Louis Althusser

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Louis Althusser (1918–1990) was an influential French academic and Marxist philosopher.

He was one of the poster children for the radical "spirit of '68." During this time, student revolts were becoming common in the West, and campuses in Europe and America were witnessing increasingly hostile environments. Western Marxism was also enjoying a resurgence amongst the hard left.

His books are dense treatises on social theory combining structuralist critiques of the social mechanism, psychoanalytic interpretations, and history without a subject. Part of his attempt at reviving Marxist philosophy was theorizing about its relation to "a knowledge identical with science" despite knowing practically nothing about how scientists actually work. His position denied Marx's humanism, adopting a form of antihumanism, in which human beings have no control over their perceptions of the world or their behaviors because they are already encased in behavioral and symbolic structures beyond their control,[citation needed] and these interpellations are generated by the actions of the state.[citation needed]


State Apparatus[edit]

One of Althusser's most famous theories is that of the ideological state apparatus and repressive state apparatus.[1] In short, these apparatuses work to maintain the current system by controlling the lower classes. Repressive ones are seen in systems of direct force like the police, while ideological ones are seen through persuasive outlets like the media. An individual is subjected by ideology in a process Althusser calls interpellation. The goal of these apparatuses is to reproduce the systems that gave rise to them so that the system may continue.

Marx & Hegel[edit]

Althusser made the exegetical point that Marx's intellectual trajectory contains a major 'epistemological break' which occurred in the mid-1840s, coinciding with the writing of The German Ideology.[2] All this basically means is that prior to this point Marx possessed certain basic philosophical assumptions that are incompatible with those he replaced them with. The previous assumptions, Althusser seems to claim, were more Hegelian in nature (he uses the term "ideological" which is sort of a term-of-art for him and not worth unpacking here) and less materialist. Althusser adds to this the more spurious suggestion that the early works have little use if one is trying to understand Marx's thought.

Murder and Memoir[edit]

Althusser killed his wife by strangulation in 1980. Althusser said he did not remember the killing due to severe brain trauma from the times when he was given electroconvulsive therapy for bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, as well as taking several new anti-depressants drugs, most of which have in contemporary times been phased out. Althusser was sent to the psychiatric hospital of Saint-Anne after the murder. He was declared unfit for trial by reason of insanity and did not serve time for the murder. Later in life, he was housed at the university in France where he had worked.[3]

While in the psychiatric hospital, he wrote a memoir that was published posthumously. He wrote about the killing of his wife and other steps that led him down the path to becoming a radical academic philosopher, including accounts of the time he spent as a prisoner of war.[citation needed] He also wrote that most of his philosophy was produced on fraudulent grounds since he actually had not read much of the philosophy his criticism was based on.[4]

See also[edit]