An ideology is an army of convictions about how the world is and how it ought to be. As befitting a military force, ideologies are fueled by a sense of threat - kept at bay through a fortress-like structure called the ideological square. - Ideology, Part I- Exploring the Problem Space

The ideological square comes in many flavors, including:

Basic 'Us versus Them' Square

  1. Exaggerate our wonderfulness

  2. Exaggerate their awfulness

  3. Downplay our flaws

  4. Downplay their virtues

Incompatible Views of Reality Square

  1. Exaggerate how awful things are now

  2. Downplay how good things are now

  3. Exaggerate how much worse things will be if we don’t prevail

  4. Downplay how much better things will be if they prevail

Incompatible Visions of Possible Futures Square

  1. Exaggerate how great things will be if we prevail

  2. Exaggerate how awful things will be if they prevail

  3. Downplay the potential harm if we prevail

  4. Downplay the potential good if they prevail

Ideologies are typically inspired by utopian visions entailing a radical overhaul of the existing order - what I call the Big Solution. Problems like poverty or environmental harm may drive initial attraction to a Big Solution, but in time the relationship between problem and solution changes. That is, where once the Big Solution was seen as a means to fixing problems, it eventually becomes an end in itself - one that requires Big Problems to justify.  That’s because Big Solutions tend to involve painful sacrifice (the darkness before the dawn). And that pain had better be worth it!

Next: Green New Deal? Meet Your Enabler: The Ideological Square


Van Dijk, TA (1995). Discourse Semantics and Ideology. Discourse & Society, 6(2): 243-289.