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Hegemony and Class Revolution

Despite its overuse and/or abuse by various theoretical schools, the concept of hegemony developed by Antonio Gramsci is something that I have more and more come to believe is extremely useful for revolutionary communists.  Unfortunately, the word has become a synonym for a rather banal, and perhaps even idealist, concept of power employed by post-structuralists and post-modernists.  Theorists will speak off-handedly of "the hegemony", or how they are interested in "counter-hegemony", or how something is somehow "hegemonic", and that bad-bad-bad hegemony.  (Sometimes, and this is an especially American phenomenon, they will pronounce the word with a hard g––which is really neither here nor there but, for some reason I cannot really explain, bugs the hell out of me.)

We can trace the appropriation and misuse of Gramsci's theory of hegemony, perhaps, to Edward Said's Orientalism.  And though I love Said and feel that Orientalism is a foundational theoretical work, I also feel that it is sadly flawed in so many ways: how it dismisses marxism with a single passage, how it relies too much on Foucault and thus undermines some of its own assertions, and how it somehow thinks that it can blast Gramscian concepts out of their historical materialist context and apply them, as if theory is an all you can eat buffet, in contexts where they do not necessarily belong.  Following Said there was an explosion of post-colonial theory that relied heavily on Gramscian concepts but, like Said, did damage to these concepts (hegemony, subaltern) in an attempt to hammer them into a post-structuralist mould.

"Damn you all for co-opting my hegemonies!"

The post-structuralist obsessive theories of power conditions this misuse of Gramsci.  Totalizing power, biopower, power deployed genealogically, always inescapable and ineffable power at the root of even the subject… An idealist notion of power to be sure because this power is something that often appears to be transhistorical, is ultimately not generated by anything except itself (for the subject is a myth, we are told, and cannot produce anything––in truth it is fully produced), and is thus akin to some Platonic form.  And when those of us who are critical marxists argue that you cannot speak of power unless you are willing to also qualify its material meaning––is it economic or political, reactionary or progressive?––this anti-marxist critical tradition would have us believe that to even ask these questions is itself the result of discursive power relations.  Yes, I know I am simplifying here but I am not interested in taking the piss out of post-modern philosophy.  Rather, I am interested in noting how Gramsci has been simplified and appropriated by this theoretical tradition: hegemony becomes a synonym for this idealist concept of power, is thus treated as something malicious (saying the hegemony is often tantamount to saying, for secular post-structuralists, the devil), and counter-hegemony becomes the progressive solution to hegemony.

And yet Gramsci's theorization of hegemony had nothing to do with this almost moralistic––post-structuralist complaints about the construction of morality notwithstanding––understanding of his concept.  Rather, hegemony is a way of understanding the marxist theory of ideology as well as what it means to build a revolutionary movement against capitalism and possible problems encountered in the building of socialism.  That is, it is not simply just a theorization of some bare notion of power, some moralistic complaint about the oppressive power, but about the general relationship of power and ideology.  Most importantly, and this is why I keep coming back to it in discussions and meditations about concrete organizing, Gramsci's theory of hegemony concerns real problems encountered in the real world regarding how to build something that is properly revolutionary.

All of this is to say that I've found myself relying on Gramsci's concept of hegemony whenever I'm arguing for the necessity of a revolutionary party and what that might mean concretely, even if I don't use the word hegemony or the name Gramsci.  And when I encounter the word in my students' readings, not entirely surprised to discover it in a text that is not in the least bit Gramscian let alone marxist, I often feel the need to go to the blackboard and attempt to diagram the basic Gramscian understanding of the concept in order to clarify terms.  Perhaps I find myself returning to Gramsci in these instances because my doctoral supervisor was a consummate scholar of Gramsci who, though failing to get me to filter everything through Gramsci in my dissertation, succeeded in lodging Gramscian categories in the back of my mind.

In any case, Gramsci's theory of hegemony "is a tool intended to answer the question, how does a society manage to create the kind of conformism that makes it run smoothly without the need for state intervention or coercion?" [Esteve Morera, "Antonio Gramsci", in the Avenel Companion to Modern Social Theory]  When it comes to capitalism, this question is meant to interrogate why people are so willing to conform to the terms of capitalism and accept capitalist ideological justification for capitalist oppression as common sense.  For Gramsci, the supremacy of the class in power results in:
"the 'spontaneous' consent given by the great masses of the population to the general direction imposed on social life by the dominant fundamental social group, a consent that arises 'historically' from the prestige (and hence the confidence) which the dominant group derives from its position and function in the mode of production." [Gramsci, Quaderni 4]
In other words, the ruling ideas of the ruling class become a mirror for the values desired by ruled class.  The values of the dominant class are treated as more valuable, because we are socialized to believe that these ideas predominate because they are more valuable, and so are treated as standard of value.  Thus, argues Morera in his analysis of Gramsci, "consensus must be understood not simply as the spontaneous willingness of individuals to consent to a moral order, but rather as the set of conditions that make that willingness possible.  For hegemony is the organization of a collective will: to create a new hegemony means to organize the will of individuals so that in their free actions they nevertheless choose within permissible limits, limits that are set by the interests of the ruling group." [I am using Morera for two reasons: he is an important Gramscian; he is also the thesis supervisor who taught me Gramsci.]

