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What Is Dominant Ideology?

Marlene Garcia
Marlene Garcia

Dominant ideology is rooted in Karl Marx’s theory that most societies share values and attitudes determined by politics and philosophies of people who possess power and influence. It claims the values, morals, and ideals in each period of history are defined by economic and political leaders. Marx believed working class people accepted society’s dominant ideology as natural and unavoidable, and this acceptance inhibited political dissent.

According to Marxist theory, this type of ideology surfaced during the late 19th century as countries entered the industrial era as capitalist societies. Marx professed people with economic power controlled society and used people without power for personal gain. All dominant ideologies help the more fortunate, called the bourgeoisie, take advantage of the less fortunate, referred to as the proletariat. The balance of power stays constant through these ideals, Marx believed.

Sculpture of Karl Marx (foreground) and Friedrich Engels.
Sculpture of Karl Marx (foreground) and Friedrich Engels.

This theory explained that laws, educational opportunities, and class division kept the lower class in its place. The working people were not conscious of being treated unfairly or being used because they accepted the dominant ideology at the time. Marx believed these factors important to a functioning society to maintain the status quo.

He felt consumerism was a natural progression of dominant ideology. As working-class people strived to attain more material wealth, they ignored corruption of the people in power and the potential negative results of attaining more possessions. For example, Marx believed working-class people could overlook damage to the environment consumerism might bring as long as they could obtain material goods.

Dominant ideology has been the focus of much study and debate. Some philosophers argue the theory is no longer valid in modern capitalistic societies. The focus shifted to workers' rights, making the less fortunate more aware of the economic gap between them and people in political and economic power, modern philosophers believe.

Human-rights organizations likely contributed to a shift in awareness. These groups focus on individual social and economic rights that cross racial and sexual barriers. Abuses of certain groups of people became the catalyst for the creation of opportunity for disenfranchised people and for more equal distribution of power and wealth.

Discussion Comments


History is filled with examples of what happens when dominant ideology breaks down. Most of the time, this results in civil unrest, at the very least, and war.

All it really takes to incite change is one or two factions of society with no means to attain wealth or or no real desire to stockpile material goods deciding to work together to revolt, so to speak, against the ruling class.

Prime examples of what happens when society grows tired of the dominant ideology include the Allied countries' fight against Hitler's dictatorship and the anti-war movement of the 1960s.

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    • Sculpture of Karl Marx (foreground) and Friedrich Engels.
      Sculpture of Karl Marx (foreground) and Friedrich Engels.