Monday, November 10, 2008

Stepping Stone

"The modern prince, the myth-prince, cannot be a real person, a concrete individual. It can only be an organism, a complex element of society in which a collective will, which has already been recognised and has to some extent asserted itself in action, begins to take concrete form. History has already provided this organism, and it is the political party—the first cell in which there come together germs of a collective will tending to become universal and total. In the modern world, only those historico-political actions which are immediate and imminent, characterised by the necessity for lightning speed, can be incarnated mythically by a concrete individual. Such speed can only be made necessary by a great and imminent danger, a great danger which precisely fans passion and fanaticism suddenly to a white heat, and annihilates the critical sense and the corrosive irony which are able to destroy the "charismatic" character of the condottiere (as happened in the Boulanger adventure). But an improvised action of such a kind, by its very nature, cannot have a long-term and organic character. It will in almost all cases be appropriate to restoration and reorganisation, but not to the founding of new States or new national and social structures (as was at issue in Machiavelli's Prince, in which the theme of restoration was merely a rhetorical element, linked to the literary concept of an Italy descended from Rome and destined to restore the order and the power of Rome). It will be defensive rather than capable of original creation. Its underlying assumption will be that a collective will, already in existence, has become nerveless and dispersed, has suffered a collapse which is dangerous and threatening but not definitive and catastrophic, and that it is necessary to reconcentrate and reinforce it—rather than that a new collective will must be created from scratch, to be directed towards goals which are concrete and rational, but whose concreteness and rationality have not yet been put to the critical test by a real and universally known historical experience."

—from Gramsci, trans. Hoare & Nowell-Smith, "The Modern Prince."

More will follow as I find time for it.

4 comments:

Jeff Rubard said...

I started this paper out with the same quote (and one from Barthelme). It's slightly formally inaccurate -- the modal logic of Kenneth Arrow's famous impossibility proof is a variant of S4, not S4 itself -- but the ideas might still (or newly) be interesting.

Alex said...

"the order and the power of Rome"

yikes, Gramsci didn't seem to read the Discoursi very carefully, did he?

Alex said...

"History has already provided this organism, and it is the political party"

I'm not entirely sure whether Gramsci is having fun at the reader's expense here or not - as Machiavelli's Istorie fiorentine (or conversely, if one wants to dip into Compagni's Chronica) one knows that political party is the driving force behind (at minimum) all of Florentine history (including back to at least the thirteenth century, as the records of the debates of the city show). There's nothing modern about political parties.

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