Front Page Titles (by Subject) Hegemony - Literature of Liberty, January/March 1978, vol. 1, No. 1
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Hegemony - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, January/March 1978, vol. 1, No. 1 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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“Gramsci and the Theory of Hegemony.” Journal of the History of Ideas (USA), 36 (1975): 351–366.
How do social transformations emerge? What role do intellectuals play in blocking or promoting such social change?
The life and intellectual career of the Italian Marxist, Antonio Gramsci, centers around his concept of hegemony. By piecing together his scattered prison notes on this subject, we will more clearly understand hegemony, which was the capstone of Gramsci's political experience.
While in an Italian prison (during the 20s and 30s until his death in 1937), Gramsci came to appreciate the importance of ideas and intellectuals. He believed that they alone explained the survival of western civilization. In gaining this appreciation, he took issue with the old Marxian argument that every state was a virtual dictatorship, the more successful states did not have to “bare their teeth.” The chief reason for this was the factor of hegemony, or rule by engineered consent.
Rulers manipulate consent by popularizing a world view that persuades the ruled to believe that the rulers' actions largely benefit the masses. Gramsci came to this conclusion by distinguishing between “civil society” and “political society.” It was in civil society (i.e., the schools, churches, clubs, and publications), that the rulers worked their will by encouraging the intellectual class to propagate particular ideas. The intellectuals served as the mandarins of the ruling class, to control the limits of acceptable discussion of how society could and should operate.
Gramsci arrived at his theory by studying Lenin and interpreting his own experience. But most important in forming his concepts were the writings of Benedetto Croce and the “Machiavellian school” of political theorists, most notably Gaetano Mosca and Vilfredo Pareto. These last two argued that no consensus could exist without force, and no “liberty” without “authority.” Like Lenin and most other early twentieth century Marxians, Gramsci was disturbed both by the apparent indifference of the masses to Marxism, and by the unexpectedly popular appeal exerted by “reformism.” He believed that the theory of hegemony explained these anomalies. In effect, the court intellectuals were quite successful in erecting new lines of defense for the old order.
The theory of hegemony had important implications for revolutionary theory and practice. It first explained why dictatorships had become necessary in both Fascist Italy and Socialist Russia: in both cases the “civil society” had become moribund. Next, what these old orders could not deal with were “organic crises,” generally caused by war or some other stress; hence their plunge into Caesarism. Furthermore, hegemony unveiled doctrines such as social equity and parliamentary democracy as mere ideological bluffs to dupe the masses. Finally, and most importantly, Gramsci's theory of hegemony showed that the old order will not vanish—nor will a new order emerge—simply because someone points out the relative vices and virtues of the system. A social order, no matter how exploitative, cannot be understood simply as a conspiracy of wicked men. It is not sufficient for the exploited to complain about the bad state of things. They must prepare themselves to change the old order by making themselves better than their rulers, technically, intellectually, and morally.
This set of summaries portrays yet another rival paradigm or framework for viewing human freedom. Thinkers operating within this paradigm view man and society tending toward a spontaneous order as a result of voluntaristic cooperation. Here freedom is conceived as the absence of those social constraints that compromise free will or self-directed action towards goals and values.
Viewing order as the “daughter not the mother of freedom,” this paradigm of spontaneous human order conceives of personal and social good as flowing from individual free choices, voluntary interaction, and contract, rather than from centralized, coercive authority. In the light of this paradigm, those social institutions that deny personal autonomy and rational, voluntary choice, also deny moral, progressive, or creative human life.