The term of hegemony was brought into IR literature by Robert Keohane – deriving from the Greek word hegemonia, which translates to dominance or leadership.
Conventionally understood in politics, the term usually refers to actor`s national role and certain international system (Mowle & Sacko, 2007).Hegemony has been the centre of many political discussions since 1985, Antonio Gramsci was an Italian communist who was put behind bars by Mussolini for most of his life was very interested in the notion of ‘hegemony’. He saw the capitalist state in two spheres; a political society and a civil society. The difference between the two was that the political society reigned through force and the civil society reigned through consent. The political society gained power from the bourgeois state, this was where hegemony was used and then reproduced through the media and religious institutions to ‘manufacture consent’.
Hegemony can be seen as a cycle, starting with system expansion. With this the hegemonic crisis begins, the great powers rival each other leading to an escalation of the interstate power struggle. Then finally a new hegemon appears because they are have centralised their military and finances.
In international relations theory, hegemony is having enough materials and ammunition in one state to defeat any potential threat that it may face from another state or group wanting to become too ‘hegemon’. The hegemon of the time also has control of resources and capital, meaning they control all production of that specific state. Because the hegemon controls production and means of surviving, they usually generate an accepted ideology that reflects the status quo. The nineteenth century was the age of civilisation being “capitalist in its economy; liberal in its legal and constitutional structure; bourgeois in the image of its characteristic hegemonic class; glorying in the advance of science, knowledge and education, material and moral progress” (Hobsbawn 1995:p6).
After Britain triumphed over the Napoleonic wars they were now able to supervise and control main points of the world economy. Britain then became the hegemon for the duration of the eighteenth most of the nineteenth. At the same time, the British industrial revolution began to increase the power for them in the world. By the early 20th century, Britain was losing its name as the biggest superpower on the planet. Countries like the USA and Germany were catching up after having years of slow economic growth. With the end of the era ‘globalisation’, Britain was no longer able to sustain its role in the military or in the financial market. The decline happened as a result of a long process of time, this was unlike empires that had quickly fallen in the past.
The Americans wanted the economy to be open to all US trade, but the British felt too powerful and declined. Britain thought that the key to recovery was keeping money in trading like rubber and other tropical goods. Britain had its downfall when its production slowed down. Post World War Two left Britain and US balance of power highly in favour of the US. This meant Britain lost its global domination and was replaced by America. The practice of hegemony changed when the USA gained support and became the ruling hegemon in the aftermath of the Second World War.
It was revealed to be the most powerful country on the planet due to its economic and military power. Since the Second World War not much has happened in terms of a large shift in hegemon powers, this is despite concerns they were by Kennedy 1989. The US stayed strong after the cold war economically and was seen by the public to stay this way. The key elements of US Hegemony Post World War 2 were the US’s ideas, institutions, economic power, cultural involvement and military action.
An economic dominance the US had was the Bretton Woods institutions, the World Bank. Gaining this was the extremely important to continue being the worlds hegemon. For the Gramscian approach, it is the US that determined a bi-polar or unipolar order. The US having hegemony was not just about being the most dominant.
It was also about learning and following the consensus and gaining leadership skills. Although Britain was a declining power they were seen as a ‘junior partner’ with the US. The two countries both believed in free trade and capitalism, so it worked as a partnership. During World War Two, the US and the Soviet Union allied together against the Axis powers. In the early days of the Cold War, the Russians adopted nuclear technology in response to the attacks in Japan.
However, after this, the relationship between the two countries was a rocky relationship. This was because the American leaders became concerned about Stalin and his tyrannical rule of his country. Becoming allies with the USSR made the world question the US’s hegemony. This was because they had joined onto deals that had been made in the war about the post-war settlement. Having this joint hegemony meant there was a bi-polar dynamic in international affairs.
It can be argued that the “social position” of the US will decline in the long term, due to a number of factors. Firstly, it is argued, there has been a significant decline of support within the international system for the US’s role as the leading power. Since the end of the Cold War, “America’s military-political global engagement has been costly, unpopular and often unsuccessful,” and it has “won more enemies than friends for the US”. Secondly, despite the current dominance, “important elements of traditional US soft power,” like free-market capitalism, may no longer garner overwhelming support like before. Indeed, the current global economic crisis has evoked more and more criticism of “unfettered capitalism” from increasing numbers of prominent leaders, including the Pope. There is much discussion on whether the US still remains the reigning hegemon, due to the economic power they still hold I will agree.
The economic power in the US has been dealing with the IMF and the World Bank for years, two organisations in the economy field. The US can put a big proportion of funding into these it has tremendous power to shape and direct the financial economy. Even though the United States still dominates the world in the military sphere and is the main leader for security, there are very clear attempts taken by places like China, meaning it is under threat.