Thursday, October 20, 2005

Debunking our State with a Capital "S"

Like a first name or a title, Gramsci, in his Prison Notebooks, capitalizes the word State continuously in his writings, but he does not capitalize civil society. At first glance, this might seem odd, as the reader, examining the chapter heading, reads “State and Civil Society.” Yet, this capital “S,” this small yet strong action on the part of Gramsci, offers us a clue into how he defines a State as including all the workings of a civil society which include Law (also capitalized), education, churches, social organizations, such as the PTA, and all organizations that become hegemonic apparatuses for reinforcing the status-quo of a dominate social class within the State’s consuming, but ideally invisible, arms: “. . . it is only possible to create a system of principles asserting that the State’s goal is its own end, its own disappearance, in other words the re-absorption of political society into civil society” (Cox 253). Here, civil society is not defined as some idealic place for resistance movements, as often suggested today (Civil Society with a capital “C” and “S”), but as the workings in society that help maintain the status-quo of the dominate class. Unseen but ever-present, the State becomes the educator of its citizens and the Law works to reinforce educational efforts because, as Gramsci suggests, factors such as Law and civil society should not be left to “spontaneously” and “haphazardly” develop. Today, we can see the workings of this hegemonic process where within our globalized reality, State and nationhood is still fundamental to the workings of a world economy that “remains contingent on the ability of States to negotiate ‘country-by-country’ settlements with national social forces” (Drainville 67). Citizenship, the process of integration and differentiation, is used to reinforce the discourse of liberal economic embedding which is also reinforced by civil societies. By incorporating and reinforcing social norms within citizenship and civil society, the State, or Machiavelli’s Prince, can remain invisible and can be seen through only appearances and not as it really is—a source of force. Thus, the international level of hegemony becomes an order among States as well as an order within a world economy with a dominant mode of production. Yet, what is the “hegemony” concept that prompted Gramsci to enlarge his concept of State? This is an important question as Gramsci’s concept of hegemony is often misused. Hegemony is “primarily a strategy for the gaining of the active consent of the masses through their self-organization” (Gramsci). Hegemony works to create a collective political will, by forming a historic bloc (many civil societies united together) that unites a population under what becomes embedded ideology—it works partly through what Kenneth Burke termed “identification.” Hegemony, however, is a delicate balance between State and civil society; a machine depended upon the smallest parts to keep the whole working. If one nut, one bolt, cracks, the machine becomes threatened and counter-historic blocs then have an opportunity to rise and challenge the current structure. This challenge, as Gramsci suggests, has a short window, as the dominate social class has more recourses available for quick mobilization of action. Yet, cracks in the system allows for resistance, passive or active. Kandiyoti, while examining the different historical realities of patriarchy, notes how changes in the material workings of capitalism promoted either passive or active modes of resistance by women. Resistance efforts, however, are dependant upon different historical realities of lived experiences in any given society. This is why Gramsci emphasized the importance of analyzing different situations of hegemony within the different historical, social and lived contexts of each situation--as narrow analysis (applying the same workings to each society) works to cover the true inner workings of a particular society. It is the fallacy of, what I like to term, theories in isolation. When thinking about today’s world and the power relations we see reported through our news organizations and the extreme partisan politics occurring, it is important to keep in mind how certain modes of standard operations are kept in checked and maintained. Today, in the United States as well as in Britain, we are seeing a crisis in the hegemonic agreement between the leaders and society at large. When leaders need to deflect our attention from what is really going on, it is a sign that something is not right and the current balance of power is threatened. Today, the current balance of power is threatened because what has been promised to the population has not been delivered. Although Machiavelli suggested that the “prince” must often lie for the betterment of society, we are very aware that the lying is rarely for the betterment of society at large, but for the sake of those who hold power and wishes to maintain both power and money. Now is the time for us to act and mobilize because the current administration has most definitively (hell from day one) broken their promises to society. We have been lied to, tricked, insulted and ignored. Let us remind our representative who they are really working for, not the corporations, not the private interests but the people they represent. It is time to pull out the bad eggs and put in some fresh fruit!

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