• Understanding the Culture War: Gramscians, Tocquevillians and Others

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    by
    Steven Yates

    Fonte
    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
    in America
    .

    It
    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 u2018criminals.'" 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.

    Is
    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.

    Gramsci
    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.

    Antonio
    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!

    Gramsci,
    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.

    Clearly,
    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.

    The
    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!

    But
    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
    the Framers.

    Fonte
    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.

    Those
    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."

    In
    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.

    It
    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.

    It
    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
    axis.

    There
    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.)

    Whatever
    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
    against you.

    Assuming
    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
    effectively.

    If
    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.

    January
    6, 2001

    Steven
    Yates
    has a Ph.D. in Philosophy and is the author of
    Civil
    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.

    Steven
    Yates Archives

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