Hegemony in International Politics


There have been a lot of problems in the world today due to the implementation of the hegemonic concept by countries that seek to exert their political powers over others. This is evident as many states seek to be identified as regional leaders in terms of political, cultural and economic power. It is evident that the international relations conservatives have reduced the idea of hegemony to leadership. Exercising powers resulting in abuse of human rights and sovereignty of nations is very rampant across the world. However, there are some significant groups of people and organisations who have sought to enlighten the international community on a more social concept of hegemony. Gramsci has been momentous in this sector though his works take a more historical approach. The paper will address the concept of hegemony based on various ways like reproducing and unity of fundamental social expression. The paper will also highlight regional leadership as described in the discursive hegemony. The Gramscian motivated research will form the foundation of the study.

Introduction Power Influences Leadership

Hegemony is often described as the way dominant or the majority groups exert their economical, political, and cultural ideologies over others without even considering their explicit consent. This term developed in history to refer to the way ancient Greek cities handled their neighbours. The term is currently very useful when studying the philosophy of Marx and that of Gramsci Antonio (Sassoon, 2002, p. 67). In politics and international relationships, hegemony is the way some nations dominate others. Prussia and Russia are examples of nations that have had control over others.

In twentieth century, Gramsci, an Italian political scientist, was able to develop the idea of cultural hegemony by analysing the political hegemony beyond the international relationships to organise social classes (Sassoon, 2002, p. 69). His argument was that the cultural hegemony clearly indicated how the social class exerted Cultural leadership over others in sustain the social and political status-quos. This deemed to be a very relevant explanation of how dominant social classes could maintain power and how these leading classes could convince the subordinates to agree to and adopt the hegemony’s values. (Sassoon, 2002, p.72) For example, Russia has had major influence over its near abroad (Trofimenko, 1999, p.23). Leadership in the current world is very important considering that there is a great deal of regional institutionalization as far as the international relationships are concerned. It’s very important to understand the relevance of the international leadership. State leadership is very critical as studies are undertaken to analyse the rational institutionalism perception and evaluating how leaders get to leadership and what they actually do when on power or their role in international politics (Sassoon, 2002, p.74).

There are several theories that have been put across to try and explain the effectiveness of leaders in international matters. Of essential consideration in this paper is the Luke’s insight of what power is. Basically, leadership and politics, management and psychology interact in a complex way. In this regard, the study has to address the nation as people (Cox, 1996, p.86). This will help in assessment as social processes acting as people. According to Luke Steven, Power is very efficient in its indiscernible form, as it describes the willing compliance some states have towards others influencing their cognitions, views and preferences in a way that they do not resist (Bieler & Adam, 2004, p.89). This means that power can be viewed in three dimensions that are interconnected. In the classical view, state A gets state B to comply with something that B would otherwise not have done at freewill. There is a very big difference of having power and exercising it (Cox, 1996, p.93).

The second dimension suggests that naturally, the decision making authorities will tend to be biased especially when resources are being mobilized in that the competing groups will have to be against each other. This dimension therefore utilizes some kind of coercion, manipulation and influence (Cox, 1996, p 94). This is evident in the observable character in the process of making decisions. This way Luke also explains further that one groups of people or even an individual can exercise power through influence or explaining his or her wants to be understood by the world (Bieler & Adam, 2004, p. 94). Regulation of information and socialization processes is good examples of this. The third viewpoint is very important in social viewpoint regarding authority and entails thought control as well as the indoctrinations of some necessities. Thought Luke believed that this gave a better and inner understanding of power, liberalist and institutionalist approaches do not appreciate this perspective (Bieler & Adam, 2004, p. 98). Luke’s point of view is that power does not have to be exercised rather, in its capacity it can be turned into leadership, dominance or hegemony. Power is not the same as leadership (otherwise this is not a conditio sine qua non).

Most of the international relations approaches take a capacity related descriptions of what power is. Kenneth Waltz for instance describes power to signify the “means” argue that the results of its use were automatically tentative (Bieler & Adam, 2004, p.112). This perception does not look at power in relation to interactions rather is restricted to capabilities. There is a strong believe by many theorists that hegemony was discursive. Wars are often sparked by certain circumstances that could be due to normal differences in opinion of believes (Augelli & Craig 2003, p 1226). However, whether devastating incidence like the 9/11 attack on the US or simple threats, crimes against humanity could be beyond human control. They totally rely on the acts of war that sparked them.

There are many incidences that the works has witnessed nations exercise powers in their regions beyond state boundaries (Bieler & Adam, 2004, p.78). This hegemonic concept is one important approach of understanding the international politics. The US, Israel, and Russia among other nations have been very infamous for such acts (Augelli & Craig, 2003, p.1227). According to Gramsci’s studies, hegemony is not domination over other states but a relationship not by force but of permission by ideology and political leadership. The U.S sway in Canada and Central America is as a result of cultural influence, non-military resources, and economic power (The New York News, n.d, para.2). China’s recent influence in south-east Asia can also be termed as a hegemonic since there is no force that is used.

A basic concept for understanding the international relations is to study the history of the world. The powerful blocs that developed long time ago will give a very insightful interpretation. Historic bloc emerged when dominant authorities were able to dominate for so long (Bieler & Adam, 2004, p.78). They are essentially associated with economic foundation and hence are able to offer the frameworks on which decision making would be based pertaining distribution of goods (Augelli & Craig 2003, p.1228). Through this way, analyses that stretch outside traditional Marxist discussion on class and promotion of social forces assessment not restricted by owners of means or production can be manipulated to include religious, cultural and ideological organisations.

The introduction of socialism was precipitated by joining of the worker and other liberation organisation come together to create a counter hegemony. Gramsci insist on such occurrence as the war of position to clearly distinguish it from the historic revolutions commonly referred top as war of movement where military could seize state power (Augelli & Craig 2003, p.1229). Position war reflects intellect, ethics and strategy of rebuilding the social relationships especially in the contemporary liberal capitalist world.

Hegemony and International Conflict

According to Huntington, the political order in the world is changing rapidly and this is taking place cultural and religion grounds. Hegemonic nations are still the key players in this multi-civilization society. As a consequence, states are getting allied to others with similar beliefs or the ones that share common culture. On the other hand they greatly conflict with nations of different cultures and beliefs (Mark & Howard, 2006, p. 263). The past trends where nations used to be allied to certain superpowers are fading away and the alliances being formed are those defined by civilization and culture.

The conflict in civilization ideology is a very imperative concept that should be addressed. In essence, the conflict in the post cold war error would occur violently and more frequently because of culture and not necessarily difference in ideologies. However the most likely cause of conflict during the cold war era was the disagreement between the capitalist economic beliefs of the western and the communist beliefs of the Russians and their allies to the east (Mark & Howard 2006. P. 263). Currently there re seven or possibly eight paradigms that have been identified the major civilizations; Western; Islam; Latin America; Hindu; Chinese (Sinic); Orthodox; African; and Japanese. This new cultural organizations are a completely contradiction to the contemporary society that embrace the perception of classical sovereignty. Different states for example make territorial claims over others especially those regions where there are precious resources such as oil. These cultural rifts have to be understood if future conflicts are to be resolved peacefully (Acharya, 2000, p.89).

The implication of this form of culture and civilization around the world on terrorism is that the nation- states will become less powerful and unimportant. Power will be devolved to smaller regions and in some cases to individual personalities (Mark & Howard, 2006, p. 263). Race, ethnicity and religion conflict will deepen, deadly weapons will proliferate in different geographical areas and as a consequence, terrorism attacks will increase in frequency and extent. The September 11 incident in the United States is an example of a terrorist attack that resulted from the domination of the nation over other nations. The efforts of the government to ban the manufacture of dangerous weapons have also brought conflicts. Internationally, more power will accrue transnational corporations and criminal gangs like the mafia. Groups such al Qaeda and the Taliban has formed against the dominant states. One world government is very difficult to attain and it’s possible that even the United Nations Organization may disappear (Acharya, 2000, p. 89). Acts of terrorism may increase in neutral nations (where people belong to different civilizations) or wars on political boundaries of different civilizations. The Islam and the west are seen as nearly at war already. Acts of terrorism have been seen to be carried out by Islamic followers against US already, witnessing committed Islamic combative who exploit the westerns nations and bombing certain targets (Young, 2001 p. 282). The US on the other hand has been dropping bombs in some selected targets. Church leaders and social groups both in United States and outside have criticized these actions and this affects the politics in general. These challenges are innately cultural or due to difference in civilization and are bound to go on or even spread to other nations (Acharya, 2000, p. 91).

Hegemony and Sovereignty

Power in the current world is going to remain an issue of contention by states. Hegemony will be built by producing subjectivity expressive practises. States are feeling the urge to expand and exercise some powers over others or act on behalf of them (Young, 2001 p. 282). In a bid to acquire these powers, states such as China and India join trading blocs in South-East Asia that limit the involvement of western countries. This would give them economic dominance over small, poor nations such as Indonesia and Viet Nam. Eventually, such states will gain dominance in the region. The major problem that is affecting international relations and hence world politics is the sovereignty concept. This is expected to remain an issue so long as there are legal and theoretical issues concerning a state (Hashmi, 2007, p.123). Hegemony can be challenged by some states which strictly take the postulation that sovereignty is the total autonomy of a states and that no other authority inside of outside can meddle in its domestic issues.

State sovereignty has been a challenged concept. Sovereignty is a legal institution that validates a political organization where independent states govern themselves and their own governments are the principle authorities either domestically or on the international scene (Hashmi, 2007, p.123). In essence, sovereignty means that in a society of other states, every state is mandated to put into effect ultimate and absolute political authority. Authority in this case is described as the right to govern itself. With realization of this authority, each state concurs not to interfere or get involved in any way in each others internal governance affairs (Hashmi, 2007, p.124). There are very many instances that have seen hegemony being practiced in violation of sovereignty. The nations that do this have been able to use very strong reasons. Fro instance, they state that the state sovereignty can be overlooked in the event that that country is breaking international laws and when there are cases on humanitarian crises and need faster intervention like wartime

Basically there are many occasions the powerful states have been seen to be interfering with governance of other states. For example, United Sates has interfered with governance in states such as Iraq. The reasons for such kind of interference are complex to analyze due to increased interaction, humanitarian issues and international law (Robert, 2005 p. 12). For quite sometime until the First World War, the doctrine of human rights had been part of the “reserved domain” for many of the states. The international law did not regulate issues of this type in any way. Nonetheless, even is such events, jurisdiction which is a domain that belong exclusively to a particularly state is constrained by the international laws. The powerful states being more influential are often very active in participating in the implementation of this international law (Robert, 2005, p. 14). International justice court explained in this regard that the jurisdiction of any state was restricted within the constraints of international law. This therefore means that the state sovereignty has to be inferred in view on the customary and treaty laws.

Powerful states would easily intervene in the governance of other states when they make decisions that breach humanitarian concerns like abuse of human rights, war crimes and drug trafficking. Torture to terrorist victims and other followers of al Qaeda by the United States Army especially after the tickling bomb event is one of the incidents where human rights have been violated. In this way, it’s obvious that powerful states disregard that state sovereignty as not having unlimited power to do whatever a nation pleases. (Robert, 2005, p. 22) It can be said that by the end of the year 1945, the freedom that states enjoyed with regard to self governance especially making decision that concern human rights became restricted by several respects; first is the United Nations charter which concentrates on peace keeping but abounds citations of basic human right; there are lots of international conventions that protect the human rights dealing with issues like torture, genocide or specific issues like children welfare and women affairs (Jackson, 2005,p.234); third, many of the humanitarian riles are integrated into the international law customary regulations and this binds states regardless of whether they have approved those conventions or not. This means that the major nations in such conventions can interfere with governance of other states in the name of monitoring human rights or peace keeping (Thomas 2008, p.111).

Considering the fact that there is international law, when a state violates the human rights law, drug trafficking regulation and war crime, it has to face the consequences. There is a hierarchy of rule in the international legal regulation that puts powerful nations at the top of the rules to protect human rights. In this way, the sovereignty of the state is interfered with even when there was no breach of international law (Ikenberry & Kupchan, 2000, p. 285). Its clear that human rights are not issues that nation deal with as ‘internal affairs’ anymore, meaning that they are out of the state’s domestic jurisdiction. Nations can only offer diplomatic protection to their citizens if it a case involving individuals. In this way the state can represent the person at international level. A peremptory rule has been abused by some states since they presume it to be a norm internationally recognized and accepted by the world and society of states (Ikenberry & Kupchan, 2000, p. 288).

There are some examples of Hegemony that have been observed. The Israeli invasion of Lebanon is another was a violation of sovereignty. Israel claims that it was tackling the Lebanese on grounds that that they were hosting al-Qaeda. The Israel troops fired their rockets over Lebanon just after a rocket landed in Kyat Shmona (Jackson, 2005, p.7). The US attack on panama was one of the greatest violations of sovereignty. The attacks were made in 1989 under President Bush administration. Following the invasion, the president was quick tom list down several reasons to justify why they had attacked panama (Byers & Nolte, 2003, p.78). The president claimed that the attaches were on humanitarian grounds to protect the lives of the United States citizens. Turkey on the other hand invaded the Kurds in Iraq on claims that they were responsible for antihuman activities in Southern Iraq. Turkey led 140,000 troops to go and fight terrorism in Iraq. This was a very crucial fight since it took place amid very delicate security environment.


The international relations are very important yet critical issues regarding this topic are not handled with the weight they deserve or they are very complicated. The leadership by the powerful nations could be very important since the international affairs require such leadership. It’s very important to note that intentional leadership is only efficient when the foreign elites appreciate the visionary leaders on the international order and then assess the idea as their own. As revealed in the essay, power and leadership are very distinct. Leadership takes care of the concerns of the followers unlike power which can be brutal. As revealed also, poor exercise of power can result in very serious conflicts like terrorism and other human rights violation crimes including trafficking. Though this subject is very complex in nature, the available literature can help in analysing and understanding the radical political ideologies as how it relates to power formulation. Gramscian theories of hegemony present very motivating and promising framework that can be used for understanding the ideology struggles in the world today.


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Young, O. R. 2001. Political Leadership and Regime Formation: On the Development of Institutions in International Society. International Organization. Vol. 45, issue 3, pp. 282 – 309. Massachusetts: MIT Press.

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