The national political community, as a concept, is central to contemporary understandings of the state and political power yet remains largely unexamined and under-theorized. This essay focuses on the shortcomings of political theorys conceptualizations of the national community and, via Althusser (1971), it suggests a problematic that effectively accounts for national identity. The essay argues that behaviorist/functionalist political theory is unable to answer the question of national identification, given its presuppositions, and that the approach of Althusser suffers from poor exposition and a subsequent systematic misreading by those who have adopted and extended it. Althussers theory is refined here, with the help of psychoanalysis and Pascal, in order to explain why particular identities resonate with individuals as well as explain the particular weight and value of the national identity in relation to other identities.
From Rousseau to Easton, Identifying the Problem
A people, says Grotius, can give itself to a king. According to Grotius, therefore, a people is a people before it gives itself to a king. This gift itself is a civil act; it presupposes a public deliberation. Thus, before examining the act whereby a people chooses a king, it would be well to examine the act whereby a people is a people. For since this act is necessary prior to the other, it is the true foundation of society.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, On the Social Contract
Since Rousseaus Social Contract, and perhaps before, political theory has recognized the constitution of a "people" or "political community" as a necessary condition for the existence of the state. In what amounts to an epistemic break with the social contract tradition, Rousseau notes the logical necessity of the constitution of a people prior to the constitution of the state.1 Accordingly, Rousseau concludes that the first social contract must be an internal one between the individual as citizen and the individual as agent within the state of nature (cf. Althusser 1982, 113160). The outcome of this "contract" is the emergence of a "people" or "political community" qua sovereign.2
While not necessarily recognizing or stressing the ontological argument put forth by Rousseau, contemporary political theory has recognized the importance and functionality of a cohesive political community for the existence and legitimation of state power. Lipset takes it as axiomatic that, "All states that have recently gained independence are faced with two interrelated problems, legitimating the use of political power and establishing national identity (1963, 21)." In Eastons model of the political system, national identities are supports of the first order. More important than support of regime or government is support for the political community, since a political system is not only unlikely to function but even to exist without this requisite support (cf. Easton 1965, 171219). For Easton, the concept of a political community conveys the necessity of " . . . some cohesive cementa sense or feeling of community among its members (1965, 176)." While Eastons use of the term "political community" is not merely synonymous with the nation-state, it is inclusive of it and constitutes the most modern version of community (leaving aside supra-national organizations).
Eastons examination of the conditions that contribute to or cause the formation of this "cohesive cement" illustrates the explanatory weakness of what Gunnell (1993) names the "behavioral reformation" within political theory. Easton identifies politicization as the general cause of this identification with political community.
Concrete responses for the expression and reinforcement of a sense of community appear in patriotic ceremonies, the physical symbols of group identity such as totems, flags, songs, canonized heros and, in literate societies, even in such trivial manifestations as the coloring of territorial maps. . . . But since responses such as these are so well known, they present no special problems for purposes of macroanalysis and we need probe no further in this direction (Easton 1965, 332).
For Easton, the role of politicization in engendering support of community is fairly simple and unproblematic. Behaviors are rewarded and punished in order to socialize the individual in a way consistent with the given political community. Easton, however, recognizes that the kind of identification needed for political communities was stronger than typical behaviorist arguments about socialization/politicization could explain. After all, identifications that may lead a citizen to risk their life in war and that effectively displace competing identifications (tribe, region, race, class or religion) presuppose something more than mere socialization (which is the behaviorist explanation for these other identifications as well). For this reason, Easton stresses that while politicization is the general cause of community identification, ideology represents a "special" cause. Easton argued that the "we-feeling" necessary for the community to exist stems from a shared history and experience that lead people to think of themselves as a political entity of common origin and destiny. This experience and, especially, history must be made intelligible in a way that their effect is precisely this we-feeling:
. . . whether we are referring to the shared history of the members of a system or to the current collective experiences, if these factors are to have any impact on the community feelings of the members of the system and especially upon upcoming generations, they must be interpreted and codified in a form that makes them readily visible, accessible, and transmissible over the generations. Ideology performs this function for the political community (Easton 1965, 333).
Karl Deutsch makes a similar argument (Deutsch 1953, 6080). While Easton stresses the necessity of a common system of meanings and interpretations qua ideology, Deutsch argues that a "people" is the product of complimentary communicative habits that allow for efficient communication among those who constitute a "people". This efficiency of communication provides the basis for the cohesion of a people, and it explains why those who do not share these communicative habits would be viewed as external to a given nationality or peoplehood.
These behaviorist accounts of national identity fail to effectively explain the source of this identification. In Eastons case, a descriptive account of ideology is offered without any causal understanding of how such an ideology may come about or why anyone would accept or internalize this ideology. As in the case of politicization, ideology remains an "independent variable," something that explains rather than something to be explained. With Deutsch, the argument is circular; that which causes identification with the nation, the efficiency of communication, is concurrently presented as the definition of nationality. By definition, Deutschs argument always holds true, and thus explains nothing, since wherever we find such "efficient" communication we find national identification and vice-versa. Deutsch in effect argues that culture determines culture or nationality determines nationality.3
Taken all together, they [habits of communication] include, therefore, in particular the elements of that which anthropologists call culture. If these elements are in fact sufficiently complementary, they will add up to an integrated pattern of configuration of communicating, remembering, and acting, that is, to a culture in the sense of the citations quoted earlier in our discussion; and the individuals who have these complementary habits, vocabularies, and facilities are what we call a people (Deutsch 1953, 71).
Behaviorist political theorys weaknesses are shared by more recent and radical attempts to explain national identities. Wallerstein explains national identities (along with racial and ethnic identities) as a function of the division the labor within and between states (Balibar and Wallerstein 1991, 7185). Wallerstein argues that national identities arise from the political structuring of the modern world system into states and the functionality of national identities to the internal cohesion of a given state as well as their usefulness for engendering mass support in the inter-state battles for hierarchy within the global division of labor (thus insuring the state against internal and external threats). Wallerstein seeks to explain national identity simply from its functionality towards the state. Again, this approach fails to explain why anyone would take on these identities and the conditions necessary for such identification to take place.
