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A. Gramsci on Power, Common Sense and Good Sense Essay

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Updated: Jun 13th, 2020


Since the very moment of the Marxist theory’s introduction in the first half of the 19th century, many scholars and philosophers continued to develop it in many alternative ways. Nowadays, it is possible to find a large number of the theory’s variations, and a few of them were even applied in practice. In the example of the Soviet Union, the communist country with the political basis that was initially based on the Marxist-Lenin philosophy, one can observe that the good intentions that motivated the politicians of the Soviet Russia induced controversial results. The theory developed by the Italian philosopher, Antonio Gramsci, has a few significant distinctions from the one introduced and practiced by Lenin and his followers.

Gramsci has different perspectives on the concepts of hegemony and domination. He also brought in the several concepts that helped to understand hegemony from a more comprehensive and rational point of view. These concepts include the notions of common sense and good sense. Gramsci’s new ideas support the in-depth understanding of the nature of power and social leadership. In his theory, the philosopher suggests the principles that could make Marxist philosophy be applied in the society more efficiently, and through the contrast of Gramsci’s version to the other Marxist ideology interpretations, it is possible to define the significance of the conceptions offered by the Italian thinker.

Gramsci’s Perspective on Hegemony and Power

Differences in cultures and knowledge often induce struggles not merely between nations but within a particular society as well. The differences create the social hierarchy. It is commonly and undeniably accepted that some classes have a superior social status while the others have a lower status in the society. Usually, the superior classes have a political power, and they dominate over the other classes. The domination and leadership of one class over another can be explained in terms of hegemony that was perceived differently by Russian Marxists and Gramsci.

There are distinct opinions on how to perceive hegemony in political philosophy. According to Simon, overall, hegemony can be understood as leadership and the predominance of one society or a part of it over another (Simon 1991, p. 21). Hegemony is a form of the relations between classes in which one takes a leadership position. Lenin regarded hegemonic forces from a narrow perspective. According to the Russian Marxists, the working class in the alliance with the peasantry must have become the leading hegemonic social force in the liberation movement (Simon 1991, p. 22). However, Gramsci offered a more profound and wide perspective on the understanding of the nature of the hegemonic relations in the society.

While Lenin-Marxist followers attempted to draw the attention of the other classes to their own, narrow and specific, working-class interests, Gramsci deduced that the social hegemonic force must take into consideration the interests and benefits of the vast number of the community members, the whole society, in an ideal. For Lenin, ‘hegemony was a strategy for revolution, a strategy which the working class and its representatives should adopt to win the support of the great majority’ (Simon 1991, p. 22). But the Italian philosopher emphasized that it is necessary to include the opposite and diverse parties as the representatives of hegemony and political power to gain and maintain the leading position in the government.

The hegemonic class must combine both its interests with the interest of the other classes. The wide scope is of significant importance for the hegemonic relations, and it supports the effectiveness of leadership. This is where the concept of the national-popular was introduced by the philosopher. The concept of national-popular is inherent in the Gramsci’s hegemony. This concept shows the importance of the multilateral social interests’ consideration for achieving the leadership at the national scale. It is important to consider the demands even of those who do not belong to and don’t have a strong identification with the particular classes. When the hegemonic class shows the consideration of the multilateral public interests, it expresses ‘a national-popular collective will’ (Simon 1991, p. 24). The national-popular character of the relations provokes the better adoption and advancement of socialism.

The ideological and political transformation in consciousness is necessary for the achievement of the hegemonic status as well. Ideology or philosophy can provide the cohesion among the distinct parts of the society. The process of the conceptual transformation and the methods that are implemented for it are included in Gramsci’s concept of the intellectual and moral reform. In this concept, Gramsci includes the ideas of common and good sense. Common sense and good sense demonstrate the nature of the connections between people’s consciousness, behavior, and social activities. A better understanding of the common and the good sense contributes to the in-depth comprehension of Gramsci’s philosophy.

Common Sense

Common sense plays an important role in the hegemony process. Common sense is ‘uncritical and largely unconscious way in which a person perceived a world’ (Simon 1991, p. 25). Common sense involves ideologies, religions, myths, and beliefs. From the perspective of common sense, the individual perception of the world is determined by the society and nation a person lives in. According to Gramsci, the social consciousness is comprised of the national folklore and language ‘which is a totality of determined notions and concepts and not just words grammatically devoid of content’ (Martin 2002, p. 253).

