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Althusser, Louis Pierre (1918–90)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DD002-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved June 22, 2024, from

Article Summary

Louis Althusser was the most influential philosopher to emerge in the revival of Marxist theory occasioned by the radical movements of the 1960s. His influence is, on the face of it, surprising, since Althusser’s Marx is not the theorist of revolutionary self-emancipation celebrated by the early Lukács. According to Althusser, Marx, along with Freud, was responsible for a ‘decentring’ of the human subject. History is ‘a process without a subject’. Its movement is beyond the comprehension of individual or collective subjects, and can only be grasped by a scientific ‘theoretical practice’ which keeps its distance from everyday experience. This austere version of Marxism nevertheless captured the imagination of many young intellectuals by calling for a ‘return to Marx’, with the implication that his writings had been distorted by the official communist movement. In fact, Althusser later conceded, his was an ‘imaginary Marxism’, a reconstruction of historical materialism reflecting the same philosophical climate that produced the post-structuralist appropriations of Nietzsche and Heidegger by Deleuze, Derrida and Foucault. Most of the philosophical difficulties in which Althusser found himself can be traced back to the impossibility of fusing Marx’s and Nietzsche’s thought into a new synthesis.

Citing this article:
Callinicos, Alex. Althusser, Louis Pierre (1918–90), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DD002-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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