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Hegemony and the hidden persuaders

the power of un-common sense

George Clark (June 2002) www.srds.co.uk

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It is not by accident that we come by our 'common sense'. People who think freely and independently are quick to realise how they have been taught to imprison and enslave themselves. In breaking free they become the champions of un-common sense. May their thoughts be clear, fruitful and infectious.

 

This short article explores the concept of Hegemony by offering some definitions and quotations and listing some web links for those who want to drill down into the concept.

bulletHegemony = leadership or dominance, especially by one state or social group over others
bulletThe ability of one class to persuade other classes to see the world in terms favorable to its own ascendancy
bulletThe balance between coercion and consent will vary from society to society, the latter being more important in capitalist societies
bulletThe more prominent is civil society, the more likely it is that hegemony will be achieved by ideological means
bulletFor capitalist society to be overthrown, workers must first establish their own ideological supremacy derived from their revolutionary consciousness

 

bulletGramsci especially emphasized the role of intellectuals in the creation of hegemony
bulletThe role of intellectuals is to create a 'counter-hegemonic project', that is, an alternative form of political and moral leadership
bulletRevolution is seen not only as the transfer of political and economic power but as the creation of an alternative hegemony through new forms of experience and consciousness

hegemony - leadership or dominance, especially by one state or social group over others
Origin C16: from Greek hegemonia, from hegemon 'leader', from hegeisthai 'to lead'
[Concise Oxford Dictionary Tenth Edition (1999)]

Hegemony. This is the term used by the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci to describe how the domination of one class over others is achieved by a combination of political and ideological means. Although political force - coercion - is always important, the role of ideology in winning the consent of dominated classes may be even more significant. The balance between coercion and consent will vary from society to society, the latter being more important in capitalist societies.

For Gramsci, the state was the chief instrument of coercive force, the winning of consent being achieved by the institutions of civil society eg the family, the Church and the Trade Unions. Hence the more prominent is civil society, the more likely it is that hegemony will be achieved by ideological means.

Hegemony is unlikely ever to be complete. In contemporary capitalist societies, for example, the working class has a dual consciousness, partly determined by the ideology of the capitalist class and partly revolutionary, determined by their experience of capitalist society. For capitalist society to be overthrown, workers must first establish their own ideological supremacy derived from their revolutionary consciousness.

[The Penguin Dictionary of Sociology (1988)]

"If those in charge of our society - politicians, corporate executives, and owners of press and television - can dominate our ideas, they will be secure in their power. They will not need soldiers patrolling the streets. We will control ourselves."
[Howard Zinn, historian and author]

hegemony. Greek: hegemon, a chief or ruler. Term used since the last century to denote the influence on one state over others; hence 'hegemonism', which describes the politics of those powers that cow their neighbors and dependants into submission.

In political thought the term is now as often used in the sense given to it by Gramsci, in which it denotes the ascendancy of a class, not only in the economic sphere, but through all social, political and ideological spheres, and its ability thereby to persuade other classes to see the world in terms favorable to its own ascendancy.

Gramsci advocated the construction of a rival hegemony, through the infiltration and transformation of those small-scale institutions by which class ascendancy, once achieved, is sustained. This struggle for hegemony is seen as a transforming factor as important as any development of productive forces, and corresponds to Lenin's 'subjective conditions' for revolution.

[Roger Scruton (1982) A Dictionary of Political Thought; Pan]

hegemony. From the Greek verb meaning 'to lead', hegemony has sometimes been used as a synonym for domination. In its subtler sense, however, it implies some notion of consent and is particularly associated with the writings of the Antonio Gramsci.

Drawing on writers such as Machiavelli and Pareto, Gramsci argues that a politically dominant class maintains its position not simply by force, or the threat of force, but also by consent. That is achieved by making compromises with various other social and political forces which are welded together and consent to a certain social order under the intellectual and moral leadership of the dominant class. This hegemony is produced and reproduced through a network of institutions, social relations, and ideas which are outside the direct political sphere.

Gramsci especially emphasized the role of intellectuals in the creation of hegemony. The result is one of the most important, if elusive, concepts in contemporary social theory.

[Ted Honderich (1995) The Oxford Companion to Philosophy]

"Cultural influences have set up the assumptions about the mind, the body, and the universe with which we begin; pose the questions we ask; influence the facts we seek; determine the interpretations we give these facts; and direct our reaction to these interpretations and conclusions."
[Gunnar Myrdal, An American Dilemma (1944)]

HEGEMONY in sociology, political science and international relations, is generally used to describe dominance or control rather than leadership. Thus 'hegemonism' describes the policies of states which control or bully those within their sphere of influence; 'hegemonic control' refers to a system of ethnic domination in which the political elite controls a subordinated ethnic community (or communities) in such a way that it is incapable of effective revolt; and 'hegemonic party' refers to a political party which is the only effective party in control of a particular society.

The widespread popularity of the concept of hegemony is the 1970s and 1980s derived from the western Marxist rehabilitation of the Prison Notebooks of the Italian Communist leader, Antonio Gramsci, who died at the hands of Mussolini's Fascists.