This is why the bourgeois order doesn't need to rely on coercion as the main recourse to maintaining its power.  Better that the proletariat consent to bourgeois rule because it treats the bourgeois orders, and bourgeois ideology, as common sense.  As Machiavelli argued in The Prince, a text that partially inspired Gramsci's theory of hegemony, it is better for people to consent to being ruled rather than being coerced––though the threat of coercion (i.e. the police, the military) should always be present in order to dissuade those who might not consent to their domination.

Obviously, when the theory of hegemony is applied to the current order of capitalism it is easy to relegate it to the moralistic category of bad.  This is why post-modernists are so obsessed with some half-baked notion of "counter-hegemony" that is somehow not hegemony and instead a quasi notion of anti-power.  But the reason why I find Gramsci so important in an organizational sense is that this theory is simply a description of class power and ideology and not at all loaded with the moralistic garbage that it has somehow been forced to adopt.

We need to ask this important question: how did the bourgeoisie successfully become hegemonic?  It's not as if one day it usurped the aristocracy and suddenly its ideas were essentially hegemonic––that is, common sense.  People did not consent to its rule, for example, in that sudden and violent moment in one place in the world when a bunch of nobles lost their heads.  Nor did this moment of crystallizing bourgeois power happen without the organization of a class force to counter the hegemony of the nobility.  Before capitalism, after all, feudalism was hegemonic and people consented to the values of its dominant class.  Take feudal Western Europe as an example: the values of the "Great Chain of Being", the divine right of kings, and everything that now seems like so much garbage was the default common sense.  Thus, the rising bourgeois class in various nations could not declare its victory outside of a historical process that, as it gained more power economically, established its world order politically.

So this is what a Gramscian notion of "counter-hegemony" actually means.  Not some mundane concept of anti-hegemony, but the process of a class to establish the power of its class rule.  It is not as if the ruling tributary classes of Europe stepped aside because the nascent bourgeoisie was already commanding economic power; they didn't just, one day, all get together with the various bourgeois groups in various states and say "hey, it's clear that we're now economically obsolete so we might as well let you take over because capitalism makes more sense."  Even if the relations of production are being outpaced by the forces of production, and a certain ruling class is holding back history, things do not change because of some economic predestiny; nascent capitalist relations and the forces of production they were bringing into being continued for a long time under the political command of a non-capitalist ruling class––a class which needed to be forced off the stage of history in order for the bourgeois order to become complete.

Thus, class hegemony is accomplished through a process of counter-hegemony where a class that does not possess hegemony––a class that is not able to automatically enforce consent––has to pursue its hegemony in order to make its economic order manifest.  Bourgeois hegemony is the result of a protracted process of counter-hegemony where those parties militantly organized around bourgeois interests violently placed society under their dictatorship.  Violent revolutions, suppressions, negotiations, cultural wars: a political period of transition, built around the economic period of transition, necessary to produce consent.

Which is why the theory of hegemony is not some simple moralistic description of power and its deployment.  Because, for Gramsci, the point of looking at bourgeois hegemony was to understand possible proletarian hegemony.  If the bourgeoisie's relations of production are obsolete, and the proletariat is the class that holds an unrealized economic power, then it can only consolidate this power by pursuing its political hegemony.  That is, like the bourgeoisie, the proletariat needs to pursue a counter-hegemonic program in order to establish its dictatorship and thus, hopefully, its hegemony.  The bourgeois thrives as a ruling class primarily because we consent to its rule; similarly, the proletariat needs to pursue a project that will lead to the same consent, to a scenario where proletarian values displace bourgeois values––just as bourgeois values displaced aristocratic values––and thus become common sense.

This means, contrary to the post-structuralist appropriations of Gramsci, that hegemony is not something that is necessarily malicious but simply a fact about class rule.  For Gramsci, then, it was necessary for the proletariat to build class power and hegemony.  Most importantly, because of the fact of the current dominant class' hegemony, any attempt to build a counter-hegemonic process that could ultimately produce a new class hegemony is going to begin by challenging the common sense of the class it seeks to displace––the dominant ideology, the ruling ideas of the ruling class, is going to be a significant problem for any revolutionary movement.  And, as Althusser (who in many ways compliments Gramsci) has pointed out, a class struggle on the domain of ideology is part of the work in which any revolutionary party needs to engage if they are to succeed.

