I just recently read The Antonio Gramsci Reader and found his political/sociological concept of “cultural hegemony” very important to the leftist movement.
Gramsci was an Italian Marxist theorist and cofounder of the Italian Communist Party who was imprisoned by Mussolini ‘s fascist regime. While in prison, he worked on the concept of “hegemony” present in a society’s culture and how it maintains the capitalist state.
Cultural hegemony is when one group of people (the capitalists in Gramsci’s analysis) does not only control the economic system but also defines those things that make up the society’s culture, i.e., norms, values, mores, general worldview. Now this “hegemony” is so strong that it is perceived by the other groups in society (the proletariat, in Gramsci’s view) as “natural;” as an inescapable truth, or just the way things are. Gramsci contends that this hegemony also leads to the other groups in society (the proletariat) to perceive the interests of the hegemonic group as their own.
In the United States today the capitalists are the hegemonic group just as they were in 1920’s Italy. The 1%ers control our means of production and define our culture for they are on top of the socio-economic ladder. This makes thinking outside of capitalism, and the interests of the very rich, difficult for the American people.
This is especially so because America, in its young history, has always been a capitalist country. We’ve been raised on Benjamin Franklin and Horatio Alger. We did not have the benefit of rising up from the feudal system like the countries of Europe did. The European societies have at least a historical touchstone that they can lend from that says that an economic/political /cultural system is not natural law. But America does not have that historical narrative to draw from
This problem in America even manifests itself when the hegemony of the capitalists is so strong that those on the right side of the political spectrum often vote against their own interests, e.g., poor, rural states traditionally vote for the GOP. They are often irrational actors.
So what to do?
We must educate, that is what we must do. The media (which is owned and controlled by the 1%ers and is fed to us by visible gatekeepers who do not even know that they are puppets), the schools, the general government, etc., must be refuted by the Left. We must get this kind of analysis to the masses and offer a clear alternative to the hegemonic culture of capitalism.