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date: 19 April 2024

Hegemony and the Global Political Economyfree

Hegemony and the Global Political Economyfree

  • Richard SaullRichard SaullSchool of Politics and International Relations, Queen Mary University of London


Hegemony emerged as an analytical term to conceptualize different historical periods out of the combined post-1945 historical context of two key events: the dissolution of an international political order founded upon European colonial empires, and the establishment and evolution of a postwar liberal international economy under U.S. leadership. Within the subdiscipline of International Political Economy (IPE), the genesis of the concept of “hegemony” or “leadership” has two sources: the idea of hegemonic order or dominance within the world economy as articulated in Immanuel Wallerstein’s World-Systems Theory in the early 1970s, and the publication of Charles Kindleberger’s analysis of the Great Depression that initiated a debate involving neorealist and liberal-oriented scholars around what subsequently become known as “hegemonic stability theory.” John Ikenberry also articulated a nuanced understanding of hegemony from a liberal-institutionalist perspective with regard to the post-1945 international order. There exists a substantial amount of literature on the theory and history of hegemony within IPE, and much of this discussion has been fueled by ongoing developments in the world economy. Critics of hegemony situate and embed state power and behavior within the socioeconomic structure of capitalism, and also focus on class agency as central to the establishment and evolution of hegemonic orders. To varying degrees these scholars have drawn on the theory of hegemony developed by Antonio Gramsci.


  • Political Economy


The concept of hegemony refers to international leadership by one political subject, be it the state or a “historical bloc” of particular social groupings, whereby the reproduction of dominance involves the enrollment of other, weaker, less powerful parties (states/classes) constituted by varying degrees of consensus, persuasion and, consequently, political legitimacy. Force is not completely absent within hegemonic arrangements but it tends to be the exception rather than the rule with regard to the upholding of the hegemonic order. It contrasts with empire and imperialism whereby patterns of dominance and hierarchy are founded upon a systemic dependence on the deployment of direct and political coercion in the maintenance of imperial arrangements and where political subjectivity is deprived by the dominant power. Further, hegemony has a more ambivalent connection to questions of territoriality and borders than empire, which is primarily concerned with the determination of frontiers by a metropolitan power.

Hegemony is a political term that has a long history, found in Machiavelli’s Prince (1977:49–50) referring to the centaur, a creature that is part human and part beast combining force and persuasion, and later in debates among Russian revolutionaries about the leadership of the worker’s revolution. It emerged as an analytical term to conceptualize different historical periods out of the combined post-1945 historical context of (1) the dissolution of an international political order founded upon European colonial empires; and (2) the establishment and evolution of a postwar liberal international economy under American leadership. With regard to the former, the reproduction of the postcolonial international order no longer required – as it had done in the past – the deployment of force to uphold political arrangements; hence the possibility of hegemonic rather than imperial leadership was made more likely. However, notwithstanding this transformation, the legacy of empire is such that hegemony has tended to refer to political arrangements among the advanced capitalist states, while force, contestation and resistance have been much more common currencies in “North–South relations” since 1945.

Regarding the latter, although the geopolitical context of the Soviet “threat” played an important role in facilitating the development of the unprecedented forms of political and economic cooperation among the leading capitalist states after the war, the specificities of the internationalization of American territorial power through multilateral institutions were particularly attuned to hegemony. Hegemony, then, refers to leadership and to the consensual character of those leadership arrangements. Although a hegemonic order does not have to be associated with the development and upholding of a liberal international political economy, the two historical cases – Britain during the late nineteenth century and the United States after 1945 – most cited by scholars as exemplars of hegemonic order have been liberal, which suggests that hegemony is particularly associated with liberal social and political orders rather than any other.

The genesis of the concept of “hegemony” or “leadership” in the subdiscipline of International Political Economy (IPE) has two sources. First, the idea of hegemonic order or dominance within the world economy was articulated within the World-Systems Theory (WST) approach by Immanuel Wallerstein (1974) in the early 1970s through his articulation of a general theory of hegemonic transition to explain long-cycles of capitalist development, which also addressed the apparent demise of US hegemony in particular. Secondly, the publication of Charles Kindleberger’s (1973) analysis of the Great Depression initiated a debate – that has ebbed and flowed with the fluctuating performance of the US economy since – involving neorealist and liberal-oriented scholars around what subsequently become labeled as “hegemonic stability theory” (HST). This debate, which has tended to eclipse the WST approach to hegemony, has centered around the question of the degree to which a smooth-functioning open and liberal international economy requires political leadership from a “hegemonic state.”

Whereas traditional views on hegemony tend to have a state-centric ontology, critical views embed the agency of states within the socioeconomic structure of capitalism. Consequently, hegemony is not understood, primarily, as an international political order or geopolitical arrangement between discrete territorial entities but rather the upholding of a particular set of socioeconomic relations – mediated by states and international institutions – but concerning asymmetrical patterns of class relations within (transnational) civil society that, to varying degrees, are considered as extending beyond a specific territorial locale. What is intended in the rest of this essay is to discuss these two broad viewpoints on hegemony, addressing the main elements of each theory and their respective historical coverage.

Traditional Views

Hegemonic Stability Theory

HST is an attempt to (1) explain the historical specificity of the postwar liberal international economic order through a focus on the benign consequences of an uneven distribution of material power in the international system; and (2) offer a more general theoretical framework to account for international order in contrast to the more orthodox realist concept of the balance of power. The immediate international economic context was signal in the emergence of such claims, as it was the collapse of the postwar Bretton Woods international economic order based upon US leadership that appeared to have triggered a bout of international economic instability and disorder. After it emerged in the writings of Kindleberger (1973; 1981) and Gilpin (1972; 1981; 1987) in particular, HST quickly became a widely accepted explanation for the evolution of the world economy after 1945 and the particular role of the United States within it, because it appeared to reflect the empirical reality of an international economy characterized by gradual trade liberalization combined with the material dominance of the United States.

Following Susan Strange (1987:554–5; see also Wyatt-Walter 1996), it is possible to recognize two variants of HST. The first, neorealist, version suggests that a hegemon will ensure international economic order and stability when it uses its power to enforce others to obey the rules of the economic game. The assumption here is that in the absence of such rules enforced by the hegemon, international economic relations quickly degenerate into mercantilist beggar-thy-neighbor policies as states “free ride” on the open and liberal provisions of the world economy in response to the “prisoner’s dilemma” of not knowing whether rules will be enforced or acquiesced to. This triggers retaliations by other states, culminating in systemic breakdown and the establishment of imperial-protectionist trading blocs (Gilpin 1987:88; Krasner 1976; 1982; Kindleberger 1981:247).

