Skip to main content Accessibility help

Decline of Ideology: A Dissent and an Interpretation*

  • Joseph La Palombara (a1)


With increasing frequency and self-assurance, the scientific objectivity of American social science is proclaimed by some of its prominent practitioners. Various explanations are offered for the onset of social science's Golden Age, but central to most of them is the claim that modern social science has managed to resolve Mannheim's Paradox, namely, that in the pursuit of the truth the social scientist himself is handicapped by the narrow focus and distortions implicit in ideological thought. Presumably, the social scientist can now probe any aspect of human organization and behavior as dispassionately as physical scientists observe the structure of the atom or chemical reactions. For this reason, it is claimed by some that the ideologically liberated social scientists—at least in the United States—can expect to be co-opted into the Scientific Culture, or that segment of society that is presumably aloof from and disdainful toward the moralistic speculations and the tender-heartedness of the literary intellectuals.

The behaviorial “revolution” in political science may have run its course, but it has left in its wake both obscurantist criticisms of empiricism, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, an unquestioning belief in “science.” Quite often the latter belief is not merely anti-historical and anti-philosophical but also uncritical about the extent to which empirical observations can be colored by the very orientation to values that one seeks to control in rigorous empirical research.

The claims of modern social scientists are greatly buttressed by the views of Talcott Parsons.



Hide All

Research for this paper was made possible in part by assistance from the Office of International Programs of Michigan State University, and in part by support from the Stimson Fund of Yale University. In gathering information on the Italian situation, I had highly valuable assistance from Gloria Pirzio Ammassari, of Rome.



Hide All

1 This term is used by Geertz, Clifford in “Ideology as a Cultural System,” in Apter, D. E. (ed.), Ideology and Discontent (London, 1964), pp. 48 ff. Although the present paper was prepared in draft before that volume appeared, I have benefitted immensely in its revision from Geertz's perceptive essay. I have also profited from suggestions offered by my colleagues, Wendell Bell, James Mau and Sidney Tarrow; and particularly from William Delany, whose analytical critique of papers on this subject delivered at the 1964 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association (“The Role of Ideology: A Summation”) is itself a most insightful view of the problem.

2 I do not mean to suggest that American sociology speaks with one voice on this subject. There is, on the one hand, the claim of scientific objectivity and objection to the intrusion of values into research. But, on the other hand, there is also growing concern with the “global” questions, a retreat from the scientism implicit in some functionalist formulations, and increased demands for the need to engage in ethically relevant social research. See, for example, Berger, Peter, Invitation to Sociology (Garden City, N. Y. 1963); Stein, Maurice and Vidich, Arthur (eds.), Sociology on Trial (Englewood Cliffs, N. J., 1963).

It is also worth recalling that Max Weber, himself, to whom many claimants of the “scientific objectivity” of social science often turn for support, would never, in my view, have gone as far as some of our contemporaries in his brief for empirical science. As I read him, he considers a science of culture to be both “meaningless” and “senseless.” See Weber, Max, On the Methodology of the Social Sciences. Translated and edited by Shils, E. A. and Finch, H. A. (Glencoe, Illinois, 1949), pp. 49112, and esp. part III. It is also possible to read Weber on the use of values in teaching as simply a strategy to be followed by scholars on the left who, in an authoritarian Bismarckian society, would be permitted to voice in the classroom only the values of the “Establishment.” See, ibid., pp. 1–47.

3 Parsons, Talcott, “The Point of View of the Author,” in Black, Max, (ed.), The Social Theories of Talcott Parsons (Englewood Cliffs, N. J. 1962), pp. 313–315, 360362.

4 Andrew Hacker, “Sociology and Ideology,” in ibid., pp. 289–310. In my view, Hacker raises most of the relevant questions about Parsons' seeming political “conservatism,” and he underscores as well the essentially ideological reactions of Parsons to the work of someone like C. Wright Mills. Parsons' response to Hacker is to acknowledge that he (Parsons) is an “egghead,” and a “liberal” whose views of American society and the functioning of the American political system are normatively unacceptable to Hacker and to “… a good many other American intellectuals, especially those who think more or less in Marxist terms ….” Ibid., p. 350.

