Althusser, Gramsci and Machiavelli – Us and Us

Couple (I)-Bela KadarDebate in the geograsphere. Jon Beasley-Murray published a riff on Louis Althusser’s Machiavelli and Us saying he detects a post-hegemonic streak in Althusser’s take on Machiavelli with an emphasis on the aleatory, contingent, and the conjunctural rather than a “telos of the nation state.” Adam Morton takes issue with the interpretation, saying it veers too far from the text and ignores the conceptual methodology of the book, concluding that a “move towards a posthegemonic politics should be resisted.” Beasley-Murray responds saying that Morton neglects how aspects of the text are in “sync with the late Althusser’s aleatory materialism of the encounter” in an effort to dismiss posthegemonic politics altogether. Morton says that what’s in and what’s not in the texts is precisely the problem with posthegemony, arguing, for instance, that Beasley-Murray’s notion of “posthegemony” is based on a simplistic and incomplete understanding of how Antonio Gramsci theorized hegemony. And that’s really the rub here.

Beasley-Murray’s riff on Machiavelli and Us was to suggest that Althusser—despite his own best efforts—was stumbling toward posthegemony. Beasley-Murray admits his ideas of posthegemony are built more via Laclau and Mouffe than through Gramsci, claiming for instance that hegemony privileges consent over coercion (Perry Anderson makes the same point). Morton says this is part of the problem, arguing that Gramsci’s concepts can’t be taken dualistically and hierarchically (political/civil society, consent/coercion, etc.), but must be understood dialectically, which Morton claims is how Gramsci himself developed and conceived them. A related point is how any one of Gramsci’s concepts evolves and changes as he continues working his way through his notebooks. The problem is that this debate about “hegemony vs posthegemony” is stuck or will talk past itself until there’s a more sustained and direct engagement from the “post-‘s” with Gramsci’s own work—a point underscored by Gastón Gordillo [PDF] and admitted by Beasley-Murray.

This entry was posted in Antonio Gramsci, Dialectics, Hegemony, Historical Materialism, Marxism, Nation/Nationalism, Niccolo Machiavelli, Power, The State. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Althusser, Gramsci and Machiavelli – Us and Us

  1. Teo Ballvé says:

    Jon Beasley-Murray has another–and I think final–addition:

  2. Jon says:

    Thanks for this. To a large extent, I agree with you: in response to Morton, I’ve been consistently arguing for more careful reading. And I do think it’s worth reading Gramsci more carefully. On the other hand, I don’t think that a discussion of posthegemony needs to (or even should) revolve around the exegesis of Gramsci as holy writ. Which is why my book talks about much else besides.

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  4. John Seed says:

    “The problem is that this debate about “hegemony vs posthegemony” is stuck or will talk past itself until there’s a more sustained and direct engagement from the “post-’s” with Gramsci’s own work…” Well, maybe. But maybe the debate is much more profoundly stuck until it engages with historical and contemporary realities. In other words, concepts can only be developed via empirical analysis and then further discussion and thinking. So what are we talking about?

    • Jon says:

      Hi, John. You’ll find that in my book there are all sorts of engagements with “historical and contemporary realities,” from Argentine Peronism to the contemporary “Left Turns.” I try to show, quite concretely, how a posthegemonic perspective illuminates and is informed by such empirical analysis.

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