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Conceptual History

Last week, I gave a talk at Oxford’s Rothermere American Institute about the German historian Reinhart Koselleck (left) and the relevance of his conception of ‘historical time’ to the study of ideologies in America. We are used to thinking about ideology as a pejorative term — a utopian blueprint for world order with all the consequences that totalitarianism brings. But this is a narrow view. Ideologies are, more broadly speaking, a particular type of political thinking that operates in-between political philosophy and what we can call ‘real politics’ — that is the practical doing (and thinking) that goes on in political life. By ‘in-between’ I mean distinct from philosophy and ‘real politics’, but not mutually exclusive to them. Ideologies are, to put it crudely, where ideas and political action meet; they are ideas with an active prescriptive component which aim for political influence. Ideologies are types of political thought that want to influence political conduct.