McGee, Michael Calvin. “The ‘Ideograph’: A Link Between Rhetoric and Ideology.” The Quarterly Speech Journal 66.1 (1980): 1-16. Print.
McGee defines ideographs as having these characteristics:
An ideograph is an ordinary language term found in political discourse. It is a high-order abstraction representing collective commitment to a particular but equivocal and ill-defined normative goal. It warrants the use of power, excuses behavior and belief which might otherwise be perceived as eccentric or antisocial, and guides behavior and belief into channels easily recognized by a community as acceptable and laudable. Ideographs such as “slavery” and “tyranny,” however, may guide behavior and belief negatively by branding unacceptable behavior. And many ideographs (“liberty,” for example) have a nonideographic usage, as in the sentence, “Since I resigned my position, I am at liberty to accept your offer.” Ideographs are culture-bound, though some terms are used in different signification across cultures. (15)
McGee finds the ideograph an important concept since he believes they do away with the poetic element of symbolists rhetoricians’ (McGee counts Burke, Dewey, and Cassirer among these symbolists) constructs, yet, simultaneously, explain the truth about power and ideology undergirding these symbolists constructs. Metaphors like “‘[r]hetoric,’ ‘sociodrama,’ ‘myth,’ ‘fantasy vision,’ and ‘political scenario’… [and] their links with the trick-of-mind that deludes individuals into believing that they ‘think’ with/for/through/ a social organism” (15) are made tangible and traceable when defined and treated as ideographs. McGee explains the work of the symbolists is important because it focuses on the “media of consciousness, on the discourse that articulates and propagates common beliefs” (15), and thus, the ideograph makes the truth of symbolists constructs visible through framing them as a “legitimate social reality” accepted by, and propagated through, individuals using a “vocabulary of complex, high-order abstractions that refer to and invoke a sense of ‘the people” (15). By learning the political ideographs that are diffuse and circulate through a given society, McGee claims it’s possible to understand how people are dominated by ideology/hegemony, saying “By learning the meaning of ideographs, I have argued, everyone in society, even the ‘freest’ of us, those who control the state, seem predisposed to structured mass responses. Such terms as ‘liberty,’ in other words, constitute by our very use of them in political discourse an ideology that governs or ‘dominates’ our consciousness. In practice, therefore ideology is a political language composed of slogan-like terms signifying collective commitment” (15).
I have argued here that the ideology of a community is established by the usage of such terms in specifically rhetorical discourse, for such usages constitute excuses for specific beliefs and behaviors made by those who executed the history of which they were a part. The ideographs used in rhetorical discourse seem structured in two ways: In isolation, each ideograph has a history, an etymology, such that current meanings of the term are linked to past usages of it diachronically. The diachronic structure of an ideograph establishes the parameters, the category, of its meaning. All ideographs taken together, I suggest, are thought at any specific “moment” to be consonant, related one to another in such a way as
to produce unity of commitment in a particular historical context. Each ideograph is thus connected to all others as brain cells are llinked by synapses, synchronically in one context at one specific moment.
A complete description of an ideology, I have suggested, will consist of (1) the isolation of a society’s ideographs, (2) the exposure and analysis of the diachronic structure of every ideograph, and (3) characterization of synchronic relationships among all the ideographs in a particular context. Such a description, I believe, would yield a theoretical framework with which to describe interpenetrating material and symbolic environments: Insofar as we can explain the diachronic and synchronic tensions among ideographs, I suggest, we can also explain the tension between any “given” human environment (“objective reality”) and any “projected” environments (“symbolic”or “social reality”) latent in rhetorical discourse. (16)
This seems to be situated within a very top-down, hierarchical situation as described in Marxist theory–even the way McGee describes the political sphere as a distinct space with its own set of discourses. How would this work within the confines of a counterpublics paradigm?