An ideology is a set of aims and ideas, especially in politics. An ideology can be thought of as a comprehensive vision, as a way of looking at things (compare Weltanschauung), as in common sense (see Ideology in everyday society below) and several philosophical tendencies (see Political ideologies), or a set of ideas proposed by the dominant class of a society to all members of this society.
The main purpose behind an ideology is to offer change in society, and adherence to a set of ideals where conformity already exists, through a normative thought process. Ideologies are systems of abstract thought (as opposed to mere ideation) applied to public matters and thus make this concept central to politics. Implicitly every political tendency entails an ideology whether or not it is propounded as an explicit system of thought. (For the Marxist definition of ideology, see Ideology as an instrument of social reproduction below.)
overview of ideologies


The term ideology | analyses of ideology | Ideology as an instrument of social reproduction | Political ideologies (incl. horseshoe theory) | Epistemological ideologies | This Is How Reaganism and Thatcherism End


The term ideology was born in the highly controversial philosophical and political debates and fights of the French Revolution and acquired several other meanings from the early days of the First French Empire to nowadays. The word ideology was coined by Destutt de Tracy in 1796 assembling the parts idea (near to the Lockean sense) and -logy. He used it to refer to one aspect of his "science of ideas". (To the study itself, not the subject of the study.) He separated three aspects, namely:

1. ideology,
2. general grammar and logic, considering respectively the subject, the means and
3. the reason of this science.

He argues that among these aspects ideology is the most generic term, because the science of ideas also contains the study of their expression and deduction.

According to Karl Mannheim's historical reconstruction of the meaning-shifts of ideology, the modern meaning of the word ideology was born when Napoleon Bonaparte (as a politician) used it in an abusive way against "the ideologues" (a group which included Cabanis, Condorcet, Constant, Daunou, Say, Madame de Staël and Tracy), to express the pettiness of his (liberal republican) political opponents.

Perhaps the most accessible source for the near-original meaning of ideology is Hippolyte Taine's work on the Ancien Regime (first volume of "Origins of Contemporary France"). He describes ideology as rather like teaching philosophy by the Socratic method, but without extending the vocabulary beyond what the general reader already possessed, and without the examples from observation that practical science would require. Taine identifies it not just with Destutt de Tracy, but also with his milieu, and includes Condillac as one of its precursors. (Tracy read the works of Locke and Condillac while he was imprisoned during the Reign of Terror.)

The word "ideology" was coined long before the Russians coined "intelligentsia", or before the adjective "intellectual" referred to a sort of person (see substantive), i.e. an intellectual. Thus these words were not around when the hard-headed, driven Napoleon Bonaparte took the word "ideologues" to ridicule his intellectual opponents. Gradually, however, the term "ideology" has dropped some of its pejorative sting, and has become a neutral term in the analysis of differing political opinions.Ideological references are important to many people throughout the world. Karl Marx used the term in his own context often throughout his works.


Meta-ideology is the study of the structure, form, and manifestation of ideologies. Meta-ideology posits that ideology is a coherent system of ideas, relying upon a few basic assumptions about reality that may or may not have any factual basis, but are subjective choices that serve as the seed around which further thought grows. According to this perspective, ideologies are neither right nor wrong, but only a relativistic intellectual strategy for categorizing the world. The pluses and minuses of ideology range from the vigor and fervor of true believers to ideological infallibility. Excessive need for certitude lurks at fundamentalist levels in politics, religions, and elsewhere.

The works of George Walford and Harold Walsby, done under the heading of systematic ideology, are attempts to explore the relationships between ideology and social systems. David W. Minar describes six different ways in which the word "ideology" has been used:

As a collection of certain ideas with certain kinds of content, usually normative;
As the form or internal logical structure that ideas have within a set;
By the role in which ideas play in human-social interaction;
By the role that ideas play in the structure of an organization;
As meaning, whose purpose is persuasion; and
As the locus of social interaction, possibly.

For Willard A. Mullins, an ideology is composed of four basic characteristics:

- it must have power over cognitions
- it must be capable of guiding one's evaluations;
- it must provide guidance towards action;
- and, as stated above, must be logically coherent.