The second, neoliberal, strand developed a little later, as a critique and refinement of HST, within a historical context where the earlier expectations of post-hegemonic economic instability and disorder had not occurred. This strand of HST argues that while the material power and political dominance/leadership of a hegemon is an important factor facilitating (liberal) economic order, it is not sufficient to the realization of order and stability. Further, the absence of a hegemon may not, necessarily, result in instability and disorder. Such arguments make reference to the surprising level of stability in the world economy and the increasing scope and effectiveness of international regimes since the late 1970s – in the absence of a singular hegemonic economic power.

Comments here will be focused, initially, toward the former, before looking at the neoliberal variant of HST identified with the work of Robert Keohane in particular (Keohane and Nye 1977; Keohane 1980; 1984). The final part of this section will then go on to consider liberal-institutionalist readings of hegemony, which, while recognizing the centrality of the United States in postwar liberal international economic order, give much greater emphasis to the role played by institutional and nonmaterial factors (norms, ideas, assumptions, etc.) in constituting hegemony.

Adopting a neorealist frame of explaining international order via the distribution of material power across states, advocates of HST suggest that international economic order, and open, liberal ones in particular, are synchronized with the rise and fall of great powers (Gilpin 1981:156–7). Indeed, as Isabelle Grunberg (1990:434–7) has remarked, HST – in its neorealist form at least – has a distinct conception of world politics in time and space based on the assumption that world order derives from some form of hierarchical political arrangement that recurs, cyclically. This amounts to a geopolitical determinism in that, because of the underlying anarchical properties of the international system, its historical evolution amounts to a sequence of international hierarchies with one great power dominating the system succeeded by another, usually through war (Gilpin 1981:144; 1987:72). While Gilpin recognized the difficulties of applying this “historical tendency” in a world of nuclear weapons with regard to the question of American economic decline from the early 1970s, this general systemic tendency remains a key element within HST. This is not only a problem for the theoretical coherency of HST, but also, as will be demonstrated below, it undermines its ability to recognize the plural and evolving character of the international economy across historical time.

A fundamental realignment of material power in the international system is where hegemons and hegemonic orders emerge from. Although such changes have a long-term genesis in the economic development of particular states, historically they have been a consequence of major war between great powers (Gilpin 1981:186–210). So, in the two empirical cases of hegemony identified by HST – the so-called Pax Britannica of the mid-late nineteenth century and the post-1945 Pax Americana – it was the geopolitical conclusions of armed conflict that facilitated the development of hegemonic arrangements.

However, HST is specifically concerned with accounting for liberal forms of international economic order and not the generic characteristics of international economic relations per se. Consequently, hegemony does not, necessarily, arise from the uneven material structure of the international system, as such asymmetry has – as in the past – led to the establishment of empires and imperial economic orders (Gilpin 1987:72). Therefore, what will determine the character of hierarchy is the domestic political-ideological character of the leading state. In short, states constituted by and committed to the practice of a liberal politics are likely to establish and uphold hegemonic arrangements; those that are not are likely to veer toward empire. This is obviously a key assumption with regard to debates about the economic rise of China and the international political consequences flowing from this.

The focus on accounting for a liberal international economy obviously “waters down” the explanatory significance of hard-material territorial power in HST, and therefore opens up a theoretical ambivalence as to the causal determination and agency accounting for hegemony. Thus, while the hegemon is materially dominant in both its economic and military capabilities, it is only hegemonic to the degree that the order it seeks to establish and uphold promotes open, rule-guided, cooperative and liberal international economic exchange involving the cooperation of other states. In turn these secondary states perceive material benefits flowing from such arrangements, which obviously reduces the material advantages and coercive powers at the hegemon’s disposal. According to Gilpin (1981:144), then, Britain and the United States “succeeded in this hegemonic role partially because they have imposed their will on lesser states and partially because other states have benefited from and accepted their leadership.” Such a position not only opens up the contingent domain of domestic politics and social-ideological conflict in the theorization of hegemony (which is not considered by HST), but also implies an assumption of benevolence on the part of the hegemon. Accordingly, the benefits flowing to the hegemon are less material (Kindleberger 1981) than in the form of status and prestige, which contradicts the realist-material logic at the heart of the theory.

What, then, makes the two empirical episodes of hegemonic order liberal and hegemonic? The key factor is the provision of collective or public goods, or what have been labeled international regimes that help sustain a liberal international (economic) order. Regimes can be defined as sets of principles, norms, rules, and decision-making procedures around which actor expectations converge on a given issue area proscribing illegitimate behavior to limit conflict and facilitate agreement (Gilpin 1987:75). This is particularly emphasized by the neoliberal strand of HST (see Keohane and Nye 1977; Keohane 1980; 1984; Nye 1990; Snidal 1985; Gowa 1989). The provision of an open market for the exchange of goods and services free from political interventions and infringements is the most important collective good sustained by the hegemonic order as it allows market actors to compete with each other through the price mechanism rather than through proximity to political power. For Kindleberger (1981:243), what defines the open market as a public good is that the consumption of it – open market access – by one or more actors does not reduce its availability to other producers. With Britain’s turn toward free trade after 1846 and the United States’s commitment to trade liberalization after 1945 there is some historical evidence to support the HST case that liberal and hegemonic orders necessitate the commitment by at least one leading state to open market exchange to overcome the prisoner’s dilemma (Guzzini 1998:143).

The provision of public/collective goods extends beyond this to specific dimensions of the operations of the liberal international economy as exemplified by Britain during the late nineteenth century and the United States after 1945. The key ones are (1) the management of the international financial system through the provision of an international currency for payment and a system for managing exchange rates; (2) the provision of capital through acting as a lender of last resort in moments of liquidity contraction; and (3) the promotion and stabilization of free trade through opening the country’s markets to other states, particularly in moments of crisis (Gilpin 1972; 1987; Kindleberger 1981; 1986; Lake 1993:462).

The historical records of British and American hegemonies do, to a considerable degree, bear these out. Thus, throughout the latter decades of the nineteenth century until 1914, British policy was committed to the provision of these collective goods: the promotion of free trade even if this wasn’t always reciprocated by its main trading partners; the City of London as the international clearing bank and provider of international liquidity; and a foreign exchange framework through the London-centered Gold Standard (Ruggie 1998:71). With regard to the United States, it also established international regimes of collective goods after 1945 that formed the backbone of the postwar liberal economy: the Bretton Woods system of managed exchange rates supervised by the International Monetary Fund (IMF); the dollar as the principal unit of international economic exchange and the US export of dollars through aid, and military spending associated with the Cold War; and, finally, the promotion of trade liberalization through trade rounds under the auspices of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, and toleration of degrees of trade protectionism by its partners.

