More Commie Than Bernie

Mayor Pete Buttigieg is even more thoroughly a Communist than Bernie Sanders. That this strikes the reader as nonsense testifies to the media’s laziness, and, yes, illiteracy.

More likely than not, Pete’s politics follow the script of Antonio Gramsci, the centerpiece of whose teaching is how to exercise Communist hegemony more firmly than Lenin and Stalin. In fact, young Pete assisted his father, Notre Dame English professor Joseph Buttigieg, president of the International Gramsci Society, in editing the English translation of Gramsci’s works—writings about which it is impossible to be neutral.

Far from neutral, the elder Buttigieg was among the world’s biggest fans of that most totalitarian of totalitarian theorists. If his son and assistant is anything but a follower of Gramsci, he has neither said nor shown it. On the contrary, his politics follow Gramsci’s advice about how to take power.

You, dear reader, are not obliged to know anything about Gramsci. But reporters who purport to tell you who Pete Buttigieg is, and what his words mean, are remiss in not finding out and telling you. Likely, they never heard of Gramsci. Nor would they have understood him if they had. What follows aims to remedy that a bit.

More Machiavelli Than Marx

Antonio Gramsci was one of the pre-World War I Italian Socialist Party’s brightest intellects, second only to Mussolini. When the party split in 1919, he went with the Communist faction.

By 1926, Mussolini’s prosecutor had him jailed because “such a brain cannot be allowed in circulation.” Until his death 11 years later, Gramsci wrote analyses of Communist strategy that owe more to Machiavelli than to Marx, and that make even Lenin seem naïve. Safe in prison from the Stalinist purges that sheared the ranks of Communist leaders worldwide and addled their thoughts, Gramsci wrote in ways that have never ceased to inspire Communists.

Gramsci’s critique of what he judged to be Lenin and Stalin’s insufficiently thorough totalitarianism followed from his Machiavellian dissent from Karl Marx’s doctrine that human thought is “superstructural,” that is, a mere reflection of people’s relationship to the means of production. Machiavelli had realized the overwhelming power of ideas, expressed in language, especially religious language. Orthodox Marxists—like Lenin and Stalin, down to Fidel Castro and, yes, Bernie Sanders—believe that seizing control of people’s livelihoods, secured by police forces, confers ultimate power.

Machiavelli, however, recognized that no amount of physical coercion could erase memories of lost freedoms. As circumstances changed, these memories could always overthrow the regime. Ultimate control requires erasing memories of former ways from human minds. Only by changing the meaning of words can the regime make it impossible even to think of alternatives to its power.

Hence, Gramsci and his followers have stressed that laying the foundations of ultimate, unshakable Communist power requires establishing absolute “hegemony” over culture, and especially over religion.

Gramsci’s writings by no means dispense with the need to seize property, as well as the physical power—as Machiavelli put it—to “make [the people] believe when they no longer want to believe.” But Gramscian Communists, unlike orthodox Marxists, believe that power over minds facilitates and secures all other kinds of power.

Lenin and Stalin destroyed church buildings and murdered priests. That did nothing to make people forget Christianity. Gramsci thought that Mussolini’s approach—paying the priests, helping to choose bishops who talked of less of Christ than of patriotic duty, and of Christ in Fascist-friendly terms—was likelier to kill Christianity by co-opting it.

In short, Gramscian Communists want to attack the whole civilization by seizing the culture’s commanding heights, and changing the meaning of cultural icons—as well as backing that up with police power over livelihoods.

Mayor Pete’s Gramscian Campaign

A few political commentators have noted the incongruity in Mayor Pete’s self-proclaimed moderation. Loudly, he vows fidelity to all manner of American cultural icons: Religion above all, family, the military, capitalism, and so on. But the not so fine print of what he says about each and all of these is at variance with how most Americans understand them.

If these commentators had read Gramsci—whom Pete has read as an editor reads—they would not merely say that he has one foot in the moderate camp and another in the radical one. No. From a Gramscian standpoint, Pete’s views make perfect Communist sense.

Religion? Christianity and Judaism, above all and to the near-exclusion of all, are about worshiping God and obeying his commandments. But to Pete, religion is about justifying his party’s political agenda.

Start with Creation. “Male and female created He them,” says Genesis, so that they may “be fruitful and multiply.” But the party says that sex is a social construct. Jewish law prescribes death to punish homosexuality. Pete and the party don’t object to calling Jesus homosexual and insist that opposition to homosexuality is un-Christian. Their Christianity also requires no control of immigration.

“He who does not work, neither shall he eat?” By their Christianity, St. Paul is un-Christian. So is anybody who stands in the way of killing babies who survive abortions. For the party approved version of Christianity, the Decalogue’s protection of innocent human life is anti-woman.

Is there any doubt that adherence to this version of Christianity is all about making Christianity anathema to Christians in a way that Lenin and Stalin could never manage?

Family? Mayor Pete, who has counseled a 9-year-old boy to “come out” as a homosexual, touts that he is “a happily married man” who looks forward to having and raising children. To describe a homosexual couple taking adopting children generated by someone else and raising them in their own image remains repugnant to most people. Americans will not vote to place a pair of homosexuals into the White House as paragons of family life. Lenin and Stalin and Mao tried to abolish families by making life difficult for them. Gramsci would have done more by transforming family life into an off-putting parody.

Country? Mayor Pete touts his nominal military service. He speaks vaguely of “reordering power relationships in the Middle East,” and passionately about his opposition to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “racism.” But of what does his brand of militant nationalism consist? We may note that he opposes focusing anti-terrorism on Muslim countries as “Islamophobic.” For him, “white supremacism” is the threat.

The Tightening Gramscian Grip

Buttigieg, who comes across as the proverbial three-dollar bill, is going nowhere. But were Antonio Gramsci to survey today’s America, he would be hopeful.

Thanks to our dumbed-down, politically correct educational system, more and more Americans are susceptible to identifying religion, economics, and morality in the way our corrupt ruling class embodies them. Because our ruling class—religious leaders, politicians, professors, corporate officials, Hollywood, the media—are redefining the icons of American life in their own corrupt images, people increasingly are willing to turn their backs on them.

Gramsci would have reason to hope that, soon, Americans will no longer remember who they once were, and that, not wanting anything to do with what they now misunderstand that older America to have been, will be unable to resist the party.

But not yet. Not with Pete Buttigieg.

About Angelo Codevilla

Angelo M. Codevilla is a senior fellow of the Claremont Institute, professor emeritus of international relations at Boston University and the author of To Make And Keep Peace (Hoover Institution Press, 2014).

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