Gramsci versus Tocqueville
Marxism versus the American Ideology

NB Antonio Gramsci was the chief theoretician of the communist party. Alexis de Tocqueville was a Frenchman who admired the America of the Nineteenth Century. It is worth knowing something about Marx and others of that ilk. People tend to think that when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 the Soviet Empire was finished and that we had won. That is what the BBC wanted us to think. But it was not true; far from it; communist subversives have infiltrated Western governments, universities, the media and other centres of power. Know thine enemy; it is a government near you. Professor Radosh is not very incisive but he was on the left so he understands what they are about.

This article was taken from Free Dominion


Gramsci vs. Tocqueville
Marxism vs. the American Ideology  4 January 2000
by Ronald Radosh

CONSERVATIVES HAVE BEEN LAX in dealing with the question of ideology, leaving this terrain most often to the academic Marxists and to the remnants of the 60's New Left. While we have had an outpouring of articles and books criticizing the fashionable views on issues such as multiculturalism, affirmative action, the mythology surrounding race in America and the like, there have been few attempts to deal with the reasons surrounding the widespread acceptance of the new shibboleths in deeper philosophical terms.

Finally, an attempt has been made in an important new article written by historian John Fonte, "Why There Is A Culture War: Gramsci and Tocqueville in America"
, which appears in the new issue of the Heritage Foundation's monthly magazine, Policy Review. What Fonte attempts to establish is that, beneath the surface of our political world, there has been a fight between competing worldviews, a fight which Fonte rightfully calls "an intense ideological struggle."

Fonte begins by summarizing the thesis of the late Italian Communist intellectual, Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937), who developed the thesis of "hegemony," which became the starting point for his entire worldview. From Gramsci's perspective, a social system- in our case, capitalism - is sustained when the majorities of its inhabitants internalize and accept the system's values and premises. Revolution could not succeed, he hypothesized, until a cultural "war of position" had been waged to undermine the hegemonic values that sustained the system. That demanded the creation of a new value system through a struggle waged in the organs of civil society by the Left - the schools, the churches, the media and all voluntary organizations. Only then, when the dominant ideas had been discarded, could steps be taken to transform the social system.

The decisive struggle to undermine middle-class liberal democracy, Fonte notes, would be fought primarily at the level of consciousness. The necessary first step for handing power to previously subordinate groups was the rejection of the old social order by its citizens on intellectual and moral grounds, through the creation of counter-hegemony. What John Fonte goes on to argue is that the Left has in fact been pursuing the Gramscian approach, perhaps unaware that they are doing it. From arguing that the critical attention has to be given to race, ethnicity and gender, to the claim that "the personal is political," to the arguments for so-called jury nullification, to the doctrine of "critical theory" developed in our major law schools - Fonte convincingly shows how the underlying philosophical approach can be traced back to Gramsci.

One example he gives will suffice. Critical legal theory, he writes, "could hardly be more Gramscian; it seeks to 'deconstruct' bourgeois legal ideas that serve as instruments of power for the dominant groups and 'reconstruct' them to serve the interests of the subordinate groups." In practice, therefore, its advocates claim that when black jurors vote to acquit a guilty black criminal, they are merely empowering previously powerless defendants who might have been driven to crime by the real guilty party - American racism and its controlling body of white males.

Countering Gramsci is what Fonte calls the basic American ideology, that of Alexis de Tocqueville, based on the understanding that Americans are individualistic, religious and patriotic, as well as committed to a dynamic entrepreneurial energy that demands the acceptance of the equality of individual opportunity, rather than special rewards given to the "oppressed" based on their perceived group affiliations. American exceptionalism, Fonte writes, is based on dynamism, religiosity and patriotism. Its adherents include intellectuals such as Gertrude Himmelfarb, William Bennett, but also liberal intellectuals such as former Clinton advisor William Galston, a supporter of the Progressive Policy Institute and the Democratic Leadership Council. In terms of action, it includes the work of Michael Joyce of the Bradley Foundation, whose self-described "Tocquevillian" approach includes support to associations and individuals that seek to infuse moral and religious underpinnings to civic action. Indeed, he notes that, in an article, Joyce called for challenging the "political hegemony" of those who run what the late historian Christopher Lasch called the "therapeutic state." Again, those who support this stance include both Democrats and Republicans, including the pre-campaign Joseph Lieberman and, of course, President-elect George W. Bush.

