The German Greens - A Modular Ideology ?

Seminar Paper 2005 10 Pages

Politics - Environmental Policy


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. Political Ideologies
2.1. Ideology – A Definition
2.2. Modular Ideology – A Definition

3. The Greens – A Modular Ideology
3.1. Is there a Green Ideology at all?
3.2. Different Perceptions of Green Ideology
3.2.1. Political Praxis – An answer?
3.2.2. Marxism?
3.2.3. New Politics?

4. Conclusion

5. Bibliography

6. Addendum - Disambiguation

1. Introduction

In the early eighties members of the newly founded party The Greens believed that no new ideology was needed on the whole political agenda, but a new realism. In their new basic-programme of 2002, it reads: ‘we link together a circle of basic-values, not an ideology’ (Alliance90/The Greens 2002:7). The persistent refusal of The Greens to acknowledge their own ideology makes search for finding it especially challenging (Talshir 2002: viii).

Until the early 1990s, Political analysis has not concentrated much on the finding of a “Green Ideology” or rather “An Ideology of Green Parties”. It has been reduced to an environmental project in most, if not all cases. Only recent research, namely by Dr. Gayil Talshir of The Hebrew University Jerusalem has shown approaches that seem to underline the proper character of a Green Ideology, a Modular Ideology.

This subject matter is in the eyes of the author vital to understanding any (political) output by the party Alliance90/The Greens.

The question that is to be dealt with concerns only parts of the whole concept of a Green Ideology. There will be no detailed analysis of party history and its grassroots, or even a comparison of Green Ideology with that of other political streams. Merely the question how a Green Ideology could be constructed is tried to be answered.

To be able of coming closer to an answer in the question, the following steps will be taken. First a definition of Ideology is given. The main part will deal with the structure or framework of a so called Modular Ideology, the most probable answer in the search for a Green Ideology. In order to bring it to shape, it will be necessary to compare it with other conceptions of Green Ideology. In the conclusion the results will be revised and further questions of research are put up.

2. Political Ideologies

In order to be able to analyse the concept of political ideologies, it is indispensable to take a look at the different definitions of the word and concept of ideology. Most analysts of ideologies only looked at history and the emergence of certain political ideas. Therefore some sort of methodology is needed to be competent to evaluate or even consider an ideology. (Talshir 2002: xix) The centre of attention will be ascribed to paradigms which focus their attention both on the practitioners and the analysts’ point of view, as will be shown in part three.

2.1. Ideology – A Definition

Obviously there is a large amount of definitions available; consequently I picked out a few. One question that wandered around Teun A. van Dijk’s mind was whether the word ideology can be defined at all. “In sum, (…), the various versions of the concept of ideology are simply the scholarly constructs of competing theories” (van Dijk 1998: 1) This might be a major fact to be considered while searching for a definition. The Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, speaks of a “visionary theorizing, a systematic body of concepts and the integrated assertions, theories and aims that constitute a socio-political program” (Merriam-Webster’s 1997: 575). Das Politlexikon defines ideology slightly different and more detailed. “Im politischen Sinne dienen I. zur Begründung und Rechtfertigung politischen Handelns. I. sind daher immer eine Kombination von a) bestimmten Weltanschauungen (…) und b) eine Kombination von bestimmten Interessen und Absichten (…) I. sind wesentlicher Teil politischer Orientierung; sie sind sowohl Notwendigkeit als auch Begrenzung politischen Handelns“ (Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung 2005). When one aims at participating in the political panorama, an ideology therefore is a necessity. Given this information one might come to the conclusion that ideology is a “political-action oriented plan” (Talshir 1998: 1). An ideology therefore might be proposed to justify ones political actions. “The simplest definition is probably given by a translation of the German Weltanschauung” (Robertson 1993). This means that the ideology also requires to be framed by a worldview in order to agree on certain values and of course the interests and intentions of the creator of the proposal that are to be set on the political agenda.

Ideologies are not static structures; but distinctive configurations of political concepts (Talshir 2002: xix).

2.2. Modular Ideology – A Definition

The thesis of this paper is that a new type of ideology has emerged with the surfacing of Green Parties on the political scene. The Greens are more than just a party, they are a “compound collective political actor” (Talshir 1998: 8). Each of the attributes given to The Greens characterizes them and makes the connection to a modular ideology easy to see. Keeping in mind that The Greens have denied the use of an ideology, one must come to the conclusion that the modular ideology that is set up here is only an “analytical construction” (Talshir 1998: 8).

