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Hegemony: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:04 What Is Hegemony?
  • 1:22 Military Hegemony
  • 2:26 Political Hegemony
  • 3:57 Economic Hegemony
  • 5:35 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, former middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will learn about hegemony and its effects. We will begin by defining the term and we will go on to study examples from throughout history and analyze the characteristics of hegemony.

What Is Hegemony?

Academic disciplines often have their own unique vocabulary. For example, a biologist will often use certain words and terms that many of us do not regularly use. Among historians and students of history, the term 'hegemony' often comes up. Maybe you've heard this word before, but are not exactly sure what it really means. Good news! In this lesson we'll learn what hegemony is and we'll explore examples from throughout history.

Hegemony is the political, economic, or military predominance or control of one state over others. Basically it's the power or control that one state holds over others, usually others in the same region. Be mindful that hegemony can take a variety of forms. As we stated in the definition, this predominance can take place through political, economic, or military processes.

So where did this term come from? In Ancient Greece, the city-state of Sparta was designated as the hegemon, or leader, of the Peloponnese League. This city-state held political and military dominance over the others and became well known for its military strength. Spartan culture was so militaristic that young boys began training to be soldiers at the age of seven.

Military Hegemony

Let's take a look at some examples of hegemony throughout history. We'll start by looking at military hegemony because in many ways, this is the most glaring and clear example. The years between 1938 and 1940 were good ones for the Nazis. Having annexed Austria and taken over Czechoslovakia in 1938, invaded Poland the following year, and occupied Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France in 1940, Nazi Germany became the hegemon of the region. At this point, the Third Reich extended throughout much of Western Europe.

Germany's forceful takeover of the region is an example of military hegemony. The Nazis came in with tanks, planes, and troops and took over surrounding nation-states. Some nation-states were incorporated directly into Germany, like Austria was in a process known as the Anschluss. Other areas, such as Vichy, France, fell under German control but were not technically incorporated into the Greater German Reich.

Political Hegemony

Now let's look at an example of political hegemony. During the 18th and 19th centuries, Great Britain had held tremendous political hegemony over its neighbors. It was at this time that Britain controlled the world's largest empire, ruling roughly one-fourth of the world. Great Britain was a power to be reckoned with, as the British Royal Navy had control of the high seas. No other power exerted their will as extensively on the world as the British did. Through the East India Company, Great Britain was able to exert its influence over India and East Asia. The commercial exploitation of these regions brought tremendous wealth to the British Empire. During the 19th century and afterward, the British Empire also exerted hegemony over large sections of Africa, as did many other European powers, such as France and Germany. British East Africa was one of Great Britain's largest African colonies.

The American Colonies belonged to Great Britain prior to the American Revolution. The American Colonies brought much wealth to the Empire. Politically, these colonies were devoted to their 'Mother Country;' well, at least until the 1770s when a band of radicals instigated a rebellion that led to a war for independence. Of course, we know this event as the Revolutionary War. In order to gain their independence, many countries had to fight wars against their hegemon and either defeat them or drag the war out for long enough to convince the hegemon it was no longer worth fighting for.

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