Therefore, revolutionary movements need to begin by gathering in those who already question the supposed "common sense" of the ruling class (for every class society has its cracks), those with the so-called "advanced consciousness", and slowly extending its sphere of counter-hegemony––this is how every revolutionary movement in the twentieth century (and we must remember that Gramsci was a Leninist) has succeeded in becoming a significant revolutionary movement.  The Bolsheviks under Lenin and the Peoples Liberation Army under Mao, for example, were the consummation of counter-hegemonic processes.

The problem, however, is in establishing hegemony.  It is one thing to displace a ruling class in a moment of revolution; it is quite another to displace its values.  Socialism is still, as the maoist turn in revolutionary communism argues, a class struggle; placing the bourgeoisie under a dictatorship does not, anymore than the placing of the French monarchy under the dictatorship of the Jacobins, result in the hegemony of a post-capitalist order.  Even still, despite and because of the last great socialist failure, we should be forced to realize that pursuing and finally solving a project of revolutionary hegemony is necessary for communists.


  1. "And though I love Said and feel that Orientalism is a foundational theoretical work, I also feel that it is sadly flawed in so many ways"

    Not to mention that (apparently) Said somehow managed to mostly ignore gender, which is such a central component to the whole idea that I don't understand how Orientalism ended up with so many pages.

    (I must admit I've still got a soft spot for the biopower concept, perhaps because of my experiences in places where gender and other categories are set up quite rigidly, and because this is the worst time for women's legal bodily autonomy in the US since 1973. But I have such a hard time staying on topic, don't I? I'm sorry!)

    Now that you mention it, this post-structural idea of hegemony as leaning moralistic does sound familiar (and good point about counter-hegemony actually being hegemony as well). In my MA we usually stuffed it in through the concept of hegemonic masculinity and how it's a mostly-unattainable standard that sticks us with prejudices and self-limitations, etc., etc. Valuable but apparently rather distanced from Gramsci's usage.

    I'm relieved to see your post ended where my head is at this point, particularly the Althusser part. I tend to be on the cautious side about revolutionary action. No doubt this is mostly due to how often and how badly people on the left screw up with regard to oppressive language and behavior. If reactionary garbage can't be cleaned up among those of us who already agree that it must be, what hope do we have for establishing this ideology as the new hegemony? It's practically bound to fail and send us into another/greater backlash. Not that we have to, or can be perfect before we take action, but I think there should be some baseline of education and critical engagement first (on an individual and mass level). Where the line must be drawn--Picard flashbacks!--is what I'm not confident about. I hope my attempt to not type ten million words didn't muddle things too much.

    Anyway, I've had Selections from the Prison Notebooks on the shelf for ages and really hope to get around to it before I die. From what I've gathered, Gramsci seems fairly underappreciated within the General Left. So, long way 'round saying it, I appreciate you posting about his work.

    1. Thanks for the comment; it made me think about a few things.

      First of all, though I don't think a book about a specific structural oppression needs to deal with other structural oppressions, I generally agree with your comment about gender vis-a-vis *Orientalism*. This is mainly because Said sometimes notes how the East is "femininized" and yet doesn't connect this to any analysis of patriarchy. Others, however, did extend this logic, which is good, but I think that entire post-colonial project, though important, is marred by its nascent idealism. What I find interesting is how someone like Han Suyin, in her memoir apologetics for the Chinese Revolution, conceptualized and orientalist theory of how the East [specifically China] was feminized––and did draw parallels between the oriental gaze and patriarchal ideology--but did it decades before post-colonial theory and did so in a historical materialist sense.

      Secondly, I don't think the concept of biopower needs to be thrown out altogether, because I *do* think it is useful on a certain level, I just think that by itself it lacks epistemic depth. In fact, I do believe that some of Foucault's notions can be useful if they are rearticulated within a historical materialist context. I mean, if po-mos can do it with Gramsci, historical materialists can do it with Foucault!

      Finally, I understand what you mean about being cautious of revolutionary action. Personally, though, I don't think the left at the centres of capitalism is anywhere near a stage of revolutionary action to even fuck it up. What we have now is some militancy and a lot of posturing––the latter of which is usually rather macho and not in the least bit "revolutionary".

      As for what hope we have of establishing a new hegemony with all the garbage still around, I think we simply have to assert that it's not going to be a perfect counter-hegemonic movement and it's going to filled with setbacks, contradictions, and the inherent messiness of social interaction. The bourgeois order manifested slowly, i a rather messy fashion, with the reactionary garbage of the aristocratic order continuously setting it back, after all, and we have seen similar problems with every attempted socialist revolution.

