The Corner

How Marx Helps Us Understand Academia

I recall many years ago Thomas Sowell writing that he thought it unfortunate that few students (and their professors) actually bother to read Karl Marx. Yes, there certainly is much to disagree with in Marx, but it’s a mistake to either absolutely accept or dismiss Marx as so many are inclined to do.

In this Martin Center article, political-science professor George Ehrhardt argues that it’s worth studying a well-known Italian Marxist, Antonio Gramsci, who expatiated on the Marxist theory of cultural hegemony. Gramsci explained how social control must be rooted in “cultural hegemony” that justifies it. To Marx and Gramsci, the hegemonists were the capitalist class who sought to defend their exploitation through propaganda.

Ehrhardt looks at Gramsci through a 21st-century lens. The dominant class is now the statist apparatus and it depends largely on academics to provide the intellectual justification for its rule. He writes, “The 70s ended a long time ago, but Gramsci’s heirs today dominate college faculties, social media, and newsrooms. In short, progressives now control cultural discourse. No matter how much academics cling to their fantasy that they are ’speaking truth to power,’ the counter-culture isn’t ‘counter’ anymore — it’s the status quo.”

Their key contribution is to help make any opposition to “progressive” dominance intellectually disreputable. Anyone who dares to make an argument against our governmental leviathan is apt to receive a barrage of ad hominen, motive-impugning replies. Ehrhardt gives this personal example: “A colleague of mine once told me that those (like me) who applauded Justice Scalia’s jurisprudence did so because we want a return to the racial politics of the 1780s.” Indeed. Defend limited government and you’re called a racist. The leftists aren’t interested in debate, but just in maintaining power.

Ehrhardt concludes optimistically, saying that the leftist hegemonists are so frantic over the election of Trump because he threatens their hold on power. He writes, “The academic Left will bring out their tired old smears and attack the ethics and motives of their opponents, but the election suggests that more and more Americans see those insults for the self-serving rhetoric they are.”

I think the professor is on to something.

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.