Melanie Phillips explains Gramsci

1:44 pm - November 10th 2009

by Dave Osler    

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Sometimes a particular combination of headline and author catches your eye and you just know where the article is going to go. So I must admit a certain sense of keen anticipation when I spotted the words ‘We were fools to think the fall of the Berlin Wall had killed off the far Left. They’re back – and attacking us from within’ in conjunction with the name ‘Melanie Phillips’.

At first reading, the piece appeared to be a corker, right down to the stab at summarising Gramsci for a Daily Mail audience. Sure, I know that idea sounds counterintuitive, in a ‘Richard Littlejohn outlines his debt to the theology of Reinhold Niebuhr’ or ‘Seumas Milne ponders the downsides of Serbian nationalism’ kind of way, but to my mind that just made it all the better.

So imagine my disappointment, dear reader, when a quick Google revealed that both the underlying thesis – not to mention chunks of text – are simply rehashed from a 2007 piece authored by Linda Kimball on the US far right fringe website American Thinker. It transpires that Ms Phillips may not have read Prison Notebooks after all, and really should cut Kimball in for at least 50% of the presumably not ungenerous fee she got for the feature.

But in District Line terms, the argument advanced by these two women is totally Dagenham, as psychiatrists dub patients who are clearly three stops beyond Barking. If Kimball and Phillips are to be believed, me and my mates are running the world. Yep, the liberal left has only been pretending to be on the back foot for the last three decades, the better to gull the masses.

Thankfully, our heroines have twigged that we have secretly ditched class struggle at the point of production, only to resume it at the level of ideology. Moreover, the tactic has worked brilliantly, and we have virtually succeeded in installing the dictatorship of the politically correctariat.

Our basic problem is that we are ‘hostile towards western civilisation’ and thus seeking to bring it down. We just can’t help hating freedom, thanks to our ‘totalitarian mindset that replicates the way communist societies clamped down on any other than permitted views’. This is tantamount to reconstituted ‘communist ideology’ that is actually worse than full on Stalinism, being ‘even more deadly’ as an ‘active enemy of western freedom.’

Got that, folks? Forget the Red Terror, forced collectivisation, the Great Purge, Hungary 1956, the Cultural Revolution, the suppression of the Prague Spring, and Cambodia in the Year Zero. Political correctness is ‘even more deadly’.

Now, I have to admit that feminist friends sometimes do tick me off for cracking mildly sexist jokes, and rightly so. But this has not so far resulted in a knock on the door at midnight from a detachment of Beria-inspired bulldykes, come to carry me off to PC re-education camp so that I can learn from the peasantry.

Now for the clever bit; all of this stuff was theorised in the scribbled thoughts of some Italian bloke banged up by Mussolini for his opposition to fascism, and subsequently ‘taken up by Sixties radicals’.

Phillips: This was what might be called ‘cultural Marxism’. It was based on the understanding that what holds a society together are the pillars of its culture: the structures and institutions of education, family, law, media and religion. Transform the principles that these embody and you can thus destroy the society they have shaped.

Kimball: The new battleground, reasoned Gramsci, must become the culture, starting with the traditional family and completely engulfing churches, schools, media, entertainment, civic organizations, literature, science, and history.  All of these things must be radically transformed and the social and cultural order gradually turned upside-down with the new proletariat placed in power at the top.

Phillips proceeds to list the consequences: ‘the nuclear family has been widely shattered’ … ‘education was wrecked’ … ‘law and order were similarly undermined’ … ‘illegal drugtaking tacitly encouraged’ … ‘turned morality inside out’. Then we get to the real target of the broadside:

Feminism, anti-racism and gay rights thus turned men, white people and Christians into the enemies of decency who were forced to jump through hoops to prove their virtue.

Indisputably, there has been an erosion of social cohesion in Britain since the 1970s. But the primary reason is not the clandestine machinations of closet Gramscians, but the abandonment of social democracy for exactly the kind of inegalitarian society driven by the very market forces that Phillips applauds for ‘carrying the torch of liberty’.

