Mr. Susan’s Worldview in V for Vendetta: A Fear of Counterhegemony

This is the first in a series of posts about V for Vendetta. This series will examine the interplay between security and liberty in Alan Moore’s graphic novel. In this post, we will do a close-reading to tease out V for Vendetta‘s discourse on hegemony and Mr. Susan’s worldview. The next post will look at how Mr. Susan attempted to secure his worldview through government institutions.

Introduction 

V for Vendetta is set in mid-1990s London, which is still reeling from the aftermath a of nuclear war between Russia and the United States in 1988.[1] Nuclear blasts ravaged Africa and continental Europe. As a result, England experienced food shortages, riots, and extensive disruption of public services that included sewage and water treatment.[2] England’s democratic government dissolved, and political factions began vying for power.[3] Eventually, right-wing and fascist parties coalesced with the remaining corporations to form a political group known as “Norsefire,” which gained control of the turmoil in London.[4] London citizens welcomed the arrival of Norsefire with open arms.[5] Norsefire’s rise to power is strongly evocative of a hegemonic power shift.

Hegemony: Norsefire’s Rise to Power

Generally, hegemony is dominance by one social group or country over others.[6] The dominating group gains power over the dominated group through “the diffusion and popularization of the worldview of the ruling class”.[7] Similarly, Antonio Gramsci conceives hegemony as “the use of ideology or discourse by the dominating group [the “hegemon”] for maintaining control in an intellectual and moral way.”[8] Essentially, hegemony occurs when a group gains and retrains power over others by disseminating and popularizing its worldview. Importantly, it is not coercion but the worldview that brings and keeps the dominant group in power. Furthermore, the dominant group can be comprised of multiple discourses (the “rational articulation and dissemination of [world] views”).[9] In other words, the dominant group can embody multiple worldviews.

In V for Vendetta, Norsefire becomes the dominant group that rules over the dominated Londoners. Norsefire is comprised of multiple worldviews, which includes right-wing fascists groups, representing political ideologies, and large corporations, representing economic theories. Norsefire popularized its worldviews when it marched into London and took control with its banners flying, showing all of London the symbol of their party: a large ‘N’.[10] Norsefire restored social order to London by controlling random acts of violence, by giving Londoners jobs in factories, and providing Londoners with food.[11] Norsefire restored civil society to Londoners, which caused Norsefire to become extremely popular and widely accepted. Londoners associated the party symbol and the Norsefire party itself with social control and an emerging economy. More generally, Londoners associated Norsefire with the security that was lost when the former government dissolved.[12] In its early stages, Norsefire maintained control by demonstrating its dedication to social order (moral means) and its attempt to rejuvenate the economy (intellectual means).

Diffusion of the dominant group’s worldview originates in civil society, where intellectuals extend the worldview of the dominant group to the dominated group, thereby enabling free consent of the dominated group.[13] Simply, the dominant group offers the dominated group a choice to accept its worldview. The dominant group’s worldview is contained in and offered through “social practices, the institutional ensemble of the state, its repressive apparatus, education, welfare, economic processes, national institutions and so on.”[14] The dominant group’s means for disseminating and enforcing hegemony results in hegemonic control, consent and resistance.[15]

Norsefire allowed Londoner’s to freely consent to its worldview as it rose to power. When it restored civil society, Norsefire offered Londoners an opportunity to accept its worldview. Londoners openly cheered Norsefire’s rise to power; they welcomed the return to a secure society with a peacekeeping force and a new economy. The Londoners’ warm welcome for Norsefire and its worldview, however, were short lived. Norsefire began to cull dissenters, minorities, and homosexuals from the general population by forcing them into “resettlement camps,” not unlike concentration camps in Nazi Germany where people were systematically killed.[16]

Norsefire shifted its means of control from moral and intellectual ways to coercive means. As a result, Londoners began to reject Norsefire, thereby rejecting its worldview. When consent is not achieved as previously described—when the worldview is not accepted—the dominant group relies on its coercive apparatus to retain power.[17] It is beneficial to explore the conditions of hegemony in more detail in order to understand why Norsefire relied on its coercive apparatus to retain power instead of relying on consent to its worldview.

Norsefire as a Hegemon

The conditions of hegemony where a dominant group rises to power are that (1) the dominant group (the hegemon) was originally one of the actors of roughly equal status; (2) the dominant group tries to exert control over other actors by constructing and imposing its worldview; and (3) other actors contest the hegemon’s dominance.[18] The first condition was met when Norsefire rose to power as an actor of equal status among the various gangs that were vying for power in London.[19] The second condition was met where Norsefire exerted control over the other actors by constructing and disseminating its worldview to Londoners. Mr. Adam Susan, the Norsefire Leader, asserted the worldview that Norsefire disseminated, “Oh yes, I am a fascist…The Romans invented Fascism. A bundle of bound twigs was its symbol. One twig could be broken. A bundle would prevail. Fascism…Strength in Unity.”[20] Norsefire formed from various right-wing groups and corporations in order to become strong enough to take control of the social chaos of post-war London. Norsefire demonstrated the strength of a unified people when it restored security to London. From that point, Norsefire united the people of London under its ‘N’ banner. The banner was a symbol of the strength of the Norsefire party that overcame chaos. It was a symbol of strength in unity and security in London.

Adam_Susan

The third condition of hegemony was met when other groups contested Norsefire’s dominance. Other factions vying for power in London initially contested Norsefire’s dominance. Additionally, once Norsefire gained power, radical opposition groups formed. This third condition caused Norsefire to implement its strength in unity worldview, as we shall see, in a disconcerting and reprehensible way. Mr. Susan stated, “I believe in strength. I believe in unity. And if that strength, that unity of purpose, demands a uniformity of thought, word and deed then so be it.”[21] Mr. Susan was willing to demand uniformity, to demand that Londoners conform to Norsefire’s additional worldview for the sake of state security: fascism.

The Origin of Mr. Susan’s and Norsefire’s Worldview

It is important to note that hegemony is not an artificial and conspicuous means to bend the will of the population. Rather, hegemony develops naturally and transparently. Howard Letner asserts that an ideology (or worldview) originates from (1) an individual’s attempt to understand his situation and (2) a need for a means to mobilize others into joining a political movement and provide direction to the political group through rhetoric.[22] Applying Letner’s understanding of ideology, we can see Norsefire’s attempt to understand its situation and the need to mobilize others to join Norsefire through Mr. Susan.

In one scene, Mr. Susan’s car pulls up to The Head, the central office of the Norsefire party, and he reflects upon his role as the Norsefire Leader.[23] He begins an internal monologue by stating, “My name is Adam Susan. I am the Leader. Leader of the lost, ruler of the ruins. I am a man, like any other man. I lead the country that I love out of the wilderness of the twentieth century. I believe in survival.”[24] From atop Old Baily, London’s Central Criminal Court, Madam Justice overlooks Mr. Susan’s car as it passes. Mr. Susan looks up to Madam Justice during a break in his thoughts, as if to acknowledge Madam Justice as their source.[25]

Mr. Susan views himself as leading his people out of the “wilderness” that resulted from nuclear war between the United States and Russia. He identifies himself with the common man, and his first proclamation of belief is that he believes in survival. This provides the foundations for his worldview. He understands his world as a place where every person is in a struggle to survive as they emerge from the “wilderness of the twentieth century.” By calling the post-nuclear war era a wilderness, Mr. Susan acknowledges the lack of security that, for him, results in an inadequate means for survival.

Lost in self-reflection, the only moment Mr. Susan averts his attention is to gaze upon Madam Justice, where she appears in a wordless panel, couched between Mr. Susan’s preceding and subsequent thoughts. In this context, for Mr. Susan, to provide security is to provide justice. This conception of justice is how Mr. Susan makes sense of the world. Mr. Susan expands upon his idea of security as justice, “I believe in the destiny of the Nordic race. I believe in fascism…I believe in strength. I believe in unity.”[26] Mr. Susan seeks to ensure security for the Nordic race by adhering to Aryan supremacy and fascist worldviews. He believes these worldviews provide the necessary means to lead Londoners out of the “wilderness” and into a civil and secure society. These worldviews provide a political direction and an offer for Londoners to join Norsefire’s political group on the premise of security.

In addition to developing from the individual’s need to understand his place in the world and a means to mobilize others to join his cause, hegemony also “stems from such human group characteristics as fear of domination, drive for autonomy and aspiration to dominate others.”[27] Since Mr. Susan’s worldview is premised on security, it is not difficult to infer that Mr. Susan is fearful of being dominated by others.

