Antonio Gramsci - The Undead

Thursday, February 23, 2006
Jamie pointed me to this outstanding piece at Armed and Dangerous. While I have been aware of the individual elements identified, I have never seen a better job of assembling an entire mosaic from the available pieces.

I am aware that some contributors here do not believe that Gramsci's proposed methods were ever methodically implemented in the US, or that they continue to be propagated at almost twenty years from the fall of the regime responsible for their dissemination. I would not posit that every decision concerning advancement wihin the fields described is made by committee's whose sole determinant is "What would Antonio do?" but I do believe that affinity groups composed of his adherents (whether witting or unwitting) continue to conrol advancement within education and journalism or, wrt Hollywood, selection of "appropriate" product.

This is a truly top notch essay - and some of the comments (and commenters) which follow are very amusing - if you find blind adherence to a dead but pernicious philosophy a source of amusement.


David Thomson said...

“What would Antonio do?"

Very few people consciously ask themselves this question. Many American left-wingers may not have even heard of Antonio Gramsci! Ideas often outlive the individual who gave them birth. No, Gramsci’s dogmas have become second nature. A sort of mass hysteria takes over. Everybody is essentially on the same page. No one really has to say anything.

MeaninglessHotAir said...

It is a good essay, I agree.

But I continue to disagree with you to some extent about the nature of the phenomenon we are observing here. My opinion is that one cannot view the people holding the Gramscian ideas as mere puppets. It is not sufficient to say that Gramsci via the Soviets got this ball rolling. That they did get this ball rolling is not in particular doubt, let me hasten to emphasize. Rather, the issue turns on the nature of the believers themselves.

The point I am trying to make is that ideas of this nature succeed because they are satisfying a deep human need on the part of the believers. Ideas are like bacteria, they spread where there is opportunity to spread.

In order to root out this disease, it is not sufficient to say "See, you just a puppet of the Soviets." That won't persuade anybody, and will really just cause them to become hostile. Rather, the need that this disease satisfies must be identified and must be satisfied by some alternative belief system.

The fact is that there exist people whose hearts bleed over the poor and downtrodden, even if they have never met a poor or downtrodden person in their lives. The bleeding is real. There are likewise people whose hearts do not so bleed. The latter tend to view the former as foolish, and perhaps they are, but that doesn't change their nature. They need to believe in a better world and if they are not offered a reasonable means to a better world, they will inevitably turn to an unreasonable one.

Our task therefore is to follow in Truepeers's path by trying to create a new belief system for those who need it. It sounds quaint, old-fashioned, unhip, and all those other bad things (bad to those of us who are children of the Sixties) but we have to believe in Western Society or we will not succeed. We must believe in ourselves, or we will inevitably fail. If we cannot believe that we are the future then we will not be.

chuck said...

It sounds quaint, old-fashioned, unhip, and all those other bad things (bad to those of us who are children of the Sixties) but we have to believe in Western Society or we will not succeed.

Oh, no, not unhip at all. I think it is a deep seated need. I wrote a freshman essay in 1964 saying the same thing, although I can't say the essay was very profound -- 500 words, you know. I also brought in comic book superheroes somewhere along the line, in that essay or another, something to do with young folks needing rites of passage and an arena in which to prove themselves. I think the malaise of disbelief and unconfidence is *the* fundamental problem of modern societies.

Peter UK said...

It is the heirs of Gramsci,the "Boys from Brazil",founders of the Frankfurt School which moved to New York in 1933 who were the most influential on the development of Socio-political thought in Academe.

The thinking of others like Foucault should be examined and measured by the changes wrought on society.

This is a vast and complex area but these works are and have been for decades,the basis of cultural,economic and political study in all the institutions of higher education.

There are far too many links,but it is worth reading and comparing siciety now with society before the sixties.

Knucklehead said...

A good essay indeed!

Much to discuss but one of the things I find fascinating, and disturbing, is how self-sustaining the "movement" has become. I wonder if the Soviets and their various ancestors knew it would be that way?

While the espionage [agents of influence and actual spies ] apparatus of the Soviet Union didn’t outlast it, their memetic weapons did. These memes are now coming near to crippling our culture’s response to Islamic terrorism.

That is what I'm talking about. The Soviet mchanisms of the apparatus to create and support the Gramscian movement didn't survive the collapse of the USSR but the apparatus proved to be self-sustaining. The apparatus survived and probably functions better than its creators ever imagined it could. If one wants tenure as a professor in a university one had better toe the line because the Gramscians, whether they know they are Gramscian or not, control tenure. If one wants to produce art that reaches the public one had best produce the sort of art the Gramscians who control the galleries want to show. If one wants to work in the US diplomatic service one had best keep in line with the teachings of the few, the Gramscian, emporiums of public service.

All the human mechanisms developed over the centuries to transmit and protect that which we call culture were designed, or perhaps naturally evolved, to be conservative. Their function is to protect the culture. The genius of the Gramscians is not in developing better ideas than the cultures they attack but in co-opting the mechanisms for transmitting and protecting culture.

