Dominant Ideology: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:02 Definition of an Ideology
  • 1:03 Dominant Ideology Theory
  • 1:50 Political Ideologies
  • 3:26 Religious Ideologies
  • 4:51 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David White
Dominant ideologies have a considerable influence on our daily lives, and they can be simple or very complicated. Through this lesson, you will learn how to define a dominant ideology and explore some theories and examples from various societies.

Definition of an Ideology

When you think about all the things you believe about politics, religion, or society, where do you fit in with the other people in your community or country? Moreover, how is it that you came to hold those beliefs? Our beliefs and perspectives about the world around us are an essential part of our identities, and when they match the beliefs and perspectives of the majority, they're known as the dominant ideology.

An ideology is a collection of beliefs and ideas that shape a person's behavior and perception of the world. Religious fundamentalism, for example, is an ideology because it has a specific set of beliefs informed by a particular religious text, like the Bible, which strongly influences how those with the ideology conduct themselves and perceive those around them. In this case, followers adhere to the ideas and rules set out in their religious text with little variation or interpretation. Religious fundamentalism exists in many different religions, and in some cultures, such as Iran, it can be the dominant ideology.

Dominant Ideology Theory

When you hear the term 'dominant ideology' used, it is generally a reference to one of two things: the abstract concept as it is described above, or a theory espoused by 19th-century German philosopher Karl Marx. In simple terms, Marx believed that the dominant ideology was a system of morals and values established by those in power to control the working class.

According to Marx's theory, the working class believed the dominant ideology to be something over which they had no control, so they simply accepted the way things were and upheld the belief system. This caused the working class to give up the power of political dissent, which essentially kept in power an authoritarian regime. This was, according to Marx, not something that the working class was aware of, which was a big part of the problem. In other words, people were disempowered without their knowledge.

Political Ideologies

Ideologies, dominant or otherwise, existed long before Karl Marx, but he was one of the first philosophers to explore the concept in depth. As a result, there is considerable overlap between dominant ideologies as an abstract concept and the theory established by Marx in the 19th century, particularly where politics are concerned.

The political ideology with which you are probably most familiar is democracy, which is a system where political leaders and representatives are elected by the people. In the United States, democracy is the dominant political ideology and is the foundation of American culture. As an abstract concept, democracy is built on a belief that the people should have the right to choose their leaders and that they should have certain freedoms and liberty to control their lives. Indeed, this system is laid out in the Constitution, which has a significant influence on how Americans behave and how they perceive themselves and the world around them.

Although democracy is the dominant ideology in many parts of the world, that doesn't necessarily mean it's exactly the same in each society. For example, in the United States, the dominant political ideology is based on the U.S. Constitution, which includes, among other things, the right of citizens to bear arms. This is something that many people feel is very important; hence, we have a lot of guns in this country.

The British have a very similar democratic system, but after a small number of mass shootings, England heavily restricted gun ownership. The general British population is fine with that. They believe that this helps make them safer. This example demonstrates how dominant ideologies can be based on a kind of generic model but can change along with the beliefs of the dominant group, making them a unique reflection of the cultures in which they exist.

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