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This page Hegemony is part of the politics series.Illustration:Liberty Leading the People (1831, detail) by Eugène Delacroix.
This page Hegemony is part of the politics series.
Illustration:Liberty Leading the People (1831, detail) by Eugène Delacroix.
Hollywood is iconic for the cultural imperialism of the United States

"The Marxist theory of cultural hegemony, associated particularly with Antonio Gramsci, is the idea that the ruling class can manipulate the value system and mores of a society, so that their view becomes the world view (Weltanschauung): in Terry Eagleton's words, "Gramsci normally uses the word hegemony to mean the ways in which a governing power wins consent to its rule from those it subjugates". (Terry Eagleton, Ideology: An Introduction, London: Verso, 1991).""--Sholem Stein

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Hegemony (leadership, rule) is an indirect form of imperial dominance in which the hegemon (leader state) rules sub-ordinate states by the implied means of power rather than direct military force. In Ancient Greece (8th c. BC – AD 6th c.), hegemony denoted the politico–military dominance of a city-state over other city-states. In the nineteenth century, hegemony denoted the predominance of one country upon others; from which derives hegemonism, the Great Power politics meant to establish hegemony. In twentieth-century political science, the concept of hegemony is central to cultural hegemony, a philosophic and sociologic explanation of how, by the manipulation of the societal value system, one social class dominates the other social classes of a society, with a world view justifying the status quo of bourgeois hegemony.



In the praxis of hegemony, the leader state (hegemon) formally establishes indirect imperial dominance (rule) by means of cultural imperialism, which dictates the internal politics and societal character of the sub-ordinate states that constitute the hegemonic sphere of influence. The imposition of the hegemon’s way of life — its language (as the 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. In the event, 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; the examples are the latter-stage Spanish and British empires, and the unified Germany (ca. 1871–1945).


In the Greco–Roman world of 5th century European Classical antiquity, the city-state of Sparta was the hegemon of the Peloponnesian League (6th – 4th centuries BC); 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 Ancient Eastern Asia, Chinese hegemony was during the Spring and Autumn Period (ca. 770–480 BC), when the weakened rule of the Eastern Zhou Dynasty led to the relative autonomy of the Five Hegemons (Ba in Chinese [霸]) who were appointed by feudal lord conferences, and thus were nominally obliged to uphold the imperium of the Zhou Dynasty over the sub-ordinate states. In late 16th– and early 17th-century–Japan, the term hegemon applies to its “Three Unifiers” — Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu — who ruled most of the country by hegemony.

Middle Ages

As a universal, politico–cultural hegemonic practice, the cultural institutions of the hegemon establish and maintain the political annexation of the sub-ordinate peoples; in Italy, the Medici maintained their medieval Tuscan hegemony, by controlling the production of woolens by controlling the Arte della Lana guild, in the Florentine city-state. In Holland, the Dutch Republic’s 17th-century (1609–1672) mercantilist dominion was a first instance of global, commercial hegemony, made feasible with its technological development of wind power and its 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 hegemony via economic, cultural, and military domination of most of continental Europe.

Twentieth century

The USSR (1922–1991), Nazi Germany (1933–1945), and the USA (1945-present) each sought regional (sphere of influence), then global hegemony. Nazi Germany launched the Second World War (1939–1945) in its attempt to gain geographic dominance of Eurasia and Africa; afterwards, the USA and the USSR fought the Cold War (1945–1991) after the Second World War had destroyed the old European empires of France, Britain, Holland, et al. In the mid-twentieth century, the hegemonic conflict was ideologic, between the Communist Warsaw Pact and the Capitalist NATO, wherein each hegemon competed 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 (1965–1975) by participating in the Vietnamese Civil War (1955–1965) that the National Liberation Front fought against the Republic of Vietnam, the client state of the United States.

Twenty-first century

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 counter 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.

Political science

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 (ca. 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 establish the social structures (social and economic classes) with which the ruling class establish and exert cultural dominance to impose their 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.

From the Gramsci analysis derives 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 in the French Consulate (1799–1804). Contemporarily, in Hegemony and Socialist Strategy (1985), Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe define hegemony as a political relationship of power wherein a sub-ordinate society (collectivity) performs 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.


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, 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, then northwards, to the Holy Roman Empire of the Franks. Later, at the Atlantic Ocean, Portugal, Spain, the Netherlands, France, and the United Kingdom established their hegemonic centres.


The use of language can serve as a means of creating and applying hegemony. Any source that disseminates information is, intentionally or not, part of hegemony in that the source can only contain a finite amount of information. Therefore, in the selection of the information it chooses to display, the source is limiting and framing the information that the recipient gets. In this way, the source is practising its influence over the recipient. Examples of the societal aspect of hegemony are churches and media organizations that constantly distribute information to the public. These influential institutions can subtly use language to frame their message and thereby valuate it, helping to further disseminate the adoption of their message. This phenomenon of language influencing thought within a society is an important tie to the idea of cultural hegemony.

See also

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