In the Midst of a Second American Revolution
By: Nancy Salvato
Antonio Gramsci and Ayn Rand; each notable for their distinct yet conflicting views on the role of the individual in society, were both heavily influenced by the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. Each denounced physical coercion employed by police and armed forces, or as Rand would say, by â€œcommunist thugsâ€. Both wrote about the revolutionâ€™s influence on their belief systems. That is where their similarity ends.
Gramsci agreed with Karl Marx that capitalism was bad for the â€œaverage Joeâ€ because,
â€œAlthough workers produce things for the market, market forces control things; workers do not. People are required to work for capitalists who have full control over the means of production and maintain power in the workplace. Work, he said, becomes degrading, monotonous, and suitable for machines rather than free, creative people. In the end people themselves become objectsâ€”robotlike mechanisms that have lost touch with human nature, that make decisions based on cold profit-and-loss considerations, with little concern for human worth and need. Marx concluded that capitalism blocks our capacity to create our own humane society.â€ 1
To put it simply, Marx believed that when money is used to motivate people to excel, they will lose their natural compassion for others as well as the internal motivation which makes them want to do their best. He believed that working to benefit society was a more powerful motivation for success. Had he been alive today, he would have to reconsider his position because although the United States employs capitalism, it is one of the most innovative and charitable nations; as indicated by the amount of time, money and goods donated to the less fortunate or victims of disaster.
Antonio Gramsci realized that the means to political control was best gained through hegemony (power) derived from ideological control (sharing the same beliefs) and control by consent; like the system of government which has been employed in the United States for over two centuries. In his assessment, no imposed regime could maintain itself through state power and armed force (no one likes or wants to give in to thugs). Sustained control over people could only take place if there was popular support for changing a status quo government.
He thought the Bolshevik Revolution failed because those in the working class didnâ€™t really feel the need to rise up and start a revolution. He believed they needed to be gently prodded along before they would reject the â€œold orderâ€ and buy into a new ideology. Come to think of it, heâ€™s describing why the American Revolution was a success. People didnâ€™t like the way the British were running things. They wanted to rise up and revolt, though some did have to be convinced that it was the correct thing to do and in their best interests. Additionally, â€œIntellectualsâ€ from the â€œold orderâ€ needed to be converted to the new way of thinking. Why would you want to revolt if life is good?
In order to subjugate the masses (control them) and prepare them for a Communist governing philosophy, Gramsci concluded that all the classes within the society must willingly adopt the same system of values, attitudes, beliefs and morality. Only then could they truly champion the ideas of those in power. Once a society internalizes the same way of looking at the world, this could be considered the â€œnatural order of things.â€ Everyone must believe the new system will benefit them and each must have a stake in the system.
One way to achieve control was through the education system. Gramsci presumed that the existing system of education in his native Italy was structured to keep the â€œestablishedâ€ societal classes in their respective place. He realized that intellectuals could be produced by an educational system to perform a function for the dominant social group in society, in order for the ruling class to maintain its control over the rest of society.
He wanted to create a new group of â€œIntellectualsâ€ from the working class. He proposed turning this education model upside down to transform the status quo. Gramsci wanted to reform education by providing just one â€œtype of formative school (primary-secondary) which would take the child up to the threshold of his choice of job, forming him during this time as a person capable of thinking, studying and ruling – or controlling those who rule.” 2
Recently, in Florida, the judiciary ruled that Florida Opportunity Scholarships violated the state constitution’s 1998 guarantee of a uniform public-school system. By striking down vouchers, the courts are ruling that there can only be one type of school that children attend. Families can not choose a form of education that might be more tailored to a childâ€™s needs.
â€œGramsci maintained that this type of school could only achieve success with the active participation of pupils and, in order for this to happen, the school must relate to their everyday life. This did not mean that education should not include abstract ideas but that philosophical concepts, formal logic, rules of grammar etc needed to be acquired in school “through work and reflection… 3 He was positive that learning was not something that came easily for the majority of young people. He believed that, “The individual consciousness of the overwhelming majority of children reflects social and cultural relations which are different from and antagonistic to those which are represented in the school curricula.” 4
In other words, he believed that the classroom should be student centered and that students should construct their own knowledge instead of teachers instructing the students on the subject matter. The learning material should be made relevant to the studentsâ€™ experiences instead of broadening their horizons by exposing them to what they might find boring or difficult. He didnâ€™t have very high expectations for the majority of students. Also, he realized the values that the school needed to impose in order to get the students to buy into the new governing philosophy and discard the old might conflict with those of the family.
â€œWhen introduced to American history in her last year of high school,â€ 5 Ayn Rand â€œimmediately took America as her model of what a nation of free men could be.â€ 6 Her own family endured the Communistâ€™s confiscation of her father’s pharmacy and subsequent near-starvation. She also experienced first hand Communist stifling of free inquiry when the university sheâ€™d been attending in Petrograd was taken over by those in power.
