Suppose you wanted to design a political ideology to maximize power. What would that ideology look like?

First, and most importantly, it would need to be attractive enough for people to believe it and support it. Especially in a democracy, there is strength in numbers. The ideology should provide a mix of moral and material incentives—it should give its supporters both a grand vision as well as more earthly rewards such as wealth and prestige. The ideology will prove effective at gaining power if individuals can both fight the good fight and make a living by advancing it.

Second, the ideology should have some way of propagating within institutions that are nominally unrelated to politics but in reality influence politics a great deal. Important centers of culture and education are examples. Cultural institutions orient people to specific conceptions of the good, true, and beautiful, while educational institutions pass on to future generations a worldview that helps them make sense of society. If our hypothetically engineered ideology were attractive not just to politicians and voters but to artists and professors, it would have a leg up on its competitors.

Third, the ideology should contain an internal mechanism that renders it perpetually applicable to the problems confronting society. If it’s constructed to achieve too specific a goal, it will lose its raison d’être once that goal is achieved. In order to stay relevant, it must suggest goals specific enough that its adherents have some idea of what they are working towards, but vague enough that they can be reinterpreted such that the political work is never quite finished. One clever way of doing this is to make process a part of the ideology itself. If not just outcomes but procedures become essential tenets, it can self-perpetuate for a long time.