Political consciousness is the self-consciousness of being in an active and purposive engagement with society and with history – an engagement that is both the product of such consciousness and the ground that gives rise to it. Philosophy becomes ‘real’ when it develops into a ‘determinate hegemonic force,’ that is, when it has become the consciousness of the people who as a consequence feel and perceive themselves as a determinate force. The realisation of philosophy, the consciousness of being a political force, is the transformation of a subordinate, particularistic mass of disaggregated individuals into a leading and hegemonic subject whose thought and values have become the prevailing conception of the world.
Thus the generation of the democratic philosopher, and the coming-to-be of a subaltern group into a popular hegemonic force, demand the ‘political development of the concept of hegemony,’ which is equivalent – in opposition to the Crocean notion of the ‘corrupt philosophy’ – to ‘a great philosophical advance as well as a political-practical one. For it necessarily presupposes and involves an intellectual unity and an ethic in conformity with a conception of reality that has moved beyond and overcome the common sense [of the established modi di pensare [modes of thought]] and that has become, if only within the narrow limits, critical thought.’ This developmental process whereby a group assumes a hegemonic and leading role in society is one that requires the emergence of an organic intellectual within the masses themselves such that the relation intellectual-people adumbrates and summarises the meaning of the democratic philosopher. The relation intellectual-people is given by the teacher-student paradigm where the unity resulting from the interaction of the two entities is transformed, and resolves itself, into the unity of the two moments theory/practice, or philosophy/politics: thus ‘filosofico oltre che political-practico’ [philosophy as well as political-practical]. It is this totality constituted by the interacting moments of thought and action, philosophy and politics, that describes the Gramscian concept of hegemony. This totality implies the ‘absolute historicism’ and the ‘absolute laicism’ of the philosophy of praxis, an orientation aptly and concisely summarised by Marx’s ‘Theses on Feurbach.’
Benedetto Fontana, Hegemony & Power: On the Relation between Gramsci and Machiavelli p32-3.
Currently this is my favourite book and you’re probably (definitely) going to see my spewing out a few more quotes from it in the new future. The print is pretty big for an academic book too, bonus!
Gramsci writes a lot on the concept of hegemony and I tend to find that there’s a tendency for some Marxists to discount the notion of hegemony in the cultural sense and focus on it in the more Leninist interpretation as predominately referring to class leadership. This book by Fontana brilliantly explicates the dialectical relationship of cultural hegemony and class hegemony that makes the two inseparable for the Marxist’s project.
This quote also touches on Gramsci’s stance towards the relationship of intellectual and the people, and teacher to student and how this relates to the idea of the democratic philosopher. In relation to Croce, an Italian liberal intellectual who viewed philosophy as purer when rarefied and conducted by separated superiors who are not a part of nor product of mass culture, Gramsci’s stance is antithetical: the position of the intellectual is to be a product of the people, to interact with and learn from them. The democratic philosopher is not a static individual, separated from the people and therefore purer in their intuited conclusions, but instead fundamentally must function within mass society and function as a part of it both to have their understanding guided by their relations but to also take agency as a participant within the structuring of that society. The distinction between an active Marxist philosopher who must be an agent of change as well as philosopher, versus the bourgeois intellectual who interacts with only the intellectual class and has a distaste of mass society.