This common shortcoming stems from the false dichotomy of the individual and the collective posited by the theories discussed above. As noted, Easton, Deutsch and Wallerstein rely on an unsatisfactory use of functional causality; an even deeper problem is their assumption of already existing individuals who, through their national identities, combine into a collective whole.4 Put another way, the problem of national identities is the problem of the subject. This was already present in Rousseau since the agency of the state could only come out of the already existing agency of the people; the people, in turn, could not be presupposed but had to be a product of an already existing and real process. For the "people" or "nation" to possess positive ontological status it must be constituted by something "real", something that can be said to have being. If we assume that the individual de facto possesses positive ontological status, the problem is simply to understand the combining of individuals into a people. But, if we consider the individual to be socially determined, the individual only gains existence through the collective or society. The assumption that the individual "exists" outside and as foundation of society is inverted. For this reason, the behaviorist question of why individuals combine as a community can never be fully answered in its own terms. In searching for the causes of the combining of individuals into a collective, the question of why an individual would act or behave in this way necessarily must make reference to some "belief", "preference", or "motive" that underpins such action. The behaviorist answer to this question is contradictory and circular because concurrent with the presumption of the autonomous individual is the assumption that their behavior shapes their beliefs. This results in explanations, such as Eastons, which at times argue that the individual is autonomous (the demands placed upon the system are a product of rational action, behavior is a product of belief and free will) but at other times argue that the beliefs of the individual are a product of behavior (as in the politicization of individuals as members of the community). Behavioralisms assumptions preclude it from arguing that the individual "freely" chooses to become part of the collective just as they precludes it from arguing that the collective pre-exists the individual and serves as cause of the individual.
This weakness is particularly surprising in the case of Wallerstein since it is his co-author, Balibar, who notes that:
All identity is individual, but there is no individual identity that is not historical or, in other words, constructed within a field of social values, norms of behavior and collective symbols. Individuals never identify with one another (not even in the "fusional" practices of mass movements or the "intimacy" or affective relations), nor, however, do they ever acquire an isolated identity, which is an intrinsically contradictory notion (Balibar and Wallerstein 1991, 94).
The conclusion that all identity is individual thus leads to the question of the constitution of the national individual (not the combining of already existing individuals). Identification becomes synonymous with individualization, and a theory that explains national identities must therefore explain the individual rather than take it as an assumption.
Practice, Ideology and Interpellation
Balibar derives his assertion that all identity is individual from Althussers definition of ideology as a "representation of the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence (Althusser 1971, 162)." What distinguishes this definition from Marxs well known definition of ideology in The German Ideology is the place Althusser assigns to the individual. For Althusser, ideology only exists by and for the individual. It is through the practices of concrete individuals that ideology comes about. Ideology is lived experience, experience being a product of the sensory perceptions of an individual. Ideology is no longer a false representation of the real world brought about by the worlds alienating effects. Identities are always individual since they are an effect of ideology, occurring when the individual is interpellated by "recognizing" itself as the subject who some utterance or call is directed at (cf. Althusser 1971, 170177). This act of "recognition" signifies the point where we experience ourselves or are conscious of ourselves as subjects of a particular identity: ". . . this recognition only gives us the "consciousness" of our incessant (eternal) practice of ideological recognition . . . (Althusser 1971, 173)."5
This shift from more traditional Marxist views of ideology signifies the emergence of a theory that has as a goal the explanation of the individual subject. The explanation of the "I" or "ego" is central to any attempt to explain the "community" or "people" as a process of individualization. The national individual, as an object of analysis, is only thinkable by way of Althusser and psychoanalysis since no other theoretical traditions allow for this question (with the notable exception of Spinoza). A significant problem remains, however, for Althusser never fully reconciled his assertion that ideology is material (practice) with his assertion that it is ideology that constitutes individuals as subjects by way of interpellation. After spending most of the first part of his essay examining the materiality of ideology, Althusser conceptualizes interpellation as the ideological mechanism that explains identity and individualization. Althusser, however, never explained how ideology produced particular interpellations. What about the materiality of ideology explains why we do or do not "recognize" ourselves as a given identity? Under what ideological conditions would someone "recognize" themselves as "American" or "worker" or "sinner"?
This deficiency has largely remained unexamined. Most commentators either pay lip service to Althussers assertion that ideology is material without reference to interpellation; or, discuss interpellation without reference to ideological practices, reducing it to a discursive idealism where it is simply language or discourse does the interpellating. In Laclaus (1977) famous use of interpellation to examine populism, he lays the agency of the interpellation solely with discourse. For Laclau, the interpellation of individuals as "the people" is a product of the political discourse of the power bloc (those classes and class factions, unified by the state, that hold political power). In non-populist moments, the "people" interpellation represents the neutralization of antagonisms between the class factions of the power bloc and the class factions of the people bloc by presenting what may have been understood as class antagonism as being simply difference. This becomes populist when it is subverted by some faction of the power bloc in its attempt to become hegemonic (over competing factions of the power bloc) by appealing to the "people" and interpellating them in opposition to the dominant ideology and the state (what was once simply difference becomes antagonism). By recasting difference as antagonism, a faction of the power bloc, in their attempt to redefine the power bloc and assert their hegemony, is able to enlist the "people" as allies against competing power bloc factions (cf. Laclau 1977, 143198). Laclau makes no reference to the materiality of ideology, and interpellation becomes an idealist category with no reference to the material conditions and constraints that may explain why a particular interpellation works (or fails) or why a particular populist project may have succeeded (or failed).
Göran Therborns treatise (1980) on ideology and power ignores interpellation altogether. He effectively negates the radical potential of Althussers assertion that ideology is material by arguing that ideology is discursive while materiality is non-discursive:
All human activity is invested with meaning and all ideological interpellations have some kind of "material" existence, in bodily movements, sounds, paper and ink, and so on. This does not mean, however, that it is impossible to distinguish, analytically, ideological from material, discursive from non-discursive dimensions of human practices (Therborn 1980, 33).
Having made the "analytical" distinction between ideology and materiality, Therborn proceeds to treat their relations as external. Ideology exists in the mind and its affirmations while sanctions in the "material" matrix either support or subvert a particular ideology.6 Thus, ideology is not material, but rather must conform enough to the existing material matrix so as to make it compelling (cf. Therborn 1980, 3149).
