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    Louis Pierre Althusser (UK: /ˌæltʊˈsɛər/, US: /ˌɑːltuːˈsɛər/;[6] French: [altysɛʁ]; 16 October 1918 – 22 October 1990) was a French Marxist philosopher. He was born in Algeria and studied at the École normale supérieure in Paris, where he eventually became Professor of Philosophy.

    Althusser was a longtime member—although sometimes a strong critic—of the French Communist Party (Parti communiste français, PCF). His arguments and theses were set against the threats that he saw attacking the theoretical foundations of Marxism. These included both the influence of empiricism on Marxist theory, and humanist and reformist socialist orientations which manifested as divisions in the European communist parties, as well as the problem of the “cult of personality” and of ideology.

    Althusser is commonly referred to as a structural Marxist, although his relationship to other schools of French structuralism is not a simple affiliation and he was critical of many aspects of structuralism.

    Althusser’s life was marked by periods of intense mental illness. In 1980, he killed his wife, the sociologist Hélène Rytmann, by strangling her. He was declared unfit to stand trial due to insanity and committed to a psychiatric hospital for three years. He did little further academic work, dying in 1990.

    “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes Towards an Investigation)” (French: “Idéologie et appareils idéologiques d’État (Notes pour une recherche)”) is an essay by the French Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser. First published in 1970.

    It advances Althusser’s theory of ideology. Where Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels posited a thinly-sketched theory of ideology as false consciousness, Althusser draws upon the works of later theorists such as Antonio Gramsci, Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan to proffer a more elaborate redefinition of the theory. Althusser’s theory of ideology has remained influential since it was written.


    The ruling class uses the repressive state apparatuses (RSA) to dominate the working class. The basic, social function of the RSA (government, courts, police and armed forces, etc.) is timely intervention to politics in favour of the interests of the ruling class, by repressing the subordinate social classes as required, either by violent or nonviolent coercive means. The ruling class controls the RSA, because they also control the powers of the state (political, legislative, armed).

    Althusser has enhanced the Marxist theory of the state by distinguishing the repressive apparatuses of the state from the ideological apparatuses of the state (ISA), which are an array of social institutions and multiple, political realities that propagate many ideologies—the religious ISA, the educational ISA, the family ISA, the legal ISA, the political ISA, the communications ISA, the cultural ISA, etc.

    The differences between the RSA and the ISA are:
    The repressive state apparatus (RSA) functions as a unified entity (an institution), unlike the ideological state apparatus (ISA), which is diverse in nature and plural in function. What unites the disparate ISA however is their ultimate control by the ruling ideology.

    The apparatuses of the state, repressive and ideological, each perform the double functions of violence and ideology. A state apparatus cannot be exclusively repressive or exclusively ideological. The distinction between an RSA and an ISA is its primary function in society, respectively, the administration of violent repression and the dissemination of ideology. In practice, the RSA is the means of repression and violence, and, secondarily, a means of ideology; whereas, the primary, practical function of the ISA is as the means for the dissemination of ideology, and, secondarily, as a means of political violence and repression. The secondary functions of the ISA are affected in a concealed and a symbolic manner.

    Moreover, when individual persons and political groups threaten the social order established by the dominant social class, the state invokes the stabilising functions of the repressive state apparatus. As such, the benign forms of social repression affect the judicial system, where ostensibly public contractual language is invoked in order to govern individual and collective behaviour in society. As internal threats (social, political, economic) to the dominant order appear, the state applies the proportionate social repression: police suppression, incarceration, and military intervention.


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