The extraordinary spread in recent months of what has become known, in the writer Wesley Yang’s phrase, as “the successor ideology” has encouraged all manner of analysis attempting to delineate its essential features. Is it a religion, with its own litany of sin and redemption, its own repertoire of fervent rituals and iconography? Is this Marxism, ask American conservatives, still fighting yesterday’s ideological war?
What does this all do to speed along policing reform, ask bewildered African-Americans, as they observe global corporations and white celebrities compete to beat their chests in ever-more elaborate and meaningless gestures of atonement? What kind of meaningful anti-systemic revolution can provoke such immediate and fulsome support from the Hollywood entertainment complex, from the richest oligarchs and plutocrats on earth, and from the media organs of the liberal state?
If we are to understand the successor ideology as an ideology, it may be useful here, counterintuitively, to return to the great but increasingly overlooked 1970 essay on the “Ideological State Apparatuses,” or ISAs, by the French Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser. Once influential on the Western left, Althusser’s reputation has suffered somewhat since he killed his wife in a fit of madness 40 years ago. Of Alsatian Catholic origin, and a lifelong sufferer from mental illness, Althusser wrote his seminal essay in a manic period following the évènements of 1968, for whose duration he was committed to hospital.