Michel Pêcheux (1982) recognized quite well that Althussers explanation of interpellation was in need of further development. However, there is no reference to any practice other than discursive in Pêcheuxs fleshing out of the conditions necessary for an interpellation to occur. For Pêcheux, language assumes the subject since the "I" is always present in discourse. Pêcheux names this phenomenon the "subject-form of language". This common feature of all discursive formations is crucial in explaining interpellations since, for Pêcheux as for Lacan, it is within the network of meanings and utterances that the subject is constituted: " . . . the subject is "caught" in this network"common nouns" and "proper names", "shifting" effects, syntactic constructions, etc.such that he results as "cause of himself" . . . (Pêcheux 1982, 108)." Pêcheux specifies and refines the mechanism of interpellation as it relates to language, and he outlines the characteristics language must necessarily possess in order for any interpellation to take place. However, he cannot explain why particular interpellations happen. By limiting his discussion to the discursive elements of interpellation (i.e. why we are so quick to recognize ourselves as subjects and take it to be given that indeed we are subjects) he fails to examine the historical and material practices that could explain why we recognize ourselves as any particular identity.
While each of the references above failed to overcome a weakness already present in Althussers original exposition by retreating into a discursive idealism, Paul Hirst (1979) represents the most telling failure to come to terms with Althussers theory of ideology. By not linking Althussers assertion that ideology is material to the claim that the subject is constituted through the act of interpellation, Hirst concludes that Althusser remains within the Cartesian problematic. Hirst argues that Althusser assumes the ability of the individual to recognize itself in order to be interpellated and in this way Althusser, in Cartesian fashion, defines the subject in terms of cognitive ability.
The dual-mirror relation only works if the subject(s) who recognizes already had the attributes of a knowing subject; the mirror of the Subject serves as a means of reflection, giving the subject an image, that image is, however, recognized by the subject as its image. Recognition, the crucial moment of the constitution (activation) of the subject, presupposes a point of cognition prior to the recognition. Something must recognize that which it is to be (Hirst 1979, 65).
Althussers analysis of the "mechanism" of ideology describes and reproduces certain of the forms of religious and philosophical theory. Further evidence for this is to be found in the fact that the interpellation relation subject-individual can be placed within Althussers own empiricism-idealism structure of the subject and the essence without undue violence. The subject which the individual is to be represents the essence, an essence which transcends the "abstract" individual, and the abstract individual represents the "subject", an empty individual with nothing but the facilities necessary to receive the subject that it will be. The empiricism of the "subject" here requires the support of certain prior suppositions (that it is a cognizing subject) (Hirst 1979, 6768).
Hirsts comments in part derive from a reading of Althusser by way of the early use of Lacans concept of the mirror stage. The concept of the mirror stage derives from the "mirror test" developed by Henri Walton in 1931. The test was used to show the differences between humans and other primates by showing that a six month old human is capable of recognizing its own image in a mirror, while a chimpanzee apparently is not (cf. Evans 1996, 115116). Lacans concept of the mirror stage specifies the role of the specular image in the function of language, as well as the formation of the ego by providing unity, via this recognition, to what otherwise could simply be thought of as a meaningless set of biological parts. Hirst seems to assume that this act of recognition, since it is recognition that creates or "activates" the subject, must presuppose some essence of cognition on the part of the "subject to be". If the intelligibility of images were a simple biological or theological attribute, Hirst would be right.7 However, this is not the case. For Lacan the imaginary is structured by way of the symbolic.8 The recognition of the image can only come about within an already established matrix or topology of images by way of the symbolic (cf. Zizek1991, 1011). As Bruce Fink has noted:
Such "images" derive from how the parental Other "sees" the child and are thus linguistically structured. Indeed, it is the symbolic order that brings about the internalization of mirror and other images (e.g., photographic images), for it is primary due to the parents reaction to such images that they become charged, in the childs eyes, with libidinal interest or valuewhich is why mirror images are not of great interest to the child prior to about six months of age, in other words, prior to the functioning of language in the child (which occurs well before the child is able to speak) (Fink 1995, 3637).
The phenomenon of recognition is thus not an a priori assumption, as Hirst argues, but is an attribute of the symbolic order.9
Interpellations, then, occur only after the "subject to be" has come to occupy a space in the symbolic order. This is clear from Althussers often quoted assertion that "the individual is always already a subject".10 How do we reconcile this position, however, with the argument that ideology is material? Certainly, simply by noting the centrality of the symbolic order in interpellations, we have done little to overcome the problem of discursive idealism.
Slavoj Zizek (1989, 1153) has done the most to overcome this uncertainty between interpellation and ideology. Zizek not only correctly identifies Althussers lack of clarity regarding the relation between ideology and interpellation, but also highlights Althussers use of Pascal. No other commentator, to my knowledge, has made use of Pascal in their attempt to reconstruct Althussers argument.11 Zizek restates the radical message of Althussers conception of ideology as practice and helps to resolve the question of why certain interpellations take place. Counter to Montag (1996), we can say that this revival of the radical and subversive in Althusser is due precisely to the reading of Althusser with the help of Lacan and Pascal. While others reduce Althussers theory of ideology to a discursive idealism, Zizek emphasizes the role of practice and ritual. Two quotes from Pascal are most relevant:
You want to be cured of unbelief and you ask for the remedy: learn from those who were once bound like you and who now wager all they have. . . . They behaved just as if they did believe, taking holy water, having masses said, and so on. That will make you believe quite naturally, and will make you more docile (Pascal 1995, 125).12
For we must make no mistake about ourselves: we are as much automation as mind. . . . How few things can be demonstrated! Proofs only convince the mind; habit provides the strongest proofs and those that are most believed. It inclines the automation, which leads the mind unconsciously along with it (Pascal 1995, 247).
Recall Althussers position that " . . . recognition only gives us the consciousness of our incessant (eternal) practice of ideological recognition . . . (Althusser 1971, 173)." This position adheres to Pascals privileging of practice over belief or consciousness. We can say that interpellations and beliefs only come about once they have already occurred on the level of practice. Ideology in this way is practice and based upon the content of such practices and their repetitions (ritualization) a given identity or belief will arise on the level of the subjects consciousness. In Balibars words, "the subject is practice" (1995, 25). Zizek notes the difference between this position and that of behavioralism, and establishes why Bentons (1984) assertion that Althussers theory of interpellation is no advance over functionalist theories of socialization is misguided:
What distinguishes this Pascalian "custom" from insipid behaviorist wisdom ("the content of your belief is conditioned by your factual behavior") is the paradoxical status of a belief before belief: by following a custom, the subject believes without knowing it, so that the final conversion is merely a formal act by means of which we recognize what we have already believed (Zizek 1989, 40).
