Political Ideology Part 2

Part one looked at Marxist and non-Marxist concepts of ideology, the challenges of defining ideology, ideology and the political spectrum, and the classical and new ideologies. Based on Political Ideologies: An Introduction by Andrew Heywood (4th edition from 2007) this post describes the classical ideologies of liberalism, conservatism, socialism, nationalism, anarchism, fascism, plus the new ideology feminism.


Heywood describes the central theme of liberal ideology to be a commitment to the individual and the desire to build a society where people can satisfy their interests and achieve fulfilment. Human beings are seen as individuals, invested with reason. Therefore, each individual should enjoy the maximum possible freedom, ensuring a similar freedom for all. Individuals are given equal political and legal rights but they are only rewarded in line with their talents and willingness to work. Liberalism is based on a number of values and beliefs: the individual, freedom, reason, justice, toleration.

Liberals believe in the need for a state, government and laws to protect individuals from others that might be a threat to them. Liberal societies are organized politically around principles of constitutionalism and consent, intended to protect citizens from the dangers of government tyranny. The core features of Liberal democracy are:

  • constitutional government based on     formal legal rules
  • guaranteed civil liberties and     individual rights
  • institutional fragmentation and a system of checks and balances
  • regular elections respecting the principles of universal suffrage and ‘one person, one vote’
  • political pluralism, in the form of electoral choice and party completion
  • a healthy civil society in which organized groups and interests enjoy independence from government
  • a capitalist or private-enterprise economy organised along market lines

Heywood explains that there are significant differences between classical liberalism and modern liberalism. Classical liberalism from the nineteenth century has a number of common characteristics. First, it views human beings as rationally self-interested creatures, who have a strong capacity for self reliance. Second, an individual is free by being left alone, not interfered with or coerced by others. Third, it is in favour of a minimal state that maintains domestic order and personal security. Finally, it has a positive view of civil society, that reflects the principle of balance or equilibrium. A good example of this is the classical liberal faith in a self-regulating market economy. Classical liberalism is based on a number of doctrines and theories: natural rights, utilitarianism, economic liberalism, social Darwinism, neoliberalism.

Modern Liberalism, also known as ‘twentieth-century liberalism’, developed in response to the industrialisation and the realisation by some liberals that the unrestrained pursuit of self-interest did not produce a socially just society. Modern liberals believe that the state should help people help themselves. It includes the following ideas: individuality, positive freedom, social liberalism, economic management [1].


According to Heywood, as a political ideology, conservatism is defined by the desire to conserve, with a resistance or suspicion of change. It is characterised by supporting tradition, a belief in human imperfection and an attempt to maintain the structure of society. Conservatives seem to have a clearer understanding of what they are against than what they are for. Conservatives describe their beliefs as a ‘state of mind’ or ‘common sense’ as opposed to an ideology. Its supporters argue that it is based on history or experience, not rational thought. Its central beliefs include: tradition, human imperfection, organic society, hierarchy and authority, property.

The main distinction within conservatism is between traditional conservatism and the ‘new right’. Traditional conservatism defends established institutions and values as they are seen to safeguard the fragile ‘fabric of society’, giving security-seeking human beings a sense of stability and rootedness.

Heywood identifies three forms of traditional conservatism. Authoritarian conservatism is a tradition that favours authoritarianism – a belief in or practice of government ‘from above’, in which authority is exercised over a population with or without its consent.

Paternalistic conservatism is based on the idea that the values that are important to conservatives – tradition, order, authority, property, etc – will only be maintained if policy is developed based on practical circumstances and experience, rather than based on theory. This accepts a prudent willingness to ‘change in order to conserve’. There are two main traditions of paternalistic conservatism: one-nation conservatism, and Christian democracy.

Libertarian conservatism advocates the greatest possible economic liberty and least possible government regulation of social life. Heywood suggests that libertarian conservatives are attached to free-market theories because they ensure social order.

Heywood describes the new right as a combination of two ideological traditions. The first is called the ‘liberal new right,’ or ‘neoliberalism’. This is based on classical liberal economics, specifically free market economics with a critique of ‘big’ government, economic and social intervention.

The second is called the ‘conservative new right’ or ‘neoconservatism’. This is based on traditional conservatism that defends order, authority and discipline. The new right is therefore a fusion of economic libertarianism and social authoritarianism.

Heywood describes the new right as a blend of radical, reactionary and traditional features. It is radical in that it aims to ‘roll back’ interventionist government. The reactionary element relates to the liberal and conservative new right looking back to a past ‘golden age’ of supposed economic propriety and moral fortitude. The new right also prizes the traditional values listed above [2].


