Louis Althusser: From Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses

Louis Althusser’s article, From Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses, argues that ideology is simply a tool that allows individuals to realize their conditions of existence. He states that ideology is an imaginary relationship, meaning that it is not something physical that can be proven, “ideology represents the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions,” (p. 738). Rather, it is something that represents each individual and therefore influences his or her daily lives. This idea can also emphasize the need for and reliance on power dynamics in society.

This idea is represented in society through examples of religion, among other things. However, religion is an appropriate topic to discuss because it conveys relationships of power. The “idea,” as the argument presents, is that man kind can be ruled by the wishes of an unseen power is a belief that goes back to prehistoric times. Human kind gravitates toward power dynamics, and Althusser’s article presents an argument for this. He states that, “God is the imaginary representation of the real king,” (p.739). The key word in this sentence is God, the ideological and mythical being that can hold power over all living things. The idea of a god is completely manmade in an attempt to keep human beings under control and in order. If one does not obey the rules set by this idea of “God,” the repercussions are punishments in the afterlife, which is also imaginary. The bulk of this argument aims to say that God is not an actual being that can physically keep humans in line. Instead, it is something we impose upon ourselves in an attempt to hold onto civilization, as we know it.

Furthermore, Althusser strategically uses the words “imaginary” and “representation” consecutively. The use of imaginary suggests that the concept in question is one that does not exist, or created by human fiction. Representation means that it is something portrayed and physical. By using these two words together, Althusser suggests that God is something manmade and something that may not exist, but it is also something physical in the sense that it is portrayed in art, for example. It also influences a believer’s life, by creating an idea in the individual’s mind that they need to attend church to make this being happy, and to obey a strict set of laws.

The third component of this sentence is the uses of the words “real” and “king.” As opposed to God, who is imaginary, the king is someone who is real and in the flesh; he is someone physical and appointed to a position of power. However, this sentence by Althusser suggests that the king uses god as a way to stay in power and to hold onto it. Not only do these two entities of power exist on their own, they also exist side by side, and depend on one another. A king, during the eighteenth century, was brought to power through a God-given birthright. Without the manifestation of a god, there would be no king, and hence, no ruler.

The idea that a figure of power can influence an individual to honor certain laws is quite evident in this argument. Not only do we honor physical beings, but also we crave order and rule so much that we manifest imaginary beings to keep us in line, and monitor our behaviors. We are good citizens if we go to church regularly and if we obey the laws set by a physical ruler such as a king.

2 thoughts on “Louis Althusser: From Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses”

  1. I really liked how you pointed out the direct dichotomy between the words “imaginary” and “representation” that Althusser constantly uses to describe ideology and the way it is represented in society. Although ideas and beliefs may be imaginary and unseen, the way these ideas are represented are tangible and can be seen in practice by people in society – to go along with your religion comparison, God is obviously an unseen presence, but the believers in God physically attend Church, go to confession, etc., which are all physical actions that contribute to this larger ideology. Similarly, I like how you used the phrase “craving power and order” because that really embodies how and why ideologies come about – societies seek this sense of order, and to do so, they engage with certain ideologies that help achieve this goal.

  2. I really enjoyed the way you broke down this segment in such detail, examining its overall structure, individual wording, and then expanding to what those elements contribute to its overall meaning. Because this article is so dense and easy to get lost in, it was very helpful to dissect it at such a detailed level and reconstruct the argument to build to its conclusion and overall driving point. I also liked the way you reminded the audience of your previous points as you went, avoiding what the sentences lead to– losing oneself in the density of argument.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *