Joan Cocks at Lapham's Quarterly:
The Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci, jailed by Benito Mussolini in a period with fascist features not unfamiliar to us now, directed much of his attention before and after he was imprisoned to the mentality of the rural masses, or what he called “the simple people.” While alert to the cultural sway of professional intellectuals who made a living producing and propagating well-honed ideas, Gramsci insisted that the simple people were not mere living labor machines but were intellectuals, too, with concepts, values, and understandings of the world that added up to a “spontaneous philosophy of the multitude.”
Especially in times of upheaval, such as Italy’s transition from an agricultural system run by rural landowners and the Catholic Church to a capitalist industrial economy, this spontaneous philosophy was neither unitary nor consistent. It took a variety of forms in different segments of the population and in different regions of an unevenly developing country. Even in the brain of a single individual, spontaneous philosophy was typically haphazard and incoherent. Some popular ideas were imposed from without, reflecting an elite worldview that had permeated the general atmosphere via the mediation of professional intellectuals—although, with a ruling elite on the wane, these ideas were on their way to being ossified and antiquated.