Granted, then, that the supreme mystery of despotism, its prop and stay, is to keep men in a state of deception, and with the specious title of religion to cloak the fear by which they must be held in check, so that they will fight for their servitude as if for their salvation, and count it no shame, but the highest honor, to spend their blood and their lives for the glorification of one man.
—SPINOZA, Tractatus Theologico-Politicus
DELEUZE AND GUATTARI loved to provoke their readers, and “ideology is an execrable concept”—found in both Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus—is one of their best provocations. Not too many folks, surprisingly, have taken the bait, and when they do, it is either explication or denunciation. I would like here to have a look at what they say about ideology in order to see what we can do with it, what kind of machine we can construct with it.
This chapter has four sections. First, I show how ideology is supposed to explain social reproduction, the production and reproduction of “bodies politic.” Second, I explain how Deleuze and Guattari think ideology is composed of beliefs, and why such a conception cannot explain a particular case of bodies politic, fascism, because it cannot handle subpersonal body-political affective-cognitive patterning or “desire.” Third, I explain Deleuze and Guattari’s nonideological notion of microfascism as that form of desire for control and “Power” that spreads throughout a society, enabling a macrofascist state. Fourth, I construct a notion of “affective ideology” that can better account for social reproduction than the “mere belief” notion that Deleuze and Guattari criticize.
What Is Ideology Supposed to Explain?
Ideology is supposed to explain noncoerced social reproduction, that is, the production and reproduction of “bodies politic.” It is very often limited to cognitive errors that distort the perception of social reality in unequal societies by masking exploitation, but I would like to expand it in two directions: (1) to cover shared ways of life in equal societies, and (2) to include the affective as well as the cognitive.
“Ideology” has a psychological and a functional sense. Psychologically, ideology is the process that produces a rough coincidence of body political affective-cognitive patterns of an entire society. What is shared is an orientation to the world such that objects appear with characteristic affective tones: an enculturated person will not experience just “this action” but “this beautiful and graceful action that everyone should admire,” or “this grotesque and shameful action that should be punished.” Functionally, the sharing of affective-cognitive orientation we call “ideology” contributes to the stability and reproducibility of social patterns of thought and practice on daily, lifespan, and generational scales. (For discussion of shared intentionality and the cooperative motives that enable it, see Tomasello 2009 and 2016. For early cultural learning fulfilling the psychological sense of ideology—transmitting the basic concepts of a society, including those of technical procedures, see Sterelny 2012.)
This is not to deny the existence of puzzling experiences, which do not fit the preexisting concepts, or moral dilemmas, in which an action is susceptible of multiple and conflicting interpretations. Without wanting to produce a full phenomenological description of those cases, but simply to insist on the essential co-presence of affect and cognition in experience, note that there is a characteristic affective tone of puzzlement, or of being stuck, of being pulled in two (or indeed more) directions, or of hewing to and fro between commitments. And that we often experience a felt sense of relief in having made a decision, or foreboding at the outcome of our decision, or a sense of resignation to our fate, or a sense of commitment to the type of person we are making of ourselves by this decision, and so on and so forth.
Ideological social reproduction is noncoercive, but no one thinks social reproduction happens by shared affective-cognitive patterns alone; all societies have practices of physical force that can, at least in theory and when properly applied, punish or eliminate those prone to system-damaging behavior such as free-riding or bullying. Call that coercive social pattern “reproduction.”
So, we want to be able to see the relation of the psychological and functional senses of ideology to each other and the relation of that pair to coercive reproduction.
While no one thinks shared ideology alone is enough to ensure social reproduction, some hold that contemporary societies have rendered the functional sense of ideology otiose via sophisticated forms of coercive reproduction and their attendant collective action problems (Rosen 1996). As I will explain, I do not share that position; I think ideological buy-in on the part of a critical portion of the enforcers of coercive reproduction is necessary, but only with a notion of ideology expanded to include the affective.
In small egalitarian societies, sharing affective-cognitive patterns via enculturation supports shared productive and reproductive labor via shared intentionality; hence we see the psychological and functional senses of ideology as noncoercive social reproduction. Furthermore, as we have seen above, due to small size and mostly transparent shared production, the identification of the few cases of free-riders and bullies allows coercive social reproduction via punishment via ridicule, ostracism, exile, or execution (Boehm 2012b; Sterelny 2016).
