Marxist Theory Law as Ideological Apparatus

Ideology is the lens through which an individual views the world. Within the sector of sociology, ideology is broadly understood to ask the entire of an individual’s values, beliefs, assumptions, and expectations. Ideology exists within society, within groups, and between people. It shapes our thoughts, actions, and interactions, together with what happens in society at large. Ideology is a fundamental concept in sociology because it plays a strong role in shaping how society is organized and the way it functions so it is studied by most of the Sociologists. Ideology isn’t only directly associated with the social organization, the financial system of production, and political structure it also shapes them.


This theory of Ideology was first written by Karl Marx which was published in 1970 as false consciousness. But the theory was not influential as he does not explain it elaborately. After his theory, a French Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser worked on the works of later theorists such as Antonio Gramsci, Sigmund Freud, and Jacques Lacan and gave an elaborate redefinition of the theory. This is called as Ideological State Apparatus (ISA). The theory written by Althusser is still influential.

Ideology vs. Particular Ideologies

Often, when people use the word “ideology” they’re about a specific ideology instead of the concept itself. For instance, many of us, especially within the media, ask extremist views or actions as being inspired by a specific ideology (for example, “radical Islamic ideology” or “white power ideology”) or as “ideological.” Within sociology, much attention is paid to what’s referred to as the dominant ideology, or the actual ideology that’s commonest and strongest during a given society.

However, the concept of ideology itself is general and not tied to at least one particular way of thinking. In this sense, sociologists define ideology as an individual’s worldview and recognize that there are various and competing ideologies operating during a society at any given time, some more dominant than others.

Ultimately, ideology determines how we add up of things. It provides an ordered view of the planet, our place in it, and our relationship with others. As such, it’s deeply important to the human experience, and typically something that folks hold close and defend, whether or not they’re aware of doing so. And, as ideology emerges out of the social organization and social order, it’s generally expressive of the social interests that are supported by both.

Terry Eagleton, a British literary theorist, and intellectual explained it this manner in his 1991 book Ideology: An Introduction:

Ideology may be a system of concepts and views which serves to form a sense of the planet while obscuring the social interests that are expressed therein and by its completeness and relative internal consistency tends to make a closed system and maintain itself within the face of contradictory or inconsistent experience.

Marx’s Theory of Ideology

The first to provide a theoretical framing of ideology within the context of sociology is German philosopher Karl Marx. According to Marx, ideology emerges out of a society’s mode of production. The economic mode of production is capitalism in his case and in that of the modern United States. In Marx’s theory of base and superstructure, his approach to ideology was set forth. According to Marx, the superstructure of society, the realm of ideology, grows out of the base, the realm of production, to reflect the interests of the ruling class and justify the status quo that keeps them in power. Then, he focused his theory on the concept of a dominant ideology.

However, he viewed the relationship between base and superstructure as dialectical, meaning that each affects the other equally and that a change in one necessitates a change in the other. This belief formed the idea for Marx’s theory of revolution. He believed that once workers experienced a fundamental shift in ideology, they will develop a class consciousness and became aware of their exploited position relative to the powerful class of factory owners and financiers. Then they would act on that ideology by demanding and organizing a change in the economic, social, and political structures of society.

Gramsci’s Additions to Marx’s Theory of Ideology

Marx’s prediction about the working-class revolution never happened. Capitalism maintains a strong grip on global society, and the inequalities it fosters continue to grow nearly 200 years after the publication of The Communist Manifesto. Following on the heels of Marx, more developed theory of ideology was developed by the Italian activist, journalist, and intellectual Antonio Gramsci to help explain why the revolution did not occur. Gramsci, in his theory of cultural hegemony, he said the reason why dominant ideology had a stronger hold on consciousness and society than Marx had imagined.

Gramsci in his theory he mainly focused on the central role played in spreading the dominant ideology by the social institution of education and also maintaining the facility of the upper class. In educational institutions, Gramsci argued about teach ideas, beliefs, values, and even identities that reflect the interests of the upper class and produce compliant and obedient members of society that serve the interests of that class. This sort of rule is what Gramsci called cultural hegemony. 

The Frankfurt School and Louis Althusser on Ideology

After a few years, the critical theories of the Frankfurt School turned their attention to the role played in disseminating ideology by the mass media, art, and pop culture. They argued that media and pop culture plays a role in this process as education did. Their theories of ideology focused on the representational work in telling stories by art, popular culture (pop culture), and mass media about society, its members, and our way of life. This work can either support the dominant ideology and the status quo or as in the case of culture jamming, it can challenge it.

Around the same time, the concept of “ideological state apparatus” or the ISA was developed by the French philosopher Louis Althusser. According to Althusser, several ISAs, notably the media, religion, and education maintain and reproduce the dominant ideology of any given society he also argued that each ISA does the work of promoting illusions about the way society works and why things are the way they are.

Examples of Ideology

In the modern United States, the dominant ideology is one that when seen with Marx’s theory it supports capitalism and the society organized around it. In U.S. society is one of the society where all people are free and equal, and thus, can do and achieve anything they want in life is the main concept of this ideology. The idea, that work is morally valuable no matter what the job plays a key role in supporting the concept.

To help us identify why some people achieve so much in terms of success and wealth while others achieve so little these beliefs together form an ideology supportive of capitalism. Those who work hard are guaranteed to see success according to this ideology. Marx would argue that these ideas, values, and assumptions work to justify a reality during which a really small class of individuals holds most of the authority within corporations, firms, and financial institutions. These beliefs also justify a reality during which the overwhelming majority of individuals are simply workers within the system. 

While these ideas may reflect the dominant ideology in modern America, other ideologies challenge them and the status quo they represent. The radical labor movement, for example, offers an alternative ideology—one that instead assumes that the capitalist system is fundamentally unequal and that those who have amassed the greatest wealth are not necessarily deserving of it. This competing ideology asserts that the power structure is controlled by the ruling class and is designed to impoverish the majority for the benefit of a privileged minority. Labor radicals throughout history have fought for new laws and public policies that would redistribute wealth and promote equality and justice.


This theory is mainly based on society and equality but it does not give much importance to the law prevailing in our country. This is not applicable in India because India is a democratic country where people have the power and also it is a mixed economy this theory won’t be applicable. This theory only applies to capitalism and communist countries. Though it is interesting to study it is not suited for our present conditions. As India is based on the Rule of Law this theory is not applicable as it doesn’t give importance to Law.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  1. Does this theory apply to the present scenario?
  2. Is this theory still being followed by other countries?
  3. Why Marxist theory is not applicable in India?



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