“Elite political culture” may be defined as the set of politically relevant beliefs, values, and habits of the most highly involved and influential participants in a political system. Studying elite political culture requires methodological innovation which will allow us to do justice to the subtleties of the belief systems of sophisticated political leaders without doing violence to our normal standards of reliability and verification. As one example of the study of elite political culture, this paper presents an empirically based analysis of “ideological politics” and “the end of ideology.”
After some clarification of the logical structure and empirical assumptions of existing descriptions of “ideological politics,” these descriptions are examined in the light of data from a study of the basic beliefs and values of British and Italian politicians, based on intensive interviews with random samples of 93 British MPs and 83 Italian deputati.
The core of the notion of “ideological politics” is interpreted in terms of “political style,” that is, how politicians talk and think about concrete policy problems such as poverty or urban transportation. Each respondent's discussion of two such issues was analyzed in terms of 12 “stylistic characteristics,” such as “inductive-deductive thinking,” “use of historical context,” “moralization,” and “reference to distributive group benefits.” Ratings of these stylistic characteristics are found to cluster in intelligible ways, and on the basis of the dominant stylistic dimension, an Index of Ideological Style is constructed. Those politicians who rank high on this Index are also found to be more ideologically motivated, more abstract in their conceptions of politics, especially party politics, and more idealistic than their less “ideological” colleagues. They are also more alienated from existing socio-political institutions and are concentrated at the extremes of the political spectrum. Further investigation shows, however, that contrary to the assumptions of the existing literature, these “ideologues” are not more dogmatic, not less open to compromise, not more antagonistic to the norms of pluralist politics, not more hostile to political opponents. Partisan hostility and ideological style are found to be two distinct syndromes.
The “end of ideology” thesis is examined by comparing the attitudes and style of respondents from different political generations. In both countries younger politicians are markedly less dogmatic and hostile, but in neither country are they any less “ideological” in their approach to political phenomena and problems of public policy.
In the light of these data the “end of ideology” debate is reformulated. The probable causes and consequences of both the decline of partisan hostility and the persistence of ideology are discussed. Finally, some conclusions are drawn concerning the role of ideology in politics and concerning the theoretical promise and methodological problems of studying elite political culture.