However, critics have questioned the degree to which these historical cases are best explained through HST. In particular, as Wyatt-Walter (1996:126–9) notes, by occluding an analysis of the role played by the wider geopolitical context and security factors in the two historical episodes of hegemony, there are questions as to whether or not HST properly accounts for the character of leadership and the political dynamics driving the evolution of each hegemonic order. Thus, with regard to Britain, its leadership was strongly conditioned by imperial economic arrangements. In part because of this, its main trading partners were much less committed to a liberal ideological consensus in their domestic and international economic relations, which questions the degree of reciprocity qua regime involving other states under British hegemony. Consequently, there was no internationally agreed economic architecture based on a domestic consensus of other states (Mjøset 1990:31). Instead, British economic advantage combined with the dividends it secured from its imperial preference system meant that it could tolerate nonreciprocity from many of its European trading partners. Further, Britain did not have the will or means to impose its vision of economic order on these states, which challenges the degree to which this historical episode is comparable with the post-1945 episode of American hegemony (Latham 1997:11–41).

Regarding the Pax Americana, HST appears to be vindicated in that US material power initially prevailed, with the 1944 Bretton Woods agreement reflecting an American vision of how the postwar international economic order should be organized, and also in securing concessions from Britain regarding the elimination of imperial preferences. However, this was to be short-lived. Within a couple of years a combination of a severe economic crisis in Western Europe – out of which it was feared communist parties in France and Italy might gain political advantage – combined with the escalation of US–Soviet geopolitical hostility with the development of the Cold War to reverse US plans (Saull 2007:61–8). What came to drive US postwar economic planning after 1947, then, was not the United States deploying its overwhelming power to establish its vision of how the postwar international economic order should be organized, but, rather, a realization that US national security interests required the United States to make a number of concessions to the other leading capitalist states (Pollard 1985; Wyatt-Walter 1996:134). In sum, US and liberal economic objectives were subordinated to those of national security. While this does not mean that we can collapse postwar American hegemony, or the broader postwar liberal international economic regime, with the geopolitical context of the Cold War, it should give us pause for thought on the explanation of the substance and dynamics of postwar international economic order through the prism of HST.

A key aspect of hegemonic order according to HST is the provision of collective goods or what David Lake calls an “international economic infrastructure” (1993:462). This requires an asymmetry of power in the international system, from which the material burden of providing such goods can be resourced and, politically, regimes established and rules enforced. However, because of its liberal character, the success – in terms of its international political legitimacy – of the hegemonic order serves to undermine the material basis of its long-term reproduction due to the more rapid economic growth – via “free riding” – of secondary states. Consequently, there is an assumption that hegemonic orders tend to be more beneficial – economically – to subordinate parties at the cost of the long-term economic health of the hegemon (Gilpin 1981:44–5; 1987:89; Stein 1984). Hence, the self-interested logic of a realist focus on the preservation of material power is challenged by the upholding and promotion of a liberal international economic order. The long-term outcome is a fiscal crisis of the dominant power as it can no longer maintain its external political and economic commitments, which is revealed in its relative decline and the unraveling of the material basis of the hegemonic order. For HST this can only be resolved with the emergence of a new hegemonic power to take on leadership responsibilities (Gilpin 1981:155–7).

In such scenarios “centrifugal forces increasingly assert themselves” (Gilpin 1987:76) and the hegemon becomes increasingly unable and unwilling to provide the collective goods and ensure the maintenance of economic regimes. While this dynamic of decline and the emergence of a new hegemon exhibits a propensity toward determinism, it does highlight a key contradiction within the dynamics of capitalist development – its tendencies toward deterritorialization – and the economic and political consequences of this on territorially bounded concentrations of material power.

It appears, then, that the dynamic of liberal capitalism unleashed by the hegemonic order supersedes the singular territorial power of the hegemon. This suggests that the rules of the economic regimes that “govern” the economic relations within the hegemonic order are relatively autonomous of the hegemon’s material power and political direction (Guzzini 1998:147). In other words they are constructed and operate in such a way that they do not track the material power relations favoring the hegemon, which, further, suggests that either the hegemonic system is in some ways autonomous of the hegemon or that the hegemon acts in a selfless manner knowing full well that its material power and political autonomy are being circumscribed; yet its continuing, if declining leadership, remains legitimate. It is not clear, then, how the theory of hegemonic decline is compatible with that of hegemonic stability.

The historical record does indeed bear out the relative decline of hegemons evidenced by the experience of British global power in the years preceding World War I, and in the American case, the collapse of the economic order that it had established after World War II, in the early 1970s. Yet, while in the British case a new hegemon did emerge after two world wars, the cyclical logic of HST has not, yet, been realized with regard to the post-Pax Americana. The two episodes of hegemonic decline are, then, very distinct and, as O’Brien (2003) suggests, it is difficult to build a general historical trend and theoretical framework around such varied historical experiences and when, in the case of American decline, the consequences are historically inconclusive.

In the British case, decline was less a product of the uneven and paradoxical consequences of a liberal international economic order. Thus the market system did not – autonomously – undermine the material basis of the hegemonic order but, rather, emerged from the contradictions imminent within an only partially liberalized economic order (Panitch and Gindin 2003). The challenges to the existing order emerged, primarily, in the geopolitical realm. It was not, then, a case of the hegemon’s relative decline and it acting in an assertive, nationalistic, and protectionist fashion to try and forestall its decline. Instead, it was the emergence of geopolitical challenges to British power leading to war which provides a clue to both the deficiency of material hierarchy and liberalism in the international economic order of the late nineteenth century, and hence, what some scholars regard as its nonhegemonic character (McKeown 1983; Latham 1997:11–41; Lacher 2006:122–3).

In contrast, the “end” of the American hegemonic order occurred through the unilateral decisions of the hegemon (Gilpin 1987; Krasner 1976; 1982). The reasons for the unilateral abrogation by the United States of its obligations toward the Bretton Woods system in August 1971 were a consequence of (1) the material burden and economic drain of the Cold War, and the Vietnam War in particular; and (2) its relative competitive economic decline vis-à-vis the main Western European and Japanese economies. It is also important to note the significance of the geopolitical context of détente with the Soviet Union in informing US policy (Saull 2007:132–8). With the collapse of the Bretton Woods arrangements, according to HST international economic relations became much more unstable, defined by a “predatory hegemony” (Krasner 1982; Gilpin 1987:90, 345) reflected in unilateral actions outside of the frameworks of international regimes, notably during the Reagan administration.