Mullins emphasizes that an ideology should be contrasted with the related (but different) issues of utopia and historical myth.

The German philosopher Christian Duncker called for a "critical reflection of the ideology concept" (2006). In his work, he strove to bring the concept of ideology into the foreground, as well as the closely connected concerns of epistemology and history. In this work, the term ideology is defined in terms of a system of presentations that explicitly or implicitly claim to absolute truth. Though the word "ideology" is most often found in political discourse, there are many different kinds of ideology: political, social, epistemological, ethical, and so on.

Evolution of the total population N, number of followers of the ideologies, N1 and N2 and the number of N0 of people
If N1 decreases because of the competition with the second ideology, then the tension between the ideologies characterised by the tension index Ti;k increases.

Competition in ideologies:
A model of ideological struggle (Cornell University, June 2009)

'A general model for opinion formation and competition, like in ideological struggles is formulated. The underlying set is a closed one, like a country but in which the population size is variable in time. Several ideologies compete to increase their number of adepts. Such followers can be either converted from one ideology to another or become followers of an ideology though being previously ideologically-free.

A reverse process is also allowed. We consider two kinds of conversion: unitary conversion, e.g. by means of mass communication tools, or binary conversion, e.g. by means of interactions between people.

It is found that the steady state, when it exists, depends on the number of ideologies. Moreover when the number of ideologies increases some tension arises between them. This tension can change in the course of time. We propose to measure the ideology tensions through an appropriately de ned scale index'.


Ideology as an instrument of social reproduction  
Karl Marx proposed an economic base/superstructure model of society. The base refers to the means of production of society. The superstructure is formed on top of the base, and comprises that society's ideology, as well as its legal system, political system, and religions. For Marx, the base determines the superstructure. Because the ruling class controls the society's means of production, the superstructure of society, including its ideology, will be determined according to what is in the ruling class's best interests. Therefore the ideology of a society is of enormous importance since it confuses the alienated groups and can create 'false consciousness' such as the fetishism of commodities. Critics of the Marxist approach feel that it attributes too much importance to economic factors in influencing society.

The ideologies of the dominant class of a society (dominant ideology) are proposed to all members of that society in order to make the ruling class' interests appear to be the interests of all. György Lukács describes this as a projection of the class consciousness of the ruling class, while Antonio Gramsci advances the theory of cultural hegemony to explain why people in the working-class can have a false conception of their own interests.

The dominant forms of ideology in capitalism are (in chronological order):

- classical liberalism
- modern liberalism
- social democracy
- neo-liberalism

and they correspond to the stages of development of capitalism as the extensive stage, intensive stage or the stage of contemporary capitalism (or late capitalism)

The Marxist view of ideology as an instrument of social reproduction has been an important touchstone for the sociology of knowledge and theorists such as Karl Mannheim, Daniel Bell, and Jürgen Habermas, amongst many others. However, Mannheim attempted to move beyond what he saw as the 'total' but 'special' Marxist conception of ideology to a 'general' and 'total' conception which acknowledged that all ideologies resulted from social life (including Marxism). Pierre Bourdieu extensively developed this idea.

Louis Althusser's Ideological State Apparatuses

Louis Althusser proposed a materialistic conception of ideology, which made use of a special type of discourse: the lacunar discourse. A number of propositions, which are never untrue, suggest a number of other propositions, which are, in this way, the essence of the lacunar discourse is what is not told (but is suggested). For example, the statement 'All are equal before the law', which is a theoretical groundwork of current legal systems, suggests that all people may be of equal worth or have equal 'opportunities'. This is not true, for the concept of private property over the means of production results in some people being able to own more (much more) than others, and their property brings power and influence (the rich can afford better lawyers, among other things, and this puts in question the principle of equality before the law).

