Archive for Antonio Gramsci

Morbid Symptoms and the Optimism of the Will

Posted in History, Politics with tags , on November 9, 2016 by telescoper


So there we are then. It will soon be President Trump and I won my compensation bet, though to be honest I would have preferred to lose it. I have quite a number of friends and colleagues from the USA and all were distraught when it became clear that Trump was going to win. Perhaps not surprisingly, I don’t know any Trump supporters, either from the USA or elsewhere.

I’m not going to try to offer consoling platitudes. It must be an even scarier time for them than it is for the rest of us Citizens of the World. In the absence of anything better, all I can do is say that I’m so very sorry for the pain they’re feeling now.

I’m not going to attempt any sort of analysis of what led to Trump’s victory either. There’s a lot of twaddle already filling up the internet, much of which isn’t at all illuminating despite being written with the benefit of hindsight.

I will say, however, that the quote that sprang into my head when I checked the news on waking up this morning was the following, from Antonio Gramsci (from The Prison Notebooks, c1930):

The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.

Or if you prefer the original Italian:

La crisi consiste appunto nel fatto che il vecchio muore e il nuovo non può nascere: in questo interregno si verificano i fenomeni morbosi piú svariati.”

It seems to me that the old order – in the form of a broad consensus that has held in Western democracies since the end of World War 2 – is collapsing. Events like the election of Donald Trump and BrExit vote in the UK do not, however, represent the construction of a new order but are merely the death-bed convulsions of the old.

What the new world order will look like depends on what new political alignments and forms of governance can be established and whether this transformation takes place by peaceful and democratic means. I think there will be considerable social and economic upheaval in the next few years, and this will be a dangerous time if factions attempt to impose their will by violent means. It seems to me that what is vital is for people to be offered a positive vision for the future, something which today’s politicians – especially those on the left – seem unable or unwilling to do. Some of political parties may not survive, but then if they have outlived their usefulness or relevance then there’s no reason for them to.  What happens will depend entirely on who grasps the opportunities that this period of uncertainty will undoubtedly create. Clinging in despair to the wreckage of the past will put us in no position to grasp anything.

So I’ll end with another quote from Gramsci:

I’m a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will.