Louis Althusser (1918-1990)

Louis Althusser was a French Marxist philosopher who saw Marxism as a science. His work is in the structuralist tradition. One feature of Althusserian Marxism is a rejection of Marx's Hegelian essentialism. Essentialism is a reduction of things to a single principle or essence. Althusser rejected two kinds of Marxist essentialism: economism (economic determinism) and humanism (in which social developments were seen as expressive of a pre-given human nature). So Althusserian Marxism is anti-economist and anti-humanist. In rejecting economism he saw ideology as itself a determining force shaping consciousness, embodied in the material signifying practices of 'ideological state apparatuses', and enjoying 'relative autonomy'. Althusser's work represents a move away from a preoccupation with economic determination.


Born in 1918, Louis Althusser was one of the most influential French thinkers of the Post-war period. In 1948 Althusser Joined the Communist Party and began teaching philosophy at the Ecole normale superieure. Over the coarse of his life, he was hospitalized for mania over 30 times, and in a particularly severe episode, he strangled his wife. Althusser died in Paris in 1990.


Marxist Criticism


Influential People

One of Althusser's closest friends was the French Post-Structuralist Michel Foucault

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