Heywood describes socialism as in opposition to capitalism and the attempt to create a more humane and socially worthwhile alternative. The foundation of socialism is a view that human beings are social creatures united by their common humanity. Individual identity is formed by social interaction and the involvement of social groups and collective bodies. Socialists value cooperation over competition. Equality, especially social equality is seens as the central value. Social equality is seen to ensure social stability and cohesion, providing freedom because it meets material needs and provides a basis for personal development.

Heywood explains that the difficulties of analysing socialism are due to the term being understood in at least three different ways. First, it is seen as an economic model related to collectivisation and planning and as an alternative to capitalism. The second approach views socialism as  an instrument of the labour movement, known as labourism. It represents the interests of the working class and provides a programme for workers to gain political and economic power. In the third approach, socialism is seen as a broader political creed or ideology with a cluster of ideas, values and theories. These include: community, cooperation, equality, class politics, common ownership.

Socialism has a number of divisions and rival traditions, according to Heywood. The divisions have been about the ‘means’ (how socialism should be achieved) and ‘ends’ (the nature of the future socialist society).

The roads to socialism or ‘means’ of achieving it can be divided into revolutionary socialism and evolutionary socialism. Heywood defines revolution as “a fundamental and irreversible change, often a brief but dramatic period of upheaval; systemic change.” Revolution is more than a tactical consideration for socialists, it also relates to their negative analysis of the state and state power. Evolutionary socialists, also known as democratic socialists or social democrats support gradualism, aiming to reform or ‘humanize’ the capitalist system by reducing material inequalities and ending poverty.

For the goals or ‘ends’ of socialism, Heywood describes the different and competing conceptions of what a socialist society should look like. He divides them into Marxist and social democrat.


Communists and Marxists support revolution and the abolition of capitalism through the creation of a classless society based on the common ownership of wealth. Marxism is based on the work of Karl Marx and later generations of Marxist thinkers. Their aim has been to develop a systematic and comprehensive worldview that suits the needs of the socialist movement.

Heywood describes three forms of Marxism. The first is classical Marxism: “a philosophy of history that outlines why capitalism is doomed and why socialism is destined to replace it, based on supposedly scientific analysis.” The second is orthodox communism, which refers to communist regimes from the twentieth-century based on the theories of classical Marxism, that had to be adapted to the tasks of winning and retaining political power. The main example is the Russian Revolution, that dominated how communism was viewed in the twentieth-century. The third is modern Marxism, also known as neo-Marxism: “an updated and revised form of Marxism that rejects determinism, the primacy of economics and the privileged status of the proletariat.” Modern Marxism was shaped by two factors: a re-examination of conventional class analysis due to the collapse of capitalism not happening as Marx predicted, and a rejection of the Russian Bolshevik model of orthodox communism.

See two follow up posts on Marxism: What is Marxism Part 1: Marx’s Marxism and What is Marxism Part 2: Marxism after Marx.

Social democrat

Social democracy stands for a balance between the market economy and state intervention. Its features include: liberal-democratic principles with peaceful and constitutional political change; capitalism being accepted as the only reliable means of generating wealth; capitalism being viewed as defective at distributing wealth; defects of capitalism can be reduced by state intervention; the nation-state is the meaningful unit of political rule.

Heywood describes how the theoretical basis for social democracy is based on moral or religious beliefs, rather than scientific analysis. Social democracy is primarily concerned with the idea of a just and fair distribution of wealth in society – social justice.

Another form of social democracy is ‘revisionist socialism’, which is based on those that came to see Marx’s analysis of capitalism as defective and thus rejected it. Capitalism was no longer seen as a system of naked class oppression. Instead it could be reformed by the nationalisation of major industries, economic regulation and a welfare state. This is also known as ‘managerialism’.

Since the 1980s reformist socialist parties have gone through another round of revisionism, know as the ‘third way’. It is an unclear term but is broadly a continuation of neoliberalism by parties that were on the left [3].


Classical nationalism is based on the belief that the nation is the natural and proper unit of government. Nationalism is a complex and highly diverse ideology, with distinct political, cultural and ethnic forms. Heywood describes the core feature of nationalism to be its broader connection to movements and ideas that accept the central importance of political life of the nation, not simply its narrow association with self-government and the nation-state.