5 One exception would be Otto Kirchheimer, who was greatly concerned about the possible consequence of, say, the emergence of the “catch-all” political party in a country like the West German Republic. See his, The Transformation of the European Party System,” in LaPalombara, Joseph and Weiner, Myron (eds.), Political Parties and Political Development (Princeton, 1966). Cf. his, The Waning of Opposition in Parliamentary Regimes,” Social Research 24 (1957), pp. 127156. I am uncertain as to whether what Kirchheimer describes is a decline of ideology, but it is note-worthy that he was one of those who didn't think that what he saw was “good” for Western societies.

6 Mannheim, Karl, Ideology and Utopia (London, 1936), pp. 175176. Mannheim's second chapter in this volume, pp. 49–96, from which the volume's title is derived, is of course the classic statement of the origins of the term “ideology,” its particular and general formulations, its relationship to Marxism and it catalytic impact on the sociology of knowledge.

7 The best recent short review of the literature that I have seen is Spengler, Joseph J., “Theory, Ideology, Non-Economic Values, and Politico-Economic Development,” in Ralph Braibanti and Spengler, J. J. (eds.), Tradition, Values and Socio-Economic Development (Durham, 1961), pp. 356, and esp. Part V. Spengler himself opts for a some-what pejorative definition which hinges on values that directly or indirectly impede a “rational” approach to the ends-means problem in economic development: see pp. 31–32.

8 Garstin, L. H., Each Age Is a Dream: A Study in Ideologies (New York, 1954), p. 3. I recognize that my usage here is quite broad and that it may be typical of what my friend, Giovanni Sartori, scores as the American tendency to assign to the concept, ideology, a very wide meaning, “without limits.” Sartori argues that such definitions are “heuristically sterile and operationally fruitless” (personal communication to the author, November 16, 1965). Sartori may or may not be right; my point here is simply to break away from the extremely narrow definition implied in the “decline of ideology” literature.

9 Much of the burden of Geertz's essay, op. cit., is to alert the social scientist to the great need for viewing ideology within a framework of “symbolic action.” See pp. 57 ff.

10 I refer here primarily to the following: Aron, Raymond, “Fin de l'age ideologique?” in Adorno, T. W. and Dirks, W. (eds.), Sociologica (Frankfurt, 1955), pp. 219233; Aron, R., The Opium of the Intellectuals (New York, 1962); Parsons, Talcott, “An Approach to the Sociology of Knowledge,” Transactions of the Fourth World Congress of Sociology (Milan and Stresa, 1959), pp. 2549; Shils, Edward, “The End of Ideology?Encounter 5 (11, 1955), 5258; Lipset, S. M., Political Man (Garden City, 1960), pp. 403417; Bell, Daniel; The End of Ideology (Glencoe, Ill., 1960), esp. pp. 369375; and Lipset, S. M., “The Changing Class Structure and Contemporary European Politics,” Daedalus 93 (Winter, 1964), 271303.

11 Bell, op. cit., pp. 370, 371.

12 Lipset, Political Man, op. cit., p. 403.

13 Aron, The Opium of the Intellectuals, op. cit.

14 Lipset, Political Man, op. cit., p. 407.

15 Lipset, “The Changing Class Structure …” op. cit., p. 272.

16 Lipset, Political Man, op. cit., p. 406.

17 A number of colleagues who were good enough to read this manuscript urge that the empirical evidence challenging the “decline” thesis should not be limited to Italy. Roger Masters and Giovanni Sartori point out, for example, that the U. S. would provide additional supportive evidence. Nils Elvander notes that Tingsten himself, in his analyses of the Swedish Social Democratic Party, became “caught up in the intense struggle against the ‘dead’ ideology of the party, and when the battle was over he went on declaring ideology dead, not being able to see that it was revitalized again and again” (personal communication to the author, December 19, 1964). I am aware of this additional evidence and simply note that the Italian case is used here as an illustrative rather than exhaustive example.

