Hegemony is a system in which an individual or group has strong, unofficial leadership over everyone else, with the consent of weaker parties. The clearest examples of this can be seen in the ancient steppe tribes that attacked China.
In international relations, a hegemon is a state that is able to project its power and force across a given region. In many cases, a hegemonic order can be more stable and efficient, as only a hegemon can provide some collective goods, such as security on the high seas. On a world level, the United States is the only state (as of 2020) that can provide those goods. However, no state has yet been able to achieve "true" hegemony across the whole world. (We have to await "making America great again".)
Regional hegemons are more common. China was the longstanding hegemon of East Asia until the 19th century, for instance. Rome functioned as the hegemon of the Western world in the latter period of the ancient world. Due to its economic supremacy in the region, modern Germany could be considered the hegemon of the European Union, which is a rising superpower in its own right. An exception to this would probably be Great Britain, seeing as it is more industrialized and economically independent than the rest of Western Europe. In 2016, a Britain voted to leave the European Union as a means to pursue self-sustainable economic growth, although some people supported it for other reasons.
The concept of cultural hegemony includes the significance language has in creating a hegemon, through a lingua franca. A cultural hegemony doesn't have to be explicitly political, militaristic, or economic, but more-so refers to countries who share similar values and culture. For instance, the entire West could be considered a cultural hegemony, with Europe and the United States being the two most prominent "hegemons" of culture. All Western nations share common values, with a general ethos built upon several layers of tradition: Classical civilization and its philosophical tradition, Romantic culture, Christianity, free markets, and, most importantly, the liberal ideals of the Enlightenment. In regards to the latter, the West is mostly a culture that, at the core, is incredibly individualistic, self-determined, and discards race as a factor in determining cultural identity.
A political hegemony is an aggregate of nations that are all economically, militarily, diplomatically, and legally tied to one another, within the greater sphere of influence belonging to the hegemon. They may also be culturally linked, but not always. Within this collective, the most powerful nation usually takes leadership in matters of war, trade, economic planning, diplomacy, and matters of state. The less powerful countries, albeit to vague and varying degrees, are all more or less dependent upon the hegemon, which exercises certain levels of political and economic control over the other allied nations. In some cases, their sovereignty, or assistance from the superpower in general, is dependent upon cooperation and certain conditional factors. These countries in turn are referred to as "clients" or "vassal states", which are effectively members of a larger empire, albeit unofficially. Sometimes these sovereign entities will be occupied protectorates considered to be official or de facto holdings of the superpower; other times they may be coercive puppet regimes. Many times, the more independent ones are known as "satellite states". Despite the fact that a central hegemon holds power in these smaller countries, they all remain sovereign and are often able to withdraw from their communion with the rest of the hegemony. However, this does not usually happen due to the fact that all vassal states are more or less dominated by the hegemon's economy and rely on it for military support.
Gramsci and hegemony
Italian communist intellectual Antonio Gramsci used the term "hegemony" to describe the ways in which a society regulated what fell into the realm of the possible, the expressable or the thinkable. Gramscian hegemony is a dense and heavily-debated concept that feminist, post-colonial and post-modern intellectuals have employed in critiques of patriarchal social structures, colonialism and neo-colonialism, capitalism and neoliberalism.[note 1]
With the fall of the Iron Curtain and the collapse of Soviet Russia, the United States of America emerged the world's sole unchallenged superpower. In addition to such, it was arguably the only entity that could claim to be a geopolitical empire, due to its colonial holdings and vast military presence worldwide. However, its imperial status is far more nuanced than that. Unlike the British Empire, which exercised direct control over its territory, the United States' imperial power mostly derives from its influence as the West's most influential hegemon. During the Cold War, the United States installed multiple puppet governments in order to combat the spread of communism, such as Augusto Pinochet in Chile. While these puppet governments are now far more independent than they were & no longer under the direct control of the U.S., America still plays an active role.
Many of these countries, such as former banana republics in South and Central America, are still very much reliant on American multinationals, which have established subsidiaries in those countries. Additionally, in countries like Paraguay and El Salvador, the U.S. plays an active role in training their military forces. The former country often subjects itself to American legislation and regulations, which are made conditional in exchange for support. Many other countries, such as the latter, are active extensions of the United States' economy and are directly impacted by American fiscal policy and subsequent outcomes, such as the recession. El Salvador and many other countries also use the U.S. dollar as their official currency.
In Asia, the Philippines, despite being independent now, could easily be described as an American client state. It has a long history of being ruled by American puppet leaders, especially during the Cold War era. Even today the U.S. has a lot of influence in the Philippine government, and their laws are almost exactly the same as in the U.S. Diplomats also have strong advisory roles in the Halls of Power. Similar to the former banana republics of South America, the Philippines have an economy that relies on the success of American multinationals, and, in addition to that, the nation's defense is almost entirely reliant on an American military presence. The same is true in South Korea, which was once a literal puppet state of the U.S. However, it is far more economically dependent now, although American markets are intertwined with the South Korean economy. However, South Korea almost entirely relies on the U.S. military for protection, and the U.S., in turn, has tremendous influence over the South Korean military and political establishment.
Other countries, such as Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan have been under what could accurately be considered military occupations. Following the Iraq War, the United States helped the country's people set up a government of their own, but it was mostly subject to American political control. Several other Middle Eastern countries could accurately be described as clients of the U.S. as well. One example would be Kuwait, which is an important staging ground for the American military as well as an important supplier of oil. An even better example would specifically be the United Arab Emirates. The United States is directly responsible for the UAE's industrialization, and American corporations practically run its economy. These multinationals are the reason behind the country's recent urban development. Additionally, ever since America took an active political role in the UAE, the national ethos changed from one of Islamic fundamentalism into a democracy built upon Western secular values. But that's not the end of it. The United States also has direct control over 50% of the UAE's military and police forces. In terms of national defense, the United States has official control over the country's ports, compressing a vast naval force in the region, directly responsible for national defense.
Other various satellite states are heavily influenced by the supremacy of the United State's hegemonic influence as well, despite being more autonomous than other countries that outright rely on it in terms of being dependent. Some have argued that, due to strong economic ties and the strong political relationship, Canada could be considered a satellite state of the American Hegemony, although this is more or less a controversial claim.
That being said, the United States is the perfect example of a modern-day hegemonic empire, due to its economic, military, and political influence throughout both hemispheres.
- In my grad programme, the three words every paper needed to get an A are hegemony, discourse, and power.