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How can we analyse the differences between political ideologies?

Analysis is task that is often ambiguous to undertake. To help your A-level politics studies I shall show you, with a concrete example, how to go about analysing the differences in political ideologies. Whilst this is only a particular topic in the wider politics syllabus, the same analytic tools can be used elsewhere. Let's have a look at an example:

"To what extent have modern liberals departed from the ideas of classical liberalism?"

The first thing to note is the phrasing of the question. 'Extent' implies that there has been some change, and 'departed' implies that this might be a complete loss of ideas or only a partial change of them (this point will be important later on). 


Now that we know that the question wants us to consider change, we can think about in what ways changes in ideas can occur. To do this, we can focus on the differences between political ideologies in a number of ways including :

- With reference to ideas about particular policy areas e.g. over welfare provision. Modern liberals may argue that greater welfare provision is needed to compensate individuals who are the victims of inequalities they are not responsible for. Classical liberals, on the other hand, may argue that welfare provisions should be reduced since they place a strong emphasis on individuals' striving.

- With reference to ideas about particular concepts central to the given political ideology e.g. 'liberty'. Modern liberals usually stress the importance of positive liberty, which is concerned with individuals having opportunities and resources to act. Classical liberals, on the other hand, often stress the importance of negative liberty, which is concerned with individuals' actions not being intefered with. 

- With reference to where the ideas of a political ideology place it on the left/right spectrum of understanding political ideologies in relation to one another. Analysing the changes in ideas of political ideologies with respect to this spectrum can be made easier by splitting the ideas of different ideologies into those concerned with social issues, and those concerned with economic issues. So, for example, classical liberals who stress the reduction of welfare provision may be placed on the right of the economic left/right spectrum, but they may be placed on the left of the social left/right spectrum if they are in favour of increasing and protecting civil liberties from state control. 

Once you've considered the differences above, you can then look for connections between them. In doing so you will come to a reasoned and informed judgement about the extent to which modern liberals have departed from the ideas of classical liberalism (or between whatever other political ideologies you are looking at). An example of the connections might be the following:

"Liberal views on welfare provision (a particular policy area), reflect different conceptions of 'liberty' (a concept central to the ideologies) because different liberal views emphasise one form of liberty over another. Considering that an emphasis on different conceptions of liberty places the different forms of liberalism on opposing points of the left/right economic spectrum, modern liberals depart considerably from classical liberals." 

Drawing the connections in this way allows you to come to an answer to the question posed, and will display clearly to the examiner that you understand the kind of analysis asked for by the question. It is important to note though, that your answer is offering an interpretation of this extent to which their has been a departure. The reason for this is that, as aforementioned, 'departure' could imply that their has been a complete loss of ideas or only a partial change of them. 

As such, you can also argue that modern liberalism, in encapsulating all sorts of liberal ideologies (social justice liberalism as well as neoliberalism, for example), has both lost many ideas of classical liberalism as well as retained them through changing them, depending on what ideologies you consider to be liberal. Recognising this as a question that is open to interpretation though, is of no detriment to your answer (if you choose to recognise it, of course, there is no necessity to do so). On the contrary, it will demonstrate your deep understanding of the nuances involved in discussing political ideologies and in politics generally.

Ciaran C. A Level Politics tutor, A Level Sociology tutor, A Level Ph...

1 year ago

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