An ideology is a belief system that underpins a political or economic theory. Ideologies from the operating principles for running a society.
Examples of ideologies include liberalism, conservatism, socialism, communism, theocracy, agrarianism, totalitarianism, democracy, colonialism, and globalism.
In western culture, we think of ideologies as fitting along a left-right political spectrum where socialism and communism sit on the far left and authoritarian nationalism sits on the far right.
However, throughout history, there has been a vast array of organizing ideologies for societies that don’t conform to this spectrum.
Prior to the 18th Century, for example, the most dominant ideologies were oriented around religious (e.g., theocratic) and dynastic (e.g., monarchy) principles. Below are some common examples of ideologies.
A-Z Examples of Ideologies
1. Agrarianism – Agrarianism is an ideology that considers farmers to be the lynchpins of a society. It emphasizes the importance of pro-farming policies and advocates for ownership of farming land by farmers. Today, there remain several influential agrarian political parties that fit on various different parts of a political spectrum, from communist agrarianism in Laos to conservative-capitalist agrarianism in the National Party of Australia.
2. Anarchism – Anarchism advocates against state organization over society. A society without state control would require cooperation on a local level to survive but would also lead to the potential for human rights violations, given the lack of a powerful state to enforce universal laws.
3. Authoritarianism – Authoritarianism stands for a strong state government that enforces strict obedience to the authorities. It does not tolerate dissent and prioritizes the interests of the ruling government party over individual liberties.
4. Autocracy – An autocratic society is one that is ruled and governed by one person. This one person has strong power over their political apparatus and is not constrained by checks and balances by the police or the judiciary. An autocracy is usually also anti-democratic.
5. Capitalism – Capitalism is the organizing principle behind most western nations today. It emphasizes the freedom to start businesses, the freedom to trade goods, and for private ownership of the means of production. Capitalism leads to excellent efficiencies in the market but also excessive exploitation of the rich over the poor.
No society is purely capitalist due to government intervention in the market designed to protect consumers and curb the excesses of capitalism.
6. Colonialism – Colonialism is the ideology that advocates the expansion of a nation’s territories, settling new land, and exploiting and displacing the Indigenous population. Colonialism was rampant in the 17th to 19th Centuries when the New World was colonized by Britain, France, and Spain.
7. Conservatism – Conservatism is one of the two primary ideologies in western democracy today. It can be split up into social conservatism and economic conservatism. Social conservatives advocate for traditional values and against social change. Economic conservatism advocates for free market enterprise.
8. Constitutionalism – Includes constitutional democracy and constitutional monarchy. Constitutionalism advocates for strict adherence to a set of laws set up at a nation’s founding. It has the benefit of restricting the power of government to make changes to the founding principles of a nation. It can also have a negative influence when a nation’s constitution is no longer relevant for the modern world. Constitutionalism usually only works when there is clear separation of powers between the government and judiciary.
9. Cooperative Democracy – Cooperative democracy is a left-wing ideology that advocates for collective ownership of the workplace and means of production. It is also often embraced on a smaller scale by anarchists. While it is designed to support consensus and reject exploitation of labor, in practice it usually leads to severe market inefficiencies.
10. Democracy – Democracy is the ideology that the government of a society should be elected by the masses. Its famous definition is “government of the people, by the people, for the people”. Generally, if a government is elected in a free and fair election, it has a clear mandate and societal consent to enact its policies until the next election. The world got significantly more democratic in the second half of the 20th Century.
11. Devolution – Often defined in opposition to federalism, devolution is an approach to governance where the central government distributes powers to regional governments. While federalism allows for equality between federal and regional governments (with separation of powers usually defined in a constitution), devolved governance can be granted and withdrawn by the central government at their pleasure. It therefore affords greater powers and sovereignty to the federal government. The UK government’s relationship with the parliaments of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales is a form of devolutionary governance.
12. Dictatorship – A dictatorship occurs when a nation is governed by an individual who is not held to account by the masses through a democratic ballot. It is different from autocracy in that a dictator is usually less accountable to the political elite or his party’s internal machinations.
13. Eco-capitalism – Eco-capitalism is an ideology that believes the environment is its own form of capital with its own value. This ideology aims to protect the environment by taxing people who use environmental resources through mechanisms such as carbon taxes. It simultaneously protects the free market while putting up safeguards to protect the environment.
