Every group has an elite which creates or employs some kind of ethos to establish and maintain loyalty and order, while the rank and file have an innate need for such an ethos through which to perceive the world and find identity and belonging. Religion, Nationalism, Marxism-Leninism, Confucianism, etc all operate basically the same, with varying ratios of implicit and explicit ideological encoding. All are syncretic and fluid, adapting to best re-enforce power and cohesion according to the perceived collective psychological imperatives of masses.
Realistically, buying into an ideology or ethos is not about identifying with its purported ideals, but about believing that the attendant elite will pursue its interests in a way conducive to your own.
Although it quaintly perceives itself as post-ideological and objective, Western Liberalism is no exception.. A lot of popular culture- TV, film and music resemble a prosthesis of religion or mythology. They provide escapism, frames of reference and ritual – think of the sectarianism, mythologizing, pilgrimage and quasi-worship involved in popular music fandom and concert-going. Articles of faith spring up inevitably from the human psyche. For example, zealous faith in the myth of progress and the capability of technology to eventually solve all our problems (despite this zombie idea being repeatedly destroyed by WWI military tech, nuclear weapons, DDT, ongoing ecological holocaust, etc), dogmatic faith in science despite it’s tendency to lose objectivity the closer it comes to the sphere of vested human interest, and faith in human reason, which is nice, but totally ignores 90% of what motivates us. Please, read Dostoevsky.
Left to its own, Liberalism created Dickensian conditions, slavery and new world genocide. Industrialization necessitated the switch from slavery to wage labour, but it took a labour movement from below to insist on the cozy living conditions, social welfare, that developed countries enjoy today. The western intellectual tradition must be taken as a whole; there is no liberalism without socialism. They have always inter-played and overlapped. To say that ‘Marxism has been thoroughly discredited’ is to undermine liberalism in equal measure. You can’t take a hasty label which covers a broad and ambiguous tract of western thought and throw everything vaguely associated with it away without mutilating what’s left. Marx was about 90% descriptive, 8% predictive and 2% prescriptive. He synthesized more pre-existing ideas than he developed independently. To throw it all away is to throw away much from the French Revolution and beyond: Vico, Michelet, Renan, Taine, Anatole France, Babeuf, St. Simone, Fourier, Owen, Enfantain, etc etc. An intellectual’s sacred duty is to rigorously comb through and separate the wheat from the chaff.
Interestingly, Marxists and intelligent traditionalists like the revolutionary conservatives and Heidegger share very similar criticisms of the effect of the liberal (bourgeois) order on culture and the individual. To summarize, the tendency to quantify and commodify everything, even intangibles like human relationships and culture, and to tear down all constraints to the accumulation of capital- whether moral, ethical, legal, cultural or physical. Simply, to mutilate human nature by leaving nothing sacred; neither life, love nor death. Both Marx and Heidegger write extensively about alienation under the liberal order in their own varied ways, Marx mainly about lost subjectivity and Heidegger about lost sense of Heimat. Those ‘progressives’ or milquetoast intra-liberal leftists that believe either that progress will eventually sort these problems all out or that they can be remedied through activism within the liberal order are naive and deluded. The costs of Liberal democracy are even broader though- the establishment of cohesive societies through extensive ethnic cleansing and unlimited resource and market exploitation to needed for the distribution of wealth which the liberal social contract requires.
Liberals in general are able to delude themselves into thinking they can discard the hard left and maintain a coherent liberal ideology because with the end of the soviet union any meaningful threat of organized leftist violent overthrow was shattered and stamped out (the Soviet Union survived far greater crises than it faced in the late eighties, it collapsed because a significant portion of the elite decided they would rather be affluent bourgeoisie than austere cadres). This allowed a false sense of triumphalism on the part of an ill-defined and ambiguous label of ‘liberal-‘ blinding the force behind it, the high bourgeoisie and their intellectual elite, to their own emergent ideological incoherence and the loss of a counter-balance against the far right. Having lost its teeth, the washed up remains of the left are practically inconsequential. These post-Cold War liberals, spoiled by decades of cheap-oil, growth and prosperity, forgetting the great depression and struggle against fascism, believed in the wake of the cold war that liberal democracy was inevitable; and have no explanation or response to the rise of the far right; it just doesn’t fit their reductionistic narrative. Meanwhile, constant economic and demographic crises require liberalism to contravene its own ideals in order to survive, making it harder and harder for those paying any attention to buy into this hobbled, truncated ideology.
Liberalism didn’t produce wealth; it was predicated upon it- the middle class (meaning high bourgeoisie- financiers, not the two-car garage set) got rich off slavery, colonialism and Potosi and then took over in the Dutch, American, Glorious and French revolutions. Markets and resources are not infinite. Those required for the wealth distribution which makes the liberal democratic, or if you like social democratic, social contract stable are not guaranteed even in the near term. Take nothing for granted.
So, anyone steeped in liberalism’s questionable obsession with humanity’s ability to reshape the world around him democratically and with the desired outcome would immediately shout out, ‘so what is to be done?’ Does it matter? In reality, the creation and management of ideology is not a democratic process and does not exist in a contextual vacuum. Social, political or economic context changes constantly, requiring constant reappraisal and adjustment. Having ideals as at least a direction in which to steer is not necessarily a good thing. Nevertheless, I’d suggest that some of the most enduring ethos/ideologies exhibit forms of humility; they try to understand the actual constraints humanity faces. On that logic, were my input sought on ethos construction, I’d advocate suspicion of all anthropocentrism and claims of humanity as a rational, progressing species. Instead of idiotic reductionisms like ‘communalism bad, individualism good’ (the two are inseparable, but some low-functioning “theorists” who lost their privilege to the Bolsheviks failed to interpret their personal tragedy beyond face value) or ‘human beings are selfish,’ one should respect that human nature is nuanced and fluid to a degree. It adapts to varying conditions. We are individuals and social animals. Humans express self-interest and cooperation equally depending on social and economic conditions. Unqualified liberty or equality have no meaning. It requires rigour and attention to nuance to find where such values, once qualified, belong on the hierarchy of needs- probably generally below a sense of earned belonging to some group and a sense that leadership has things under control. Given the prevalence of disorders and eccentrics, generalizing about human nature and how to develop the best ideology based on it, and upon elite interests, popular psychological needs, social and economic conditions and tradition (incorporation of enduring elements of existing culture/ethos), becomes exceedingly difficult. As Bismarck said, ‘politics is the art of the possible, the attainable, the second best.’ The same is true with the construction and maintenance of ideology or ethos. Take nothing for granted, accept what you cannot control and enjoy the ride.