Ideology matters

I am today discovering Samuel Huntington’s “The Erosion of American National Interests”, a fascinating pamphlet that serves as an excellent example to the question of ideology I very briefly discussed in my last post in Spanish.

“The Erosion …” was published in the journal Foreign Affairs in 1997, a few years after the end of the Cold war. In it Huntington expresses his thoughts about American identity and American power, and his views on the importance of keeping American hegemony. Huntington’s argument is blunt and clear: for American identity, national interests, and hegemony to be preserved, America needs an enemy. He states, not wrongly, that the “Cold War fostered a common identity between American people and government” (Huntington 31) and that its ending had perceivable “[d]isintegrative effects” (Huntington, 32) since “the existence of an enemy may have positive consequences for group cohesion, morale, and achievement” (ibid). Further, he continues, these consequences are reinforced by “changes in the scope of immigration and the rise of the cult of multiculturalism” (Huntington 32, emphasis mine). He also bluntly states that “[m]ilitary action against Saddam Hussein was seen as a vital national interest because he threatened reliable and inexpensive access to Persian Gulf oil” (Huntington 35), and has no qualms whatsoever when listing all the military enterprises –which he refers to as “the great American initiatives in foreign policy” (Huntington, 30)– the United States undertook in order to quash the threat of communism. (It might be noted, however, that military coups in Latin America are conspicuously absent from his list.) In sum, the fall of the Soviet Union left America in a situation where “the need is not to find the power to serve American purposes but rather to find purposes for the use of American power” (Huntington, 35).

For Huntington the United States are and will remain “a global hegemon”, but its dominant role is changing. He explains the phases of hegemonic power, and what the United States has done to become the global hegemon it is:

In their first phase, the influence of hegemons stems from their power to expend resources. They deploy military force, economic investment, loans, bribes, diplomats, and bureaucrats into other countries and often bring those territories and populations under their direct or indirect rule. American expansion in the 1950s and 1960s did not expand American rule, but did produce an American military, political, and economic presence in large areas of the world. (Huntington, 44)

But now, Huntington complains, American power has become “the “soft power” to attract rather than the hard power to compel” (Huntington, 44).

What makes Huntington’s article fascinating in my eyes is its bluntness: it does not pretend that American power is good for the world, as many successive administrations of the United States have relentlessly and disingenuously hammered through every possible communication channel. Rather, it makes absolutely clear that American power is good for the sake of American interests solely, and for the sake of holding power itself. Power is not simply the means, but the end. Power is the crux of the question, which ties nicely with the issue of ideology, one of the article’s main topics. This is the second reason why I find this article interesting. It is a text that is self-referential as it enacts one of its central themes: ideology. The text is a prime example of ideology at work at the same time that it defends the importance of having competing ideologies for American power, firstly, to be deployed; secondly, to remain uncontested. The openness of Huntington with respect to ideology appears surprising to me because the post-war period had been characterised by the idea that ideologies were something only the communists –or left-wingers– had. In Ideology: An Introduction, Terry Eagleton quotes Kenneth Minogue, a right wing political theorist who claims

Ideologies can be specified in terms of a shared hostility to modernity: to liberalism in politics, individualism in moral practice, and the market in economics (cited in Eagleton pp. 6)

So, for Kenneth, as Eagleton notes, “supporters of socialism are ideologues whereas defenders of capitalism are not” (Eagleton, 6), an assumption that is ideological itself. Eagleton argues that

The extent to which one is prepared to use the term ideology of one’s own political views is a reliable index of the nature of one’s political ideology. Generally speaking, conservatives like Minogue are nervous of the concept in their own case, since to dub their own beliefs ideological would be to risk turning them into objects of contestation. (Eagleton, 6)

All this takes me back to my last week criticism of Colombian weekly Revista Semana, one of the most powerful media in Colombia that has tight links with the also powerful Santos family.  Revista Semana describe themselves as practitioners of “a ground-breaking journalism that broke the custom of the activist and ideologised press [of the eighties in Colombia], and that was more in tune with a country asking to be well informed from unbiased perspectives” (see original text in Spanish). Revista Semana‘s claim, it is crystal clear, is as ideological as Minogue’s.

It might be high-time for Revista Semana to refresh their notions and update themselves to contemporary critiques of communication, news making, journalism, politics, and culture, and even take the step of coming out of the ideology closet. As the example of Samuel Huntington shows, even if you are a right-winger –as Revista Semana clearly is– you can do it. It is not going to tarnish your reputation, rather it would at least show firstly, that you are not acting disingenuously, secondly, that you don’t have the self-awareness of a rock.


  1. Huntington, Samuel (1997). “The Erosion of American National Interests”. In: Foreign Affairs. 76.5, pp. 28-49.
  2. Eagleton, Terry (2007). Ideology: An Introduction. London & New York: Verso.

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