18 Covilla, Paolo, Galli, Giorgio, Pedrazzi, Luigi, Prandi, Alfonso and Serra, Franco, “I Partiti Italiani tra il 1958 e il 1963.” Il Mulino, 12 (04, 1963), p. 323.

19 Tamburrano, G., “Lo Sviluppo del capitalismo e la crisi teorica dei comunisti italiani,” Tempi Moderni, 5 (07–September, 1962), p. 22.

20 See the editorial, I Problemi del Mezzogiorno nei Congressi del PCI e del PSI,” Cronache Meridionali, 4 (01-February, 1957), pp. 5758. The struggle of the P. C. I. to make the necessary ideological, strategic and tactical changes in its approach to the Italian South is perceptively and exhaustively analyzed by Tarrow, Sidney, Peasant Communism in Southern Italy. Ph.D. dissertation manuscript, Berkeley, University of California, 1965.

21 “I Problemi del Mezzogiorno …,” op. cit., p. 59. Cf. Amendola, Giorgio, “I Comunisti per la rinascita del Mezzogiorno,” Cronache Meridionali 4 (05, 1957), p. 279. See, also, P.C.I., Tesi e documenti del Congresso del PCI, (Rome, 1963), p. 138.

22 Alinovi, Abdon, “Problemi della politica comunista nel Mezzogiorno,” Critica Marxista, 1 (07-August, 1963), 48.

23 Togliatti, Palmiro, Il Partito Communista Italiano (Rome, 1961), p. 55; Gramsci, Antonio, “Alcuni temi della questione meridionale,” in Antologia degli scritti (Rome, 1963), pp. 51, 69.

24 Tamburrano, op. cit., p. 23.

25 Ibid., p. 69. See the important statement by Bruno Tentin, one of the most important of the party's young leaders, intellectuals and ideological architects, Tendenze attuali del capitalismo italiano,” in Tendenze del capitalismo italiano: Atti del convegno economico dell'Istituto Gramsci (Rome, 1962) p. 43 ff.

26 Togliatti, op. cit., p. 131.

27 See “Problemi del dibattito tra partiti comunisti,” ibid., p. 16.

28 The Italian Communists have pushed polycentrism very hard indeed, and do not react well to Soviet attempts to water it down. See, L'Unità, 11 22, 1961, p. 11. On this general topic, see the excellent analysis by Blackmer, Donald L. M., “The P.C.I, and the International Communist Movement,” Massachusetts Institute of Technology, mimeographed.

29 Malfatti, Franco M., “La Democrazia Cristiana nelle sue affermazioni programmatiche dalla sua ricostruzione ad oggi,” in Il Convegno di San Pellegrino: Atti del I Convegno di Studi della D. C. (Rome, 1962), pp. 325341. For examples of the early, postwar ideological statements of the party, see, for example, DeGasperi, Alcide, “Le Lineo programmatiche della D. C.,” in I Congressi Nazionali della Democrazia Cristiana (Rome, 1959), p. 23; Bozzo, Gianni Baget, “Il Dilemma della D.C. e del suo prossimo Congresso,” Cronache Sociali Vol. 3 (04 30, 1949), p. 17; Achille Ardigó, “Classi sociali e sintesi politica,” in Il Convegno di San Pellegrino …,” op. cit., pp. 135 ff. It should be noted that the periodical Cronache Sociali, cited above, was the most important publication for those in the D.C. who, in the early postwar years, attempted to give the party a clear-cut left-wing ideological cast. Until recently, full collections of the magazine were extremely rare. The major articles from it, however, are now available in a two-volume work, Cronache Sociali (Rome, 1961).