Drawing on the work of Machiavelli and the elite theorist Pareto, Gramsci used the concept of hegemony to describe the way in which he believed the bourgeoisie established and maintains control even in a democratic system in which workers and peasants might make up an electoral majority. The dominance of the bourgeoisie was not based on their control of the coercive power of the state, but rather rested upon their ability to exercise moral and political leadership, and to win consent for their vision of what was possible and worthwhile.

In Gramsci's thought, each successful political system requires the creation of an 'historic bloc', unified around an 'hegemonic project', in which the dominant class builds alliances beyond itself, and wins consent for its institutions and ideas. The appeal of this idea for western Marxists was twofold: it helped account for the failure of revolutionary Marxism in Western Europe, and it suggested that intellectuals played a key role in building hegemony for a historical bloc. By implication the role of western Marxist intellectuals was to create a 'counter-hegemonic project', that is, an alternative form of political and moral leadership.

In recent years the word 'hegemony' has come to be used more loosely, in studies of working class youth sub-cultures, the production of television news and the development of state education. Some historian deplore this development, claiming that while the obscurities, difficulties and contradictions in Gramsci's writings on hegemony owed something to his conditions of imprisonment, his latter day disciples in western Europe and North America have no similar excuse for lack of clarity.

[Kenneth McLeish (1993) Guide to Human Thought - ideas that shaped the world; Bloomsbury]

hegemony (1) Since the 19th century a term that has been used especially to describe the predominance of one state over others, eg the French hegemony over Europe in the time of Napoleon. By extension, hegemonism is used to describe 'great power' policies aimed at establishing such a preponderance, a use close to one of the meanings of imperialism.

(2) In the writings of some 20th century Marxists (especially the Italian Gramsci) it is used to denote the preponderance of one social class over others eg in the term bourgeois hegemony.

The feature which this usage stresses is not only the political and economic control exercised by a dominant class but its success in projecting its own particular way of seeing the world, human and social relationships, so that this is accepted as 'common sense' and part of the natural order by those who are in fact subordinated to it.

From this it follows that revolution is seen not only as the transfer of political and economic power but as the creation of an alternative hegemony through new forms of experience and consciousness. This is different from the more familiar Marxist view that change in the economic base is what matters and that change in the superstructure is a reflection of this; instead the struggle for hegemony is seen as a primary and even decisive factor in radical change, including change in the economic base itself.

[Alan Bullock & Stephen Trombley (1988) The New Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought]

"If democracy is ever to be threatened, it will not be by revolutionary groups burning government offices and occupying the broadcasting and newspaper offices of the world. It will come from disenchantment, cynicism and despair caused by the realisation that the New World Order means we are all to be managed and not represented."
[Tony Benn, British Labour Party Member of Parliament]

Internet links:

Hegemony In Gramsci's Original Prison Notebooks -
Carl Cuneo's Notes on the Concept of Hegemony in Gramsci (with slides) http://socserv2.mcmaster.ca/soc/courses/soc2r3/gramsci/gramheg.htm

From Cultural Hegemony to the Culture of (computer) Code
http://www.asc.upenn.edu/usr/chunter/iic.html

<By code, I mean the complex software underlying today's computer systems and networks like the Internet. Written predominantly in English and predominantly in the U.S. -- which controls 75% of the worldwide packaged software market (Carmel, 1997) -- a culture of code has arisen which embeds U.S. norms about contentious global policy issues like privacy rights, copyright protection, and free speech into the very architecture of global computing systems (Lessig, 1999). Perhaps the best example of what I am referring to is Microsoft's Windows operating system. Window's is the product of a predominantly U.S. development effort, yet it is used on over 90% of the world's personal computers. As such, Microsoft has the power to literally embed its view of the world into the code which runs its software>

Bakhtin, Gramsci and the Semiotics of Hegemony (seriously erudite)
http://www.shef.ac.uk/uni/academic/A-C/bakh/brandist-paper.html

<Vossler argued that diversity is shown in a plurality of styles at individual and national levels which interact through the mediation of translation: wherever and whenever we enter into the speech of someone else, or our own past speech, we are translating>

Civil Society, Cultural Hegemony, and Citizenship: Implications for adult education.
http://www.oise.utoronto.ca/CASAE/cnf99/amorell.html

<In the last decade, we have witnessed the return of the nineteenth century concept of civil society. However, there is no consensus for its meaning, even amongst those who find it an indispensable heuristic device. The concept is of particular interest to educators, who have been debating for a long time the relationship between education and society, education and the state, the role of education in the reproduction of citizenry, and the dialectics of hegemony and resistance. In sharp contrast to many liberal and neo-conservative theorists, who equate democracy with private enterprise, radical theorists often see in the rise of the market the weakening of civil society. They look at 'social movements' as a force capable of democratizing education and society by challenging the hegemony of both the state and the market. >

Cultural Hegemony Theory
http://www.unc.edu/courses/2000fall/jomc245-001/cultural_hegemony.html

<When dominant ideologies and principles are challenged, social institutions support elite interests with a goal of managing the debate and maintaining social stability. The media support the establishment by discrediting, isolating and undercutting resisters, tactics which Shoemaker and Reese (1996) call "repair techniques" (p. 249).>

And some lists of other bits and pieces

http://dmoz.org/Society/Issues/Global/Hegemonism/

http://directory.google.com/Top/Society/Issues/Global/Hegemonism/

 

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