Toward the Total State
by William Norman Grigg

July 5, 1999

Has the left won America’s culture war? Some observers, including political organizer Paul Weyrich (who coined the term "moral majority"), appear to think so. For many Americans who cherish our nation’s traditions of individual freedom, limited government, and personal moral responsibility, the Clinton impeachment melodrama abounded in evidence that America has undergone a dramatic transformation.

If one were to credit the ubiquitous opinion polls and the outpourings of the "mainstream" media, the American people were nearly unanimous in their support for President Clinton, despite his ongoing personal depravity and his willingness to abuse both the powers of his office and the institutions of our judicial system in order to retain his position as the nation’s chief executive. The only holdouts were to be found among the "religious right," which — according to the custodians of "respectable" opinion — is a marginalized group unworthy of political influence.

While the outcome of impeachment was largely a product of the gangland tactics (including blackmail and character assassination) employed by the Clinton Administration against its opponents, as well as the institutional cowardice of the Senate, there is no doubt that America’s culture has undergone a dramatic transformation — a transformation engineered by the radical left. Writing in the Winter 1996 issue of the Marxist journal Dissent, Michael Walzer enumerated some of the cultural victories won by the left since the 1960s:

• "The visible impact of feminism."

• "The effects of affirmative action."

• "The emergence of gay rights politics, and … the attention paid to it in the media."

• "The acceptance of cultural pluralism."

• "The transformation of family life," including "rising divorce rates, changing sexual mores, new household arrangements — and, again, the portrayal of all this in the media."

• "The progress of secularization; the fading of religion in general and Christianity in particular from the public sphere — classrooms, textbooks, legal codes, holidays, and so on."

• "The virtual abolition of capital punishment."

• "The legalization of abortion."

• "The first successes in the effort to regulate and limit the private ownership of guns."

Significantly, Walzer admitted that these victories were imposed upon our society by "liberal elites," rather than being driven "by the pressure of a mass movement or a majoritarian party." These changes "reflect the leftism or liberalism of lawyers, judges, federal bureaucrats, professors, school teachers, social workers, journalists, television and screen writers — not the population at large," noted Walzer. Rather than building "stable or lasting movements or creat[ing] coherent constituencies," the left focused on "winning the Gramscian war of position."

While most Americans would be mystified by Walzer’s reference to Italian Communist theoretician Antonio Gramsci, those who wish to understand the ongoing culture war must first have some understanding of the Gramscian concept of the "long march through the institutions." The process described by Walzer, in which the cultural and bureaucratic organs of our society have fallen under the influence of "progressive" forces devoted to transforming our nation, is derived directly from Gramsci’s blueprint for Marxist subversion. Gramsci’s distinctive insight, as we will shortly see, was that the construction of the total state requires the seizure of the "mediating institutions" that insulate the individual from the power of the government — the family, organized religion, and so forth — and a systematic redefinition of the culture in order to sustain the new political order.

That process is well underway in our nation — and if it is consummated, Americans will learn that the culture war is a deadly serious effort to destroy the institutions and traditions that have protected Americans from the horrors of the total state.

"The scientific concept of dictatorship," wrote Soviet dictator Vladimir Lenin, "means nothing else but this: power without limit, resting directly upon force, restrained by no laws, absolutely unrestricted by rules." Benito Mussolini’s totalitarian formula was even more concise: "Everything within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state." Whatever its specific configuration or ideological pretext, the total state always requires that all human activities be made subject to its power. But to exercise that power, the total state relies, to a remarkable extent, on the cooperation of its victims.

No matter how vast the instrumentality of coercion or how vicious the intentions of the ruling elite, the masters of the total state are always dramatically outnumbered by their victims. No army of occupation is large enough to exercise total control over a tyrannized population; no secret police is capable of exercising incessant and all-encompassing surveillance. The triumph of the total state is made possible by the conquest of the human mind. "We are not content with negative obedience, nor even with the most abject submission," explained O’Brien, an agent of Big Brother’s "Ministry of Love" in George Orwell’s 1984. "When finally you surrender to us, it must be of your own free will. We do not destroy the heretic because he resists us.... We convert him, we capture his inner mind, we reshape him."

