Thursday, May 06, 2021

Only A Special Pinhead Could Consider IdPol Ideology Net Of Panicdemic State Ideology

unherd |  The extraordinary spread in recent months of what has become known, in the writer Wesley Yang’s phrase, as “the successor ideology” has encouraged all manner of analysis attempting to delineate its essential features. Is it a religion, with its own litany of sin and redemption, its own repertoire of fervent rituals and iconography? Is this Marxism, ask American conservatives, still fighting yesterday’s ideological war?

What does this all do to speed along policing reform, ask bewildered African-Americans, as they observe global corporations and white celebrities compete to beat their chests in ever-more elaborate and meaningless gestures of atonement? What kind of meaningful anti-systemic revolution can provoke such immediate and fulsome support from the Hollywood entertainment complex, from the richest oligarchs and plutocrats on earth, and from the media organs of the liberal state?

If we are to understand the successor ideology as an ideology, it may be useful here, counterintuitively, to return to the great but increasingly overlooked 1970 essay on the “Ideological State Apparatuses,” or ISAs, by the French Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser. Once influential on the Western left, Althusser’s reputation has suffered somewhat since he killed his wife in a fit of madness 40 years ago. Of Alsatian Catholic origin, and a lifelong sufferer from mental illness, Althusser wrote his seminal essay in a manic period following the évènements of 1968, for whose duration he was committed to hospital. 

Composed with a feverish, hallucinatory clarity, Althusser’s essay aimed to elucidate the manner in which ideology functions as a means to prop up the political order, observing that “no class can hold state power over a long period without at the same time exercising its hegemony over and in the Ideological State Apparatuses”. 

What are these ISAs? Contrasted with the Repressive State Apparatuses — the police, the army, and so on — the ISAs are the means by which the system reproduces itself through ideology: Althusser lists the church, the media and the education system along with the family, and the legal and political system and the culture industry as the means through which the ideology of the governing system is enforced. Althusser here develops Gramsci’s thesis that the cultural sphere is the most productive arena of political struggle, and inverts it: instead of being the site of revolutionary victory, it is where the system reasserts itself, neutering the possibility of political change through its wielding of the most powerful weapon, ideology. 

It is through ideology, Althusser asserts, that the ruling system maintains itself in power: “the ideology of the ruling class does not become the ruling ideology by the grace of God, nor even by virtue of the seizure of state power alone,” he states, “it is by the installation of the ISAs in which this ideology is realised and real­ises itself that it becomes the ruling ideology.”