Zizek helps clarify the link between ideology and interpellation, but does not fully explain it. Are many beliefs or identities possible from the same practices or customs? How is the ideological content of practices determined? Given the science/ideology distinction Althusser uses, we can say that practices are ideological because they are experienced. All experience is ideology, science begins when we depart from experience into abstract categories that do not presuppose the subject, the I. To paraphrase Althusser, science is a subject-less discourse (Althusser 1971, 173).13 Since experience is always from the perspective of the I, experience does not exist until the subject exists. Prior to interpellation, there is no experience or practices to serve as its basis. In historical time, the practices occur before the interpellation, but the experience or meaning of these practices can only be established once the interpellation has occurred. Here interpellation, as effect, precedes its cause.
It is Pêcheux and Zizek who again do the most to explain this element in Althussers thought. Pêcheux termed this paradox the "Munchausen Effect"the paradox of the subject being the "cause of himself" (Pêcheux 1982, 103109). Discussing Althussers definition of interpellation, Pêcheux notes that:
. . . the formulation carefully avoids presupposing the existence of the subject on whom the operation of interpellation is performedit does not say: "The subject is interpellated by Ideology." . . . The paradox is precisely that interpellation has, as it were, a retroactive effect . . . (Pêcheux 1982, 106).
The retroactive effect (or, more properly, the retroactive cause) is this "Munchausen Effect". This is emphasized in Zizeks discussion of dialectics in psychoanalysis, and here we see the homology between Althussers theory of ideology and psychoanalytic practice (cf. Zizek 1989, 5569). The repressed (unconscious) cause of a given symptom only arises after the symptom.
The Lacanian answer to the question: From where does the repressed return? is therefore, paradoxically: From the future. Symptoms are meaningless traces, their meaning not discovered, excavated from the hidden depth of the past, but constructed retroactivelythe analysis produces the truth; that is, the signifying frame which gives the symptoms their symbolic place and meaning (Zizek 1989, 5556).
This perfectly describes the dialectical relation between ideological practice and interpellation. It is the interpellation which gives meaning (ideological content) to the practices which, in turn, are the cause of the interpellation. While a discursive idealism (as found in Laclau et al.) is to be avoided, so too is a strict determinism of practices over thought (which a narrow reading of Pascal might imply). Practices have no inherent meaning or causal weight in and of themselves. Only after they are incorporated into a symbolic order (which occurs when the individual is interpellated as a subject) do they acquire any causal weight.14 The ideological content of a given set of practices will vary according to the symbolic order they are embedded within.15 For an interpellation to be successful, it must base itself on a given set of material supports which acquire their causal weight with the interpellation.
Let us take the interpellation "sinner" as an illustrative example. A young child may engage in the practices associated with "praying" without attaching any meaning to them, they are simply empty rituals. The bowing of a head, or kneeling, or placing ones hands together need not have any religious or moral meaning (it is hard to imagine a child of two thinking of themselves as a sinner). At a later point in time the child may recognize itself as "sinner" in the discourse of the religious Subject (the religious big Other or symbolic order). What were once empty practices now become the material/ideological cause of the interpellation since praying only makes sense if one assumes the position of "sinner". The identity "sinner" was already presupposed by the practice of praying, even though the child was unaware of this at the time. The point of becoming conscious of the belief that one is a sinner (the moment of interpellation) coincides with the attribution of religious meaning to the past experience of "praying". Of course, if a "sinner" is asked when it is that they became a sinner they will surely not answer "when I was interpellated as such" and will likely respond that they have always been a sinner (born with original sin). Here we see that only by reference to the symbolic order can we attribute ideological content to practices and that these practices can indeed represent "belief before belief".
Through this reformulation of Althussers theory of ideology we are able to overcome the problems with Althussers exposition; but, the actual use of the theory to examine the production of national subjects must overcome two remaining problems. We must be able to distinguish respective hierarchies of identities and practices. As noted in the review of Easton, the identification as a national subject must be strong enough to displace competing identifications. Individuals are subject to multiple interpellations. Someone may be concurrently American, Republican, Texan, teacher, Christian, white, and mother; but, for national identities to be fully functional (producing national political communities and state legitimacy) they must be able to supercede other identities. Nothing we have discussed so far and nothing in Althusser allows us to explain how this may be accomplished. Concurrently, if all we know is that interpellations are a product of the ideological content of practices and of (mis)recognition, we are faced with an almost infinite set of practices within everyday life to draw upon in any attempt to explain a particular interpellation.16 Althusser does help us on this matter with his discussion of ideological state apparatuses. Althusser emphasizes the role of the educational apparatus as most important followed by the family, media, and so on. Indeed, there is now a significant body of Althusserian analysis on education and other ideological apparatuses. However, the analysis of ISAs does not fully answer this problem of a hierarchy of practices. The section below argues that the ISA is a confusing category given Althussers own use of ideology and interpellation, and an alternative category is proposed by way of psychoanalysis and Henri Lefebvre.
Enjoyment and the Everyday
Reality shows us that civilization is not content with the ties we have so far allowed it. It aims at binding the members of the community together in a libidinal way as well and employs every means to that end. It favors every path by which strong identifications can be established between the community, and it summons up aim-inhibited libido on the largest scale so as to strengthen the communal bond . . .
Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents
The short answer to our remaining problems can be found in psychoanalysis, identities possess libidinal value. There can be a hierarchy of identities by virtue of their libidinal content. Similarly, the practices that cause such libido infested interpellations would be identifiable by virtue of their libidinal attraction.