      There will always be failures and setbacks, but this is how we learn––and I think the great successes of the two world historical revolutions did learn from past failures and setbacks and have now presented us with their own successes and failures from which we need to learn––which connects to your next comment about education and critical engagement. Also, this is why I argued for the notion of organizing amongst those whose consciousness is the most advanced (and here I don't mean, as some bad theories of the vanguard have touted, simply students and academics), who are the most open to becoming radicalized together and collectively. Extending the circle in what Gramsci often called "a war of position" is always going to be difficult work, though, and it is a problem I am always trying to grasp.

    2. I should get my hands on Han Suyin. Sounds really interesting! I don't think that a book about specific structural oppression needs to deal with all other oppressions either, but I think that people who only focus on one oppression tend to be kind of oblivious to the way that oppression intersects with other ones. If I had a dollar for every time I've ignored a comment about how class is the only thing that matters...

      I agree that one of the problems with Orientalism not going into gender dynamics or patriarchy is because of the way we frame the East (and most Others) as feminized. Another big problem with it, at least from a contemporary perspective, is that Western conceptualization and representation of Eastern women plays such a significant role in "justifying" our attitudes and policies toward MENA people that it doesn't make much sense to gloss over it. But I'm sure the specifics of Orientalist discourse have changed quite a bit since 1978--and 2001--so I'm not trying to hold Said accountable for missing something that wasn't exactly there at the time. Mainly I'm just grumbling!

      I don't think we have to throw out everything poststructural, either. I have tried to tackle it from a materialist perspective a few times, but it's such a pain wading through the word dough for miles without a concrete citation in sight that I'm happy to leave the real digging to those who enjoy it. Postcolonial theory seems to suffer even moreso, which is really unfortunate because dismantling imperialism is such a necessary project. But I'm getting off-topic again so I'll try to wrap this up.

      The idea that the centers of capitalism are too mired in our own awfulness to mess things up is certainly a silver lining! Seriously. I'm completely with you on the point about organizing in your last paragraph. I'm sure people will keep calling us insular and in love with our echo chambers, but oh well. I do worry that wanting to circle the wagons most of the time is a failing on my part, but maybe that's just being over-critical. It certainly seems to have strategic benefits. And there is value in strengthening our theory that way instead of taking it half-baked to less receptive audiences.

      Thanks for the good discussion! I'm really behind on reading your posts because I want my brain to be fully there when I do, and that doesn't happen so much anymore.

    3. Well I do believe that class, *in the last instance*, is what fundamentally matters, but I also think that when we speak of class we are not speaking of some homogenous formation composed only of some imaginary white male worker in a factory. While organizing on the basis of other oppressions will not overthrow capitalism––because organizing only on a class basis can produce a truly revolutionary movement––it's a mistake to believe that class isn't produced by these oppressions and that the proletariat who has the least to lose and the most to gain in a class revolution is also the [insert oppressed group here] proletariat. Otherwise, I think intersectionalist analyses of oppression aren't very good: it's one thing to say that oppression intersects; it's quite another to explain how. I follow the tradition that doesn't use the term "intersectionality" and claims the "intersection" happens in economic class, but this is now becoming something of a tangent.

      And I agree with the points your brought up about Orientalist discourse and post-structuralism/post-colonialism.

  2. Exactly. Though--

    What was the basis for feudal rule? I say it was 1. landed wealth and 2. feudal social privilege.

    What was the basis for its replacement by bourgeois rule? I say it was 1. commerce plus the growth of manufacture and 2. the abolition of feudal privilege and the development of liberal political power

    What is the basis for colonial rule? I say, 1. force, and 2. the forced incorporation of the colonized world into a global division of labor subordinated to the metropole.


    What is to be the basis for the transcendence of liberal political power? What is to be the basis for the overcoming of bourgeois rule? What is to be the basis for the end to colonial oppression?

    On what basis is this work to be carried out? The New Democratic Revolution was oriented towards developing the productive forces on the socialist road under the leadership of the party.

    But this was done under conditions of semi-feudalism and semi-colonialism. What is the task of a democratic peoples movement under conditions of highly advanced production in the very citadel of capital? On the doorstep of the biggest military power of the imperialist camp?

    Is it to act as a fifth column inside the imperialist countries when the armies of the 'countryside' of the global South encircle the 'city' of the rich North? I have little faith in the road of Lin Biao at this time.

    On what basis shall we build our forces? And with what instrument? For Mao the social basis was the mass of poor peasants allied with the progressive petty bourgeoisie and the patriotic national bourgeoisie, and the instrument was the Peoples Liberation Army under the leadership of the party. For us none of those conditions obtain.

    In the metropole there used to be a workers movement that provided an alternative way of life and an alternative perspective for millions. In the colonized world there used to be the clear enemy of the oppressive colonialist and settler governments. In this period both of those things have largely been dismantled. The old basis for a challenge to the hegemony of the market, of globalization, and of liberal political common sense have evaporated.

