Wednesday, 19 September 2012



In a recent article, THE GUARDIAN noted that the Greek political party represented in parliament is more like a criminal organization than a party. This is the sort of hollow analysis that some writers engaged in about Italy's Fascist Party and of Germany's Nazi party before they took power, given that Nazis and Fascists had paramilitary operations that were the core of their political movement. The mere presence of paramilitary organization does not necessarily mean that the sponsoring political party is any less political.

Such analysis underestimates the mass appeal of neo-Fascism and neo-Nazism not just in Greece in 2012, but throughout the West. I have written as much in an article where I suggested that the return of Fascism/Nazism are possible against a global political economy that engenders capital concentration and downward social mobility, and against the background of a Western clash with Islam at a time that the world's economic center will be shifting from West (EU and US) to East (China, India, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia). In short, the downward social mobility of the middle class make it feel suffocated and without any prospects for its own and their children's future.

It entirely possible that pluralistic society generally tolerant of disparate groups of people may remain vibrant, but more likely is the dilution of such a societal model. Greece is not exactly a good example of what may follow in the West, but it is a manifestation of how the combination of political, economic and cultural developments in the West as well as domestic developments and historical traditions account for the rise of neo-Naziism.

When I published a short book entitled Authoritarianism in Greece (New York, 1983), about the pro-Nazi  John Metaxas dictatorship of 1936-40, more than a decade had passed since the military junta (1967-1974) that modeled itself after the 1930s dictatorship. In fact, when I published that book, both the dictatorships in Portugal and Spain were gone, replaced by Socialist parties were as strong as in Greece, so I never imagined a resurgence of neo-Nazi or neo-Fascist parties in the early 21st century.

Just as in the case of the Great Depression that weakened democracy in many countries and eliminated it in others, similarly, the current deep economic contraction is causing similar sociopolitical conditions of polarization, sweeping the middle class and segments of the working class to its camp. And this is not about isolated incidents of anti-Islam neo-Nazi groups in every country from Norway to Greece, but about a genuine grassroots political movement with momentum to carry it into the mainstream.

In June 2012, a new political party (Chrysi Augi) Golden Dawn was elected to office representing roughly half a million voters, a party that openly proclaims to follow a neo-Nazi/neo-fascist ideology. Founded in 1980 as a movement, it registered as a political party in 1993 when Greece experienced a wave of Balkan, Eastern European, as well as some African and Asian emigrants coming in as cheap day laborers in construction and farms, household workers caring for the elderly, or street vendors.

Although the neo-Nazi movement was and remains essentially a street-gang organization whose target is street fights and property destruction against any progressive organization, either it is extraordinarily superficial analysis or deliberate distortion to dismiss it as 'just another criminal organization'. While the neo-Nazi gangs have been well known to the police for many years, while their members have been in prison for criminal activity, police almost always turn a blind eye and often collaborate with the neo-Nazis because ideologically the police are in agreement and also because neo-Nazi targets are either aliens or progressives that the police oppose and their superiors want crushed.

Moreover, the two mainstream political parties, PASOK, once center-left-now neo-liberal, and New Democracy, the conservative party now in power, have turned a blind eye to neo-Nazis along with the judicial system because Golden Dawn gangs' violent activity instills fear in many people wanting to support the progressive and leftists from staging demonstrations and protests. Neo-Nazis are just another tool for sociopolitical conformity, but also a counterweight to the rising leftist popularity.Clearly, the leftists are using the neo-Nazi rising popularity to mobilize voter support. However, this raises the question of a growing gap in centrist parties and growing political polarization that actually helps the right even more than it does the left, for the latter has always been part of the institutional mainstream.

Interestingly, the ruling parties, PASOK and New Democracy, along with the mainstream media, insist that there is no difference between neo-Nazi gangs beating up foreigners, destroying their property and terrorizing them so they can create a 'pure Hellenic society' (a vague and meaningless concept), on the one hand, and leftist workers demonstrating because their wages have been cut sharply or they have lost their jobs. In short, the neo-Nazis are the ideal cover for the ruling parties representing the EU that wants continuance with the austerity measures intended to hasten downward social mobility.

