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An idealist position might preclude any investigation of the social background, interests and motivations of 20 BRITISH POLITICAL IDEOLOGIES those holding particular views. A thoroughgoing materialism would not allow any discussion of the elements of mainstream ideologies in terms which their adherents would allow or understand. Furthermore, it might on a priori grounds dismiss all major British ideologies as rationalisations for capitalism with various shades of emphasis. This may be a quite tenable position, but it does rather undermine the case for any extensive examination of ideologies.

This may seem craven, or worse, depriving the study of a coherent theoretical framework for analysis (some may feel), but a degree of agnosticism does have the merit of not closing down in advance what might prove fruitful areas of study. An idealist position might preclude any investigation of the social background, interests and motivations of 20 BRITISH POLITICAL IDEOLOGIES those holding particular views. A thoroughgoing materialism would not allow any discussion of the elements of mainstream ideologies in terms which their adherents would allow or understand.

Yet they are also to a degree sui generis, of their own kind. British liberalism, conservatism and socialism have all developed in a distinctive way. All mainstream British ideologies have been influenced by a British political, economic and social history which has exhibited some markedly different features from experiences elsewhere. There is thus a British political tradition which has left its mark on all our major political ideologies, even those which, like socialism, are ostensibly internationalist in assumptions.

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