Blogs > Liberty and Power > Building an Incredible Revolution

Nov 20, 2004 2:46 pm

Building an Incredible Revolution

David M. Brown comments on my comments on his comments about"The Incredibles." I had stated that"illustrated media and pop culture are both prime areas for affecting (and reflecting) wider ideological change. Libertarians and individualists need to think more seriously about how to affect that change in entertaining projects that are as widely viewed and praised" as the film in question. In response, Brown makes a very good point here:
Dr. Sciabarra is right. But it's not quite a matter of hatching a plausible cultural-change game plan. Brad Bird and the other folks who made"The Incredibles" tapped a seemingly endless supply of imagination and talent, and comedic timing, and brio, along with whatever other virtues had to be enlisted to produce such swell stuff.
But maybe nurturing our own talents and potential is the ultimate secret ingredient of cultural and ideological change anyway. If we believe in certain things, it's going to show up in our expressive work. But all-important is making sure the work is good, and good as a matter of personal pride and independent vision. And as we see in"The Incredibles,""society" tends to be better off, too, when the individual aspires to admirable heights for his own sake.

There's a reason why this is important. I have been arguing here and elsewhere that politics is not a primary, but an effect of certain extra-political (social and cultural) preconditions. It's one of the reasons I have been profoundly critical of the neoconservative project to bring"democracy" to the Middle East, without those necessary preconditions in place. But that same principle is operative in the United States, where any attempt to change political institutions must proceed on certain social and cultural preconditions. That's why the"Culture War" is so important: because the warriors are arguing over the nature of those preconditions. Are they secular? Are they religious? Are they some mixture thereof? Either or neither, one or both, the point is that the preconditions need to be understood, analyzed, discussed, and debated.

But what must also be emphasized is this: Only the most constructivist among us could possibly believe that cultural change is simply implemented like some Five Year Plan. If we want to change an ideological culture, for example, there will be a delicate exchange among our intended actions (producing books, columns, novels, artworks, etc.) and the unintended consequences of those actions. Ultimately, Brown is right: Each of us needs to nurture our own talents and potentials, not necessarily because we wish to be cultural warriors, but because we have convictions that we wish to express. And if enough of us share those convictions, it will be possible to continue creating and extending a subculture of freedom that can permeate established cultural institutions and forms and the vehicles of popular culture as well. That is how a dominant cultural trend emerges ... not as a top-down edict from Court Intellectuals, not as an enforced Maoist Cultural Revolution, but as a long-term spontaneous development from the efforts of real, concrete individual men and women.

Some on the Left have understood this need to transform culture, spontaneously as it were. And it's the kind of"left-liberal" transformation that has most likely led to the religious reaction we have seen over the last several years. I wrote about this in my book Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism:

Some socialist theorists recognized the logical contradiction of using the state as a vehicle for human liberation. The Italian Marxist, Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937), distrusted the state's ability to transform society. He thought that the institutions of civil society, which were distinct from the state, could enable people to transcend the coercive character of the state. By augmenting civil institutions, Gramsci argued that coercion would become superfluous as a strategic device. For Gramsci, capitalism would not perish until all spontaneous social forces were fully developed. The hegemony of capitalist institutions could be traced primarily to extra-political power structures, which act in unison to bolster political authority. The"ideological state apparatuses" of religion, education, family, law, communication, culture, political parties and trade unions all helped to maintain the predominance of capitalism. An alternative socialist system could not emerge without attaining a" counter-hegemony" in all these institutions. This"bloc of historical forces" could only develop"within the womb of the old society.”
Gramsci favored the primacy of ideological spheres over economic structures, and of civil society over political society. Hence, a political movement without corresponding cultural change is bound to fail, in Gramsci’s view. Civil society and its self-regulative social relations are the model upon which communism must be based. Rather than violently crush civil society, says Gramsci, the political sphere will be reabsorbed and transformed by civil society.

Some libertarians have learned from Gramsci. Murray Rothbard, for example, much

appreciated Gramsci’s emphasis on the “rich texture of ‘civil society,’ of non-state institutions that are in many ways more influential and determining than the State itself.” Indeed, Gramsci’s counsel that socialists achieve an alternative “cultural hegemony” may have partially influenced Rothbard, in his later years, to embrace the conservatives’ declaration of cultural war against the Left. ... Like Gramsci, Rothbard recognizes the importance of creating"parallel" institutions.

Rothbard argued that, as the systemic crises of the interventionist system developed over time,"a voluntary network of popular revolutionary organs" would be needed to take over the functions of organized struggle. This struggle, he thought, would involve building coalitions with non-libertarians—socialists or conservatives, for example—on various ideological issues. It might also require" civil disobedience or the establishment of a mass-based political party. In all cases, Rothbard insists that the 'tactics to be used' must be 'consistent with the [non-aggression] principles and ultimate goals of a purely free society.'"

So, how on earth did we get to this little discussion from our posts on a little animated movie? Very simply this. As Ayn Rand once said:"Anyone who fights for the future, lives in it today." You want a free society? Fight for its ideals today. Live those ideals. Practice them in your craft in ways that inspire, uplift, and entertain. I say this especially for the benefit of those of us who fashion ourselves as revolutionaries. Changing society, especially against awful odds, can be daunting, discouraging, even grim. But as another revolutionary of a different stripe once said:"If I cannot dance, I want no part in your revolution."

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More Comments:

Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 11/21/2004

I agree, Ken; it is very conceivable that intellectual change can be facilitated in this manner. In a sense, it is, itself, a tribute to the spontaneous capacity of free exchange in the marketplace of ideas.

Kenneth R Gregg - 11/20/2004

A critical aspect seems to be a significant growth in unregulated (or black market) communications. Looking at such events as the massive pamphleteering and availability of printing presses as an element in such events as the English Civil War and the American Revolution, there is a connection between the availability of new ideas and the extension of these ideas into the political world.

Interestingly enough, there have been two major spurts in mass communication where this can be seen in more recent events, the first being the movie industry, the second (and still ongoing) is the growth of the internet. I have been working on a paper on the noted British Individualist, Wordsworth Donisthorpe, who was also a developer of an early version of the talking motion picture (before Edison!--Google and you will find some great sources). His intended outreach was with the British popular masses in bringing Individualism in films. Unfortunately, he was unable to get the development capital for his motion projector (imagine what he could have done if he had!), and others became the giants in motion pictures. One of his sons produced films later, following the turn of the century, but Donisthorpe's efforts were all but unknown until recent research uncovered it.

The internet, however, has an incredible amount of libertarian literature and has made this available to all with a keystroke! Many of the more popular sites, such as the is building an increasing following throughout the world for libertarian/Austrian economics. So long as they maintain their fairly consistent efforts, the impact is going to be felt for generations.

Will this cause a cultural/political revolution? No way to know for sure, but the internet is the most promising event so far in our generation.

Yours in liberty,
CLASSical Liberalism:

Kenneth R Gregg - 11/20/2004