The Golden Dawn party received 5% of the vote in local Athens elections, mostly from urban neighborhoods with large population of immigrants. In June 2012, the neo-Nazis managed to have 18 members of parliament, of the total 300 elected from seven different parties. The most recent public opinion polls indicate that 22% of the voters trust the neo-Nazi leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos who has been in prison for extreme political activity resulting in beatings and explosives possession.

What is the ideological orientation of the neo-Nazis? There is no coherent ideology, but a string of incoherent ideas based on history and tradition, and underlying prejudices. Strong support of nationalism and Orthodox faith, which means adamant opposition to Islam and Judaism is at the core of Golden Dawn's ideas. Of course, it is difficult for any of the Golden Dawn officials to articulate their own beliefs, because they lack not just the educational level, but the capacity for rational thought. In fact, just as NAZI and Fascist ideologies were rooted in the irrational, thought and action, so is neo-Nazism.

Another neo-Nazi belief rests in conspiracy theories, namely, that the world operates as a result of conspiracies caused mostly by Zionists, backed by Americans who want to control the world. Xenophobia to the extreme degree means that Greek neo-Nazis have no qualms about using force to eliminate foreigners they see as 'polluting' the purity that is Greece, a nebulous concept they link to classical, Byzantine, as well as modern from the era of Independence in the 1820s.

Adamant opposition to gypsies, Communists, varieties of leftists, Liberals, traditional conservatives, feminists, social progressives advocating human rights, and intellectuals who advocate peace, social justice and human equality. While the neo-Nazis use symbols such as Hitler's photograph and the swastika, and writings from the German Nazi era, they are against modern Germany, for they want to return to the 1930s, instead of moving forward with corporate-directed globalization. Finally, like classical  Fascism and Nazism, neo-Nazism dismisses dialogue of differing ideas and believes in action rooted on violence.

Who are the supporters of the neo-Nazis? Financing comes from wealthy individuals, as does media support, given that at least one media organization is led by a tycoon who became wealthy transporting contraband items. That financing comes from wealthy individuals is not a surprise, nor is it a surprise that many lower middle class people pushed down to working class living standards are turning to neo-Naziism. It is true that there are also some workers who believe that the reason for the economic hardships, crime, neighborhood deterioration,  and all societal evils must be attributed to foreigners. If foreigners, the same foreigners who work the fields, construct buildings, work as domestic servants, and do other menial jobs for wages far less than Greeks earn, if these foreigners were to return to their countries, Greece would become Switzerland.

Given that roughly ten percent of the population in Greece is from another country, most of them as 'economic emigrants', primarily using Greece to cross over to Italy and beyond, the neo-Nazis have used this issue to scapegoat these people no differently than European Catholics scapegoated the Jews during the Black Death, or the Germans blamed the Jews and Communists for all the calamities of their country in the interwar era. Of course, we must keep in mind, the the cultural foundations as much for Nazism in the 1930s and for neo-Nazism in the 21st century already existed in society, just below the surface of 'democratic civility'. The Western World's distorted political economy and the anti-Islam political-cultural campaign of the last two decades has actually provided the pretext for the rise of neo-Nazis.
Entry point for many Muslims, most recently Syrian refugees, is Turkey. Those wishing to cross over into Greece pay anywhere from a few hundred euros to several thousands. Once they reach Greece, their goal is to make it into the West, but many are unable to do so, forced to work for 10-30 per day in the worst possible jobs that very few Greeks would take. Greek slumlords rent filthy cramped apartments to legal and illegal foreign nationals, mostly from Pakistan. As many as 30 may live in an apartment intended for two people, while the landlord charges between 100 and 180 per month per person. Not that the situation is dissimilar in many Western countries, but it is important to remember that the legal and illegal aliens are exploited not only by the employers who may or may not pay them the low wages, but from the landlord as well, without any legal recourse. Yet, it is precisely these people, mostly Muslims, that neo-Nazi Gold Dawn, including its elected officials target for beatings, some resulting in the occasional murder.

