The Ideological Drug

Imagine a scenario, if you will, in which a person consumes a drug causing them to speak only the truth. Let’s say that, at a biochemical level, this drug is flawless. It would therefore stand to reason that a test subject, having consumed this drug, would speak nothing but the truth.

Yet could there be, unbeknownst to the researcher, any possibility at all of a biological override? Perhaps in a very particular set of circumstances somehow not considered, the subject is able to circumvent the effects of the drug and have control over what they say. If there was such an occurrence, how would we know? And could a person under the influence of said truth drug be able to exploit this?

Think about it: If the drug, scientifically speaking, is flawless and a biological override still occurs, any statement made by the test subject would be considered true without doubt. There would be no way of telling otherwise, unless the subject themselves reveal so, or perchance the unique set of circumstances causing the override are investigated at some point in the future.

It is in such a manner that ideology continually evolves, and what constitutes part of the accepted paradigm undergoes subtle changes instigated by the ‘priests’ of ideology — trusted actors who are perceived as the voice of the system. Just as the test subject from the hypothetical is able to lie due to a biological override, the key proponents of ‘common-sense’ — the media, economists, politicians — are able to eventually alter the dimensions of the political status-quo in line with the demands of capital.

Ideology isn’t fixed; it’s how we perceive reality, molded by the various actors of capital

What is true liberal ideology: social democracy or neoliberalism? Any modern reader may be inclined to answer ‘neoliberalism’, for that has been the status-quo for the best part of four decades. However, prior to the 1980s, the Keynesian, social democratic welfare state was the norm across the Western world. In the 1930s, Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal expanded the US’ federal government and changed the way state interventionism was viewed by the country’s political elite.[1] Around the same time, the Nordic Model still coveted by the British centre-left[2] emerged in Scandinavia. In Britain, the Post-War Consensus generated by the Attlee government introducing a mixed economy was largely adhered to even by succeeding Conservative administrations, until its reversal by Margaret Thatcher.

Following the collapse of the social-democratic narrative in the 1970s as a result of various crises, the time was ripe for a shift in the ideological paradigm, and thus liberalism adapted to accommodate the “Restoration Story”[3] of the New Right. Think tanks like the IEA sought to influence the sphere of public opinion from the sidelines, before gaining a foothold in a receptive №10 during Thatcher’s premiership. Once “outriders” considered “lunatics [and] complete fruitcakes,”[4] these neoliberal ideologues suddenly became drivers of the dominant political narrative in Britain.

Pundits and analysts will describe in purely political terms the story of the narrative change, making reference to the mistakes made by James Callaghan’s government, Labour infighting in the 1980s, and the ability of Margaret Thatcher to single-handedly change the face of Britain.[5] However, such myopic analyses which detach political happenings from the economic base are fundamentally flawed in their theatrical view of politics. As social animals, it is human instinct to retrospectively find a convincing narrative arc. [6] In the Thatcher revolution narrative, there is a clear protagonist a rising action, a climax and, like any good tragedy, a peripeteia — a reversal of fortune. However, retrospectively applied narrative arcs are not useful for those who wish to seriously understand the driving forces behind change in our society.

To return to the earlier question of which of these “stories”[7] is ‘true’ liberalism: the answer is both and neither. As the requirements of capital changed, the bearers of its veil (politics) adapted, and thus what was accepted as part of the ideological paradigm changed. It is not individual characters (be they Clement Attlee or Margaret Thatcher) who drive structural change, but rather the economic base itself which requires actors (both individuals and institutions like the media) to alter the status-quo. The ill-fated Liz Truss discovered this during her one-man battle against the prevailing “economic consensus”[8] which only ended in her ousting. From a somewhat dirigiste state with public spending to the atomistic mantras of Thatcher and Reagan, liberalism serves and responds to the requirements of any specific time period — not of individuals seeking to unilaterally alter the consensus.

Like the hypothetical truth drug, ideological actors’ perceived authority assures onlookers of the authenticity of their message, thereby enabling ‘truth’ itself to be revised.

[1] E. W. Leuchtenburg: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal (1963)

[2] E. Miliband: GO BIG (2021)


[4] O. Jones: The Establishment (2014)



[7] The Guardian, n3 above




Law student and aspiring political analyst

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