ANTONIO GRAMSCI: HOW WE GOT HERE
My immediately prior Post was on Catharine MacKinnon, noted R-feminist* who from the very early 1970s worked to bring about a so-called Gender Revolution. In this cause she was aided and abetted by the Democrats who, eager to replace their losses of the New Deal coalition shattered (they feared) by the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965 respectively, quietly decided among themselves to open up the gates of the City to the Trojan Mare (if you will) in the feckless and fatuous hope of roping in the putatively huge and monolithic ‘women’s vote’ to make up for their demographic losses of the prior few years.
Nor do I here subtly steer toward the Republicans, who were soon seduced into this quietly and suddenly embraced strategy for their own purposes.
When the Dems rolled out their ‘Party of Women’ in the 1972 presidential election The People rejected them 49 States to 1 – which is probably some sort of record. And it was at that point, I would say, that the controlling political Party in the country decided that ‘deliberative democratic politics’ and the Constitution and the Framing Vision were not the way forward.
A watershed decision which MacKinnon and her colleague-cadres did nothing to hinder.
I had done an initial Post last time about the Preface to MacKinnon’s 1989 book “Toward a Feminist Theory of the State”. On the basis of that book and the ideas therein expressed, she garnered a career-full of encomia from sister-cadres of both sexes.
But she slyly failed to mention the ideas of two European communist-socialist thinkers, to which her visions and ruminations bear the most close and uncanny resemblance. There are probably good reasons for this: in the first place, the erstwhile independent, heroic, cutting-edge and supremely creative R-feminist thinkers did not want to have it widely known that they had pretty much taken their ideas from much older dead white European males (the horror!) and that after substituting ‘women’ and ‘gender’ for ‘proletariat’ and ‘class’ simply started churning out tome after tome of ‘proof’ that they, the enlightened and heroic cadres who did indeed ‘get it’, simply sought to build upon the systematic insights of those DWEMs the philosophical underpinning and justification for the entire R-feminist New Order.
Nor, in the second place, did their Beltway political enablers who - like the German barons who approved making Hitler Chancellor on the sublimely feckless assumption that “we are hiring him!” and then suddenly found themselves increasingly indentured to an increasingly demanding and toxic ‘vision’and agenda - really want it widely known among American voters and Citizens that they had pretty much given the controls over to what was in essence and in most particulars a Marxist-Leninist political vision (‘improved’ by the aforementioned word-substitutions and the occasional this or that).
So here We are today, Citizens of a Constitutional Republic whose Constitution and the Framing Vision upon which it rests were quietly taken offline by the national government some forty Biblical years ago, in the name of cutting-edge reform and progress. Let’s make one point perfectly clear: in some very real and profound ways, Our country is not the victor over Marxist-Leninist Communism but – courtesy of the treacherous and feckless Beltway pols – the heir to it.
Now you know why every Citizen should pay attention to ideas. With as much careful thought as any air-traveler should give to the laws of aerodynamics: invisible and immaterial, yet they sort of are very important if you are at 35,000 feet over the wide ocean. Which is pretty much what the Framers saw as being the general situation of their Great Experiment, and why they embodied the Framing Vision in the machinery of the Constitution, so that both should provide a Vessel capable of carrying all the Citizen-souls aboard in safety (if not always in total comfort) over the abysses of Leviathan (and Leviatha).
Anyhoo, one of those thinkers was Antonio Gramsci**, an Italian Marxist-Communist thinker who died in 1937 having been born in 1891. Marx, by the by, lived from 1818-1883, and thus are established both of their creds as bonafide DWEMs. Funny how the revolutionary night moves.
I want to look at some of Gramsci’s thought (you may want to look at the immediately preceding MacKinnon Post first) in order to back up what I’ve just said. I am not throwing the ‘Communist’ epithet around lightly nor rhetorically nor in a fit of pique. The reality is – you should pardon the expression – real.
He was born on the island of Sardinia, a hunchback, of poor parents in the poorest part of an Italy that had been politically united, under a classically Liberal government, in 1860 for the first time since the Romans; an Italy that remained profoundly culturally divided between an industrialized and urbanized North (close to the Western European countries) and a still agricultural and peasant South.
From the beginning, and hardly surprisingly, he developed an exquisite sensitivity to the emarginati, those people who existed on the margins of society and culture; who, even if they had the vote, really didn’t know how to use it or even care to use it (the Italian Southern peasant was no fan of government and ‘brass buttons’ – more than almost any other Europeans, they would have agreed with a much-later Ronald Reagan’s pithy sarcasm about whoever shows up knocking on your door to say “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you” – and maybe Ron picked it up in his own younger days from some old Southern Italian stage-hand on a studio set).
