Friday, December 03, 2004

Ideologies v. Paradigms

I got the glimpse of a TV history show. The little section I saw began with a very interesting comment. It mentioned that the primary reason Hitler thought that Germany would beat the US in war was because the US had a mixed race army. A superior Aryan army would beat a bastardized army. Hitler, of course, was a Hegelian, who believed that the world spirit was in a transition from Judeo/Christian paradigm to a new Aryan/Scientific paradigm.

Hitler's dismissing the US Army is a great example of ways that prejudices lead people astray.

Sadly, this insightful historical observation was followed by a remark that claimed that Hitler was an example of why foreign policies should not be based on ideals (ideology).

The idea that foreign policy should be driven by a nation's interests and not ideals is one of the mantras of modern academia. Leo Strauss would say, there is a multiplicity of ideals; therefore, foreigh policy should be driven by the nation's self interests. Strauss failed to realize that the multiplicity of interests is even more problematic than the multiplicity of ideals.

I didn't see the talking head's name, but this arrogant attitude in the academia that all ideals are inherently flawed is one of the worst follies of modern thinkers. Hitler's problem was that his mushed up mind was full with flawed ideals...not that he had ideals.

Anyway, one thing that I noticed of late is that writers often refer to beliefs of people on the right as "ideologies" and those on the left as "paradigms." This is a subtle trick. For example, you would refer to the beliefs of "right wing kooks" like Milton Friedman as an ideology, and the beliefs of "left wing intellectuals" like Noam Chomsky as paradigms.

This is an interesting trend. So I thought I would take a second and look at the difference between ideologies and paradigms. An ideology is a set system of beliefs. Idividuals can adhere to an ideology. Distinct ideologies are often definable. We can easily see a world with different people holding different ideologies.

Paradigms are shiftier. Paradigms are essentially the entire underlying thought system of a culture. Paradigms include the paradoxes and conflicts that drive the culture.

When right wing nut cases like Milton Friedman speak, they are ideologists. When deep thinkers like much lauded, acclaimed (yet humble) Noam Chomsky utters sentences, he is shifting paradigms.

de Tracy's term "ideology" gives a feeling of raving lunacy, while Kuhn's "paradigm" seems to give a feeling of inclusiveness. It is interesting to see how, when and where the different terms get used.

PS: Hitler's decision to declare war on the US after Pearl Harbor had nothing to do with ideals. Germany was already in a state of total war. The US declaring war against Germany was pretty much given.

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