In theory, as in life, all is not so black and white. Fonte notes that some intellectuals support one and reject another aspect of the Tocquevillian ideology. Paleoconservatives oppose modernism and the Enlightenment; secular patriots like Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. support American nationalism but balk at anti-statist American traditions and Catholic social democrats like journalist E.J. Dionne accept the religious part of the Tocqueville approach but want to put curbs on the entrepreneurial spirit. Fonte might have added the anomaly posed by the work of the eminent historian Eugene D. Genovese, a self-proclaimed Gramscian who opposes radical feminism, affirmative action and who has even praised the work of Judge Robert Bork. I would have particularly appreciated, given this irony, how Fonte would have explained and fit Genovese into his paradigm.

It is John Fonte's hope, as he writes, that the Tocquevillians will have the strength, given their "intellectual firepower, infrastructure, funding, media attention and a comprehensive philosophy that taps into core American principles - to challenge the Gramscians with any chance of success." It is his feeling that the coalition of paleoconservatives, libertarians, secular patriots and Catholic social democrats do not have the wherewithal to provide effective resistance to what Fonte terms "the Gramscian assault." He sees hope in the manifesto "A Call to Civil Society: Why Democracy Needs Moral Truths," which outlined civic and moral values that buttress our republic, and which was signed by political figures and intellectuals of both Left and Right, including liberals such as Jean Bethke Elshtain and radicals like Cornel West.

The fight has also taken place in Congress, where Gramscian laws such as the Gender Equity in Education Act, based as it is on concepts of "institutionalized oppression," vie against Tocquevillian legislation like the "charitable choice" provision in the welfare reform legislation. And, of course, it has spread to the Supreme Court, which has heard cases such as the Violence Against Women Act, in which the Court has accepted the gender feminist argument that sexual harassment is a hate crime perpetrated by men to keep women inferior. Fonte writes that in the case Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education, the Court endorsed Gramscian and Marxist assumptions "of power relations between dominant and subordinate groups and applied those assumptions to American fifth graders." And in the executive branch of government, the Gramscian view is apparent in the various attempts to promote group-based equality of result rather than equality of individual opportunity.

Fonte's article is of importance because until now, few commentators have tied the growth of political correctness to the advance of Marxist ideology. Fonte concludes that "the slow but steady advance of Gramscian and Hegelian-Marxist ideas through the major institutions of American democracy," taking place while politicians seem to converge in the political center, reveals the "deeper conflict" of ideology that will continue into the new century. It will continue, Fonte argues, because Gramscian Marxism continues, a decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union, "to challenge the American republic at the level of its most cherished ideas." That is America's unique exceptionalism, based on entrepreneurial dynamism, patriotism and a religious-cultural core. Should Gramsci's view win, Fonte warns, it "would mean the end of this very 'exceptionalism,'" with America becoming a secular, post-patriotic and statist social order, in which group hierarchies and group rights replace the idea of equality before the law. I agree with Fonte when he says "the historical stakes are enormous." His discussion is, in itself, a contribution to winning the fight.


Ronald Radosh is a regular columnist and book reviewer for A former leftist and currently Professor Emeritus of History at City University of New York, Radosh has written many books, including The Rosenberg File (with Joyce Milton). His soon-to-be-published memoir is entitled Commies: A Journey Through the Old Left, the New Left and the Leftover Left


This important Policy Review article referred to in this thread can be found at:
Why There Is A Culture War. Every conservative should read it, to gain an understanding of the issues at play in today's society, and to really understand the culture war.