A bookish but sensitive youth, he became attracted to politics, but in his own special way: he was concerned for how politics worked such that some people just didn’t seem able to exercise their powers of self-development nor could they manage to change their condition. Nor, indeed, did they even seem aware of their condition out on the periphery, the margins, of the culture, far away from its center. He wanted to bring all of those marginalized people ‘into the center’ – a deeply humane and constructive hope, although somewhat geometrically implausible if you try to envision it concretely: a circle with a huge center and no circumference.
He eventually made his way to the North, whose cities were full of typically idealistic Italian youth who were excited about the possibilities of Marx’s analysis and how it provided some way, they thought and hoped, for bettering the lives of the ‘proletariat’, the workers upon whose backs European and Italian industrialization was being built.
But he quickly saw that Marx’s analysis of class-conflict and economic determinism was still too narrow: it didn’t really address the needs of the Southern peasants, let alone all those emarginati who were not simply economically downtrodden but more profoundly sunk in an abyss of unknowing marginalization, unaware that there ever could be a better life for them.
He also quickly became disabused of the Liberal competence to help. The ‘bourgeois’ (shades of the Boomer 1960s!) class was, it appeared, the natural ally of Liberalism in Italy; the great liberation of Cavour’s 1860 Unification had little to offer the South or the emarginati, and precious little beyond a scrap of voting-rights to offer to the proletariat of the Northern cities.
By the time of Lenin’s revolution against the revolution (Lenin, in October of 1917, overthrew the government of the people that actually took over from the Tsar in February of 1917 – Russia had two revolutions in that year) Gramsci saw that there was also a problem – in his view – with Lenin’s theory of ‘the vanguard elitism of the Party’ (i.e. the masses were too inured and immersed in their woes and daily life ever to spontaneously create a revolution and a follow-on New Order; they ‘just didn’t get it’ – to use a familiar modern phrase – and the Party had to shepherd and chivvy them along): the problem with Lenin’s approach, Gramsci thought, was that it wasn’t humane enough, taking too little account of the humane need to educate the masses into their own potentials and a sense of their own possibilities.
It would only be after the ‘masses’ were thus thoroughly educated, Gramsci thought, that a truly well-grounded revolution could be mounted from below, as it were. If the masses weren’t able just now to spontaneously create a revolution, then educate them and then let them create their revolution. It would take time but it would be the most intelligent and humane way to go about it.
There would be room – he thought, as a typical Italian of his era – for the ‘intellectuals’ to help educate the masses (Italians have always had a tremendous respect for any amount of book-learning, as evidenced by the curiously free designation of almost any educated person as Dottore). But the intellectuals would have to be ‘genuine’ and ‘organic’ intellectuals: that is to say, ‘situated’ within the life-space and vision of the masses, dedicated to the process of educating them into-revolution, and assisting them in their march toward the Center. The genuine ‘elites’ would have to be simpatico with the masses and work in their service.
And here you can see two things happening. We are moving into his ideas and strategies now. And you are starting to see the outlines of Gramsci’s improvements on Marxist-Leninist thought that might be more familiar (and perhaps disturbingly so, as I believe you will see) to modern Americans.
But then, once the revolution was started from below (with all that educating having been successfully completed under the guidance of the intellectual Party elites), then you still couldn’t carry out a revolution in Western Europe the way you might in more Eastern Russia. Because in a modern (that is to say early 20th-century) Europe with its relatively well-established constitutional monarchies and parliamentary democracies, the governments exerted the more subtle power of “hegemony”.
That is to say, the (bourgeois, Liberal) government was so thoroughly intertwined with the culture and the institutions of society that the people took it all for granted as ‘natural’ and so they “consented” to the government. And that included the emarginati and the proletarian masses until they were educated into revolution.
A revolution, by the way, that would seek not to abolish hegemony, but rather to establish the hegemony of the emarginati – which, he thought, would serve to liberate not only the (now humanely educated) emarginati but also those bourgeois at the Center who were also enthralled to a historically improper system and culture.
But, as I said, once the masses and the emarginati were thus humanely educated into revolution, Gramsci saw that they still could not simply make a frontal revolutionary attack on the whole shebang. To do would invite the coercion of the government, which when attacked and threatened with de-legitimzation would reinforce its ‘hegemonic’ mode with its ‘coercion’ mode: if you would not consent to it then you would be coerced into obeying it.
Thinking in war-terms that I would say were rather too easily picked up by R-feminists here in the later 20th century, Gramsci saw that the whole of a polity was like a castle: the government was the outer wall and the trenches and moat in front of it, but inside those outer walls and behind the moat was the ‘keep’, the entire Culture with all its assumptions and visions of how things should work and how people should live and live together.
You can’t attack a castle like that in a frontal assault (which is a sound bit medieval military strategy).
Instead you have to wage a “war of positions”: you have to lay siege to it, quietly undermining the wall and perhaps getting some of your people inside it where they can start to undermine things from within. (A geographical variation of which was Mao’s “Long March". And a close conceptual descendant of which is the 1960s-70s variant called "the long march through the institutions", whereby the young European 'revolutionaries' of that era re-animated Gramsci's shrewd insight that you have to get inside the head of the culture and change it by putting your own people in there, office by office, bureaucrat by bureaucrat, judge by judge, pol by pol, professor by professor, 'expert' by 'expert'.)
