Etymology and history
The term "ideology" was born during the
Great Terror of
French Revolution, and acquired several other meanings thereafter.
The word, and the system of ideas associated with it, was coined by
Antoine Destutt de Tracy in 1796,
 while he was in prison pending trial during the Terror. The word was created by assembling the words
ἰδέα (near to the
Lockean sense) and
The coup that overthrew
Maximilien Robespierre allowed Tracy to pursue his work.
Tracy reacted to the terroristic phase of the revolution by trying to work out a rational system of ideas to oppose the irrational mob impulses that had nearly destroyed him. He devised the term to refer to a "science of ideas" which he hoped would form a secure foundation for the moral and political sciences by examining two things: 1) sensations people experienced as they interact with the material world; and 2) the ideas that formed in their minds due to those sensations. He conceived of "Ideology" a
liberal philosophy which provided a powerful defense of individual liberty, property,
free markets, and constitutional limits on state power. He argues that among these aspects ideology is the most generic term, because the science of ideas also contains the study of their expression and deduction.
Tracy worked this out during the Napoleonic regime, and
Napoleon Bonaparte came to view 'Ideology' a term of abuse which he often hurled against his liberal foes in Tracy's
Institut National. According to
Karl Mannheim's historical reconstruction of the shifts in the meaning of ideology, the modern meaning of the word was born when Napoleon used it to describe his opponents as "the ideologues".
Karl Marx adopted this negative sense of the term and used it in his writings (he described Tracy as a "fischblütige Bourgeoisdoktrinär", a fishblooded bourgeois doctrinaire).
Tracy's major book,
The Elements of Ideology, was soon translated into the major languages of Europe, and in the next generation, when post-Napoleonic governments adopted a reactionary stance, influenced the Italian, Spanish and Russian thinkers who had begun to describe themselves as "liberals" and who attempted to reignite revolutionary activity in the early 1820s (these included the Carlist rebels in Spain, the Carbonari societies in France and Italy, and the Decembrists in Russia).
In the century after Tracy, the term ideology moved back and forth between positive and negative connotations.
(Perhaps the most accessible source for the near-original meaning of ideology is
Hippolyte Taine's work on the
Ancien Régime (the first volume of "Origins of Contemporary France"). He describes ideology as rather like teaching philosophy by the
Socratic method, but without extending the vocabulary beyond what the general reader already possessed, and without the examples from observation that practical science would require. Taine identifies it not just with Destutt De Tracy, but also with his milieu, and includes
Condillac as one of its precursors. (Destutt de Tracy read the works of Locke and Condillac while he was imprisoned during the
Reign of Terror.))
The term "ideology" has
dropped some of its pejorative sting, and has become a neutral term in the analysis of differing political opinions and views of social groups.
Karl Marx situated the term within
class struggle and domination,
 others believed it was a necessary part of
institutional functioning and