The political implications have been varied and sometimes contradictory:

“at different times, nationalism has been progressive and reactionary, democratic and authoritarian, rational and irrational, and left-wing and right-wing. It has been associated with almost all the major ideological traditions. In their different ways, liberals, conservatives, socialists, fascists and even communists have been attracted to nationalism; perhaps only anarchism, by virtue of its outright rejection of the state, is fundamentally at odds with nationalism. Nevertheless, although nationalist doctrines have been used by a bewildering variety of political movements and associated with sometimes diametrically opposed political causes…”

Heywood defines cultural nationalism as: “a form of nationalism that places primary emphasis on the regeneration of the nation as a distinctive civilization rather than on self-government.” He defines ethnic nationalism as: “a form of nationalism that is fuelled primarily by a keen sense of ethnic distinctiveness and the desire to preserve it.”

Nationalism has emerged in very different historical contexts, influenced by different cultural traditions, and has been used to advance a wide range of political causes. Heywood describes how nationalism has a capacity to combine with other political doctrines and ideas, which has created a number of rival nationalist traditions. These include: liberal nationalism, conservative nationalism, expansionist nationalism, anti-colonial and postcolonial nationalism.

Liberal nationalism is the oldest form of nationalism, dating back to the French Revolution. Liberal nationalism is a liberating force in that it opposes all forms of foreign domination and oppression, and that it stands for the ideal of self-government. Liberal nationalists also believe that nations, like individuals, are equal, in the sense that they are entitled to the right of self-determination.

Conservative nationalism took shape in the late nineteenth-century and was used by conservative and reactionary politicians to promote social cohesion, order and stability, in response to the increasing international challenge of socialism. Conservative nationalism is maintained by its relationship to tradition and history; it defends traditional institutions and a traditional way of life. It is nostalgic of a past age of national glory and triumph.

Expansionist nationalism is aggressive and militaristic, most clearly displayed by the imperialism of the late nineteenth century by European powers to colonise territories. This form of popular nationalism had a lot of public support, where national prestige was linked the expansion of empire.

Anti-colonial and postcolonial nationalism came about from a desire of ‘national liberation’ by people living in Africa and Asia under foreign imperial rule. Most anti-colonisation movements were based on some form of socialism. In recent decades, postcolonial nationalism has rejected western ideas and culture in favour of religious fundamentalism related to political Islam.

Looking beyond nationalism, there is internationalism. Heywood describes this as a theory or practice of politics based on transnational or global cooperation. There is liberal internationalism based on human rights within nations, national interdependence-based free trade, and where national ambition is limited by supranational bodies. Socialist internationalism treats internationalism as an article of faith or core value, with working class or proletarian class solidarity transcending national borders, especially as capitalism is an international system, and thus can only be challenged by a genuinely international movement [4].


Heywood describes the Anarchist central belief as being that political authority in all forms, especially in the form of the state, is evil and unnecessary. Anarchists therefore want to create a stateless society through the abolition of law and government. The state is viewed as evil because it manages sovereign, compulsory and coercive authority, which are an offence against the principles of freedom and equality. The core value of anarchism is unrestrained personal autonomy. The state is seen as unnecessary, because order and social harmony can exist naturally and do not need to be enforced ‘from above’ by government. Heywood describes the utopian character of anarchist thought, which is reflected in the highly optimistic assumptions about human nature. The broad principles and positions of anarchism are: anti-statism, natural order, anti-clericalism, economic freedom.

In addition, anarchism draws from two different ideological traditions: liberalism and socialism. This has resulted in rival forms of anarchism: individualist and collectivist. Both accept the goal of no state, but promote different ideas of the future anarchist society.

He describes collectivist anarchism developing by pushing socialist collectivism to its limits – the belief that human beings are social animals, well suited to working together for the common good, rather than individual self-interest. This is also called social anarchism, based on the human capacity for social solidarity or ‘mutual aid’. Anarchists have also worked in the broad revolutionary socialist movement.

Heywood identifies a number of theoretical overlaps between anarchism and Marxism: rejection of capitalism, social change through revolution, preference for the collective ownership of wealth and communal organisation of social life, a belief that a communist society would be anarchic, and that human beings have the capacity to run society without political authority.

Heywood also describes how anarchism and socialism differ on two main points. First, anarchists dismiss parliamentary socialism as a contradiction in terms – it is not possible to reform capitalism, and the expansion of the role and responsibilities of the state will only entrench oppression, even if in the name of equality and social justice. Second, collective anarchists and some Marxists have very different conceptions of the transition from capitalism to communism. Marxists believe a revolution will bring a proletariat state, which will then ‘wither away’ as capitalist class conflict dimmishes. Anarchists view any form of state power as evil and oppressive in its own right, with its existence being corrupt and corrupting. Genuine anarchist revolution requires the end of capitalism and state power.

