In our time, pragmatism governs politics more than ideology and values. Well, except for populists and rightists who are quite ideological, but sometimes unknowingly and unsophisticated. Social democrats, too, reduced their emphasis on ideology, especially after the fall of the Soviet Union. Previously, they spoke proudly of socialism and communism, and sang “L’Internationale” (“The International” in French) at party meetings, even wiping a tear from the corner of their eye.
The Internationale was written for the first International Workers’ Congress in 1864 by Eugène Pottier, an anarchist who attended the conference, and the melody was composed by Pierre de Geyter, a Marxist. The official version of the lyrics dates from 1871, written in French and translated into countless languages. Some even thought it should be sung to the tune of the French national anthem, “La Marseillaise”, with references to the French Revolution, from 1789, and its fundamental democratic principles of “freedom, equality and fraternity”.
The International has since been used by left-wing political parties, from communists and socialists to radical and pragmatic social democrats. I remember it was used by the Norwegian Labor Party in my youth, with its catchy sound and lyrics. I think even the Conservatives were a little moved.
It was a time when religion still played a major role in the West, in daily life, and to some extent in politics. Today, religion has a lesser and more subtle influence. Previously, it was more direct, and the International emphasizes the goals of workers’ struggle and the unification of all peoples in justice and equality, almost in a religious sense. It was to be a struggle for the freedom of all in a march towards victory.
In Norway, I remember when Einar Førde (1943-2004) 1979 became Minister of Education and Church Affairs (the country had a state church until 2012), the new minister appointed to the left in the Party Social Democratic Labor and not a church-going man, had to explain why he thought he could be minister for religion and church affairs. He said that since he was interested in ideology and the foundations of politics, he might even become a useful minister of religion too. Furthermore, he was born and raised in a village in the “Bible belt” of the country’s west coast, and his elementary school years had included Bible studies and learning catechism, hymns, and more. , and with his classmates, he had read the ‘Lord’s Prayer at the beginning of each school day, attended prayer house meetings, which were as much a center of social community cultures as they were religious.
Yet it is also true that leftists and the Labor Party in general, in power mostly after World War II until the 1970s, often wanted to reduce the role of religion in society, and they succeeded. as with much of the public role of religion. . But even today, a clear majority of Norwegians say they have a religious faith, but, in line with democratic ideals, they also want to interpret dogma and traditions in their own way, without necessarily following religious leaders. Today, Islam and other religions have become quite visible in the country, especially in major cities. The days of a single monolithic religion are also over as the country has seen massive immigration over the past 50 or 60 years, many of whom belong to Islam and other religions. In addition, many ecclesiastical congregations experienced a revival of their activities thanks to immigrants.
And now from religion to ideology. The term ideology refers to a system of ideas, thoughts and opinions, and it is particularly used in economics and politics. Words like philosophical perspective, along with doctrines and principles, also help define the term. In religion, different denominations have different traditions and moral practices, and so do ideologies. Interestingly, terms such as moral standards and values are used more often by conservatives than by socialists.
In politics, the left has a more defined and universal ideology than the right. The right would often not like to use the word ideology about its thinking and principles, not even about capitalism. Capitalists define their thinking and their foundations in more practical terms. Since it is the dominant economic system of the world, currently unchallenged, capitalists find it less necessary to define it in detail, even in the age of globalization. Moreover, the right takes the word ideology to mean succumbing to someone else’s set of thoughts. On the liberal right, the emphasis would be on the right of the individual to find his way. But on the far right, the conservatives would be more orthodox and leave fewer individual freedoms.
The right, and not just the moderate and liberal right, has in some ways become more grounded in ideological principles, and it is often a nationalist ideology, even with ethnic overtones. In the West, the right wants fewer immigrants, even from afar, and people of non-Christian religions. They want immigrants to assimilate and abandon their original cultures. They also want to protect the traditional and sometimes outdated values of family and social life.
In recent politics in Europe, there has been an increased influence of very conservative leaders, notably in Italy, Sweden and the United Kingdom. This week, new Conservative Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson was installed, backed by Sweden’s right-wing Democrats. In the UK, Prime Minister Liz Truss has suggested right-wing policies, albeit with major resistance. In Italy, Giorgia Meloni, Prime Minister designate, will soon form his government. In Hungary and Poland, very conservative governments ruled for a few years. These governments have clear ideological underpinnings, more typical of the extreme right than of moderate conservatives.
The Social Democrats and other more moderate political center parties rule in most other European countries. Contrary to what I pointed out above, these parties have become more pragmatic and less ideological than before. It is said to have to do with the current situation in Europe, including electricity shortages, high inflation and price increases, forcing politicians to be pragmatic rather than ideological. Even the famous young Swedish environmentalist Greta Thunberg recently criticized Germany for not allowing the continued expansion of electricity production in nuclear power plants. In these cases, there is less ideology than in the practical cases. But as for the West’s support for Ukraine against the Russian invasion of the country, there is a clear ideological dimension.
Finally, let me refer to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is principled, but not ideological. It is important to realize that some foundations are universal, although even in such cases there may be questions about certain aspects. As with international organizations, the UN is an organization above ideologies, based on values above ideologies. However, even in the UN, certain aspects are not neutral and universally democratic, in particular with regard to the composition of the Security Council and its permanent members with the right of veto. Ideologies and principles must be used to change the situation. Old traditions about what is practically preferable should not prevail.