In societies with unequal distributions of goods beyond a certain threshold of inequality we see, alongside interest-concordant behavior, the appearance of interest-discordant behavior (assuming that the inequality in question is such that those on the short end are deprived of a level of goods necessary for their interests as human beings capable of flourishing, a notion we might flesh out by reference to the “capabilities” in Nussbaum 1993). Deleuze and Guattari call the puzzle of interest-discordant behavior “Reich’s question”: why are theft and strikes not the general, rather than the exceptional, response to poverty and exploitation? Allied to that is Spinoza’s question: “why do men fight for their servitude as fiercely as for their freedom?”
In unequal societies, ideology entails the sharing, throughout the society, of affective-cognitive patterns proclaiming the system to be fair and thus for the elites to have been justly rewarded (psychological sense) so that this coincidence contributes to the reproduction of the system (functional sense). The ideology of meritocracy and elite superiority helps reproduce the system by epistemic and emotional processes. Elites do not see the injustice of the system and thereby feel justified in their success, thus protecting interest-concordant behavior from interference by guilt feelings should their benefits appear to have been unearned. For oppressed people who internalize their oppression—if such people exist—there is an epistemic effect of hiding the systematic sources of their social position, and an emotional effect of resistance-inhibiting “justified” inferiority feelings, thus protecting interest-discordant behavior from interference by feelings of righteous indignation (“system justification theory” as in Jost, Federico, and Napier 2009).
Coercive reproduction works by punishment producing expectations of the same for future deviations. We will focus on the role of ideology in enabling the internal discipline of the punishment forces deployed in coercive reproduction. Are police, army, and workplace personnel (from security guards to slave overseers) kept in place merely by practices of external rewards (raises, promotions, and esteem of their fellows for good behavior) and punishments (fines, demotions, dismissal, execution for deviation)? That is, are there effective collective-action problems produced by coercive reproduction practices targeting them, the enforcers? Call that lateral coercive reproduction. Or does that system of lateral coercive reproduction itself require an ideological buy-in on the part of at least some portion of the enforcers for them to do their work of disciplining the others who produce the punishment practices contributing to—or wholly responsible for—large-scale social reproduction? And finally, does that notion of ideological buy-in on the part of (some portion of) the enforcers not have to include an affective dimension?
Deleuze and Guattari: Ideology as Belief-Structure
In Anti-Oedipus, “ideology” is criticized because it focuses on the cognitive and neglects the affective-cognitive, or “desire,” the direct libidinal investment of social structures.
Reich is at his greatest as a thinker when he refuses to accept ignorance or illusion on the part of the masses as an explanation of fascism, and demands an explanation in terms of desire: no, the masses were not duped, under certain circumstances they desired fascism, and it is this perversion of mass desire we have to explain. (Deleuze and Guattari 1977, 29–30)
As Deleuze and Guattari see it, ideology critique seeks to correct the irrationality that masks a vision of what rational social production would and should look like. But for them that sort of being fooled as to social reality is not where the action is; what they say we need to explain are not cognitive errors but perverse desires. Hence, interest-contrary behavior is
not a question of ideology. There is an unconscious libidinal investment of the social field, which coexists but does not necessarily coincide with preconscious investments, or with that which the preconscious investments “should be.” That’s why, when subjects—individuals or groups—go manifestly against their class interests, when they adhere to the interests and ideas of a class that their own objective situation should determine them to combat, it’s not enough to say: they have been fooled, the masses have been fooled. It’s not an ideological problem of misrecognition and illusion, it’s a problem of desire, and desire is part of the infrastructure. (1977, 104)
What’s perverse about fascist desire is that it is desire desiring its own repression. Deleuze and Guattari distinguish psychic repression (refoulement) and social repression (répression). They always say Wilhelm Reich (1946) is correct about the priority of social over psychic repression, but Reich’s problem is reinstalling a distinction between rational social production (e.g., government provision of infrastructure through political decisions arrived at after deliberation in a system of rationally justified social structures) and irrational fantasies (we’re being swamped by a flood of immigrants so we need a strong leader).
