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, 2003. 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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