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Methodology of the Critique of Ideology

The terms “ideology” and “critique of ideology” are used in strongly differing ways. We use the term “ideology” for systematically created deficient convictions. Their deficiency consists of their content being supposedly wrong1, which is not recognised by the actors that hold them. Their systematic creation refers to the idea of certain factors motivating2 these convictions. “Critique of ideology” is the scientific procedure which, via genetic explanations – explanations of how things come to be (their genesis) – seeks to uncover these factors. In a broader sense, “critique of ideology” also examines the societal effects of ideology.

Critique of Ideology as an Empirical Science

To explain societal phenomena – and thereby accumulate the knowledge necessary to change them – systemic circumstances as well as the actions of players have to be understood. People act according to convictions, which include values and moral or political principles. It is obvious that these convictions can be deficient, whether it is because of wrong content or because of the actors holding wrong convictions of second order – they might, for example, be judging a conviction of first order3 to be justified because of logical fallacies. Ideology critique relies on the idea that certain kinds of deficient convictions can be motivated systematically by certain factors. These factors can for example be of psychological nature (as examined in the study of biases in the field of cognitive psychology) or consist of social circumstances. In many cases, both kinds of factors are used to explain deficient convictions deemed to be typical. An example shall be the theory (and its further development) that actors employ illusionary substitutive gratifications, e.g. religious ideas of other-worldly rewards for worldly suffering, to cope with real-life deficits. Insofar as convictions of this kind are deemed to be deficient, it is the role of ideology criticism as an interdisciplinary scientific discipline to uncover via genetic explanations the factors which motivate these convictions.

Critique of ideology is therefore an empirical attempt to explain certain convictions. As such, it can deliver no a priori analysis: whether there are effective systematic factors for a certain kind of deficient conviction and which they may be is always an open question. Therefore, critique of ideology is not set on a few certain factors which it can examine: in principle, these could be of cognitive-psychological, social-psychological, developmental-psychological or evolutionary-psychological, economic, social or another kind. We deem it to be an un-empirical shortcoming to believe you can determine the causes for certain deficient convictions on a purely theoretical level. The question of whether certain factors are causal for the examined conviction has to be answered empirically. As demonstrated, critique of ideology does not proceed differently from the established empirical sciences. It is in this way only that valid theories about the connection between certain factors and deficient convictions can be worked out. We therefore object to sterile, purely economical critique-of-ideology-explanations. They exclude, before any empirical examination has taken place, any and all potential factors of non-economic kind. Whether exclusively economic factors are among the actually effective, however, has to be examined empirically. We reject a model Platonism4 of the understanding of ideologies in favour of a procedure oriented along those of the empirical sciences.

Avoidance of Genetic Fallacies

As demonstrated above, critique of ideology is vital to explain why people develop deficient convictions, be they fascist, nationalist, antisemitic, antiromanyist, racist, sexist or religious in content. To highlight the deficiency of such convictions can however not be the task of ideology critique as a discipline operating with genetic explanations. Whether a certain conviction actually is deficient is up to the singular scientific disciplines to show (Concerning deficient arguments this also applies to philosophy). This also means: simply because there are good reasons to assume that a conviction is motivated by certain factors suspected to motivate deficient convictions, it is not justified to conclude that the conviction is deficient. It is by this necessity of a separate examination of a conviction for deficiency that critique of ideology avoids genetic fallacies: The rationality and factual truth of a position can never be determined solely by the circumstances of its coming about. From the perspective of scientific theory this entails that critique of ideology cannot make strictly deterministic cases concerning the connection between certain factors and the possibly deficient convictions in question – only those of probabilistic or normic kind.5 A strictly deterministic understanding of critique of ideology is deficient additionally because certain characteristics of the status quo are often employed as potential factors leading to deficient convictions – characteristics also affecting the critics themselves. So, not only would they have to raise suspicions against themselves, they would also produce self-contradictions when operating with critiques of ideology that have a universal character to them. Ergo – critics must at least assume that they themselves are not holding systematically deficient convictions in their theories concerning critique of ideology. Critique of ideology must always pose knowledge partially free of ideology under given conditions as a theoretical possibility to not become self-contradictory. That said, all critiques of ideology assuming absolute delusion of all actors living in a society determined by developed capitalist economic order become implausible.

Differentiation from Theories of Manipulation

Critique of ideology is not to be confused with conspiracy theories or theories of mass manipulation. The fact that a certain group has an interest in spreading wrong convictions is not sufficient to explain why they are successful with that endeavour. The latter explanation would be one located in the field of critique of ideology. For a conspiracy theory or one of manipulation to be reasonable, it would have to be combined with critique of ideology. Also, purely functional explanations of deficient convictions must be criticised. While illuminating the societal consequences of deficient convictions is often an additional task ascribed to critique of ideology, these consequences by themselves cannot be used to explain how these convictions came to be adopted in the first place. If we assume a deficient conviction p, we cannot explain its genesis and persistence by exclaiming that p is in the interest of the ruling class. If the interest of the ruling class was causal for p, a theory of manipulation must be employed – which, as stated above, requires the support of explanations stemming from critique of ideology, but is not identical with it. If one instead exclaims that the interests of the ruling class are not causal for p, but p is nonetheless in conformity with their interest, critique of ideology is clearly not necessary. Should p and the interests of the ruling class be not in a causal relationship to each other, but one of correlation – both being caused by a systemic factor, e.g. residing in the economic conditions – critique of ideology can be employed, but it will then be used to explain how those economic conditions affect the genesis, rather than functionally explaining the correlation between p and the ruling class’ interests. In other cases, functional explanations of ideologies can better be reformulated as additional sociological theses for genetic explanations, rather than identifying both with each other. If p is traced back to being of use to the existing order, that claim may rather be formulated as a thesis about social restrictions and incentives supporting the genesis and spread of such convictions. p being useful for the existing order is then not causal for the genesis of p, but p could only come to exist and spread because abstract costs (e.g. social sanctions) for holding a conviction are lower if p is useful for the existing order or at least in conformity with it.

Our Position

We support interdisciplinary critique of ideology as an empirical scientific method which attempts to explain people’s actions – and by that central phenomena of a society – by uncovering factors that systematically lead to deficient convictions. The empirical character of this procedure is essential to get to the most valid theories possible that not only help understanding both society and history but also produce the means by which progressive politics can be forced and which can by means of its institutions as well as education prevent the genesis of deficient convictions blocking social advancement.


1. This means here that employing the best available knowledge does not produce a sufficient reason to assume it as true and competing convictions can be argued for better.

2. “Motivating” is here used to not take position on whether or not genetic explanations of convictions have to be done casuistic – identifying only causes but not reasons. Reasons of an individual for having a convictions however are necessary for a genetic explanation formulated as a rational explanation, assuming the individual is rational, even if that means a rational individual can come to hold “reasonable” convictions under his circumstances that nonetheless have to be characterised as false. 

3. Convictions of the second order are such that have those of the first order as their content. Convictions of the first order are those that concern not other convictions but worldly facts. 

4. A theory falls under the verdict of “model Platonism” when it buys it’s sturdiness by a lack of relating to empirical reality, e.g. economic theories of ideology that rule out a priori that any other factors than economic ones can affect systematically deficient convictions. Here, the dogma of the singular effectiveness of economy takes the place of an empirical observation whether there may be systematically effective factors and of what kind they may be.

5. Between effective factors and the deficiency of the convictions motivated by these factors there can only be a connection in the claims about likelihood, statistic relationships and normally hypotheses.