And your ultimate objective and target is not really the government, which is just the outer walls; your target is the Culture itself, which you want – for the most humane of intentions – to rather thoroughly tear apart and replace – with, of course, something much better that you have in mind.
In this task, he took a page from the Italian Liberal government of 1860 (which enraged him as it was actually deployed by that government): trasformismo was that government’s strategy of forming alliances with any potentially disruptive elements, bringing them in closer to ‘the Center’ of the Culture.
Gramsci would have none of it since the Italian Liberal government was, he believed, profoundly rotten to begin with. Only revolution would answer the need he saw and felt.
But thus he did counsel that in the “war of positions” it would surely be shrewd for the besiegers to make whatever alliances among themselves – and perhaps with whomever inside the ‘castle’ might be willing to betray the walls and gates.
Thus his strategic thinking in order to attack and replace a “dominant” Culture.
This would be the way it would have to be done in the highly politically developed world of the West. Lenin perhaps did what had to be done in the Russian East, but Gramsci sidestepped the monstrous questions arising from Lenin’s reign of deliberate Party-State Terror (“Our revolutionary courts must shoot!” Lenin once irritatedly declared), and never really wanted to look at Stalin’s unspeakable official brutalities at all.
So educate the emarginati and then – yet still somehow under the benevolent guidance of the Party elites and ‘organic intellectuals’ (i.e. those intellectuals who “get it”) – let them come spontaneously yet maturely to wage their revolution and take over the Center and erect a New Order and a new Culture.
But Gramsci was still a Marxist, especially in his utter rejection of any Reality except that of this world (a Mono-Planar rather than a Multi-Planar vision of human existence, to use terms you might be familiar with from other of my Posts).
Human beings had no reality except this world and no Help except what the Party could offer them. Nothing was determined – not Marx’s laws of economics, not Kant’s ‘universals’ (which were “illusory”), not even and especially not even the Church and its long-standing world-wide maintenance of the “illusion” of a Beyond that somehow always served to limit the “freedom” of human beings.
In which nefarious project the Church and the rest of the dominant Culture were assisted by evil and “inauthentic” types called “traditional intellectuals”, those who were not “genuine” (i.e. situated in and serving the masses and the emarginati but who were merely trying to keep the presumptively baaad dominant Culture going).
And human beings themselves “had no essence” except what they managed to develop, and which they chose to develop, from within themselves and among themselves. ‘Essences’ were merely soul-numbing and constricting “illusions” that appeared to have the authority not only of the ‘natural’ (like the bourgeois insistence that capitalism was natural) but also of the utterly nonexistent ‘supernatural’(like the Church insisting that God and His Law really existed and had to be obeyed).
So Gramsci saw the Church as one of the great enemies of human freedom and of an accurate (or Correct) comprehension of human existence.
And yet, he said, the Party itself would – at least in the beginning – have to function as a sort of ‘church’, being the sole source of meaning and purpose for its own cadres and intellectuals and also as a sort of temporary ‘church’ for the emarginati as they were educated into leaving behind their old helpless and hopeless lifeways but before they had come together to make their revolution and (he presumed) create a new hegemonic Culture to replace the rotten old one.
The cadres would also have to assist in the destruction of the hegemonic Culture by exposing its core rottenness and inaccuracies as those were enshrined in “ideology”, meaning the complex of ideas and beliefs and traditions that were organized in support of the Culture.
And another target would have to be “common sense”, a substrate of half-beliefs, assumptions, folk wisdom, and ingrained habitual intuitions that also burden the budding “consciousness” of the emarginati.
“Consciousness” (and the ‘raising’ of it, to use a modern term) figured greatly in Gramsci’s overall schematic. Taking account of Freud and the philosophical-psychological thinkers like Bergson as well as some acute insights of Marx, Gramsci realized that “the object is constituted to some extent by the very discourse which seeks to analyze it”.
This is actually not so cutting-edge as the 19th century would have liked to think. Such a thought is quite compatible with Aquinas, who yet avoided the consequent ‘endless hall of mirrors and illusions’ problem by insisting that Faith and Revelation anchored “humanity, with its flickering lamp” of Reason, within the enfolding care of a benevolent Divine Providence that provided humans with Reason precisely so that they could, slowly but surely, and always under the guidance of Faith, come to an accurate perception of the Reality of their existence.
