Daily Archives: November 15, 2011
In one of his works, A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, Karl Marx famously (or infamously, depending on your view) labeled religion as “the opium of the masses.” As it would later come to be interpreted by theorists, Marx’s use of the “opium” metaphor was a way of describing a condition or system which provided an illusory or tranquilizing effect that inhibited a society from both recognizing and correcting its own flaws. In Marx’s opinion, and again, it was his opinion, he saw general religion as an impediment, something that assuaged and clouded the minds of people, so that they ignored the injustices in their own society. So, instead of seeking to undermine or address their own class inequality, for instance, they might seek refuge in the calming belief of a divine power or in the hierarchal authority of a religious organization. Much later, Marx’s concept of the “opium of the masses” became further expanded upon by later Marxist theorists who tried to ascertain the causes of why the much longed for “revolution of the proletariat” that formed the basis for later Communist and Socialist thought never actually occurred en masse in industrialized society, and in most cases moved beyond the idea that religion alone was the impediment. Antonio Gramsci, imprisoned by the Italian Government as an enemy of the state, penned the theory of “cultural hegemony,” the belief that the ideals of the ruling class become the norm for all. Later, Theodore Adorno and Max Horkheimer, members of the famed “Frankfurt School,” posited that it was the “culture industry” and its creation of mass products of technology, advertising, entertainment, and art that had lulled the mass populace into a sense of complacency. As recently as the early 1970s, Marxist philosopher (and, admittedly, paranoid schizophrenic) Louis Althusser famously formulated his belief that the docile ideology of a people were molded by what he labeled “state apparatuses,” individual cultural forces, such as the government, the mass media, and so forth, of which he claimed the educational system, instead of religion, was the most influential apparatus.