The modular ideology is itself characterized by two major modules. One is the ideological framework. Underneath it, all different kinds of sub-ideologies are united. All collective members in the compound agree on each others opinions and propositions, only as long as this are agreed upon, the modular ideology is secured. The “structure of the modular ideology is double-layered: an ideational frame which includes the fundamental principles, and subideologies which coexist within the ideational frame. The tension among the subideologies, as well as the contrast between this ideology and the established ideologies of the ruling parties would thus be constitutive of the modular ideology, reflecting the phenomenon of being a compound political actor” (Talshir 1998: 8). Talshir outlines the complexity of the modular ideology. Only by using this tool, the development of The Greens’ formation and transformation of ideology can be explored. Other models might take one of the sub-ideologies and denote it to be the entire ideology, or even stating the idea that there is no green ideology at all (Talshir 1998: 8). Therefore the following text will examine how a few other models may perhaps identify a misconceptualised green ideology.

3. The Greens – A Modular Ideology

3.1. Is there a Green Ideology at all?

When The Greens were finally accounted for indeed having an ideology at the turn of the decade 1990, solely the environmental project was looked at, which was to be their ideology, but this couldn’t be the whole make-up of their ideology, because it makes the use of democratic, and liberal policies necessary. I would most certainly adjudge The Greens a visionary theorizing for they stated themselves in their opening statement of their 1980 Basic Programme: “We are the alternative to the traditional parties. We grew out of a coalition of alternative groups and parties” (Die Grünen 1980: 1). This can’t be realised, when solely the environmental perspective is looked at. The rest of the ideological framework is always needed, where the environmental subideology is only one aspect. Obviously, the respect for nature is the central core in the ideology. Many liberal and socialist ideas are incorporated into the fundamental critique of modern advanced industrial societies, thus, they are still not fully integrated. There are major differences between the “theory-led and practice-oriented political analyses” (Talshir 1998: 2), but is the point on which ideology is build. (whole paragraph: Talshir 1998: 1-2)

3.2. Different Perceptions of Green Ideology

3.2.1. Political Praxis – An answer?

“In ‘Green Political Thought’ Dobson reconstructs ecologism as a comprehensive ideology in which the philosophical basis (limits to growth), the ethical perspective (ecocentrism), the social vision (a sustainable society), and the political strategy (radical transformation, not reformism) provide a coherent and cohesive ideology” (Talshir 1998: 2) The family of ideologies named ecologism shows how a green ideology might be termed. Still this doesn’t show how The Greens emerged, their upcoming is dated to the times of wide social protest, where a complete new form of politics has been set in motion. Ideology meant for them the embodiment of

conservativism, the way that each established party somehow shared the same concepts and “differing only on questions of redistribution” and “the malfunctions of the prevailing party system which they were determined to transform” (Talshir 1998: 3). Since the members of The Greens did not come from one single background, they never came to a mutual agreement on their worldviews, which led to “action-oriented, issue-led politics” (Talshir 1998: 3). Still, the array of issues is wide open and filled with all problems that the modern advanced industrial society brings about.

3.2.2. Marxism?

One concept that arose in the sphere of analysts is that of the green project simply being modern and updated Marxism, spiced up with an outlook on ecological problems. It was argued that the belief of The Greens was to be defining new and alternative politics. Still it seemed to some analysts that green ideology would be made up of Marxist ideas, since many greens came from a leftist background. “Green ideology in all its variants has been defined by the attempt to develop a theoretically grounded synthesis of ecological and socialist politics. Put differently, green ideologues aimed to reconstruct Marxian socialism” (Markovits 1993: 115), thus it appears that “reducing the Green project to an internal transformation of Social Democratic politics marginalises the impact of the Greens on the party-system and political culture as a whole” (Talshir 1998: 6). Mostly, the ex-Marxist ideas transformed its prior concepts completely. Thus, one needs to take into account that when there are still Marxist ideas left in the green spectrum, they are not the only principal core elements of its ideology, keeping in mind the feminist struggles, the peace movement, “the value-conservative and radical-democrat voices” (Talshir 1998: 6).

3.2.3. New Politics?

The emergence of the Greens as a compound collective political actor transformed the individual, environmental and social battles into a political struggle concerning the meaning of politics itself. Indeed, “New politics, as it came to be known, was characterised by alternative forms of political action, including demonstrations, sit-ins, campaigns (…)” (Müller-Rommel 1990: 209). The emergence of the new middle classes brought with it new political demands. Six major themes encompass the Ideology of New Politics of which the Greens are a working example as Thomas Poguntke describes it in his book Alternative Politics. Ecology, individualism, participitory / direct democracy, Leftism, Third World, unilateral disarmament are these themes (Poguntke 1993: 5). The author is using the word ideology without putting up a framework or a major conceptualisation behind these ideas. Still he is trying to prove his thesis by seeking to show “how they fit into the model of the pyramid of needs and postindustrial value change” (Talshir 1998: 7). “Ecology is one of the most prominent themes of New Politics. The link with the underlying causes of the New Politics is quite evident. First, an intact environment caters to aesthetic needs. Second, persons who are less concerned about the functioning of the economy are likely to shift their attention to nonmaterial problems like the protection of nature” (Poguntke 1993: 36)

