Almost everyone knows Karl Marx. Very few have heard of Antonio Gramsci—including me until about two years ago. Even as a student of intellectual history in college, I was unaware of Gramsci or his theories. Yet, even more than Marx, Gramsci’s ideas have shaped the West by laying the ideological foundation for the toxic new religion (hereinafter TNR).
Gramsci (1891-1937) was a Marxist and atheist. He was born on January 22, 1891 in Sardinia. As a young man, he became an active member of the Italian Communist Party, and began a journalistic career that made him among the most feared critical voices in Italy. The outbreak of the Bolshevik revolution in October 1917 stirred his revolutionary ardor. Gramsci identified himself closely with the methods and aims of the Russian revolutionary leadership and with the cause of socialist transformation.
Samuel Gregg, research director at the Acton Institute, wrote a powerful article on Gramsci last year at The Stream. I’ll quote extensively from it in order to explain Gramsci’s prophetic influence on the TNR, but encourage you to read the whole thing.
When it came down to it, Marx thought just two things were important: money and power … that the economy is the ultimate driver of everything else … Antonio Gramsci, however, took a different view … [He] focused on culture.
Still a Marxist, he viewed art, literature, education, and all its other elements through the … lens of a class struggle. But he realized that these things didn’t just respond to political and economic power; they also produced it. So [for the revolution to prevail] … it must seize these things first, get control of the ‘cultural means of production.’
Gramsci insisted that Marxists had underestimated the importance of culture-forming institutions such as the media, universities, and churches in deciding whether the Left or the Right would gain control (or to use his favorite word, “hegemony”).
Gramsci thought that all these cultural institutions weren’t neutral, but in fact were serving as a vast propaganda machine on behalf of capitalism. Until the left came to dominate them, they would never be able to convince enough people to support their revolution.
Perhaps you’ve heard of the “left’s long march through the institutions.” This is where it began. Gregg continues:
To seize society’s “cultural heights” such leftists must spread what the French Reformed theologian Paul Ricœur called “the hermeneutics of suspicion.” Put simply, this means that nothing is as it seems. Seemingly benign ideas (such as “justice” and “due process”) must be exposed as cynical bourgeois ploys that serve to disguise systematic injustices.
Rule of law, for instance, is no longer understood as embodying a commitment to equality before the law and non-arbitrary behavior. Instead, it is “unmasked” as a tool for denying justice to various minorities …
Today, entire humanities and social science departments (not to mention journalism schools) in Western European, North American and Latin American universities are slaves to the search for hidden oppressors.
Western Civ studies replaced by “Critical Theory “
I hope this is beginning to sound familiar, and very current. “Critical theory” is the academic discipline that now dominates the humanities, replacing the older “history of Western Civilization.” Its purpose is to expose, or unmask, subtle yet pervasive racism, sexism, and homophobia embedded in systems and structures within the broader culture.
In traditional Marxism, the capitalists (bourgeoisie) created and sustained these oppressive power structures. Gramsci’s genius was to realize that Marx’s economic critique didn’t go far enough. Capitalism didn’t appear out of nowhere. It was developed and sustained by a particular culture or civilization. To effectively tear down capitalism, you needed to tear down the cultural foundations on which it was built, and which continued to support it.
For Gramsci, that culture was largely the Judeo-Christian stream of Western civilization, and particularly the most basic unit of that civilization, the family. In effect, Gramsci expanded the category of oppressors from capitalists and property owners, to “the patriarchy” who oppress wives and children. In turn, the economically defined bourgeoisie were replaced by another class: white, heterosexual, Christian or Jewish males.
Today, you can “virtue signal” if you are “woke.” This is slang for, “my eyes are opened, and now I see the many hidden systems of oppression imposed by white, heterosexual males in order to perpetuate their power.” If you happen to be in that class, you are woke if you confess your inherent evil by being part of this oppressive group, and admit your white privilege and unconscious racism (sexism, etc.).
Those that function within this ideological ecosystem are Antonio Gramsci’s intellectual heirs, whether they are aware of it or not. Note the irony: both Gramsci and his mentor Karl Marx are, of course, dead white men.
