Intellectuals are the dominant groups’ ‘deputies’ exercising the subaltern functions of social hegemony and political government.
– Antonio Gramsci
Society, according to Gramsci, is comprised of two spheres of power; that is civil society – the private domain – and political government – the public domain. Each of these is subject to the hegemony of the dominant class. The dominant class is that group within society to whose needs both civil society and political government are engineered to serve, and that the primary requirement of their hegemony is the furtherance and maintenance of power. Throughout these two spheres the dominant class operates through the agency of deputised intellectuals whose function it is to preserve the status quo and so ensure the hegemonic position of the dominant class.
Gramsci states that all people, by virtue of their intellect and conscious participation in society, are intellectuals, but not all people are ascribed, through their social relationship to the hegemonic class, the social function of intellectuals. So here then he is limiting the definition of intellectual to those people who, by their social roles and functions, service the requirements of the dominant class. Intellectuals in this schema are not necessarily academics – though they can be. They are the subaltern class; that is to say that they have social and political power only insofar as they are aligned to the requirements of the hegemonic class. They are not themselves decision makers, but the executors to the wishes of their social betters.
This subaltern class, according to Gramsci, is made up of politicians, clergy, teachers, the judiciary, and so forth – meaning that even in the modern democratic state the elected representatives of the people are not the real decision makers. Some other group – that is the dominant class – is calling the shots, and their deputies are ensuring, through their social and political functions, that everyone in society toes the line. Those who refuse to obey – or respect – the authority of the deputies are met with the weight of other deputies; that is “the apparatus of state coercive power which legally enforces discipline on those groups who do not consent either actively or passively [to the rule of the hegemonic class].”
In a certain sense Gramsci’s analysis of society as the exercise of hegemonic class interest allows us to see through the veil and to perceive at least something of the nature of the dominant class. As the structure of society – civil and political – is directed to the purposes of the dominant class it can be expected that the priorities of the society as a whole mirror the priorities of that class. This may be seen, perhaps more especially, when conflict arises between the law – which is the narrative of hegemonic power – and the priorities of the dominant class. Quite inexplicably, for example, states will ignore laws and/or rapidly alter them when such a conflict arises.
Hegemony – 10 Minute Philosophy – Terms