[OPE-L] hegemony

From: Dogan Goecmen (Dogangoecmen@AOL.COM)
Date: Wed Nov 01 2006 - 11:52:52 EST

Hegemony etymologically derives from ancient Greek hegemon and means 
chieftain. The use of  the concept of hegemony in social and political theory is 
relatively new and  signifies the domination of a social class over others, which 
is exerted beyond  what may be accounted for as coercion, law and  force. 
In the 19th century the concept of  hegemony is used in a specific sense to 
describe the domination of one state  over others. In the period of Napoleon’s 
reign the French control over the rest  of Europe and beyond is referred to as 
a hegemonic  relationship. In this sense of the concept it is used to refer 
to Britain’s political influence and economic  domination beyond its formal 
boundaries in the 19th century and the United State’s after 1945. This meaning of 
the  concept comes very close to the core meaning of the concept of 
imperialism,  namely the great power policies intending to expand and establish 
economic and  political predominance. This meaning of the concept of hegemony is 
still current  in the debates among the theorists of international relations in 
the United  States and in Europe among political theorists on imperialism (new 
imperialism,  euro-imperialism) exploring European Union’s policies, especially 
since the  monetary union in 1999. 
The concept of hegemony has been introduced  into modern social and political 
thought by Russian Philosopher Plekhanov to  describe the relationship 
between a political party and the social class which  the party aims to represent. 
The broader meaning of the concept to refer to the  domination of a social 
class over others by cultural and ideological means has  however been explored by 
Italian philosopher and communist politician Antonio  Gramsci. His central 
category is civil society as distinct from political  society. In his concept 
Gramsci reflects on and explores a long-standing  tradition. On the one hand, he 
looks back to the scholarship on civil society  starting with Locke, Rousseau, 
Kant, and in particular Hegel. On the other hand,  he aims to develop the 
concept of hegemony as has been explored in European  communist movement in the 
first quarter of the 20th century. In his  exploration both of these traditions 
he endeavors to answer the question why the  revolutionary uprisings in 
Western Europe would not succeed, whereas in  Russian it would. 
In classical liberalism there is a distinction  made between civil society 
(consisting of passive citizens) and political  society referring to active 
citizens in magistrates, councils and parliaments  etc. Hegel brings in a third 
element into this conceptual distinction between  civil society and political 
society and redefines the concept. He differentiates  between society consisting 
of families (private sphere), civil society (system  of needs) consisting of 
estates (staende) or classes and the state. When Gramsci  uses the concept of 
civil society he points to Hegelian concept explicitly as  his main source. 
But he draws also on Marx’s distinction between structure and  superstructure. 
He introduces a new element into Hegelian and Marxian concepts.  This new 
element refers to newspapers, journals, universities, churches, trade  unions and 
all sorts of other associations upon which the state rests. The  reason, then, 
why the revolution would succeed in Russia is that there was not any civil  
society that the state could rely on and had to break down under the  
revolutionary pressure. In Western Europe, on the contrary, the state could  activate 
all sorts of elements of civil society and enjoy support from the base  to 
resist revolutionary uprisings. 
This observation leads to develop a new concept of  hegemony which is in many 
ways a original one. On the one hand, he agrees with  Lenin that a social 
class can acquire its leadership not only if it makes use of  force but also if 
it is able to convince other (subaltern) social classes by  taking the 
leadership in science, culture, moral, religion and in all other  fields of 
superstructure. Traditionally, the state has been explored in term of  force. Now, 
Gramsci insists that the role of the state is not only to force to  subdue society 
and subaltern social classes but also by manipulative conviction  by using 
civil society. This conviction enables one social class rule over other  and 
creates an agreement of subaltern social classes with the values of the  ruling 
class. This is, then, the real and primary strength of a ruling class or  what 
he calls historical block rather than using  force. 
In contemporary debates on civil society and hegemony  there have arisen new 
concepts and aspects such as global civil society and  global hegemony – 
concepts and aspects Gramsci only mentions but hardly explores  in detail. The 
Nongovernmental Organizations (NGOs) ranging from Oxfam to WTO  and IMF are 
referred to as civil society organizations. Political aspects of new  developments 
in global civil society regarding the concept of hegemony are  explored in the 
debate on global or cosmopolitan democracy. Many scholars are  very critical 
of the functions of these global organizations in economic and  political 
international relations. They are said to have being stabilization of  global 
unjust system rather than helping the poor people or developing  countries. 
Doğan  Göçmen 
Further reading 
Gramsci, A., Selection from the Prison Notebooks, Lawrence and Wishart,  
Hegel, G.W.F., Elements of the Philosophy of Rights,  ed. Allen W. Wood, 
Cambridge University Press, Cambridge  1991. 
Held, D. (ed), Political Theory Today, Polity Press,  1991. 
Held, D. (ed), Prospects for Democracy, Polity Press,  1994. 
Held, D. (ed), Cosmopolitan Democracy: An Agenda for a New  World Order, 
Polity Press, 1995. 
Lenin, V. I., What  is to be done?, in: Selected Works, vol. 1, pp.123-284, 
Foreign Languages  Publishing House, Moscow  1960. 
Locke, J., Two Treatises of Government, ed. P.  Laslett, Cambridge University 
Press, Cambridge  1993. 
Marx, K., “Preface” to the Critique of Political Economy, Charles  H. Kerr & 
Company, Chicago  1918. 
Walzer, M. (ed), Toward a Global Civil Society, Berghahn  Books, 
Providence/Oxford  1995.

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