Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Ideology and discontent - David E. Apter (1964)

Apter, David E. 1964. "Introduction: Ideology and discontent." In Ideology and discontent, ed. D. E. Apter. New York: Free Press.

Geertz, Clifford. 1964. "Ideology as a cultural system." In Ideology and discontent, ed. D. E. Apter. New York: Free Press.
Converse, Philip. E. 1964. "The nature of belief systems in mass publics." In Ideology and Discontent, ed. D. E. Apter. New York, NY: Free Press.
Wolfinger, Raymond E., Barbara K. Wolfinger, Kenneth Prewitt, and Sheilah Rosenhack. 1964. "America's radical right: Politics and ideology." In Ideology and discontent, ed. D. E. Apter. New York: Free Press.

The edited book by David Apter is popular among students of public opinion because of the piece written by Phillip Converse, titled “The nature of belief systems in mass publics.” Frankly speaking, I am sure that the chapter is the most difficult text to understand with one or two times reading of the chapter. [Probably due to my lack of English proficiency, but not entirely] Most of the sentences are broken and I had lots of experience to lose the flow of reading in the chapter.

Probably the chapter’s findings or arguments are not so much complex. The mass publics are not cognitive sophisticated. Thus they hold no over-arching principles or ideologies or belief systems (Borrowed his terms, the centrality is low). There are only a few elite publics who are politically sophisticated might be called ideologue or near-ideologue. Elite publics are the main consumer of political information, and they have fixed and stable belief system. While other publics are flexible based on their own group interests or one or two issues with which they are particularly interested. These middle ranged sophisticated citizens are mainly influenced and changeable and flexible. However, extremely unsophisticated citizens are not also influenced because they have no such foundations or grounds of belief systems or centered concepts.

Anyway there are lots of other studies which support, criticize, or modify Converse’s findings and conclusions.

Partly because of dissertation writing, I recently read and re-read repeatedly the chapter. Additionally, I read other three chapters: Introduction by the editor; Clifford Geertz’s chapter; and Wolfinger et al.’s chapter. Why I select those three? Reasons are purely subjective and determined by recent my interest in politics and religion.

The introduction chapter seems interesting because it tells why the book is planned and why there are many many writers mobilized to fill the space from diverse perspectives. The role of ideology, according to Apter, is two-fold: Solidarity (between people and within a group) and identity (between a person and a group).

The Geertz’s chapter was also interesting in part because his good writing skills and persuasive examples buttressing the relationship between ideology and cultural system (or culture, simply). The main insight of Geertz’s piece is that realization of a ‘political’ ideology is highly dependent upon a society’s cultural expression of a world or understandings of cosmos.

Wolfinger et al.’s chapter, although I do not have any information about the author, draws my attention because it discusses ‘radical’ ‘right.’ In fact the findings and competing theories the authors introduced (e.g., status anxiety, alienation, ethnic hostility, cultural resentment, religious fundamentalism, and the like) are “still” debated when explaining the surge of evangelist Republicans in Southern states and also some observations in other Islamic or Confucian political regimes that are highly authoritarian and sometimes totalitarianism. The conclusion of the authors is clear (I think too much clear): “Whatever else they [=Anticommunism Crusaders] may be, they are not Democrats” Surprisingly correspondent with modern observation of Christian Fundamentalists….

Reading old books is not enjoyable, at least to me. However, it is very useful to observe undeniable thesis, which is, “history repeats itself.” Probably that would be the reason why we should go to the basic and start at the zero.

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