"Death by Government"

Of course, wholesale murder is very much a part of the totalitarian experience, as a way to dispose of those who prove unsuitable for "conversion." Lenin’s "scientific concept of dictatorship," when put into practice by criminals in positions of political power, has led to unimaginable horror. In the Soviet Union, Communist China, Cambodia, Vietnam, and elsewhere, the unchecked power of the state "has been truly a cold-blooded mass murderer, a global plague of man’s own making," writes Professor R.J. Rummel in his study Death by Government.

During the first nine decades of the 20th century, writes Rummel, "almost 170 million men, women, and children" have been destroyed through the "myriad ways governments have inflicted death on unarmed, helpless citizens and foreigners. The dead could conceivably be nearly 360 million people." In a particularly sobering observation, Rummel points out that while "library stacks have been written on the possible nature and consequences of nuclear war and how it might be avoided, in the life of some still living we have already experienced in the toll from democide (and related destruction and misery among the survivors) the equivalent of a nuclear war, especially at the high near-360 million end of the estimates."

America has been spared such horrors because it is uniquely blessed among all nations with a tradition of ordered liberty and limited government. Our nation’s founding documents, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, embrace a concept of government diametrically opposed to the Leninist "scientific concept of dictatorship": the rule of law, administered by a government that is itself subject to the law, deriving "its just powers from the consent of the governed," and created for the exclusive purpose of protecting the lives, rights, and property of the law-abiding.

But these institutional safeguards of liberty and the rule of law are dependent on a culture conducive to freedom. In a self-governing society, public morality and private morality cannot be compartmentalized; people who have abandoned what George Washington referred to as the "eternal rules of order and right" will be incapable of exercising the self-discipline necessary to maintain a free government. In his Farewell Address, Washington advised that there is "no truth more thoroughly established than that there exists in the economy and course of nature an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness; between duty and advantage; between the genuine maxims of an honest and magnanimous policy and the solid rewards of public prosperity and felicity." When such habits of virtue are cultivated and preserved, society can enjoy the blessings of limited government — one that will, in Jefferson’s words, "restrain men from injuring one another, [and which] shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned."

Quiet Revolution

In principle, and to a limited extent in practice, Bill Clinton and his Administration have embraced Lenin’s "scientific concept of dictatorship." Consider, for example, the fact that Mr. Clinton has brazenly and repeatedly ignored Congress’ constitutional authority to declare war — most notably in the undeclared Kosovo War, which Mr. Clinton has conducted in defiance of a pointed refusal on the part of the House of Representatives to declare war against Yugoslavia. In domestic affairs, Mr. Clinton has made good on his stated intention to bypass Congress entirely, ruling instead by executive decree. Former Clinton Administration lackey Paul Begala memorably summarized Mr. Clinton’s ruling doctrine in these terms: "Stroke of the pen, law of the land — kinda cool."

Just as disturbing is the fact that much of the Senate, and a significant portion of the House of Representatives, have embraced a complementary concept taught by Adolf Hitler: fuhrerprinzip, or the "leader principle." Under that doctrine, an autocratic executive claims access to the "collective will of the people," exercises power that is "independent, all-inclusive, and unlimited," and considers himself responsible "only to his conscience." Thus, the legislature exists merely to rubber-stamp the decisions of the imperial leader.

Obviously, America was not conquered by the Soviet Union or by National Socialist (Nazi) Germany. The institutions of our federal system of government still exist, albeit in a somewhat distorted form. Elections still occur at regular intervals, and citizens can still exercise their right to petition their elected representatives and express their political opinions in the public square. Nonetheless, the chief tenets of the most murderous dictatorships in history are now the operative principles of our national government. How did this dire situation come about? How can it be reversed?