So even though Reich had insisted that the real question is under which sociopolitical conditions—and I would add bio-affective conditions—rates and intensities and waves of anxiety, fear, depression, rage passing through the population—did the masses come to desire fascism, he still pushes the old split between desire as irrational fantasy and production as rational reality, instead of seeing desiring-production. Thus, for Deleuze and Guattari, Reich’s brand of psychoanalysis can only find in social desire what is negative and inhibited, not what is positively produced: “But, because [Reich] had not sufficiently formed the concept of desiring-production, he didn’t succeed in determining how desire is inserted in the economic infrastructure, the insertion of the drives into social production” (118). Desiring-production is the direct libidinal investment in flow-breaks: foragers are happy when meat circulates, imperial subjects feel something as they see the palace of the emperor (negative investment is still investment), Christian subjects feel rapture as the icon circulates. Capitalist libidinal investment occurs through the double structure of money, as the same units are used for the “giant mutant flow” of generated credit, and in the paychecks of employees and the collection cups of beggars (229).
In A Thousand Plateaus, Reich is dropped but Deleuze and Guattari produce their own complex account of microfascism: “Only microfascism provides an answer to the global question: Why does desire desire its own repression, how can it desire its own repression?” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 215).
Deleuze and Guattari on Microfascism
So, let us turn to Deleuze and Guattari on microfascism in A Thousand Plateaus, where it is seen as a “cancerous Body without Organs.” (Hereafter, “BwO”; my analysis here is based on Protevi 2018, commenting on Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 149–66 and 208–31.) The “enemy” of the organs is not the BwO but the organism, a centralized, hierarchical patterning of the organs (which are flow-break machines). Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of the organism can be articulated with Damasio’s somatic marker theory of emotion in which a subject of emotional experience arises from a singular state of the body. An “organism” permits itself some connections while forbidding itself others. The “neurobiologico-desiring machines” (Deleuze and Guattari 1977, 63) form an “organism” when their patterns produce a body that serves its social machine.
The “cancerous” Body without Organs is the strangest and most dangerous (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 163). It occurs with too much sedimentation, the selection of homogenous matter from a subordinate flow, and the deposition of these materials into layers (1987, 40–45). The matter that is sedimented is affective-cognitive chunks of desire desiring its own repression: the desire to command and be commanded, the desire to have everything in its place. The result here is a cancer of the stratum, a proliferation of points of capture, a proliferation of micro–black holes or hard subjects. Thousands of individuals, complete unto themselves. Legislators and subjects all in one. Judge, jury, and executioner—and policeman, private eye, home video operator, Neighborhood Watch organizer. . . . Watching over themselves as much as over others in runaway conscience-formation. Deleuze and Guattari call this situation “micro-fascism” (1987, 228). Here we could pick up the analyses of Klaus Theweleit in Male Fantasies (1987–89): microfascism desires the hard, armored body that keeps flows carefully channeled except in the fury of combat when the enemy—whose flows and organ couplings enrage the fascist—can be turned into the “bloody mass.” See Connolly (2017) for a recent reading of Theweleit.
Deleuze and Guattari distinguish molecular fascism from molar totalitarianism. They name points for historical investigation of molecular or microfascism as “molecular focuses in interaction . . . rural fascism and city or neighborhood fascism, youth fascism and war veteran’s fascism, fascism of the Left and of the Right, fascism of the couple, family, school, and office” (1987, 214). “Molecular” here means a population seen in terms of local interactions; molar is a population seen by reference to a standard measure. “Masses”—which are not equivalent to Canetti’s sense of a “crowd” magnetized by a leader—are molecular, they always leak out from the molar “classes” that “crystallize” them. So microfascism is a molecular spread throughout a social fabric prior to the centralizing resonance that creates the molar state apparatus. Deleuze and Guattari describe microfascism as a proliferation of tiny centers of command; each body is a “micro–black hole that stands on its own and communicates with the others” (228).
