Ideological Inversion

Louis Althusser on inversion as an ideological practice. From 'On Feuerbach' in The Humanist Controversy and Other Writings (ed. Matheron Verso, 2003)(p. 128-129).

The old formula, which comes from Spinoza, to the effect that religion is the world turned upside-down, or from Hegel, to the effect that philosophy is the world turned upside down, a formula adopted by Feuerbach and then Marx in the form of the watchword: 'the inversion must be inverted so that ideology may be put back on its feet and destroyed as ideology' - this old formula has a merely metaphorical meaning as a theory of the relations between the real and the ideological; but it has a positive, scientific meaning as far as the internal structure between the elements constitutive of the ideological is concerned. However, if this characteristic of inversion is internal to the ideological, we can deduce from it no practical conclusion that can identify the transformation or elimination of the ideological through a counter-inversion, the inversion of the inversion. Or, rather, we may consider that the practice of inversion does not affect the ideological, since it merely reinforces the structure of the ideological by acknowledging it - that is, practically, by making it work. Yet this practice is at work in what is known as 'dialogue' as conceived by Garaudy to put religion back on its feet by recognizing its 'rational kernel', and so on; that is, by treating it as if it were the inverted reflection of the real, whereas this inversion is merely internal to religion itself.

To put one's chips on the inversion internal to religion is by no means to call religion as such into question, but simply to make religion work religiously. Religion has never worked as well since finding functionaries in the ranks of the Communist parties who make it work much more effectively than the Christians themselves ever did. Chris- tians are too often the prisoners of a rigid conception that misses the reality of the speculary relation as constitutive of religion. The Council62 has finally realized this: it is never too late. To declare that the Church must open itself up to the world is to acknowledge that if religion is to work well, its speculary relation must be put to work: the speculary relation faith/world, internal to religion. A machine that is not used gets rusty and seizes up. To open religion up to the world - as Vatican II has set out to do by, for example, proposing bold liturgical reform - is to put the speculary relation to work right down to the level of the rite itself. It was high time. It has to be admitted in this regard that certain Marxists have, thank God, got a head start over the Fathers of the Council, not only opening up a path for them, but opening their eyes as well. Their merits have certainly been duly noted by the competent authorities, that is to say, by Providence. There are bishops in partibus - but there are saints in partibus too.

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