the Culture War:
Gramscians, Tocquevillians and Others
start the new century and the new millennium with a problem of major
proportions: the seemingly unstoppable march of political correctness
through American institutions and life. A recent article in the
journal Policy Review, published by the Heritage
Foundation, is worth reading for its insights into how we have
ended up in this predicament and also for why we seem unable
to figure a way out of it. The article is by John Fonte, of the
Hudson Institute, and is entitled
"Why There Is a Culture War." If this article is any indication,
Fonte’s forthcoming book Building a Healthy Culture, of which
the article is an excerpt, is likely also worth reading as a barometer
of where we stand.
contrasts "two competing worldviews" that are currently
struggling for dominance in America. It would be fair to say that
the two really are at war: Fonte somewhat euphemistically calls
the contest an "intense ideological struggle." One he
calls "Gramscian"; the other, "Tocquevillian,"
after the intellectuals he credits with having authored the respective
warring ideologies: the Italian neo-Marxist philosopher Antonio
Gramsci, author of Prison
Notebooks and other works, and the French political philosopher
Alexis de Tocqueville, author of the influential Democracy
becomes clear that one cannot understand either the meteoric rise
or apparent immunity of political correctness to attack without
understanding Gramsci. Rarely would I recommend actually studying
a Marxist social philosopher, but this guy merits our attention.
Gramsci (1891-1937) agreed with Karl Marx that every society could
be divided into "oppressor" and "oppressed"
classes (e.g., Marx’s own "bourgeois" and "proletariat"),
but for the first time, expanded the latter into an ensemble of
subordinate, marginalized groups instead of a single, homogeneous
group. Whereas Marx had spoken only of the proletariat, Gramsci
spoke not just of propertyless workers but also of "woman,
racial minorities and many ‘criminals.’" Fonte documents how
Gramsci distinguished two ways the dominant group exercises control,
whereas Marx had only written of one. First, there is direct domination
through coercion or force political might in service of the economic
interests of the bourgeoisie. Second, there is what Gramsci calls
hegemony, which means the pervasive and mostly tacit use
of a system of values that supports and reinforces the interests
of the dominant groups. The repressed groups may not even know they
are repressed, in Gramsci’s view, because they have internalized
the system of values that justifies their repression. They have
internalized a "false consciousness" and become unwitting
participants in their own domination.
this sounding familiar yet? Think of the radical feminist philosophy
professors and law professors who speak of romantic candlelight
dinners a staple of ordinary American life as a form of prostitution.
They justify this seemingly outrageous claim on the grounds that
American women exist in "false consciousness," the hegemonic
product of male-dominated (and capitalistic) values. The sense of
abhorrence felt by "ordinary" women at radical feminist
claims is nothing more than this "false consciousness"
asserting itself. Gramsci went on to argue that before there could
be any "revolution" in Marx’s sense it would be necessary
to build up a "counter-hegemony," or system of values
favoring the repressed groups that would undermine or delegitimize
the hegemony-created consciousness. And because hegemonic values
permeate the whole of society and are embodied in the warp and woof
of daily life, daily life becomes part of the ideological battleground.
All the institutions we take for granted schools, churches, the
media, businesses, as well as art, literature, philosophy, and so
on become places where the "counter-hegemonic" values
can be seeded and allowed to take root. They become domains to be
infiltrated, and brought into the service of the movement. As the
radical feminists put it, "the personal is the political."
It is interesting how the latter have lifted this idea from a white
male European philosopher mostly without credit. The point, however,
is to create a new kind of "consciousness" free of the
values that allow the dominant group(s) to repress the subordinate
groups. Only this will throw off the shackles of "hegemony"
and lead to true revolution.
saw an important role in the transformation of society for those
he called "organic" intellectuals (as opposed to "traditional"
intellectuals). "Organic" intellectuals were to be intellectuals
belonging to the repressed groups and making an effort to undermine
the "hegemony" with the assistance of any "traditional"
intellectuals they could persuade to defect from the dominant point
of view. They will flourish as the roots of counter-hegemony grow.
