The easiest way to explain ideologies or philosophies is that they are lenses meant to provide predictable understanding of an issue and its related components from inception to the many possible outcomes. It is this power to predict possible outcomes of an issue that gives ideologies some of their appeal. Their reliance on predictable and tested logic is the reason that national governments find it important to anchor national management on one or more of these ideologies.
Most ideologies focus on the relational interplay between the economy, politics and society, to an increasing extent. In other words, which one should be the more dominant over the other? Some hold that politics should preside over the economy because resources must be used to secure the state militarily and financially. Moreso, that national resources are better distributed by the state equitably without recourse to self-interest. . On the opposing side of this debate, it is believed that the economy should be either independent or, at least, equal in status to politics. Afterall, it is the economy that provides national wealth. These two opinions explain, in a simplified way, the differences between capitalism and realism (or socialism).
The focus on the social pillar or structure is relatively new and became pronounced through variants of Marxism called enlightenment theories. The focus here was – and still is – the emancipation of the masses, or the working class. Social movements such as civil rights, including women’s rights to vote, to equal pay, feminist movements, environmentalists, among others, were arguably inspired by the need for emancipation. At a distance, if we agree that nations are largely composed of politics, the economy and the social pillars, it is easier to explain how the three ideologies, capitalism, realism (or socialism) and critical theory fit together.
As an ideology, capitalism was initially conceived with the notion that economics can be separate from politics. This notion is still alive and those who spearheaded globalization reasoned that it was easier to interconnect nations through global finance and trade than sheer politics or interests of sovereignty. Those who hold this belief are aligned to Adam Smith who wrote in the Wealth of Nations in the 1700s. Other capitalists believe instead that free markets require regulation so that the poor are not taken advantage of or displaced by those who pursue only profit. Such are the ideas of Milton Keynes.
Overall, this philosophy believes that nations are a formation of multiple social groups who are the basis of society. Government exists as a legitimate representation of that society and its groups so that it translates their ideas and beliefs into policy. In short, capitalism (also called liberalism) is a theory of markets and their interaction on a global scale. It is a theory of multiple actors, states, institutions and civil society. It accepts proactive public intervention in national affairs because the state is not the sole actor in the nation.
Realism (or socialism), on the other hand, considers the state as the central actor in national and international affairs. This idea proposes that each state is concerned with power and, therefore, foreign policy should be a response or counter to the pursuit of power engaged in by other nations. According to this logic, stronger nations coerce weaker ones into joining institutions that do little to serve their interests. The dominance of politics over economy becomes justified in order to reduce inequalities created by the pursuit of self-interest. Unlike capitalism, realism leans more on power and the dominance of the state or politics over the economy.
Critical theory concerns itself with class relations especially in relation to the factors of production (or wealth) and how these factors influence the state. Because the state relies on resources or money to function, it is believed that those with wealth will be able to influence state actions and convert their interests into policies. An example is when the wealthy elite finance a campaign or candidate that is sympathetic to their interests that may include regressive tax and/ or tax holidays and various financial concessions.
On the flipside, these emancipation theories also propose that the ruling class can be deposed if there is consensus among the working class. Secondly, that a successful change of power must ensure that new people not connected to the elite or former form government.
In the real world, these theories act as a foundation for national political and economic structures. They provide governments with predictive lenses so that policy outcomes are better anticipated. Governments are able to observe how other nations have handled social evolution and the various rights that have been legislated elsewhere. These ideologies are templates that can go either way. Their one common thread in the modern world is that they acknowledge the need for social consensus in the preservation and advancement of any nation state. This also means that, at the very least, those who vote should understand the potential outcomes of proposed policies or slogans. And those who aspire to lead must be honest about their ideas and actual outcomes. Ideology or not, it is people that ultimately matter.