In this regard I can’t help but think of the hapless David Hume, who sought to escape the net here by claiming that Reality is not perceivable by Reason, but rather by Sensation. But this is merely driving off the Awful Bridge on the other side. Early Romanticism’s un-grounded human Sensation (or ‘feeling’) is no more ultimately reliable than the Enlightenment’s un-grounded human Reason. Either way, once you Flatten human existence to the single Mono-Plane of this world, then you have not only Flattened human-beings and their lives, but you have utterly de-stabilized them. And only a child or a lunatic would consider such a situation as anything other than lethally dangerous. Without that Ground, of course, the very best any Mono-Planar human effort – even by the best thinker and philosopher – can come up with is that human perception (shaky as it often is) makes whatever ‘reality’ it chooses to make. And that consequently there is nothing Higher, including no Higher Law to judge individuals (thus giving ‘space’ to ‘total autonomy’ and lifestyle) or governments (thus giving ‘space’ to government to do whatever the hell they want to do).
Thus, as you can see, Gramsci is awfully echoed in post-1970 American ‘liberal-secular’ and ‘progressive’ thought, especially in R-feminist thinkers such as MacKinnon and social thinkers such as Rawls. We are led thereby into an endless hall of mirrors in a lethal carnival-unto-death.
Gramsci’s thought, it may appear after a little consideration and some leafing through newspapers, magazines, or recent Correct tomes, is clearly a deep source of one hell of a lot of current elite and Correct thought.
But in that very fact huge Questions instantly arise.
The man was thoroughly disillusioned with Liberal, democratic government, whether constitutional monarchy or parliamentary democracy. Nor did he hold any respect for the American Constitutional Republic: it was still a dominant and hegemonic Culture that participated in all the frakkery of the Industrial Revolution, the “oppression” of the masses, the marginalization of the emarginati, and its so-called ‘democratic deliberation’ was a sham because so many of its Citizens couldn’t make use of it (to, he hoped, overthrow the whole thing and set up a new hegemonic Culture – although with what political arrangements he didn’t bother to imagine).
Was the wholesale importation of his vision and schematic a wise thing for a democratic and Constitutional Republic such as Ours?
(Let’s not even get into the fact that the gates of the City and ‘the castle’ were thrown open by the demographically desperate vote-hungry Beltway in 1971 and since. Although I think that that fact actually creates a different metaphorical appreciation of what has been happening here for the past forty Biblical years: the national Culture has not so much been a castle under siege as it has been (and still is) a castle whose official sworn defenders threw open the gates and allowed the besiegers free entry and even supplied them with all the official help possible as they rampaged through the interior of the castle. Happy New Year.)
Was the vision and schematic of a man thoroughly disillusioned with the failures of late 19th century and early 20th century Europe and Italy easily and wisely transferrable to the America of the later 20th century? For Lenin said – and Gramsci agreed – that “political liberty will primarily serve the purpose of the bourgeoisie”. So where does that leave Us if the current ‘revolution’ has no use for “political liberty” since it only serves “dominant oppressors”?
Is this Constitutional Republic, this “last best hope of mankind” merely just another “bourgeois oppressor state” composed of nothing but oppressors and their victims and worthy of nothing more than a subversive revolution to ‘erase the infamous thing’? Because what he ultimately wanted was to set up a “counterhegemony” – that was the “first task” of his revolution.
He too easily assumed that the masses who had had their “consciousness” raised would somehow automatically create a better Culture than the one they were going to subvert and destroy, and would do it quickly and without ill-consequence. (Unforeseen consequences seemed a concept alien to him.)
And yet he realized that “the power to coerce is fundamental to political rule”. So then what happens when a new Center gets its hands on that power to coerce? (Hint: look at the police-state regimes that have been erected here and abroad under the auspices of not only the jingo neocon Rightists but the putatively sensitive and liberating anti-oppression ‘liberals’ of the Left.) Or as those famous DWEMs, the Romans, put it so pithily: Quis custodes ipsos custodet? Who will guard the guards themselves? It was too soon for him to see the Soviet nomenklatura (the bureaucratic elites of the Party) in all their stuffed porcine splendor and privilege, but surely by the 1970s that should have been visible to any half-aware thinker over here.
And – shades of Catharine MacKinnon! – he insists that “Marxism isn’t just another ideology but rather is the unmasking of ideology”. In other words, once you “get it” then you haven’t just immersed yourself in one of many possible explanations of reality, but instead you have a) exposed the illusions of the ‘dominant, hegemonic and oppressive Culture’ and b) you have actually grasped the deep and only Reality. How different is this, really, from the ravings of the Bhagwhan? (Remember him?)
He hoped that, as Julien Benda observed in his 1927 book “Treason of the Intellectuals”, the “organic genuine intellectuals” of the Party would not yield to the irrational and the hostile and the contingent but rather would remain (oddly, like dedicated priests) committed to a life-giving, freedom enhancing concern for all the citizenry. But the cadres of R-feminism and secularism generally have not been particularly observant in this regard: the former going after ‘men’ with an almost demonic and even gleeful vitality and the latter assaulting anything that smacks of The Beyond or any Beyond that might pose grounded objections to their agenda.