In other words, Gramsci was recommending recruiting radicalized
women, members of minority groups, and others into the fold affirmative
action before that term was coined. Changing the minds of "traditional"
intellectuals was particularly valuable, as they were already well
positioned within the dominant educational institutions. The "long
march through the institutions" a phrase we also owe to Gramsci began.
Gramsci’s name is not exactly a household word. Many people concerned
about political correctness have no doubt never heard of him. To
describe him as important, however, is probably the understatement
of the new year. He sketched, in works such as Prison Notebooks,
the basic outline of the agenda that would begin to be implemented
in American colleges and universities, and then carried to the rest
of society, in the final quarter of the 20th century.
The efforts accelerating in the 1990s, no doubt helped along by
having one of their own (perhaps it was two of their own)
in the White House. Clearly, we find echoes of Gramsci’s notion
of an "organic" intellectual in today’s calls for more
and more "diversity" in all areas of society: universities,
the workplace, etc. The mass conversion of "traditional"
intellectuals to the Gramscian struggle helps explain why this diversity
is a diversity of faces and not ideas. "Traditional" intellectuals
have power, especially in education. The gatekeepers control who
is admitted to the academic club, and the "traditional"
intellectuals control the gatekeepers. Today, an outspoken conservative
might as well not even apply for an academic appointment in a public
university. But feminists of all stripes and colors (and sexual
preferences and fetishes) are more than welcome!
we ought also to note, described himself as an "absolute historicist,"
whose views derive from the philosopher Hegel. All systems of value,
all moral codes, etc., are entirely the products of the historical
epoch and culture which gave rise to them. There is no such thing
as an "absolute" or an "objective" morality.
There are only systems of value that represent either the (mainly
economic) interests of those in power or of those not in power;
and one of the jobs of "organic" intellectuals is to develop
systems of value that will undermine the former. Capturing control
over language, especially the language of morality, has a major
role to play in this because of the doors it opens to psychological
control over the masses. Most people will reject ideas and institutions
if they become convinced of their basic immorality; most people,
too, lack the kind of training that will equip them to untangle
the thicket of logical fallacies that might be involved. This all
helps pave the way for the Gramscian transformation of society.
political correctness in all its manifestations, from academic schools
of radical feminism, "critical race theory," gay and lesbian
"queer theory," etc., to the preoccupation with "diversity"
as an end in itself, is the direct descendent of Gramsci, and the
chief arm of enforcement of the ongoing Gramscian transformation
of American society. Consider efforts to transform our understanding
of the law. Fonte observes: "Critical legal studies posits
that the law grows out of unequal relations of power and therefore
serves the interests of and legitimizes the rule of dominant groups."
The academic movement known as "deconstruction," however
one defines it, is a systematic effort to destroy the legitimacy
of the values of "dominant groups": straight white Christian
males of (non-Marxist) European descent. The values to be destroyed:
truth as the goal of inquiry, transcendent morality as the guide
to human conduct, freedom and independence as political ideals,
hiring and contracting based on merit. All are rationalizing myths
of the dominant consciousness, in the Gramscian scheme of things.
transformation is now very much underway, as Gramscian footsoldiers
have captured not just the major institutions in the English-speaking
world (Ivy League universities) but also huge tax-exempt foundations
(Ford, Rockefeller, Carnegie, and so on) that have been bankrolling
Gramscian projects for decades. Fonte cites author after author
to document the millions that have flowed to academic feminist endeavors,
diversity-engineering projects in universities and sensitivity-training
re-education programs in corporations. The plain truth is, we can
no longer trust large corporations. Fortune 500 companies have become
as reliable footsoldiers in the creation of a politically correct
America as universities. Even Bill Gates of Microsoft has gotten
on the official bandwagon, with his creation of minority-only scholarships
last year. With the money now behind it, small wonder political
correctness has become so difficult to oppose!
there is an opposition force. Fonte describes the opposition to
the avalanche of money and resources flowing into the creation of
a Gramscian world as the "Tocquevillian counterattack."
