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Hegemony ( , English: [UK] , [US]: ; "leadership" or "hegemon" for "leader") is the political, economic, ideological or cultural power exerted by a dominant group over other groups, regardless of the explicit consent of the latter. While initially referring to the political dominance of certain ancient Greek city-states over their neighbours, the term has come to be used in a variety of other contexts, in particular Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci's theory of cultural hegemony.

In politics

Politically, hegemony is the predominance of one political unit over others. Examples include a province within a federation (Prussia in the German Empiremarker) or one person among a committee (Napoleon Bonaparte in the Consulate).

Since the nineteenth century, especially in historical writing, hegemony describes one state's predominance over other states (e.g. Napoleonic France's European hegemony, the United Statesmarker' world hegemony). By extension, hegemonism denotes the policies the great powers practice in seeking predominance, leading, then, to a definition of imperialism.

In the early 20th Century, Italian political scientist Antonio Gramsci developed the concept cultural hegemony by transposing political hegemony beyond international relations to the structure of social class, arguing that cultural hegemony showed how a social class exerts cultural "leadership" or dominance of other classes in maintaining the socio-political status quo. Cultural hegemony identifies and explains domination and the maintenance of power and how the (hegemon) leader class "persuades" the subordinated social classes to accept and adopt the ruling-class values of bourgeois hegemony.

In Hegemony and Socialist Strategy (1985), political theorists Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe refine hegemony as the strategic combination of discrete political principles (from different systems of thought) to a coherent ideology. Similarly, critic Jennifer Daryl Slack further refines hegenomy as "a process, by which a hegemonic class articulates (or co-ordinates) the interests of social groups, such that those groups actively 'consent' to their subordinated status".

Historical hegemony

Hegenomy, or the hegemon, dictates the politics of the hegemony's constituent subordinate states via cultural imperialism — the imposition of its way of life, i.e. its language (the imperial lingua franca) and bureaucracies (social, economic, educational, governing), to make formal its dominance — thus transforming external domination into an abstraction, because power is in the status quo ("the way things are") not in any leader(s). In the event, rebellion (social, political, economic, armed) is eliminated — either by co-optation of the rebel(s) or by police and military suppression, all without the hegemon's direct intervention, e.g. the Spanish and the British empires, and the united Germany (extant 1871–1945).

In the Ancient World, Spartamarker was the hegemon (leader) city-state of the Peloponnesian League, in the 6th century BC, and King Philip II of Macedon was the hegemon of the League of Corinth, in 337 BC, (a kingship he willed to his son, Alexander the Great); in Eastern Asia, it occurred in Chinamarker, during the Spring and Autumn Period (ca. 770–480 BC), when the weakened rule of the Zhou Dynasty lead to the relative autonomy of the Five Hegemons ("Ba" in Chinese [霸]) who were appointed, by feudal lord conferences, and were nominally obliged to uphold the Zhou dynastic imperium over the subordinate states. In late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century-Japan, hegemon applies to its "Three Unifiers" — Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu — who exercised hegemony over most of the country.

As a universal, politico-cultural practice, the hegemon's cultural institutions maintain the hegemony (cf. cultural imperialism); in Italy, the Medici maintained their mediæval Tuscan hegemony, by controlling the Arte della Lana guild, in the Florentine city-state; in Holland, the Dutch Republic's seventeenth-century (1609–1672) mercantilist dominion was a first instance of global, commercial hegemony, made feasible with its technological development of wind power and sophisticated "Four Great Fleets" for the efficient production and delivery of goods and services, which, in turn, made possible its Amsterdam stock market and concomitant dominance of world trade; in France, Louis XIV (1638–1715) established French economic, cultural, and military domination of most of continental Europe; other monarchies (e.g. Russia) adopted French as their court language, and imitated the French style.

In the twentieth century, the USSR and the USA fought the Cold War (1945–91) for global hegemony after the Second World War (1939–45) broke the old European empires. The Warsaw Pact and NATOmarker were the regional arms in a struggle of Communism versus Capitalism. Fighting directly (the arms race) and indirectly (proxy wars) against any country whose internal, national actions might destabilise its hegemony, the USSR defeated the nationalist Hungarian Revolution of 1956, and the USA precipitated the US–Vietnam War (1965–75) by participating in the Vietnamese Civil War (1955–65) the National Liberation Front fought against the Republic of Vietnam, the US's client state.

In the post–Cold War world of the twenty-first century, the French Socialist politician Hubert Védrine describes the USA as a hegemonic hyperpower, while the U.S. political scientists John Mearsheimer and Joseph Nye counter that the USA is not a "true" hegemony, because it does not have the resources to impose a proper, formal, global rule; despite its political and military strength, the USA is economically equal to Europe, thus, cannot rule the international stage. Several other countries are either emerging or re-emerging as powers, such as Chinamarker, Russiamarker, Indiamarker, and the European Union.

Geographic hegemony

In The Production of Space (1992), Henri Lefebvre posits that geographic space is not a passive locus of social relations, but that it is trialectical — constituted by mental space, social space, and physical space — hence, hegemony is a spatial process influenced by geopolitics. In the ancient world, hydraulic despotism was established in the fertile river valleys of Egyptmarker, China, and Mesopotamia. In China, during the Warring States Era, the Qin State created the Chengkuo Canal for geopolitical advantage over its local rivals. In Eurasia, successor state hegemonies were established in the Middle East, using the sea (Greece) and the fringe lands (Persiamarker, Arabia). European hegemony moved west-wards, to Romemarker, then north-wards, to the Holy Roman Empire of the Franks. At the Atlantic Ocean, Portugal, Spain, France, and Britain established their hegemonic centres; in due course, geography dictated that the political centre then move to the USA and the USSR; to wit, geography can determine the long- and short-life of an hegemony, e.g. China's, Pax Sinica and Rome's Pax Romana in contrast to those of the Mongol Empire and Japan's Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere; (see Edward Soja, David Harvey, and Chantal Mouffe).

Resistance and survival

In Mirror for Humanity: A Concise Introduction to Cultural Anthropology (2004), Conrad Phillip Kottak elucidates hegemony ideologically — that an ideology explains why the extant order (politico-military and socio-economic) is in the best interest of everyone; the ideology promises much, and asks the ideologue's (believer's) patience (time) for the promises to be fulfilled.

See also


  1. Clive Upton, Wiliam A. Kretzschmar, Rafal Konopka: Oxford Dictionary of Pronunciation for Current English. Oxford University Press (2001)
  2. Chris Cook, Dictionary of Historical Terms (1983) p.142
  3. A. Bullock, S. Trombley, eds., The New Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought, Third Edition (1999), pp.387–8
  4. K. J. Holsti, The Dividing Discipline: Hegemony and Diversity in International Theory (1985)
  5. Henry Kissinger, Diplomacy (1994), pp. 137-8: " . . . European coalitions were likely to arise to contain Germany's Nazis growing, potentially dominant, power"; p.145: "Unified Germany was achieving the strength to dominate Europe all by itself — an occurrence which Great Britain had always resisted in the past when it came about by conquest".
  6. George C. Kohn Dictionary of Wars (1986) p.496
  7. Joseph S. Nye Sr., Understanding International Conflicts: An introduction to Theory and History, pp. 276-7


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