eli5, what’s hegemony? And How does it differ from other forms of rule?


eli5, what’s hegemony? And How does it differ from other forms of rule?

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A hegemony is the rule of one over others, coming from the Greek hegemon, meaning leader. So a hegemony isn’t a way of ruling a government, but the power dynamic between nations.

The US was arguably the military hegemon right after WWII, since they had atomic weapons and a large military. Once the Soviet Union had their own atomic weapons, then the US would’ve lost that title. But in the twilight of the Soviet Union, the US would’ve been an economic hegemon, as it had the single strongest/largest economy. Now, it’s less clear, as the European Union is a very strong economic bloc, and the PRC’s economy is also very strong/large.

Hegemony isn’t so much a system of rule, but the domination of one power over others without directly controlling other states.

To understand why nations simply didn’t conquer others, consider the difficulty in integrating a newly conquered land into your own domain. You need to directly control, through a workable system of government, a land and culture that may be completely different to you, with a population unwilling to be ruled by you.

Or you could show who is boss, be the biggest, best or baddest dude around, and everyone looks up to you. You can still often get what you want just by being the #1 dude.

In Classical Greek times, this power balance was the objective of the conflicts between the city-states of Sparta and Athens. To put this simply, their goal was never to conquer and rule all Greek lands. It was more like who has the most “friends” – and by “friends”, I mean city-states who they probably pummeled and now they’re best buddies because they don’t want to be pummeled again. So, conflicts would usually be between “Sparta & Friends” and “Athens & Friends”, and the winners would take the others’ friends and they would join Team Athens or Team Sparta.

In modern times, the term could be used to describe the relationship between the US and its allies. The USA doesn’t control NATO, for example, but as the single biggest military, it pretty much does – to put things very simply.