Althusser also invented the concept of the Ideological State Apparatus to explain his theory of ideology. His first thesis was "ideology has no history": while ideologies have histories, interleaved with the general class struggle of society, the general form of ideology is external to history. His second thesis, "Ideas are material", explains his materialistic attitude, which he illustrated with the "scandalous advice" of Pascal toward unbelievers: "kneel and pray, and then you will believe", thus highlighting that beliefs and ideas are a product of social practices, and not the reverse. However, this mustn't be misunderstood as simple behaviorism, as there may be, as Pierre Macherey put it, a "subjectivity without subject"; in other words, a form of non-personal liberty, as in Deleuze's conception of becoming-other.

Feminism as critique of ideology

Naturalizing socially constructed patterns of behavior has always been an important mechanism in the production and reproduction of ideologies. Feminist theorists have paid close attention to these mechanisms. Adrienne Rich e.g. has shown how to understand motherhood as a social institution. However, 'feminism' is not a homogenous whole, and some corners of feminist thought criticise the critique of social constructionism, by advocating that it disregards too much of human nature and natural tendencies. The debate, they say, is about the normative/naturalistic fallacy—the idea that just something 'being' natural does not necessarily mean it 'ought' to be the case.


  Political ideologies
Many political parties base their political action and programme on an ideology. In social studies, a Political Ideology is a certain ethical set of ideals, principles, doctrines, myths or symbols of a social movement, institution, class, or large group that explains how society should work, and offers some political and cultural blueprint for a certain social order.

A political ideology largely concerns itself with how to allocate power and to what ends it should be used. Some parties follow a certain ideology very closely, while others may take broad inspiration from a group of related ideologies without specifically embracing any one of them.
Political ideologies have two dimensions:

1. Goals: How society should work (or be arranged)
2. Methods: The most appropriate ways to achieve the ideal arrangement

An ideology is a collection of ideas. Typically, each ideology contains certain ideas on what it considers to be the best form of government (e.g. democracy, theocracy, etc), and the best economic system (e.g. capitalism, socialism, etc). Sometimes the same word is used to identify both an ideology and one of its main ideas. For instance, "socialism" may refer to an economic system, or it may refer to an ideology which supports that economic system.

More political ideologies are anarchism · Christian democracy · Communism · Communitarianism · Conservatism · Fascism · Feminism · Green politics · Liberalism · Libertarianism · Nationalism · Social democracy.

political ideologies diagram


Epistemological ideologies  
Even when the challenging of existing beliefs is encouraged, as in science, the dominant paradigm or mindset can prevent certain challenges, theories or experiments from being advanced. There are critics who view science as an ideology in itself, or being an effective ideology, called scientism. Some scientists respond that, while the scientific method is itself an ideology, as it is a collection of ideas, there is nothing particularly wrong or bad about it. Other critics point out that while science itself is not a misleading ideology, there are some fields of study within science that are misleading. Two examples discussed here are in the fields of ecology and economics.

A special case of science adopted as ideology is that of ecology, which studies the relationships between living things on Earth. Perceptual psychologist J. J. Gibson believed that human perception of ecological relationships was the basis of self-awareness and cognition itself. Linguist George Lakoff has proposed a cognitive science of mathematics wherein even the most fundamental ideas of arithmetic would be seen as consequences or products of human perception—which is itself necessarily evolved within an ecology. Deep ecology and the modern ecology movement (and, to a lesser degree, Green parties) appear to have adopted ecological sciences as a positive ideology.

Some accuse ecological economics of likewise turning scientific theory into political economy, although theses in that science can often be tested. The modern practice of green economics fuses both approaches and seems to be part science, part ideology. This is far from the only theory of economics to be raised to ideology status—some notable economically-based ideologies include mercantilism, mixed economy, social Darwinism, communism, laissez-faire economics, and free trade. There are also current theories of safe trade and fair trade which can be seen as ideologies.

