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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

October 15, 1995|CHRIS GOODRICH

A VERY SHORT INTRODUCTION TO POLITICS by Kenneth Minogue (Oxford University Press: $7.95 paper, 112 pp.). But not short enough. Oxford University Press' new "Very Short Introductions" series is supposed to orient readers in unfamiliar disciplines, but if this volume is any indication, its intended audience is still sneaking cigarettes behind the gym. Kenneth Minogue, a professor of political science at the London School of Economics, writes at such a basic level (presumably at the behest of the publisher) that his book almost defies comment: yes, those ancient Greeks thought of nearly everything first, though lamentably they did keep slaves, and Socrates put principle above life by choosing hemlock over exile. The one absorbing section of the book deals with the word "ideology," coined in 1797 by the French philosopher Destutt de Tracy to describe the science of testing mental constructs in the crucible of experience. De Tracy's followers were called les ideologues , and saw a champion in Bonaparte--who soon found mixing philosophy with politics counter-productive, and began to use "ideologue" contemptuously. The word fell into disuse, but Karl Marx revived it in a purely negative sense, though posthumously, since "The German Ideology" wasn't published until 1926. The result is a term that "exhausts the entire field of truth," as Minogue cannily puts it, the ideologue's acceptance of a given set of beliefs being, simultaneously and necessarily, the rejection of all others. Now there's a book--"A Very Short Introduction to Ideology."

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