Gramsci's Common Sense: Inequality and Its Narratives
This case study, the first of three such chapters, considers Adam Smith, a leading intellectual of the Scottish Enlightenment, as an example of a bourgeois organic intellectual, part of the strata of intellectuals whom Gramsci sees as providing an emergent dominant class with “homogeneity and an awareness of its own function not only in the economic but also in the social and political fields” (Gramsci 1971, 5). It explores how Gramsci’s concept of the organic intellectual might illuminate the role played by Smith, or more accurately, later representations of Smith’s thought, in the rise to hegemony of the bourgeoisie.
The remarkable rise of the Tea Party and its project to make a specific economic narrative out of common sense provides the material for a second case study. According to this narrative, jobs are created by the rich; welfare payments simply reward moochers; and, in the distorted sound bite into which Adam Smith’s complex argument has degenerated, all economic decisions are best left to the invisible hand of the market. Emerging suddenly and apparently out of nowhere, the Tea Party has succeeded in becoming a major force in U.S. politics, which has shifted the Republican Party to the right. The chapter traces the roots of the Tea Party and its links to earlier attempts to advocate for limited government, fiscal responsibility, and free markets. It explores the complex intertwining of the three factors that the political scientists Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson have identified as underpinning the rise of the Tea Party and its commonsense narrative: “Grassroots activists, roving billionaire advocates, and right-wing media purveyors’ (Skocpol and Williamson 2012, 13).