Psychological research

Psychological research increasingly suggests that ideologies reflect motivational processes, as opposed to the view that political convictions always reflect independent and unbiased thinking. Research in 2008 proposed that ideologies may function as prepackaged units of interpretation that spread because of basic human motives to understand the world, avoid existential threat, and maintain valued interpersonal relationships. The authors conclude that such motives may lead disproportionately to the adoption of system-justifying worldviews. Psychologists have generally found that personality traits, individual difference variables, needs, and ideological beliefs seem to have a common thread. For instance, a meta-analysis by Jost, Glaser, Kruglanski, and Sulloway in 2003 analyzed 88 studies from 12 countries, with over 22,000 subjects, and found that death anxiety, intolerance of ambiguity, lack of openness to experience, uncertainty avoidance, need for cognitive closure, need for personal structure, and threat of loss of position or self-esteem all contribute to the degree of one's overall political conservatism. The researchers suggest that these results show that political conservatives stress resistance to change and are motivated by needs that are aimed at reducing threat and uncertainty. According to Robert Altemeyer and other researchers, individuals that are politically conservative tend to rank high on Right-Wing Authoritarianism, as measured by Altemeyer's RWA scale. Psychologist Felicia Pratto and her colleagues have found evidence to support the idea that a high Social Dominance Orientation (SDO) is strongly correlated with conservative political views.

Ideology and semiotic theory

According to the semiotician Bob Hodge, ideology "identifies a unitary object that incorporates complex sets of meanings with the social agents and processes that produced them. No other term captures this object as well as ‘ideology’. Foucault’s ‘episteme’ is too narrow and abstract, not social enough. His ‘discourse’, popular because it covers some of ‘ideology’s’ terrain with less baggage, is too confined to verbal systems. ‘Worldview’ is too metaphysical, ‘propaganda’ too loaded. Despite or because of its contradictions, ‘ideology’ still plays a key role in semiotics oriented to social, political life". Authors such as Michael Freeden have also recently incorporated a semantic analysis to the study of ideologies.

Ideology in everyday society

In public discussions, certain ideas arise more commonly than others. Often people with diverse backgrounds and interests may find themselves thinking alike in startling ways. Social scientists might explain this phenomenon as evidence of ideologies. Dominant ideologies appear as "neutral", holding to assumptions that are largely unchallenged. Meanwhile, all other ideologies that differ from the dominant ideology are seen as radical, no matter what the content of their actual vision may be. The philosopher Michel Foucault wrote about the concept of apparent ideological neutrality. Ideology is not the same thing as philosophy. Philosophy is a way of living life, while ideology is an almost ideal way of life for society. Some attribute to ideology positive characteristics like vigor and fervor, or negative features like excessive certitude and fundamentalist rigor.

Organizations that strive for power will try to influence the ideology of a society to become closer to what they want it to be. Political organizations (governments included) and other groups (e.g. lobbyists) try to influence people by broadcasting their opinions. When most people in a society think alike about certain matters, or even forget that there are alternatives to the status quo, we arrive at the concept of Hegemony, about which the philosopher Antonio Gramsci wrote. Such a state of affairs has been dramatized many times in literature: Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell; Brave New World by Aldous Huxley; and A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle. Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman have argued that social ideological homogeneity can be achieved by restricting the conceptual metaphors transmitted by mass communication.


This Is How Reaganism and Thatcherism End  
In a hotel ballroom in Rome, leaders of the nationalist right took a grim view of Western liberal democracy—which Cold War conservatives deeply believed in. February 10, 2020 Anne Applebaum Staff writer at The Atlantic:

