With the rise of the Bolsonaro government, the old notion of cultural hegemony, long aged in the oak barrels of the left field, was revived. It stems from two apparently contradictory statements in Marx. The first suggests that social antagonism could be overcome, generating a situation in which culture, as a device for positioning social contradictions and formalizing languages, would be without ideological mediations.
Despite its strategic importance, this conjecture presents itself as impossible to realize. The second thesis argues that the field of culture is not only a reflection of economic class relations, it also admits more transformative or more conservative configurations. In this sense there would be a permanent dispute between the different social groups in search of which cultural expression would best express universality, vectoring and hierarchizing cultural patterns.
Typically this would be expressed by the subordination of popular, peripheral or alternative culture to university, intellectual or scholarly culture. In the second sense, cultural hegemony is not a task that has the impossible on its horizon, but a kind of game or strategy that works as a way to establish the politics of emancipation. During this war of positions, tactical alliances and historical and local contingencies make it unclear who is really contributing to the maintenance of their particular privileges and who is fighting for the universalization of freedom and justice.
The first sense of cultural hegemony is linked to a kind of all or nothing, possible or impossible (then called revolution). The second sense of cultural hegemony is linked to the contingent and the idea that politics is about gambling where you never really know who is representing whom.
Italian theorist Antonio Gramsci took both meanings of cultural hegemony and applied them to understand the role of intellectuals in culture, more specifically within parties. As revolutionary hope declined throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the left shifted its axis from economic and labor claims to the human rights struggle for reducing inequality in income distribution. Increasingly also focused on the concentration of social and cultural capital.
This also changed the purpose of the struggle: not only to take possession of the state, but to consider the notion of the state as expanded, including everything of public and common interest. The function of the party intellectual, or organic intellectual, was to think of society from the standpoint of its entirety. But this was gradually replaced by specific intellectuals, concentrated in their increasingly technical domain, a movement that was accompanied by the professionalization of teaching and research activities.
Gramsci left two important heirs in the 2000s, Argentine Ernesto Laclau and Belgian Chantal Mouffe. Radical democracy theorists, they were responsible for revising the understanding of what class struggle is. They noted that the expression of identities and the struggle for their recognition both as state policies and in everyday micro-policies have become decisive. This has made the understanding of cultural struggle applied to an increasingly complex society from the standpoint of recognition grammars and more hybrid from the standpoint of identity experience.
The very meaning of the political struggle has shifted here, losing importance to the party's organizational and directive power, and gaining momentum in politics based on communities or demands organized by floating positions, with great attention to the statements that organize them.
Therefore, in 2010, when politics began to take into account the digital factor, this occurred relatively late. A new cultural hegemony was formed marked by the mismatch between the process of institutions, with their verticalities and hierarchies, with their precarious systems of representation and distancing, against a new emerging organization of people in communities of taste and belief, with their horizontalities and contempt for established authorities, with a strong emphasis on expression and great suspicion about the world of representation and its impostures.
The dispute for cultural hegemony takes on global proportions on a new platform. The impossible idea of overcoming mediations and the strength of the revolutionary project takes on a completely new configuration. From then on the concept of ideology is redefined with the help of Lacan's ideas. It is no longer about fixed theses or ideas, which would themselves be critical or ideological, as if there were a clear and distinct boundary between politics and non-politics. Ideology now resides in the use or articulation of a discourse.
Initially critical theses may admit an ideological use, according to the discourse in which they are inscribed. Slogans or significant masters become more effective in politics than government concepts and programs. New influencers emerge as agglutinators of demands and carriers of empty signifiers, confirming the Laclau-Mouffe hypothesis.
Network movements, digital resistances, access to scientific and literary databases, cheapening and simplification of public and private knowledge, which in less than ten years achieved the largest cultural inclusion in modern history. From then on anyone becomes a potential cultural producer, with tools to treat image, disseminate texts, produce videos and interfere in public debates.
Culture and the creative economy become part of the universe of entrepreneurship. This is also where the proletariat changes its name. No longer the workers and their potential force of resistance, but the chronic unemployed, the immigrants, the hungry without a voice, the wandering zombies of consumption, the killable lives, in short, the Jokers that multiply everywhere.
In this precise context the idea of cultural hegemony is rescued to describe a set of heterogeneous positions: domain of leftist thinking in Brazilian universities, policy of treating addiction through harm reduction, gender education in schools, museum exhibitions with themes. the role of the state in the cultural and scientific promotion, social movements of women, black, peripheral, homosexual, indigenous and other minorities.
The rhetoric of war was appropriated to describe a sense contrary to what it had in the early context of cultural hegemony. Rather than being a way of including more people in the democratic process, ie a radicalization and universalization of economic, social and cultural goods, it is the expansion of war between individuals, each aiming for its own democracy for its own condominium. .
The digital cultural hegemony of the right was recently mapped by Folha. Right-wing sites have more subscribers and are more exclusive. Those who attend them do not attend the "free" press (… quae sera tamen), but are empowered by self-confirmation. Its archimedean point is the historical prototype of ideology, namely religion, especially result-based religion. Your truth is the posttruth.
All of this will be found in Olavo de Carvalho's writings on the "Gramscinian" danger, in Bolsonaro's speech at the UN, in his closed eyes to the corruption that runs wild through his Queiróz's oranges.
In other words, the Brazilian operation of digital cultural hegemony consists of returning to the 1970s, resurrecting the communist danger (which inhabits the grandparents' imaginary of the first generation of digital natives), suggesting that "they" want to dominate the world, use to justify the rhetoric of violence in the name of the salvation of children and women, turning into political ideology anything that is not genuinely and genuinely linked to family and traditional values.
Once convinced, the subject will do all that Gramsci predicted, only the other way around: he will vote against his class interests, he will believe in flat land, he will advocate school without a party (or home schooling), he will subject intellectuals to common sense, he will denounce every elite as privileged… except herself.
Once immersed in this illusion the subject will believe Marx's thesis that a power exercised without mediation is possible: he speaks directly and authentically of the sovereign with his people. Direct expression without representation, which will become virtually possible through features such as Twitter. By reversing the theorists of radial democracy he will believe that he has finally overcome social antagonism and since then the impossible is possible and the contingent is necessary.
Balance of the tragedy: Digital inclusion has introduced millions of hitherto excluded people into the political debate, while letting the "organic intellectuals" of neo-Pentecostal hegemony treat culture as a mere matter of taste and belief. We have since been subjected to the cultural hegemony of the New Brazilian Tosco.