld, “Ordoliberalism and Political Theology”, 274.
 Ptak, “Neoliberalism in Germany”; Ptak, “Der Staat im neoliberalen Denken”; Biebricher, “Ordoliberalism as a Variety of Neoliberalism”; Bonefeld, “Ordoliberalism and Political Theology”.
 Wagenknecht, Reichtum ohne Gier, 31.
 ibid., 22–31.
 Biebricher, Political Theory of Neoliberalism.
 Wagenknecht, Freiheit Statt Kapitalismus, 56–7, 61.
 Wagenknecht, Reichtum ohne Gier, 71ff.
 Walter Eucken, Grundsätze der Wirtschaftspolitik (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2004), 360; Wagenknecht, Freiheit Statt Kapitalismus, 58.
 Alexander Rüstow, Die Religion der Marktwirtschaft (Münster: LIT, 2009), 96, as cited in Wagenknecht, Reichtum ohne Gier, 95.
 Wagenknecht, Freiheit Statt Kapitalismus, 95.
 Wagenknecht, Reichtum ohne Gier, 71ff, 281, 310.
 Wagenknecht, Freiheit Statt Kapitalismus, 52–70.
 Ibid.,, 56.
 Blyth, Austerity; Quinn Slobodian, The Globalists: The end of empire and the birth of neoliberalism (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2018).
 Walter Eucken, “Staatliche Strukturwandlung und die Krisis des Kapitalismus”, Weltwirtschaftliches Archiv 36 (1932), 297–321; cf. Janssen, “Muenchhausen-Check”.
 Ptak, “Neoliberalism in Germany”.
 cf. Angela Wigger, “Debunking the Myth of the Ordoliberal Influence on Post-war European Integration”, in Hien and Joerges, Ordoliberalism, Law and the Rule of Economics, 161–178.
 Wagenknecht, Freiheit Statt Kapitalismus, 54.
 cited in Ptak, “Neoliberalism in Germany”, 107.
by Marius S. Ostrowski
Marius Ostrowski: Perhaps to start with a retrospective view, and a simple question. What first prompted the idea to found the Journal of Political Ideologies?
Michael Freeden: The main reason was the pronounced gap within the field of political theory between political philosophy and the history of political thought and the absence of a journal that could fill some of that gap. More importantly, one that could stimulate researchers to turn their minds, efforts and creativity towards a highly promising, patently relevant, rich, and astoundingly underexplored area of the political thinking that is happening around us, day by day, country by country, emanating from every section of society. Given that the interrogation of political actions and practices is so central to political studies, it seemed remarkable that so little research effort had been devoted to exploring the political thought-practices produced by, and circulating in, societies, beyond rudimentary left-right distinctions and historical accounts.
Despite the growing interest in the study of ideologies, there was no dedicated outlet that could distinguish itself by specialising not in the normative improvement of political arguments or the pursuit of ethical truths, and not in the narratives—however disrupted—about the changing nature of political thought, but in the actual patterns of thinking about politics prevalent in societies and communities. That important genre for anyone interested in how people in concert conceptualise, defend, criticise, or change their political arrangements simply had far too little purchase as a focus of political studies and university courses.
The secondary reason—important to me—was that I felt that I would enjoy the experience of being an editor and ushering a new venture, and sub-field, into greater academic prominence. It was a challenge that emerged directly from my immersion in preparing my 1996 book, Ideologies and Political Theory, and from the questions and interest displayed by the many students who took my courses and seminars on ideology over the years. To my mind, the JPI was not just another journal but had the potential to serve as pioneer in an important and somewhat underrepresented and underpopulated area. My father had been a journalist and newspaper editor and as a child I had often watched him prepare an issue—so the craft of assembling, selecting and bringing together material, and getting the balance right, was familiar to me. Of course, the practice was rather less romantic than I had imagined, but nonetheless very rewarding—give or take the Sisyphean search for assessors to evaluate submissions.
MO: How would you characterise what has happened to ideology studies since the JPI started—not least in terms of the journal's content? What have been the most significant areas of scholarly innovation and growth?
MF: There was indeed an astounding and gratifying change. In the first few years, hardly any submission latched on to the distinction between straightforward political theory as an advocacy endeavour and ideology studies as the interpretation and contextualisation of such arguments and views, whether those were intentional or not. In an extreme case, one author submitted, without comment, twenty letters he had sent to Brezhnev and Reagan, except that (unsurprisingly) there were no replies. But then the sophistication and range of articles started to increase exponentially, as the academic public began to realise what the deep analysis of ideologies entailed. The geographical range of the JPI began to expand; related schools of thought, such as the Essex school of discourse studies, or critical discourse analysts, saw the JPI as a kindred spirit (although occasionally just as an outlet for their own agenda!); the intellectual scope of ideology studies increased throughout its pages; and the concrete concerns and flavours of the year reflected shifting emphases within this or that ideological family or grouping.
