Which brings up another point: The idea that people “choose” where they live. It’s never as simple as that. People live where in some proximity to where they work, and they want as much home as they can afford. They’re willing to brave traffic and, yes, even some appalling aesthetics to have the kind of home they want. Once again we see the key contradiction between the contributors to this blog and the vast majority of ordinary Americans. You guys live ideologically. You make choices that gratify you because they represent a fulfillment of ideas you hold. Most people don’t live this way, and to presume that they should is, well, the sheerest snobbery. ~Little Pod, Crunchy Cons

I take it from Little Pod’s dismissive remarks that he thinks that the “vast majority of ordinary Americans” have no ideas to which they hold. They do not choose where they live. Perhaps they don’t choose anything at all. That would be very “self-conscious” indeed. Or if they have any ideas, they don’t actually believe them, because they do not live in such a way as to fulfill them. Only wine-and-cheese granola snobs would be so “self-conscious” as to pursue the fulfillment of their idea of the good life. And it isn’t as if the good life would be similar for everyone. It isn’t as if truth is one or that the same Good is sought by all. It isn’t as if all men possess the same nature and have the same ultimate purpose.

No, apparently the “vast majority” have no choice–they are trapped in a web of desires! The inextricable bonds of dukkha have ensnared them! Alas! Fortunately they have the pneumatikos, John Podhoretz, to enlighten them on occasion while they muddle on in their drab world bereft of ideas.

Note that Podhoretz keeps saying that the “vast majority” of folks seek to get as “much home” as they want. Behind that desire to maximise the size and space of a house, for example, is an idea that says that it is more desirable to have more and to possess as much as one can reasonably afford. To say that this is “normal” is to say that it is a commonplace thing for fallen man to desire, which is also to admit that, at some level, it is probably disordered desire. But leave that aside for a moment. People who live according to that idea, who seek to fulfill that idea in the way they live, have chosen to live that way because they have already accepted the assumptions that go with that sort of life.

Podhoretz accused the “crunchies” of “living ideologically” because they live according to their ideas of the good life. In the context that Podhoretz used the word “ideologically,” Stuart Buck and Caleb Stegall both affirmed that everyone lives “ideologically” in this way. As Caleb put it:

People basically know what they want — they know what they love. If the state, market, culture, etc., make it easy for them to pursue these things as the path of least resistance, so much the better. And as Frederica has pointed out, our society has essentially decided that what we love best of all is to give unrestrained expression to our basest appetites [italics mine-DBL]. It is true, people usually don’t explicitly calculate the naked truth of their decisions — human nature is too clever and deceitful for that. However, as Iris Murdoch put it, “At crucial moments of choice most of the business of choosing is already over.” This is because our choices don’t spring into being ex nihilo, but rather come out of the order or disorder of the soul. The most fundamental ethical question, then, is: What do you love? What does our society love? Everything else — including the choices that we make long before they are outwardly made manifest — flows from that.

An important point should be made here: Podhoretz used the word ideologically in a rather clumsy way that later allowed him to accuse the “crunchies” of being self-conscious ideologues. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. A man who lives according to a vision of the good life does not live ideologically. He lives according to principles, or better still we might say simply that he lives virtuously. There is something programmatic and artificial about living “ideologically” that distinguishes it, and most people are capable of recognising it when they see it. But that is not what the “crunchies” do, and it is not what Podhoretz can be referring to when he applies it to them.

Ideology is one of those words, like fascist (and perhaps conservative!), whose original meaning is so far gone and lost for most people that it would be easier to retire the word and start over with some new term. Nowadays many people, including apparently John Podhoretz, think that it means consciously adhering to ideas or principles (which, apparently, he thinks the vast majority of Americans does not do). If Podhoretz thinks that someone must be able to articulate and defend a philosophy justifying his way of life to be considered as someone who adheres to principles or ideas, he is kidding himself.

