Culture and Nature
A look into Hegemony with Antonio Gramsci
Antonio Gramsci is a neo-Marxist thinker of the 20th century; his take on the question of hegemony, especially the cultural hegemony is interesting. I rely on a podcast by Stephen West for some of the ideas.
Hegemony refers to an influence, often inappropriate, of one group over another. It is normally the domination of the “superior class”, which may be capitalist in neo-capital society, leaders of the religion or culture in a religious or cultural society, or high caste or white male in other societies. Though military power and tactics of intimidation can be used to maintain this power, it is mostly maintained by ideological or cultural means in modern society. Or many times, it is a “peaceful” style of maintaining domination. One point to be reminded here is that Gramsci’s questions were mostly directed against capitalism; how that social order was maintained though it was not for the benefits of all the workers.
Gramsci also would like to situate the entire dynamic in the nature-culture debate. Stephen West gives the example of a typhoon or a cyclone or a flood. Though negligence from the government authorities could have aggravated natural calamities in many cases, people don’t blame anyone for the typhoon or a cyclone. They are very much natural realities, and it does happen occasionally. We don’t blame nature for the same. Now the interesting point is whether we can make certain cultural or ideological values, traditions, knowledge, power dynamics as the natural thing or as a common-sense thing? A simple example is that patriarchy was considered or still in many parts of the words as the natural thing; once it is considered as a natural thing, there is no difficulty to continue that cultural hegemony by men over women. Similar sentiments can be seen in many other fields.
Gramsci is critical of any ideology and status quo; as long as they can be made natural, which is the success of cultural hegemony — there are no challenges to their “power dynamics” and the oppression. There may exist a crisis, but new cannot be born; a revolution can’t take place. Or how can a revolution take place against a natural thing?
Gramsci’s position with regard to Marxist leaders like Stalin is not very clear. Though Stephen West, the author of the podcast says that Gramsci might not have agreed to Stalin or Mao, this is not the conclusion of all scholars. So even if I consider certain blindness on his position, especially with regard to Marxist dictators, his critique on cultural hegemony is very valuable and can be applied to all forms of ideologies, including communism and religion. There is an invitation to continuously challenge the status-quo and ideologies, which are many times, “peaceful or cool strategies” to continue the oppression and domination, which becomes part of our nature.