by Shinsaku Hayashida
In this blog post, I’d like to talk about the Internet as an ideological apparatus, beyond a technology. My conclusion is that the Internet is an ideological anti-state apparatus which may disorder existing political system, out of the category of Louis Althusser’s ideological state apparatus. Since the beginning of the twenty-first century, the technology of the Internet has started to spread, especially in developed countries. Wellman describes positively that realization of “glocalisation” and “networked individualism” are fostered by such spread of the Internet. However, we also shouldn’t neglect an ideological aspect that internet has.
First, I’d like to explain about a concept of French philosopher Louis Althusser’s ideological state apparatus. Althusser’s theory of ideological state apparatus is based on Marxian presupposition that society is composed of two classes or superstructure and understructure. As Marx remarks, “any society can’t continue to exist without practicing reproduction of various conditions of production.”
These various conditions of production are mainly classified into two types. One is material productive forces such as capital and labour, and the other one is existing productive relations. Classic Marxism treats state as repressive state apparatus which is to guarantee these reproductions. This originates in the Marxian tradition that “state is repressive institution, that is to say, institution which enables the ruling class to guarantee its governance against the working class, in order to practice process of seizure of surplus-value from them”. Althusser summarises such Marxian state theory in Classic Marxism into four characters as below, through The Class Struggles in France (1848 – 1850)and The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon (1851 – 1852). First, “State is repressive state apparatus.” Second, “State power is different from state apparatus”. Third, “object of class conflict is related to state power, and therefore, as a result, to utilisation of state apparatus by the ruling class.” Finally, the proletariat must take back state power in order to break the existing bourgeois state apparatus, and in the first process replace them to proletariat state apparatus, and the next various stages realize devastating state (state power and all state apparatus)”.
In Marxian state theory, state is a single state apparatus characterized into four points as mentioned before. However, according to Althusser, state apparatus includes two aggregations, that is, an aggregation of various institutions which represent repressive state apparatus and an aggregation of various institutions which represent ideological state apparatus. We mustn’t put them in the same category.
Here are differences between them. Repressive state apparatus is very similar to sate apparatus on Marxian state theory. Repression in repressive state apparatus means “this state apparatus functions violently -at least at the point of limitation (because, for example, administrative repression may take an unphysical form)-”. Repressive state apparatus, thus, functions mainly violently and secondly ideologically, and its violent function is overwhelmingly superior. In reality, repressive state apparatus is composed of government, administrative institution, military, police, court, prison etc. There is an example where repressive state apparatus functions secondly as ideological state apparatus. For example, police and military function ideologically by showing their values externally in order to guarantee their own union and reproduction.
In contrast, ideological state apparatus functions mainly ideologically and secondly violently and its ideological function is overwhelmingly superior. Ideological state apparatus includes various institutions in reality as repressive state apparatus does so. These institutions are church, school, political party, media, literature, art, sports etc. It’s them which are ideological state apparatus composed by “religious ideological state apparatus”, “educational ideological state apparatus”, “familial ideological state apparatus”, “legal ideological state apparatus”, “political ideological state apparatus”, “informational ideological state apparatus”, “cultural ideological state apparatus”. School and church is examples where ideological state apparatus functions secondly violently. School and church exercise their students and believers by the means of praise, exclusion, selection etc.
These various ideological state apparatus are various institutions, each realized under a single particular ideology.
Ideological state apparatus plays a critical role on reproduction of various productive relations. Grasping of ideological state apparatus, that is to say, infiltration of the ruling class’s ideology into various institution composing of ideological state apparatus, means guarantee of reproduction of various productive relations. Repression of repressive state apparatus is used for guarantee of various political conditions which makes ideological state apparatus work correctly.
Each institution of ideological state apparatus has the same goal, that is, reproduction of various productive relations – relations of capitalism seizure-. Each of them aims at the same goal with each particular ways. For example, informational ideological state apparatus sends certain amount of nationalism, liberalism etc to the working class everyday.
Ideological state apparatus is very national. This is because each institution of ideological state apparatus reflects the ruling class’s ideology.
Now, I would like to discuss whether the Internet is in the category of ideological state apparatus or not. I think the Internet is not in that but ideological anti-state apparatus. To prove this, we must compare the Internet’s characteristics and those of ideological state apparatus. I try to find their similarities and differences from three points of views.
First, I wonder if internet functions ideologically or not. I think internet does so as an informational ideological apparatus since it is a source of information. However, its way to function is different from that of ideological state apparatus. There is a single ideology in each institution composing of ideological state apparatus. In contrast, in internet, there are diverse ideologies which lie scattered or which are unevenly distributed because mainstream media which might be connected to the ruling class is positively putting much ideological information on internet while each individuals of the working class also does the same thing.
Next, I wonder if grasp of the Internet guarantees reproduction of various productive relations. Grasp of the Internet for the ruling class is censorship and sending only their favoured ideological information. Though I don’t have much proof for that, it might be positive. This is because some governments have been actually practicing censorship of the Internet, such as China. This might demonstrates that Chinese government notices free expression on the Internet with no censorship is likely to jeopardize reproduction of their productive relations. However, in reality it’s difficult for the ruling class to practice censorship and actually there is no censorship practiced in most developed countries for the respect of freedom of expression. Therefore, it is also difficult to guarantee reproduction of various productive relations for the ruling class via grasp of internet.
Finally, I put on myself a question if internet is national or not. I think internet is not national. This is because it is hard to put censorship in developed countries and every individual can find chances to express their ideological information without being controlled by government. Andrew Keen, author of The Cult of the Amateur, treats the Internet as ideology but not as technology as below. “One of the mistakes we make about the Internet is that it’s technology. It isn’t; it’s ideology. The Internet was built by people who questioned authority. The internet is bound up in a fundamental assault on the notion of expertise, on what Jimmy Whales (a founder of wikipedia) calls ‘the mainstream media,’ which includes shows like this, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal.” (Keen, 2010) As he says, internet contributes to create revolutionary ideology which might knock out existing authority.
As a conclusion, these three points make me think that internet is not ideological state apparatus but rather ideological anti-state apparatus, especially in where there is no censorship. We see one example which happened in Arabic world: Arab spring, a revolutionary disturbance caused in Arabic world from 2010 to 2011. In this revolution, social network played an important role. There were activists who used cell phones, twitter, facebook etc to call out other activist and civilians for further development of their social and political movements.
Althusser, L (1974). Ideology and Ideological State Apparatus (Nishikawa, N. Trans.), Tokyo: Fukumura Shuppan, (Original work published 1971).
Policymic. Twitter Revolution: How the Arab Spring Was Helped By Social Media, retrieved 2012/12/22 from http://www.policymic.com/articles/10642/twitter-revolution-how-the-arab-spring-was-helped-by-social-media
Wellman, B. (2004). “Connecting Communities on and offline,” Contexts.
Nieman Journalism Lab, Andrew Keen on why “the Internet is ideology”, retrieved 2012/12/22 from http://www.niemanlab.org/2010/05/andrew-keen-on-why-the-internet-is-ideology/