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. 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 classWeltanschauung, a worldview that justifies the status quo of bourgeoisdomination of the other social classes of the society.
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. 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), and by the end of the twentieth century, the United States.
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.
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."
The USSR (1922–1991), Nazi Germany (1933–1945), and the United States (1823–present) each sought regional hegemony (sphere of influence), then global hegemony. In 1939, Nazi Germany launched the Second World War (1939–1945) to gain geographic dominance of Eurasia and Africa, initially by means of empire (direct control), then by hegemony (indirect control). After the war, the USA and the USSR fought the Cold War (1945–1991) for control of the French, British, and Dutch empires, which had been undermined by the global warfare.
In the post–Cold War (1945–1991) world, the French Socialist politician Hubert Védrine described the USA as a hegemonic hyperpower, because of its unilateral military actions worldwide, especially against Iraq; while the US political scientists John Mearsheimer and Joseph Nye believe 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. Beyer argues that global governance is a product of American leadership and describes it as hegemonic governance.
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.
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). 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. 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'.
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 practises 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.
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^ Beyer, Anna Cornelia (2010). Counterterrorism and International Power Relations. London: I. B. Tauris. ISBN 978-1-84511-892-1.
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