If we examine the political and ethical implications of Althussers theory of ideology, the need for an understanding of the libidinal content of identities becomes clear. For Althusser, our identities are symptoms of our social existence; they are omnipresent and necessary. As long as society exists, so will ideology and identities.17 This is the basis for Althussers reproach that the concept of alienation is ideological and pre-Marxist. Since alienation is universal and not particular to capitalism, its elimination is impossible and can not be a revolutionary goal.18 The political position implied in Althusser is one of a critical self-awareness of our own identities as symptoms, misrecognitions, effects of our social being. While we can not avoid alienation we can curb its delusional effects through an understanding of the mechanism of interpellation. However, even if we are aware of the ideological causes of our identities, we may not be able to liberate ourselves from them. Symptoms may continue even after their causes are uncovered if the symptoms contain libidinal value (cf. Zizek 1989, ch. 2).19 Even if we explain to an "American" that their identity as such is only a misrecognition, that they are not really an "American", that their ability to think critically is limited by this misrecognition, we are not likely to succeed in "curing" them if their identification as American is a source of enjoyment.20
The libidinal contents of identities are evident through their "pertinent effects" (cf. Poulantzas 1973, 7984). Obviously, the libidinal value of an identity is radically contingent (i.e. the identity "Marxist" may have a very strong or very weak attraction). The Poulantzasian concept of pertinent effects helps us on this issue; the existence of class struggle is revealed by its effects. "Pertinent effects" because only by way of class struggle could such effects be produced. The only way we can know of the presence and amount of libidinal value in a particular identity is through its pertinent effects. For example, the response provoked by the burning of a national flag. If no one cares, it is safe to say that at that time the given national identity does not have a high libidinal value; if there is a strong response, it is safe to say that the identity does have a high libidinal value. In contemporary society, national identities have a significant degree of libidinal value; the pertinent effects are countless and obvious.
How do identities come to possess libidinal value? While it may be easy to know if identities have a libidinal value, how these values are allocated is not at all evident. As already noted, identities have two elements; the ideological practices that function as their cause and the position within the symbolic order they signify. The loci of the libidinal value may be either of the two or both. If we look to ideological practices, it is easy to understand based upon our own experiences that a drink at the corner bar, the viewing of a sports event or the writing of a poem may be a source of satisfaction. This experience is easy enough to explain by way of Freuds discussion of the sublimation of the libido into socially acceptable activities (cf. Freud 1960). But, we are unable to know which acceptable practices are attributable to a given identity without first knowing its position within the symbolic order. The libidinal value of a given practice is not a function of its "essence" (watching baseball is not universally enjoyable), but it acquires value through the meanings attached to it by the symbolic order.
To further complicate matters, identities may often be floating; as in the case of populist projects. The same identity can come to represent many different and conflicting sets of practices. Identities need not refer to any characteristics. The term "middle American" may refer to a gay Jewish New York lawyer just as easily as to a fundamentalist Christian potato farmer. Here, what one is identifying with is not a set of characteristics but a symbolic position, a point of view. We can thus speak of two kinds of identifications: imaginary and symbolic (Zizek 1989, 105107).21 Imaginary identities are identifications with an image (the reflection in the mirror stage). The identity as "mother" or "student" or "worker" is imaginary to the degree that one identifies with a set of characteristics that constitutes our image of that identity. Symbolic identities are identifications with the place from where these images are being viewed, the symbolic position that attaches meaning to the image (the gaze of the parental Other in the mirror stage). Interpellations are thus constituted by two imperatives: to identify with a particular image and to assume the symbolic position from which that image is viewed (to take on a certain subjectivity).22
This point of symbolic identification produces a suturing or organizing effect on the field of practices. Practices possess libidinal value by virtue of their organization by the symbolic order. Let us take as an example the slogan "Baseball, Hotdogs, Apple Pie and Chevrolet". What is being asked of the consumer? To identify with an image of Chevrolet?23 To identify Chevrolet as American? The advertisement implores the consumer to view Chevrolet from the same symbolic position from which the other objects appear as belonging together; to view a Chevrolet through American eyes. It implies that only in this way can the true meaning or significance of Chevrolet be understood. A Chevrolet can not be reduced to the sum of its physical parts. It is a materialization of the elusive American way, the American essence manifest in baseball and hotdogs. In this context the identity "American" can not be reduced to any characteristics (it is not simply an imaginary identity) but is a position from which a cluster of practices derive their meaning or unity.
What is this essence that is manifest in both hotdogs and apple pies? What is that part of Chevrolet that unites it with these things? Common to all these objects is that "Americans" enjoy them all, that which unites hotdogs and Chevrolet is that they are manifestations of a particularly American way of enjoying.24 Here the dialectical relation between symbolic identities and their articulations within the field of practices becomes clear: the symbolic identification is necessary for the organization of practices, but the compelling force behind the identification are the practices themselves.25
The element which holds together a given community cannot be reduced to the point of symbolic identification: the bond linking together its members always implies a shared relation to a Thing, toward Enjoyment incarnated. . . . If we are asked how we can recognize the presence of this Thing, the only consistent answer is that the Thing is present in that elusive entity called "our way of life." All we can do is enumerate disconnected fragments of the way our community organizes its feasts, its rituals of mating, its initiation ceremonies, in short, all the details by which is made visible the unique way a community organizes its enjoyment. . . . The national Cause is ultimately nothing but the way subjects of a given ethnic community organize their enjoyment through national myths (Zizek 1993, 201202).