Let us put such “communicating” in terms of Gabriel Tarde’s microsociology (1903), whose elementary unit is the modification of a subject’s beliefs and desires (in my terms, affective-cognitive structures) by imitation, opposition, or invention that constitutes waves or flows. These desire flows get “sedimented” in rates too high to be “overcoded” by traditional meaning systems. I would like here to give a Tardean reading of the case study by William Sheridan Allen, The Nazi Seizure of Power (2014). For Allen, it wasn’t so much the effects of the Depression that started the radicalization of the petty bourgeoisie of Northeim as “the fear of its continued effects” (Allen 2014, 24). While the reduction of credit directly and economically hurt workers, the uncertainty of the valence of the libidinal investment of credit flows set up the propagation of fear: “the rest of the townspeople, haunted by the tense faces of the unemployed, asked themselves, ‘Am I next?’ ‘When will it end?’” Because there were no clear answers desperation grew” (24–25). It is in the midst of these affective waves of fear and desperation that Nazi energy and dedication cut an attractive figure in Northeim in early 1930: “To the average Northeimer the Nazis appeared vigorous, dedicated, and young” (32).
Such communication between “a thousand little monomanias, self-evident truths, and clarities” creates a sort of static, which inhibits state resonance by a kind of “rumble and buzz, blinding lights giving any and everybody the mission of self-appointed judge, dispenser of justice, policeman, neighborhood SS man” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 228). This static of microfascism keeps it below the level of the state: a thousand independent and self-appointed policemen do not make a Gestapo, though they may be a necessary condition for one. Although Deleuze and Guattari do not do so, we can call microfascism “molecular molarity”: each unit is self-contained, oriented to unity, an individual (molar), but they interact in solely local manner, independently (molecular).
Microfascism is defined as the state of a social fabric “when a war machine is installed in each hole, in every niche” (1987, 214; italics in original). War machines are not unorganized; it is just that they are not organismically organized for the benefit of a despot: their leaders are ad hoc and challengeable, rather than reified and deified. War machines occupy and extend “smooth space,” a form of spatial organization that is locally dense and flexible rather than homogenous and pre-demarcated, as in the gridded or striated space established by states. In smooth space, a law of distance disperses figures across a zone; in striated space, the space is demarcated prior to occupation, and figures are assigned to marked spots. War machines are thus the key to creation, to mutation in an open future. They constantly throw off lines of flight that move systems off territorial bindings and away from coded behavior. A war machine is a way of organizing social production that prevents the formation of a socius. In concrete terms, this means the war machine wards off capture by a state by occupying the smooth space of immanent relations.
The “third danger” of social life, according to Deleuze and Guattari, is “Power,” such as when a state captures a war machine and turns it into its armed forces. The “fourth danger” is worse, however; it happens when a war machine takes over a state and posits war and war alone as its object. This is the “great Disgust, the longing to kill and die, the Passion for abolition” (227). The fourth and greatest danger is the danger of the lines of flight themselves, which “emanate a strange despair, like an odor of death and immolation, a state of war from which one returns broken” (229). Here we find the war machine, the concrete machinic assemblage of mutation, social immanence, failing at mutation: “war is like the fall or failure of mutation” (230). Here we find the analogue of the suicidal, empty BwO in a fascist war machine that has mobilized an incipient microfascist social fabric to take over the state and has thereby found, suicidally, nothing but war as its object. Both suicides—the empty BwO and the fascist state—are nihilistic, both tend to zero but on different trajectories: one direct and depressive, the other indirectly, after a manic ascension into a war frenzy. Such fascist suicidal nihilism is qualitatively different from a freezing, reflective, depressive, “lunar” nihilism that sinks relentlessly and entropically to zero; rather, fascist nihilism is a frantic, “solar” nihilism, which burns out to zero on a trajectory through a superintensity of heat produced by its own manic motion, its fascinated pursuit of war.
Can We Save Ideology by Including Affect?
We have noted the need to account for the capacity to participate in punishment practices that constitute coercive reproduction. And that aspect needs to have an account of affect constitutive of concrete mental states since torture and killing (by non-psychopaths) requires overriding at least some level of inhibition produced by empathic identification with a subject in pain, even given attenuation of empathy across group lines.
