Forms Of United States Power And The Concept Of Hegemony
According to Warteberg, power can be described as a natural artifact which is an aspect of human life which provides human being with means to cooperate with each other and at the same time make group decisions. This can be considered as ability to perform certain actions or to look over something. According to Warteberg, there are two positions of power which provides external structures for dominant and subordinate position. In this respect, there is a dominant and on the other hand a subordinate. In most cases you will find that socially aligned agents will act to represent the dominant agent in a bid to control subordinate agents. From this we can conclude that there exist power relationships which can be described as a social phenomenon which is made possible due to the fact that there is an external set of agents and practices but not due to any individual capacity.
It is in view of the above theory that this paper is going to look closely at the power of US. This paper will examine closely the seat of US power and how the above theory applies to its relationship with the states and with the international community. This paper will also look closely at the concept of hegemony and how it has been applied in the current power status of the world. Finally it will look on how the concept of hegemony can be defeated in the world.
In its simplest definition, power can be considered as the ability to influence others to do what you want. Power is articulated in many ways including threatening, paying or co-opting those who you want to exercise your power on. Of all the threes means of articulating power, getting others attracted to what you want is the best means since it cost less and is even has more effect. (Nye 1990, p. 23)
If we look closely at the theoretical power structure of the United States, we acknowledge that there are four main building blocks of power in this country. Power in any form is manifested in networks of ideological, economic, military and political which can simply be termed as the building blocks of power structures. A close analysis of American power reveals that it is class dominated and it is close to the power of Europe and Middle ages in the 19th century which was dominated by economic and political power networks. But we have to come to an agreement that power is rooted in organizations in the United States and in other nations. According to Michael Mann's theory (1986, p. 1) the structures of power in most western civilization can be understood by determining the intertwining and relative importance of the organizations at any time in four overlapping and intersecting social spatial networks of power. These networks are basically as mentioned above.
The United States can be considered to the pinnacle of the world power as far as many of us are concerned. This comparison is often made to what was reached by other states which had assumed the same status as the United States like the British or Roman Empire. But contrary to the earlier powers, today's power is vested in military might, economic power and cultural sway all which have not been found effective enough to wield a powerful position in the modern world. (Fergusson, 2003)
Let us look at the concept to hard power. Hard power is the predominant realistic measure of the power of a nation usually seen through population, military, economy and others aspects. Although many scholars have accepted that the level of technology and problems that the modern world is facing makes it impossible for one country to wield that power, it is clear that the United States occupy a unique position in the world which it can use to lead the world in a constructive manner. United States wields much economic and military power both which are regarded as hard power which can be used to persuade other nations to follow its suit. (Boehm 1999, p. 124)
On the other hand it also wields what can be called soft power which is vested in culture, strength of ideals, the willingness of other nations to adopt the articulated ideals and the capacity to leaders' moral authority. Soft power is the term that is used to describe the capacity of any political body like a state that have an indirect influence on other states in terms of behaviors and interest which are articulated through culture and ideologies. There is a general agreement that the strength of American soft power is vested in the spread of modern culture in fashion and clothing like the spreads of blue jeans, music ant others. Many countries in the world are today following the ideal of democracy which has been nurtured in America and which is spreading fast to other states. All these countries which have adopted these ideals look upon America for protection of freedom and observation of basic human rights. As has been expressed there are basic things that must be present if nation is to express its soft power. The aspect of culture, values and foreign policies must be exercised very well in order for the concept of soft power to work. (Stanford 1994, p. 126)
The above two forms of power are seen as what has driven America to occupy its current position in the world. There is a general agreement that if the above powers are used wisely, America can remain on the seat of power for the next decades. But it is not everyone who agrees to this idea.
The concept of hegemony
Let us look at the concept of hegemony. The concept of hegemony has been used for along time now to refer to the idea of existence of dominance by one social group. It was first used by Italian Communist Antonio Gramci who had been imprisoned by Mussolini up to his death in 1926. He supported this concept with the idea of emergence of new elite which was followed by a change of men's consciousness. He reasoned that a class that is politically dominant is also ideologically dominant meaning that it keeps its position because the dominated class accepts its moral and intellectual leadership. (Stanford, 1995) In this regard, it follows the earlier description of power by Wattenberg in that there is a ruling group called the hegemon which acquires a degree of consent from the subordinate group unlike in a case where the dominance exerts its power on the subordinate group using force. The concept of hegemony has been used widely in many places to refer to any form of dominance more so when one is refereeing to dominance through culture and non-military.
The concept of hegemony can be described in many fronts all which refer to the way dominance is created. For example it can be achieved through the use of institutions in a bid to formalize power, the use of bureaucracy which makes others see power as abstract, and in other manes. It can also be achieved through the articulation of hard power over others like the use of military or imposition of economic sanctions.
The rise of the concept is directly linked to the struggle that has been there in the world to acquire dominance. Since the era of cold and the signing o the Warsaw Pact, there had been many instances in which the concept of hegemony has been applied. In this era, it was seen as a moment of attaining the much needed hegemony through the struggle of cold war. In particular, it was seen as a bitter struggle between the then two superpowers of the world, Russia and America in a bid to find their rightful position in the world.
After the end of the cold war and the collapse of the communism Russia, the concept of hegemony has been purely used to refer to the role played by the United States as a superpower. This is due to the role that American has played since then which makes it appear like it is having the power to lord over others. But has it really grasped the concept of hegemony?
This has been an issue of contention and a topic that attracts many scholars of international relations. The opponents argue that although the United States has used all its hard and soft power to realize dominance, it has been able to achieve this. This is because it seems to lack the necessary resource to position itself well in a position to dominate others. The emergence of other powers in the world like European Union, China, India and others is also seen as a big stumble for the United States in a bid to reestablish itself as the world power.