Men reproduce or fail to reproduce customs and traditions all the time depending on the meaning these things have for them (this is not to deny that they are shaped and formed by those traditions in ways they do not always notice or know). In myriad ways in everyday life, people consciously adhere to or depart from their traditions. Traditions endure, among other reasons, because they fulfill so many functions that we do not even recognise that we need until they are no longer being provided, but this does not make our adherence to the tradition any less conscious or deliberate. If we cannot articulate a reason why we do something, we nonetheless do understand the reason at some level. This is why the details of everyday life are a vital part of realising the common good. It is by these customs and habits supposedly “unthinkingly” repeated, but in reality consciously embraced, that traditions live or die.

One of the things that distinguishes the ideologue from the man of principle is that the former scarcely has substantial ideas, or when he does have substantial ideas he is perfectly willing to contort, distort and manipulate them to serve those in power. It is in that sense, I believe, that Kirk pejoratively used the term ideology and it was against that kind of ideology that he set up conservatism as the antithesis and antidote. It is, incidentally, one of the principal criticisms of the book against modern conservatism that it has become just this kind of coat-holding lackey for Republican Party interests and has engaged in the contortions and betrayals of real conservatism to facilitate the party’s exercise of power. The “crunchy” idea, as I understand it, is in its simplest form an attempt to correct that perversion of conservatism and to seek the Good once more.

For a little more, I refer my readers back to an old post of mine:

Ideology (originally ideologie in its native French) was the study of ideas as outlined by Comte Destutt de Tracy. Understood this way, Comte de Tracy, a materialist liberal of the old French variety, evidently understood ideology as the study of the intellectual products of biological and material life. In its original meaning, therefore, ideology was completely materialist and reductionist. Not only is he a radical empiricist in his epistemology, and bases all consciousness in sensation, but his conception of the source of ideas would make all intellectual activity a function of material circumstances.

Plainly, no one uses ideology quite in this sense any longer, but it could be and was readily adopted by Marxists, whose model of historical materialism was perfectly in agreement with the more specifically biological and anthropological claim that ideas are the products of material conditions. But for Marxists ideology is the combined form of symbols, ideas, rhetoric and discourse that create legitimacy and justify the exercise of power by the ruling class, and it is a product of the contemporary mode of production as part of the superstructure. It is thus something to be debunked (unless the ruling class is full of self-styled Marxists). It is this politicised form of ideology with which 20th century Westerners are familiar.

Ideology was typically associated first with Marxist revolutionaries, then gradually with any political system (usually non-liberal) that sought to marshal any useful fragments of political thought into a system that legitimised current policy. Non-Marxists came to identify ideology as something that only radicals possessed. Free societies did not produce such reigning ideologies, because such a thing ought to be either redundant or impossible to impose with any degree of success (of course, the advent of mass media might make both of those assumptions doubtful).

Unfortunately, the advent of post-modernism has made ideology something of a buzzword, and not only in academia, and thus this fantastically anachronistic term is now routinely applied to the study of the ancient, late antique, medieval and early modern worlds entirely uncritically. Whether a scholar accepts that material conditions create the “ideology,” many scholars are trapped into using the Marxist language for lack of any alternative that would be comprehensible. Weber’s notion of “ruling ideas” is theoretically much more attractive, not least because it allows for greater complexity and variety in the genesis of ideas, and also because it allows for the possibility that ideas can come from the margins or peripheries to overtake the ideas of any given ruling group. But it is fair to say that using the word ideology has entered the blood of historians and social scientists, and has now also entered political commentary and presidential speechwriting.

When Kirk first wrote The Conservative Mind in 1953, ideology was something principally connected with totalitarian regimes and was viewed as something exceedingly artificial and also something specifically Continental. Living philosophical and political traditions could not be compressed or compacted into programmatic bullet points, as in a manifesto, because there was a richness and breadth to real philosophy (in part because philosophy was interested first and foremost in truth, not power) that could never be distilled and boiled down into a simple political creed for mobilising supporters or made into a utopian scheme for reorganising society.

Almost by definition, such idea-shards and uniform plans for social engineering based on those shards were doomed not to take root in the rocky ground of reality, because they were the pruned and dessicated remnants of a once-living organism that were being taken as the essential organising principles of society. Anglo-American tradition had little to do with ideology, either in the Comte de Tracy’s sense or the Marxist sense, and likewise a conservatism nourished in that tradition could only be an anti-ideology.

Update: Fr. Jape remarks on Podhoretz’s statement here.