Academics and the Reproduction of Cultural Hegemony

, Spencer Irvine, Leave a comment

Here’s an excerpt from a piece at the James G. Martin Center (formerly the William Pope Center) on Marxists occupying college administrations and academic circles:

Much as Martin Center readers may disparage Marxism, there is one author who deserves our attention. Antonio Gramsci was an Italian Marxist who lived and wrote around the turn of the century, and his most important contribution was to a theory of cultural hegemony, one that explains why the academic Left is so up in arms about Trump’s election.

The idea of cultural hegemony is well known today, but used in such a vague and clichéd way that it deserves a fresh look. Gramsci’s point is that raw power only succeeds within a discourse that legitimizes it. That discourse doesn’t need to be logically or factually correct, but it needs to create a shared understanding that legitimizes the exercise of power. For example, since 9/11, rhetoric exaggerating the danger of terrorism has been used to justify curbing Americans’ civil liberties.

Since those already in power employ the intellectual class to justify their own positions, anyone seeking change must create space for an alternative discourse, one in which the marginalized can imagine that change is possible. Thus, the “counter-culture” was born. With slogans like “don’t trust anyone over thirty” and “question authority,” radicals in the 60s and 70s cracked open the previously dominant discourse and made it possible for others to believe in their vision for society.

The 70s ended a long time ago, but Gramsci’s heirs today dominate college faculties, social media, and newsrooms. In short, progressives now control cultural discourse. No matter how much academics cling to their fantasy that they are “speaking truth to power,” the counter-culture isn’t “counter” anymore—it’s the status quo.