On the other hand proponents point out the various achievements that the United States has which puts it in a position to dominant others. They argue in support of its military might. This is a concept that with but we have to ask ourselves the extent to which the United States has been able to use this power. Except in the end of the Second World War, there are other very few instances in which the United States has bee able to use its military power to dominate others.
The United States used it military power to bomb Nagasaki and Hiroshima in Japan which somehow brought the bitter Second World War to end. If we take another example, it also used its power during Gulf war to drive Saddam Hussein and his troops out of Iran. But since then, it seems there is a surging rise of the concept of responsibility which has been achieved through world bodies like the United Nations. The United Nations has put in place rules which require the exercise of veto power in voting for any military action. Here some proponents of the idea of hegemony for United States argue that although it holds the hard power, it is restricted by the provisions of some of those agreements to exercise this power. But lets us look at this closely. (Stewart 2001, p. 78)
There are many incidences in which America has tried to use its hard power but it has failed. Take an example of Vietnam. During the cold war, American soldiers underwent serious military casualties in Vietnam. Here America rallied all its military power but it failed. From Vietnam America learned that hard power alone is not enough to guarantee dominance and some soft power is needed as well. It learned that there must be the use of influence of culture, value and foreign policies if a country will succeed in achieving the concept of hegemony.
One of the worst calamities to hit America in the recent past has been the terrorist attack on Twin Towers on September 11 2001. This attack reminded America that although it presumed to have dominance over others, its hard power could be put to test. After that the Bush administration mobilized all the hard power in American possession in what was descried as war on terror. But again the issue of hegemony comes in light here again. The United States had to seek support of its allies who thought that they were also at risk of a terrorist attack. In its campaign, America was able to convince some countries in the world with almost equal hard power like Britain and others. But eight years down the line, the war which was seen to come to end in a matter of days owing to the military might of the force is still to end and no progress has been achieved. To make the matter worse, Britain which is a partner of United States in Afghanistan where the Taliban and the Al Qaeda are supposed be hiding also suffered a terror attack in London Railway system. Even a combination of all that force could not subdue the terrorist.
From Afghanistan, America directed its force to Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein and install a democratic government in the country. But still there are no positive results coming from the country. This teaches us one lesson that in the modern world no single county can assume to have achieved the concept of hegemony. Though it may be referred to in many incidents, it does not apply in the real sense. What we are witnessing is the rise of power axis. This is mainly practiced in the United Nations Security Council where we see another bitter struggle for dominance. We see is a scenario where Russian and China always vote against the United States and its allies. This indicates that the so called powerhouse of the world have realized that they can no longer remain effectful in the face of the changing world.
We can therefore say that the concept of hegemony has not achieved its meaning in the modern world. But if the current trend continue, we are going to come to a situation where there will emerge two parallel axis as history repeat itself. What many articulate here is that, the cold war has not ended, and the emerging axis is still allied to the earlier axis in the cold war. It is a struggle between capitalism and communism which is taking place once again. This is bringing more polarization to the concept of hegemony.
How can we overcome hegemony?
One thing we all agree to is that the concept of hegemony is being practiced in various sectors of life in our society. Therefore we cannot say that because it has become difficult for individual countries to achieve the concept of hegemony, then we should sit and watch. Since it practiced in our smaller societies there is need to work towards fighting the concept and its development. With the current trend in the world, we have seen that there is likelihood that the concept will take root. So what can we do to fight the concept?
There is a common concession that the only best way to fight hegemony in the world would be by bringing about equality among all nations and among all communities living in a nation. The source of hegemony is directly attributed to a system of inequality which gives one party advantage over the other. Inequality in the world has been the source of acceptance of dominance by many countries especially those in the developing world. Tracing history since the era of colonization, there had been systematic inequality in access of resources which gives some countries undue advantage over the rest. (Joseph 2002, p. 54)
Therefore, the only method that we can use to end hegemony would be through implementation of policies are aimed helping nations access resource in an equal manner. This will call for reviewing of international relationship including trade agreements which has been oppressive to the developing world. Following the postulation by Gramci, this will be achieved only when intellectuals rise to the challenge. In this regard the school ahs a role to play. This means that one of the most important tools that can be used to fight hegemony would be ensuring that there is access to quality education by all people in the world. (Moraes 2003, p 654)
The modern world is driven by technology and many countries in the world which are fighting to acquire dominance like China have achieved this by improving their economy through technology. Education plays a crucial role in advancement of technology in any nation. In this regard intellectuals must inculcate a degree of self discipline and moral autonomy to resist colonization of their minds. This means intellectuals must become the ambassadors of the new culture in their own nations.
As we have seen no county can be said to have practiced the idea of hegemony not even the United States. But hegemony is practiced in our small societies and there is need to take bold measures in order to fight its. This will be achieved only when there is some degree of equableness in the society.
- Boehm, C 1999, The evolution of egalitarian behavior, Harvard University Press, Cambridge
- Fergusson, N 2003, Hegemony or Empire? Retrieved from, http://www.foreignaffairs.org/20030901fareviewessay82512/niall-ferguson/hegemony-or-empire.html on 7th March 2008
- Joseph, J 2002, Hegemony, A realist Analysis, Routledge, New York
- Mann, M 986, The sources of social power, Cambridge University Press, New York
- Michael, C 2004, Whatever happened to American Decline? International Relations and the new United States Hegemony
- Moraes, R 2003, Antonio Gramci on Culture, University of Brasilia
- Nye, J. S1990, Bound to lead: The changing nature of American power, Basic Books Inc, New York
- Stanford, M 1994, Companion to the Study of History, Blackwell
- Stewart, A 2001, Theories of power and domination, the politics of empowerment in the late modernity, Sage, London
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