“The supremacy of a social group manifests itself in two ways, as “domination” and as “intellectual and moral leadership”. A social group dominates antagonistic groups, which it tends to “liquidate”, or to subjugate perhaps even by armed force; it leads kindred and allied groups. A social group can, and indeed must, already exercise “leadership” before winning governmental power (this indeed is one of the principal conditions for the winning of such power); it subsequently becomes dominant when it exercises power, but even if it holds it firmly in its grasp, it must continue to “lead” as well.” (Litowitz, 2000. p. 515)
Gramsci’s notion of hegemony finds resonance in modern political discourse in the works of Noam Chomsky, the MIT linguist and philosopher. His book Manufacturing Consent (first published in 1988 and made into an award winning documentary film a few years later) talks about ruling-class propaganda apparatus, which has become the most potent mechanism of suppressing dissent and unrest in the general population. Drawing upon the conception of ‘hegemony’ by Gramsci, Chomsky himself had written a book titled ‘Hegemony or Survival’, which is a strong critique of American foreign policy under neo-liberal capitalist ideology. Unlike Gramsci, though, Chomsky cannot be bracketed under neo-Marxist or post-Marxist ideologies. While decidedly belonging to the American and global Left, Chomskyan analysis is remarkable for its ideological underplay while maintaining analytic rigour. (Bieler & Morton, 2004, p.86)
While the connection between the pervasion of hegemony and the education system is articulated most clearly by Chomsky, it was Gramsci who first identified its presence. According to him, the term ‘intellectual’ in the conventional sense is no longer accurate in describing those representatives of bourgeoisie who assume positions of power in the academia and mainstream media. In media parlance, what are called ‘talking heads’ are there to serve the interests of their own class, which is usually the ruling class. And hence, their interpretations and opinions should be treated with scepticism by the working classes. (Bieler & Morton, 2004, p.89) Having first recognized that hegemony entails the battle for people’s minds, Gramsci went on to point out the role of bourgeoisie intellectuals in perpetrating hegemony by subtly restricting the range of thought and opinion. Hegemony could be seen in operation in major institutions such as the courts and the parliaments. While the conventional mode of domination is linked to “coercive state action by the courts, the police, the army, and the national guard”, the modern mode of hegemony is
“more insidious and complicated to achieve. It involves subduing and co-opting dissenting voices through subtle dissemination of the dominant group’s perspective as universal and natural, to the point where the dominant beliefs and practices become an intractable component of common sense. In a hegemonic regime, an unjust social arrangement is internalized and endlessly reinforced in schools, churches, institutions, scholarly exchanges, museums, and popular culture. Gramsci’s work on hegemony provides a useful starting point for legal scholars who understand that domination is often subtle, invisible, and consensual.” (Litowitz, 2000. p. 515)
Max Weber is another important intellectual who has added to the neo-Marxist body of work. Weber, who was a successor to the socio-economic analytic tradition established by Marx, made critical observations of many of Marx’s theories and expanded traditional Marxist ideology. While Weber made important contributions to Marx’s work, he also brought in unique sociological perspectives to communist commentary. In this sense, Weber’s approach to explaining the rise of modern society can be stated as a ‘debate with the ghost of Karl Marx’ (Bakker, 1999, p.289). To begin with, there is considerable overlap between both their viewpoints, especially with respect to state power in capitalist societies. This is most visible in the role played by police, which is a law-enforcing agency. While the stated purpose of this agency is to serve the interests of the general public, it inevitably sides-up the wealthy and the powerful. In what is a neo-Marxist systhesis spanning Marx, Weber and Chomsky, the role played by propaganda in modern societies can be seen as another manifestation of the conventional role played by police in controlling public unrest.