14. Environmentalism – Environmentalism highlights the importance of protecting the environment from existential threats like population growth and climate change. It has become more and more popular as a governing ideology through the Green Party movement worldwide, but has not sufficiently won large-scale elections or facilitated significant social change to date.
15. Fascism – Fascism is an ideology that came to power in areas of Europe in the 1930s and early 1940s. It embraces authoritarian and ultranationalist governance, suppression of opposition and minorities, and regimentation of society.
16. Federalism – Federalism is an approach to governance that supports the equal and shared division of powers between a federal government and regional governments. It is embedded in the United States Constitution (as well as the Australian and Canadian constitutions). In each of these cases, a clear separation of powers is established. Generally, the federal government administers military matters while the state or provincial governments deal with healthcare and education.
17. Globalism – Also known as internationalism. Globalism is an ideology that emphasizes the importance of global cooperation to address existential threats to the globe. It acts in opposition to nationalism where nations act exclusively in their own best interests. Globalism has been the organizing principle for international organizations such as the United Nations, World Bank, and World Health Organization.
18. Humanism – Humanism is a philosophy but can also be considered a political ideology. It places human flourishing at the center of governing life and looks holistically at human wellness. It sees humans not as economic capital but complex beings in need of recreation, healthcare, and education, in order to improve the quality of life.
19. Imperialism – Imperialism is an ideology whose focus is on increasing the relative power of a nation over other nations through diplomatic and military strategy. An imperialist nation seeks power above all else.
20. Islamism – Islamism is a political ideology that emphasizes Islamic principles as the organising principles for the government of society. While there are few remaining nations where Christianity is an overt organizing principle of government, several nations such as Iran have Islamic rule at the core of their constitution.
21. Libertarianism – Libertarianism advocates for extremely limited government intervention. It believes that government is a negative force in society that does more harm than good even when it acts with good intentions.
22. Liberalism – Classical liberalism is a belief that society should maximize the freedom of the individual. As liberalism is generally associated with ‘freedom’, we have various different versions of liberalism. Economic liberals, for example, support free markets, while social liberals tend to support progressive social policies such as pro-LGBTQI rights.
23. Localism – Localism is an ideology that shows preference for your local community or area over anything else. It is a more narrowed-down version of nationalism where people frame their identities around their particular area of a country over and above their allegiance to the country as a whole. Parliamentarians who are localists care more for getting good deals for their local area than the greater good of the nation overall.
24. Maoism – Maoism is a Chinese version of Communism promoted by Chairman Mao. It adapted the Marxist-Leninist ideology by creating a stronger emphasis on the peasantry as the central characters in the communist project.
25. Marxist-Communism – Marxist-communism is an ideology that aims to overthrow capitalism and establish a dictatorship of the proletariat. Marxism is the political theory that states Capitalism is an abusive form of governance that harms the proletariat. Communism is an extension of that theory, advocating for a new form governance whereby the proletariat (embodied by a communist government) owns the means of production and distributes good based on need. There are many communist ideologies that fit under this broad umbrella, including Leninism, Stalinism, Trotskyism, and Maoism.
26. Moderate Centrism – Moderate centrism is an ideology that believes in striking a balance between left-wing and right-wing values to achieve consensus within a democratic society. Centrists aim to be inclusive and resist radical reform of the status quo, but also support making incremental and cautious reforms that increase opportunity and social inclusion. Famous moderates include Angela Merkel, Emanuel Macron, Bill Clinton, and Tony Blair.
27. Monarchism – Monarchism is the belief that a society is best served when ruled by a King or Queen. While some monarchies retain absolute rule by kings and crown princes (such as Saudi Arabia), others (such as the United Kingdom) continue to embrace symbolic monarchism to unite the nation around a beloved figurehead who embodies national virtue and tradition.
28. Multiculturalism – Multiculturalism endorses the development of societies that are culturally diverse and inclusive. It is a phrase usually used in relation to migration policies that do not discriminate based on nationality, religion, or cultural background.