And if feminism, anti-racism and gay rights really are that wicked, with what should they be replaced? Presumably the return of the traditional mother and wife, penalty-free racial discrimination and a retreat to the times of hush-hush homosexuality.

Whatever anyone thinks of society today, it is the creation of Thatcherism and Blairism, which are both essentially variations on a neoliberal theme. Lenin would not – as Phillips crassly concludes – be smiling if he could somehow see it from his mausoleum. But Hayek certainly would be.

In short, Phillips already lives in the kind of country that is the only conceivable outcome of the brand of rightwingery she herself represents; she might at least be that little bit more graceful about it.

[hat tip: email from Will]

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About the author
Dave Osler is a regular contributor. He is a British journalist and author, ex-punk and ex-Trot. Also at: Dave's Part
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Reader comments

Well, if you really were a secret ruler of the world, wouldn’t you deny it?


Shit, I think I just saw a black helicopter.

Anyway, I would quite like to see Ms Phillips “prove her virtue”. I suspect that would be quite a big ask.

As entertaining as I find Mad Mel’s columns, I think it is about time to take on board the fact that she really is utterly deranged and just ignore her. I think we need to get beyond the pointing and laughing stage now.

If ‘Melanie Philips’ were a blogger or a green-inker, I’d agree – but she writes articles that get published, without “this person is a loony” disclaimers, in a national newspaper with a circulation of more than two million.

I went to a dinner party with Mad Mel once. I was forbidden by the host from engaging. Longest two hours of my life.

Poor Joshua Rosenberg.

Mad Mel is apparently one of those people, like Peter Hitchens, who used to be a leftist but has now swung to the right. Beggars belief that she could have ever been a leftist, doesn’t?

She needs urgent help. Now.

5 – maybe she was just carrying out a long march through the institutions before revealing her true mission?

Incidentally, I was once accused in the comments of my blog of being a Gramsciian – I think because I don’t like Simon Heffer. It was a slightly surreal experience.

@5 the fact that she bases her crazy rants on misquotings and misunderstandings of obscure political theorists, rather than on religious texts and Common Sense Innit, does place her stylistically closer to the far-left rather than the far-right, even though the content is full-on wingnut…

Melanie Phillips is a Classical Liberal, with all the contradictions and contortions that entails.

She’s clearly more Hornchurch or Upminster Bridge than being mere Dagenham Heathway.

The most successful exponant of Gramscian hegemonic struggle was Margaret Thatcher, as Stuart Hall (no not the bloke from ‘Its A Knockout’) argued as far back as the 70’s. The European Left was too in thrawl to the crackpot Louis Althusser.

@Tim J

If not liking Simon Heffer makes you a Gramsciite, then there’s presumably just about everyone is.

Heffer is a thoroughly unsatisfactory human being.

It was my objection to his using the word ‘hecatomb’ to mean ‘quite a lot’ that triggered it apparently. Whether Gramsci was particularly known for his linguistic pedantry goes beyond my area of expertise.

There’s a road called Gramsci Way, SE6 here in Lewisham. I think that proves Mel’s point conclusively.

We’ve got a Slag Lane.

Just saying.

I seam to remember Gramsci was a bit of a prude and a killjoy because free love and having a good time was sapping revolutionary fervour.

Perhaps he and Flip aren’t so far apart after all.

If our revolutionary fervour is strict, we have no need of fun.

She’d be funny if she wasn’t
a) mental
b) read by so many people.

Ah, those liberal fascists they’re always going on about. How everyone has to be a liberal, and those that aren’t are, well, you’re right, not carried off in the middle of the night. They are tolerated! Shock horror.
Besides, Phillips and her like only believe in free speech for themselves and being bloody great wind-up merchants

Mad Mel is Southend Central

What this is, right…

…after spending four years studying Gramsci in detail, Melanie Phillips comes along and tries to summarise it in a newspaper column and gets it drastically wrong. I still rock up, read it and think, “hey, maybe she’s read stuff I haven’t read?”

I think she has. I think she’s read something that doesn’t exist. I think Mel’s turned so bulletheaded that she can’t really read anything except what she wants to read in things.

She’s so popular because she can say the stupid things that people think in a very eloquent manner. People often mistake eloquence in the proposition for actual substance.