As Zizek notes, the level of practice is what gives causal weight and substance to the discursive/symbolic order.26 Echoes of Pascal abound, he could have easily said "move your lips in song, eat your hotdog, drive your Chevy, and you will believe as an American." On a practical level, most people are aware that the organization of enjoyment differentiates national communities. Typical American statements on how we are different from other nationalities may include claims that the French smell, Mexicans are lazy and Japanese work too much.27 For all the similarities between the Americans and the English, the real distance between them can be typically seen in Manhattan pubs that televise games during English soccer season, often packed with British expatriates cheering and shouting and debating to the amusement and incomprehension of the American patrons.28
In his analysis of the national cause, Zizek tends to emphasize national myths and narratives in the organization of enjoyment as a national enjoyment (cf. Zizek 1993, 200237). While looking to myths and narratives enables us to examine the function of national historiography and other fantasies in the production of national communities, it tends to under-theorize the role of everyday practices (although Zizek makes frequent use of them as illustrative examples). At other points, he recognizes the role of the nation-state, beyond its various myths and narratives, as the " . . . pre-dominant frame of identification with the ethnic Thing (Zizek 1994, 79)." The question is, how are we to know if a given practice is part of a national enjoyment? If we emphasize the role of national myths, festivals and rites, we are limited to a fairly small group of practices self-identified by their overt nationalist content (e.g. independence day parades, John Wayne movies and voting). I do not think we can limit ourselves to these overtly nationalistic practices, and the conceptual logic of what we have discussed so far, as well as Zizek analysis, indicate that the more banal everyday practices are of vital importance. After all, what could be more American than apple pie? As already noted, practices will gain meaning and unity by virtue of the symbolic position they are being viewed from. Just as no given practice is inherently enjoyable, so no practice is inherently national, or ethnic, or local, or global. The analysis of practices and enjoyment is inherently a phenomenological exercise. The only way we can know if a given practice occupies a position within this national relation to enjoyment is by knowing if people experience this practice as such. To explain why and how the organization of enjoyment occurs is one thing: to identify and describe it is another.29
The place we must look to in order to identify what practices are operant in the production of the national community is everyday life. Althussers Ideological State Apparatuses must be replaced by Lefebvres everyday life. If we were to do a strict Althusserian analysis we would look to the schools, the family and other bureaucracies as the loci of these ideological practices that interpellate individuals as national subjects. The problem with this approach lies in the use of the terms "state" and "apparatuses". In speaking of "state", Althusser implies that ideology only has state functions or expands the definition of the state to be everything and everywhere. Althussers own definition of ideology would preclude such a possibility since it is universal and could not be reduced to any particular (national or state) ideology. In addition, he would readily admit that the state is a historical particular and not universal. By using the term "apparatus", he implies a kind of formal unity of the practices within these institutions based on the quasi-legalistic demarcation of "family," "school" and "labor union." Any taxonomy that tends to correspond to the various ministries of a western state is suspect. The unity of practices must be established, not assumed, and the tendency to reproduce formal/legal categories as analytical categories must be resisted. Indeed, it could be easily argued using Althussers own theory that these categories themselves are ideological effects grounded upon our experiences rather than on our causal understanding of social phenomenon. Everyday life is a useful alternative to ISAs for two reasons; first, it does not assume any formal or legal distinctions within the totality of practices constitutive of the everyday; second, it stresses the ritualistic and repetitive aspects of these practices. Everyday life is a historical category, corresponding to the particular temporal organization of life into repetitive 24 hour units (cf. Lefebvre 1994, ch. 1). Practices are repeated, life has a mechanistic quality and, for this reason, everyday life is dominating, boring and undesirable. Lefebvres analysis corresponds perfectly with Pascals and Althussers discussion of custom and ritual. It is not simply practices, but the habituation of practices, " . . . material practices governed by material rituals . . . (Althusser 1971, 170)," that "leads the mind unconsciously with it (Pascal)."30 Everyday life can be the only loci of ideological practices.
Within this so far undifferentiated continuum of ideological practices qua everyday life, we will need to make substantive differentiations in order to establish a causal hierarchy of practices as they relate to a particular interpellation. Replacing "state" with "national enjoyment" stresses the point that the unity of any set of ideological practices are not formal or a priori but are overdetermined by their relation to each other from the point of view of the effect/product we are trying to explain: a unity of otherwise contingent practices when viewed from the position of an ideological effect (in our case, the national individual).31 For example, eating apple pies and driving a Chevy are contingent, unless we view them from the perspective of the American national identity and the complex totality of practices that function to support this interpellation.
Replacing "apparatus" with "everyday life" makes explicit, first, the inability to reduce the function of ideology to any intentionality (state or otherwise) and, second, that ideological practices function in an automated and self-referential way. Self-referential based on this overdetermined unity since only in the complex relation of practices to each other and to the symbolic order do they acquire any ideological weight and automated because their functioning presupposes no intentionality on the part of those who may have instituted them or those who are experiencing them. An apparatus (like a hammer or an artificial limb) implies a subject who is directing it or using it. Althussers essay can thus be easily misread to imply that the state or bourgeoisie is "behind of" or controls ideological practices. While it is no doubt true that the law or the priests or the parents or the teachers may sanction or institute practices, their ideological function can not be legislated or willed by them. Overdetermined is the same as underdetermined: the existence of a practice is never a sufficient condition for its ideological function. The complexity and contingency of the relations between the various practices which unifies them and gives them causal weight is thus a complex process of the various parts interacting as a whole and having definite, automated, effects that can not be reduced to any one part or any one will.32 The failure of the Cultural Revolution is an example of this process. Neither Mao nor manual labor could control the complex autopoetic workings of what Althusser could have termed the "spontaneous" ideology of the student revolutionaries.
The need to develop theories that allow us to explain the social production of national and ethnic identities is acuteespecially in the current political and historical conjuncture. Similarly, although Althusser and his concepts of ideology and interpellation have had a significant presence in Marxist critiques of literature, language, education, and the media, they have never been developed in a way that would allow for their use in the empirical research needed to explain the production of particular identities. This essay has attempted to revise the Althusserian approach in a way that will make it useful for social scientific research. As this essay has argued, a necessary component of any such revision is the incorporation of psychoanalytic concepts. A theory that explains identities but does not allow for plotting their relative values and importance is useless. Contemporary political theory is quite content with ignoring most Marxist and, even more, psychoanalytic contributions to the understanding of identity; preferring to explain contemporary explosions of nationalism and ethic violence as examples of "civilization clashes", pathologies of not-modern-enough societies, and, worst of all, evil men and leaders. However, the imperatives of explaining political phenomenon make the Marxist and psychoanalytic problematics extremely valuable and belie the indifference of the social scientific community.
The value of the Althusserian approach to questions of ethnic and national identity remains to be realized, given the lack of empirical research within this problematic. The need for empirical research is two-fold: it will help refine our abstract understanding of the mechanisms at work in the interpellation process, and it will help us identify those everyday practices that play a central role in the making of the national individual (as well as other identities). The analytical and political importance of this understanding is significant since we will be able to identify the practices that must be subverted in order to transform the ideological topology of modern national societies. As noted above, any understanding of the real working of interpellation presupposes a knowledge of the everyday routines of individuals and how they experience them. An Althusserian phenomenology of our everyday routines is what must be produced and substantive research into the vicissitudes of the play between these practices and the symbolic order is needed. I am currently attempting just such a study into the everyday practices that explain the interpellation of Greek-Americans. Almost 30 years after the publication of Althussers essay on ideology, the reformulation of his arguments and the addition of empirical research will allow us to demonstrate the utility of his approach and greatly advance our understanding of modern identities and the individualization process.
