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Hegemony etc.
by Threehegemons
19 February 2002 17:50 UTC
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I think we have to be clear about whether we are talking about hegemony on a
global scale or within a particular nation-state space.  Clearly they are
intertwined--when US hegemony seemed to be particularly challenged worldwide
between '68 and '74, it also seemed as if the US was coming apart
internally... (Randall Collins makes this point nicely somewhere). But they
are still different questions.  In its grandest moment of hegemony,
immediately following World War II, the US was able to get what it wanted in
Western Europe despite the present of armed, communist led resistance
groups--and it didn't need to put them down by force.  In a briefer,
'farcical' repition, the end of the cold war saw the embrace of American
style consumerism throughout the former Soviet Empire, and the bringing
together of nearly all the great powers in a coalition to oppose Iraq
(althuogh Iraq's willingness to invite a war with the US was pretty much
unique in post-war history--as Wallerstein often points out, in contrast to the 
Vietnamese, who always claimed they did not want a fight and did not threaten 
US interests).  Maybe I'm missing something, but the US does
not appear to be bringing together a similar coalition for Iraq II.  Its not
the usual columnists whining about the US, its Chris Patten, previously
distinguished by his defense of 'western values' in Hong Kong.  That riot
police need to be deployed to stop protestors in Korea from 'marring' Bush's
visit is not in itself notable--US leader's have had plenty of unfriendly
visits to places, dating back at least to Nixon's trip to Venezuela in '59
(?).  But where exactly could Bush travel today and get a warm reception
(remember Clinton's trip to Africa--precisely the sort of part of the world
that Bush has more or less declared he has no concern for?)?

I agree that attention should be paid to the WSF--I brought it up
earlier--but historically hegemonies have not been undermined exclusively by
movements, but also by the drift away of important global elites.  Precisely
what has been happening to the US for the last twenty five years,
accelerating under Bush, although, given the limits of the use of military
force in the world today, this has been less of a priority than expanding
networks of aid, trade and advice for competing powers.

Incidentally, realist international relations usually have little use for the
world systems concept hegemony, since their argument is that individual
states inevitably pursue their self-evident interests through force.  I have
no idea how they would account for the fact that there is presently only one
military superpower in the world.  It seems likely most realists would
predict that Japan, China, and Europe would arm themselves to bring their
military power in line with their economic power.  The existence of only one 
superpower, as well as the prominence of supra-national institutions like the 
UN, the IMF etc. represent severe challenges to traditional realist theorizing.

Steven Sherman

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