So, in concluding it will be useful to return to an important proviso in Gramsci.
A key point with the concept of hegemony is that the consent it aims to create and sustain is not simply a false consciousness in the Marxian sense, but is built on real albeit limited concessions and negotiations – it is more concerned with the incorporative deflection of opposition, rather than simply ushering it out of existence with ‘ruling class ideas’.Hence for a passive revolution to be successful, it depends on the flow of real resources within the hegemonic system, and they serve to encumber and deflect the development of a counter-hegemony. When a hegemonic power structure is faced with a crisis at the level of legitimacy, we would expect to see far reaching ideological modification and a substantial redistribution of resources, one such example demonstrated during the passive revolution carried out by the forth Labour Government in response to the increasingly militant assertion of Maori rights as guaranteed under the Treaty of Waitangi.While the wave of dissatisfaction Clinton, Blair and Clark rode into the realms of governance did not signal an organic crisis for democratic capitalism, but we may make the generalisation that this shift to the left indicated a desire for the mitigation of its harshest social effects, mitigation that if actually carried through would have caused serious disruption to the agendas of capital.
Because this was not a crisis at the level of legitimacy however, extensive ideological reorganisation sufficed to counterbalance the lack of any tangible resource re-allocation. In Britain, New-Labour was able to implement policies – privatisation schemes, social spending targets, relinquishment of interest rate control to the Bank of England and palapably orgasmic enthusiasm for free trade – that a Tory government would have had immense difficultly selling to a public traumatised by the legacy of Thatcherism.Blair has also benefited from all the considerable achievements that Thatcherism secured for the business class, both in the restructuring of the economy as well as the humbling of organised labour, and his government inherited a socio-political context in which state hegemony was muscular. Nevertheless, some token institutional reorganisation was offered, packaged and sold in the form minor constitutional reform and some token democratisation. (17) In America, where gross inequality and poverty are deeply embedded within the cultural psyche, resource re-allocation was for all accounts non-existent.Surprisingly, in New Zealand, a country characterised by a conspicuous lack of popular dissent we saw perhaps the most substantial levels of resource re-allocation of any Third Way regime, probably more attributable to the energy and freshness of Helen Clark’s cabinet, as well as Clark’s personality than anything else.
Social Policy initiatives included raising the minimum wage, ending the bulk funding of schools, establishing partly elected district health boards and some minor income redistribution.The economic fundamentals of Rogernomics radicalism have not been brought into question however, and despite the country’s excessive foreign debt, major deficit in the current account of balance payments, and an annual net deficit in foreign investment earnings, Labour’s two term reign has been marked by extremely light handed commercial regulation, a monetary policy focused solely on inflation, across the board trade and investment liberalisation and only tepid, inconsistent regulation of labour markets. (18)While many leftist commentators have been content to dismiss the vacuousness of Third Way politics and ridicule the glaring contradiction that exists between rhetoric and policy, this attitude fails to recognise a state will reorganise itself only to the degree required to diffuse a threat that disrupts its normal functioning. The intellectualism of Third Way politics is flabby and simplistic for sure, but only because the legitimacy of the Western social model is at a level of hegemonic ascendancy that is quite historically unique.
The status-quo can afford to be flabby. Moreover, the emergence of The Third Way has inspired many leftists to talk in optimistic tones about a ‘crisis of western ideology’. Just as capitalist democracy has reached its apogee, precisely because of its marriage to international capital and the growing and luminous breach between ideal and practice, it is quickly exhausting all of its ideological possibilities.(19) Indeed, this crisis may be real, but underestimating the capacity of power to adapt and innovate has been a perennial weakness of the left. As stated above, power will only reorganise as much as it has to, and over the past ten years the opposition it has faced has been feeble, and its response reflects this.When global capital is faced with a real organic crisis, whether this is brought about by ecological disaster, financial collapse, the development of an organised and truly global counter-hegemony, or the widespread recognition of the subversion of democracy at its most basic level, western states will be forced to engage a much more forceful passive revolution that aims to diffuse crisis and channel dissent back within the hegemonic apparatuses where they can be efficiently contained.We can expect a much more sophisticated recasting of liberal democratic ideology, a much more extensive re-allocation of resources, and much more pronounced institutional reorganisation, perhaps even movements towards the democratisation of the world economic bureaucracy, which has until now enjoyed almost total impunity from world public opinion.
We may also speculate that while this passive revolution will be significantly broader, it will display many of the same characteristics as the nascent one discussed in this essay. If we can understand and theorise on these patterns of hegemony, we can learn to encumber and subvert them. The autonomy project will be greatly strengthened.