Peter Hunot: Ideology Before Walsby, Some Notes on Karl Mannheim’s Work on Ideology

Prepared in connection with the course on Fundamentals of Ideological Division, an Introduction to the Domain of Ideologies by Peter Shepherd at City University.

Owing to shortness of time, difficulty in borrowing the material and an underestimation of the problem of making a clear analysis of the stand points and definitions of the thought of Mannheim on the subject of ideology it has only been possible to string together a series of quotes suggestive for further thought and research, including those of Shils in the IESS (3 below).

The period of the preparation of Mannheim’s book was in the pre-Hitler Germany.

Shils distinguishes between ideologies, outlooks, creeds, systems of thought and programs.

He states Mannheim distinguishes between “Utopia” (as an ideal which never existed) and “ideology” (as beliefs which had existed but do so no longer).

Shils continues that ideologies differ from the prevailing outlooks and its creeds though greater explicitness, internal integration or systematization, comprehensiveness and a higher intensity of concentration on certain central propositions or evaluations. All ideologies (progressive or traditional, revolutionary or reactionary) entail an aggressive alienation from existing society, recommending transformation of the lives of exponents and insist on consistency; recommending adherents complete dominion over the societies in which they live. They are always concerned with authority (transcendent or earthly) – but, since the 19th Century, most have come to be preponderantly political.

Ideologies, products of man’s need to impose intellectual order to the world (i. e. for a cognitive and moral map) arose and are heightened in conditions of crisis, because of strongly felt needs not met by society. Shils also states they are the reactions of charismatic individuals who posses powerful, expansive and simplified visions of the world, but require a cultural tradition from which to deviate. The full development of primary ideological groups is never realized. In the article in IESS on Mannheim, dealing with Ideology and Utopia, Mannheim is said to have asserted that:

“Uprooted” and “Unintegrated” revolutionary groups think intuitively and lay little or no stress on historical developments; conservative groups think morphologically; the liberal-humanitarian strata stress the openness of the future and the progressive realisation of ethical values; and, the oppressed strata, which are chiliastic, believe in the millennium (literally Christs’ return and rule for a 1000 years) expect immediate and sharply disjunctive changes.

Edward Shils, who also writes a forward to the edition of the Mannheim book (1 below), sums up in the IESS article on ideology:

As long as human societies are afflicted by crises and as long as man has a need to be in direct contact with the sacred, ideologies will recur. As long as there is a discrepancy between the ideal and the actual, a strong impetus for ideologies will exist.

The strongly ideological potentialities of the traditions of modern Western outlooks are almost a guarantee of the persistent recurrence of ideologies.

Remmling in his book on Mannheim’s sociology (2) shows Mannheim to analyse the traditional and developing currents mainly responsible for the promotion of the socio-political “forcefield” of Weimar Germany to focus on five ideal types:

(1) Bureaucratic conservatism (Mannheim says, p. 105, that has a “fundamental tendency to turn all problems of politics into problems of administration.”)

(2) Conservative historicism (M. “essentially the expression of a feudal tradition become self-conscious, is primarily concerned with problems which transcend the sphere of administration.” – p. 107)

(3) Liberal-democratic thought (Mannheim says this is the chief adversary of the conservative historicist – a “bourgeois intellectualism” which demanded a “scientific politics” and proceeded to found such a discipline. – p. 108)

(4) Socialist-communist conceptions (M. says “those who think [in these terms] discern the ideological element only in the thinking of their opponents while regarding their own thought as entirely free of any taint of ideology.” – p. 110/111)

(5) Fascism (M. It is “active and irrational,” “At the very heart of its theory and its practice lies the Apoltheosis of direct action, the belief in the decisive deed, in the significance attributed to the initiative of a leading elite.” – p. 119)

Remmling asserts Mannheim differentiates between the ‘particular’ concept of ideology and the ‘total.’

“The particular concept of ideology limits the operation of distrust to a circumscribed set of ideas and assumptions propagated by the theorists and functionaries of the groups which the ideological analyst considers hostile.” Whereas, “the total conception of ideology critically invades the entire world view of an adversary; the conceptual apparatus to his socio-existential situation and interprets all of his mental products as functions of the collective life in which he participates.” Mannheim suggested that the diverse standpoints, with their corresponding partial perspectives, did not represent intellectual chaos, but that they were mutually complementary parts of a comprehensive insight into the totality of the world. To this end he considered the syntheses would be produced by a “socially unattached intelligentsia,” elevating the conflicts from the material to the mental plane – the transformation of the conflict of interests into a conflict of ideas. Remmling, however, points out that Mannheim had difficulties in locating the socially unattached intelligentsia in the existing social order.

Mannheim envisaged an end to ideology – though distinguishing it from the loss of utopia – a motor force of social change. “The disappearance of utopia brings about a static state of affairs in which man himself becomes no more than a thing.” Remmling says “Chaos is the name of the spectre that stalked Mannheim throughout his intellectual career. Continually he pitted his cunning against the growing shadows of mental and social dissolution.” Yesterday (30 January 1979) was the 45th anniversary of Hitler’s commission by Hindenburg to be the German Chancellor and only 4 years after Mannheim’s Ideology & Utopia – and by then the books by 800 authors were in process of being banned. As Remmling says “Germany sank into a Satanic darkness.” Mannheim became one of the resulting “ceaseless stream of political refugees,” first working in England and developing other thesis and theories.

This account of Mannheim’s work is incomplete but it is, I trust, clear from what has been said that his work had limitations. Mannheim was a pioneer; the fate of a pioneer, and the sign of his success, it to be surpassed. Mannheim was still at the stage of taking it for granted that there is some standing ground for the thinker that is independent of ideology. He leaves us to answer the question: To which of the major ideologies is Mannheim’s work to be ascribed?

(1) Ideology and Utopia Karl Mannheim, Routledge & Kegan Paul (reprint 1968). First published in U. K. 1936. German edition 1929. (City University Library – 301.012 Man)
(2) The Sociology of Karl Mannheim Gunter K. Remmling, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1975 (City University Library – 301 Man). This includes a bibliographical guide of 1491 items (450 on Ideology & Utopia).
(3) International Encylopaedia of the Social Sciences (pp 66-85) by Edward Shils and Johnson (pp 557-561) on Mannheim.

March 1979