The fear of domination is coextensive with Mr. Susan’s belief in the destiny of the Nordic race; the belief that the Nordic race will prevail over all others. To ensure the destiny of the Nordic race, Norsefire addresses any threats to its worldview with mass executions of anyone who would not accept its worldview. This fear also manifests itself in a common valediction in V for Vendetta, often spoken by Mr. Susan: “England prevails.”[28] The valediction asserts England—Norsefire’s England—will prevail over opposing forces and that Norsefire will not be dominated. As the next section will address, Norsefire was particularly fearful of a counterhegemonic movement that would usurp the Norsefire regime. Furthermore, if a person is not dominated, then he is able to retain autonomy from other forces and is able to adhere to his own worldview. In Mr. Susan’s case, if he is not dominated by another worldview that precludes a belief in the destiny of the Nordic race, he retains his autonomy to pursue his own fascist ends. Mr. Susan wished to dominate others so that he would not become dominated himself and lose his autonomy to pursue his worldview. This is demonstrated by the mass execution of persons who would oppose his worldview, which will be discussed more thoroughly in the next section.

Norsefire rose to power by disseminating its worldview of security to the people of London. The people of London accepted this worldview, however, they did not realize the premise of that worldview was survival of the Nordic race. The following section discusses how the demand of conformity for the sake of security caused Norsefire to become a non-hegemonic structure.

The Downfall of Norsefire as a Hegemon

The primary goal of the hegemon is to obtain consent from the dominated group. This may result in consent, reluctant compliance (where the dominated group adheres to hegemony only to preserve peace), or resistance (where the dominated group “constructs and adheres to discourses antithetical to the hegemony”).[29] Each reaction to the hegemon’s attempt to disseminate its worldview and obtain consent to that worldview creates an identity within the hegemonic structure: conformist identities give consent, dramaturgical identities feign consent to the dominant group, and resistant identities defy the dominant group.[30]

Norsefire saw obvious opposition to its control of London from the radical groups that emerged, and Norsefire sent these groups to “resettlement camps” for execution.[31] Norsefire was also concerned with opposition groups that might emerge, as evidenced when Norsefire took Evey’s father away for execution because he was in a socialist party when he was younger.[32] Obvious and potential opposition to Norsefire constituted resistant identities. Resistant identities were dangerous for Norsefire because, as Mr. Susan states, the meaning of fascism had been “lost in the bleatings of the weak and the treacherous.”[33] In other words, fascism lost its meaning as a result of the resistant identities’ opposition to fascism. The bleatings of the weak are the resistant identities that speak out against fascism. They are the voices that attempt to erode fascism’s foundation and the State’s security by calling attention to problems with the fascist worldview. Admittedly, I am extrapolating more than the text is offers in regards to what is meant by “bleatings of the weak.” It seems, however, a fair analysis within the context.

Keeping the slogan of “strength in unity” in mind, Mr. Susan views anyone outside the unity of Norsefire as problematic because they are a potential threat to the Norsefire’s worldview and the to State security. Mr. Susan’s solution is to destroy the resistant identities by sending them to their deaths at the resettlement camps. This view, the fear of anyone not accepting of Norsefire’s worldview and the possible threats to state security that might result, is made clear by a former Norsefire resettlement camp Commander. The protagonist, V, asks the former Commander why he allowed mass executions at the camp. The Commander responds, “Look, you know as well as I do…We had to do what we did. All the darkies, the nancy boys and the beatniks…It was us or them. Us or them. DON’T YOU UNDERSTAND? [original emphasis]”[34] This response not only addresses resistant identities by emphasizing the “us or them” stance of Norsefire, it addresses dramaturgical identities as well under its “strength in unity” worldview.

Mr. Susan notes that the Norsefire worldview embraces “the destiny of the Nordic race.”[35] Dramaturgical identities would likely exist under the Norsefire regime where minority populations would not embrace white supremacy, but may understand opposition as too risky. Other Norsefire practices, such as hostility towards homosexuals, may also result in dramaturgical identities that would not accept Norsefire’s worldview. As a result, Norsefire sent all minorities and homosexuals, essentially all possible dramaturgical identities, to resettlement camps to be killed.[36] Norsefire’s removal of the resistant and dramaturgical identities (dissenters, minorities, and homosexuals) ultimately resulted in a non-hegemonic structure where Norsefire sought to retain power through compulsion.