Amnesty International as well as other organizations have repeatedly warned about abuses of human rights, police brutality, xenophobia and racism in Greece. However, the result is a rise in racist tendencies, as the economy deteriorates and people that would never even consider supporting a disreputable neo-Nazi party are now strong advocates; a situation not much different that Germany in the early 1930s under the Weimar Republic. Otherwise respectable middle class people want blood, preferably foreign blood, though it is these same people who use cheap foreign labor in their homes, farms and workplace. Hence the prevalence of the irrational in human nature when the institutions precipitate major shifts in peoples' lives. Which brings me to the role of the IMF, EU and the banks in the rise of neo-Nazism.

Germany, which has been behind austerity more than any other nation or entity in the West and which has benefited to the tune of an estimated 30 to 60 billion euros, has been strongly condemnatory of Golden Dawn. Considering that many analysts regard austerity as a form of dictatorship and a catalyst to diluting democracy, the fear on the part of many Germans is that their policies may be contributing to the rise of neo-Nazism in Greece and perhaps elsewhere. Germany may try to control neo-Nazi activity in its own soil to contain anti-Western responses throughout the Muslim World, but the monetary, fiscal, trade, labor and social policies it is imposing on the rest of EU are strengthening neo-Nazism. 

In some respects, it is useful to view historical epochs as a mirror, and not to assume that the future is a line of upward progress, leaving the past behind without a trace. It is useful to reflect on what accounts for the dominant irrational tendencies in human and institutional behavior, even when such behavior leads to destruction of others, and by extension to ourselves. When I ask people why they support neo-Nazi movements, they almost always reply that they have no choice, as though it is their religion. Given that the mainstream political parties, moderate right, center and left have worn each other out to such a degree that a third force emerges to fill a gap that people believe will be their salvation, the messiah solution is to be expected not in the main, but in the extremes. Civil society has never had messiah solutions, for it is difficult enough trying to keep it civil, respectful of all people's basic human rights, and of social justice. The final lesson here to the faithful of neo-Nazism is that today's abuser may become tomorrow's victim; for neo-Nazi violence knows no boundaries.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012


On 9/11/2012, the anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy in New York and Washington, the US ambassador to Libya and three other diplomats were killed, apparently by a fanatic Islamic group, although this must be determined at some point. Naturally, Obama and top US officials as well as Libyans denounced the savage act of violence and promised stepped up security for all US facilities in Islamic countries. The cause of the violence, which actually extended to Egypt and it will  likely continue in other countries, was a fanatic anti-Islam film that insulted the prophet Mohammad and Muslims. The person (s) who made the film had every right to do so, given that freedom of thought in a pluralistic society must be protected. 

There is the question of what the US authorities would do under the Patriot Act, if a Muslim made a film that defamed Jesus Christ and Christian Western civilization? And I am not talking about a slick existentialist film like The Last Temptation, but an outright anti-Christian hate film. This is a question that has been raised in the last two decades, given that there have been burnings of the Koran, vehemently vitriolic speeches, writings, and broadcasts against Islam, using 'terrorism' as a thin veil for inciting prejudice and hatred, and a systematic policy of persecution not just by the US, but many of Western counties that violate the human rights of Muslims and where hate crimes take place by individuals and xenophobic groups. 

The tragedy that erased human lives must be condemned by all, including Muslims no matter how angry they may be with US policy of military intervention in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and the entire Middle East/North Africa that has been an obsession for US balance of power politics and a source of oil in the past sixty years. However, there is a larger question of hypocrisy here, the kind of hypocrisy that keeps repeating itself without end. Why the double-standard in the treatment of Muslims versus non-Muslims, and why use radical Islam as a pretext to a new Cold War-type policy that is ruinous for both the US and most certainly for the people on the receiving end? 

Another very important issue is that the US has been working with some  Islamists in Arab Spring uprisings to bring down regimes it does not favor, including those of Libya under colonel Qaddhafi and now Syria under Assad. Naturally, Obama and Clinton cannot reveal to the world what many know already, namely, that the US has been and continues to work with Islamists, while fighting the 'war on terror'. Let us not forget that the US once worked with al-Qaeda against the pro-Soviet secular regime in Afghanistan in the 1980's, and the goals of the US and al-Qaeda have been running parallel in many countries during the Arab Spring uprisings. In many respects, the US raised al-Qaeda to the monster that many millions perceive it to be, though in reality it is hardly as menacing, for it is hardly that organized, centralized or powerful.

