This new book about hegemony provides "withering analysis," and asks: how much is obedience based on coercion and how much on consent?by Ian Irvine / June 21, 2017 / Leave a comment
The H-Word: The Peripeteia of Hegemony by Perry Anderson (Verso, £16.99)
“When you’ve got them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow.” This proverb appeared on a plaque in the White House office of Chuck Colson, special counsel to President Nixon, one of the ghastliest of his Watergate co-conspirators. It is too vulgar to appear in this erudite and illuminating essay on hegemony from its origins to the present day, but it captures the ambiguity of this political term of art. In any association, from playground football to Nato or the eurozone, what is the relation between the leader and the led? How much is obedience based on coercion and how much on consent?
The word hegemony is Greek (meaning “leadership”), first used about the political and military pre-eminence of Sparta in the Peloponnesian League. After the classical period the term slept until the early 19th century, when it was revived by historians to characterise various countries’ periods of dominance. In the 20th century, the Italian Communist Antonio Gramsci formulated the idea of cultural hegemony, to explain how the bourgeoisie maintain power by establishing their values as the “common sense” norms of everyone in society.
Anderson reserves his most withering analysis for the co-option of the term by the United States since the 1990s and its many apologists who find that, as a “liberal hegemon,” its policies are benign and its pre-eminence widely acknowledged. “Hegemony” seems more like a euphemism for “empire.” Though Donald Trump isn’t mentioned, his presidency seems likely to rip this fig-leaf away to reveal the reality of brute power in pursuit of national interest.