The JPI welcomed that diversity, but also tried, in a very modest way, to persuade some practitioners of these genres to think about the differences as well as the similarities between their interpretations of the role of ideology theory and ours. Crucially important, we believed, was to build methodological bridges, or at least start a conversation, in order to relax some of the fixed assumptions that siloed the various sub-disciplinary approaches and aims and resulted in their talking past one another. Not least, we always appealed to contributors to eschew the 'semi-private' 'in-language' of some genres and to write in a way that could be understood and appreciated by all JPI readers. Although too many academics—and that includes university administrators—may think that the point of a journal is to add to one's tally of research publications as a means to career advancement, the dignified rationale of a journal is to speak to a broad readership and convince them that new and exciting ideas are worth considering.
We also strove to reflect the political and cultural issues that preoccupied the world around us in the shape of specific ideological families or segments as they emerged, persisted, or declined. Environmentalism, globalism, feminism, anarchism/post-anarchism, and political Islam appeared alongside the stalwarts of liberalism, conservatism, socialism, nationalism, and fascism. Neoliberalism, the alt-right, and of course the now ubiquitous populism—highly pertinent to contemporary politics, although experiencing a nigh-uncontainable surge in current academic fashion—have been more recent players on the JPI stage.
In sum, the recognition of ideological fragmentation, of how some of the weightiest and most intriguing features of ideologies mutate and adapt, and of the location of ideological expression in hitherto unexplored areas of social thinking, have all brought about a recalibration of the field. Significantly, too, the geographical range of contributions to the JPI has grown considerably—it is no longer a Eurocentric journal as it was at its inception. Moreover, we have always encouraged younger scholars and those at the beginning of their academic career. A journal not set in its ways, not simply replicating the historical conventions of its subject-matter, offers a fresh outlet for new thinking and imaginative research.
MO: It strikes me that the study of ideology or ideologies is on the cusp of moving from being a thematic focus within several separate subfields to evolving into a discrete subfield in its own right. Would you agree? And if so, what is the current 'lay of the land' of the main traditions of ideology theory?
MF: That is an acute observation. But the intertwined nature of many disciplines and sub-disciplines suggests that one can recombine fields of scholarship in multiple ways. By juggling with Venn diagrams, different disciplines and subdisciplines can rank similar material differently according to their criteria of what matters most, or which of many paths through a body of knowledge and understanding reaps the most insight for diverse scholars. The same texts and practices can be read in very distinct ways. An example I have given in the past is to draw attention to a triple reading of John Rawls as a moral philosopher, an exponent of a curious and rather idiosyncratic variant of contemporary North American liberal ideology, or a very indifferent—perhaps abstruse—stylist and communicator. That said, ideology scholars are now confident enough to place their specialisation at centre-stage, or at least as co-equal, with other branches of political theory. They can rightly claim, for instance, that when we access political thinking—in whatever shape—it is immediately, first and foremost, decodable as an ideological statement or manifestation.
As for the traditions of ideology theory, while some reinforce one another, others inhabit separate circles. Our view of ideology theory has consequently been heterodox, pluralistic, and layered. I turn to a passage from a JPI editorial I wrote a few years back: Ideology as fantasmatic veil-drawing, ideology as the articulation of social identities, ideology as distorted belief, ideology through the lens of discourse analysis, ideology as conceptual morphology, ideology as rhetorical language, ideology as aggregated attitudes, the visual representations of ideology, ideology as anchored in emotions, ideology as party programmes, ideologies as bifurcated or multiple psychological tendencies, ideology as performativity, ideology as ritual, ideology as consensus formation, ideology as the management or mismanagement of agonism and dissent, ideology as rupture—all these, and more, have been given a fair platform in the JPI and most of them are accumulating an impressive body of knowledge.
But it still remains a challenge to draw cross-cutting links among some of them. There is also a notable decline in regarding the state as a source of ideology and a shift to non-institutional foci of ideological debate. The one problem amongst that embarras de richesse is the legacy of unease and negativity that has accumulated around the concept of ideology in certain swathes of Continentally-inspired approaches, to which I refer in response to your final question.
MO: One of the most intriguing developments seems to be the explosive rise of 'thin' ideologies (e.g., populism, nationalism, Euroscepticism, etc.), which compete for ever more central positions within their 'thick' host ideologies (e.g., conservatism, liberalism, socialism), to use your distinction from Ideologies and Political Theory. At times, the thin ideologies now seem to threaten to entirely devour the thick ones from the inside. What do you think lies behind this phenomenon? Is it merely the latest form of decontestation in action?