Political Islamists with which the US often cooperates as well as fights as part of the larger 'war on terror' is at some level responsible for breeding violence. To what degree would political Islam be able to gain the kind of broad popular support if it were not for US intervention intended to achieve hegemony at various levels from economic to military in the Middle East? Political Islam is today an instrument of political expression, as it was in the late 19th century Egypt when the country was under British colonial rule. Political Islam produces disparate voices from moderate to fanatic, from non-violent to very violent amid the desperation to rid the Muslim world of secular West hegemony and influences. It is entirely possible that Salafist (Muslim fundamentalist) influences may have played a role, but to attribute everything to this group would be a stretch. Even the most recent anti-US protests in Libya, Egypt and Yemen are to some degree expressions of frustration that Arab Spring has not resulted in tangible benefits for the masses whose lives are no different now than they were two years ago.

This is not to say that Islamic political opportunists, including Salafists, are not using religion for their own ends. However, what feeds political Islam is the perpetual quest of the US and to a lesser degree Europe, to exploit and dominate the Middle East and North Africa; domination that translates into exploitation and gradual eradication of indigenous culture. One could rightly argue that the Chinese are just as involved with the Arab world and Africa, so why do we not see a Muslim movement against China that is interested in a business relationship under the market system, without pursuing an overall policy of hegemony that includes diluting, if not occasionally insulting the Islamic faith? Muslims know that despite its unfriendly relations with Muslims in its own country, China has no global 'war on terror' aimed at Muslims.

Does political Islam have to be rooted in violence owing to the legacy of the Christian crusades eight centuries ago, colonialism in the 19th and 20th century, neocolonialism since WWII? Islam was the first force of anti-colonial resistance in the Arab World, because there was no secular ideology to articulate political grievances. After centuries-long tradition of Islamic rule over society, political Islam is an inevitable development in the form of political parties trying to mobilize popular support and win control of the state. The debate of whether political Islam is or is not a legitimate extension of Muslim tradition is one that preoccupies mostly the West, though it is true that Muslims have also dealt with this issue. Naturally, political Islam was fine as long as the rulers were and some who remain Western puppets and permit natural resources and markets to be exploited by the West whose defense and foreign policy they follow. 

Political Islam became an anathema only when it was anti-Western, refusing to emulate the political, economic and cultural institutions of the West any more than embrace its values. Political Islam is questionable not because it is political, but because it is anti-West. A reasonable person would think that the US and the West would have learned their lesson in the last ten years in the Muslim World, namely, co-optation under Americanized institutions and values simply will not work, and it will definitely backfire as it has repeatedly, including in Iraq and Afghanistan. I am convinced that policymakers are smart people who know all of this, but what drives them is ideology behind which hide tangible policy and economic interests, especially defense contractors and energy companies.

 Religious Islam and Peace

Contrary to what many in the West believe, largely because the media and politicians have bombarded them with endless propaganda, Muslims are a people of peace, no different in their quest for survival on this planet than anyone else. They too bleed when punctured, they too feel tragedy when their sons and daughters are shot down by the military of an occupying force, whether that would be NATO, US, or Israeli. The quest to be treated humanely and with respect for their religious and national integrity, to preserve their cultural identity that the West has been violating for more than a century may seem unreasonable to some around the world, while others seek to demonize Islam and its followers. Having the West pay tribute and respect and collaborating with a few among the political and business elites in the Arab world while the average Muslim struggles to preserve cultural identity, ethnic integrity, economic and social justice is at the root of the problem of why a person committed to the faith of peace my use it to justify turning to violence.

What is Islam? Islam means voluntary submission or surrender to the Will of Allah, but it can also mean peace or safety, under Allah. This third monotheistic religion to come from the Middle East after Judaism and Christianity whose doctrinal roots Islam shares and respects, given that Abraham, Moses and Jesus are regarded as prophets. The Qur'an contains Allah's revelation as the prophet Mohammad delivered it to the faithful called Muslims. Besides the five pillars of Islam that make up the doctrinal foundation, the religion of Mohammad integrates faith and (Islamic) law, thus providing society with guidelines on all matters from worship to commerce and marriage. 

