Considerations on Green Political Thought - A new, ecological ideology?

Bachelor Thesis 2005 26 Pages

Politics - Political Theory and the History of Ideas Journal




1st part - Ideology as a Concept

2nd part - Keys to Understanding Green Thought

3rd part - The Distinctiveness of Green Ideology

Conclusion: Unity in Diversity and a New Approach

Bibliography and References


The idea of a Green political ideology is a relative newcomer to political theory. Even though Green writings have developed rapidly since the early 1970s, the issue of Green ideology has remained on the whole much neglected. It was not until the mid-1990s that the question of Green ideology emerged fully into theoretical discourse, some scholars still contest the existence of a separate and independent Green political ideology.

But is Green thought really an ideology? Is it not rather an accumulation of various different, often contradictory elements of thought gathered from a range of other ideologies?

The question which will be considered in this essay is in how far the claim of a separate Green ideology is actually justified and what the term “Green” stands for, if it concerns merely questions of ecology or goes beyond this narrow definition. In order to do this, this study will begin by providing the reader with a number of fundamental considerations concerning ideology, including structural and practical formations. This part will most fundamentally try to answer the question “what is ideology”. These reflections will be followed in part two by a broad outline of Green thought in which a number of fundamental assumptions will be discussed, which will be expanded on in part three. A conclusion will be drawn on a number of contextual and normative considerations, resulting from these assumptions and more detailed aspects will be discussed to clarify that in fact Green political thought should be seen as a distinct ideology in its own right, addressing a wide range of social concerns having permeated into larger political discourse.

Ideology as a Concept

The question “what is ideology?” has been a long standing issue in studies of politics since Karl Marx’s[1] claim that ideology was little more than a supportive framework of capitalist rule, “ruling ideas”, which are “nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships” used to legitimise positions of hegemony[2]. According to Marx, bourgeois ideology would equal a ‘false consciousness’ resting on illusions, while proletarian beliefs are nevertheless not illusory since as class ideology, unlike bourgeois ideology, they arguably represent their class-interest. This original Marxist idea of class ideology has in its consequentiality largely been rejected by later thinkers who, like Pareto, have attributed a much more important “non-rational” interpretation to ideology[3].

One major problem arising during the study of ideologies is that, even though found among the most important terms in modern politics, it clearly remains one of the most complex and debatable political ideas, being invested not only with reflective and critical thought but also with strong emotions. Therefore various approaches have been produced, many of them nevertheless owing a great deal to Marx: very broadly speaking, most scholars agree that ideologies constitute various systems of political thinking, more or less rigid or loose, deliberated or unintended, through which individuals or groups construct an understanding of their surrounding social and political world in order to act upon it[4]. One can therefore aptly assert that ideology manifests itself in everyday life, through written and spoken elaboration, as the general underlying framework of most, if not all political opinion and action within society[5].

This study shall, broadly following Michael Freeden’s modular considerations[6], approach ideology as constituting clusters of partially deliberate, partially unintentional beliefs reflecting people’s understanding of their political environment rather than simply a tool of dominant classes: being of a descriptive and explanatory nature, they are attempting to indicate particular visions of how things are, how they came to be, how they should be, and how society shall get to that point.

In this undertaking, ideologies accord particular meaning and legitimacy upon individual constituent concepts by arranging them in an internally coherent and logical manner. Through interaction with other concepts arranged in an ideology these individual constituent concepts have the potential to drastically assume different meanings – the socialist concept of “community” refers to something drastically different from the conservative or the Green concept of “community”[7].

Different ideologies further engage in mutual competition over the ‘correct’ interpretations of constituent political concepts as well as over the interconnected interpretative systems that those concepts form. This mutual competition provides the structural basis for political agitation. Nevertheless, it would be wrong to think that ideologies or their constituting concepts forcibly need to be ‘right’ at all, the term ideology can equally be applied to sets of ideas and concepts that may to a considerable degree be ‘false’ as political concepts have contested and eventually indeterminate meanings and contain certain values on which agreements are fundamentally impossible. Those who accept an ideology hold its constituent beliefs to be true, or at least not to be wrong, because they are part of a wider ideological framework conferring context and legitimacy upon them[8]. Ideologies are therefore ‘decontesting’ mechanisms conferring cultural and conventional legitimacy on particularly narrow understandings of the political concepts they employ. The resulting patterns of concepts forming ideologies are arrangements of core, adjacent and peripheral concepts; non static or predetermined, which may change over time or even between individual adherents of one and the same ideology.

Ideological cores cannot be composed of a single concept, but are rather composed of clusters of mutually interacting and impacting concepts, who themselves are supported and interpreted by surrounding adjacent concepts that in turn are bordered and strengthened by more peripheral concepts. The existence of these multiple layers of mutually interacting beliefs is the key to the pluralist nature of any political ideology and in our case the diversity found within Green thought[9]. In their relative diversity, all ideologies tend to assume a certain universalism for their claims by arguing that the answer to a certain question has to be as indicated by them, while deviation from that answer is wrong and even potentially dangerous. In this universalism, ideologies tend to mix rational and emotional arguments relatively freely; some ideologies may indeed contain strong irrational elements even though complete irrationality is inconceivable as it would render an ideology opaque. Consequently, logic is not always the most prominent characteristic of ideologies, as some manifest little logical cohesion and will not be distracted by anything but evident demonstrations of illogic[10].


[1] We shall simplify Marx’s considerations on ideology since Karl Marx made different statements about ideology at different points in his life.

[2] Marx; Engels, 1974

[3] Plamenatz, 1970

[4] Plamenatz, 1970

[5] Ibid.

[6] See Michael Freeden, Ideologies and Political Theory: A Conceptual Approach, published by Oxford University Press, 1996

[7] Freeden, 1996

[8] Ibid.

[9] Freeden: 1995

[10] Freeden: 1996


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Considerations Green Political Thought




Title: Considerations on Green Political Thought - A new, ecological ideology?