MF: There has been a massive change in the culture surrounding the production and the reception of ideologies. The conventional ideologies were durable and complex systems of ideas and arguments that required education and intellectual sophistication to understand and appreciate them, even in simplified form, particularly those on the liberal, socialist, or radical side of the ideational spectrum. They were interwoven with philosophical texts and traditions, supported, bolstered by, and embedded in political institutions, and linked to defining events and transitions in human history: foundational moments, revolutions, power shifts among social groups, wars, ideals of social reform.
The grand ideas of human association have diminished since the Second World War and, later, since the fall of communism, and they lack new bedrocks, motivation or rationale. People talk of globalisation, but in the world of political ideas there is little evidence for that—bitty and disjointed scraps are circulated by economic conglomerates and would-be petty Napoleons. And the players and cultures on our planet are far more visible and vocal than in the past, an uncoordinated diversity that multiplies and jumbles messages that come and go at great speed and cannot put down ideologically sustainable roots.
The populisms of today are not ideologies in any meaningful sense; they are not movements, either. Communities don’t march under banners proclaiming, or hoping for, them—the proselytising, inspiring or at least conserving levelheadedness of the old ideologies is entirely absent here. Serious tomes may be written against them, but few aiming at recruiting public opinion for them. Even ideologies such as fascism and Nazism were peddlers of social visions, albeit loathsome ones. And the various neoliberalisms are catch-all repositories for distinct economic, neo-colonial, or just trite conservative positions.
The steam seems to have run out of earnest political thinking that can distil the 'spirit of an age' or oppose it intelligently. Even where positive social ideals make headway. such as environmentalism and the perils of climate change, or 'black lives matter', their dissemination is irregular, competing for cyberspace, too decentralised to have cohesive momentum, too sporadic to constitute a body of ideas and, so far, too indeterminate outside their specialised objectives to offer comprehensive social agenda with actual mass appeal, rather than dream of it. The written word—the means of ideological dissemination—has given way to film, pictures, bland repetition ('enemies of the people'), or banally channelling the energy of catastrophes.
More than anything, ideological segments—that is to say, elements that would normally have been lodged in broader frameworks—are popularised and vernacularised, ostensibly easy to understand and reproduce. They possess a superficial resemblance to the propaganda machinery and memes of the 20th century, but whereas those were top-down and regime-led, they now originate from anywhere and are circulated with consummate ease and carelessness. Above all, we now know that they no longer need to be articulated or even consciously developed. Ideologies, and their lesser manifestations, may be unintentionally produced and consumed, which makes them difficult to counteract.
MO: You suggest that what makes ideologies political is, among other things, their capacity to mobilise support, form collective priorities, and project plans and visions for society. In the context of growing social complexity and the proliferation of newly-salient identities, is that task becoming harder? Are the criteria of success for political ideologies becoming increasingly demanding?
MF: Unfortunately, the reverse is true. Given the transformation in the languages and presentation of ideologies discussed above, it is relatively easy to launch and muster support for clarion calls to mobilise, to adopt quarter-baked segments of what at other times would have been incorporated into properly worked-out ideologies. Ideologies are necessarily simplifiers, but the technological and stylistic changes relating to social media, digital platforms, and demands for immediate comments and responses have produced parallel ideological worlds: slow cooking versus fast food.
On the one hand, you have the older, argumentative, far-reaching, detailed and often sophisticated competing maps of the political world that engage in interpretation, prescription, and criticism of forms of common life. On the other, we are increasingly witness to the impatient, from-the-hip, cavalier, and opinionated snatches of private opinion dressed up as vox populi that either are highly fragmented or depressingly shallow. To complicate matters further, some of those—right-wing populism is one instance—take on the semblance of spectral ideolonoids that offer a pat 'comprehensiveness' that turns out to be posturing, even hollow. When you poke them, they evaporate into smoke without mirrors. That said, they all are grist to the mill of the student of ideologies.
But then we have to ask ourselves: what are the criteria of ideological success? Not necessarily guiding us to a political promised land, defeating ideological rivals, or making us better citizens. The success of an ideology should be ascertained through different standards of evaluation, based on what ideologies are designed to accomplish: the mobilisation of support; effective communication to their prospective audiences; the display of imaginative and feasible plans for political action; the intelligible mapping of the ways and means to fashion or interpret the conscious and unconscious political practices and thought-practices of the societies and grouping with which they engage.