As all religions evolve and theologians provide their own interpretations, similarly Islam has undergone various interpretations in the past 14 centuries. The estimated 25% of the world's people that follow Islam do not fall into the exact same doctrinal mold any more than Christians or Jews. The interaction of Christians, Jews and Muslims was relatively harmonious from the rise and spread of Islam until the Christian crusades that marked the beginning of religious rivalry, behind which rested commercial ambitions to take over the long-distance trade routes that Muslims controlled along with the lucrative gold trade.

It seems to me that American and western politicians, journalists, academics and clergy should have been promoting peace and harmony among all people, especially after 9/11. Instead, they joined the jingoistic bandwagon of the fruitless and destructive 'war on terror' that has made a few corporations richer but without making the West any safer. Paying lip service to such concepts as peace, interfaith harmony, etc., so that one appears politically correct is not enough if it means conforming to the 'war on terror' policy which in essence focuses on augmenting popularity, strength, purses and prestige of certain narrow groups behind this policy. Engaging in anti-Islam rhetoric and justifying it by supporting the 'war on terror' only strengthens political Islam and feeds the cycle of violence.

While there are politicians, a few academics, journalists and clergy honestly committed to the goals of peace and harmony, mainstream political parties, the mass media and organized religion have failed to deliver in practice on what they claims as a key doctrine, namely, peace and harmony. This is because division of people, nationalities, religious and ethnic groups sells and permits  those delivering the message of hatred to benefit. In short, conflict results in profits, power and prestige, though it carries many risks as well.

Americans have every right to ask the question of how can this attack on US nationals take place in a country the US helped 'liberate', in Benghazi that was a pro-US stronghold during the uprising, and on the anniversary of 9/11. They also have every right to honest answers about US government tactics and goals in Libya during the civil war and since then. Listening to Hilary Clinton and Barak Obama speak about the tragedy in Libya, it simply confirms that the US government is not about to change course of failed militaristic policies of the past, policies I fear that will bring a great deal more violence in the region, no matter how much the US tells the world that its only goal is freedom and democracy.

This is not to say that those who committed the acts of violence should not be pursued and tried under Libyan court of law. Nevertheless, I am guessing that Washington's decision will be to adopt an even more hardline toward Islamic nations in general that do not cooperate with the US, especially given the pressure from Republicans amid the heated campaign season, and Israeli pressure to strike at Iran.  In short, a policy not so different from the past. Therefore, the cycle of violence will continue and probably intensify.

The worst is yet to come in the Middle East, and not just because Islam the religion of peace has been subverted into political Islam of fanaticism owing solely to internal factors. I want to conclude by reminding the reader of something attributed to Albert Einstein.  Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. If you have conducted an experiment and it has conclusively failed, would you keep repeating the same experiment to achieve the same failed results? It seems that in US foreign policy, the exact same failed experiment is repeated so that can yield the exact same failed result, but for reasons that make political and economic sense to certain narrow interest groups. Finally, just as the culture of the Cold War worked to engender institutional conformity, today the culture of  "the war on terror" (anti-Islam) works in the exact same manner.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012


Introduction: Cultural Hegemony in Marxian and anti-Marxian Thought

We live in the most difficult times since the Great Depression. Just as in the Great Depression when there was political polarization and weakening of bourgeois parliamentary democracy but no revolution, similarly in the early 21st century there is no sign of social uprisings in the Western World undergoing a crisis in the political economy and bourgeois institutions. Why is it that the masses remain docile, a segment gravitating to the extreme right, another segment going as far as street protests, while most remain apathetic? If the political economy does not determine human behavior, is cultural hegemony responsible for shaping the human mind?

