Sunday, September 21, 2008

Keeping proportionality proportional

Freeden describes proportionality as “the relative space within each ideology allotted to a particular theme, or cluster of concepts” and relates it to “how an ideology wishes to present its arguments” (64). His example is libertarians: Libertarians claim to be part of the liberal family, yet they overemphasize liberty while de-emphasizing other themes of the ideology, such as sociability, progress, and rationality. This unequal distribution places more importance proportionally on liberty than analysts of liberalism would agree with. However, it also gives libertarians the chance to present their views to audiences apart from mainstream liberalism.

In this way, proportionality has much to do with making an ideology appeal to the masses. The proportions in which certain themes are presented will either catch the attention of the targeted audience or push the audience away. Since the success of ideologies is based on their abilities to “muster significant groups that will assist them in their endeavor to capture control over political language and collective decision making,” ideologies want to proportion their themes in a way to maximize public interest (69). In this respect, certain themes that appeal to an academic audience cannot be too prominent or the average Joe won’t understand. Likewise, the themes cannot be so watered-down that the more advanced audience is bored. The balance in proportion is a crucial aspect in the success or failure of an ideology.

This idea of proportionality seems tricky when it comes to thin ideologies of which Freeden addresses in Chapter 7. A thin ideology is one that has an identifiable yet restricted morphology (98). Unlike a macro-ideology with many concepts, a thin ideology takes a few concepts and focuses heavily on them. With thin ideologies proportionality can go one of two ways: Either there are several concepts that are relatively equal, or, due to the limited number of concepts to begin with, one concept takes over the ideology and becomes its soul focus. The problem with this second situation is that thin ideologies with only one concept will appeal to less people. If the proportionality is so skewed that only one concept is being promoted then only people who agree with that one concept are going to be interested in the ideology. Already, all the people who disagree with the concept are going to reject the ideology because there is no other concept for them to agree with.

Proportionality provides organization for ideologies. It allows them to parcel out importance to their concepts in order to attract the greatest audience. For thin ideologies this is more difficult because they have fewer concepts to organize. It would seem that proportionality favors macro-ideologies because they have more concepts to proportion and benefit greater than thin ideologies where proportion becomes too skewed to be affective.

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