Quick Definitions of Political Ideologies: the -isms

Part of the British Politics For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Let’s face it, ideologies are confusing things. The -ism bit seems to makes them so very forgettable. But not anymore! Here’s a quick alphabetical guide to the major (and not so major) political ideas that inspire people to get involved in politics.

  • Anarchism: Can be grouped around socialistic or individualistic strains. Anarchists believe that the state and forms of compulsory government are harmful or unnecessary to people’s lives.

  • Communism: Communists believe that capitalist system is damaging to interests of masses, and that workers must unite and overturn it by revolutionary means. Communists also believe in the state ownership of all land, natural resources and industry.

  • Conservatism: Conservative thought is coloured by the belief that – over time – history has produced institutions and modes of government that function well, and which should be largely preserved for the future. They also believe that political change should be organic and gradual, rather than revolutionary.

  • Environmentalism: Key political concern is protecting and improving the condition of the natural environment. Many believe there is a need for much greater regulation of humans’ interaction with the environment, and aspects of our lifestyles are environmentally unsustainable.

  • Feminism: The belief that society and the political system is patriarchal. Feminists seek to improve the political and particularly, the social and economic position of women.

  • Liberalism: The belief in protecting the rights of individual, so as to ensure their maximum freedom. There have been shifts in liberal thought, the most prominent of which was the move from classical liberalism (minimal role of state, unsecured liberties) to progressive liberalism in early twentieth century. Progressive liberals argued that civil liberties and freedoms must be safeguarded and actively protected by state.

  • Socialism: Socialists are motivated by the desire to improve quality of life for all members of society. They believe in a political system characterised by strong state direction in political and economic policy. Another key idea is redistribution of resources to redress inequalities inherent in free-market economy.

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