Geertz on Ideology

I just re-read Clifford Geertz's essay "Ideology as a Cultural System." There's a lot in there supporting the Eric Voegelin's and Michael Oakeshott's understanding of ideology: They arise when a coherent worldview that had sustained a culture cracks, and people begin to desperately search for a way to make sense of things.

But Geertz lacks Voegelin's broad historical vision, and therefore thinks this loss of coherence that ideology attempts to patch over is permanent: we will all be ideologues from now on, forever. But civilizations have declined before, and ideologies arose in their wake. And then, one day, a new civilization-forming worldview coalesces, and the ideologies, mostly, disappear.


  1. Can we say then that ideology is a crutch, in a *good* way? Yes a crutch is clumsy and inflexible compared with living flesh and bone, but it's a lot better than dragging ourselves along on the ground if we have a broken leg. And as you say, in time our wounds will heal. Until then - hooray for ideology!

  2. Yes, Crosbie, reading Geertz is definitely making me think my position through again on this topic. Perhaps I am like the physical therapist who keeps pushing the patient to get off the crutch and start walking on his own legs.


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