In an Italian hotel ballroom of spectacular opulence—on red velvet chairs, beneath glittering crystal chandeliers and a stained-glass ceiling—the conservative movement that once inspired people across Europe, built bridges across the Iron Curtain and helped to win the Cold War came, finally, to an end.The occasion was a conference in Rome last week called “God, Honor, Country: President Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II, and the Freedom of Nations.” Inspired by the Israeli writer Yoram Hazony, convened under the banner of “National Conservatism,” this event was co-organized by Chris DeMuth, a former president of the American Enterprise Institute (in the era when it supported global capitalism and the Iraq War) and John O’Sullivan, a former speechwriter for British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. O’Sullivan now runs the Danube Institute, which is funded, via a foundation, by the Hungarian government. The conference itself was funded, according to DeMuth, by an anonymous American donor. This was the successor to the National Conservatism Conference held in Washington, D.C., last year. That occasion featured a strange agglomeration of new and old conservatives, including both John Bolton and Tucker Carlson, people who still talk hopefully about shrinking the state and those who want to enlarge it, people still jockeying to be relevant and people full of confidence that they now are.The conference in Rome was different in many ways, beginning with the aesthetics: No room in Washington contains quite so many Corinthian columns. The purpose, at least at first, seemed a little more mysterious, too. If Reagan and John Paul II were linked by anything, it was a grand, ambitious, and generous idea of Western political civilization, one in which a democratic Europe would be integrated by multiple economic, political, and cultural links, and held together beneath an umbrella of American hegemony. John Paul II wanted Poland to join the European Union; in his famous speech in Normandy, Reagan declared that not just “one’s country is worth dying for,” but “democracy is worth dying for, because it’s the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man.” At least when she was still prime minister, Margaret Thatcher was also a proponent of this vision of the West. She was one of the driving forces behind the European single market, the continent-wide free-trade zone that also required a unified regulatory system—the same unified regulatory system that the British have now rejected—and had great faith in the importance of human rights. She said so explicitly: “The state is not, after all, merely a tribe. It is a legal entity,” Thatcher declared in Zagreb, Croatia, in 1998, according to her biographer Charles Moore. “Concern for human rights … thus complements the sense of nationhood so as to ensure a nation state that is both strong and democratic.”The new national conservatism, at least as articulated in Rome, is very different from Reaganism and Thatcherism. The starting point is that European integration and American hegemony are both evil, and that universal ideals like human rights are a dangerous ideology. These, in fact, are arguments made in Hazony’s book, The Virtue of Nationalism, a work that synthesizes biblical history, the writings of John Locke, and contemporary politics into a caricature of a political philosophy for our times. Hazony has invented a definition of the nation—tribes that have agreed to live together, more or less—that applies to no existing modern state, not even Israel.

He also attributes all of the good things about modern civilization to the nation and all of the bad things to what he calls “imperialism.” He puts countries and institutions he likes into the first box, and those he doesn’t like into the second. Thus it emerges that the Nazis, who specifically called themselves nationalists, were not nationalists but imperialists, as is the European Union, an organization created to prevent the resurgence of Nazism. Britain, Spain, and France, despite their long history as empires on land and sea, count as nations.

In this worldview, democracy is of no significance. International treaties and obligations do not matter either, not even if people want them. Although membership in the European Union is voluntary—Brexit has just proved that—and is supported by majorities in most countries, Hazony writes and speaks as if the EU were an occupying power.

Just because his thesis is ahistorical and internally contradictory does not mean that it cannot be influential. Many bad books have had great influence. This one has been very lucky, having appeared just as the word nationalism was adopted by Donald Trump, who finds it a useful way of dressing up a set of foreign and domestic policies that are largely governed by his whims and dictated by his self-interest. Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, has used the language of nationalism as well. Hazony’s book also appeared at the moment when a handful of Anglo-American conservative intellectuals, jolted out of their old alliances by Trump and Brexit, were looking for a new project—and just when the parties of the European far right were craving the legitimacy that can be granted by British, American, and especially Israeli friends. To put it differently: The arc of history once described by Martin Luther King and Barack Obama is now bending the other way, and a lot of people are leaping aboard. The sight of an intellectual elite undergoing a radical shift in its views and alliances is never elegant, and this event had some rough edges. Hazony’s opening speech set a strange tone. He once again set up black-and-white categories, contrasting (bad) “enlightenment rational liberals” who have no ties to family or place with (good) conservatives who do, thus leaving out a very large, and much more nuanced, third category: the many enlightenment rational liberals who are patriotic, take care of their children, and feel attached to their local customs. He attacked the euro, Europe’s common currency, not for its economic faults but because euro notes are decorated with drawings of imaginary bridges instead of drawings of real ones. He declared that European children “are not taught that there is such a thing as a nation.” Of course he has every right to evoke an old and legitimate political tradition—Burkean conservatism has been with us for a long time—but some of this was silly. At different times my children went to Polish, British, and American schools, and they learned about “the nation” in all of them. It’s also ridiculous to claim that liberal Europeans never speak of their nations with pride. On the very day Hazony was lecturing in the hotel ballroom in Rome, the president of France was lecturing at a university in Krakow, declaring that he feels “proud to be French and proud to be European,” and saying he expects that Poles feel the same way too. To millions of people, these things do not feel contradictory. But other speakers in Rome also reflected an almost paranoid sense of persecution. The idea that “the nation” has been outlawed is clearly something that a certain breed of conservative now genuinely perceives to be true. The American Christian writer Rod Dreher solemnly described a world in which he felt repressed, just as people had been under totalitarian communism. “The all-consuming ideology among us is … a globalist, victim-focused identity politics, often called ‘social justice,’” he warned, calling on audience members to think of themselves as Christians persecuted for their faith in the past. Roberto de Mattei, an Italian Catholic intellectual, spoke darkly of a “dictatorship of relativism” and declared that the progressive establishment had banned the writing of books about the history of communism. Since I have personally written three books about the history of communism, all of which have been published in multiple European languages—including Italian—I found this statement mystifying.