It is not so much the criteria that become more demanding, but rather the onus on the ideology scholar to scan the field, know how and where to extract relevant evidence and information, and acquaint her- or himself with the increasing nuances of interpretation and decoding. The questions we should ask ourselves are, have we extracted as much as we can out of a particular, given nugget of information; do we know how to find and identify it when it hits us in the face; and what do we need to do to transform that process into knowledge—into Weberian Verstehen or Ricœurian surplus of meaning. All that should lay to rest the facile characterisation of ideology studies as descriptive, when even at the best of times we can never adequately describe anything without passing it through the filter of interpretation.
MO: One of the recurring themes in your work is the contrast between neat and untidy political thinking, as well as the failure of academic political theory to adequately take the latter into account. At the same time, we are living through a time where denialism, conspiracism, 'fake news', and 'alternative facts' play a prominent role in political argument. What can be done to square that circle? Can a 'political theory of political thinking' as you describe it bridge the gulf between the accepted standards of political reasoning, in the academy versus among the public?
MF: A major role of ideology studies is to examine and analyse the normal expressions of action-oriented political thinking at every level of articulation. Here political theory falls in line with the empirical bent of other genres of political science. Studying ideologies, as the JPI understands it, differs from its subject-matter, and from much political philosophy, in not being an advocacy-led practice but one that satisfies our curiosity about societies—even if that satiated curiosity is always provisional, awaiting contrary interpretation. This makes that perspective very different from the position adopted by many political philosophers, for the latter do not distinguish between the arguments and approaches they scrutinise in their subject matter and the methods they themselves employ as scholars—regarding the two as part of a seamless enterprise. Yet inasmuch as human beings are not automatons, ethical perfectionists, or logic machines, they think in disorganised, disjointed and often messy ways.
That is the scholarly challenge of ideology scholars: to make sense of and interpret the commonplace as well as the exceptional, the incomplete as well as the polished, the mistaken as well as the reasonable. If we are to have a finger on the pulse of what makes societies tick, if we want to take ideologies seriously, we need to craft theories and approaches that do normal political thinking adequate justice, that account for the reasons and forms of diverse conceptual decontestation, deliberate and unconscious, that link together and separate different cultural environments. That does not mean bridging a gap: If the ‘general public’ wishes to read studies on ideology they are of course warmly invited to do so, but ideology studies are not deliberately educational in the sense of making us all better reasoners. The hard sciences and philosophy are geared to that, but the kind of ideology studies reflected in the JPI are not on a mission to improve but on a mission—if that is the mot juste—to understand as best we can and to offer that understanding to other branches of knowledge if they wish to avail themselves of it.
The most worrying thing about failing to reflect the new world of ideology is the lamentably lagging state of undergraduate ideology courses in so many universities. Far too many still follow the tired old classifications and assumptions about ideology that should have been abandoned 20 years ago. The damage is substantial, for while innovative courses in other branches of political theory have admirably marched on with the times, the topic of ideology is made to seem unsophisticated, as if it had stood still. The allure of this field of political theory is thus unjustifiably and negligently made to pale against its lively partners, based on a lack of curiosity about what's happening in the neighbouring garden. The responsibility lies squarely with those political theorists and political scientists who, sadly for all concerned, do not want to educate themselves—and others—in getting to know the changing terrain and the budding plants. If they did, a far more productive conversation of equals would benefit all sides and enrich all facets of theorising about political thought.
I'm afraid that fake news and alternative facts are part of the raw material that scholars of ideology need to confront. At best, ideologies aren't 'true'—I leave the ascertaining of truth to philosophers—but networks of established facts and conventions of understanding interspersed and stapled together with conjecture, speculation, and wishful thinking. Denialism and fabrication offer their own fascinating windows into the ideologies of their disseminators. Even falsehoods are worth studying because their patterns of deceit are themselves revealing of ways of ideological thinking. As responsible citizens we may well be disturbed and depressed by them. But as ideology scholars our job is to explain why this, rather than that, deceit or deliberate misinterpretation prevails? What patterns of 'fake news' work well in which societies and what patterns fail?
MO: Finally, the concept of ideology and ideological thinking still tends to be given a pretty bad rap in common parlance. (Marx, it seems, is casting a long shadow in this respect too.) What do you think needs to be done to turn this around?
MF: The Press has been the worst culprit in this, with endless callings out of plans or ideas as pejoratively 'ideological', including newspapers, such as the Guardian, that should know better than to fall into that rhetorical and often propagandist trap. In my 2003 book, Ideology: A Very Short Introduction I recount the story of a gentleman who took umbrage at a talk I had given and confronted me in affronted tones: 'Are you suggesting, Sir, that I have an ideology?' 'I very much hope you do!,' was my response. As sentient members of society, how could anyone not?
