Political Myth Review

cover of Flood's bookFor the second mini book review, here are my thoughts on Christopher G. Flood’s Political Myth, published in 1996.

Political Myth explores and combines theories of myth and ideology to propose a theoretical framework for exploring political myth. In Christopher Flood’s view, political myth exists where political ideology meets myth. The book is structured to logically support this claim. Flood begins by clearly defining political ideology in chapter one. The chapter deals with what political ideology is and demonstrates its pervasiveness, as well as its functions and uses. I can’t help but think here of a section in Roland Barthes “Myth Today” in which he claims that political myth exists always on the Right and only on the Left once it has deemed itself as the Left. I will return to the importance of this connection in a moment.

Chapter two takes on the task of defining myth — whether sacred, political, or both. In this section, Flood highlights the various ways the label “myth” can be used in different groups to achieve different ends. In chapters three through five, he goes into detail regarding the perpetuation and forms myth and mythmaking can take. Notably, Flood discusses myths as if they were real tangible things that people take meaning from. This choice seems like a roadblock given his seeming interest in understanding the various ways people utilize the category of “myth” to achieve certain ends. In chapter six and seven , he shows how these myths function when wedded with political ideology. Finally, in the remaining three chapters, Flood demonstrates his theory in three seemingly different case studies. Through his analysis, it becomes apparent that these case studies are actually quite similar in how they operate. By the conclusion, Flood has set forth a theoretical framework and given numerous examples to see it in action.

Returning to my previous note on Barthes, I have a hard time reconciling Barthes and Flood’s approaches. Barthes seems to consistently want to break down the uses of myth in certain social contexts. In the example of myth on the Right and myth on the Left, Barthes highlights the ways myth is used to create the categories and identification with the Left and the Right. This is more detailed than I wish to address here, but suffice it to say that I think Flood and Barthes were dealing with political fields that were ostensibly similar and yet different in many ways. As a result, their conclusions and approaches don’t seem to coincide.

Overall, Flood’s book was insightful in a lot of ways and led me to ask more questions. Instead of treating myth as a real thing that exists, I have since chosen to take an approach more similar to Bruce Lincoln’s. That is to say, I understand myth as a type of discourse used with subtle manipulations in varying social contexts. While I don’t necessarily agree with all of Flood’s claims, I have found the framework he’s developed to be useful in identifying questions about a particular topic. Will I ultimately use this book in my thesis? Probably not, but it’s good background to get me thinking.