Sunday, March 25, 2007

Gramsci and the Neocons

As I have been unable to focus on much lately other than my current thesis project, I thought I would contribute my first official post in the form of a draft excerpt from a section I am composing on the application of Antonio Gramsci's theory of "hegemony" to the neoconservatives and their war on terror. Hopefully this will add to the ongoing discussion, while perhaps laying a foundation for future discourse on hegemony (and culture, power, history in general) in relation to our intellectual interests. For my next post, I will perhaps try to cover the "Homer" angle...d'oh!

“For Gramsci,” writes David Forgacs, “changing socio-economic circumstances do not of themselves ‘produce’ political changes. They only set the conditions in which such changes become possible.” Continuing his interpretation using Marxian theoretical language, Forgacs notes:
What is crucial, in bringing about these changes, are the ‘relations of force’ obtaining at the political level, the degree of political organization and combativity of the opposing forces, the strength of the political alliances which they manage to bind together and their level of political consciousness, of preparation of the struggle on the ideological terrain.

Thus describing the process through which factional competition determines the political-ideological (super-structural) articulation of socioeconomic (base) transformation, Forgacs adds that “It is in the context of this discussion that two central concepts develop: ‘hegemony’ and ‘historical bloc.’” By this definition, neoconservatives have thus evolved into a Gramscian historical bloc through their coalitional struggle within ideological and political terrains, whereby they succeeded in attaching their cultural vision of militant nationalism to the material interests of US global power.

Continuing this theme, Stuart Hall argues that “Hegemony, once achieved, must be constantly and ceaselessly renewed, reenacted…Central to this is the notion of various forms and intensities of struggle.” By this definition, the neoconservative bloc has thus been central to the production of the “war on terror” as a hegemonic construct not merely because its members have occupied positions of influence and authority, but rather, because they have consistently engaged and reengaged in the struggles through which they articulated the discourses (ideologies) of a “clash of civilizations and “war on terror” as commonsensical continuations of the “cold war” social imaginary (construct). In this context, “it is the various outcomes of these struggles,” Hall adds, “not the reinscription in place of what already exists, that determines the nature of the unstable equilibrium on which the authority of a social bloc is founded and that also defines its weak or unstable points, the points of further unrolling and development.”

Hegemony is therefore always incomplete and must be constantly reordered in conjunction with the changing nature of human struggle. In this sense, “‘Hegemony’ will allude to an absent totality, and to the diverse attempts at recomposition and rearticulation which, in overcoming this original absence, ” according to Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, “made it possible for struggles to be given a meaning and for historical forces to be endowed with full positivity.” Laclau and Mouffe add, in a particularly relevant interpretation with respect to the neoconservative bloc’s vision of American empire:” ‘Hegemony’ will not be the majestic unfolding of an identity but the response to a crisis.”

In response to a perceived perpetual threat of declining US global power, the neoconservative bloc responded, for instance, by formulating Committees on the Present Danger in order to “educate” the public about the crises posed by the Soviet Union, Communism, Al Qaeda, and political (militant) Islam. In this context, the hegemonic result has been a high degree of mass participation of in the construction of elite generated “cold war” and “war on terror” social imaginaries. This outcome was not, however, inevitable. Nor is it bound to remain in place.

Therefore, as T.J. Jackson Lears argues, “A historical bloc may or may not become hegemonic, depending on how successfully it forms alliances with other groups and classes.” He thus adds: “to achieve cultural hegemony, the leaders of a historical bloc must develop a world view that appeals to a wide range of other groups within the society, and they must be able to claim with at least some plausibility that their particular interests are those of society at large.” Indeed, while forming and reforming various alliances across the political and economic spectrum of US nationalists, from traditional liberals rightward, the neoconservative bloc also produced a powerful cross-cultural coalition between Jewish and Christian Zionists interwoven with the geopolitical imperatives of American power in the Middle East.

Yet, in order to conscript the general public into their moral geographic vision of US global power, the neoconservative bloc articulated ideologies of Americanism that perpetuated anticommunist and anti-Islamic sentiment generated by the fear of Soviet world domination and mass destruction at the hands of a global “terror network.” Such elite appeals to mass patriotism operate as “selective accommodation to the desires of subordinate groups,” according to Lears’ description of the historical bloc, which means that “The emerging hegemonic culture is not merely an ideological mystification but serves the interests of ruling groups at the expense of subordinate ones.

David Forgacs, An Antonio Gramsci Reader: Selected Writings 1916-1935 (New York: Schocken Books, 1988); HTML mark-up by Andy Blunden, December 2002:[5];
Stuart Hall, “The Toad in the Garden: Thatcherism among the Theorists” (1983), page number?
Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics (London: Verso Press, 2001) 1.
T.J. Jackson Lears, “The Concept of Cultural Hegemony: Problems and Possibilities,” The American Historical Review, Vol. 90 no. 3 (Jun., 1985), 567-593.

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