What makes this view odder is that it also clashes with political reality. National conservatives cannot simultaneously be helpless victims of a totalitarian culture and also hold enormous political power, which some of them plainly do. Not all of these powerful new nationalists made the conference. Trump, obviously, was otherwise occupied. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was not there either. Matteo Salvini—the nationalist far-right leader who is Italy’s former deputy prime minister and maybe the next prime minister—was supposed to be there but dropped out at the last minute, possibly because he thinks that more votes can now be had by associating with enlightenment rational liberals.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government is, at least for the moment, also tacking to the center. The only elected British politician I spotted at the Rome conference was an eccentric Tory MP named Daniel Kawczynski, who is best known as a vocal supporter of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin.

Nevertheless, given that neither O’Sullivan nor DeMuth is any longer at the center of British or American political debate—O’Sullivan now lives in Budapest and runs an institute funded by the Hungarian government—and given that Hazony is a marginal figure in Israel, the number of European politicians with very real political ambitions and genuine influence who did appear is striking. The divisive and eloquent Thierry Baudet, the Dutch nationalist far-right leader—his party commands about 15 percent of the vote in the Netherlands, a lot in that country’s fragmented system—was on a panel. A politician from Vox, the rapidly growing Spanish party that has broken the post-Franco taboo on nationalist politics, was present too. Marion Marechal, the French politician who has dropped the surname Le Pen but still belongs to the family that founded the French party now known as the National Rally, spoke at length. Marechal, who is sometimes described as a candidate for the French presidency in 2022, made a well-crafted speech that, like Hazony’s, drew a sharp, polarizing contrast between conservatives and enlightenment rational liberals, whom she called “progressives.” The term seemed to include everybody from President Emanuel Macron to French Stalinists. Her words were evocative: “We are trying to connect the past to the future, the nation to the world, the family to the society … We represent realism; they are ideology. We believe in memory; they are amnesia.” But her remarks don’t reflect reality. Macron spoke explicitly and at length about history and memory in Krakow, and has done so on many other occasions too. To Marechal’s fans, that may not matter. Perhaps they feel themselves to be a persecuted minority, and she echoes that view. Perhaps they just prefer to hear about history from someone like her, the spokesman for an ethnic definition of France and Frenchness, instead of Macron.Still, if it is true that the new nationalists caricatured liberals, then it is equally true that liberals often caricature the new nationalists, and I don’t want to do so. Some of what Marechal says to the French, and some of what Baudet says to the Dutch, is indisputably true. Economies really have become more global, which makes small communities more vulnerable; older landscapes have been destroyed by modernity; people have drifted away from churches, probably for good; technology is moving very quickly, in ways that frighten people. The argument is over how to address the legitimate fears created by these changes. Among others, the European Union itself has come up with a set of solutions, including the donation of money to culture and architecture and the protection of European agriculture, and thus European landscapes, against competition. You can argue about whether these things work, but in a world dominated by an erratic America and an authoritarian China, the EU remains the only entity large enough to speak up for Europe on the world stage. The Netherlands alone—even Britain alone—will not be able to do it. But other possibilities exist too. One can use the electorate’s fears, for example—fan them, exploit them—in order to build a new political movement. And because national conservatism very much wants to be a new political movement, this is a prospect that interests many people. Thanks to some rather less eloquent speeches on Polish patriotism and the glories of “sovereignty,” the audience in Rome thinned out significantly as the day wore on.

