The Concept of Ideology and Other Essays
by George Lichtheim
Random House, 327 pp., $5.95
Mr. George Lichtheim’s brilliant new book cannot be read in isolation from his three earlier works, Marxism, Marxism in Modern France, and Europe and America. Taken together these four constitute what is arguably the most important contribution to political thinking in Britain or America in the last decades. Those professional political scientists who have so conscientiously cultivated the virtues of industriousness in the collection of data and of scrupulosity in the refinement of their methodology ought to be reminded by Lichtheim’s books that the justification of these virtues can only be that they enable the social scientist to elaborate theories and insights superior to those sprung from the plain historical and analytical intelligence of traditional political philosophy—something they have notably failed to do so far. It is Lichtheim’s achievement to have defined the tradition in contemporary terms.
Lichtheim’s central concern in this collection of essays is with the interplay between theories and practices in the transition from classical capitalist society to modern industrial society. As this transition has taken place, political theories and points of view have been continuously transformed from a means of understanding social reality into ideological concealments of the underlying facts. The eighteenth century’s appeal to the state of nature yielded insights which illuminated the false claims of the prerevolutionary status quo. These insights were transformed, however, into that liberalism which was the official and justificatory self-image of the nineteenth-century bourgeois state, as Lichtheim demonstrates in the title essay of his new book. Marxism exposed the untruth of liberalism by laying bare the class relations of bourgeois society; but it too was transformed into an official self-image both in the labor movement and in the Communist parties and states.
Thus in Lichtheim’s view it is now too late to be liberals and too late to be Marxists. We have to reach an Hegelian transcendence of both liberalism and Marxism in which the truths of both are not sacrificed to the false consciousness of either.
IN WHAT SOCIAL SETTING can this transformation be achieved? Here Lichtheim has produced characteristically interesting variations on familiar themes. The industrial society of our day is one in which the changed relationships between classes are the result of the lessening importance of market relationships and the increasing importance of political and technocratic interventions in the economy. It is not, as has been held by some others who have pointed out these tendencies, that Western industrial society has ceased to be capitalist; it is rather that the main features of industrial society are indeterminate as between an economic order dominated by public ownership and one dominated by private and corporate capital. Those features set limits to the possible changes in contemporary society. Socialists in particular must now recognize that the labor movement cannot hope to win political power. They therefore have a choice between continuing themselves to seek such power, in which case they must ally themselves with the technocrats, and abandoning the goals of power in …