Sadly, you sometimes get equally ignorant, or haughty, responses from within the academic profession. An Oxford philosophy colleague said to me many years ago: 'Those who work on inferior thinking can only produce inferior work'. That writes off many eminent historians, as well as raising questions about the criteria of 'superior' thinking in the realm of politics. What gets a bad reputation are only certain senses of 'ideology', but the fact is that they have frequently colonised the entire field of meaning the word covers. Put differently, the rhetorical, combative, obfuscating, and colloquial senses of ideology—as so often is the case in political language—have overshadowed its more nuanced and analytically perspicacious interpretations, even among political theorists.
All that is hardly improved by poststructuralists and post-Marxists assuming that ideologies always are the product of, and reflect, conflict and antagonism, sidestepping the many ideological features that are based on identifying and building overlapping areas of broad agreement or, for that matter, a vague indeterminacy. Nor is it helped by those who subscribe to the kind of critical theory--Ideologiekritik—for whom ideologies are invariably dissimulative distortions of a so-called reality, or just blatant and manipulative lies. Of course, those variants do exist, but that is not typical ideological thinking. To suggest they are does the entire field a great disservice. If I may be so bold, what might turn this around is the flourishing and persistence of vehicles such as the Journal of Political Ideologies.
by Eloise Harding
Introduction: the shifting landscape
Environmental scepticism as an ideology has spent the past six years on a political rollercoaster. From a niche political outlook with a moderate public face and a wealth of conspiracy theories hiding in the shadows, it developed a level of prominence in mainstream discourse with the advent of leaders such as Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro. The more extreme forms of scepticism—such as outright denial of climate change—blended in well with the emerging ‘post-truth’ political culture, described by Jane Suiter as one ‘where appeals to emotion are dominant and factual rebuttals or fact checks are ignored on the basis that they are mere assertions’. The public face of environmental scepticism also evolved to incorporate some of the political characteristics of the leaders who embrace it. In the aftermath of the 2020 US election, however, it faces the loss of one of its more powerful proponents.
I will start with a bit of background from the timeline of my 2019 article. As is the nature of such things, the initial submission was slightly longer ago, and in the first instance reviewers were concerned that the article dealt with an ideology too inconsequential to be worth investigation. I mention this, because it did not remain the case. While I was doing the research that would lead to this article, environmental scepticism—usually manifested in public conversation as climate change denial—was moving from a niche political outlook to part of mainstream discussion, thanks largely to the presidential campaign and electoral victory of one Donald Trump. As I write this blog post, Trump prepares to (grudgingly) vacate the White House and hand over the reins to Joe Biden. Early indications suggest that environmental scepticism may suffer a dent to its role in mainstream discourse. The size of this dent depends on the strength of the ideology in its remaining proponents when a powerful ally is removed. However, we should not assume that it is going to fade out of public consciousness any time soon.
In addition to the increased prominence, there was also something of an ideological evolution in the public face of environmental scepticism—what Michael Freeden would describe as a shift in proportionality. As a thin-centred ideology (one without a fully developed conceptual core of its own), environmental scepticism must by necessity graft onto more developed ideologies to survive on the political landscape. Until 2016 or thereabouts, there was some ambiguity about the political leanings of environmental scepticism as an ideology. While the USA had always had undercurrents of outright climate change denial stemming from right-wing think tanks such as the Heartland institute, for the rest of the world the public spotlight tended to be occupied by the more measured approach represented by Bjørn Lomborg.
Lomborg, a left-liberal political scientist with some environmentalist tendencies of his own, has always claimed to be motivated by humanitarian concerns and particularly by concern for people in the developing world. Climate change, he argues, is a far less urgent problem than many environmentalists regard it as, and ranks lower than a range of other concerns when measured with regard to the respective cost in human lives. In short, he portrays climate change as a problem, but not the most urgent problem: it can be sidelined until the more urgent issues have been dealt with. Previously, the more overtly denialist manifestations of environmental scepticism relied on moderates such as Lomborg to give their arguments a veneer of humanitarian respectability, lifting some of the suspicion away from what is often seen as a corporate shill.
For the past four years, however, a serving US President who has variously described climate change as a ‘hoax’ on Twitter and, on acknowledging that it might be real, proceeded to claim on live TV that the climate ‘might change back’, has provided a replacement source of respectability. Indeed, the locus of ‘respectability’ has been moved somewhat by a changing political culture: Donald Trump has no scientific expertise and his political rhetoric has a tenuous relationship with the truth, but he did gain just over half the electoral votes in 2016. As such, the image of environmental scepticism has shifted away from global humanitarianism and towards an insular variety fuelled by right-wing populist and nationalist values and in which outright denialism plays a more central role.
