Comparative Book Review Althusser vs. Fromm

According to Marx, in order to survive a social formation has to reproduce the conditions of production (Althusser 127). To do this, the producer has to renew the means of production such as raw materials, machines, etc. and the production forces, which is labor power, by wages (130). Another factor applied for the reproduction of labor power is the renewal of labor skills, which is done through the capitalist education systems (132). These education systems encompass not only school but also the church and the army. Their aim is to form a person in such a way to conform to the existing ideology and be able to “manipulate the ruling ideology correctly for the agents of exploitation and repression.” (133)

Louis Althusser believed that the ideology lies behind all human processes. According to Marx, ideology makes one of the levels of the society where the infrastructure is an economic base, and the superstructure contains the levels of law and ideology (134). Basically, such a scheme means that without a financial foundation ideology and laws are not possible. Ideology influences people through Ideological State Apparatuses comprising the system of different churches, schools, the family, legal and political systems, mass media, and cultural means such as literature, the arts, and sports. (143). That extensive network of influences uses ideology and repression, or punishments, as their main tools. It can be expulsion and selection in case of educational institutions, disciplinary methods in the family, or censorship in the means of public communications (145).

If, in the Middle Ages, the church was the predominant Ideological State Apparatus, then in modern times, its place was taken by the educational ideological apparatus, in addition to the family that was always an influential unit (152). Althusser stresses that the dominant ideological State apparatus is able to work with all classes and make sure that the reigning ideology is drummed into all students. Then the students fill all existing posts in the society ranging from workers and peasants, intellectuals and managers to policemen and soldiers and the professional ideologists such as priests, who complete the circle (155).

In fact, ideology has no basis, nor the foundation. Althusser refers to it as “a pure illusion, a pure dream, i.e. as nothingness.” (159) Saying that ideologies do not have any connection with reality, Althusser states that despite being pure fiction ideologies are mirrored in the material world. Whatever ideology a person selects one will demonstrate certain practices: a believer goes to church and does ritual actions there, a dutiful person performs one’s duty physically, while lawful politically conscientious citizen votes, takes part in demonstrations, signs petitions (167). “Ideology is the system of the ideas and representations which dominate the mind of a man or a social group.” (158)

Ideology makes the citizens subjects because it can work only with subjects. The ideology of good manners, for example, prescribes people to respond to greetings in a certain manner, by raising a hat or shaking hands. The very action of subjectifying, or transforming the individuals into subjects, is named by Althusser as “interpellation.” (174) By hailing someone, an individual interpellates another individual as a subject. Through responding to such a socially habitual action, a person acknowledges and recognizes that he or she is a subject (174).

The paradox with individuals being subjects lays in the fact that since ideology is eternal “an individual is always-already a subject, even before he is born.” (176) Althusser states that everyone is being born in a more or less structured reality. For example, his/her name is already chosen, place in life is already prepared, even if “the former subject-to-be will have to ‘find’ ‘its’ place.” (176) As a result, we see “the duplicate mirror-structure of ideology” when, in addition to the interpellation of individuals as subjects, they have to mutually recognize subjects and that they are subjects and behave accordingly (180-181). Such “quadruple system of interpellation” results in the vast majority of ‘good’ subjects living according to the ideology while ‘bad’ subjects invoking some repressive measures (181).

The human desire to have a structured life is the central thesis of Erich Fromm’s Escape from Freedom. In his work written in 1941, after Adolf Hitler had come to power in Germany and started the Second World War, Fromm endeavors to understand how such a cruel totalitarian regime could gain such a wide support from people. The book follows the development of human character from the Middle Ages to the newest time. Fromm echoes Marx’s idea about the alienation of a man due to the exploitation of his labor (34). Despite the restricted individual freedom, an individual of the Middle Ages was never alone and isolated. “In having a distinct, unchangeable, and unquestionable place in the social world from the moment of birth, man was rooted in a structuralized whole, and thus life had a meaning which left no place, and no need, for doubt.” (35) Comparing with Althusser’s theory of ideologies, a Medieval peasant or a knight or an artisan had a clearer ideology with a stable place in the society, thus, feeling oneself identical with one’s profession. While having no freedom a Medieval man had security (36). The Protestant Reformation and subsequent capitalism alienated an individual from his work and the fruits of his work, thus, making him infinitely unhappy and insecure. By rejecting the Catholic Church as an intermediary between man and God, “Protestantism gave expression to the feelings of insignificance and resentment; […] it made him a tool instead of an end.” (87)

By identifying a psychological need to structure, Fromm seeks to answer the question whether it is possible for the situation with an oppressive ruler to be repeated and concludes by warning that this need is not necessarily filled in a democracy.

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