Gramsci describes the contradictory nature of common sense in his works. He said that a person has ‘two contradictory consciousnesses’ – the first one ‘is implicit in his activity and which in reality unites him with all his fellow-workers in the practical transformation of the real world’ and the second one is ‘superficially explicit or verbal, which he has inherited from the past and uncritically absorbed’ (Gramsci 1971, p. 333). He also underlines the totality as a basic feature of common sense. It means that common consciousness of the particular class, or society in general, although consists of the variations and individual expressions, represents a unity and totality in itself (Patnaik 1988, p. 4). The numerous relativities are united by the historical, and ideological heritage and comprised in the totality of common sense.

For Gramsci, common sense involves the everyday philosophy and perceptions of non-professional intellectuals. Common sense is average. The unconscious perceptions of the world affect the behavior of people, although they may not even know about it. ‘Common sense is closely linked to the fragmentation and satisfaction of philosophical, scientific, and political ideas throughout history, and it contributes to the maintenance of hegemonic orders’ (Gencarella 2010, p. 230). In this way, the subordinate classes fulfill their subaltern role in the society by unintentionally consenting with the historically established social order. Common sense thus has a wide political meaning.

‘Every social class bears its own common sense in competition with other classes and about the hegemonic system that determines class hierarchy’ (Gencarella 2010, p. 231). Comparing to folklore knowledge, common sense implies a particular degree of criticism and reflection upon it by those who possess it. However, the criticism of common sense is relatively small, and it usually doesn’t encourage the transformation of consciousness. When the philosophical and ideological content of the social consciousness is controlled and evaluated intentionally to reveal its core and fundamental components, it is no more a matter of common sense. Gramsci calls the fundamental components of the average consciousness a good sense, and it has a few principal distinctions from common sense.

Good Sense

Overall, a concept of good sense can be defined as the regulated and controlled part of common sense. Good sense is the ‘positive nucleus’ of the ‘confusing, incoherent and contradictory collection of ideas from different world views’ (Simon 1991, p. 26; Ives 2004, p. 160). The main purpose of good sense is in the creation of the coherence and ideological unity in the social class consciousness. And the mechanism to achieve it is education.

According to Ives’s understanding of Gramsci’s conceptions, faith and religion are the most significant parts of common sense (2004, p. 121). Gramsci emphasized their importance for the social masses many times in his works. Every philosophical conception, such as socialism, becomes a faith and has a chance to substitute the traditional religious belief. However, the extent and efficiency of the substitution of one faith for another can be defined by its capacity to fulfill the multiple demands of the community members. The determination of the common sense’s positive nucleus thus plays a significant role in the processes of the creation of a new social worldview.

Good sense includes the conscious ideological evaluation and analysis that are meant to develop the ‘intellectual, moral, economic, and political unity of aims’ (Freeden 2003, p. 20). One of the crucial methods provoking the formation of good sense is education. The educational process is aimed at the development of social consciousness and awareness. The good sense is in the understanding of the ideology, its principles, and practices. Good sense is the knowledge that contributes to the consent and the conscious acceptance of the hegemonic relations and the power of the hegemonic class.

The Significance of Common Sense and Good Sense

Both common sense and good sense, conscious and unconscious worldview, are the significant aspects of the human identity. The distinction between these two by Gramsci contributes to the understanding of the potential ways for the new ideology, and the Marxist philosophy, in particular, to be adopted in the political apparatus and accepted by all the social classes. Good sense and common sense are the integral parts of the hegemony conception.

Contrary to Lenin’s understanding of hegemony, in which he regarded it as the strategic approach towards revolution, Gramsci’s hegemony is equal to the concept of leadership (Simon 1991, p. 22). His concept of hegemony is comprised of the aspects, such as good sense, that support the achievement of the political power. According to Gramsci, leadership is of intellectual and moral character. He understood hegemony ‘as a great advance, both philosophical and political, towards a critical and unified understanding of reality’ (Freeden 2003, p. 21).

Common sense implies the unconscious subordination while good sense supports the deliberate consent and compliance with the leadership of the social class. In common sense, the perception of power is largely connected to the idea of violence, coercion, and constraints. But for Gramsci, the political power of a class can be sustained only by consent of the other classes. The concept of good sense is helpful in this regard because it provides a sufficient degree of consent for the maintenance of the hegemonic relations.