Environmental scepticism today
The basic conceptual landscape has remained largely consistent from 2015 to now. Environmental scepticism has three basic core concepts, the removal of which would significantly alter the nature of the ideology: deep anthropocentrism, a form of Prometheanism, and a suspicious framing of environmentalism and the motives of environmentalists. The most significant adjacent concepts—proximity to which helps to shape the core—are a highly specific framing of science and, maybe surprisingly, climate change denial itself. I say surprising because environmental scepticism and climate change denial are often seen as synonyms, with the latter having more of a public profile. However, while denial plays a key role in how environmental scepticism functions in practice, the ideology of environmental scepticism would not collapse entirely were it removed. For example, it is feasible to accept as Bjørn Lomborg does that climate change is a genuine, but exaggerated and non-urgent, problem (what Stefan Rahmstorf calls ‘impact scepticism’); or indeed to argue as Trump does that the pattern of global warming may spontaneously reverse (‘trend scepticism’).
It is also possible to regard global warming as a real but natural phenomenon (‘attribution scepticism’), not caused by humans and as such not our responsibility to fix. An element of denial does, however, help environmental sceptics reach definitive conclusions on some of the moral balancing acts which arise around climate change and carbon emissions. For example, when faced with a decision regarding whether to restrict human freedoms in order to reduce emissions (the UK’s upcoming ban on new petrol and diesel vehicles being the latest example), the ability to sideline the realities of climate change makes the preservation of freedom seem like the obvious priority.
In economic terms, meanwhile, the costs associated with adopting lower-carbon business practices are usually justified by reference to the associated benefits in terms of mitigating the effects of climate change. Denying or diminishing these benefits again casts doubt on whether the costs are really worth it. So, in brief, climate change denial plays an important role in shaping how environmental sceptics engage with everyday moral dilemmas, but can be classified as helpful rather than essential to the formation of environmental scepticism as an ideology.
With that in mind, let’s look at the core concepts. The first of these is deep anthropocentrism: broadly speaking, the idea that only human interests matter. For example, Bjørn Lomborg’s arguments in The Skeptical Environmentalist hinge on the idea that ‘the needs and desires of humankind represent the crux of our assessment of the state of the world’, because ‘people debate and participate in decision-making processes, whereas penguins and pine trees do not’. Lomborg, I should point out, does not discriminate between groups of humans when making this assessment: if he has distinct priorities, they lie in the developing world. He does, however, create a clear line of division between human and nonhuman interests, which can be construed as a competition for resources.
Other environmental sceptics, more openly intent on politicising the issue and usually (although by no means inevitably) coming from the right, frame this as a direct and immediate conflict between human interests and environmental concerns. When I wrote the original article, my main example of this pattern was UKIP’s Roger Helmer, who regarded green energy policies as a surefire route to fuel poverty for the elderly. More recently, Donald Trump has framed environmentalism as a threat to the ordinary American. Trump’s rhetoric on this topic ties deep anthropocentrism in with the populist conception of the ‘pure’ people (see the work of Cas Mudde for more detail) who are under threat from a ‘corrupt’ elite. In doing so, Trump unwittingly helps to resolve a contradiction in the use of anthropocentric—literally, human-centred—reasoning to sideline phenomena which are having dramatic negative impacts on particular groups of humans.
Leaders such as Trump, Australia’s Scott Morrison and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro are overt and unashamed in identifying a particular anthropos on whose interests their anti-environmental rhetoric and policies are centred. Put simply, the interests of the groups who would allegedly be negatively impacted by increased environmental protection are given greater weight than those currently feeling the effects of industrial water pollution (USA), rising sea levels (Australia’s island neighbours) and forest fires (Brazil). It should be noted that there is also a nationalist dimension to this modified deep anthropocentrism, particularly regarding climate change, with many world leaders dismissing the possibility that their own country will suffer significantly. Indeed, the UK’s Michael Gove has been heard to proclaim that global warming will be beneficial for Britain: it will sweeten our grapes and enable us to produce home-grown sparkling wine that ‘will soon bring a level of cheer to British drinkers greater than that provided by French champagne’.
Gove’s comments bring me to the second core concept of environmental scepticism, namely a form of Prometheanism. Broadly speaking, Promethean outlooks see all problems—including environmental ones—as ultimately solvable through the wonders of human ingenuity. Examples of Prometheanism in action include the large-scale overhaul of agricultural practices in the Green Revolution and the use of genetic modification to produce hardier crops. Some would also put geoengineering in the Promethean category. In itself, it can refer to a pro- or anti-environmental outlook: however, certain forms lend themselves to absorption into the environmental sceptic’s canon of ideas.