In that regard, Gramsci’s entire vision is hardly unlike the Vision of the Church, with all persons working according to their gifts to bring about a more unified and matured and fulfilled humanity. So the consistent attacks on the Catholic Church in this country, while tactically in accordance with Gramsci’s thought, fail him strategically because if there’s one thing that happens when a wanna-be ‘church’ seeks to supplant the Church, it’s a rather nasty religious assault, under whatever auspices – such as ‘progressive secularism’ - that such an ongoing campaign is waged.
He literally sought “soul transformation from below”, which is rather a churchy objective. And he expected that his education would through its transformations create “an entirely new creature”. The ancient Christian term for it is “metanoia”.
And he insisted that Party cadres be like “Christians of the catacombs” in their willingness to sacrifice all for the purpose of raising up the emarginati. But that unlike Christians, the cadres would do it all without hope of earthly reward (that’s not how it worked out in any of the historical evidence).
The Party, unlike the Church, would make no illusory promises about a nonexistent eternal life but would only effect “practical changes in social relations”. He takes no thought to the ongoing role of Grace and virtue in the daily lives of human beings in their all-too-human relationships.
Christianity had “left slaves in slavery” but Communism of the Gramscian kind would effect total liberation and eliminate slavery (historically, the Church fought the enslavement of the Indians of the New World by the Spanish Empire; and it was the British at the height of their imperial power who outlawed it; and the Americans fought a Civil War over it).
Of course Gramsci also promised that the Party would “eliminate marginalization”, but what sort of polity – what sort of Leviathan – would it take for any human government to eradicate that? And by the pure logic of the conceptualization, a Center is always going to have a Periphery.
There would be, he was sure, no need for a “sacred”. But what sort of human beings do not seek and sense a sacred or a Sacred? Does he really think that in the innermost and uttermost workings of human beings and their lives, Sacred is simply a category dreamed up by oppressors seeking to dominate the gullible? (Which, alas, has a rather contemporary resonance.)
Surely the “oppression” of ‘sexual coercion’ – the immediate precipitate of the little chem-lab replacement of Marx’s categories with R-feminism’s categories – and all the police-state tactics and legislation that have resulted are grounded in (and perhaps were proposed to the willing Beltway pols as) merely logical necessities in the on-going revolution against the “hegemonic white male” Culture and so forth and so on. Since ‘sex’ is an issue few humans manage to avoid, Gramsci would in his darker moments have appreciated its tactically shrewd erection – you should pardon the expression – as a major weakness of the dominators.
His – drawn from Marx – is the term “fetishization” to describe the enthrallment of the masses to the amassing of what money they can. I had often wondered where this oddly psychiatric term had entered into modern American political discourse (as in the “fetishization of the Constitution” … oy). In the current context, the subtext is that the American Citizenry is either mulishly or oppressively wedded to what is a mere ‘idol’ – the Constitution and the Framing Vision. My God.
His – ditto – is the term “essentialism” to describe the illusion – mulishly or deceitfully and oppressively maintained – that human beings have any ‘essence’. Yet if they have no ‘essence’ and are not created in the Image of some Higher Power (God, perhaps) then what grounds their rights against the State? Or are American Citizens entitled only to such rights as the government chooses to give (or take from) them?
Yet it was vital to both his and to R-feminism’s and progressive secularism’s agendas to subvert the concept of a human essence. Too much danger of constricting somebody’s ‘total autonomy’ of lifestyle and life-choice, of course. Yet as Leviatha deployed the subversion of ‘essentialism’ for that purpose from the Left, Leviathan was awakened and deploys it even now to undermine the rights of Citizens against it from the Right.
And is there no genuine reality to the concept of all of Us sharing the same Citizenship? Or are We to accept – as Gramsci saw it – that We are primarily and insolubly divided by the latest substitutions for Marx’s ‘class’, which is to say Race and – even more now – Gender?
If the current revolution – well along now in its ‘war of positions’ thanks to several generations of Beltway pols eager to make their deals – is set upon attacking not only “privilege” but replacing it; set upon attacking Tradition and any sense of the Legitimacy of American Culture and any sense of Common-weal, then will the patient be able to survive the operation designed – in Gramsci’s idealistic (and somewhat ignored) hope – to save it?
Or are the current cadres more accurately involved in simply operating – like Stalin when he had the troublesome but popular Frunze killed by piously insisting that the man have an operation at the hands of the Boss’s hand-picked doctors – as a more palatable way of conducting their assault on the “hegemonic Culture”?
Do they even know what dangers lie within Gramsci’s vision? Do they think they can avoid them? Do they even care?
Curiously, as if pre-emptively defending himself from the objection that he is merely a visionary scribbler, he insists that “a great architect can by judged by his plans even if he has never built anything materially”. I can think of the Kennedys’ sub-rosa insistence upon a young untried architect to build Boston’s new City Hall as an instant historical refutation of this forlorn hope. And can this be true of the Beltway pols who accepted all these visions and schemes over the past forty Biblical years, as if they were justified by this type of claim? (Surely this bad habit got the pols into even more obvious trouble when they allowed Bush-Cheney to go into Iraq where we would be greeted as liberators and where it would be an inexpensive cakewalk and where a fine new democracy would rise instantly and without difficulty, Phoenix-like, from the ashes of Our ‘creative destruction’.)
