This is a response to Dr. Kim Huynh’s article from the Week 10 edition of Woroni on “Why lecturers should be grateful to their students.” In brief, the article argued that there should be greater appreciation for the role that students have to play in contributing towards the academic environment. Also, that students are a little bit precious. Here, I would like to present the abridged version of a dialogue between Dr Hunyh and Dr Tom Chodor that occurred in POLS 2102: The Political Philosophy of Deception. Full disclosure: To state the obvious, I am a previous student of Dr Huynh’s. I have also had the good fortune to have had Dr Chodor as a tutor in International Relations. The dialogue that follows is purely of my own reconstruction from memory as I confess that I was never very good at taking notes. While every effort has been made to authentically preserve the general spirit of what occurred, I make no promises regarding the accuracy of quotes.
A room in Haydon Allen, circa 2013
Hunyh: I’d like now to introduce Dr. Chodor who is an academic from the School of Politics and International Relations at the ANU.
Chodor: Thanks Kim, delighted to be here.
Hunyh: This week we are looking at the university as an institution. I understand you are here to talk about Antonio Gramsci?
Chodor: Yeah. I love Gramsci. For me nothing really made sense until I read Gramsci. And then everything made sense. Gramsci is a Marxist political theorist from Italy and has been hugely influential for his work on Cultural Hegemony Theory. Much of his work aims at addressing the question of why Marx’s promised revolution failed to materialise in Europe, bearing in mind that Marx thought that the emancipation of the working class was historically predetermined and inevitable. If so many people are oppressed by so few, it seems strange that people didn’t rise up and overthrow the elite. Gramsci was basically trying to explain why people seemed comfortable to just sit passively in contentment.
Hunyh: I’m still waiting for the revolution. Marx should watch his marks. CASS is going to smack some serious late penalties.
Chodor: Well Gramsci’s answer is that it has something to do with ideas and values. More specifically, the domination of a society with a diversity of needs, wants, and interests by the worldview of the ruling class is what protects elite interests. Elite interests that manage to gain common purchase as serving public interests are then given legitimacy and protected as accepted norms. The difference between the mafia which most people would oppose and the state which most people feel compelled to obey lies in differing perceptions of legitimacy. Revolution failed in Italy because elite interests used civil society to placate and disarm, as well as using political society such as police to coerce.
Hunyh: From memory I remember Gramsci as mostly just bitterness. Like bad coffee.
Chodor: Oh there is a lot of bitterness to be sure. He was troubled by physical illness most of his life and came from an impoverished background. Mussolini considered him one of the most influential and subversive members of the Partito Comunista Italiano and imprisoned him in 1926. Most of what we know of his thinking comes from writings smuggled out of prison.
Hunyh: Seems like he had quite the falling out with authority and was persecuted for it. Kind of reminds me of Machiavelli.
Enter Dr. Jim George. Chiaroscuro lighting effect.
George: Verily, the academic is the loneliest of professions. How does one describe a journey into the desert of the real to those who have never ventured outside the comforts of the well-mapped empire?
Chodor: Well, actually Gramsci wrote about this as well. The Gramscian notion of the public intellectual is precisely one who aims to convince the people. Because the ruling elite controls both the middle and working class through ideology, resisting hegemony requires a ‘war of position’ where the aim is to challenge and undermine the accepted common ‘truths’ which we take for granted. Importantly, the public intellectual cannot remain isolated in an ivory tower, no matter how wise they are. Without an ability to communicate and engage with the common masses they will be unable to disrupt the ‘facts of life’ which make up conventional wisdom. You should have a read of Gramsci sometime.
George: I have no such inclinations. Nietzsche is the first and last word on the human condition.
Exit Dr. Jim George.
Huynh: Thus spake Dr. George. Thanks Dr. Chodor for presenting your thoughts.
Chodor: You are welcome. My pleasure.
Huynh: That concludes today’s session. To be honest, I don’t know if I am cut out to be a public intellectual. I am Batman. And Gotham city needs me.