Despite the abrogation of Bretton Woods and the relative decline of the material capacities of the US economy, the United States has remained geopolitically ascendant, especially since the end of the Cold War. Further, and challenging HST expectations, a new regime of globalized accumulation has emerged since the 1970s and the United States has been at the forefront of its promotion through the establishment of international institutions such as the World Trade Organization (WTO) and in shaping the ideological prescriptions of the Bretton Woods institutions. Stephen Gill (2003; see also Panitch and Gindin 2003) sees this transformation as reflecting a deliberate policy shift by the United States to address its economic vulnerabilities exposed by developments in the early 1970s. Paradoxically, then, this apparently post-hegemonic era saw – during the 1990s in particular – a revitalization of the American economy with the emergence of new technological and industrial sectors and a hegemonic dominance anchored in financial rather than industrial capital.

Susan Strange’s work captures many of these developments through her recognition of what she regarded as continuing US advantage in the key aspects of “structural power” – security, credit, knowledge, and production – (Strange 1988) in the world economy even while the relationship between state power and markets had undergone a major reconfiguration since the 1980s (Strange 1996). For Strange, then, the HST debate about US hegemonic decline was too wedded to the British analogy (Strange 1987:563, 565–71) and tended to overlook the empirical evidence of continuing US innovation, leadership, and hierarchy through the imposing of theoretical assumptions of inevitable decline/transition.

The essay will now turn to the work of Robert Keohane, whose critique and refinement of HST has developed a neoliberal variant of HST and, in doing so, has tried to address some of the criticisms mentioned above.

Economic Order and Regimes After Hegemony

Emerging in a similar international historical context to that of the other variant of HST, Keohane’s work has been concerned with explaining the continuing relevance and expansion of forms of international cooperation through regimes in the management of the international economy and the role of the United States within these arrangements (Keohane and Nye 1972; 1977; Keohane 1980; 1984). Consequently, Keohane’s work, most notably in his book-length study of the postwar international economic order, After Hegemony (1984), has formed a major contribution to the debate on HST and the articulation of what he calls a more subtle form of HST (Keohane 1984:34–5) than that associated with the “more realist” work of Kindleberger, Gilpin, and Krasner.

The basis of Keohane’s (1984:31) argument is that while a hegemon can facilitate the establishment and maintenance of international cooperation manifested in international economic regimes, “there is little reason to believe that hegemony is either a necessary or a sufficient condition for the emergence of cooperative relationships.” Indeed, as evidenced by post–Bretton Woods developments in the global economy, cooperation and regime development and effectiveness do not, contra Gilpin and Kindleberger, require a hegemon (Keohane 1984:34–5). In many respects Keohane focuses on the ambivalence identified above in the explanatory power of the uneven distribution of material power and its necessary relationship with the liberal domestic political and ideological characteristics of the United States in particular. Therefore, the postwar international economic order is hegemonic and, more importantly, cooperative and regimes-based, because of the liberal domestic political character of the major states within it and the United States in particular.

Keohane also qualifies or reduces the theoretical ambition of HST as a general theoretical formula in IPE by stressing the differences between British economic leadership in the late nineteenth century compared to the United States after 1945 (1984:37; see also Ruggie 1998:121). Thus, for an order to be hegemonic whereby political relations between states are characterized by institutional cooperation and reciprocity (i.e., regimes), they need to extend beyond formal diplomatic arrangements anchored in power asymmetries, and instead equate to what Keohane terms “complex interdependence” (Keohane and Nye 1972; 1977) involving a range of actors – not just states – which rests on a drawing together of internal–external relations. These revisions to HST give it greater historical focus, if reducing its theoretical scope, and offer a route out of the ambivalent connection between material power, state interest, and liberal political economy.

In developing his critique, Keohane is concerned with accounting for post-hegemonic developments in the international monetary and trade regimes (1984:206–10). And, in contrast to neorealist HST, he argues that multilateral institutions remained central to the operations of these economic relations, and further, they continued to be grounded in a liberal vision of political economy. Thus, in contrast to Gilpin’s claim of increasing unilateralism and system instability and breakdown, Keohane suggests cooperation and regime(s) formation without hegemony. Thus, in this revised account of the post-hegemonic order, a liberal regime-centered international economy continues to develop through “intensive interaction among a few players [which] helps to substitute for, or supplement, the actions of a hegemon” (Keohane 1984:78–9).

What Keohane appears to be saying, then, is that post-hegemonic cooperation is possible because of the recognition by self-interested and rational egoists that such arrangements continue to benefit states (1984:244–6). John Ruggie (1998:64–5, 84) complements this line of reasoning by claiming that the decline of US power did not imply the collapse of the system because of the continuation of shared cross-national “social purpose” among leading states. So, as long as domestic social constituencies and prevailing ideational currents are supportive, the political consequences of material decline can be mitigated.

While Keohane offers a powerful critique of the neorealist strand of HST, the assumptions that guide his explanation of the “post-hegemonic” international economic order are questionable. Further, in a similar fashion to the neorealist strand of HST, his failure to sufficiently integrate geopolitical developments associated with the Cold War and security factors more generally also raises questions over the historical accuracy of his explanation of postwar hegemony (Wyatt-Walter 1996:126–9). Indeed, as Guzzini recognizes (1998:149), while the substance and relative material power of the United States has shifted, even declined, the United States has continued to remain as the dominant capitalist economy, and further, has been instrumental in reconfiguring the social, technological, and ideological character of the world capitalist economy since the early 1970s (see Calleo 1987; Strange 1987; 1988). It seems, then, that hierarchical relationships and the particular political and economic interests associated with the United States continue to condition the character of international economic order rather than, as Keohane suggests, consensual and largely harmonious relations emerging from a decentered structure and rationally motivated actors identifying shared objectives.

Relatedly, as his critics (Cox 1987; Gill 1995) suggest, Keohane (1984; 1989) tends to overlook the domestic shifts in the socioeconomic basis of US support for (neo)liberal institutional arrangements and how this has played itself out in the transfor-mation of the content and direction of these regimes. The continuing relevance of asymmetries in socioeconomic and political power is particularly relevant with respect to the expansion of the spatial coverage of regimes to much of the global South through the 1980s, where the US has been at the forefront in promoting neoliberal economic doctrines (Augelli and Murphy 1988). This may not matter to Keohane – who appears to regard liberal models of political economy as a positive sum – but it is something that Gill (1995; 2003; see also Robinson 2004) argues needs to be better substantiated through an assessment of the uneven consequences of neoliberal globalization and the way in which hierarchical political and social arrangements continue to condition the flow of economic benefits from the operations of the global economy.