Gregg reports that for Gramsci’s followers, “The American Revolution is not a principled defense of ancient liberties against burgeoning tyranny; instead it’s an effort by wealthy white Colonials to maintain their privileges.”
Indeed, it was vital for Gramsci and his intellectual progeny to be critical of US history, shaped as it was by capitalism and the stream of Western Civilization that adhered to Judeo-Christian belief. The influential historian Howard Zinn, who has done more than almost anyone else to shape how today’s American students understand our history, was a disciple of Gramsci.
It’s rude to be civil
Gregg continues, “Civility is dismissed as something which constrains people from expressing their outrage against injustice. Even the English language is revealed to embody ancient ‘patriarchal’ oppression against women.”
As if to prove Gregg’s point, in March, Georgie Hicks, a student activist at Evergreen College in Olympia Washington, published an op-ed in the student newspaper, The CooperPoint Journal, where she wrote:
F*** civility! [Civility] is a word which currently and historically has been used to delegitimize and shut down black and brown people often fighting against uncivil treatment in the first place. A willingness to use this word connotes a lack of understanding of racial issues in this country.
Back to Gregg:
Truth is no longer important, for truth is just a ruling class construct. What matters is the pursuance and maintenance of power, so that millions of media-consumers and thousands of university students can continue being enlightened about the hidden structures of privilege.
Again, as if to prove this point, in an open letter to outgoing Pomona College President David Oxtoby, three self-identified black student activists at Pomona College wrote:
Historically, white supremacy has venerated the idea of objectivity, and wielded a dichotomy of “subjectivity vs. objectivity” as a means of silencing oppressed peoples … The idea that there is a single truth–“the Truth”–is a construct of the Euro-West that is deeply rooted in the Enlightenment, which was a movement that also described Black and Brown people as both subhuman and impervious to pain. This construction is a myth and white supremacy, imperialism, colonization, capitalism, and the United States of America are all of its progeny. The idea that the truth is an entity for which we must search, in matters that endanger our abilities to exist in open spaces, is an attempt to silence oppressed peoples.
Why should we be concerned about the comments of student activists like these? Because what happens on our university campuses today inevitably spills out into the broader society. It shapes the mindset and values of whole cultures. It is already happening.
Marxism writ large
The most insidious aspect of this mentality is that its logic, on its terms, can’t be refuted. If you question, for instance, the hermeneutics of suspicion, then you must be part of the ruling class’s apparatus of control, whether you realize it or not. At worst, you are evil. At best, you are a dupe …
The worst part of Gramsci’s legacy is that it has effectively transcended its Marxist origins. His outlook is now … taken for granted by millions of teachers, writers, even churchmen, who have no idea that they are committed to [his brand of] Marxism. So while the socialist paradises constructed by Lenin, Stalin and likeminded people imploded over 25 years ago, the Gramscian mindset is alive and flourishing at your local university and in more than a few liberal churches and synagogues.
And I would add that it is flourishing in big business, law, entertainment, government, and almost every other sphere of society. Gregg concludes: “The vast structures of cynicism which Gramsci’s ideas have built, which honeycomb Western society today, will prove much tougher to dismantle than the crude cement blocks of the old Berlin Wall.”
I hope by now it is clear just how much the adherents of the TNR owe to their two major prophets, Karl Marx and Antonio Gramsci. Many others have made their mark as well, especially Frederic Nietzsche and Michel Foucault. But these two rise above the rest.
To summarize, we can see the deep influence of Marx and Gramsci in this toxic new religion in:
- Its obsession with power, oppression and victimization. The world is divided between oppressors and victims; nothing exists outside these two categories. The beating heart of the ideology is grievance and victimization.
- Its fixation on class, race, gender or sexual orientation as more important in defining one’s personal identity than anything else.
- Its hostility towards Judeo-Christian belief, smearing it as an unscientific, dangerous illusion, and even a source of oppression, particularly in its beliefs about family and sexuality.
- Its hostility towards capitalism, which is equated with greed, imperialism and oppression. Its driving passion for the forced redistribution of wealth by an ever larger, more powerful state.
- Its antipathy toward the natural family, and specifically the authority of parents over children, or the authority of the husband and the father in the home.
- The rejection of absolute truth or absolute morality, combined with an “ends justifies the means.”
– Scott Allen