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Ideology from Althusser’s Perspective Essay


The term ‘ideology’ has a long history. It was formulated by Antoine Louis Claude Destutt in 1796. The phrase is a combination of two words. The two are ‘idea’ and ‘logy’ (Zizek 53). Destutt used the term to refer to one feature of his science of ideas. In the process, the French enlightenment aristocrat delineated three major aspects. They include ideology, logic, and general grammar. To this end, he considered ideology to be the most generic term between the three.

Many scholars who came after Destutt refined his work. One of them is Louise Althusser. Althusser formulated a materialistic notion of ideology. The idea explains a unique discourse referred to as lacunar. In addition, Althusser considers this concept as one which lacks a history of its own. As such, he describes Ideology as an imaginary assemblage. It is a pure dream formed by the diurnal residues of the positive aspects of reality (Althusser 172).

The current paper is written against this background. In the paper, the author provides an in-depth analysis of ideology, including its history and application in modern society. The evaluation is carried out from the perspective of Althusser’s “On the Reproduction of Capitalism”.

Defining an Ideology

A number of scholars provide varying definitions of this concept. However, many agree that an ideology is a form of a conscious or an unconscious belief. The conviction forms the basis of an individual’s actions, expectations, and goals in life (Rehmann 109). It can be, among others, political, sociological, economic, or philosophical. It defines the various aspects of the individual’s life. According to Marxist and critical theories, an ideology can be viewed as a comprehensive way of viewing things, events, and subjects in the society. Generally, the concept portrays a set of ideas held by individuals and groups of people.

It is important to note that ideologies are less encompassing when applied to such notions as imagery and worldview. In light of this, these belief systems are viewed as the individual’s most significant set of values and feelings. They act as the elements through which people view things and agents in the society. In addition, each individual considers their ideologies as natural and true (Althusser 189).

Characteristics of Ideologies

People from different parts of the world have varying perspectives towards things. As a result, ideologies vary from one person to the other and from one society to another. Consequently, variety is one of the major attributes of these concepts. Another characteristic is complexity. Different belief systems carry varying weights in the society (Rehmann 113). For example, an individual may regard political ideologies as more important than religious beliefs. As a result, some ideologies are simple, while others are complex. The Marxist approach is one example of a complex political and economic ideology. There are various examples of simple set of ideas. One of them includes the one associated with youth in the U.S in the 1960s. Their belief was that anyone above 30 years could not be trusted. It was simple given that it lacked empirical support and could not stand the test of time.

It is noted that ideologies are flexible in nature. Elaborate ones, such as religious belief systems, offer answers to almost all questions related to faith (Zizek 156). For example, the Catholic Catechism explains nearly every imaginable topic in relation to Christianity and life in general. The reason is because it has thousands of pages containing different beliefs. In addition, the believers are denied the opportunity to interpret the faith at a personal level. On the contrary, libertarianism and other schools of thought allow people to make personal choices.

Another characteristic of an ideology is consistency. At times, the ideas forming a certain belief system may be in conflict with those provided in another (Althusser 200). Consistency comes into play given that in spite of these discrepancies, the different ideologies hold. Views held by individuals with regards to various aspects of the society change over time. A case in point is Italian fascism. The person credited with this belief system was initially a communist. He was never troubled by the fact that his ideology was extremely anticommunist (Althusser 200).

Examples of Ideologies

The modern society is characterized by different types of ideologies. They range from economic to political, religious, social, and cultural ideas. Each of them explains a specific facet of human existence.

Political Ideologies

They are a set of ideals, doctrines, and symbols that dictate how citizens in a particular state should operate (Rehmann 110). The main reason for the existence of these sets of beliefs is the need to establish and maintain social order. The ideologies focus on how power is shared and used among different parties in the society. Political parties in countries around the world operate on different beliefs. Some subscribe to specific ideas, while others operate on a broad group of interrelated ideologies. Whichever the case, the principles focus on different aspects of a socio-political existence. They touch on education, criminal law, environment, healthcare, and trade. Generally, political ideologies have two major elements (Rehmann 115). The two are goals and methods. An example of a political ideology is Maoism. It puts emphasis on the need for revolutionary power among the peasants. In addition, it tries to interpret Lenin and Marxist theories.

Economic Ideology

The belief system differs from economic theories. The reason is because in most cases, an ideology is both normative and explanatory. It dictates the manner in which an economy operates. On its part, a theory generates precise explanatory models (Rehmann 95). Despite the distinction, the two concepts are interrelated. The relationship results from the fact that ideologies are used to manipulate methodologies and theories used in economic analyses. For example, the validity of a monetary principle is determined by detailed and established ‘standpoints’ (Zizek 166). Anarchism, for instance, cannot be entirely categorized as an economic ideology. The reason behind this is because it entails Anarcho-capitalism. In addition, it has other subcategories, such as Anarcho-communism. All these elements tend to oppose economic ideological standpoints.

Cultural and Social Ideologies

Social and cultural ideologies deal with the environment and other issues affecting the society (Zizek 129). A number of examples can be cited to explain these belief systems. A social facet, such as racial discrimination, is largely associated with issues affecting the living conditions of people of a particular race. The effects brought about by this social construction include prejudice and divisions among groups from different ethnic backgrounds. On its part, feminism advocates for equality with regards to women. The groups behind these campaigns believe that women should have economic, social, and political privileges that are similar to those enjoyed by men in the society. The era of innovation and technological advancements has created the need for environmental conservation. As a result, various ideologies to support the initiative have been formulated. They include ecological and green economics.

Religious Ideologies

All religions are made up of ideologies of varying beliefs and practices. Some believers tend to follow their doctrines strictly. Others are more liberal and only abide by the rules they consider to be significant. The reason why all religions are considered as ideologies is because most believers do not tolerate the existence of other groups with different beliefs and views. In addition, some individuals from certain faiths consider their understanding of the scriptures to be more accurate compared to that of others (Rehmann 86). As a result, it becomes a challenge to change their way of thinking and perceptions of what they believe in. In “On the Reproduction of Capitalism”, Althusser gives an example of Christian religious ideology (180). For one to be a Christian, they must be a subject first (Althusser 180). To do so, the individual is required to answer to God’s call. In addition, they must follow all His rules as expected.


An Ideology is a view of the world. It is a classification of attitudes, beliefs, and values held by individuals and groups. Generally, different cultures have varying ideologies, which dictate how the society should function. However, some ideological inclinations are dominant across all societies in the world. They include those promoted by important social institutions, such as education, religious, government, law, and media. The reason why they are considered as dominant is because they inform the existence of people in all societies around the world. In addition, they are regarded as natural. As such, individuals should not rebel against them.

Works Cited

Althusser, Louis. On the Reproduction of Capitalism: Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses, London: Verso, 2014. Print.

Rehmann, Jan. Theories of Ideology: The Powers of Alienation and Subjection, Chicago: Haymarket, 2014. Print.

Zizek, Slavoj. The Sublime Object of Ideology, London: Verso, 2009. Print.

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