Ideological Hegemony

“These two levels [civil society and political society] correspond on the one hand to the function of “hegemony” which the dominant group exercises throughout society and on the other hand to that of “direct domination” or command exercised through the State and “juridical” government. The functions in question are precisely organisation and connective. The intellectuals are the dominant group’s “deputies” exercising the sub-altern functions of social hegemony and political government. These comprise:

  1. The “spontaneous” consent given by the great masses of the population to the general direction imposed on social life by the dominant fundamental group; this consent is “historically” caused by the prestige (and consequent confidence) which the dominant group enjoys because of its position and function in the world of production.
  2. The apparatus of state coercive power which “legally” enforces discipline on those groups who do not “consent” either actively or passively. This apparatus is, however, constituted for the whole of society in anticipations of moments of crisis of command and direction when spontaneous consent has failed.

This way of posing the problem has a result a considerable extension of the concept of intellectual, but it is the only way which enables one to reach a concrete approximation of reality. It also clashes with preconceptions of caste. The function of organising social hegemony and state domination certainly gives rise to a particular division of labour and therefore to a whole hierarchy of qualifications in some of which there is no apparent attribution of directive or organisation functions. […] Indeed, intellectual activity must also be distinguished in terms of its intrinsic characteristics, according to levels which in moments of extreme opposition represent a real qualitative difference. […]

In the modern world the category of intellectuals, understood in this sense, has undergone an unprecedented expansion. The democratic-bureaucratic system has given rise to a great mass of functions which are not all justified by the social necessities of production, thought they are justified by the political necessities of the dominant fundamental group. Hence Loria’s conception of the unproductive “worker” (but unproductive in relation to whom and to what mode of production?), a conception which could in part be justified if one takes into account of the fact that these masses exploit their position to take for themselves a large cut out of the national income. Mass formation has standardised individuals both psychologically and in terms of individual qualification and has produced the same phenomena as with other standardised masses: competition which makes necessary organisations for the defence of professions, unemployment, over-production in the schools, emigration, etc.

Pp. 13-14 of Harre, Quintin and Geoffrey Nowell Smith, eds. 2014 [1971]. Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci. New York: International Publishers.

[Emphasis my own. Gramsci’s picture at the top. It is important to note that Gramsci primarily takes a historical account into “making his case” (this is not just “abstract theorising”, as they say) and which I have excluded from this excerpt. This section [I. The Intellectuals], and certainly the rest of the Notebooks, is filled with examples of intellectuals and the political science that must necessarily be rooted and understood in its historical context, and the rest of the Notebooks is flush with the historicity of intellectuals, of political parties, of revolutions (“failed” and “successful”). As a member of the Communist Party of Italy, Gramsci was familiar first-hand with the “apparatus of state coercive power”, and would be sentenced to 25 years in prison. During his imprisonment his “teeth fell out, his digestive system collapsed so that he could not eat solid food […] he had convulsions when he vomited blood, and suffered headaches so violent that he beat his head against the walls of his cell. It is against this background that the achievement of the Prison Notebooks should be seen.” (p. xcii) He was soon too ill to move and died less than a week after his release.]

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