    To what then do we orient ourselves? To whom then do we put our faith? What does the 'war of position' look like off of the street that does not simply become part of the system?

    Marq Dyeth

    1. [Sorry for the delay in replying… I saw this comment at around 2:30 AM and was too exhausted to read and respond.]

      Your comments about how the NDR does not apply to the centres of capitalism is correct; it is something, as you noted, that is universally applicable only to the peripheries because it is a theory (unlike Trotsky's idealist/speculative/eurocentric theory of Permanent Revolution) about how to pursue revolution in these zones. One does not have to worry about building the forces of production that accrue under capitalism at the centres of imperialism because, being capitalist modes of production, they already exist.

      Obviously I also disagree with the Maoist Third Worldist position where there is no point in organizing here unless one does it as a fifth column for some nebulous global peoples army. While it is true that imperialism has produced a labour aristocracy at the centres of capitalism––and thus on the level of social relations the periphery is more inclined to revolution [their subjective circumstances are ripe] whereas at the centres only our productive relations [objective circumstances] are at an advanced point but, since this about things, this has nothing to do with revolutionary consciousness––this is a difficulty that needs to be surmounted rather than cause for cynical abdication or the lazy hope that revolutions elsewhere (as long as they follow our theoretical lead) will do the work for us. The labour aristocracy is correct on an abstract level but on a concrete level it is far from total; the more agitation and building of a revolutionary movement, the more cracks will appear in its edifice.

      Whatever context we are in we have to do a social investigation to discover the strata of society most inclined towards revolutionary consciousness. In Canada (as well as the US) this does not mean the unionized workers––though we shouldn't just forget about them just understand they aren't going to want to join a revolutionary movement as a whole any time soon––but non-unionized factory workers (of which there are many and often racialized), migrant farm labour (but a problem to organize because of their nature), low level and over exploited service workers, and various strata of contingent/casualized labour necessary to reproduce the foundations of Canadian capital upon which rests even unionized labour. To this we must add the colonized nations who are also the most revolutionary but, since their struggle is about national self-determination and I believe [following Lenin and Third International's conceptualization of the national question] in the necessity of anti-colonial movements to achieve nationhood, I wouldn't group them into the above strata of people to unite as a proletarian movement because it would conceptually muddle struggles and end up with a kind of colonial logic of "join our party and maybe we'll manage your nations for you after we beat the bourgeoisie"––the kind of crap the RCP-USA was promoting in the 70s and 80s and was rightly criticized by indigenous radicals.

      Your question about the "war of position" is good and actually speaks to another entry I plan to write, based on the fact that I wanted to continue expanded after the final paragraphs of this one but felt it would end up becoming too onerous. And as I have maintained before, I think all of your questions communicate to the need for a theory of making revolution at the centres of capitalism that is under-theorized and that I hope the PCR-RCP will answer in that book that is taking forever to finish. The essays on PPW that they have produced, however, do provide us with the beginning of a way to answer that question: due to the composition of the proletariat, the labour aristocracy, the failure of the theory of insurrection to actually work, etc.––due to all of this it makes more sense to think of PPW where a revolutionary movement is (hahahahaha) rhizomatic or something.

    2. Ha! Rhizomatic. Yeah. Deleuze is a headache to read, but he may have been on to something. The RAND corporation has been pushing the 'netwar' perspective for over a decade now, and I've been told that the IDF's war college has adopted a version of Deleuze's terminology for some of it's warfighting doctrine.

      Anyway, though, I stray from your point.

      Yes to all of your points and thanks for the thoughtful response as always. Can't wait to see that book. I'm also interested to read what you post about the war of position.



    3. Yeah, I heard about the IDF had some strange notion of "rhizomatic" and "frontier spaces" [run through the terrible Hardt and Negri usage of these terms from what I recall] behind some of their imperialist training.

      I keep meaning to ask: are you a Delany fan? Because "Marq Dyeth" was a character in *Stars In My Pocket Like Grains of Sand*––being a sci-fi geek, I love Delany.

    4. You got me. Delany is one of my biggest heroes. I haven't read all of his books, but he's been a big influence.


    5. Awesome! I love Delany as well, and *Dhalgren* is still one of my favourite novels of all time, though I also haven't read all of his novels. (Which reminds me that I started Triton last summer but got overwhelmed with work and never finished––which I should do.)

  3. "(Sometimes, and this is an especially American phenomenon, they will pronounce the word with a hard g––which is really neither here nor there but, for some reason I cannot really explain, bugs the hell out of me.)"

    From that I deduce that you haven't studied Ancient Greek. The 'g' in hegemon - a leader - is hard. and hard 'g' is the traditional British way of pronouncing it.