The key idea here is American exceptionalism the idea that
there are normative values to be embraced that are not mere historical
products, that these values have been embodied in America, and are
what makes America a special place. Fonte articulates a "trinity
of American exceptionalism" that defined our unique development:
(1) dynamism (support for entrepreneurship and economic progress,
including the changes economic progress yields, and support for
equality of opportunity for all individuals to participate in this
process); (2) religiosity (the idea that freedom is only
possible to a moral citizenry, that moral values have their origins
with God, that character development should be an important component
of education, and that social problems should be addressed at the
local level through the voluntary associations of men and women
of good will and character); (3) patriotism (love of country,
and support for Constitutionally limited self-government and the
rule of law). It is easy to see the roots of these ideas in the
works of the political and economic philosophers of the English-speaking
world the Gramscians abhor. These include Adam Smith, John Locke,
and especially Edmund Burke, among others leading up to and including
also discusses a "third" set of views which oppose the
creation of a Gramscian world but are not, in his view, Tocquevillians
because they do not accept all three components of the above. They
might emphasize one at the expense of the others. For example, libertarian
author Virginia Postrel emphasizes the first in her book The
Future and Its Enemies which distinguishes "dynamists"
from "stasists." Most Libertarians seem to want to have
nothing to do with the second, believing with the philosopher-novelist
Ayn Rand that morality originates from the necessities of sustaining
human existence (the exercise of reason in responding to knowable
circumstances in an objective world) rather than from God. There
are, finally, members of the pro-South movement afoot today who
mistrust the first, and who believe the third can be carried forth
only through a new secession effort which would end America
as we know it.
Fonte identifies include "libertarians, paleoconservatives,
secular patriots, Catholic social democrats, [and] disaffected religious-right
intellectuals"; he doubts that they "will mount an effective
resistance to the continuing Gramscian assault. Only the Tocquevillians
appear to have the strength in terms of intellectual firepower,
infrastructure, funding, media attention and a comprehensive philosophy
that taps into core American principles to challenge the Gramscians
with any chance of success."
some cases, this seems clear. Many Libertarians will not succeed
if by success we mean actually gaining political office or
sufficient influence to make a difference the primary reason
being their bullheaded atheism. A people, over 90 percent of whom
believe in a personal God, simply will not support a political movement
that tries to marry individual liberties and natural rights with
the idea that there is no God. For intellectuals there are, or should
be, too many problems with the idea that a moral view of the universe
can be built up on the materialistic foundation that represents,
for many of us, the dark side of the Enlightenment. Materialism,
after all, also gave rise to Marxism and the Gramscian movement,
and is far more compatible with the idea that in the physical universe,
superior might is what gets the last word.
is unclear, however, what Fonte finds lacking in paleoconservatives.
The only person he mentions by name is Samuel Francis, a Buchananite
writer who rejects the entire Enlightenment as misguided. But there
are different strains of paleoconservatism just like there are different
strains of everything else. Some tend towards Buchananism; others
don’t. Fonte does not discuss these differing strains, so we are
left in the dark whether paleoconservatives are, for example, lacking
in (1) above because some are Buchananites or simply agrarians,
or in (3) because some favor secession. There can be no doubt that
agrarian life has its healthy side as opposed to our present urban
nightmares of traffic, crime, stress and, of course, bureaucracy.
And if one believes in the Declaration of Independence than one
believes that secession is sometimes legitimate period even if it
takes wars for independence to make it stick.
is clear, however, who Fonte’s favorite Tocquevillians are. He lists
them. They include William Bennett, Michael Novak, Gertrude Himmelfarb,
Marvin Olasky, Norman Podhoretz also scholars such as Williams Galston,
Wilfred McClay, Harvey Mansfield and Walter McDougall. Writers such
as Irving Kristol and Charles Kesler also get favorable mention.
