What Gramsci calls 'common sense' . . . typically grounds consent. Common sense is constructed out of long-standing practices of cultural socialization often rooted deep in regional or national traditions. It is not the same as 'good sense' that can be constructed out of critical engagement with the issues of the day. Common sense can, therefore, be profoundly misleading, obfuscating or disguising real problems under cultural prejudices. Cultural and traditional values (such as belief in God and country or views on the position of women in society) and fears (of communists, immigrants, strangers, or 'others') can be mobilized to mask other realities. Political slogans can be invoked that mask specific strategies beneath vague rhetorical devices. The word 'freedom' resonates so widely with the common-sense understanding of Americans that it becomes 'a button that elites can press to open the door in the masses' to justify almost anything. Thus could Bush retrospectively justify the Iraq war. Gramsci therefore concluded that political questions become 'insoluble' when 'disguised as cultural ones'. (David Harvey, BHoN, p. 39)
I've never read Gramsci, but I've been saying here for years that we need to separate out political issues from cultural issues. People who belong to different tribes frequently have a common enemy, and they figure out how to make alliances when facing a common threat. But that would require a level of 'good sense' that neither traditionalist nor cosmopolitan tribalists in American society seem capable of mustering.
In the rhetorical tradition, the verbal tool used to evoke common sense is the commonplace. A common place is an idea or a value that one absorbs with one's mother's milk. It's assumed to be true the way we all assume that the truth in an adage like the "early bird gets the worm." Politics runs on commonplaces, and the rhetorical challenge is to develop narratives that resonate with American commonplaces.
In the post I put up the other day, I talk about how Neoliberalism's appeal lies in its use of commonplaces. I quote Harvey who says "The founding figures of neoliberal thought took political ideals of human dignity and individual freedom as fundamental, as a 'central values of civilization'." These are the core values of the liberal tradition tracing back to the 1600s. But the real question is whose freedom, whose dignity? Harvey concludes his first chapter with this passage:
Thirty years of neoliberal freedoms have, after all, not only restored power to a narrowly defined capitalist class. They have also produced immense concentrations of corporate power in energy, the media, pharmaceuticals, transportation, and even retailing (for example Wal-Mart). The freedom of the market that Bush proclaims as the high point of human aspiration turns out to be nothing more than the convenient means to spread corporate monopoly power and Coca Cola everywhere without constraint. With disproportionate influence over the media and the political process this class (with Rupert Murdoch and Fox News in the lead) has both the incentive and the power to persuade us that we are all better off under a neoliberal regime of freedoms. For the elite, living comfortably in their gilded ghettos, the world must indeed seem a better place. As Polanyi might have put it, neoliberalism confers rights and freedoms on those 'whose income, leisure and security need no enhancing', leaving a pittance for the rest of us. How is it, then, that 'the rest of us' have so easily acquiesced in this state of affairs? (David Harvey, BHoN, p. 38)
How is it indeed? Well, part of the answer is that we have been skillfully manipulated by powerful factions who know their way around a commonplace. The appeal to American values that made sense in a country of 5 million people before the industrial revolution is being very effectively deployed to reinforce political and economic arrangements that favor these elites. And the opposition to these ideas has been very successfully framed as 'socialism', which is anathema to these ideals. The result is