In 'sociological Marxism', a theory that assumes society runs parallel to economy and state and rejects economic determinism, Marxian intellectual Antonio Gramsci, Karl Polanyi and others were among early 20th century thinkers who developed a theory of cultural domination. Arguing that ideological superstructures (institutions both secular and religious, public and private) dominate to influence the human mind that they did not see as mechanistic, these thinkers placed the class structure in the context of cultural hegemony that is the product of bourgeois constructs rather than an inevitable or natural consequence as mainstream thinkers argue.

Another dimension to understanding cultural hegemony and the evolution of political systems is through the work of Barrington Moore's Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy (1966). Moore examines how social structures under an agrarian and industrial political economy produces certain political outcomes in different parts of the world, focusing on the violence preceding the evolution of 'democratic' (bourgeois) institutions. A sociopolitical revolutionary break with the past comes only after there has been an economic transformation that alters social relations. Moore made famous the statement "no bourgeoisie, no democracy", which of course explains the 19th and 20th centuries, but it leaves questions about the decline of the bourgeoisie in the early 21st century and what that entails for democracy.

While Gramsci, Polanyi and Moore analyzed the dynamics of social class, political economy, social discontinuity, and the role of cultural hegemony from a rationalist or scientific perspective, Richard Rorty, an American philosopher who represented the new generation of right-wingers from the Reagan to the Bush presidencies returned to the assumptions of Thomas Hobbes and Edmund Burke regarding the irrationality of human nature and the conspiratorial nature of demagogue intellectuals preaching revolution in order to improve society and human beings; an otherwise unachievable goal. Besides perpetuating cultural hegemony instead of trying to understand it and suggesting ways for a more socially just society, such a philosophy is intended to reject a rationalist or scientific method of analyzing social class and political economy. The propagandist and populist nature of  Rorty's philosophy captured the imagination of other populist conservatives throughout the media and political world.

Conservatism, especially in its extreme and especially when it comes from what the mainstream baptizes respectable academic, sells and it sells big with a segment of the population that is suspicious of intellectuals, identifying as 'elitist' that have no connection to the 'common man'. Because conservatism, especially in its populist form, has been an integral part of cultural hegemony that resonates with a receptive audience already indoctrinated in the cultural mainstream. When someone like Rorty or populist talk-show personalities argue that the new Left intelligentsia has been obsessed with castigating the US for having an institution of slavery, a history of racism toward minorities, a militaristic policy that proved unpopular with the War in Vietnam, etc., a large segment with strong nationalist tendencies identifies with such rhetoric and becomes anti-revolutionary. This is the ultimate triumph of cultural hegemony when the masses at whose expense policies are implemented adopt an ideological position contrary to their own interests.

Belaboring the negative institutional traits of society to radically change society is an anathema to Rorty and those promoting cultural hegemony, while true salvation is to be found in working within the system, accepting cultural hegemony that entails institutional conformity. Just like the early Cold War when there was systematic persecution of dissidents from Hollywood to academia and research laboratories, including that of Robert Oppenheimer (Manhattan Project), similarly in the early 21st century there is a major shift toward that political climate of quasi-police state, helped along by cultural hegemony.

Bourgeois Values and Indoctrination of the Masses

Does the dominant, or hegemonic social class and the political elites representing that class in pluralistic societies under the guise of 'democracy' have the ability to perpetuate the facade of 'democracy' behind which operates an economic dictatorship, an increasingly anti-labor and quasi-police  state whose role is to prevent social change? As long as cultural hegemony is effective in shaping the concept of self (Louis Althusser) for the masses, and as long as the masses identify their interests with the dominant social and political class, the facade of democracy and bourgeois culture works to prevent social revolution, even reform that has the potential of leading toward greater social justice.

Cultural hegemony explains modern-day reluctance on the part of workers and the declining lower middle class to resist through revolutionary means. Is it possible that a social revolution is not taking place in the Western World and especially across southern and much of eastern Europe where austerity is devastating the middle class and workers because people have accepted bourgeois values, ideology and institutions to which they see no alternative better than the existing one no matter how horrible it may be? What are some of those values indoctrinated into the minds of the masses, including leftists?

1. Working within the parliamentary system to find solutions to societal problems, because working outside such a framework entails absence of legitimacy as bourgeois society defines it, and the risk of lapsing into chaos if revolution follows means personal and societal disaster.