And he quoted Helmuth von Moltke, the late 19th century German Field Marshal, that “Military plans cannot be elaborated and fixed in advance in all their details, but only in their nucleus and central design”. Let Us pass over in silence how this advice might have played out in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. Gramsci’s own vision – and it was not properly a ‘plan’ – was rather oddly designed from the get-go, with its circle-without-a-circumference. And really, how many of the anti-Cultural (not to say anti-Constitutional) ‘reforms’ of the past forty Biblical years have also been nothing more than visions and hopes and best-case scenarios rather than ‘plans’ at all? The ‘brilliant’ strategy went into getting them accepted by the deal-making pols, but not into thinking them through in the first place.
Gramsci had indeed tried to square his circles by insisting that the Party cadres exercise “skepticism of intellect but optimism of will”. But it seems that his vision in this regard was only half-carried out.
His “war of positions” would have to be carried out against the Cultures of the West because civic society and culture there was not “gelatinous”, like it was in the East (Russia). So it would be necessary to somehow liquefy the targeted Western hegemonic Culture; turn it into jelly. Remove the endo-skeleton of Belief and Tradition and whatever faith in a Beyond and a Higher Reality helped give it its Shape and resilience. But the necessities of Shape clearly didn’t engage him: after all, his entire vision was based on a geometrically impossible chimera: a Center without a Periphery. And is it any wonder, then, that American Culture as well as any sense of Common-weal and surely the Framing Vision and the Constitution themselves, are all so shaky and seemingly incapable of holding this country and society together? They are being ‘gelatinized’.***
Gramsci thought that “the social body, unlike the physical body, is malleable”. So you can pretty much do anything you want with it, because it is plastic and can be Shaped into whatever you want (as can the human self – even if not the human body – which is axiomatic among R-feminists).
The emarginati will, once they are at the Center, be able to “participate” and will not be “excluded” any longer. But at the Center of what? You can’t take a ship apart in the middle of the ocean, let alone when it’s full of passengers and ‘souls’ and then rebuild it out there on the deep. What happens in that vital and lethal interlude when you have ‘deconstructed’ the old ship but haven’t quite gotten the new one up and running yet?
Well, that’s my take on Gramsci. I offer some suggestions for reading in the Notes****.
One very large problem is this: Were the American People and Culture in the later 20th century as helpless, benighted, and politically incompetent as the European proletariats or South Italian or Russian peasantry of almost a century before? In order to claim that they were (and thus justify the Agenda) R-feminists claimed that in terms of their conception of things Gendered, the American Citizenry was indeed a troglodyte bunch, led by those Ur-lumps, the white, domineering, sex-addled and sexually violent and predatory and oppressive ‘males’. Surely, no Citizenry that could have lived with all of that reportedly rampant brutishness was really ready for prime-time.
But of course, if you bought that picture (or ‘narrative’ or ‘framing’) then you were in short order committed to the ‘next logical step’: that so benighted a bunch of lumps had no rights a ‘sensitive’ government need respect. And Leviatha was birthed then and there, taking the shape of the National Nanny State, for which there was no ‘private’ realm beyond the intrusive grasp of the government because, ultimately, “the personal is political”.
Worse, Gramsci’s idea of ‘revolution from below’ somehow got lost over here. Perhaps out of a typically American impatience with things, and perhaps the temptations offered to the vanguard-cadres when the Dems pretty much opened the Beltway gates to them, their revolution became very much a Leninist ‘revolution from above’, imposed by the Beltway according to the specifications cooked up by the cadres and the deals that the pols struck with them in all those non-smoking smoke-filled rooms on the Hill. Yes, the country – especially academia – was soused with R-feminist ‘consciousness-raising sessions’ where ‘stories’ and ‘feelings’ were exchanged like a huge AA meeting where chai or chardonnay flowed freely. But really, it was just the old Leninist vanguard-elite revolution imposed from above by the government. But the greatest problem, I think – and it is inescapably real – is not so much in his vision but in the fact that it was adopted so broadly here through the pandering efforts of the Beltway pols and all Branches of the government and accepted by the media and the intellectuals. And at a moment in world and American history when the failures of Marxist thought – no matter how humanely or creatively jiggled – should have been lethally clear to everyone.
When ever in Western history has a sitting government so broadly and lethally abetted and attacked the profound core of its Culture and its own polity? And on the basis of a vision which it had been combating most publicly for the best part of a century? And on the basis of a vision so antithetical to its own Framing and Founding Vision? Make no mistake about it: this was no mere 'paradigm shift'.