This quote that Talshir picked out from Poguntkes book exemplifies remarkably the use “of the pyramid of needs to political ideas” (Talshir 1998: 7).[1] Nevertheless, it makes quite a bit more sense to see that the mass-mobilisation for environmental movements was connected with the fear of death, keeping in mind the race to arms, or global ecological disasters, rather than just a few people, who were free to do anything, when money, defining their economical state, was not an issue. Where did ‘protection of nature’ actually aim at? Most certainly far beyond the issue itself, the question of human-nature relation was considered, where a conceptual change was aimed at. There are many questions regarding an ideology that are indeed left open, when New Politics is discussed. There is no framework holding the six mentioned themes together, no evolvement can be distinguished, which an ideology consisting of the six themes must certainly have, considering the dynamics of the themes by themselves and in the whole. Again a concept of green ideology does not capture the whole picture. “Most important, however, is that the co-existence of fundamentally different analyses of the same ideology suggests that it is more complex than each approach on its own suggests” (Talshir 1998: 7).

4. Conclusion

The Modular Ideology is certainly the most probable answer in the search a green ideology, for it allows to capture the green project in its whole depth, rather than just looking at the environmental perspective.

In the course of this paper different conceptions of green ideology have been looked at. While The Greens themselves regarded the concept of ideology as the embodiment of what they were set to transform, obviously they were denying themselves from a thorough ideological discussion. Analysts who saw Leftist ideas as the whole picture were actually only seeing part of it. The New Politics did not provide a framework for the different themes it set up. All of these thought of the concept of ideology as something stationary. Once it is put up, it never changes. But that is what happens within the green party. All the different currents interact and thereby and rethink their own worldview. The modular ideology also resembles the problems that come along in the modern advanced industrial societies. The Greens go far beyond simple issue-led politics by addressing all issues that go further than just economic interests. For any analysis of The Greens it becomes essential to differentiate between political praxis and theory and at the same time look at the interconnections. (Talshir 1998: 8,9) One answer that this paper could not achieve is that of how the modular ideology is filled with all the different kinds of sub-ideologies. This might be a relevant for further research.

5. Bibliography (in alphabetical order)

Alliance 90/The Greens 2002, The Future is green – Party Program and Principles. http://archiv.gruene-partei.de/dokumente/grundsatzprogramm-english.pdf, [23.02.2005]

Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung, from: Schubert/Klein, Das Politlexikon, Bonn 2001: Verlag J.H.W. Dietz. http://www.bpb.de/popup_lemmata.html?guid=YEFPU0, [13.03.2005]

Die Grünen, Basic Programme, Bonn: Die Grünen, 1980.

Lenk, Kurt 1983: article ‘Ideologiebegriffe’, in: Mickel, Wolfgang W. (Hg.): Handlexikon zur Politikwissenschaft (1st edition), München: Ehrenwirth, 207-211

Markovits, A.S. / Gorski, P.S. 1993: The German Left, Cambridge: Polity Press

Maslow, A.K. 1954: Motivation and personality. New York: Harper and Row

Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Frederick C. Mish (Ed.), 10th Ed., Springfield: Merriam-Webster 1997.

Müller-Rommel, Ferdinand 1990: New Political Movements and “New Politics” Parties in Western Europe, in: Dalton, Russel (Ed.): Changing the Political Order. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Poguntke, Thomas 1993: Alternative Politics, Edinburgh: University Press

Projekt „Sozialwissenschaftliches Grundwissen im Web“ an der Fachhochschule Nordostniedersachsen 2002: Lang, Norbert: Sociolexikon. http://www.sociologicus.de/lexikon/lex_soz/f_j/ideologi.htm, [12.03.2005]

Robertson, David 1993: Modern Politics, Rochester: Europa Publications Limited

Talshir, Gayil 1998: A Green Ideology? The Concept, Misconceptions and a Reconceptualisation: Political Studies Association – Conference Proceedings 1998. http://www.psa.ac.uk/cps/1998\talshir.pdf, [09.03.2005]

Talshir, Gayil 2002: The Political Ideology of Green Parties – From redefining the Politics of Nature to Redefining the Nature of Politics, Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillian

Van Dijk, Teun A. 1998: ideology – a multidisciplinary approach, London: Sage Publications


[1] The pyramid of needs was first described by Maslow, who formulated that once basic needs are satisfied, individuals pursue goals that are related to their spiritual or intellectual life and self-actualization (Maslow 1954), while Inglehart converted the Maslows ideas to the conceptualisation of societies.


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Title: The German Greens - A Modular Ideology ?