Collectivist anarchism is made up of a number ideas. One is mutualism; “a system of fair and equitable exchange, in which individuals or groups bargain with one another, trading goods and services without profiteering or exploitation.” A second is anarcho-syndicalism, which is a form of revolutionary trade unionism, emerging in France in 1914 and spreading to other industrialised countries. Anarcho-syndicalists reject conventional politics as corrupting, instead believe that working-class power should be utilised through direct action, boycotts, sabotage, strikes, and general strikes. They also organise their unions as a model for a decentralised, non-hierarchical society. This results in a high degree of grassroots democracy, with syndicates forming federations. A third, is anarcho-communism, the most radical form, that requires the abolition of the state. This form envisages that an anarchic society would be made up of a collection of self-sufficient communities, each owning wealth in common. Social and economic life is based on sharing, direct democracy and small scale or ‘human-scale’ communities.

Individualist anarchism is based on the liberal idea of the sovereign individual. When individualism is taken to its extreme, the result is individual sovereignty, which is the idea that absolute and unlimited authority resides with each human being. Any constraint on the individual is evil. It is based on: egoism, libertarianism, anarcho-capitalism.

Heywood states that anarchists reject state power, political power and political parties so have pursued alternative routes to achieving anarchy. One route was revolutionary violence; bombing and assassinations were conducted in the nineteenth century and 1970s. Another route is direct action, which is political action taken outside the constitutional and legal framework, including passive resistance, boycotts, strikes, popular protest. A third route is non-violence or pacifism – the principled rejection of war and all forms of violence as fundamentally evil [5].

See a follow up post on anarchist schools of thought and traditions here.


Heywood identifies the core theme of fascism as being the idea of an organically unified national community, strengthened by the belief in ‘strength through unity’. Individual identity must be absorbed into the community. The ‘new man’ is motivated by duty, honour and self-sacrifice, and is prepared to dedicate his life to the glory of his nation or race, and give complete obedience to a supreme leader.

Fascism is a revolt against the ideas and values that have dominated western political thought from the French Revolution onwards. Values such as rationalism, progress, freedom and equality were replaced by struggle, leadership, power, heroism and war. Fascism has a strong ‘anti-character’, it is” anti-rational, anti-liberal, anti-conservative, anti-capitalism, anti-communist, etc. Fascism embraces an extreme version of expansionist nationalism or ultranationalism, that views nations as rivals in a struggle for dominance.

Fascism is made up for two distinct traditions. Italian fascism was an extreme form of statism that was based on absolute loyalty towards a ‘totalitarian’ state. German fascism or Nazism, was founded on racial theories, presenting the Aryan people as a ‘master race’ and promoting extreme anti-Semitism [6].


For Heywood, feminist ideology is defined by two core beliefs: that women are disadvantaged because of their sex, and that this disadvantage can and should be abolished. The feminist view of the political relationship between the sexes is the dominance of men and subjugation of women in societies. By viewing gender divisions as ‘political,’ feminists challenge generations of male thinkers that have been unwilling to examine the privileges and power held by men that have kept the role of women off the political agenda.

The feminist movement has had a diversity of views and political positions. These range from achieving female suffrage, increase in the number of women in elite positions in public life, legalisation of abortion, and the ending of female circumcision.

Heywood describes how feminists have used reformist and revolutionary political strategies. Liberal feminism is essentially reformist; it aims to open up public life to equal competition between men and women, instead of challenge what most feminists view as the patriarchal structure of society.

Socialist feminists argue that the political and legal disadvantages that women face cannot be resolved by equal legal rights or equal opportunities as liberal feminists believe. In their view, the relationship between the sexes is a core part of the social and economic structure, therefore significant social change or social revolution is needed for genuine emancipation.

Radical feminists belief that sexual oppression is the most fundamental feature of society and that other forms of injustice, such as class exploitation or racism, are less important. Gender is seen as the most important social issue. Radical feminists see society as ‘patriarchal’, which is the systematic, institutionalized and all-encompassing process of gender oppression.

Heywood describes some forms of feminism that have emerged since the 1960s: psychoanalytical feminism, postmodern feminism, black feminism, transfeminism [7].


  1. Political Ideologies : An Introduction by Andrew Heywood, 4th edition, 2007, page 23-62
  2. Heywood, Political Ideologies, page 65-98
  3. Heywood, Political Ideologies, page 99-142
  4. Heywood, Political Ideologies, page 143-174
  5. Heywood, Political Ideologies, page 175-2020
  6. Heywood, Political Ideologies, page 203-229
  7. Heywood, Political Ideologies, page 230-254