chapter
Introduction
Pages 20

The philosophy of praxis, Gramsci tells us, “must initially adopt a polemical stance, as superseding the existing mode of thinking” and must, therefore, “present itself as a critique of ‘common sense’ ” and as a “critique of the intellectuals” who, as modern social and political scientists illustrate, think of themselves as guided by an infallible scientific methodology and thus as “free from the idols of the age” (Gramsci 2007, Q8 §220, 369; Gramsci 1996b, Q4 §46, 197). Since “common sense” is in Gramsci’s view “the most widespread and rooted ideology” in modern forms of citizenship, civil society and liberal democracy – for these are among the idols of the age – and functions very much like a religion in Croce’s sense, that is, as “a conception of the world that has been converted into a norm of life,” it unconsciously binds the will of the masses to these institutions and provides them with “certitude” of their rightness (Gramsci 1996b, Q4 §41, 189).1 But this common sense sometimes also disguises itself as scientific truth in social “science” academic research, and in this form, too, common sense deposits into “reality,” without either knowledge or intention, what it already presupposes about it, and, as such, provides the organic intellectuals of the current historical bloc with the ontological certitude they unreflectively find in the “facts” of their respective and abstract fields of disciplinary intervention.2 For thinkers like Habermas, for example, “our self-perception as free and responsible agents is not just a necessary illusion, but the transcendental a priori of scientific knowledge itself ” (Žižek 2014a, 185). It is this circular hermeneutic of “common sense” built into the scientific method that makes its products operate as a dangerous form of ideology, a procedure that functions just like a popular conception of the world, or even as a form of religion, which, as such, becomes a necessary target of the philosophy of praxis and a key reason why the critical theorist does not hesitate to take sides. It is as if what Nietzsche saw as the “twilight of the idols” in modern times had, in fact, become what Weber predicted and critical theory confirmed, in culture and politics as much as in science, as the “return of the idols.” But this common sense qua new form of secular religion is not just spontaneously generated by social dynamics. This is a form of knowledge that results from the work of what Gramsci calls “organic intellectuals,” who construct it or abstract it out of

already socialized and deeply entrenched bourgeois norms that underpin modern forms of citizenship, civil society and liberal democracy, thus making common sense a key component of the existing architecture of power. The philosophy of praxis thus targets not only ordinary common sense but also the common sense of these higher intellectuals, these priests of the present reality and these peddlers of abstract creations. In this precise sense, therefore, the philosophy of praxis is a critique of the most cherished idols, fetishes and sacred institutions of the dominant system of reality, and there are no greater or more influential idols today than those of modern citizenship, civil society and liberal democracy, and their systematic promotion worldwide. Against the religion, politics and science of the current system of reality, Gramsci deploys his version of the philosophy of praxis as a philosophy of the “impure act.”3 In doing so, Gramsci ceases to operate within the framework of the pure or practical reason of individualist bourgeois political practice – underpinning the subject of modern liberalism – as elaborated in the Kantian and neo-Kantian tradition and recently restated in the work of Rawls and Habermas. In key ways, this is a form of reason that entered the field of science as well as that of traditional critical theory, including the kind of orthodox Marxism Gramsci fought against. Instead, Gramsci takes a decisive step towards us and operates according to the new logic of “impure” reason, a reason that turns the Kantian imperative upside down and foregrounds the collective act that is simultaneously committed to the passionate reconstitution of reality (as the case of the factory councils in Turin exemplifies quite well) and to the constitutive practices and collective discipline of the Modern Prince (as the case of the type of political party Gramsci invites us to consider demonstrates). It is through the simultaneous deployment of this dialectically combined impure act that we can engage in the evental and constitutive politics of counter-hegemony and demolish the sacred hegemonic idols of this highly destructive historical bloc called liberal and neoliberal capitalism. This, for Gramsci, is the impure act “in the most secular sense of the word.”4