30 Malfatti, Franco M., “L'Unità della D.C. e il problema delle tendenze,” Cronache Sociali, 3 (02 15, 1949), p. 15.

31 Ardigò, op. cit., p. 145.

32 Ibid., pp. 155–165.

33 Exactly how much of the West is to be included in the generalizations about ideology's decline is never made too clear. Lipset, for example, is careful to hedge his European generalizations by frequently excepting Italy and France. My point would be that if these two countries are excepted, as they should be, one can scarcely pretend to speak with justification about European trends. See Lipset, “The Changing Class Structure …,” op. cit., passim. Moreover, there is also rather persuasive evidence that Lipset's generalizations are not currently valid, if they ever were, for a country like West Germany. See H. P. Secher, “Current Ideological Emphasis in the Federal Republic of Germany,” a paper delivered at the 1964 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, Chicago, September 9-12, 1964. Note particularly the extensive, German-language bibliography on this subject contained in the footnotes of this paper. In any event, the burden of Secher's argument is that German ideology is on the upswing, both in the SPD and in the Catholic sectors of the CDU/CSU.

34 See Mannheim, op. cit., Ch. 4, “The Utopian Mentality.” Mannheim notes that, “Ideologies are the situationally transcendent ideas which never succeed de facto in the realization of their projected content …. Utopias too transcend the social situation …. But they are not ideologies, i.e., they are not ideologies in the measure and in so far as they succeed through counteractivity in transforming the existing historial reality into one more in accord with their own conceptions” (pp. 176, 177). Mannheim later refines the definition of Utopia, trying to tie it to the issue of incongruence from “the point of view of a given social order which is already in existence.” Needless to add, it is ideology's decline that Mannheim applauds, and the decline of utopia that he greatly fears because the latter, he says, would make man nothing more than a “thing” unable to shape or understand history: ibid., p. 236.

35 See my (ed.), Bureaucracy and Political Development (Princeton, 1963), Ch. 2; and my Public Administration and Political Change: A Theoretical Overview,” in Press, Charles and Arian, Alan (eds.), Empathy and Ideology: Knowledges of Administrative Innovation (forthcoming).

36 Meynaud, Jean, “Apatia e responsibilità dei cittadini,” Tempi Moderni, 5 (04–June, 1962), p. 33.

37 William Delany, “The End of Ideology: A Summation,” op. cit., p. 16.

38 Apter, op. cit., pp. 37–38.

39 See Zvorykin, A. A., “The Social Sciences in the U.S.S.R.: Achievements and Trends,” International Social Science Journal, 16 (No. 4, 1964), pp. 588602. Roucek, J. S., “The Soviet Brand of Sociology,” International Journal of Comparative Sociology, 1 (1961), pp. 211219.

40 Carbonaro, Antonio and Gallino, Luciano, “Sociologia e ideologie ufficiali,” Tempi Moderni, 4 (01–March, 1961), p. 31.

41 Matteucci, Nicola, “Pensare in prospettiva,” Tempi Moderni, 4 (04-June, 1961), p. 32. Cf. the important editorial, “Valori e miti della società italiana dell'ultimo ventennio, 1940–1960,” ibid. (October–December, 1961), p. 22.

42 Guiducci, Roberto, Socialismo e verità (Turin, 1956), pp. 23 ff. Cf. Arfè, Gaetano, “La Responsibilità degli intellettuali,” Tempi Moderni, 4 (01–March, 1961), pp. 3132; Prandstraller, Paolo, Intellettuali e democrazia (Rome, 1963).

43 Jarme, Henri, “Le Mythe politique du socialisme democratique,” Cahiers Internationaux de Sociologie, 33 (07–December, 1962), p. 29.

44 Giovanni Sartori, “European Political Parties: The Case of Polarized Pluralism,” in J. LaPalombara and M. Weiner, op. cit.

45 Geertz, op. cit., p. 51.

* Research for this paper was made possible in part by assistance from the Office of International Programs of Michigan State University, and in part by support from the Stimson Fund of Yale University. In gathering information on the Italian situation, I had highly valuable assistance from Gloria Pirzio Ammassari, of Rome.

Decline of Ideology: A Dissent and an Interpretation*

  • Joseph La Palombara (a1)


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed