While hegemony is a word that primarily denotes the act of a singular country or world power taking control of weaker entities, it has a meaning that is far more familiar to us in the United States today. Hegemony can also apply to a force within a country that becomes so powerful as to be able to control the laws, judgments, economics, education, politics, and culture of that country.
The easiest example of a successful hegemony is the rise and coming to power of the National Socialists (Nazis) in Germany in the 1930s. As we all know, the people of Germany experienced the diminishing of power among the traditional leadership of their country and the emergence of the Nazis as the imperial authority in all walks of life in Germany. It led to the Holocaust, as well as the political and military forces which brought about the Second World War.
Hegemony is a word that comes to Modern American English from the Greek word hegemonia which means “leadership” or “domination.” Whereas “leadership” has positive connotations capable of being honored in a democracy, “domination” is something that occurs by the exercise of forces which subjugate the weaker, less powerful elements of a society, takes advantage of them, and controls all aspects of their lives.
In the political sphere of the United States today, it is possible to see wealth and those who have it as an example of hegemony in our nation. The last several national elections have increasingly demonstrated the power of money in the selection of candidates for public office and their performance to continue to enhance the lives of the wealthy following elections.
The 1% phenomenon, which describes the identification of the upper level of 1% of our American society as being the wealthy and powerful, with the remaining 99% being the bulk of Americans who are controlled by that 1% is an altogether too familiar depiction of American life today. And it’s going to get worse.
With the recent revelations of the Koch brothers that they are prepared to spend up to a BILLION DOLLARS (!) to support conservative candidates in the upcoming national elections, the nearly mythical power of these brothers and their cohorts becomes fact, not fiction. Elections have increasingly become costly, and it is clear to the voters that the candidate with the most money in the bank will be successful. Only in the rarest of circumstances does a charismatic candidate surpass the financially supported opponent in the final ballot counts.
The American people are not ignorant of the fact that elections (especially at the national level) are being purchased by the wealthy donors to political parties. But the ability to overcome the hegemonious activity is believed to be beyond the power of the electorate to be successful in overcoming it. Aided by a Republican-dominated Congress and a Supreme Court which is sensitive to the conservative voice, the traditional ways of overcoming such plutocratic behavior is increasingly ineffective.
We can see the results of this hegemony in, not only, the political sphere, but in the realms of public education, military spending, social welfare programming, and economic issues. It remains to be seen as to whether there is a rebellion against such hegemony in the elections of 2016 and the years following.
Illustration Credit: Cultural Hegemony