    It doesn't really matter how you pronounce it, but anyone - especially anyone who cinsiders themself a socialist - ought perhaps be wary of looking down on how other people pronounce a word whose etymology they themself don't understand. I studied Latin and Greek for years. It innoculated me against the theorist's infatuation with impressive long words. I actually know what they mean and why, and they really don't make one more intelligent by using them.

    1. I am very aware that the word "hegemon" in Greek is pronounced with a hard "g" but this misses the point of that throwaway comment: i) it was meant in jest and for the sake of levity––I even pointed out that it was "neither here nor there" and that I couldn't explain why it bugs me; ii) Gramsci's concept of "hegemony", though connected in some sense to the Greek, is also its own conceptual word.

      It is important to guard against a language idealism that claims that some secret truth of language can be found in an origin point. While this does shed light on words, it doesn't always shed light on concepts: maybe this is my training as a philosopher, but I do think Wittengenstein (despite his problems) was onto something when he discussed this… and Searle also would claim that we should not seek meaning at the syntactical level but at the level of semantics. All languages contain the residue of previous languages, but this does not mean specific concepts that appear in this language possess a one-to-one fidelity with one or more of the languages from which they have borrowed––this would assume some root ur-language (and I often shudder at the thought of Ancient Greek as being some fountain of meaning simply because of etymology) which ignores the fact that language is alive, connected to our development as a species in various social contexts. Also, complaining that theorists are infatuated with long words (which is often true, yes) does not mean that etymologists aren't also infatuated with an equally pretentious desire to claim some secret knowledge of meaning.

      The fact is that the world "hegemony" as it is used conceptually did not possess a hard "g" in Italian and it is Gramsci's italian articulation that we are drawing upon. It was rooted in Machiavelli's concepts and it cannot at all be reduced to "ruler"––yes, it concerns "the ruling ideas of the ruling classes" but this does not at all mean the same thing as the Greek hegemon, though they are connected. And since we speak of Gramsci's articulation, which I was talking about in this post and that the people who sometimes use the hard "g" talk about, then what bugs me is why people take a word that was pronounced in one way and try to rearticulate it based on some "proper" Greek pronounciation. We're neither Italians or Greeks, so really in the end it is a stupid foible, but this fetishism with etymological origins is bothersome.

      But really, my foibles of pronunciation are often rather irrational which is why I think they are also humourous. For example, despite my desire to pronounce "hegemony" as the theorist of that concept would have spoken the word and pronounced it, I am inversely bothered by colleagues who pronounce Walter Benjamin's last name in the way *he* would have pronounced it––with a soft "j"––because I find it pretentious for some reason... even though it is accurate!

      Finally, while I agree that there tends to be a preponderance with jargon amongst a lot of theorists, I also think that there are a lot of important concepts that may be these long words you are complaining about. I don't think these concepts can be understood through etymology, but what the theorist meant when they were coined, and I also think that sometimes such words are extremely important because they shed light on concrete facts. Gramsci's concept of "hegemony" is one of these terms, and referencing the Ancient Greek origin does not innoculate one against its meaning, explain what the concept "actually means" just because of the residue of Greek… Rather, it makes the etymologist imagine s/he is more intelligent than the theorist when all s/he is doing is giving a linguistical history rather than a conceptual assessment.

  4. "It is important to guard against a language idealism that claims that some secret truth of language can be found in an origin point."

    That, and your following argument is mostly strawman. Nowhere have I been arguing for some etymological idealism or official correct pronunciation of 'hegemon'.

    'Hegemony' is a strange word for almost everyone. I pronounce it with a hard 'g' and first syllable pronounced because I can't be bothered getting into whether it's HeJEmony, HEjemony etc etc. I've even heard it pronounced HEDGEmoney. I have heard 'hegemony' pronunced numerous ways, with stresses on different syllables and hard or soft 'g'. Fine. I don't mind how people pronounce it. Tat is why I replied in the frist place. You are wrong to assume that people pronouncing it with a plain 'g' are being Greek purists as opposed to just trying to straightforwardly prounounce what is for most people an unfamiliar word. Most people pronouncing it with a hard 'g' would do so with no prior knowledge of Greek.

    "what bugs me is why people take a word that was pronounced in one way and try to rearticulate it based on some "proper" Greek pronounciation. We're neither Italians or Greeks, so really in the end it is a stupid foible, but this fetishism with etymological origins is bothersome."

    Most people pronouncing 'hegemony' in ANY way - soft 'g' or hard 'g' will not have a clue about how it's 'meant' to be pronounced and will be blindly and probably nervously guessing - not making some abstruse reference to Ancient Greek or modern Italian. I have just asked a 29 year old woman and a 50 year old woman, neither university educated - how they pronounce the word I showed them written down. The looked uncertainly at it and both ventured hard 'g' but stresses on different syllables. That's perfectly understable and logical. And as I did say in my first reply to you "It doesn't really matter how you pronounce it." I just don't think one should criticise how OTHERS pronounce it, because there are reasonable cases for prouncing it all manner of ways. I wasn't asserting any etymologist authority, just denying any on the part of those who think hard 'g' is somehow mistaken.

