Louis Althusser was a French professor and Marxist philosopher who wrote Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses in 1970 in order to explore what mechanisms were at play in maintaining and perpetuating the alleged subordination of the working class and other perceived types of exploitation as they related to production in society.
He ultimately concluded that there are two primary mechanisms working together to control the masses by a combination of physical force (or the threat thereof) and indoctrination. The first is the "repressive state apparatuses" such as the military, law enforcement, the prison system, the judiciary, the legislature, and so forth. The second is the "ideological state apparatuses" that are maintained by cultural institutions such as the family unit, the school system, universities, libraries, churches, the media and entertainment.
Althusser believed that "ideological state apparatuses" are far more powerful because they use ideology to get people to act a certain way completely of their own volition, often because they don't believe things could ever operate any other way. He calls it a "double mirror effect," which cements an individual's place in reality and then assures him this is the only reality that is possible.
He references five core elements that define ideology:
- It is devoid of history.
- People are operated or controlled by it.
- It exists in a tangible, material form through practice.
- It represents a perceived but fictional relationship between the individual and the real life conditions around them.
- Individuals are conceived as subjects.
In essence, individuals, through ideology, are made to be simple subjects who are controlled through material practices that blur the line between what is real and what is perceived as real.