Such personal encounters likely had the effect of cementing her steadfast belief in American capitalism, or economic freedom, to which she credited, â€œthe major achievements of American inventors and businessmen during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.â€ 7 So convinced of this truth, she wrote Atlas Shrugged, â€œto demonstrate what might happen to the world if such economic freedom were lost, if emerging collectivist trends were to continue to their logical conclusions.â€ 8
Randâ€™s novel, Atlas Shrugged, depicts the collapse of an economic system in which some people live off the production of others without having to actually produce anything themselves. Eventually the producers in the society go on strike. The thinkers withdraw their minds and protest oppression of thought and the forced moral code of self-sacrifice, a code that obligates them to work only to serve the needs of others. It is Randâ€™s own belief in Americanâ€™s â€œinalienable right to pursue their own happiness based on their own values and that they must be free to pursue their own self-interest as they choose,â€ 9 which ends up prevailing as the operative philosophy of a successful economy. Over and over she makes the point that our only obligations are â€œto respect the freedom and rights of other self-interested people.â€ 10
Although the â€œCold Warâ€ between Capitalism and Communist expansion allegedly ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, there is still a battle of ideologies being waged in the United States which could end the way Ayn Rand envisioned in Atlas Shrugged (barring outside forces such as radical terrorism doing us in first). In the conclusion of her novel, there are only a select group of self motivated people capable of innovation and production, left in the world. The majority of the population is in an ideological stupor which has left them incapable of invention and without the motivation necessary to be able to feel the satisfaction from a job well done. This eventually could occur because those who advocate government running our lives, sometimes referred to as a nanny state, are actually pushing the socialist agenda to which Gramsci refers in his Prison Notebooks and to which Rand railed against.
According to Lee Harris, in â€œThe Future of Traditionâ€, our current culture war was preceded by two prior culture wars: the rise of the Sophists in ancient Greece and the era identified with the French Enlightenment and the German Aufklarung.11 In the first,
â€œThey [Sophists] boasted of their ability to make the worse appear the better reason, to prove that black is white. Some, like Gorgias, asserted that it was not necessary to have any knowledge of a subject to give satisfactory replies as regards it. Thus, Gorgias ostentatiously answered any question on any subject instantly and without consideration. To attain these ends mere quibbling, and the scoring of verbal points were employed. In this way, the sophists tried to entangle, entrap, and confuse their opponents, and even, if this were not possible, to beat them down by mere violence and noise. They sought also to dazzle by means of strange or flowery metaphors, by unusual figures of speech, by epigrams and paradoxes, and in general by being clever and smart, rather than earnest and truthful. Hence our word “sophistry”: the use of fallacious arguments knowing them to be such.â€ 12
The above tactic seems to be in full court press today as false accusations and mischaracterizations are printed as news, later to be retracted after the associations have been impressed upon the collective unconscious of the masses.
Kant, the last major philosopher of the Enlightenment came up with this:
â€œThe morality of an action depends on the motivation for the action. Hence, if an individual arrives at the conclusion that a certain action is right and pursues that course of action as a result, then that behavior is moral. These and other ideas of Kantâ€™s continued to influence philosophersâ€”especially German philosophersâ€”long after his death. Hegel, Marx, and Nietzsche all borrow significantly from Kantâ€™s line of thinking.â€ 13
The Unborn Victim of Crime Bill, also know as the Laci and Connor Law, establishes that a violent crime that injures or kills a mother and her unborn child involves two crimes with two victims under federal law. Yet when an unborn child is aborted it is called an unborn fetus in order to dehumanize the act. If it is immoral for an unborn child to be killed when it is in the womb and considered illegal, how can this illegal act also be deemed an elective surgery? It sounds like Kantâ€™s philosophy is alive and well in this scenario.
Harris explains that an â€œinvitation to reason calmly about the hitherto unthinkable is the source of the uneasy visceral response. To ask someone to reason calmly about something that he regards as simply beyond the pale is to ask him to concede precisely what he must not concede -the mere admissibility of the question.â€ 14 Parents should not have to reason with their children about the morals and values they are trying to impart. Individuals in our society should not have to concede acknowledgement to others about what they inherently believe to be wrong. Harris believes that, â€œA question that is out of order does not require or deserve an answer.â€ 15
For example, if the belief system of a church or organization does not condone gay priests or gay members, the institution should not have to break convention to accommodate what goes against founding principles. Rather, those challenging the collective values should break away and form their own conventions. Isnâ€™t that what Luther did in the Protestant Reformation?
In his article, â€œWhy There Is A Culture Warâ€ published in Policy Review, John Fonte coins modern day Patriots, â€œToquevilliansâ€; because of their position advocating, â€œfor self government and constitutional limits; fighting to maintain a democratic-republican form of government in which economic freedom, religious influence, and expressions of patriotism for our country prevail.â€ 16
Toquevillians are facing a battle of epoch proportions because of the potential,
â€œconsequences that would ensue if middle America lost its simple faith in god and its equally simple trust in its fellow men. Their plain virtues and homespun beliefs are the bedrock of decency and integrity in our nation and in the world. These are the people who give their sons and daughters to defend the good and to defeat the evil. If in their eyes this clear and simple distinction is blurred through the dissemination of moral relativism and an aesthetic of ethical frivolity, where else will human decency find such willing and able defenders?â€ 17
During the American Revolution, those in the battle could recognize their enemies. The Redcoats of the British stood out in contrast to the blues and browns worn by the Patriots. Those who were exposed as traitors could be tried and hung for treason. Today, it is much harder to recognize the enemy because so many people have bought into the globalist ideology and secular humanism they have made into the status quo. Will the second revolution subvert our system of government without firing a shot? As Joni Mitchell penned, â€œDonâ€™t it always seem to go that you donâ€™t know what youâ€™ve got â€˜til itâ€™s gone.â€
2, 3, 4 antonio gramsci
7, 8, 9, 10 Atlas Shrugged
5, 6 A Brief Biography of Ayn Rand
Jeb Bush scrambles to save vouchers
11, 14, 15, 17 The Future of Tradition
13 The German Enlightenment
16 Why is there a culture War
Nancy Salvato is the President of Basics Project, a non-profit, non-partisan 501 (C) (3) research and educational project whose mission is to promote the education of the American public on the basic elements of relevant political, legal and social issues important to our country. She is the Education Editor for The New Media Journal and a staff writer, for the New Media Alliance, Inc., a non-profit (501c3) coalition of writers and grass-roots media outlets, where she contributes on matters of education policy.