According to Žižek, like and after Althusser, ideologies are thus political discourses whose primary function is not to make correct theoretical statements about political reality (as Marx’s “false consciousness” model implies), but to orient subjects’ lived relations to and within this reality. If a political ideology’s descriptive propositions turn out to be true (for example: “capitalism exploits the workers,” “Saddam was a dictator,” “the Spanish are the national enemy,” and so forth), this does not in any way reduce their ideological character, in Žižek’s estimation. This is because this character concerns the political issue of how subjects’ belief in these propositions, instead of those of opponents, positions subjects on the leading political issues of the day. For Žižek, political speech is primarily about securing a lived sense of unity or community between subjects, something like what Kant called sensus communis or Rousseau the general will. If political propositions seemingly do describe things in the world, Žižek’s position is that we nevertheless need always to understand them as Marx understood the exchange value of commodities—as “a relation between people being concealed behind a relation between things.” Or again: just as Kant thought that the proposition “this is beautiful” really expresses a subject’s reflective sense of commonality with all other subjects capable of being similarly affected by the object, so Žižek argues that propositions like “Go Spain!” or “the King will never stop working to secure our future” are what Kant called reflective judgments, which tell us as much or more about the subject’s lived relation to political reality as about this reality itself.
Althusser is often charged with holding an elitist perspective. Some commentators believe that this way of conceiving of ideology effectively prevents agency for ordinary people, because they are inevitably deluded and controlled by the ideological state apparatuses. For example, Kevin B. Anderson writes that Althusser’s theory is incapable of registering the existence of “a rebellious individual subject whose rebellion touches off wide support within an entire subjected group,” for example, someone like Rosa Parks. 9 However, Althusser states very clearly that the ISAs are not permanent or stable; their ability to produce ideological practices is always limited and threatened by a basic contradiction: class struggle. In fact, Althusser’s entire project is rooted in the recognition and advocacy of organized struggle against oppression and exploitation, and the means by which class struggle appears in less economically based forms of oppression and subject formation. Jeanne Theoharis has shown that Rosa Parks’s rebellion was not the product of a spontaneous individual moment of freedom, but the consequence of an entire conscious mass movement. 10 This can be understood in Althusserian terms as the appearance of class struggle in ideology. Effects of class struggle appear within ideology, and class struggle presents the possibility of a complete overthrow of bourgeois ideology. In an appendix to On the Reproduction of Capitalism , Althusser responds to the criticism of his work that it is merely descriptive and “functionalist”; that his analysis tends to make everything explained and reified by apparatuses. In response, Althusser insists that his entire theory depends on the primacy of class struggle. In fact, there would be no need for ISAs at all if resistance and struggle were not always present and in need of pacification.