29. Nationalism – Nationalism advocates for the sovereignty of a nation, including preventing undue external influences on that nation. It is often seen in contrast to globalism. While globalists embrace global cooperation on setting an international rule-based order, nationalists see international rules as diluting a nation’s sovereignty to do as it pleases. Nationalists put their nation first and worry little about things happening outside of their own borders.
30. Neo-Conservatism – Neo-conservatism is commonly associated with the foreign policies of the USA from 1990–2010. It embraces an interventionist foreign policy designed to bring down foreign dictators, promotes free markets, and encourage conservative (often conservative Christian) values around the world.
31. Neoliberalism – Neoliberalism has been the dominant economic ideology since the 1970s. It embraces free markets and pro-corporate policies designed to encourage transnational business. While it led to increased prosperity in the west, it also harmed first-world manufacturing industries, put downward pressure on wages, decoupled productivity and wage growth, and outsourced labor to low-wage nations where worker protections were minimal.
32. Oligarchy – Oligarchy is an operating principle where a society is ruled by a small elite aristocratic class. It differs from dictatorship because there are usually multiple people or companies ruling in an oligarchy. There is concerns capitalism can become oligarchic if a small group of companies amasses too much political and economic power. Russia and North Korea also contain elements of oligarchy (although, in North Korea, it is much closer to pure dictatorship).
33. Parliamentarianism – Parliamentarianism is a form of democracy where regions elect representatives who will vote in a parliament to implement laws. It is often contrasted to direct democracy where the will of the people is exercised through direct ballot. Similarly, in parliamentary democracies, the prime minister is elected by the parliamentary representatives (who were chosen by regions), whereas in presidential democracies, the president is elected by popular vote only.
34. Pluralism – Pluralism advocates for a political system that is inclusive of a plurality of views that can be represented in national parliaments. It encourages tolerance and acceptance of differences and negotiation to achieve inclusive progress. It differs from multiculturalism because it advocated the inclusion of political views, not just cultural perspectives. For more, see our piece on cultural pluralism.
35. Political Unitarianism – Political Unitarianism advocates for a strong central government that unites a jurisdiction. It embraces a centralized government without devolved powers. This often makes the administration of services across a region more streamlined but can fail to account for differences in the needs of regions, which may require their own localized administration of services.
36. Political Feminism – While feminism is an academic philosophy, political feminism becomes an ideology because it has a set of operating principles for social governance. Among other things, it advocates for affirmative action, women’s rights to control their own bodies, and policies designed to tackle family violence.
37. Populism – Populism is an ideology that advocates for the supremacy of the views of the masses rather than the elites. It is characterized by anti-elitism and no other elements of ideology. Therefore, there are populists both on the left and right of the political spectrum. Far-right populism has strong overlaps with fascism (being against the power of the liberal and educated elite), while far-left populism has strong overlaps with communism (being against the power of the corporate and capitalist elite). See some examples of populism here.
38. Progressivism – Progressivism is a left-leaning ideology that promotes social justice, policies supporting minority groups, and redistribution of wealth. Today, you might know them colloquially as the ‘woke left‘. It usually exists within social democratic mixed economies, is strongly supportive of democracy, and does not advocate for socialist revolution like other left-wing ideologies.
39. Republicanism – Republicanism is seen as the opposite of monarchism. It advocates for civic participation in a society that is governed by and for the people. Whereas democracy does not necessarily exclude monarchists (Canada, Australia, and New Zealand have all got democratic monarchies with a figurehead monarch), republicanism believes that civic governance should exclude a monarch. As an operating principle, it believes any citizen should be able to rise to the highest office (e.g. President).
40. Self-Determination – Often advocated by Indigenous peoples, this ideology highlights the importance of allowing a society or group within a society to determine their own future. It advocates against external influence on internal decisions. Self-determination is also the organizing principle for separatist movements such as the Scottish and Catalan independence movements. Related to self-determination theory.
41. Self-Sufficiency – Self-sufficiency advocates against one nation’s reliance on other nations for basic necessities. In the era of Globalization, most nations are not self-sufficient as they rely on international supply chains for food, goods, and services. This can pose a threat at times of war or global turmoil when supply chains are cut.