But as the final session grew closer, cameramen and journalists began drifting back into the room. When the final speaker entered, he won a standing ovation. This was Viktor Orbán, the Hungarian prime minister, the man whose career probably best illustrates the distance that the conservatism of Reagan and Thatcher has traveled since 1989. Orbán, I realized, was the person that many in the room had really come to hear.

Famously, Orbán has gone one step further than many other European conservatives. For one, he has not been shy about using conspiratorial, sometimes hysterical nationalist language, echoing old anti-Semitic tropes, in order to exploit fear of the outside world. “We are fighting an enemy that is different from us,” he said in 2018. “Not open, but hiding; not straightforward but crafty; not honest but base; not national but international; does not believe in working but speculates with money; does not have its own homeland but feels it owns the whole world.” More important, he has surpassed everyone else in Europe in his willingness to destroy the institutions that create the terrain that make democracy possible. Although conference participants in Rome spoke at length about oppressive left-wing ideology at universities, Hungary is the only European country to have shut down an entire university, to have put academic bodies (the Hungarian Academy of Sciences) under direct government control, and to have removed funding from university departments that the ruling party dislikes for political reasons. Although many said they feel repressed by left-wing media, Hungary is also the only European country that has used a combination of political and financial pressure to put most of the private and public media under ruling-party control too.

Orbán’s destruction of independent press and academia and his slow politicization of the Hungarian courts have served a purpose quite different from lofty ideas about national sovereignty or the beauty of landscapes. These machinations have enabled the prime minister’s family and his inner circle to camouflage the myriad ways in which they use state power to get rich. They have also helped him fiddle with electoral rules, gerrymander districts, and adjust the constitution in order to make sure he doesn’t lose. He usually pushes right up to the edge of authoritarianism without going over it—almost always avoiding violence, for example—not least because Hungary gets a lot of money from the EU, some of which personally benefits his party colleagues. But if, eventually, the EU disappears, he will no longer need that restraint. His country is the best illustration of what happens when you dismiss universal values, repress journalists and academics who produce facts, undermine courts and the rule of law: When you get rid of all of those things, you are just a few short steps away from corruption and tyranny. This is the real face of the new “nationalism,” however carefully it is hidden behind an intellectual facade or dressed up as the successor of Reagan and John Paul II. You can see why it appeals to men like Netanyahu or Trump. Nothing about this approach is a secret, though Orban was not asked about any of it when he appeared onstage. Instead, DeMuth asked him to explain the secrets of his success. With a straight face, Orbán said, among other things, that it helps to have the support of the media. In the back of the room where the press were sitting, a few people laughed. At another point, Orbán also described his political philosophy as “Christian Democracy,” implying that this is something brand-new and radical. In fact it is very old: German, Dutch, and Belgian Christian Democrats were the founders of the European Union, and Angela Merkel, a Christian Democrat and the daughter of a Protestant minister, runs Germany today. She is Christian, but not in the way Orbán or many of the Rome panelists define themselves as Christian. Her Christianity offers moral guidance, not a way to divide “us” from “them.” The latter is an aggressive new political identity that many people in the room seek, especially if it will grant them the right to abolish the rule of law when they gain power.

The world inhabited by Reagan and John Paul II is long past, and no one knows how they would react to so-called cancel culture and Twitter mobs, or the backlash against Western culture on American (but not Hungarian) college campuses, or some of the uglier strains of far-left thinking. But somehow I doubt their response would be the creation of a new, kleptocratic authoritarian right that chips away at the institutions preserving democracy. Nor do I believe they would have wanted to destroy the institutions that have long undergirded the West, as so many of these new “nationalists” want to do. Like Mrs. Thatcher, I aspire to live in “a nation state that is both strong and democratic,” a nation that inspires patriotism and respects the idea of human rights. I don’t see why love of country and love of history would be incompatible with membership in broader Western communities. But in the political world we are now entering, they may soon become so.