The Varieties of Travel Experience   /   Summer 2024   /    Book Reviews

Ideologies Have Their Reasons

A Call for Epistemic Humility

Malloy Owen

What arrondisement is this, 2018, by Laura J. Lawson; courtesy of the artist.

In this excellent survey of the major ideological alternatives in the West, Jason Blakely, a professor of political science at Pepperdine University, helpfully illuminates the complexity of a landscape that is too often reduced to a simple left-right duality or the 2x2 grid of the Internet’s Political Compass Test. Most of his book is devoted to historical sketches of the principal positions, illustrated by well-selected references to the writings of their leading advocates. The historical chapters are more summary than new research, yet for a thoughtful layperson who wants a rigorous but digestible account of contemporary Western cultural politics, this book is indeed, as a back-cover blurb declares, an “intellectual feast.”

Blakely, however, wants to do more than teach a history lesson. In an age of unreasoning political animus, Lost In Ideology models the search for reasons, the interpretive excavation of the fundamental beliefs about the world that underlie practical politics. Blakely’s faith in reasons should not be confused with strict rationalism; in fact, he thinks ideologies that claim to embody a pure objective reason have already discredited themselves. But his method resists the assumption, common among ideologues, that some people act out of pure malice or pure stupidity. All the major ideologies, he shows, are motivated by comprehensive and more or less internally coherent visions of the world and the human good.

This is not to say that popular ideologies never rely on false claims or contain internal contradictions, or that they all rest on equally noble premises. Blakely’s charity has its limits, as it should. However, he does labor to show, through careful reconstruction, that ideologies are grounded in understandable if not always laudable human motives. Even his chapter on fascism has room for a few lines considering the lofty experiences some people seek in far-right politics.

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