Althusser was born in Algeria and studied at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris. In 1939, he was drafted into the French army, but spent most of World War II in a German Prisoner of War camp. He later became Professor of Philosophy at that university. He was not only a leader of a group of academics who were reinterpreting the work of Karl Marx, but he was a leader of a faction in the French Communist Party that sought to break with Stalin and his teachings.
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy called Althusser, "one of the most influential Marxist philosophers of the 20th Century." Althusser believed that capitalism controlled institutions such as education and the mass media to spread its beliefs across society. In addition to criticizing this sort of ideological work, he complained that the police and the military repressed rebellious workers.
Althusser believed that free will was an illusion and that the capitalist elite controlled society like puppet masters.
Althusser had mental health issues during his adult life and was repeatedly hospitalized. He received electroconvulsive therapy in 1947. In 1980, he killed his wife by strangling her. He was not guilty by reason of diminished capacity and was hospitalized until 1983. After his release, he wrote his autobiography and died of a heart attack in 1990.
- Louis Althusser (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). Plato.stanford.edu (2009-10-16). Retrieved on August 29, 2012.