42. Social Democracy – Social democracy is a center-left ideology that advocates for government intervention in a mixed-market capitalist economy. Government intervention usually takes place at times of market failure and capitalist excess, or to ensure free and equitable access to essential services such as healthcare and education. It still tolerates market capitalism with a belief that capitalism can lead to efficient production of goods, economic growth, and enhanced freedom to achieve personal wealth. In other words, it believes in a market that serves society rather than a society that serves the market.
43. Socialism – Socialism is a belief that the government (as a representative of the community) should control the means of production. It excludes free markets and entrepreneurialism with the belief that markets lead to inequality. Socialism usually differs from communism because communism is authoritarian, all-encompassing, and focused on social-class consciousness. 21st Century socialism aims to be more incremental and liberal and may accommodate some limited market forces in some areas of the economy (e.g. via democratic socialism). Nevertheless, the distinctions are difficult to achieve due to the slippery use of these definitions.
44. Technocracy – A technocratic society selects decision-makers based on their expertise in a field. They may be elected directly or appointed by elected leaders as administrators of elements of society. An example would be appointing public health experts to run a nation’s healthcare policy.
The European Union is often criticized for its technocratic nature where technocrats are appointed by elected leaders to develop policies but are not directly appointed by the electorate themselves.
By contrast, the United States votes for many public officials such as Judges and Sheriffs, representing the nation’s emphasis on direct democracy over technocracy.
45. Theocracy – A theocracy is a society organized around religious principles and beliefs. Iran is a key example of theocracy, where there is limited democracy and power is in the hands of the head clerics of the nation. For example, the presidential candidates are only approved if their philosophy is sufficiently pro-Islam and they agree to follow Islamic laws while in office.
46. Third Way – Third Way was an ideology that rose to prominence in the 1990s in the UK and USA. It advocates center-right economic policies and center-left social policies. It can be roughly understood as economically conservative and socially liberal. It enabled several center-left parties (such as Blair’s New Labour in the UK and Clinton’s Democrats in the USA) to regain power after many years in the wilderness. However, it also led to rising state debt.
47. Totalitarianism – Totalitarianism is a system of government where the state controls all aspects of life, dissent is not tolerated, and subservience to state rule is expected. It can be part of dictatorships (totalitarian dictatorship, as opposed to benevolent dictatorship) and theocracies (totalitarian theocracy). However, there is no requirement for single-person rule, and in fact there may be dissent ‘behind the scenes’ within the ruling political party but not by the general populace.
48. Traditionalism – Traditionalism is an ideology that encourages people to live a culturally traditional way of life and reject progress. It is usually associated with religious groups such as the Amish in North America, but can also be exclusively cultural traditionalism.
49. Tribalism – Tribalism advocates for the organization of societies along tribal divides. During Saddam Hussein’s rule of Iraq, tribalism was an organizing principle in many regions, whereby the tribal leaders pledged allegiance to Hussein and in return Hussein gave them significant regional powers. The tribes even had their own tribal militias.
50. Unionism – Unionism is an ideology that supports the collective power of labor to offset exploitation by big businesses. It tends to be one of several ideological forces within left-wing and center-left governments such as the UK Labor party. Unionism is seen as a counterbalance to capitalism within advanced economies.
51. Utilitarianism – Based on the political philosophy, utilitarianism as an ideology involves organizing society to maximize happiness and well-being. It tolerates some restrictions of some people’s liberty if it leads to greater overall happiness. For example, a utilitarian may force someone to move out of their home if it’s in the way of a highway that will make ten thousand people’s commute to work faster. The good of the many outweighs the liberty of that one person.
52. Zionism – Zionism is a religious ideology that advocates for the establishment of a Jewish state in the Jewish homeland (including Israel and the surroundings). It is supported by many non-Jews because it helps give them somewhere safe to live, given they are a historically persecuted group.
Related: 9 Political Socialization Examples
There are countless examples of ideologies. The above examples are some common ones that show how an ideology is a set of political organizing principles for a society and/or its economy. Note that ideologies overlap with but differ from philosophies and approaches. Generally, an ideology is an actionable organizing principle rather than simply a belief system or way of thinking about things. An ideology is less equivocal than a philosophy because it aims to not just ruminate on how life should be, but creates a manifesto for the implementation of policies to realize a set of beliefs.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education.