The assertion that a people must exist "before" the state need not refer to a temporal distinction of one existing before the other in historical time. It does, however, necessarily refer to the logical position of one vis-a-vis the other.
As Althusser notes, it is not a true contract since one of its parties, the community or people, comes to exist only after the contract is made (Althusser 1982, 123134).
None the less, Deutschs arguments are quantifiable, which seems to be his main theoretical goal. In his review of previous theories of nationalism he states that "In all the works surveyed, these findings were qualitative rather than quantitative. Not merely had measurements not been made, but the very concepts themselves furnished no bases for them. Where predictions were nonetheless attempted, their reliability was small on the average, and sporadic at best (Deutsch 1953, 14)." In the 45 years since the publication of Deutschs book, we have seen the truth regarding the ability and precision of quantitative social science to predict the rise and fall of nationalism. A Hegelian reading of Deutsch on this issue, however, transforms what may be a circular definition into a ontological statement about the substance of nationalism. If we restate Deutschs definition as "the nation is the nation" we return to the formula for Universality and self-identity found in Hegels Science of Logic. By defining nationality only in relation to itself, Deutsch in effect empties the category nation of all particularities by not reducing it to any determinations (Nation is family, Nation is ideology, etc.); nation is its own negation in this definition and the identity nation becomes Universal form emptied of all content and particulars. This definition represents the unity of Nation beyond its particular properties. As Zizek has noted, this Universal form, emptied of all content and representing ideal unity, constitutes the qualitative One which is necessary for any quantitative discussion. "A reference to the logic of the signifier may help here: the One is what Lacan calls pure signifier, the signifier without signified, the signifier which does not designate any positive properties of the object since it refers only to its pure notional Unity brought about performativity by this signifier itself (the exemplary case of it is, of course, proper names)and the Void: is it not precisely the signified of this pure signifier? This Void, the signified of the One, is the subject of the signifier: the One represents the Void (the subject) for the other signifierswhich others? Only on the basis of the One of quality can one arrive at the One of quantity; at the One as the first in a series of counting . . . (Zizek 1991, 52)."
For an examination of functional causality see Elster (1983).
As Spinoza put it, "Experience teaches us no less clearly than reason, that men believe themselves to be free, simply because they are conscious of their actions, and unconscious of the causes whereby those actions are determined: and, further, it is plain that the dictates of the mind are but another name for the appetites, and therefore, vary according to the varying state of the body (Spinoza 1955, 135)."
As evident from the quote above, Therborn also tends to fall back to a pre-Marxist understanding of materiality as an issue of substances (as in the materialism of Hobbes for example) rather than emphasizing the materiality of social relations.
Surprisingly, Hirsts critique has been accepted with little challenge by many commentators on Althusser. This is the case with Ted Benton (1984) who simply repeats Hirsts comments adding, " . . . the concept of interpellation is no advance over the conception of socialization offered by functionalist sociology . . . (Benton 1984, 107)." The absurdity of this claim is evaluated latter on in this essay. Michael Sprinker takes up Hirsts critique arguing that recognition is better thought of as a "causal power" rather than a mental faculty (Sprinker 1987, 198). Sprinkers defense of interpellation, however, quickly falls into the same trap as Hirsts critique by arguing that this "causal power" " . . . is an observable potential of a structure whose nature remains unknown in the present state of research in neuro-physiology and cognitive psychology (Sprinker 1987, 199)." In the end, Sprinker simply repeats Hirsts position by treating recognition as pre-social, whether as an aspect of our biology or not, and thus becomes a presupposition since it is beyond the explanatory powers of the theory itself.
For an elaboration of Lacans concept of the symbolic and the imaginary see Jameson (1988, 75115).
Althussers definition of ideology as an "imaginary representation" is in this context very misleading in that it does not correspond to the Lacanian definition of the imaginary order; however, it does not necessarily follow that ideology is simply on the level of the symbolic. As Rastko Mocnik (1993) has argued, ideology operates within both the symbolic and imaginary registers. Mocnik attempted to answer the question of why a particular interpellation is or is not successful by arguing that an utterance acts as its own mirror by registering in the symbolic and imaginary orders concurrently. While this answer is compatible with the answer we will give below, it begs the question of how the symbolic order is constituted and does not examine the role of ideology as practice in this formation of the symbolic order. As can be noted in the discussion of Zizek that follows, the answer to this question that Zizek provides is superior on these issues.
While this position has often been misunderstood as contradictory to the concept of interpellation (Hirst had viewed it as some essentialist survival in Althussers theory of ideology) it is best understood in this context of the interpellation occurring only after the individual has come to occupy a space in the symbolic order. The whole of this passage from Althusser is intelligible only in this context: "That an individual is always-already a subject, even before he is born, is nevertheless the plain reality, accessible to everyone and not a paradox at all. Freud shows that individuals are always "abstract" with respect to the subjects they always-already are, simply by noting the ideological ritual that surrounds the expectation of a "birth", that "happy event". Everyone knows how much and in what way an unborn child is expected. Which amounts to saying, if we agree to drop the "sentiments", i.e. the forms of family ideology (paternal/maternal/conjugal/fraternal) in which the unborn child is expected: it is certain in advance that it will bear its Fathers Name, and will therefore have an identity and be irreplaceable. Before its birth, the child is therefore always-already a subject, appointed as a subject in and by the specific familial ideological configuration in which it is "expected" once it has been conceived (Althusser 1971, 176)." A related issue is the role of misrecognition in interpellations. The subject necessarily misrecognizes that it is the act the interpellation that makes it the identity it has recognized itself as. Thus, the subject is "always already" what it recognizes itself as from the point of view of its own consciousness.
