Bourgeois hegemony and hegemonic renewals

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By Cleito Pereira dos Santos*

Commentary on the most recent book by Nildo Viana, an analysis of the mutations of the hegemony of capital

Nildo Viana is the author of several books and some of them thematizing the thought of Marx or Marxism, as can be seen from the titles of some of his works: What is Marxism? The Consciousness of History – Essays on Historical-Dialectic Materialism; Marx's Methodological Writings; The Theory of Social Classes in Karl Marx; Karl Marx: The Ruthless Critique of the Existing; The Commodification of Social Relations – Capitalist Mode of Production and Bourgeois Social Forms, among others.

Bourgeois hegemony and hegemonic renewals points to an important discussion in the field of Marxism, which has not been developed very much until today, which is the issue of bourgeois hegemony and its mutations in the history of capitalist development. The author clarifies, right at the beginning, that this book is a continuation of another work, entitled The Bourgeois Way of Thinking: Bourgeois Episteme and Marxist Episteme, which lays the theoretical foundations for the historical reflection that the author carries out in the work now reviewed. In the first work, the fundamental discussion is the distinction between bourgeois episteme and Marxist episteme, as well as the elaboration of a theory of episteme. The author defines episteme as a “way of thinking”, a way of thinking that is an “underlying mental process” and, therefore, non-conscious and that dominates bourgeois thought and even its opponents. Viana develops the theory of the “mental fields” that make up the epistemes and presents those that belong to the bourgeois and Marxist epistemes. The episteme generates a blindness or a clearing for the conscience of reality. The bourgeois episteme produces blindness, because its mental fields are limited, the axiomatic field is dominated by bourgeois values, the linguistic field is an obstacle to understanding reality, the analytical field is marked by insurmountable methodological limits, the perceptive field is limited and does not allows you to see the future, utopia.

The permanent characteristics of this episteme are anistorism (the refusal of history, even when talking about history, as in the cases of evolutionism and historicism), reductionism (the refusal of totality, even when talking about it, because when it recognizes the whole, it is metaphysical, a model, instead of the real, as occurs with functionalism and structuralism) and antinomianism (the oppositions that mark bourgeois thought, such as individual/society; romanticism/enlightenment; rationalism/empiricism, to name a few examples). Thus, in the previous book, Viana explains what the bourgeois episteme is and how it is present in all bourgeois ideologies and even some supposedly critical conceptions of it, including anarchism and pseudo-Marxism.

In the book reviewed here, the theme is a continuation. And here the comparative process works and the focus is on historicity. The comparative process refers to the history of capitalism. The history of capitalism, as the author developed it in his other work, Capitalism in the Age of Integral Accumulation, is marked by the succession of accumulation regimes. The capitalist mode of production maintains its essence, but changes its form. This formal change, explains the author, is marked by the passage from one accumulation regime to another. In Bourgeois Hegemony and Hegemonic Renewals this thesis is resumed and used to explain cultural changes, through “hegemonic renewals”. At this point, the concept of paradigm assumes a fundamental role. A paradigm is a specific form assumed by the bourgeois episteme. Thus, the bourgeois episteme, like the capitalist mode of production, maintains its essence, but changes forms. The formal change in the capitalist mode of production manifests itself through accumulation regimes and that of the bourgeois episteme through paradigms. This means that with each regime of accumulation, a new hegemonic paradigm emerges. Thus, the passage from one regime of accumulation to another means the structuring of a new hegemony, of a new hegemonic paradigm, which emerges in terms of what the author calls noospheric knowledge (complex, such as science, philosophy, Marxism) and becomes spreads through society, reaching the arts, everyday representations, the world of culture in its entirety.

The book revolves around the historical analysis of the succession of regimes of accumulation and paradigmatic mutation, which Viana calls “hegemonic renewals”. In each regime of accumulation, a different paradigm becomes hegemonic and the passage from one to another means a broad axiomatic, linguistic, analytical and perceptive renewal. The author begins his historical analysis with the formation of the bourgeois episteme, from the Renaissance, until reaching its consolidation with the Enlightenment and Romanticism, the first paradigmatic forms of the bourgeois episteme, during the regime of extensive accumulation. Then, it moves on to the later accumulation regimes: intensive, combined and integral, with a passage through the “regimes of exception”, the bellicose regime during Nazi-fascism and the state regime during the validity of “real socialism” (for the author, “capitalism State”) and the hegemonic paradigms in each of them. The author shows the positivist, reproductive and subjectivist paradigms, as well as those that were hegemonic in the exception regimes, organicism during Nazi-fascism and vanguardism during Leninism and Stalinism in the Soviet Union.

