Toni’s Response to Althusser

Response to Althusser

“This is the fact that the (Repressive) State Apparatus functions massively and predominantly by repression (including physical repression), while functioning secondarily by ideology. . . .  For example, the Army and the Police also function by ideology both to ensure their own cohesion and reproduction, and in the ‘values’ they propound externally.” (1342)

Althusser seems to contradict himself a bit in the passage above as he posits his theoretical Repressive State Apparatus in this passage as being a physical structure that works as an enforcer, if you will, whose goal is to perpetuate ideology.   Though he claims that “[t]here is no such thing as a purely repressive apparatus,” he does highlight that ideology is a secondary function of the Repressive State Apparatus.  He provides the example of the Army and the Police as evidence of his claim, and he claims that the Repressive State Apparatus operates primarily by violence and “secondarily by ideology.”  I take issue with his statement here – I tend to believe that the Repressive State Apparatus operates primarily in an ideological function, and what enforces that ideology is this apparatus.  The State, in its singular form, (if I understand him correctly) is power and “the whole of the political class struggle revolves around the State” (1340).  So what are they struggling against – power for certain, but power that espouses a certain ideology.  What we might call the ‘authorities,’ and what he calls Repressive State Apparatuses, is given secondary power to repress those that would rise up against the state, or in protest of an ideology.  Can you really separate the Repressive and Ideological State Apparatuses except in their secondary functions?

Althusser’s endeavor, it seems, is to separate the physical power from abstract ideological power, but I would argue that they are both repressive – one violent, and one nonviolent – and they are both ideological because the Althusser’s Repressive State Apparatuses are enforcing law created by the State, and his Ideological State Apparatuses are privileging State ideology.

After our class discussion, I can see that this is what Althusser is arguing, though I do think that this part of his essay seems to contradict itself.

2 thoughts on “Toni’s Response to Althusser”

  1. We talked about this in class to some extent, but I agree with you that both forms of power are repressive. It could even be argued that coercion is a form of violence, so there is probably some overlap between violent repression and ideological pressures.

  2. Aside from the issue of violence present in the oppressive State apparatus, I think there’s also a level of individual restraint and morals that are impressed upon children in developmental stages. I think school teaches children to obey at an early age, which carries on throughout their life; hence, stopping at a stop light in the middle of a late night empty city street. It is compulsory to obey or, intrinsically ideal to follow the established order of things.

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