Hegemony and Liberal Institutionalism

John Ikenberry’s work has gone furthest in articulating a nuanced understanding of hegemony from a liberal-institutionalist perspective with regard to the post-1945 international order (Ikenberry and Kupchan 1990; Ikenberry 1998; 2001a; 2001b; 2001c; 2004). While agreeing with the basic claim of HST that the geopolitical and geo-economic transformations wrought by systemic war provide the most important foundations for the establishment of hegemonic international orders (Ikenberry 1998; 2001a:5), he has outlined an alternative understanding to the two strands of HST outlined above. In particular, he has sought to combine an examination of the peculiarities and uniqueness of postwar American hegemony grafted onto a general theory accounting for liberal hegemonic orders based on (1) the way in which international institutions bind a hegemon to other states, thus diffusing and legitimizing its (asymmetric) power; and (2) the way in which the internal social and political properties of liberal democracies facilitate and are constituted by a plurality of viewpoints, decentralized structures of power and decision making, and multiple channels of influence grounded in a transparent legal framework (Ikenberry 2001a:164–5).

Ikenberry (2004) distances himself further from HST in contesting the inevitability of hegemonic decline. Thus much of his work has been concerned with accounting for the continuation of American hegemony after the Cold War, when the postwar geopolitical context that helped sustain American leadership disappeared. This resulted in a much starker asymmetrical distribution of geopolitical power – American unipolarity – which was further enhanced during the 1990s when the US economy recaptured an element of dynamism, innovation, and growth and pioneered neoliberal globalization.

What marks out Ikenberry’s work – and this is where he parts company with Keohane (1980; 1984) and Ruggie (1998) in particular – is his claim that liberal hegemony, exemplified by the structures and institutions developed by the United States since 1945, has a strong constitutional dimension. He defines a constitutional-based (international) order as an order “organized around agreed-upon legal and political institutions that operate to allocate rights and limit the exercise of power” and where the stakes in “political struggles are reduced by the creation of institutional processes of participation and decision making that specify rules, rights and limits on power holders” (Ikenberry 2001a:29). The key features of a constitutional order which can be applied to post-1945 American hegemony are (1) shared agreement on basic principles and rules (the rules of the game); (2) rules and institutional arrangements that establish binding and authoritative limits on the exercise of power; and (3) rules and institutions that are embedded in the wider political system, that is, among other states/political elites which make them difficult to alter (Ikenberry and Kupchan 1990; Ikenberry 2001a:30–1). What this amounts to is an internationalization of the domestic political-ideological properties of the United States, suggesting that the open, orderly, predictable political arrangements that help curb executive and coercive power within the United States are transposed to the international sphere in the institutional arrangements established and developed by the United States (Ikenberry 2001a; 2001b:203–4).

The upshot, then, is that for liberal democracies in general and the United States in particular the creation of “interlocking institutions” helps sustain an international order that “mutes the importance of power asymmetries within international relations,” providing a constitutional basis for international order and ending up “limiting the returns to power” (Ikenberry 2001a:6, 29). While hierarchical because of the continuing material dominance of the United States, Ikenberry suggests that both the hegemon and associated states abide by the rules of the institution/regime “because they accept them as desirable [and] they embrace them as their own” (Ikenberry 2001a:52). Further, Ikenberry argues that associated states, particularly in Western Europe, have, themselves, shaped and continue to mold institutional and substantive political and economic arrangements in their own interests because of the “externally penetrated character of US hegemony after 1945” (Ikenberry 2001b:206), giving them substantial ownership of these institutional arrangements.

On this reading the ideological and intersubjective consensus on hegemonic arrangements not only permeates the interiors of states but has, effectively, become an essential element of the subjective identity of political elites in associative states (Ikenberry and Kupchan 1990:283). Indeed, for Ikenberry (2001a:198; 2001b), Europeans after 1945 were more worried about American withdrawal and abandonment than domination, which echoes Gier Lundestad’s (1998) idea of the postwar transatlantic alliance as an “empire by (European) invitation.”

Ikenberry’s work has provided an interesting and useful entry point for wider debates on globalization and global governance and how such developments have shaped the structures and operations of state/great power. However, it has been subject to a number of criticisms. In the first place there is the problem of the spatial dimensions of hegemonic orders applicable to both the British case and the post-1945 and post–Cold War American one. This is particularly so with regard to the degree to which the hegemon develops institutions that bind it to other states and which “facilitate consultation and joint-decision-making” (Ikenberry 2001c:20–1). While this may apply to relations within the core, this is not the case with much of the periphery, where consultation has tended to be limited and joint decision-making much less in evidence (Augelli and Murphy 1988; Gill 2003; Soederberg 2006). The reason for this is because of (1) the enduring importance of hierarchy and asymmetric power, which means that the United States can compel some states to do things through a range of sanctions it can deploy; and (2) the fact that the socioeconomic and ideological structures, networks, and connections that exist between the United States and other developed capitalist states do not really exist in US relations with these weaker states in the South (Augelli and Murphy 1988). These relationships, critics argue, are better understood as imperial rather than hegemonic (Harvey 2005; Soederberg 2006).

Regarding Ikenberry’s claim that the domestic properties of the American state allow numerous and competing points of access, Andrew Hurrell (2005:46–7) suggests this claim may overstate the means available to secondary states, particularly from the global South, to gain access to decision-making centers within the US polity. Further, Hurrell argues that it also tends to exaggerate the degree of pluralism within the US political system and the degree to which external and alternative viewpoints can be accommodated. Thus, within Ikenberry’s argument there seems to be an implicit assumption about agreed viewpoints. However, this overlooks the rather narrowly circumscribed ideas as to what has been acceptable to the ears of US policy makers, notable when states – in some instances mandated through democratic means – have tried to implement forms of political economy at odds with the US vision and which have been on the end of US hostility and coercion, as was the case through much of the Cold War (Saull, 2007:155–64).

Critical Views

Critical views of hegemony distinguish themselves from the traditional perspectives discussed above through situating and embedding state power and behavior within the socioeconomic structure of capitalism, and, further, focusing on class agency as central to the establishment and evolution of hegemonic orders. To varying degrees these scholars have drawn on the theory of hegemony developed by the Italian Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci (1971). Written during the interwar period, Gramsci’s broader political economy within which his theory of hegemony emerged was aimed at addressing what he saw as two important weaknesses in both the theoretical framework and political project of historical materialism: (1) the tendency toward structural or economic determinism in the analysis of capitalist development evident in Marx’s later work and in the orthodox political position of European Social Democracy; and (2) the excessively voluntarist theorization of revolutionary political agency developed by Lenin in response to this economism. Gramsci’s theory, then, was concerned with accounting for the reproduction of capitalist dominance and exploitation within the leading capitalist states of his day. His answer lay in the way in which capitalist social property relations are constructed as a “common sense” through the embedding and reproduction of a cultural, ideational, and normative consensus within wider social layers beyond those that occupy positions of material power. In other words, subordinated and exploited social layers were regarded as – to varying degrees – willing participants in the reproduction of hierarchical arrangements that benefited other social groups.