One of the strengths of the book is that this is not done abstractly. The more than 300 pages, in 16/23 format, are filled with analyzes of thinkers and ideologies, information, among other elements that show the link between ideas and reality. The social production of ideas, a basic theme of Marxism, appears with a high degree of sophistication, without falling into determinism and without avoiding the fundamental determination of cultural phenomena, without falling into the very content and without, for that, reproducing formalism, which would be, according to the author, “bourgeois antinomies”. The emergence of a true “cultural policy” is presented by the author, which becomes fundamental after the Second World War, and carried out at an international level by institutions, from international foundations (Ford, Rockefeller and others), through the CIA, to reach the most “innocent”, like UNESCO. Incidentally, this one gains prominence in its influence on sociology and educational policies, reinforcing the hegemonic paradigms (first the reproductive one, then the subjectivist one). Nation states are other strong drivers of cultural policies. It is revealing when the author shows the Rockefeller Foundation at one time funding eugenics research and at another “anti-racist” research, or Henry Ford's link with anti-Judaism and then his adoption of policies for “minorities”.

The book presents an interesting and illuminating element, which is to show that oppositionists, including what is called Marxism, always follow the hegemonic paradigm. The main examples to illustrate this are Althusser's link with structuralism, an ideology corresponding to the reproductive paradigm, and the link of supposed contemporary Marxists with the subjectivist paradigm, including the proliferation of discussions about “subjectivity”, which, invisibly, transforms the supposed “Marxism” in the shadow of hegemonic paradigms and dominant ideologies.

It is worth mentioning, in this sense, the author's explanations in relation to various conceptions, as in the case of the organicist paradigm and the subjectivist paradigm. In the case of the organicist paradigm, Viana departs from the paradox of Herf, author of The Reactionary Modernism, and demonstrates that there is nothing paradoxical in the relationship between Nazi irrationalism and the use of science and technology, as there is not a total refusal, but an assimilation of science and technology to the idea of ​​struggle for life. Regarding the subjectivist paradigm, Viana clarifies that what some authors claim to mean a critique and overcoming of the subject as a characteristic of post-structuralism is a misinterpretation, as in the most criticized authors at that time, Luc Ferry and Alain Renault, authors of The Thought 68. And these, and other authors, are criticized not only for confusing structuralism with post-structuralism, among other problems, but also for their interpretation of May 1968 in France.

In the case of the subjectivist paradigm, which is the most important because it is contemporary and what affects us today, the analysis shows its origins and social determinations, its link with the economic and political tasks of the bourgeoisie during the integral accumulation regime, in addition to to unravel what pervades subjectivist ideologies and their resonance in the arts, everyday representations, among other cultural manifestations. Post-vanguardism in the arts means an impoverishment of artistic production, just as post-structuralism means misery in philosophy and science. And it is still interesting to notice that some bourgeois conceptions are abandoned and return, as can be seen in the resumption of elements of the organicist paradigm by the subjectivist paradigm and of both as a romantic paradigm. And if Nietzsche was a prominent name in the organicist paradigm, here he is again successful in the subjectivist paradigm.

Finally, we can say that it is a work that, whether you agree with it or not (whether in parts or in full), it raises countless questions for reflection. The informative material is enormous, the reflections on the paradigms and ideologies are wide, the historical and social link of the paradigms with the regimes of accumulation are substantiated. And this, even for non-Marxists, points to the need for reading and reflection. Undoubtedly, the work can and will bother not only the most conservative, but also the most critical and revolutionary, as the author shows us that we live in a cultural matrix and that the illusion of freedom of the “subject” that is disseminated contemporaneously is a piece in the gear that guarantees the reproduction of servitude. And from this can be deduced the need, already defended by others, for the autonomy of Marxism as critical and revolutionary thought linked to the process of struggle for the radical transformation of the world and the class that bears the future, the proletariat. And, in a time of bubbles, reading this work is a good start to expand the perception of the historicity of capitalism and the bourgeois way of thinking.

*Cleito Pereira dos Santos is professor of sociology at UFG.


Nildo Viana. Bourgeois hegemony and hegemonic renewals. Curitiba, CRV, 318 pages (

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