Boys and Girls,

It does amuse me how all of you are so frightened of Melanie Phillips.

You all seem to think she is Ellsworth Toohey.

Oh, the irony – you couldn’t make it any funnier.

I’ll admit that her possible influence worries me.
But anyone that mental worries me, she should be getting the treatment she needs rather than more people agreeing with her, they only encourage her

Bearded Socialist re: Comment 22,

Said like a true socialist.
Do you have a particular Gulag in mind where she can recieve treatment until she agrees with you?

You forgot you put ‘treatment’ between two apostrophes.
The Bearded Socialist Gulag for the Criminally Right Wing should do

Oh dear, Kojak. Are you deteriorating into an outright troll? Comment 23 suggests so, sadly.

Frollix22 re: Comment 25,

Me, a troll?

Would that make Bearded Socialist’s comment 24 a ‘Counter-troll statement’?

Don’t be daft bandying around the word troll just because I show some discomfort at how people on this board delight in having a go at Melanie Phillips.

You might not think she reaches the right conclusions but let’s not bury our heads in the sand and pretend some of the issues she discusses are of no concern.

Bearded Socialist re: Comment 24,

Any idea how big your carbon footprint will be if you use your Lada to take her there?

she’s a wind-up merchant. Part of her success is that she riles the likes of us, so we can have a little pop back at her for winding us up. She certainly does that well, she makes steam come out of my ears.
As long as it’s light hearted and not too serious, there’s little wrong with it. It’s not serious, but shouldn’t be taken as serious.

Having looked up on google what a Lada is, i think it only right she’s put on bendy buses to get there

Bearded Socialist re: Comment 29,

To you sir, I doff my bowler hat.
You truely are a comrade with a sense of humour.

Do you have a particular Gulag in mind where she can recieve treatment until she agrees with you?

I think a few years in a library might do her more good, preferably researching logic and critical thinking.

30. Kojak
I thank you.

Mad Mel in a library, now that would be torture

Mad Mel in a library, now that would be torture

Torture for her, everyone going Ssssh, Ssssh at her.

Torture for her – that’s the point.
Also the fact she’d have to come into contact with facts

35. Cheesy Monkey

Clearly Hell’s Mel doesn’t understand Critical Theory.

Anyway, here’s my, um critical theory: I think she’s not got long left as clearly Dacre’s mutant spunk is dissolving her septic brains…

Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Jane Fleming

    RT @libcon: :: Melanie Phillips explains Gramsci Ms Phillips may not have read Prison Notebooks after all,

  2. James Graham

    RT @libcon: :: Melanie Phillips explains Gramsci

  3. James Graham

    The irony of this modern left = Gramsci plot stuff is that you can make a stronger argument about Thatcherism

  4. RupertRead

    RT @libcon: :: Melanie Phillips explains Gramsci

  5. evileuropean

    The cave called, it wants it batshit back | Melanie Phillips explains Gramsci #madmel #dailymail #dailybile

  6. Peter McColl

    Liberal Conspiracy on Melanie Phillips' explanation of Gramsci – excellent reading:

  7. Liberal Conspiracy

    :: Melanie Phillips explains Gramsci

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    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Liberal Conspiracy, Jane Fleming. Jane Fleming said: RT @libcon: :: Melanie Phillips explains Gramsci Ms Phillips may not have read Prison Notebooks after all, […]

  9. uberVU - social comments

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by libcon: :: Melanie Phillips explains Gramsci

  10. Mike Ward

    Discussion of Mad Mel on Gramsci: – absolutely splendid article

  11. Nicholas Stewart

    #LiberalConspiracy Melanie Phillips explains Gramsci #dailyfail

  12. Jonathan Bygraves

    Haha! Gramsci explained for Daily Mail readers… I've seen it all now RT @libcon Melanie Phillips explains Gramsci

  13. | bella gerens | Phillips v. Osler: battle of the Gramscians |

    […] actually get around to reading her article until today, however, when I happened across David Osler’s reaction to it on Liberal Conspiracy. Presented with an argument by somebody I tend to disagree with, and a refutation by somebody I […]

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