America has undergone what historian Garet Garrett described as a "revolution within the form." Although the "forms of republican government survive," wrote Garrett, "the character of the state has changed." To illustrate how this was accomplished, Garrett quoted this observation from Aristotle’s Politics: "People do not easily change, but love their own ancient customs; and it is by small degrees only that one thing takes the place of another; so that the ancient laws will remain, while the power will be in the hands of those who have brought about a revolution in the state." (Emphasis added.)

Communist theoretician Antonio Gramsci urged those who sought to bring about a "revolution in the state" to pursue the course described (although not endorsed) by Aristotle: The steady, incremental subversion of free societies by conducting a "long march through the institutions" that define such societies. In some ways the Gramscian approach is kindred to that pursued by Britain’s Fabian socialists, who chose "patient gradualism," rather than violent insurrection, as the most effective means to collectivize society. Gramsci’s distinctive insight was to urge Marxists to escape from the shackles of economic theory and focus instead on society’s cultural organs — the press and other media, education, entertainment, religion, and the family. In order for revolutionaries to establish "political leadership or hegemony," advised Gramsci, they "must not count solely on the power and material force of government"; they must change the culture upon which that government was built.

Cultural commentator Richard Grenier recalls that during Gramsci’s incarceration in one of Mussolini’s prisons, he "formulated in his Prison Notebooks the doctrine that those who want to change society must change man’s consciousness, and that in order to accomplish this they must first control the institutions by which that consciousness is formed: schools, universities, churches, and, perhaps above all, art and the communications industry. It is these institutions that shape and articulate ‘public opinion,’ the limits of which few politicians can violate with impunity. Culture, Gramsci felt, is not simply the superstructure of an economic base — the role assigned to it in orthodox Marxism — but is central to a society. His famous battle cry is: capture the culture."

Gramsci recognized that the chief "fortresses and earthworks" impeding the triumph of Marxism were precisely those institutions, customs, and habits identified by Washington and the other Founding Fathers as indispensable to ordered liberty — such as the family, private initiative, self-restraint, and principled individualism. But Gramsci focused particularly on what Washington described as the "indispensable supports" of free society — religion and morality. In order to bring about a revolution, Gramsci wrote, "The conception of law will have to be freed from every remnant of transcendence and absoluteness, practically from all moralist fanaticism."

Layers of Strength

At this juncture, a question naturally arises: If the conspiracy to undermine our culture and constitutional system has enjoyed such success, why aren’t Americans living in abject, undisguised tyranny? If Lenin’s "scientific concept of dictatorship" and Hitler’s fuhrerprinzip have been accepted as ruling tenets by our apostate political elite, where are the gulags and gas chambers?

The answer to this question is quite simple: The institutions referred to by Gramsci as "fortresses and earthworks" have not yet been completely overcome by the forces of revolution. Yes, the American family is under siege, but its resilience has proven to be formidable. Parents still seek to instill habits of self-discipline, honesty, and genuine public service in their children. Millions of Americans from all religious denominations and traditions remain committed to living honorable lives defined by God’s law, and insist that their elected representatives, for the most part, pay at least nominal homage to that standard as well. The American tradition of individualism remains a vivid part of our national heritage. And despite decades of mass indoctrination regarding the supposed glories of collectivism, most Americans still cherish their individual rights — and are provoked to militancy when those rights are threatened.

These admirable traits — the "fortresses and earthworks" Gramsci sought to overcome — were celebrated by Robert Welch — a devoted champion of freedom — as "layers of strength" that should be fortified by conscientious Americans. The reason the enemies of freedom must pursue Gramsci’s long-term subversive strategy rather than more overt measures is because most Americans will not meekly submit to the will of their would-be masters.

Yes, our situation is grave. No, America does not enjoy any privileged immunity to the horrors that have descended upon many other countries during this century of rampant democide. In order to preserve our existing freedoms, and to restore those that have been stolen from us, it is necessary for Americans to understand the tactics, strategies, and objectives of the Gramscian conspirators who are waging a culture war against us.


from The New American
Vol. 15, No. 14, July 5, 1999

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9 July 1999