The focus in this section will be on those scholars who have developed and applied Gramsci’s theory of hegemony to international order (Cox 1983; 1987; 1994; Gill and Law 1989; Rupert 1990; 1995; 2000; Gill 1995; 2003; Cox and Sinclair 1996; Robinson 2001; 2004; Morton 2007). However, before turning to this tradition of thinking on hegemony, a few remarks will be made about the other tradition of neo-Marxist thinking on hegemony. This tradition is associated with WST and the work of Immanuel Wallerstein (1974; 1979; 1984) and Giovanni Arrighi (1994; 2008) in particular.

As mentioned in the introductory comments, this tradition of thinking on hegemony and hegemonic transition in particular predates HST discussions. Originating in the early 1970s with an analytical and political concern to account for the failure of former colonial states to realize meaningful and autonomous economic development after independence, and drawing on a Marxist-informed framework combined with the analysis of long-cycles of capitalist development associated with the work of the French historian Fernand Braudel (1974), WST centers on the way in which material structures of production and exchange condition geopolitical arrangements.

WST provides a rich vein of socioeconomic analysis of the historical cycles and fluctuations of growth in the world economy since the fifteenth century, and the place of particular regions and states within it, notably through its tripartite hierarchy of core, semiperiphery, and periphery in the workings of the world economy. Further, WST outlines a novel approach to thinking about hegemony compared with most other theories in that, first, it expands its coverage of historical cases of hegemony beyond that of Britain and the United States to include the Netherlands in the seventeenth century (Arrighi 1994). In consequence, it outlines a broad general theory of hegemony centered on the competition of leading economies for access to/control of global economic resources that can accommodate a number of varied historical experiences. Second, it implicitly attacks Eurocentric assumptions in much writing on world history through stressing the exceptional character of European/Western dominance from the seventeenth century in contrast to the prior dominance of Asia (see Frank 1998) within the world economy. Third, it takes a relational approach to understanding hierarchy within the world economy through focusing on the distribution of benefits (economic surplus) from the (exploitative) workings of the world economy through core and periphery, or what is more commonly referred to as “North–South,” relations.

While these distinctive qualities of WST suggest a radically different theory of hegemony from traditional views, and HST in particular, the criticisms leveled at WST suggest that its understanding of hegemony has considerable overlap with neorealist variants of HST. First, both traditions focus on states or great powers as repositories of hegemonic power, meaning that the World-Systems approach tends to confine the economic power and structures of a hegemon to a particular territorial orientation. Hegemony, then, is about the material capacities of particular states, and through this material (military and economic) power their dominance and leadership over other states. The problem with this conceptualization of the state is that it tends to collapse state power with the economic capacity and social agency of capital, which is not so territorially confined. For Robinson (2004:130; see Gill 2003:73–92 also) this ends up reifying state agency rather than situating states in a wider constellation of social agency.

Secondly, what marks out a hegemon is the dominance of a single state based on its asymmetrical material capacities. According to Wallerstein (1984), hegemony concerns “[t]hat situation in which ongoing rivalry between the so-called ‘great powers’ is so unbalanced that one power is truly primus inter pares; that is, one power can largely impose its rules and its wishes (at the very least by effective veto power) in the economic, political, military, diplomatic and even cultural arenas.” Thus, there is a tendency to neglect the role of institutions as mediating structures on power imbalances and the ideational, cultural, and intersubjective dimensions of hegemonic order, which may operate autonomously of the rate of decline in the technological and material power of a hegemon. Thus, as Gill (2003:80) notes, even if we accept a material tendency of decline as evidenced in the relative performance of the US economy vis-à-vis the other major advanced capitalist economies since the late 1960s, this does not automatically, or will necessarily, trigger a rupture in the political, ideational, and institutional structures of hegemonic power.

The third area of overlap is that both stress that the histories of hegemonic orders is one of rise and decline. For World-Systems thinkers, the dynamic of decline concerns economic competition whereby contenders catch up, triggering a crisis in the hegemon’s power. Initially this occurs in the productive (manufacturing) sphere of accumulation, before moving on to the commercial and financial spheres. For Arrighi (1994:27–84) the dynamic of rise and decline is more about declines in the productive expansion of hegemons due to the pressure of overcompetition and how this triggers financial innovation and expansion. This is regarded as the final stage of hegemonic power and the moment when hegemonic power declines, giving way to instability and interstate conflict, involving systemic war, before a new hegemon arises. This is broadly how Arrighi (2008:93) sees the current global financial crisis, with the likely outcome of a new hegemon – China – emerging to replace the United States.

For WST critics (Cox 1987; Rupert 1995; Gill 2003:73–92; Robinson 2004:33–84) this reads as a form of structural-economic determinism in a similar fashion to the way in which neorealists’ view the history of the international system as a sequence of cyclical changes in great power dominance. Further, where social or class agency is discussed, it tends to be subordinated to the state and its specific place within the core–periphery hierarchy of the world system, rather than recognizing its more autonomous and dynamic character (Rupert 1995; 2000; Robinson 2004:130). Finally, according to Cox (1987; see also Skocpol 1977; Teschke 2003:137–9) the explanatory power of World-System’s concept of hegemony appears heavily diluted by the breadth of its historical coverage, applied, as it is, to what Arrighi and Wallerstein regard as the “three hegemonies of the capitalist world system” – the Netherlands in the seventeenth century, Britain in the nineteenth century, and the United States after 1945. Such a wide variety of historical experiences of international order are kept together by their definition of capitalism – hierarchical and exploitative exchange relations – which does not sufficiently recognize the key transformations in the global economy, particularly in the realm of production relations and the associated dynamics of social conflict.

Classes, Historical Blocs and World Order

The theorization of hegemony from a Gramscian perspective emerged in the early 1980s, in part as a response to what its leading proponent – Robert Cox – saw as the structuralism and economism of existing Marxist-informed treatments represented by WST, and assisted by Cox’s unique intellectual viewpoint on the apparatus and workings of international organizations and global governance through his work in the International Labour Organization. In his seminal article (1983), Cox sought to apply Gramsci’s thinking on hegemony as outlined in the Prison Notebooks (1971) to the international sphere. What followed was the development of this theoretical framework in a more historically focused assessment of British and American experiences of hegemony (Cox 1987), through to discussions of American decline and globalization (Gill and Law 1989; Gill 1995; 2003; Cox 1994; Robinson 2001; 2004), paralleling the accounts offered by traditional approaches to hegemony, and historical accounts of the construction of world hegemonic order (Rupert 1990; 1995).

