Rethinking Gramsci's Political Philosophy
ABSTRACT: This paper is a clarification and partial justification of a novel approach to the interpretation of Gramsci. My approach aims to avoid reductionism, intellectualism, and one-sidedness, as well as the traditional practice of conflating his political thought with his active political life. I focus on the political theory of the Prison Notebooks and compare it with that of Gaetano Mosca. I regard Mosca as a classic exponent of democratic elitism, according to which elitism and democracy are not opposed to each other but are rather mutually interdependent. Placing Gramsci in the same tradition, my documentation involves four key points. First, the Notebooks contain an explicit discussion of Mosca's ideas such that when Gramsci objects to a theoretical concept or principle, he often presupposes a common methodological orientation, and when he objects to a particular method or approach, he often presupposes a common theoretical view. Second, Gramsci accepts and gives as much importance to Mosca's fundamental principle that in all societies organized elites rule over the popular masses. Third, Gramsci accepts Mosca's distinctive theory of democracy defined as a relationship betwen elites and masses such that the elites are open to the influx of members from the masses. Finally, there is an emblematic practical political convergence btween the two: in 1925, both opposed a Fascist bill against Freemasonry. Although their rhetoric was different, their speeches exhibit astonishing substantive, conceptual and logical similarties.
The aim of this paper is to suggest that the political theory of Antonio Gramsci is in large measure a constructive criticism or critical development of that of Gaetano Mosca. Before justifying this claim, some qualifications are in order.
The most immediate clarification is that the Mosca I have in mind is not the "proto-fascist" or reactionary alleged by some, but rather a thinker in the tradition of democratic elitism; this is a tradition which rejects the view that democracy and elitism are incompatible, but tries to combine them. (1) Second, I said "in large measure," and this does not mean "entirely"; that is, I think it would be wrong to claim that all of Gramsci's political theory derives only from Mosca since there is no question that there are other sources, such as Marx, Lenin, Hegel, Gentile, Croce, and Machiavelli. (2) Third, when I speak of political theory, I am not referring to the totality of Gramsci's thought, but to that part which deals with questions which are strictly and explicitly political and social, such as classes, forces, crises, revolutions, governments, parties, and states. For example, I am not referring to Gramsci's philosophical conceptualizations of the dialectic and the theory-practice nexus, nor to his historical interpretations of the Italian Risorgimento and French Revolution. Naturally, this distinction among...