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"Hegemon" redirects here. For other uses, see Hegemon (disambiguation).

Hegemony (UK /hɨˈɡɛməni/, US /hɨˈɛməni/;[1][2][3] Greek: ἡγεμονία hēgemonía, "leadership, rule") is an indirect form of government, and of imperial dominance in which the hegemon (leader state) rules geopolitically subordinate states by the implied means of power, the threat of force, rather than by direct military force.[4] In Ancient Greece (8th century BCE – 6th century CE), hegemony denoted the politico–military dominance of a city-state over other city-states.[5]

In the 19th century, hegemony denoted the geopolitical and the cultural predominance of one country upon others; from which derived hegemonism, the Great Power politics meant to establish European hegemony upon continental Asia and Africa.[6] In the 20th century, Antonio Gramsci (1891–1937) developed the philosophy and the sociology of geopolitical hegemony into the theory of cultural hegemony, whereby one social class can manipulate the system of values and mores of a society, in order to create and establish a ruling class Weltanschauung, a worldview that justifies the status quo of bourgeois domination of the other social classes of the society.[5][7][8][9]

The threat of the threat: Ancient Greece under the hegemony of Thebes, 371–362 BCE

In the praxis of hegemony, imperial dominance is established by means of cultural imperialism, whereby the leader state (hegemon) dictates the internal politics and the societal character of the subordinate states that constitute the hegemonic sphere of influence, either by an internal, sponsored government or by an external, installed government. The imposition of the hegemon's way of life—an imperial lingua franca and bureaucracies (social, economic, educational, governing)—transforms the concrete imperialism of direct military domination into the abstract power of the status quo, indirect imperial domination.[4] Under hegemony, rebellion (social, political, economic, armed) is eliminated either by co-optation of the rebels or by suppression (police and military), without direct intervention by the hegemon; examples are the latter-stage Spanish and British Empires, the 19th and 20th century Reichs of unified Germany (1871–1945),[10] and by the end of the 20th century, the United States.[11]


The League of Corinth hegemony: the Kingdom of Macedon (362 BCE) and the Corinthian League (yellow)

8th–1st centuries BCE[edit]

In the Greco–Roman world of 5th-century European Classical antiquity, the city-state of Sparta was the hegemon of the Peloponnesian League (6th to 4th centuries BCE) and King Philip II of Macedon was the hegemon of the League of Corinth in 337 BCE (a kingship he willed to his son, Alexander the Great). Likewise, the role of Athens within the short-lived Delian League (478-404 BCE) was that of a "hegemon". In Ancient Eastern Asia, Chinese hegemony was present during the Spring and Autumn Period (c. 770 – 480 BCE), when the weakened rule of the Eastern Zhou Dynasty led to the relative autonomy of the Five Hegemons (Ba in Chinese [霸]). They were appointed by feudal lord conferences, and thus were nominally obliged to uphold the imperium of the Zhou Dynasty over the sub-ordinate states.

15th–19th centuries[edit]

The cultural institutions of the hegemon help establish and maintain the political annexation of subordinate peoples.

In Italy, the Medici controlled of the Arte della Lana guild, which controlled the production of woolens, thereby maintaining their Tuscan hegemony, from the Florentine city-state.

In late 16th– and early 17th-century Japan, "Three Unifiers"—Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu—ruled most of the country by hegemony.

In 17th-century (1609–1672) Holland, the Dutch Republic's mercantilist dominion was a first instance of global, commercial hegemony, made feasible with the development of wind power for the efficient production and delivery of goods and services. This, in turn, made possible the Amsterdam stock market and concomitant dominance of world trade.[citation needed]

In France, King Louis XIV (1638–1715) and (Emperor) Napoleon I (1799–1815) established French hegemony via economic, cultural and military domination of most of Continental Europe.

After the defeat and exile of Napoleon, hegemony largely passed to the British Empire, which became the largest empire in history, with Queen Victoria (1837–1901) ruling over one-quarter of the world's land and population at its zenith. Like the Dutch, the British Empire was primarily seaborne; many British possessions were located around the rim of the Indian Ocean, as well as numerous islands in the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Britain also controlled the Indian subcontinent and large portions of Africa.