According to the philosopher’s perception of hegemony, the intellectual reform is the only method allowing the establishment of a new consciousness in the society. As it was already mentioned, the intellectual reform means the transformation of common sense through the determination of good sense that leads to the development of another consciousness. Moreover, the intellectual reform implies the acceptance of power that is based on rationalization and measurement of the benefits provided by the compliance with this power. In this way, the socialist consciousness can be cultivated through the educational processes, and the Marxist theory can be regarded as the mean for addressing the good sense.

Gramsci saw education in its wide context, ‘not limited to the formal institutions,’ as the crucial aspect of power and ‘the quest for social and political transformation’ (Mayo 2014, p. 386). Education serves the organization of culture and adoption of the new values. Based on this, the positive core of common sense could be measured by the standards provided by the Marxist philosophy. But the right standards and values should also be regarded from the perspective of the national-popular, i.e. the interests of the society as a whole must be taken into consideration.

According to Mayo’s assessment of the Gramsci’s ideas, ‘the state and its institutions have a strong educational dimension’ (2014, p. 388). The education in its widest context is associated with the ethical power and state. The ethical approach towards education is associated with the lack of repression by the government that can be observed in the historical examples of the fascist states. Education, in relation to good sense, provokes the establishment of the healthy relationships within the civil society exclusive of the ‘ideological struggle’ (Simon 1991, p. 26).

The cultural transformation along with the political transformation is interrelated with education. As Gramsci claims, ‘class consciousness cannot be completely modified until the mode of life of the class itself is modified, which entails that the proletariat has become the ruling class’ (Larrain 1983, p. 82). Therefore, the cultural transformation induces the change in the political state and relations.

The differences between common sense of the distinct social classes create ideological conflicts and struggles. However, Gramsci’s good sense together with the understanding of the national-popular and the necessity of the national-popular will’s expression is regarded as the mean for the creation of social integrity. The distinction between common sense and good sense are two of the crucial components of the Gramsci’s notion of hegemony: along with the other concepts and ideas introduced by the philosopher they constitute the holistic image of his theory.


Hegemony is not a once achieved and permanently established state; it is the continuous, dynamic, and delicate process. According to Gramsci, the transformation and elaboration of the hegemonic processes begin, in the first place, in common sense and only then moves to ‘the philosophical systems elaborated by traditional intellectual groups’ (Patnaik 1988, p. 10). The determination of good sense assists the efficient movement from the first stage of common sense to more subtle and sophisticated forms of philosophic consciousness and awareness. The evaluation of good sense and its integration into education supports the hegemonic relationship. According to Gramsci’s perspective, it contributes to the increase of public consent and reduces the degree of coercion.

The introduction of the concept of good sense and its distinction from common sense is helpful because it explains the opposite perceptions of political power. While common consciousness is understood as inert and passive, good sense involves the critical awareness of consciousness and its content. The consideration of good sense in hegemonic processes provides the ethical and rational approach towards the consolidation of the class’s power in the society.

In an ideal, good sense implies envisioning of the national-popular values the promotion and the practical development of which inevitably provokes the support of the hegemonic class by the masses. The unequal nature of common sense and good sense are two of the crucial components of the theory of hegemony that are meant to explain the character of the hierarchical relations in the society. The given notions assist the determination of the potential methods of the social transformation through education as well as the universal and ethical approach towards the establishment of power.

Reference List

Freeden, M 2003, Ideology: a very short introduction, Oxford University Press, New York.

Gencarella, S 2010, ‘Gramsci, good sense, and critical folklore studies’, Journal of Folklore Research, vol. 47, no. 3, pp. 221-252.

Gramsci, A 1971, Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci, Lawrence & Wishart, London.

Ives, P 2004, Gramsci’s politics of language: engaging the Bakhtin Circle and the Frankfurt School, University of Toronto Press, Toronto.

Larrain, J 1983, Marxism and Ideology, Humanities Press, New Jersey.

Martin, J 2002, Antonio Gramsci: intellectuals, culture and the party, Routledge, New York.

Mayo, P 2014, ‘Gramsci and the politics of education’, Capital & Class, vol. 38, no. 2, pp. 385-398.

Patnaik, A 1998, ‘Gramsci’s concept of common sense: towards a theory of subaltern consciousness in hegemony processes’, Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 23, no. 5, pp. 2-10.

Simon, R 1991, Gramsci’s political thought: an introduction, Lawrence & Wishart, London.

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