The Fear of Counterhegemony

Lentner argues that the crucial element to a hegemonic structure is autonomy, wherein consent to a dominant group is possible because it is the result of free, non-coerced choice.[37] Lentner draws on two definitions of autonomy. The first is from C. Castoriadis, who says that autonomy is the ability to question power relations as an individual and as a social group.[38] The second is from P.B. Clarke, who holds that autonomy is achieved when choices are available to an individual, a self, who can initiate action in the world, and the world is “capable of yielding certain kinds of actions”.[39] The key point is that acceptance of a worldview within a hegemonic structure is not coerced. It is made from a choice to accept the worldview. Autonomy within hegemony exists where the dominated group has a choice to accept the dominant group’s worldview.[40]

In V for Vendetta, Londoners were not forced to accept Norsefire’s worldview before it came into power. They were eager to usher in Norsefire as a new hegemonic structure because it gave them social order, an economy, and food; it gave them security in a world of chaos. Evey remembers when Norsefire took power, “I remember when they marched into London. They had a flag with their symbol on. Everyone was cheering.”[41] Londoners chose to accept Norsefire and its worldview. The previously democratic government ceased to exist after the war between the United States and Russia.[42] The fascist Norsefire regime was able to become the dominant group because a power vacuum developed when the democratic government dissolved. Londoners had a choice to accept Norsefire, which they did, exemplified when they cheered the party on as it entered the city. The switch from a democratic government to a totalitarian regime is representative of a hegemonic shift, where one hegemonic structure replaces another. The previous hegemon, democracy, had stopped existing before the new hegemon, fascism, took its place. In contrast to the hegemonic shift that occurred when Norsefire took power, a hegemonic shift may also occur when a counterhegemony usurps the dominant group.

Counterhegemony is “an alternative conception of political order that is opposed to the prevailing hegemonic system.”[43] Counterhegemony occurs when the dominated group rejects the dominant group’s worldview and asserts an alternative worldview, thereby opening the door for a counterhegemonic movement that threatens to replace the dominant group.[44] Counterhegemonic movements may be successful when there is a state crisis and the state breaks down.[45] During state reconstruction, a counterhegemony alters the previous hegemon by giving society a certain, or new, direction.[46] It is through crisis that the transition to a different hegemonic structure is possible.

In a crisis, the dominated people may “cease to believe the words of the national leaders, and begin to abandon the traditional parties.”[47] A common precipitating factor of a crisis is war, where the ruling class may resort to “mystifications,” such as blaming marginalized classes or making irrational appeals to “patriotic sentiment.[48] More extreme measures to preserve the state may result, especially when multiple groups attempt to establish supremacy, where oppositional groups are marked for “suppression or annihilation by violence.”[49] Norsefire was not a counterhegemony because it did not usurp a hegemonic structure that was in place. The former democratic government was non-existent, and Norsefire rose as the dominant hegemonic structure under the three conditions of hegemony discussed above. Norsefire did, however, come to power after a state crisis of war, the effects of which were still apparent and continued under Norsefire’s control.

The effects of the war, which occurred in 1988, still lingered in London in 1997.[50] Areas of London were under quarantine due to reasons of health and safety, food was rationed, munitions factories provided income for underage workers, and England’s industrial prospects were analyzed on a timeline beginning at the end of the war.[51] Mr. Susan also acknowledges the lingering effects of the war. He states during his internal monologue, “I will not hear talk of freedom. I will not hear talk of individual liberty. They are luxuries. I do not believe in luxuries. The war put paid to luxury. The war put paid to freedom.”[52] The war still existed as a crisis in London where many aspects of daily life are defined by the war; from the meals people eat to the extent of their personal freedom. He goes on to say, “The only freedom left to my people is the freedom to starve. The freedom to die, the freedom to live in a world of chaos. Should I allow them that freedom? I think not.”[53]

