1 King's Student L. Rev. 1 (2008-2009)

handle is hein.journals/kinstul1 and id is 1 raw text is: Of What Value is Gramsci's Concept of Hegemony to our Understanding of Law Today?
Sara Fantoni, third year LLB student at King's College London
The character of Gramsci's main work, the Prison Notebooks (1929 - 1935)', has been described as a
crustacean2, due to its multi-layered nature. Whilst this is to some extent disorientating for the reader,
who finds himself confronted with a fragmentary ensemble of ideas, it however allows him to interpret the
text in an interestingly versatile way. The diverse and non-systematic employment of terms such as
'hegemony' expands the spectrum of Gramsci's work beyond a merely Marxist account of philosophy. Joll
suggested that Gramsci seems to provide a possible bridge between Marxist and non-Marxist thought,3
in that his work is relevant to Marxists for the ideas on political action and organisation, but at the same
time non-Marxists can appreciate his views which stretch from the dynamics of ideology to the role of
intellectuals and education.
During the course of this essay, Gramsci's concept of 'hegemony' will be explored in its evolution
from leadership to domination. I will firstly provide an outline of his 'philosophy of praxis', of the nature of
the relation of Gramsci's thought with that of the two philosophers who mostly influenced his work - Hegel
and Marx - and of Gramsci's depiction of the State structure, where he adopts and re-interprets the
Marxist division between base and superstructure within a framework influenced by Hegel's 'ethical State'.
I will then emphasise the importance of Gramsci's 'civil society',4 and how the tension between the strata
of the State develops into the concept of 'hegemony' or ideological control. Hegemony entails the
permeation through civil society (e.g. schools, trade unions, and churches) of a system of values, beliefs,
attitudes, and morality that are, in one way or another, supportive of the established order and of the class
interests that dominate it.' The main body of the essay will explore the application of the latter concept to
the role of law. Does law exercise a hegemonic role? If so, is this a positive or negative role? Is the law an
instrument of the political society or of the civil society? These questions will be addressed by looking at
three crucial examples: the feminist view of law, the American experience of black slavery, and the
emerging reality of a global or cosmopolitan state.
I. The Philosophy of Praxis
Gramsci adhered to and developed a 'philosophy of praxis'.6 This aims to prove that theory and practice are
not disjointed: an active approach to life (by means of work and technique) corresponds to the degree of
understanding, consciousness and awareness that a man has of himself. Therefore, Gramsci expounded a
philosophy that attributes responsibility to human conduct and enhances the role of human will.
Every man, in as much as he is active, i.e. living, contributes to modifying the social
environment in which he develops [...]; in other words, he tends to establish 'norms, rules of
living and of behaviour.7
The philosophy of praxis intends to bridge the gap between the intellectuals and the 'simple' people by
leading the latter to a higher conception of life.8 In a way, this approach aims to develop a form of
'conscious human progress', whereby the individuals are not passive elements of society, but actors in the
process of change.
Starting from the premise that all men are political beings, Gramsci suggests that, in a broad sense, all men
are legislators, in that they establish norms by which they modify their environment both on a micro- and
on a macro-level9. Therefore, a critical understanding of the self is necessary to achieve social

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