The “House Swap” (go here: moving from a big house to a little house) has meant that I get to handle, if not look at or read the accumulations of some 50 years or more of my mostly uninterrupted personal encounters with ideas. The San Luis house that we were leaving to our children and grandchildren was stuffed with our hoard of papers and books, not yet consumed by our own population of Tampa termites, but still somehow intact and lying down filling some 10 metal filing cabinets or standing upright on Billy (IKEA) bookshelves, the shelves covering two of the 40 by 10 foot high wall spaces of our Grande Salle.
Moving from San Luis to Santiago we had to move, and somehow empty our children’s house of the accumulated books and papers. And as we were not going to dump them at the local library or Salvation Army facility we had to take them with us. Maybe the day will come when we will have the time and the inclination to sell them on eBay, certainly my Russian and Italian collections. In any case the books are now and again on Billy shelves here with us, touched only as much as was necessary during the move but still not looked at closely, and not examined and read. And the papers and magazines, also here with us, are piled up on various desks, tables and other surfaces, waiting to be looked at and given a proper place in our new living quarters.
And that’s what I’m doing this morning, at a card table next to my desk, getting a start on one of those piles of papers and magazines. Looking, as always, for ideas. And there’s more than enough in the way of subjects on the single card table in front of me to monopolize the years I have still to live, even if that number is 100 or more. (Will I ever see a quatrevingtdixans.net, or a centans.net? —What about that “s”? Should there by one after cent?)
I right away set aside these items from the pile, 3 Boston Reviews, 4 Scientific Americans, 1 Harvard Magazine, 1 National Geographic with “What Darwin Didn’t Know” on the cover, an old copy of a St. John’s College Catalogue, an Utne Reader with “How to keep your mind alive for life,” and a monograph, Darwin and Humboldt: Their Lives and Work. The next item was a Policy Review of December/January 2001, This one I didn’t set aside, but picked up, opened up, and am now reading an article, “Why There is a Culture War, Gransci and Tocqueville in America” by John Fonte.
Fonte speaks of two very different levels of political activity in America. Although on the surface the country’s politicians do seem to want to converge on the center there lies underneath their respective positions a deeper ideological conflict, that between Tocquevillians and Gramscians who seem to clash on almost everything that matters.
In Fonte’s own words:
“Tocquevillians believe that there are objective moral truths applicable to all people at all times. Gramscians believe that moral “truths” are subjective and depend upon historical circumstances. Tocquevillans believe that these civic and moral truths must be revitalized in order to remoralize society. Gramscians believe that civic and moral “truths” must be socially constructed by subordinate groups in order to achieve political and cultural liberation. Tocquevillians believe that functionaries like teachers and police officers represent legitimate authority. Gramscians believe that teachers and police officers “objectively” represent power, not legitimacy. Tocquevillians believe in personal responsibility. Gramscians believe that “the personal is political.” In the final analysis, Tocquevillians favor the transmission of the American regime; Gramscians, its transformation.”
Fonte goes on to say that for more than two centuries America has been an “exceptional” nation, one whose restless entrepreneurial dynamism has been tempered by patriotism and a strong religious-cultural core. This he names Tocquevillianism. And he says that an ultimate triumph of Gramscianism would mean the end of this “exceptionalism.” And that America would at last become Europeanized: — that is, statist, thoroughly secular, post-patriotic, and concerned with group hierarchies and group rights in which the idea of equality before the law as traditionally understood by Americans would finally be abandoned.
While reading this account I ask myself is the opposition that Fonte makes between Gramscians and Tocquevillians applicable to what’s going on right now in the country, corresponding to the ideological differences between the followers of Trump and Clinton? And also when we bring Sanders into the mix we do have pretty much a Tocquevillian right with Trump, a center with Clinton, and a Gramscian left with Sanders, while realizing of course that now with Sanders out of the race Clinton may very well move a bit to the left to fill in the ideological vacancy left by his withdrawal?
What’s wrong of course with my applying Fonte’s ideas to the present ideological battles between our own politicians is the fact that the thinking of both men, Gramsci and to a lesser extent Tocqueville, is probably unknown to our politicians, certainly unknown to Donald Trump, who as far as I know, seems to get his best ideas from the National Enquirer, but also although to a probably much lesser extent Hillary Clinton.
What’s right with my application of Fonte’s ideas to the present political leaders is that the opposition he makes between the two world views, that between the Tocquevillian trinity of American exceptionalism desceribed as; (1) dynamism, or support for equality of individual opportunity, entrepreneurship, and economic progress; (2) religiosity or emphasis on character development, mores, and voluntary cultural associations that works to contain any excessive individual egoism that dynamism may foster; and (3) patriotism or love of country, self-government, and support for constitutional limits, and then the other view, the Gramscian-Hegelian world view, possessing a group-based morality, or the idea that what is moral is what serves the interests of “oppressed” or “marginalized” ethnic, racial, and gender groups.
These two world views do seem to be underlying the positions of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, or at least the views we hear from the loudest and most articulate of their followers. Trump’s dynamism, religion, and patriotism, Clinton’s morality in the service of ethnic, racial and gender groups. While the candidates themselves would probably not agree with the opposed world views as applied to them, they would probably accept their, respective positions in support of evangelical religion and patriotism (Trump being with the Tea Partiers in this regard) and support of minority causes (Clinton and the left of center Democrats).
It’s left to be seen whether or not in this present electoral campaign the stakes are, as John Fonte would have it, enormous. Writing in December of 2000 his words were: “Beneath the surface of our seemingly placid times, the ideological, political, and historical stakes are enormous.” Just how enormous?