Columbus

Even empires seek validation. No power can subsist on coercion alone. Hence Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci’s famous distinction between “hegemony” and “direct domination.” Hegemony is “the ‘spontaneous’ consent given by the great masses of the population to the general direction imposed on social life by the dominant social group” (Selections from Prison Notebooks 12). Direct domination is exercised by “the apparatus of state coercive power which ‘legally’ enforces discipline on those groups which do not ‘consent’ either actively or passively” (12). Hegemony, in fact, is primary: for Gramsci, power is grounded in consent, and force is employed only secondarily, “in moments of crisis and command when spontaneous consent has failed” (12). Coercion supplements consent, rather than vice versa. Hegemony is, in Gramsci’s view, the bedrock of social order. It is through the pedagogical activities of intellectuals in civil society that the state maintains its grip over the exploited, and the dominant group cements the “prestige” that it “enjoys because of its position and function in the world of production” (12).

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