    "Also, complaining that theorists are infatuated with long words (which is often true, yes) does not mean that etymologists aren't also infatuated with an equally pretentious desire to claim some secret knowledge of meaning."

    I think you are imagining things here. Even if that were commonly true of etymologists (who are in any case rather thinner on the ground than theorists), it is strawman whataboutism on your part. I was arguing against linguistic snobbery, not for etymological purism.

    It's a bit of old marxist rhetorical tactic: "Yes, floods are a bad thing, but what about volcanoes? they're bad too." - spoken while standing up to waist in water.

    "referencing the Ancient Greek origin does not innoculate one against its meaning,"

    I agree. But then I didn't say or imply it did.

    "Rather, it makes the etymologist imagine s/he is more intelligent than the theorist when all s/he is doing is giving a linguistical history rather than a conceptual assessment."

    I am not an etymologist, just someone who has studied more languages than most people have. And I wasn't claiming to be making a comment on the concept of hegemony. I was taking issue with criticism of how some other people pronounce the word. That's all.

    I agree with much of your final paragraph. There is a place for long words and even for jargon. Unfortunately it is often also used as camouflage for a vacancy of ideas, or to make simple ideas appear complex, or to impress or browbeat others, or all three.

    1. I didn't really claim you were making this kind of etymological argument, but I was pointing out where this one statement of yours ["I studied Latin and Greek for years. It innoculated me against the theorist's infatuation with impressive long words. I actually know what they mean and why, and they really don't make one more intelligent by using them"] could lead if it was taken for the basis of an argument. It is not a straw person argument to point out the implications of a statement; it's a type of reductio––there's a significant difference. Yes, I know you weren't arguing for a language idealism or some sort of etymological search for origins, but I was pointing out that that final statement of yours can imply that sort of approach, that is all.

      Also, just as you pulled the appeal to your background in Ancient Greek, I'm going to pull an appeal to my training in philosophy here: I am tired of people misusing the term "strawman" [should be straw person now, and we usually teach it as such] simply because they do not like it when the logical implications of a statement of theirs are drawn out. Fallacy terminology means something, and not what you want it to mean, and just because you do not say something specifically does not mean it is a straw person to point out the potentially problematic point at which your logic may arrive. In fact complaining about a strawman in this context actually serves the function of another actual fallacy: the red herring.

      As for "whataboutism"––that's a cold war term invented by anti-communist hacks and not something we consider a fallacy in philosophy. Connected to your claims about "old marxist rhetorical tactic" it might imply that you are an anti-communist: if so, then it is interesting that you complained about pronunciation and didn't seem to show any interest in the content of the piece. But I will assume this is only a logical implication and not what you are actually arguing––see the difference?

      In fact this whole reply is something of a red herring considering I spent a large amount of time pointing out that the entire pronunciation issue you focused on was ultimately a moment of levity and I don't give a fuck how the word is pronounced actually, just how one pronunciation bothers me for *no logical reason*. It wasn't a criticism of people who pronounce it differently in any way shape or form but a joke about my own foibles, which I pointed out in the previous comment as well.

  5. (Thank you for posting my reply. I do appreciate that.)

    "the term "strawman" [should be straw person now, and we usually teach it as such]"

    Are you serious? Do the children where you live build snowmen or snowpersons?

    "As for "whataboutism"––that's a cold war term invented by anti-communist hacks and not something we consider a fallacy in philosophy."

    Really? And how does one gain entry to 'philosophy'? Do I need a membership card? Are you a life member? Where is 'Philosphy Control'?

    "Fallacy terminology means something, and not what you want it to mean, and just because you do not say something specifically does not mean it is a straw person to point out the potentially problematic point at which your logic may arrive."

    Give it up. There is no 'problematic point' at which my logic would arrive. Arguing against linguistic snobbery on your part does not remotely logically entail etymological purism on my part.

    I repeat: it doesn't really matter how 'hegemony' is pronounced, as there are decent reasons for pronouncing it any number of ways. There is NO good reason for getting arsey about how OTHER PEOPLE pronounce it.

    then it is interesting that you complained about pronunciation and didn't seem to show any interest in the content of the piece.

    I didn't 'complain about pronunciation' - I criticised YOUR OWN complaint about OTHER PEOPLE's pronunciation. As I said, it doesn't matter how it is pronounced. You are welcome to pronounce hegemony with any stress you want and a soft 'g'. If you complain about others using a hard 'g' then I am right to suggest you are being ignorant and unjustified in your criticism. That's all.