For Mr. Susan, the war left his people, the Nordic race, in the wilderness—in a world of chaos—where the individual’s freedom allowed him to starve and die. This perspective needs to be considered in the context of post-war London, where the government had ceased to exist. People were no longer under the watchful eye of the government and were left to their own devices with complete freedom from government intervention. V for Vendetta presents this freedom in a light that is evocative of a Hobbesian state of nature. Thomas Hobbes considered the idea of freedom from government in his foundational work Leviathan. He points out that complete freedom without government regulation would lead to a “war of all against all” where a person would live in “continual fear,” in “danger of violent death” and a life that would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”[54]

The Hobbesian state of nature is exemplified when Evey recounts her father’s attempts to protect his family from the social chaos that erupted after the dissolution of government. Evey’s father took initiative to protect against the roving gangs, food shortages, and disease by forming a protection committee within their neighborhood.[55] The committee, however, as Evey noted, “didn’t help much” because there was no food, the sewers flooded and everyone became sick.[56] Evey also stated that, “There were riots, and people with guns. Nobody knew what was going on. Everyone was waiting for the government to do something…But there wasn’t any government anymore [emphasis original].”[57] Londoners were constantly threatened by harm and death by violence, sickness and starvation, very much in tune with Hobbes’s state of nature. Londoners’ freedom from the government resulted in dangerous and unsettling conditions. Mr. Susan addressed this type of freedom in his monologue.

Mr. Susan’s conception of personal freedom results in chaos, in the “wilderness of the twentieth century.”[58] Mr. Susan denies individual freedom in order to deny chaos. By denying chaos, Mr. Susan seeks to remove the individual from of the wilderness—the Hobbesian state of nature—and into a fascist society where people no longer have the freedom to die but are given the opportunity to be secure in a civil society. Moreover, personal freedom is problematic for Mr. Susan because it makes a counterhegemony possible. Personal freedom would allow the individual to accept or reject Norsefire’s worldview. If people were allowed to reject Norsefire’s worldview, then Norsefire runs the risk of a counterhegemony usurping its control. Norsefire was particularly vulnerable to a counterhegemony usurping its place as the dominant group because of the continuing crisis the war created.


[1] Alan Moore & David Lloyd, V for Vendetta 27 (DC Comics 2005).

[2] Id. at 28

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Oxford American Dictionary Mac Edition (2011).

[7] Antonio Gramsci, Gli intellettuali e l’organizzazione della cultura 9 (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform 2012).

[8] Benedetto Fontana, Hegemony and Power: On the Relation between Gramsci and Machiavelli 33-34 (U of Minnesota P 1993).

[9] Id.

[10] Moore, supra note 4, at 28.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Gramsci, supra note 10, at 9

[14] Howard H. Lentner, Hegemony and Autonomy 53 Political Studies. 735, 741 (2005).

[15] Barry Smart, The Politics of Truth and the Problem of Hegemony, in Michel Foucault: Critical Assessments, Volume 2 211-216 (Routledge 2002).

[16] Moore, supra note 4, at 29.

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

[19] Id. at 28.

[20] Id. at 37.

[21] Id.

[22] Letner, supra note 14 at 745.

[23] Moore, supra note 1, at 37.

[24] Id.

[25] Id.

[26] Id.

[27] Letner, supra note 14 at 745.

[28] Moore, supra note 2 at 30.

[29] Id. letner At 745?

[30] Id.

[31] Id. at 28. Moore, supra note 2 at 30?

[32] Id.

[33] Id. at 37.

[34] Id. at 33.

[35] Id. at 37.

[36] Id. at 28.

[37] Lentner, supra note 14 at 741.

[38] Id. at 747.

[39] Id.

[40] Letner, supra note 14 at 748.

[41] Moore, supra note 2, at 28.

[42] Id. at 28.

[43] Letner, supra note 14 at 748.

[44] Id.

[45] Id.

[46] Id.

[47] Benedetto Croce, Il materialism storico e la filosofia di Benedetto Croce, in The Modern Prince and Other Writings 42-50 (Louis Marks trans., Cameron Associates 1957).

[48] Id. at 49.

[49] Lentner, supra note 14 at 741.

[50] Moore, supra note 2, at 9.

[51] Id. at 9-11.

[52] Id. at 37.

[53] Id. at 38.

[54] Thomas Hobbes, The English Works of Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury (Sir William Molesworth ed., Bohn, 1839-45).

[55] Moore, supra note 2, at 28.

[56] Id.

[57] Id.

[58] Id. at 37.

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