I don’t accept that the ‘good intentions’ or the ‘emergency’ of this or that suddenly-discovered ‘oppression’ were sufficient to justify this treacherous rush.
Further, did it occur to none of the aforementioned that there should have been a rather broad and open public debate on whether or not this country should actually embark on what can only be described as the abandonment of the Framing Vision of the Founders and the adoption of the Marxist schematic?
But the answer to that, I believe, is that the pols were desperate – and if desperate people do dangerous things, desperate pols do exponentially more dangerous things. And once they gave in – committed, to use Gramsci’s imagery – the initial treason of opening the walls they were sworn to defend, then they really couldn’t see how to back away.
(And the Beltway has now gotten into the verrrry baaaaad habit of not considering consulting The People about anything of any serious or significant nature, if that’s news to anybody now.)
But to understand is not to excuse.
More importantly, merely understanding this doesn’t begin to address whatever repairs to the vital realities of the polity and the Framing Vision and the Constitutional praxis can be made.
But with the money running out, perhaps at least the greasy, buttery glow of ‘success’ that has cloaked this swamp-gas chimera of the past forty Biblical years’ worth of ‘revolutionary progress and reform’ begins to fade and We can see what has happened with un-seduced eyes.
If this be true, then Our “rendezvous with destiny” is still ahead of Us.
And in terms of this stunning descent, abetted by the political class and the elites, into the swamp of Marxist-Leninist dampdreams, it might hopefully be said: “This is not the end; this is not even the beginning of the end. But it is perhaps the end of the beginning.”
And let this New Year be a serious one.
*As noted in the MacKinnon Post, I use this term (R-feminist) to denote radical-feminism. A couple of points to clarify at the outset: A) R-feminism is different from moderate and liberal feminism, which MacKinnon and her cadres helped kick to the curb in American politics in the 1970s; B) when I refer to R-feminism I am referring to it as a political phenomenon; thus C) I am not ‘against women’ (who, in my book, are human beings made in the Image of God and you really can’t get a higher encomium than that); which foregoing presumes D) that I don’t think R-feminism is demonstrably the representative spokesthing for all women.
**The other is a female, Chantal Mouffe, but her writing – done in the 1970s and 1980s – is actually an extended commentary-cum-minor-alterations on Gramsci.
***In the December, 2011 print edition of the always-worthwhile journal “First Things” (pp.5-6), editor R.R. Reno reflects on his attendance at the unveiling of the 9-11 Memorial in New York. There is almost nothing there, he notes; there is, as it were, “no there there”. Meaning that the very Correct architects of the site didn’t want to be ‘directive’ or ‘oppressive’ by ‘imposing any particular interpretation’ of the event on the viewer – who is thus left with ‘total autonomy’ to make of the Event whatever s/he pleases. Thus the site gives you the ‘freedom’ of ‘space’ to think … well …. whatEVERRRRRRRRRR. And you can see where this contemporary youthy usage comes from: thoughts or reasons don’t matter at all any longer, nor any ‘reality’ beyond immediate ‘feelings’ and ‘appearances’. Such generations of voters are not really going to be well-skilled in discharging the responsibilities of Citizens – even as Our rendezvous with destiny (or ‘doom’, in Tolkien’s sense) is already upon Us.
But, as Reno develops it nicely, this is almost obscene. We are a People and a Citizenry and We have a common Culture and polity that unites Us. Or We should have. To use my terms, Americans are a “We” and not just a “we”. (Or, really, are Americans thus describable any longer?)
This is, in light of what I am saying in this Post, precisely a result of the Gramscian assault by the R-feminists and secularists seeking to gelatinize and thus destroy what they consider merely (and with ruthlessly reductionistic fatuity) to be nothing more than an ‘oppressive, hegemonic Culture that is rotten to the core and is politically joined in a polity equally rotten’.
****Here are some recommended books, although there are many out there.
Gramsci, Antonio: “The Prison Notebooks”. There are many editions.
Adamson, Walter L. “Hegemony and Revolution: A Study of Antonio Gramsci’s Political and Cultural Theory”. Berkeley: U/Cal Press. 1980. ISBN 0-520-03924-6. An excellent, if a bit philosophical, examination of Gramsci’s thought along two very relevant conceptual axes.
Martin, James. “Gramsci’s Political Analysis: A Critical Introduction”. New York: St. Martin’s Press. 1998. ISBN 0-312-21243-7. A fine readable introduction.
Germino, Dante. “Antonio Gramsci: Architect of a New Politics”. Baton Rouge: LA State University Press. 1990. ISBN 0-8071-1553-3. An insightful synthesis of biography and intellectual history, and written from an Italian viewpoint and sensibility.
Hoffman, John. “The Gramscian Challenge: Coercion and Consent in Marxist Political Theory”. New York: Blackwell. 1984. ISBN 0-85520-771-X. Another thoughtful philosophical analysis situating Gramsci within classical and more current Marxist-Leninist thought.