2. Ardent belief in individualism as the norm and the categorical rejection of communitarian values as deviation from the norm. In practice, this means that if you are rich, it is owing to the merits of your character, not because you have found the key legally or illegally to engage in the process of capitalist appropriation. By contrast, if you are poor, it is your fault, not institutional, because you must lack some trait that prevents you from making it in the open society that offers institutional opportunities to all who become rich. Therefore, the institutional structure is 'objective' and thus blameless for the fate of the individual and the multitudes of poor.

3. If the economy is contracting, it is because you and those like you have been living too well in the past, while under-producing, so now you must pay - this is especially true if you are a public employee, generally assumed lazy and overpaid, if not corrupt assuming you have a position that lends itself to making money under the table. In short, upward social mobility experienced in the past must be moderated through the process of downward social mobility for society to find balance, so the workers and middle class must sacrifice for the whole of society, when in reality the sacrifices are intended to strengthen finance capital.

4. If the economy and the state fiscal structure is on the wrong course, it is your fault for immersing in consumerist greed, debt-spending, or not spending enough to stimulate the consumer-based economy, and not paying your fair share of taxes that accounts for your predicament and that of the rest of society. How do all of these contradictory things make sense is in itself fascinating and that people believe it even more so.

The answer rests  in cultural hegemony. Specifically, it has to do with massive advertising as well as the media whose role is to inculcate bourgeois values along with bourgeois guilt into people's heads. The rest of the institutions, from churches to schools, play a contributing role in the process of shaping the mind and identity, thus the entire society is bathing in the worldview of the bourgeois economic and political elites that transfer blame downward toward the masses, arguing that in an open society people have freely chosen their leaders and institutions, when in reality those have been superimposed.

5. When the economy is on the wrong tract, politicians are to blame and almost rarely business that the political class serves. For example, a recent US public opinion poll finds that 66% blame the lack of economic and job growth on 'bad policy;, while only 23% blame Wall Street, despite the well-publicized 'Occupy Wall Street' movement. In short, the vast majority of people trust the corporate structure because they identify it with the 'national interest', while they mistrust politicians who in essence are the servants of the corporate structure.This process is also part of cultural hegemony.

6. Cultural hegemony is triumphant because the irrational is triumphant in human nature. It is a myth, perhaps dating back to Lockean philosophy and its influence on Enlightenment thinkers that influenced 19th century socialists including Marx, that human beings are rational and act as such, implying that in cases of social revolution the motivation and intent of those following revolutionary leaders is rooted on idealism.

As much as I regard reprehensible the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes who opposed the English Civil War of the 1640s and the counter-revolutionary Edmund Burke who opposed the French Revolution, there is something to be said about their keen observations regarding human nature manifesting itself in revolutionary times. Is it not the case that the rupture in cultural hegemony took place during the course of the Enlightenment that challenged the status quo, thus providing a sense of legitimacy to the revolution? After Locke was the first philosopher to make a rational case for revolution and he was a major influence on the French in 1789. In short, cultural hegemony has limitations because it is always challenged, and when that challenge reaches a substantial number of people and the nature of the challenge converges with the realities in peoples' lives, a segment of them will challenge the status quo.

Cultural Hegemony Lessons for the 21st Century

The lessons of cultural hegemony from the past should be applied today, as we look at those who want revolutionary action, but shy away from it. What motivates some to protest, others to adopt a more militant position, and the vast majority to do absolutely nothing except complain to their family and friends? Has cultural hegemony suppressed any sense of idealism of aiming toward social justice? Is the majority of the population immersed in 'bourgeois pragmatism' - paying bills for now, taking care of family, satisfying immediate needs and trying to advance their careers in the age of careerism that cultural hegemony promotes?

If people are facing a bleak future for themselves and their children unless they embrace the institutional structure, how can they possibly unhinge from cultural hegemony, which is all they hear and see in the media, and in any institutional or social setting? How can people break away from bourgeois values and practices? This sense of 'bourgeois pragmatism' is also an integral part of the brainwashing process, to be absolutely crude about it, given that indeed this is a result of multifarious forces from society and the result of long-term historical and traditional (religious and secular) influences.