Prometheanism is usually seen at the less overtly denialist end of environmental scepticism, since it requires at least a grudging acceptance that such problems exist and require solutions. Milder forms of Promethean environmental scepticism (such as that embraced by Bjørn Lomborg) refer merely to harnessing and gaining mastery over nature, for example the ability to transcend through technology and innovative farming practices the limits on nature’s capacity to provide resources. More extreme versions regard nature as irrelevant. Peter Huber, in a book titled Hard Green: Saving the Environment from the Environmentalists, argues that due to human ingenuity we could feasibly and justifiably ‘Cut down the last redwood for chopsticks, harpoon the last blue whale for sushi, and the additional mouths fed will nourish additional human brains, which will soon invent ways to replace blubber with olestra and pine with plastic. Humanity can survive just fine in a planet-covering crypt of concrete and computers.’
Recent developments, however, suggest that the language of ‘problems’ and ‘solutions’ may be being transcended, at least in the case of climate change. Michael Gove’s comments, mentioned above, once more add a nationalist dimension to Promethean environmental scepticism. His overall argument, about which I have written more here, alludes to a peculiarly British ability to turn a negatively-perceived phenomenon such as climate change into a positive through what might (if we want to risk falling into clichéd territory) be termed Blitz spirit. Rather than being demoralised by climate change like our neighbours across the Channel, we gain an advantage by harnessing what Gove terms the ‘opportunities of a changing climate’: in his terms, this ‘is a harbinger of the inventiveness, of the creativeness and the resilience, the imagination and the sheer joie de vivre that you can find here in Britain.’
Meanwhile Donald Trump, while less convinced of the reality of climate change, has spoken many times of America’s ability to transcend the food and fuel shortages feared by others. The common threads are the Promethean tendency to believe that no environmental crisis is insurmountable, and that some may indeed be beneficial; and the belief that the solutions will come not from human ingenuity as a species-wide trait but from the attributes of a particular nation whose collective myth includes a large dose of overcoming adversity.
The final core concept, of which we’ve already seen glimpses, is the highly suspicious framing of the motives behind environmental protection measures. The mildest version merely holds that there is money in environmental campaigning and hence an ulterior motive to exaggerate the extent of the problem. More extreme iterations of this narrative portray environmentalism as a deliberate attempt to limit people’s freedoms: indeed, as a harbinger of outright authoritarianism.
There is some variation in the perceived ideological position. For example, former Republican senator Harrison Schmidt describes climate change and measures to limit it as a ‘stalking horse for National Socialism.’ However, since the bulk of this narrative comes from environmental sceptics on the right of the political spectrum, the usual culprit is authoritarian communism. For example, the former Czech president Vaclav Klaus claims that environmental regulation reflects ‘the ambitions of communist central planners to control the entire city.’ Meanwhile in the USA the Heartland Foundation president Joseph Bast cites climate change as ‘the reason why we should do everything [the left] wanted to do anyway.’ (The Heartland Foundation were also behind the short-lived billboard campaign featuring the ‘Unabomber’ Ted Kaczynski alongside the statement ‘I still believe in global warming.’)
This is another area where climate change denial (and occasionally other forms of denial, for example regarding the dangers of certain pesticides) comes into its own. The removal of certain freedoms to mitigate a possible environmental crisis that threatens us all can be justified (if not always implemented) relatively easily. Remove the environmental crisis from the equation by declaring it non-urgent or even non-existent, and suddenly any infringement of liberty appears spurious.
While the suspicious framing of environmentalism is still front and centre in the rhetoric of environmental scepticism, its visible form has adapted to a more favourable political climate. Environmentalism has always been portrayed as a threat to freedom, and possibly to life itself, but there has always been a level of ambiguity about whether it constitutes an enemy within or without. The explicitly nationalist politics of the world leaders embracing environmental scepticism have tipped the balance towards positing environmentalism firmly as a threat from outside, potentially aided by an enemy within in the form of the country’s metropolitan elite.
Take for example Trump’s statement, in his Paris Agreement withdrawal speech, that ‘This agreement is less about the climate and more about other countries gaining a financial advantage over the United States. The rest of the world applauded when we signed the Paris Agreement—they went wild; they were so happy—for the simple reason that it put our country, the United States of America, which we all love, at a very, very big economic disadvantage.’ Here, the push to mitigate climate change is portrayed not as the harbinger of a particular ideology, but rather the acceptable face of a systematic anti-Americanism on the part of the rest of the world.