Let me add this: It may seem a bit much to recommend to a modern American readership some immersion in both Marxist philosophical and social analysis and also in the general but profoundly essential and basic Questions of political and social organization.
To which I would respond that it has been precisely along these relatively unattended-to avenues of assault that the current ‘war of positions’ has made its advances into the American polity and into the thinking – as it were – within the Beltway.
I firmly believe that Americans must quickly regain a familiarity with the terms and concepts of such basic political Questions (the late 19th century and early 20th century Italians were as absorbed and prolifically deliberative about these Questions as the Americans of the Revolutionary and Constitutional generations). I think that these Questions should be the topic of discussion wherever Citizens get together. And that means that Americans should again start imagining themselves first and foremost as Citizens in the first place: not as members of this or that Identity, not as either ‘oppressor’ or ‘victim’, not as primarily members of this or that demographic nor fans of this or that band or celebrity or celebrity politician or sports team, but primarily as Citizens.
I advise this urgently not out of some sentimental escapism, nor out of some whacked-out hope that by ‘acting’ out such ‘roles’ Americans might ‘feel’ more like the old-school Citizens of yore. But rather because the Threats that gave rise to the classic American Questions of 1775-1787 (and the counter-example of the answers enacted in France in 1789!) are once again upon Us and We had damned well better not be asleep at the vital switches.
Thanks to the betrayal of the ‘walls’ Our ‘keep’ has been laid open to a deliberate if insidious corrosive assault. And We are advised not only not to bring the proverbial knife to this conceptual gunfight, but are also reminded that this conceptual gunfight is intended by its initiators and enablers to end the Framing Vision and un-Ground American society and culture as well as its polity.
In regard to the government-abetted attack on the Church in order to delegitimize its public status, credibility, and authority (and hence its ability to stand as any sort of obstruction to the Gramscian Project), I also would point out the following developments.
The seemingly eternal media-flogging of the clergy abuse crisis in the Catholic Church. While there was a flurry of interest in the mid-1980s, it came back in 1991 (just in time for the Billary administrations which embraced 'governance feminism' - whereby the 'treason of the gates and walls' of the 'castle' became official government policy). But in January 2002 a 3rd Phase was launched with a new strategy: going for civil lawsuits not against the poor-as-churchmice individually accused priests, but against the bishops (and their deep-pockets Insurers). This opened up a tort pinata of incalculable proportions.
Then, just a few months ago, an organization long suspected of receiving kick-backs from the tort attorneys who made millions in fees therefrom teamed up with a 'progressive' law organization to file a Crimes-Against-Humanity suit against the Vatican with the International Criminal Court in the Hague. See essay on this matter here
And just before Christmas, this entire gambit was started up (as if it were 'new') in Europe when a commission released a Report claiming all the same old same old having happened over there.
This ‘Report’ claimed that up to 20,000 Dutch children had been abused by priests in the period 1945-2010. While it seems that the actual text of the Report is nowhere to be found online, this much is certain: the ‘Report’ is based on a survey; 34,000 people were interviewed (unknown through what modality); from the stories they got the Report-writers simply extrapolated-estimated the number of 20,000; there is some sort of a ‘spectrum’ created by worst-case to least-case types of targeted action but no news report bothers to examine that; there are also no questions as to the definitions of such key terms as ‘unwanted sexual advances’ or (especially with the new rape-is-what-I-feel-it-is definitions now floating around) ‘rape’. And of the 800 or so priests ‘reported’ in these stories to be guilty, over 700 are dead (and cannot defend themselves).
Also, while the text appears nowhere on line, it is an 1100 page thing. Large enough to a) impress merely by its weight while b) too large to discourage any close reading by any but the most intrepid (which does not, alas, include much of the media). And the fellow who headed up the commission that put it together was a former Minister or Ministry-official in the government. (For a longer discussion of the 'survey' method slyly employed in this entire strategic Project, see here .)
With their own economies in such difficult shape, I doubt a European government would pass up the easy political advantages to be gained from distracting their populations with what really amounts to a lottery whereby you can soothe your financial anxieties by coming up with a workable story, putting your name on some enterprising tort attorney's list, and waiting to be notified of your share.
As the Gramsican Project's strategy (especially as deployed by the R-feminists and secularists have developed it) would call for attacking any handy weakness in the 'hegemonic Culture', and since the target Culture in question is considered to be 'male' and 'patriarchal', then the attack on the Catholic Church along matters of 'sex' is a perfect three-fer: i) the Culture is attacked and weakened by ii) attacking one of the foremost organizations that has supported - and you could make a case for saying it pretty much founded - Western Culture as it evolved after the Fall of the Roman Empire, while iii) weakening one of the greatest obstructions to 'gelatinizing' the targeted hegemonic Culture along an axis of attack (sex) that can reliably found to be anywhere that humans come together.
Labels: American political development since the Sixties, Antonio Gramsci, radical feminism