There are, to say the least, more than a few neocons represented
in this group, and all are closely associated with what could be
called the Republican Establishment’s intellectual wing, associated
with the Republican Party Heritage Foundation National Review
is "intellectual firepower" in this group; no doubt about it. But
only one observation need be made: thus far, this group for whatever
reason has not stemmed the Gramscian tide. It has not even come
close. Perhaps it is unable to. It has its foundations, too Bradley,
Olin, Scaife, and select others. However, none of these even begins
to match the bottomless pit of resources available to leftists from
the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations. Perhaps there are other reasons,
unstated, why this group has not seized the moral high ground despite
all its "intellectual firepower." (For whatever it is worth, the
home page of the Hudson Institute’s website
openly embraces "A Global Perspective." The Gramscians are also
globalmaniacs, but they want to extend political correctness and
welfarism worldwide instead of liberty and technology.)
the reason, the Republican Establishment has not stopped the advance
of political correctness the war against the political and economic
philosophy, and the moral and religious values that built this country.
Here is one theory: Fonte’s favorite intellectuals are simply too
close to the forces of centralization on which the Gramscian advance
is riding to resist its advance effectively. Both groups, that is,
are benefiting massively from the increased centralization of society
(and the Western world generally) that is taking us into the New
World Order. How far, for example, is loyalty to (3) supposed to
go? Does "patriotism" mean loyalty to a set of ideals
on which a country was founded, or merely blind obedience to those
currently running it? Do we impose our brand of "patriotism"
on other nations, and then, if they resist, use force? One reason
many of us do not trust neocons is that they have been all too willing
to favor military interventionism around the globe in the name of
"democracy" as if having forgotten that free institutions
require a longstanding philosophical tradition that developed mainly
in the English-speaking world and nowhere else. In major respects,
the neocons claim to support Constitutionally limited government,
but many accept the centralized mega-state that began to grow with
Lincoln, took quantum steps with the Wilson and Roosevelt administrations and
then took its biggest quantum leap during the Johnson-Nixon era.
Many neocons, let us also remember, are former socialists who came
to reject socialism itself but not one of its first premises, which
is the efficacy of centralization in getting things done. You cannot
mount an effective strategy against an opponent if you share that
opponent’s key premises; those premises will be turned and used
that sincere efforts among those with influence are underway to
stop the Gramscian march to the center of power in American society,
one thing is clear: they need all the help they can get! That would
include infusions of new ideas from paleoconservatives, pro-South
types and others routinely dismissed as "out on the fringes."
Republicans, it is easy to show just by looking at Bush Jr.’s cabinet
nominees so far (with a few exceptions such as John Ashcroft), have
been largely co-opted; the rest just do not have the backbone to
stand up to the Gramscian assault. Moreover, the Gramscian element
that long ago co-opted the Democratic Party expresses its agenda
using moral language. Result: left-liberal Democrats who have the
courage of their convictions are acceptable, because their agenda
advances "social justice"; conservative Republicans who
have the courage of their convictions are not acceptable because
their agenda is "unjust" or "immoral." Republicans
at the center of influence have failed to respond to such insinuations
any neocons are perchance reading this, I would implore them to
stop being so elitist. Pay attention to all those "red states"
on the now-infamous map, and realize there is activity going on
out in the Midwestern hinterlands, in the Far West, and, of course,
down here in the South. Not just in the Washington New York
City Boston corridor which (along with the West Coast) has
also been the major hotbed of Gramscian activism. Those at the center
of influence ought to seek out some new blood, both because they
need all the allies they can get and because we are all running
out of time.
Yates has a Ph.D. in Philosophy and is the author of
Wrongs: What Went Wrong With Affirmative Action (ICS Press,
1994). He is at work on two manuscripts tentatively entitled View
From the Gallery and The Paradox of Liberty, and also
lectures occasionally. He lives, freelance writes, and is available
for occasional lectures in Columbia, South Carolina.