Warren Montag (1996) has gone as far as to assert that Althussers use of Pascal is most un-Pascalian in that he does not maintain the presumed mind-body dualism of Pascal in favor of a Spinozist combining of the two. He also argues that it is impossible to reconstruct Althussers theory of ideology by way of psychoanalysis: " . . . there is no longer any question of "correcting" or completing Althussers essay with the aid of Lacanian theory, given that theorys own impasses and fragmentation (Montag 1996, 93)." Montag never justifies either point; he goes on to argue that it is by way of Hobbes that we can come to terms with Althussers theory of ideology. He argues that it is Hobbes who shows us how ISAs function since it is he who first notes the necessity of separating the masses into individuals and the necessity for these individuals to "freely" submit to the state or law by way of the "social contract". If we are to judge Montags reading by its contribution to the theory of ideology we must conclude that it is of little interest since what he does say about individualization had already been said by Poulantzas in his discussion of the "isolation effect" (1973) and, although he gives an interesting reading of Hobbes by way of Althusser, his use of Hobbes does not shed any light on the possible ways interpellations may actually function.It is interesting to note the fetishism presupposed by Hobbes discussion of the social contract. The social contract does not refer to any real event, it need only refer to how men must act in order for the state to gain sovereignty: " . . . men must act as if they had moved out of a state of nature by agreement (emphasis in original; Macpherson 1962, 20)."
Althussers paraphrase "Kneel down, move your lips in prayer, and you will believe" is likely derived from this passage.
The origin and philosophical foundations of this distinction can be found in the work of Gaston Bachelard, Althussers mentor (cf. Bachelard 1984 and Tiles 1984). Gregory Elliott has noted that this distinction is also in line with the Spinozist influence on Althusser, " . . . with its [Spinozas rationalism] total differentiation between rational knowledge and the "opinion" or "imagination" derived from random sense experience (Elliott 1987, 53)."
This point brings us back to the role of misrecognition in interpellation. As argued before, there is a necessary misrecognition that occurs during the interpellation because for the individual to be interpellated as a subject it must misrecognize that it is the interpellation that makes them into a subject. The subject must misrecognize that the present (interpellation) has brought about the past (their belief that they were already what they recognize themselves as), as the Lacanian dictum puts it "the truth arises out of misrecognition."
Luckily, in social analysis we are always looking backward so the indeterminacy and play between ideology and interpellation does not present a problem, since we will already know if the interpellation occurred and the ideological practices present at the time. This dialectical relation, of course, does make it difficult to predict if a certain interpellation will be successful since we can not be sure of the ideological content that will be attributed to a given set of practices before an interpellation actually happens.
A similar problem was identified by Poulantzas (1966) in relation to Althussers concept of overdetermination. Poulantzas argued that the concept was not able to distinguish between a hierarchy of determinations and could very well lead to endless description rather than focused analysis.
All identities are in this way alienating since individuals will be interpellated as subjects and thus misrecognize themselves as something they are not (alienation). What someone really is would, in this context, be beyond all particular identities. The Lacanian definition of a fool (someone who really thinks they are what they are for someone else) applies to this case.
In Marx we find at least two different uses of the term alienation. At times (the more traditional use of the term) it refers to the physical separation of a product of labor from its producer and at times it refers to the misrecognition that occurs because of the commodity form. For example, in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts we find both uses, at times it refers to exploitation and at times it refers to the alienation of man from himself (by misrecognizing himself as a commodity) from society (by misrecognizing relations between himself and other people as a relation between himself and things/commodities) and from nature (by misrecognizing his interaction with nature as an interaction with commodities) (cf. Marx 1992, 322334). It is obviously to the latter use of alienation that Althussers critique is directed against.
Cornell West (1994, 3549) illustrates this point well in his essay "The Pitfalls of Racial Reasoning". Wests critique of the use of racial identities as epistemic categories fits very well with the Althusserian critique of identities; his proposed solution, unfortunately, does not take into account the libidinal value of identities and presents "moral reasoning" as something we should choose over "racial reasoning" without any real analysis of how someone could make such a "choice" and the parameters of such agency.
A "just say no" approach to nationalism or racism will not work any better than it did for drug abuse.
This point brings us back to the role of the imaginary and the symbolic in interpellations.
Interpellations are dominating for this reason since we are not only compelled to conform to the image projected by this symbolic Other but also compelled to identify with the symbolic position itself. As Lacan puts it, " . . . the subject is subject only from being subjected to the field of the Other. . . . (Lacan 1981, 188)." This point is freely admitted when discussing, for example, the image of beauty in the media but is almost never noted in discussions of nationality or family or work or any other significant source of identity. Our domination by national, religious and familial identities is seldom recognized. That the slogan of the Greek Junta was "Nation, Religion, Family" is not surprising.
As with the slogan for Mercury, "Imagine Yourself in a Mercury".
From this point on I will tend to use the Lacanian term enjoyment (jouissance) rather than the more general terms libido and pleasure. While their are differences between Freuds use of pleasure and Lacans use of enjoyment, enjoyment refers to the pleasure one derives from denying oneself pleasure (cf. Lacan 1992), and while this represents a recasting of the concept of libido (a term Lacan almost never uses), either term is acceptable for the rather loose formulations presented here (my use of psychoanalytic concepts should be seen as a selective appropriation rather than a rigorous exposition). I prefer the term enjoyment only in order to be consistent with the terminology of the secondary sources I am using.
Here we return again to cause-effect inversion identified earlier.
In addition to the symbolic and imaginary orders, Zizek is here making reference to the Lacanian Real (that which resists symbolization, the excess or surplus that remains outside the symbolic order). Our enjoyment itself produces an excess that we are unable to reconcile into the symbolic order; the Thing is the Real Thing, it is elusive since we can never reduce it to symbolization and it functions as object-cause of desire.
It is interesting to note that no two countries with a McDonalds have ever gone to war.
The stereotypical image of the "ugly American" tourist fits this dynamic; what is being alluded to is their "ugly" relation to enjoyment (clothes, food, etc.) compared to the native forms of enjoyment. In Greece, English tourists are ridiculed for their inability to enjoy alcohol properly. The Greek tradition of drinking and eating together is contrasted to the English style of drinking excessive amounts while not eating, with the resulting tendency of English tourists to be less than sober.
The methodological example for this kind of analysis is Marxs analysis of the commodity form. The contingency of the commodity form must first be described on the level of appearances before we can have a causal understanding of the necessity of that appearance given existing social relations. We must first understand how a practice is experienced before we can explain the cause and function of this experience.
There are obvious similarities between this position and Bourdieus concept of habitus, even though references to Lefebvre are conspicuously absent in his work and he is surprisingly quick to ridicule Althusser and structuralism (cf. Bourdieu 1990, 5280).
We can only say that ideological practices are "belief before belief" once we know the "after" of this "before".
This point is already present in the previous discussions of the dialectical relation between practices and interpellations and the impossibility of predicting the ideological content of a practice before the interpellation.
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