The term "hegemony" refers to the leadership, dominance or great influence that one entity or group of people has over others. Historically, this term often referred to a city-state or country that exerted power over other city-states or countries indirectly rather than through military force. Modern uses of "hegemony" often refer to a group in a society having power over others within that society. For example, the wealthy class might be said to have hegemony over the poor because of its ability to use its money to influence many aspects of society and government.
This word is derived from the Greek verb hegeisthai, which translates as “to lead.” Early leaders who were able to exert control and influence over a group of people might be referred to as hegemons. A hegemon had to have the support from at least one dominant class of people to keep the population as a whole from rebelling against the leadership.
Dominance and Influence
Hegemony more often refers to the power of a single group in a society to essentially lead and dominate other groups in the society. This might be done by controlling forms of communication, by influencing voters or by influencing government leaders. Some lobbying groups, for example, might have hegemony status over leaders in congress. Rules that would prohibit or limit political spending by special interest groups are designed to reduce their dominance and allow individual voters to have more control.
A single country might also be considered to be hegemonical if it has enough power to influence the way that other countries behave. States that are hegemonies, such as the British Empire of the mid-19th century, have extraordinary influence over many other countries. Hegemony that exists in a single country means that the dominant and most influential group often is able to affect government policies to its advantage.
Power of the Wealthy
In many democracies, the wealthy class can be said to have hegemony over the middle class and the poor. Wealthy individuals can contribute the most money to the campaigns of certain political candidates, political parties or causes. To ensure re-election or continued contributions, government officials who use those funds might then pass laws or create policies that favor those who contributed to the campaigns. People who don't have the money to contribute, however, are unable to influence the government in the same way.
One argument against significant dominance over the poor by the wealthy is that wealthy people don't all share the same political ideologies and different members of the upper class might actually contribute to competing candidates, parties or causes. Also, not all wealthy people favor policies that benefit only the wealthy, such as certain tax laws, and many wealthy people support policies that benefit the poor. This means that the wealthy class' money isn't necessarily being used to increase its dominance or influence over the poor and might even be helping the poor.
Power of the Media
Besides money, other forms of influence can be used by one group to dominate others. For example, control of the media can influenced things such as what shows get aired or canceled and the degree to which a television station covers or does not cover certain news stories. In the late 20th century and early 21st century, however, this dominance was reduced because the Internet gave individuals and small companies more access and control over different forms of media, such as news and music.
People became able to self-publish music, videos, texts and other works of art rather than being under the control of broadcasting, publishing or other types of corporations. In addition, a greater variety of these works became available to consumers. News came to be disseminated through blogs and social networking websites in addition to traditional media outlets. All of these things reduced the hegemony of large corporations in the news and entertainment industries.