    You are clearly an intelligent person, but your intellectual pedantry and officiousness is of a par with many marxist intellectuals I have encountered. If you stopped and reflected for a while you might grasp that most people don't like being talked down to. In my case, you've picked a bad fight because you have tried to patronise a linguist (I haven't tried to patronise you re philosphical concepts). In any case, the far left has very little popular support, and it might do well to reflect on the possible link between that and its addiction to using abstruse political language. Most people would simply think you are being a bit of a pretentious twat.

    Seriously, do you never wonder why there is so little popular uptake of Marxism? It's really not down to the ignorant masses being drugged by the media blah-blah-blah by the media. It is largely down to political leftists being pompous, boring, obscure, patronising, pretentious etc.

    Face it: you despise people who don't 'get' - or act subservient in the face of - fancy long words. Marxists are as much cold-blooded elitists as High Conservatives.

    1. If you really did appreciate the fact that I posted your reply, then you should have responded in a manner that ignored every point that I made and did precisely what you accuse me of doing: straw-personing. You talk about being "talked down to" and yet my point was that your arguments, that misunderstood a statement of levity as "talking down", were of the same species.

      The issue of gendered definitions is important; if you don't understand why, I'm not going to bother explaining here. And actually in informal logic the term "straw-man" is now understood as "straw-person"––that's a fact, and you'll find it in any current book on the subject. As for gaining entry to "philosophy"... if I must answer the insulting and rhetorical question you asked, then I suppose it is the same as gaining entry to the same circles that prove your expertise in Ancient Greece. I mean, I do have a doctorate in philosophy and so that means I have some qualifications to talk about notions that emerged from that field, as a physicist does about the field of physics. And though I don't think it qualifies me to speak with authority on class struggle, I don't think fallacies and the general speculative nonsense of philosophy has much to do with more important matters.

      Your belief that the far left has "little popular support" and that there is "little popular uptake of Marxism" is absurd and first world elitism. There are revolutionary movements and struggles the world over that are heavily invested in Marxism. Maybe you should pay attention to the peoples wars and popular movements at the global peripheries rather than assume that it is as marginal as you want it to be.

      Your assumption that I have been talking down to anyone is humourous because you really don't get what I've been saying from the beginning and, by falling back on your own snobbery, have ignored the points I've continuously made. At this point it is rather offensive and is bordering on a willful denial on your part. Let's be clear: my original complaint about "heGemony" (which *again* was meant as semi-humourous, something you have ignored––because FACE IT I agree that it ultimately doesn't matter how it is pronounced and I have said this in both of my replies) was actually about American *academics* and not lay-people.

      Why would I despise people who don't care about fancy long words? The only people whose failure to "get" these words that I complain about, rightly or wrongly, are other academics. In my organizational life I work with people who have never had the same educational privileges but who have taught me more about concepts than I could ever hope to learn in academia.

      But so there is no understanding, let me repeat myself for the third bloody time. I AGREE that THERE IS NO REASON to complain about multiple pronunciations of a word like hegemony; I did not accuse YOU of "linguistic snobbery" but was only interested in where some of your claims might lead––the fact you think I'm accusing you of anything is becoming rather annoying, so now maybe I will accuse you of willfully misreading my comments. My original response to you was about drawing out the problems of your claims and not about charging you with making a specific argument. My second response again repeated that I agreed that you were correct about pronunciation but argued about your appeals to a fallacy you thought I was making. So now I repeat again: I really don't give a shit about how "hegemony" is pronounced, although it does bug me for an irrational reason––and the people who speak it in the way that bugs me are also part of the "elite" you're complaining about, so your point misses the mark here. Nor do I really think I have any logical reason to be bugged by this point.

    2. [cont.]

      You complain about intellectuals you encounter and yet you yourself began with a position of intellectual elitism which annoyed me and perhaps produced my response. You claim you haven't tried to patronize me regarding philosophical concepts but your first comment was patronizing, your second concept directly patronized with philosophical concepts (i.e. your appeal to fallacies), and now you have moved into the deep end of patronization. Really, if we look back upon the exchange it is pretty clear who has been patronizing: after all, there is no point in the previous two concepts where I have attributed thoughts/attitudes/positions to you––really, I have tried to point out implications, I have argued that you were correct about pronunciation and pointed out the initial meaning of the comment, and I have even assumed you weren't here to troll and have tried to be conciliatory by explaining what I meant.

      If you refuse to read and want to continue to be insulting, I'm not going to bother to post your next response. You not only have broken the comment policy, but you have refused to thoroughly read my responses and, even worse, made first worldist comments about the "popularity of Marxism" and the supposed pompousness of Marxists [partially true in the first world, *but this is something I spend a lot of time examining on this blog and has nothing to do with an exchange which is about academic elitism in the first place*] that intentionally marginalizes radical movements in the third world.


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