Trump has previously described global warming as a hoax on the part of China in particular, intended to undermine American industry; since admitting that there may be some truth to the scientific findings, he has maintained nonetheless that any attempt to mitigate the problem has the ulterior motive of disadvantaging America to benefit its rivals. China, while named most often as a beneficiary of the losses Trump sees America sustaining, is not alone in deriving an advantage: his Paris Agreement withdrawal speech implicates the entire rest of the world. The key point, however, is that America is allegedly disadvantaged for ‘the exclusive benefit of other countries’, deriving no benefits of its own from an overall reduction of carbon emissions. Obama, he argues, was duped by economic rivals purporting concern for the environment, while he himself as the ‘America First’ president sees through the ruse.
In this economically-motivated framing of the enemy, we can see a resurgence of the idea of the ‘green scare’ as the natural successor to the ‘red scare’ of the Cold War. Peter Jacques has documented how environmental issues started to enter the public consciousness around the same time Soviet-style communism was on the decline in Europe: to advocates of unbridled capitalism, a new problem was arising as the long-standing one receded. However, until recently, this element was not a key part of the public face of environmental scepticism: it was the preserve of well-funded but not well-known conservative think tanks and somewhat in the shadow of more humanitarian manifestations. In the Trump era, however, this quiet part of environmental scepticism has more frequently been said out loud, with greater concern expressed about the economic effects of environmental protection measures.
The future of environmental scepticism—some speculative points
So, what next for environmental scepticism? From January 20, 2021, it will no longer be part of the ideology of the serving US President. This development suggests a certain decline of influence. For example, the viewpoints outlined in this post and my original article will no longer define American environmental policy to the extent that they have done since the same date in 2017. Leaving aside Biden’s own moves (broadly speaking) towards greater environmental sustainability, such as placing a known environmental regulator with a strong track record in charge of the EPA, there are signs of a wider and more substantial shift towards pro-environmental attitudes. It is worth noting, as just one example, that the attempts to incorporate ‘green’ elements into the Coronavirus Relief Bill are to a great extent a bipartisan effort rather than a purely Democratic one.
Outside the US Government, the more strictly neutral parts of the mainstream media will have less requirement to treat denialist perspectives on climate change with the same seriousness as the prevailing scientific evidence. Furthermore, the loss of Trump as an ally may tip the balance regarding policy change in more environmentally ambivalent nations. For example, the need to build a working relationship with President Biden has been cited as one of Boris Johnson’s key motivations for introducing the sweeping ‘Ten Step Plan to a Green Industrial Revolution.’
However, we should be wary of assuming that environmental scepticism will fade away once Trump has passed through a more-or-less peaceful transfer of power. To begin with, he is not the only environmental sceptic to occupy a position of political leadership. The global environment still has Australia’s Scott Morrison (protector of his country’s coal industry moreso than of their island neighbours), Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro (he who denies the existence of forest fires in the Amazon) and Poland’s Andrzej Duda to contend with, to name the most vocal.
It is also worth remembering the associations which have built up between environmental scepticism and right-wing populism in the past few years. It remains to be seen how strong the connection between the two ideologies is: divergence would be possible, but so would a continued convergence. While Trump’s electoral loss could represent the beginning of the end for this variety of populism, it could also merely represent Trump’s own failures and leave the door open for a more personally competent candidate of a similar political ilk. The resentments which fuelled pro-Trump sentiment in 2016 are real, including the perception that environmentalism is a danger to ‘rust belt’ livelihoods.
The liberal humanitarian iteration of environmental scepticism may also return to the fore. Bjørn Lomborg, the usual public face of this form of scepticism, was positing the respective fights against climate change and pandemics as opponents for scarce resources before the advent of coronavirus; we may yet see a resurgence of this narrative, aimed at the ‘green’ elements of many recovery packages. In the past year, Lomborg has been joined on this ideological stage by Michael Shellenberger, a former environmental activist who is keen to apologise for ‘crying wolf’ on climate change. Shellenberger is the founder of a thinktank named ‘Environmental Progress’, whose London office is fronted by former Extinction Rebellion activist Zion Light. It is feasible that, if the association with leaders such as Trump begins to fade, this more moderate form of bounded environmental scepticism—with some pro-environmental tendencies and a level of scientific awareness—will gain prominence and be more difficult to challenge.
In short, the future trajectory of environmental scepticism is currently difficult to predict due to the sheer range of possible variables in play. It will be interesting to see the prevailing form it takes when the dust settles from the US election, and consequently where it will fit in the wider discourse on tackling environmental issues.
 Jane Suiter, ‘Post-truth Politics’, Political Insight 7(3) (2016), 25–7.
 See Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate (London: Allen Lane, 2014) for a more detailed picture of this strand.
 Speech at Countryfile Live, 2018.