In Europe Germany was the strongest power after 1871, but Samuel Newland writes:

Bismarck defined the road ahead as … no expansion, no push for hegemony in Europe. Germany was to be the strongest power in Europe but without being a hegemon. … His basic axioms were first, no conflict among major powers in Central Europe; and second German security without German hegemony."[12]

20th century[edit]

The early 20th century, like the late 19th century was characterized by multiple Great Powers but no global hegemon. World War I weakened the strongest of the Imperial Powers, Great Britain, but also strengthened the United States and, to a lesser extent, Japan. Both of these states' governments pursued policies to expand their regional spheres of influence, the U.S. in Latin America and Japan in East Asia. France, the U.K., Italy, Soviet Russia and later Nazi Germany (1933–1945) all either maintained imperialist polices based on spheres of influence or attempted to conquer territory but none achieved the status of a global hegemonic power.[13]

After the Second World War, the United Nations was established and the five strongest global powers (China, France, the UK, the USA, and the USSR) were given permanent seats on the U.N. Security Council, the organization's most powerful decision making body. Following the war the USA and the USSR were the two strongest global powers and this created a non-aligned bi-polar power dynamic in international affairs, commonly referred to as the Cold War. The hegemonic conflict was ideological, between the Communism and Capitalism, as well as geopolitical, between the Warsaw Pact countries (1955–1991) and NATO/SEATO/CENTO countries (1949–present). During the Cold War both hegemons competed against each other directly (during the arms race) and indirectly (via proxy wars). The result was that many countries, no matter how remote, were drawn into the conflict when it was suspected that their governments' policies might destabilise the balance of power. Proxy wars became battle grounds between forces supported either directly or indirectly by the hegemonic powers and included the Korean War, the Laotian Civil War, the Arab–Israeli conflict, the Vietnam War, the Afghan War, the Angolan Civil War, and the Central American Civil Wars.[14]

Following the Dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 the United States was the world's sole hegemonic power however China was increasingly gaining power relative to the U.S. During the 1990s NATO, the World Trade Organization, and the Bretton Woods Institutions expanded.

21st century[edit]

Various perspectives on whether the U.S. was or continues to be a hegemon have been presented since the end of the Cold War. The American political scientists John Mearsheimer and Joseph Nye have argued that the USA is not a true hegemon because it has neither the financial nor the military resources to impose a proper, formal, global hegemony.[15] while Anna Cornelia Beyer[who?] argues that global governance is a product of American leadership and describes it as hegemonic governance.[16]

The French Socialist politician Hubert Védrine described the USA as a hegemonic hyperpower, because of its unilateral military actions worldwide, especially against Iraq.[citation needed]


The Neo-Marxist Henri Lefebvre proposes that geographic space is not a passive locus of social relations, but that it is trialectical — human geography is 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 Egypt, China, and Mesopotamia. In China, during the Warring States Era (476–221 BCE), 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 (Persia, Arabia). European hegemony moved westwards, to Rome (27 BCE – CE 476/145), then northwards, to the Holy Roman Empire (962–1806) of the Franks. Later, at the Atlantic Ocean, Portugal, Spain, the Netherlands, France, and the United Kingdom established their hegemonic centres.[17]

Political science[edit]

NATO and countries with which it is supposed to be at peace account for over 70% of global military expenditure,[18] with the United States alone accounting for 43% of global military expenditure.[19]

In the historical writing of the 19th century, the denotation of hegemony extended to describe the predominance of one country upon other countries; and, by extension, hegemonism denoted the Great Power politics (c. 1880s – 1914) for establishing hegemony (indirect imperial rule), that then leads to a definition of imperialism (direct foreign rule). In the early 20th century, in the field of international relations, the Italian Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci developed the theory of cultural domination (an analysis of economic class) to include social class; hence, the philosophic and sociologic theory of cultural hegemony analysed the social norms that established the social structures (social and economic classes) with which the ruling class establish and exert cultural dominance to impose their Weltanschauung (world view)—justifying the social, political, and economic status quo—as natural, inevitable, and beneficial to every social class, rather than as artificial social constructs beneficial solely to the ruling class.[5][6][20]

From the Gramsci analysis derived the political science denotation of hegemony as leadership; thus, the historical example of Prussia as the militarily and culturally predominant province of the German Empire (Second Reich 1871–1918); and the personal and intellectual predominance of Napoleon Bonaparte upon the French Consulate (1799–1804).[21] Contemporarily, in Hegemony and Socialist Strategy (1985), Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe defined hegemony as a political relationship of power wherein a sub-ordinate society (collectivity) perform social tasks that are culturally unnatural and not beneficial to them, but that are in exclusive benefit to the imperial interests of the hegemon, the superior, ordinate power; hegemony is a military, political, and economic relationship that occurs as an articulation within political discourse.[22] Beyer analysed the contemporary hegemony of the United States at the example of the Global War on Terrorism and presented the mechanisms and processes of American exercise of power in 'hegemonic governance'.[16]


