Ideological Fixation: From the Stone Age to Today’s Culture Wars
By Azar Gat
Oxford University Press, 2022, 352 pp.
Only a few decades ago, some observers saw “the end of history” in the triumph of Western liberalism and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Today, however, the clash of ideologies has returned with a vengeance. In this deeply probing study, Gat explains why ideology is a necessary and deeply fraught feature of the human condition. Philosophers and scientists have long argued that humans cannot fully grasp objective reality. Ideology helps people understand the world, providing a frame inside which the mind can produce a picture of reality. Gat reaches back to the ancient past but dwells mostly on the “secular religions”—liberalism, socialism, and fascism—that came to the fore with the rise of industrial modernity. These ideologies sought to help people come to grips with a fast-changing world and offered them a blueprint for dealing with the opportunities and miseries of modernity. The abiding appeal of ideologies rests in how they present a grand narrative of where the world is going. Like the classical religions, they grant a glimpse of salvation. But, Gat warns, ideology is a double-edged sword: it is a necessary tool to navigate the uncertainties and complexities of modern life, but it can easily become a dangerous “fixation” and a tool of political warfare.