The relations among empathy, arousal, and violence are complex, and the literature discussing them is massive and constantly evolving. Nonetheless, some outlines can be observed: increasing in-group empathy increases the violence of punishment of out-group members for threats to in-group, and the targets of that violence receive less empathic resonance with the punishers, resulting in lower estimations of the pain dealt out. However, there must still be some recognition of pain in the targets, or else the notion of punishment loses its sense: you do not torture a wall, even if you bang on it out of frustration. So, despite the attenuation of empathy toward out-group members, consistent testimony from combatants shows the strong emotional surge necessary for almost all people to engage in violent confrontation. The question of desensitization is also difficult; one might think experience in violence, by desensitization, would ease the barriers to the engagement in violence, but burnout is also possible, such that it is sometimes newcomers who are more likely to engage in violent activity, though sometimes, due to their freshness, the results of witnessing the carnage can be emotionally devastating to them.
The tension of the group face-off characteristic of much combat, however, once broken, can result in routs and torture of the enemy, especially in a situation in which a helpless enemy faces a group; in this case, the conquering group members can escalate the atrocities in a lateral display to their comrades. While the heavy racial inflection of the use of torture of slaves in the United States as elements of coercive social reproduction would require some modification of this basic schema, I think it’s clear that a strong affective component is necessary for that practice. (One of the best works on the social psychology of violence I know, and the study of which is the source from which I draw most of these remarks, is Collins 2008)
To get to “affective ideology,” we have to distinguish between belief-desire psychology as a philosophical explanation of behavior and the psychological processes involved in the encoding of experiential regularities. This absorption or enculturation mode of ideology transmission accords with research done on unconscious transmission of racial bias via body comportment independent of the semantic content of accompanying words (Castelli, De Dea, and Nesdale 2008). We could also note here Susanna Siegel’s work on perception in which gaze following indicates confidence, thus indicating a pattern of social valuation (cited in Stanley 2015, 249).
Jason Stanley, in How Propaganda Works (2015), holds that behavior-explanatory beliefs are generated from regularities of experience. I take it to be a widely accepted psychological fact that the experiential encoding of regularities is going to encode the affective tone of the situation along with representations of state of the world. From the perspective of experiential encoding, emotions aren’t separate mental states that bind beliefs to agents; they are an inherent part of the experience and become associated with the representational content.
Hence the emotions produced in the scenes of daily life are part of what is transmitted by the identity-constituting practices: the reproduction of the practice of white supremacy for a slave-holding family (to use Stanley’s example) is not simply accounted for by instilling in children beliefs with the propositional content of racial superiority and inferiority and binding them to those identities by love for friends and parents who participate in that practice. The reproduction of the practice of white supremacy is also constituted by an affective structure of white pride and vengeance motivated by white vulnerability, and hatred, fear, and contempt for blacks that is encoded along with the representational content of the scenes of humiliation, torture, and death that constitute the daily practices of the coercive reproduction side of plantation white supremacy (see Baptist 2014 for claims that widespread torture was responsible for increased productivity on cotton plantations). As the actions constituting the punishment practices have heavy affective components, both for active, immediate participants and for family members who experience the scenes of torture, the affective disposition allowing gruesome torture has to be part of the ideological transmission.
To conclude, if we restrict ideology critique to identifying cognitive errors (category mistakes and false empirical generalizations as generating bad beliefs, and confirmation bias and resistance to rational revision of beliefs as keeping them in place) then we risk missing an essential component of unjust social systems: the production of emotional commitments that accompany those beliefs and that allow for the punishment on which part of the effectiveness of coercive reproduction rests. But if we push too far into the affective at the expense of the cognitive, are we really talking about “ideology” anymore?
Throwing away the cognitive component of ideology critique seems too much; some people, sometimes, do respond to a cognitively oriented ideology critique: they are open to persuasion via exhibition of their cognitive errors; their beliefs become rationally revisable. However, that seems only to happen after a change in social identities—a move to a new location, the gaining of new friends—and that change has an affective component.
So, I think we should retain the term “ideology” but broaden its scope to include the affective as well as the cognitive. Our concrete lives as “bodies politic” integrate the cognitive and the affective, and recognizing that is needed to account for both coercive reproduction and for the occasionally successful rational revision of beliefs via ideology critique.