What is ideology? An ideology is an “-ism,” a system of human thought, something claimed by its adherents (followers) to be able to bring about Utopia or “heaven on earth.” These ideologies are not religions; they do not include God or the “divine.” This separates ideology from the religions, the traditional world-views to be found around the globe. People following an ideology do not seek the kingdom of Christ, the mercy of Allah, Nirvanna of the Buddhists, Brahmin of the Hindu, Sheol of the Hebrews, or even the grey Hades of the Pagans. There are some key signs of ideology. A belief system which paints one portion of the human race to be sub-human, excuses its followers from following the basic tenets of morality common to all major religions (prohibitions against murder, rape, theft, et cetera) or commands to honor one’s ancestors-parents, help those in need, or to respect other human beings simply because of their humanity. Christians may break these tenets in practice, but then they are likely not following their own creed but “sinning.” Even Islam, perhaps the major religion with the most violent and warlike founder, has limits set upon murder, rape, and theft after conquest: three days of plunder, fornication as a sin, and the Dhimmi tax upon conquered people of the book.
Ideologies allow for evil so long as the intended good, utopia, may be achieved. Communism views everything in terms of economics: Lenin’s murder of the Romanovs, Russia’s royal family, people who denied Communism, and warfare against neighboring Poland were excused by Communism, also known as Marxism. The bourgeois were getting in the way of utopia. Christians and aristocrats became second class citizens, or worse: sub-humans liable to the confiscation of property and the Gulag. Stalin wiped out the prosperous Kulaks, starved his own people, and held Eastern Europe in his fist. He, through his actions, was responsible. Perhaps the most terrifying thing about Communism is that good, idealistic, moral people might ascribe to it and support even its atrocities in order to feed the hungry, lift up the oppressed, and bring about “the good life” for the people or proletariat.
Fascism made Jews less than human, six million of them were wiped out, killed, by Adolf Hitler during the Holocaust. The conquest of Europe was excused for the sake of the ‘Master Race,” so called. Fascism views the world through military/ governmental power. The word fascism comes from the bundles of rods and axes carried by lictors for Roman magistrates with the power of executing others, especially the consuls who wielded supreme power in the state.
Feminism (militant feminism, not the struggle for voting rights of the suffragettes) views humanity in the terms of gender and the power of one sex over another. The world would be a better place, for the feminist, if men just got out of the way in favor of women in positions of moral, economic, and governmental power. Many militant feminists claim that men are sub-human. Ask a sane feminist, even, if he or she thinks that wars would cease and the world would be a great place if women were in power. Chauvinism is the mirror image of this, the evil extreme on the opposite end of the spectrum: women as chattel (property), less than fully human. Anti-colonialism, Imperialism (both sides of one wicked coin), Anti-Semitism, Social Darwinism, Socialism, Scientism, and many other ideologies exist.
These ideologies affect literature because they can all be turned into literary criticism. They may be used as lenses through which to read books and other works of literature. Ideologies butcher and reshape works of literature into their own image: Communism the works of Dostoevsky, Feminism those of Jane Austen, Anti-Imperialism Rudyard Kipling’s work, and so on ad nauseam (to the point of sickness).
Good literary criticism may be historical, textual, qualitative, or ethical: it allows one to “see through the eyes of others,” to see the world as people of another gender, race, or culture do. The works of individual authors whose gender, race, or culture one shares will still, likely, present the world in a new way to one. You will do well to avoid “-isms.”