By William Wall, Three Monkeys Online
"Anger is the political sentiment par excellence. It brings out the qualities of the inadmissible, the intolerable. It is a refusal and a resistance that with one step goes beyond all that can be accomplished reasonably in order to open possible paths for a new negotiation of the reasonable but also paths of an uncompromising vigilance. Without anger, politics is accommodation and trade in influence; writing without anger traffics in the seductions of writing."
Nancy, J-L, The Compearance[ref]
How should we describe the extraordinary consensus that existed in this country — a consensus that united us all around core concepts like ‘free markets’, ‘competition is the only way’, ‘private enterprise good, public enterprise bad’, ‘social partnership’, ‘entrepreneurship’, ‘greed is good’, ‘conspicuous consumption’? For a long time we lived inside a bubble. The walls of the bubble were invisible to us, they coloured everything we looked at but everything was that colour anyway so we thought it was colourless. It was, nonetheless, a bubble. What we hear these days, in the media, in conversations, in political speeches and union negotiations is the pop of the bubble bursting. We are faced with an absolute incongruence — between what we have been told and what we see.1 What this incongruence will tell us remains to be seen, but it makes us strange to ourselves, wakes us from our dream of shopping and eating and enables us to look back at our days in the bubble with at least the illusion of detachment.
Sometime during his seven-year incarceration at the hands of Italy’s fascists, the Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci developed a theory of ideological hegemony. It is probable that the idea first occurred to Gramsci during his meditation on another Italian philosopher and political analyst, Niccolo Macchiavelli, for that acute political analyst had observed the self-defeating nature of oppression as a political weapon. What Gramsci argued was that in modern democracies the powerful do not maintain their power — their hegemony — by coercion alone. In classical Marxist thought the ruling classes have at their disposal the police and the army, the prison system and the courts, the market and the all-important threat of destitution. All of these weapons are experienced as coercive by the poor. None of it belongs to them, and all of it, including the law, favours the rights of property and power.
However, it was clear to Gramsci that something else was needed to explain the fact the people voted for, or gave tacit consent to, a system that favoured a very small minority at their expense, actually voted to give power to the people who coerced them. The answer was ‘ideological hegemony’.2
In Gramsci’s formulation, a vast number of actors within a state contribute to the exclusion of hostile ideas. Thus, in a liberal capitalist democracy groups such as the churches, charities, political parties, special interest groups, schools, environmental activists, trades union, etc., all contribute to an illusion of political debate. It is an illusion because all of these groups, though they would like to tinker with the details, are in agreement on the fundamentals. Gramsci called this the ‘common sense’ position3. Genuinely radical voices are treated with contempt, and characterised as foolish and ‘ideological’ from the ‘common sense’ point of view, because the ideology of the majority is transparent to those who live within its confines — the bubble of my opening paragraph.
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