This reading of hegemony is distinct from the other approaches discussed, in a number of ways. First, in contrast to the other approaches that tend to focus on the state – be it its material dimension or its subjective identity – Gramscian approaches prioritize an analysis on, and aim to locate hegemony within, historically evolving social structures associated with forms of socioeconomic production (Cox 1987; Gill 1993a). Further, hegemony resides not just in state power and legitimacy, but also within wider civil society (not just the economy) through the reproduction in the daily lives of people and groups of a cultural and ideational disposition toward particular social, economic, and political arrangements. Consequently, historical structures are “partly constituted by consciousness and action of individuals and groups” (Gill 1993b:22). This permits the exercise of hegemony through noncoercive and consensual practices (Cox 1983) and highlights the role of so-called “organic intellectuals” (Morton 2007:92) and, more broadly, communicative and ideational factors in the reproduction of hierarchical power relations as a “common sense” (Rupert 2000). As Cox comments, “hegemony is a form in which dominance is obscured by achieving an appearance of acquiescence […] As if it were the natural order of things [it] is an internalised coherence which has most probably arisen from externally imposed rules but has been transformed into an intersubjectively constituted reality” (1994:366). It is not the case, then, that the material and coercive power of the state/hegemon is insignificant, but, rather, that it is latent and only visible in moments of crisis. Because hegemonic order is diffused in a decentralized and “nonpolitical” fashion through civil society, it is not required as a systemic element of hegemonic order (Cox 1983:164).

Secondly, the neo-Gramscian focus on social structures, and capitalism in particular, stresses the importance of social forces or classes as the agents or bearers of hegemony. Hegemony, then, is, in the first instance, a form of class rule, not a geopolitical hierarchy of states (Morton 2007:117) or an interelite consensus based on shared social purposes. These social forces are understood as combinations of ideas, institutions, and material capabilities that Gramsci calls a “historical bloc.” This refers to the social, economic, and political connections between the administrative and coercive machinery of the state and social groupings within civil society whereby leading qua capitalist social forces establish ascendancy over other social groupings but do so through incorporating them into the structures of state and governance as subaltern partners. Thus the historical bloc is more than just a political alliance, but rather the integration of a variety of class interests which are propagated throughout society in a way that promotes not just a harmony of political and economic aims, but also a wider cultural and moral unity (Morton 2007:118). Such arrangements can be identified, empirically, at the level of production relations (i.e., the relationship to ownership and/or control of the means of production), state–society relations (political parties, civil society organizations, and ideological currents), and internationally in terms of the organization of world order and the international institutions that uphold particular socioeconomic and political arrangements. Consequently, through linking the organization of production relations with the “superstructure” of civil and political society, neo-Gramscians aim to overcome what they regard as the economism of the World-Systems approach.

Through this focus on social forces, neo-Gramscian approaches seek to (1) avoid static or deterministic accounts of hegemonic order through focusing on how such orders are reproduced through concrete agency and the construction of particular institutional arrangements at the state and international levels; and (2) incorporate a theorization of resistance to hegemonic orders and the possibilities for the emergence of counterhegemonies, as well as the prolongation of hegemonic arrangements through the emergence of new historical blocs (see Morton 2007; Rupert 2000). This results in a much more open-ended and fluid conception of hegemony in that it highlights the dynamic relationship between the state and civil society, as well as offering a different spatial understanding of hegemony (see Agnew 2005) through mapping out the ways in which hegemony operates internationally through multiple channels and connections involving states, international institutions (the Bretton Woods institutions, the WTO, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) and wider civil society forces organized at the domestic and international levels. This is something that I will come back to in a moment when I discuss neo-Gramscian discussions of globalization.

In attempting to correct what they regard as more economistic and deterministic readings of Marxism through emphasizing the subjective and ideationally constructed reproduction of material relations involving conscious human agency, neo-Gramscians have been accused of paying insufficient attention to the role of socioeconomic structures in the constitution of hegemony (Joseph 2002; 2008). Simply put, for a social group to be hegemonic within a social order it must be structurally located within the economy to ensure its wider social leadership and, as such, any reference to intersubjectivity “is grounded in real material structures” (Joseph 2008:114). By putting so much stress on the intersubjective – hegemony is “inscribed in the mind” (Cox and Sinclair 1996:245) – and ideational reproduction of hierarchical class relationships, the neo-Gramscian theory of hegemony fails to recognise the objectivity of the material structure of capitalism. The consequence of this is a tendency to regard (material) structures and subjective agency as mutually constitutive (Joseph 2008:118–19) and, consequently, a failure to recognize the constraining and directing dimensions of historical structures.

What is central to the Gramscian theoretical framework just outlined is the requirement of historical and empirical investigation to determine the specificities of a particular hegemonic order and the distinct social and political interests represented within it (Cox 1983:162; Gill 2003:30–5). Thus Cox (1987) has outlined accounts of the particularities of British and American hegemony, and Mark Rupert (1990; 1995) has provided a historical analysis of the emergence of a historical bloc associated with the American-led postwar international economy, as well as more recent developments related to neoliberal globalization (Rupert 2000). In his account, the domestic sociopolitical arrangements within the United States during the 1930s – which saw organized labor incorporated into a new social and political consensus (the New Deal social contract between capital and labor) – was internationalized after World War II. This rested on a new mode of capital accumulation – Fordism – which itself was associated with a new set of social, cultural, and ideological norms, and configured, politically, through institution building that incorporated a range of social interests under the hierarchical leadership of a transnational liberal capitalist class. Through a combination of American state and civil society efforts, and assisted by the deus ex machina of the Cold War, such arrangements were emulated in other leading capitalist states, thus resulting in the establishment of an international historical bloc through the extension of US methods of production, exchange, and consumption.

While articulating a historically grounded account of hegemony formation and development, these historical accounts of hegemony have also exposed frailties in the broader theory of hegemony, suggesting that, like its HST counterpart, neo-Gramscian hegemony may have a more limited theoretical range than its proponents recognize. This is particularly so with regard to the identification of British nineteenth-century international leadership as hegemonic in a sense comparable to that of the Pax Americana. Thus, as Hannes Lacher (2006:122) has remarked, while HST amounts to a cyclical theory of the rise and fall of great powers, so the Gramscian theory of hegemony amounts to a recurring cycle of the rise and fall of historical blocs. However, contra neo-Gramscian historicism, and this account of hegemony, viz. consensual relations of domination, such structures and relations have only been present within the postwar experience of American leadership. The historical bloc of so-called Pax Britannica was a much more limited construct than that of the postwar case. Thus the civil society elements of British hegemony were simply not evident within the polities of other leading capitalist states, in part because the socioeconomic changes taking place within these states were in significant measure in response to British geopolitical and geo-economic pressure. Further, rather than supporting liberal, laissez-faire elements involved in domestic political struggles within many of these states, British policy tended to be committed to upholding the rule of the ancien régime (Lacher 2006:123). Put another way, there was no historical bloc in the British case, at least not in the developed and institutionalized sense of the post-1945 international economic order. Consequently, the theoretical purchase of neo-Gramscian hegemony is weakened in the face of historical specificity.

