Hegemony was Antonio Gramsci’s way of analyzing how the capitalist state operates through a combination of force and consent. Force is relatively straightforward. The key is to understand how consent works.
Smith contributes an article on the culture of Wall Street (which was published in the December 2009 issue of The Baffler, which is the revival of a magazine of business and culture edited by Thomas Frank that had previously been published from 1988 to 2007). Here’s an excerpt:
the people at the heart of this system, even with the wreckage they created all around them, still fail to acknowledge that the rich pay of recent years was the product of a debt binge. It wasn’t just the makers of the pernicious securities who benefited; all boats in the finance industry rose with the surge of borrowing. Trying to defend the status quo ante shows a willful, self-serving blindness to the proper place of financial markets in a healthy economy.Worse, it bespeaks a dangerous, destructive ideology that has somehow managed to live on, zombie-like, through the crisis. The idea that the needs of the financial sector trump those of the productive sector isn’t just specious; as the crisis so vividly demonstrated, it’s outright dangerous. But its strange persistence as an article of faith among our leadership class, both in government and the media, has yielded inertia and fecklessness where there should be energy and resolve. It seems that before we can confront the challenge of mending our broken financial system, a battle of ideology must be waged and won. And the hour is getting late.
Hightower exposes how the Koch brothers (the owners of Koch Industries, based in Wichita, Kansas, which is a major producer of toilet paper, paper towels, oil, gas, timber, coal, cattle, asphalt, chemicals, polyethylene plastic, nitrogen fertilizers, cement, lumber products, and much more—70,000 employees in 60 countries, which is America’s second-largest privately owned corporation) have created three Koch Family Foundations through which they fund national and state-level think tanks, Astroturf front groups, academic shills, university centers, political-training programs, fundraising clearinghouses, publications, lobbyists, and various other units that create and disseminate their right-wing agenda. Here’s an excerpt:
It’s not paranoia if they really are out to get you—and they are! “They” are the corporate powers that collect our consumer dollars and then, as hush-hush as possible, use that money to finance their interlocked array of right-wing foundations, think tanks, “scholars,” media sparklies, political personalities, and other fronts. What the Kochs and their ilk are out to get is nothing less than America’s commitment to the Common Good, colluding to kill such egalitarian proposals as Medicare for all, green-energy jobs, workplace democracy, decentralization of capital, and clean elections.
That’s how the consent of hegemony works: by funding “their” intellectuals and be creating an ideology according to which “their” interests are made to appear as universal interests. And that’s why the hard work of criticizing the existing hegemony—unmasking it and showing how it operates—and of creating an alternative hegemony—within the State, that is, within political society, civil society, and economic society—is so important.