This concept of bourgeois pragmatism that has its roots in the 19th century, made a return in the 1980s onwards with Richard Rorty among others who adamantly opposed social revolution, any more than they believed in redemption of human beings or their progress through revolution. Unlimited freedom and allowing people to muddle through their problems is what these advocates of 'bourgeois pragmatism' favored; in short, early 19th century-style social and economic conditions.

Downward Social Mobility vs. Cultural Hegemony

In the past three decades, the Western World has been experiencing uneven income distribution in favor of the top ten percent of the population, mostly at the expense of the bottom two thirds of the people many of whom considered themselves an integral part of the middle class and democratic society. All the studies that have been conducted indicate that downward social mobility have gone hand in hand with the decline of the welfare state and the rapid rise of corporate welfare under the neoliberal model during the age of globalization. In 2010, the Federal Reserve affirmed that the economic contraction entailed that the median American family experienced a living standard comparable to the early 1990s, wiping away two decades of gains. With stocks too risky for many small investors and savings accounts paying little interest, building up a nest egg is a challenge even for those who can afford to sock away some of their money.

From 2008 until the present, the situation I am describing became much worse, and it is expected to deteriorate in the remainder of the decade, as structural unemployment hovers around 10% in Europe and around 8% in the US. If we consider structural underemployment, we have a picture that approximate Great Depression levels, considering that the combined unemployment and underemployment figures account for an estimate 20% of the workforce in the US and a bit higher in Europe. For example, one-third of all Americans between 18 and 29 are underemployed, receiving very low pay, invariably without benefits of a full time worker. One would think that such dire conditions would shake the foundations of bourgeois society. On the contrary, with the exception of some street protests throughout the Western World, a small percentage going to the extreme right (varieties of neo-Fascism), the institutional structure appears sound, at least for now, with no guarantees how long it will remain so.

Arab Spring and Cultural Hegemony

If cultural hegemony works to prevent social change, how do we account for Arab Spring revolts? If by the word 'revolution' we mean systemic change, then Arab Spring revolts did not result in systemic change. If by the word 'revolution' we imply grassroots, then Arab Spring revolts do not fall in this category, because there was heavy outside interference, especially in the cases of Libya and Syria.

It is true that political change has resulted, but it is not institutional change by any means where Arab Spring has taken root. Still, how do we explain that an otherwise 'traditional' religious society, somewhat influenced by modern secular culture and using high tech communications, manage to have a segment of its population mobilize for change, albeit limited to political regime and with external political, financial and military interference? Does Arab Spring prove that the cultural hegemony theory is wrong, or does it validate it, and what are the lessons for the rest of the world's grassroots movements?

Arab Spring was a revolt against secular, one-party state regimes that lacked legitimacy from the ruling population and represented a notion of sovereignty identified with the early Cold War instead of the 21st century. Muslims rebelled against such regimes to bring change that would reflect traditional values and practices through domestic and foreign policy that their governments did not represent. Cultural hegemony actually worked to promote Arab Spring, given that the rebels by far wanted a return to Muslim roots and social justice within Muslim institutions.

One reason we fail to see progress on women's issues, and democracy and human rights, as the West defines those concepts, is precisely because cultural hegemony, especially in the context of 'political Islam' operated all along behind Arab Spring. Political Islam, the mixing of religion and politics, has alienated a segment of the Middle East-North African population, but it remains the principal dynamic in Arab cultural hegemony. 


Some thinkers assume that more than anything people crave safety and security, and on the fears of those cultural hegemony rests. Some argue that actualizing their potential is just as important for human beings, but this entails having an institutional structure that permits and promotes those possibilities. I have argued in the past that revolution is possible in this century. Many factors have to converge for a revolution to take place. It is true that revolutions rarely take place amid economic contractions, but economic hard times eventually prepare the stage for uprisings that may fester in the minds of people for many years before they act. Modern technology has made it possible for cultural hegemony to be challenged, but real conditions (socioeconomic status and lack of prospects for a better future) in peoples' lives must be such that they will free themselves of cultural hegemony's grip to embrace social change.