As with the other approaches to hegemony previously discussed, neo-Gramscians have also sought to outline an explanation of developments in world politics since the 1970s associated with American decline, and globalization. The work of Bill Robinson (2001; 2004) and John Agnew (2005) in particular stand out in developing a Gramscian-informed reading of developments since the 1970s. These accounts have sought to identify a transnational form of hegemony that is, increasingly, separate from any single territorial concentration of political and economic power. Thus Robinson (2004:21) states that the postwar historical bloc has been transformed through the combined processes of American decline and globalization, with the dominance of transnational capital over other – locally and regionally oriented – capitals becoming the hegemonic fraction of capital. This development has been accompanied by the establishment of what amounts to a transnational state apparatus organized within global governance institutions (IMF, WTO, European Union, North American Free Trade Agreement) that have emerged out of the 1970s Trilateral Commission and involving international bureaucrats, heads of state and the chief executives of transnational capital. This is evidenced in the increasing use of global governance mechanisms such as the WTO, IMF and World Bank to deal with economic crises and to guarantee private property rights, while the United Nations and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization have been involved in providing security and policing roles (Robinson 2004:75–6, 113–20). While these developments are not yet able to provide a singular regime of regulation for the global reproduction of capital, what we are witnessing, and what they demonstrate, according to Robinson, is the decline in US power/hegemony and the emergence of a new decentered, transnational hegemonic order. (Robinson 2004:101).

John Agnew’s (2005) work has outlined a similar argument through the globalization of what he calls “market-place society.” Although the socioeconomic arrangements of “marketplace society” first emerged in the United States in the nineteenth century and have been spread beyond it through the actions of the US state, their globalization and absorption and adoption by other societies have been much more a product of the multiple and uncoordinated activities of American society (Agnew 2005:3, 20). The consequence of these decentered and disjointed patterns of relations means that hegemony cannot – at least in this particular historical moment – be understood as a territorializing and homogenizing form of power, but rather a networked and fragmented one which has radical and uneven consequences for the organization of political space (Agnew 2005:8). Although Agnew is a little more circumspect about the degree to which such developments are associated with the emergence of transnational state-like institutions, he shares Robinson’s understanding of globalization as a new mode of capital accumulation, what he calls the “market-access system” (Agnew 2005:145), which has undermined American economic power and has put increasing pressure on the domestic social and political coalition that has supported such developments since the 1970s.

To varying degrees, then, neo-Gramscian analyses converge with the other approaches to hegemony (although the routes they have taken to get to this analytical destination and the conceptual vehicles employed to get there have been different) in speaking of a moment of crisis and transformation in the organizing principles of hegemony that have prevailed since the 1970s. While HST and World-Systems theory remain within state-centric ontologies looking for a new territorialized hegemony to succeed that of the Pax Americana, thus ending the period of instability, for neo-Gramscians, and Robinson and Agnew in particular, the historical momentum seems to be moving toward something that supersedes state territoriality with the establishment of a transnational historical bloc. This would involve the coordination of local, national, and regional political and economic developments through a more coordinated set of transnational arrangements so as to better facilitate global patterns of accumulation and resting less on the declining significance of territoriality but, rather, the determining significance of state borders.

Whether or not this comes to pass, the account of political and economic developments since the 1970s – the era of globalization – is open to contestation. Thus, while the Bush doctrine and its attendant difficulties in the Middle East and central Asia may be regarded as evidence of American decline (Robinson 2004; Agnew 2005:3), the United States continues – and is likely to do so for the near future – to have a unique place in the current world order with regard to its indispensability in the use of armed force and in its involvement in, if not resolution of, regional conflicts (Brooks 2008). This, itself, should give some pause for thought about talk of a transnational state when the coercive capabilities of order are so concentrated within a single state and when the deployment of that force may have wider and beneficial consequences for other states but continues to be particularly concerned with US national security considerations.

While military power continues to resemble a more realist depiction of world politics, economic relations and patterns of economic development, though more varied, do not reflect a globalized structure but rather a much more uneven and regionally concentrated set of developments (Hirst et al. 2009). This relates to the broader neo-Gramscian conceptualization of class agency – both ruling and subaltern. With regard to the former there is a tendency to treat the so-called transnational ruling class or historical bloc as a virtually autonomous entity. This tendency to exaggerate the “institutional and ideological self-representation” (Colás 2002:200–1) of this social grouping not only overlooks the continuing way in which such “transnational” entities are constituted by national and local political and economic dynamics (i.e., the geography of borders still matters), but also the way that the agency of dominant classes is constituted through the exploitation of subordinate classes (Colas 2002:200). This last point also relates to the question of resistance and contestation – cited as a constitutive dimension of hegemony – but largely absent (an important exception being Morton 2002) in the theoretical and historical/empirical accounts provided by neo-Gramscians (Colás 2002; Hobson 2007).

As this essay has demonstrated, there is a rich and varied literature on the theory and history of hegemony within IPE. As has been indicated throughout, much of this discussion has been fueled by ongoing developments in the world economy. Consequently, the economic rise of China and the political and geopolitical possibilities that flow from this add a new layer of empirical complexity and theoretical challenge to existing positions that are likely to dominate future debates about hegemony in IPE.


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Links to Digital Materials

Web-based resources are surprisingly thin, particularly with regard to HST. Most sources refer to individual book or journal publications. The coverage of critical, neo-Marxist approaches is more developed.

International Gramsci Society. At, accessed June 22, 2009. Though dedicated to Gramsci’s thought in general, there are numerous contributions addressing the question of hegemony in International Political Economy.

Institute for Research on World-Systems. At, accessed June 22, 2009. Online home of World-Systems Theory, containing articles addressing WST approaches to hegemony.

Hegemonic Stability Theory. At, accessed June 22, 2009. Contains a number of articles relating to HST.

Centre for Research on Globalization. At, accessed June 22, 2009. Website offering critical commentary on world affairs, with a number of articles on contemporary US hegemony.

US-China Economic and Security Review Commission. At, accessed Aug. 2009. Analysis and reports on US–Sino relations from an official US government body.