They are viral. Dangerous to us, of course, but a remarkable accomplishment. Not only do they have the means by which to propogate the memes that destroy the host but they have the defense mechanisms that allow them to fend off any attempt to regain control! They use the inherent conservatism of the structure to protect the attacking memes.

...some of the most important of the Soviet Union’s memetic weapons. Here is that list again:

* There is no truth, only competing agendas.
* All Western (and especially American) claims to moral superiority over Communism/Fascism/Islam are vitiated by the West’s history of racism and colonialism.
* There are no objective standards by which we may judge one culture to be better than another. Anyone who claims that there are such standards is an evil oppressor.

They can spread this nonsense and, at the same time, protect it. Anyone who attacks these memes is an interloper and the natural immune system of the inherently conservative system fights them off.

This is precisely why the current usage of "conservative" and "liberal" are meaningless. The Leftoids are the conservatives in the very real and important sense that they control the mechanisms of cultural transmission and cultural defense. And those who wish to halt the relentless drive toward cultural suicide are the radical and infectious agents. They have become what they wanted to destroy and we must be what we wanted to defeat.

What is required, I suppose, is to take back control of the cultural mechanisms of transmission and defense. How to go about that?

Start where they started. Ridicule as absurd and stupid and oppressive the memes. Take each in turn and relentlessly hammer at them. Make it hip to be a radical - or at least the type of radicals we are (I'd like to be hip - that would be new and different!) ;)

Rick Ballard said...

"My opinion is that one cannot view the people holding the Gramscian ideas as mere puppets."

I certainly don't disagree with you about that. Nor do I disagree that the syncretic amalgam of Hegelian materialist/rationalist "belief" systems satisfies a need. I believe that it does, although I believe that it is the cheapest sort of sentimental crap that provides wild self-applause for holding "feelings" or participating in "advocacy" rather than dealing with an honest to goodness poor person by hauling them to an appointment at a free clinic.

I believe that after a long struggle the market will destroy the Gramscian foothold in the MSM and Hollywood. The useful idiots at the NYT and the Trib are going to have to face their families, who have seen their net worth sliced to ribbons, at some point. The same for Hollywood - Disney at least seems to be awakening to the fact that people commited to staying away from the junk they were serving seems to have an impact on the bottom line.

Academe is a completely different matter. This is the point where I veer sharply away from the Horowitz 'call them dangerous' method and sharply toward Knuck's 'laugh them out of the classroom' method. Mocking the profs and their acolytes, seems the best bet. Posting a "Ten Stupidest Things Prof. X Has Said to Date" could be more effective than Horowitz's "dangerous" classification. Disseminating handouts of those "Ten Stupidest Things" on campus would be a project that I could support.

Shoot, even a "Who was Antonio Gramsci and why is Prof. X a witting or unwitting dupe?" contest at the various dens of iniquity mentioned by Horowitz would be an idea that I would support.

terrye said...

I agree with MHA here. We need to believe in ourselves. We may think Gramscians are a virus, but they feed off a very real need.

When FDR became President he did not tell folks to pull themselves up by their boot straps and stop bellyaching. He opened soup kitchens in so doing cut the membership of the American Communist Party almost immediately. He made people believe that there was hope. People need that.

Western civilization has much to be proud of. When our founding fathers wrote the amazing words, life..liberty and the pursuit of happiness they were recognizing and celebrating the fact that people have virtue of their existence.

I remember being in school and listening to the communists rant. They really did believe that stuff. I wonder how many of them still do.

Knucklehead said...


Goldberg's South Park and Lowry's Crunchy Cons are the ones who are going to have to deal with academe. What the campus conservatives movement needs is a whole lot of Mark Steyn types. The one thing the self-important loons on the campuses can't handle is being ridiculed. Anger they know all about. Humor they've lost all touch with.

truepeers said...

Academe needs at least a one-two punch. Ridicule first, scaremonger even, but we need more than that as MHA and DT were discussing above. Mark Steyn, for all his skill in undressing the left, is ultimately a defeatist re Europe because he has no deep appreciation for the (re)genererative possibilities inherent in western culture. And it is attention to the latter that we need somehow to promote better. It is all too easy now to undress our enemies, and yet many remain on the wrong side of things, so now we have to start building a new set of clothes that will attract the desiring crowd.

WE need less reactionary blogging and more a construction of some vision of humanity to which people will want to belong. It's a tough demand; i've been dwelling on it a while and i know how tough its going to be. The left has done so well with its resentful righteousness because it's so much easier to sell that crap. But, ultimately, what else are we here for than to fight for the best, whatever the odds?

More to come...

Rick Ballard said...


Without doubt.

The mythos must precede the ethos - or, at minimum be constructed within the ethos.

And it must be done in real time with the world watching - which requires "heroes" DOA - no living hero will suffice.

Orphan heroes who never made any friends would probably be best.

truepeers said...

Orphan heroes who never made any friends would probably be best.

Mohammed, Moses, Hiram (of the Freemasons) or someone else? I take it Harry Potter made too many friends.