Main article: Cultural hegemony

Culturally, hegemony also is established by means of language, specifically the imposed lingua franca of the hegemon (leader state), which then is the official source of information for the people of the society of the sub-ordinate state. Therefore, in the selection of the particular information to be communicated to the sub-ordinate populace, the language of the hegemon limits what is communicated; hence, the source practices hegemonic influence upon the person or people receiving the given information. In contemporary society, the exemplar hegemonic organisations are churches and the mass communications media that continually transmit data and information to the public. As such, the ideologic content of the data and information are determined by the vocabulary with which the messages are presented—how the messages are presented; thereby determines the value of the information as "reliable" or "unreliable", as "true" or "false", for the recipient reader, listener, and viewer. Hence language is essential to the imposition, establishment, and functioning of the cultural hegemony that influences what and how people think about the status quo of their society.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Hegemony". Oxford Advanced American Dictionary. Dictionary.com, LLC. 2014. 
  2. ^ "Hegemony". Merriam-Webster Online. Merriam-Webster, Inc. 2014. 
  3. ^ "Hegemony". American Heritage Dictionary. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2014. 
  4. ^ a b Hassig, Ross (1994). Mexico and the Spanish Conquest. New York: Longman. pp. 23–24. ISBN 0-582-06828-2. 
  5. ^ a b c Chernow, Barbara A.; Vallasi, George A., eds. (1994). The Columbia Encyclopedia (Fifth ed.). New York: Columbia University Press. p. 1215. ISBN 0-231-08098-0. 
  6. ^ a b Bullock, Alan; Trombley, Stephen, eds. (1999). The New Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought (Third ed.). London: HarperCollins. pp. 387–388. ISBN 0-00-255871-8. 
  7. ^ Upton, Clive; Kretzschmar, William A.; Konopka, Rafal (2001). Oxford Dictionary of Pronunciation for Current English. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-863156-1. 
  8. ^ Oxford English Dictionary
  9. ^ US Hegemony
  10. ^ Kissinger, Henry (1994). Diplomacy. New York: Simon & Schuster. pp. 137–138. ISBN 0-671-65991-X. "European coalitions were likely to arise to contain Germany's Nazis growing, potentially dominant, power"  As well as 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".
  11. ^ Schoultz, Lars (1999). Beneath the United States: A history of U.S. policy towards Latin America. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 
  12. ^ Samuel J Newland (2005). Victories Are Not Enough: Limitations of the German Way of War. DIANE Publishing. p. 30. 
  13. ^ Hitchens, Christopher (2002). Why Orwell Matters. New York: Basic Books. pp. 86–87. ISBN 0-465-03049-1. 
  14. ^ Kohn, George C. (1986). Dictionary of Wars. New York: Facts on File. p. 496. ISBN 0-8160-1005-6. 
  15. ^ Nye, Joseph S., Sr. (1993). Understanding International Conflicts: An Introduction to Theory and History. New York: HarperCollins. pp. 276–277. ISBN 0-06-500720-4. 
  16. ^ a b Beyer, Anna Cornelia (2010). Counterterrorism and International Power Relations. London: I. B. Tauris. ISBN 978-1-84511-892-1. 
  17. ^ Lefebvre, Henri (1992). The Production of Space. Oxford: Blackwell. ISBN 0-631-14048-4. 
  18. ^ "The SIPRI Military Expenditure Database". Milexdata.sipri.org. Retrieved 2010-08-22. 
  19. ^ "The 15 countries with the highest military expenditure in 2009". Retrieved 2010-08-22. 
  20. ^ Holsti, K. J. (1985). The Dividing Discipline: Hegemony and Diversity in International Theory. Boston: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 0-04-327077-8. 
  21. ^ Cook, Chris (1983). Dictionary of Historical Terms. London: MacMillan. p. 142. ISBN 0-333-44972-X. 
  22. ^ Laclau, Ernest; Mouffe, Chantal (2001). Hegemony and Socialist Strategy (Second ed.). London: Verso. pp. 40–59, 125–144. ISBN 1-85984-330-1. 

Further reading[edit]

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