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I am not from a liberal arts (I have an engineering major) background and hence this question might seem so trivial to experts in this field.

What I understand by hegemony is that it is a kind of invisible political power over the people about which the people may or may not be conscious. Democracy as I understand it is the system/platform where all members of the society has equal right to participate and decide on the power/state/government to devise rules.

My question is whether democracy by this definition and by what we see in real world is a type of hegemony. If it is a hegemony why is it better than other systems? What are the possible ways by which the present democratic system can evolve.

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    Democracy is a spectrum; the less direct it is the more it starts looking like a hegemony. – Roc Martí Jun 24 '13 at 8:26
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    " it is a kind of invisible political power over the people about which the people may or may not be conscious." What would a visible political power look like? If it may/may not have some property, how does that help in defining what it is? The definition used here does not fit any one I have seen before – user1873 Jun 25 '13 at 3:01
  • You have skipped the part preceding to what you have quoted, which said What I understand by... . To your comment, thanks for the clarification. I think cultural hegemony is an invisible political power. Correct me if I am wrong. – L'Unità Jun 25 '13 at 6:29
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This is a complicated question.

TL;DR: Democracy may include some elements of hegemony to a varying degree, assuming you use some sort of Gramscian (leadership) or Marxist (effective power of unequal input into decisions being made) definition.


Let's look at two angles:

First of all, democracy and hegemony are not necessarily 100% mutually exclusive - you can exercise some forms of hegemony even in nominally "democratic" systems, even ideal "direct democracy" as envisioned by theoretical political philosophers.

  1. While nominally, everyone has a chance to input into the decisons via the vote, in practice almost no "democratic" system lets everyone vote.

  2. Voting itself is not nearly as important in the political ecosystem as convincing other people in the rightness of your opinions so they vote the way you want them to. As such:

    • In any direct "townhall type" political activities, those with big biceps and in generally aggressive psychology and intimidating looks get unequally large chance of having their ideas promoted, by physically intimidating their opponents from speaking against them. Double extra for smaller communities where the threats can be of implied "we know where you live and where your kid goes to school" type.

      NOTE: This is not a theoretical example. A convicted left wing terrorist Brett Kimberlin has very recently successfully attacked several conservative bloggers in USA by methods ranging from "innocent" filing of frivolous lawsuits, to extremely dangerous and life-threatening practice of "SWATting" - placing a fake emergency phone call tricking 911 operators into dispatching emergency response teams to a targeted person’s home. Some more details here.

      In 2016 elections (and in 2017), Trump supporters were physically assaulted on multiple occasions; and at least one campaign rally had to be cancelled due to security threats.

    • Even more importantly, people with high talent for persuading others (because of high verbal IQ, rhetorical training or talent, or simply good ability to lie convincingly) get unequally large chance of having their ideas promoted.

    • A related type of this is people with ability to mass-communicate (which requires both a physical platform AND an established cultural trust).

      Wikipedia article hegemony cites that in contemporary society, the exemplar hegemonic organizations are ... mass communications media that continually transmit data and information to the public (I omitted the churches as that is no longer true in most Western countries).

      E.g., a Politics.SE user - no matter how cogent and smart - gets a lot less political influence than a random New York Times hack. And a guy without a blog or SE account or other such platform gets even less influence than someone with one.

    • Also, people with a lot of resources can hire and pay professionals who are good at either persuading others, OR intimidating others, to unequalize the system in favor of their ideas (See, {Soros|Koch} - pick one according to your biases).


Secondly, In practice, in virtually any modern political system larger than a certain threshold, "direct democracy" discussed above is not even feasible, and is instead replaced by what is known as "representative democracy".

The difference is that, in direct democracy, by definition, everyone has a chance to equally influence the outcome of any decision. In representative democracy, everyone has a chance to equally influence the outcome an election for a representative, but only those representatives have a chance to influence the outcome of decisions (with certain rare minor caveats like referendums).

This results in even more possibilities for hegemony, such as:

  1. Elected political class has a complete hegemony in USA (shared with government bureaucracy).

    They not only hold monopoly on legislative decisions, they also form a nearly insulated class. You don't get to become one of them unless they as a class approve of you - which typically strongly transcends political labels.

    • Yes, purely theoretically, everyone (with caveats) gets a vote for their representative.

      But most people don't really get much of a choice for who to vote, nor much of an input into how those they voted for/against decide when they make legislative decisions.

    • Incumbency re-election rate fluctuates between 80-90% in most national congress races.

    • Many races are essentially formalities (e.g. it really doesn't matter who gets nominated/runs/wins in Republican primaries in many areas of NYC - the winner of DNC primary is 100% assured to be elected. Same is true in reverse in red states.

  2. Witness whole political dynasties - from Kennedies to Bushes to Clintons just to list the high level visible ones.

  3. People who had unequal opportunities in convincing others in direct democracies to vote for ideas (see the first half of the answer), ALSO have the same exact unequal opportunities in convincing others to vote for their preferred representatives.

  4. To top that off, people who wish to have unequal input into decisions being made can now influence representatives in non-electoral ways, from lobbying, to corruption, to open quid-pro-qua, to more stealthy "you get to work for us as a highly paid consultant when you retire" stealth quit-pro-qua.

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    @YannisRizos - once you earned enough reputation by asking and answering questions, you can edit other people's posts to improve them (As per Help Center, editing to improve a post is encouraged and welcome on Stack Exchange). Even if you do not yet have enough reputation, you can propose edits to posts. – user4012 Jun 25 '13 at 11:01
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    @YannisRizos - also, if you wish to discuss a general policy (such as whether the community approves or disapproves of bullet point abuse), you can do so by posting a question on our Meta site – user4012 Jun 25 '13 at 11:02
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    Nah, I won't bother editing, this is (mostly) personal preference (not the best reason to edit an answer). That said, you should check how your answers look on tiny mobile screens, were screen real estate is precious (and you waste a lot with the left padding of the lists). Lastly, there should have been a smiley at the end of that comment, but apparently I forgot it (hm... should I abuse my mod powers and add it now? decisions, decisions...) – yannis Jun 25 '13 at 11:13
  • @user4012 Was yannis a diamond mod when this exchange was first written? It looks rather ironic now. – Andrew Grimm Apr 27 '18 at 4:58
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I though the term Hegemony is more about international relations than domestic politics.

Wikipedia's definition is near perfect:

Hegemony is the political, economic, or military predominance or control of one state over others.

There is also a political science aspect of Hegemony.

Again Wikipedia is on rescue:

In Marxist philosophy, cultural hegemony is the domination of a culturally diverse society by the ruling class who manipulate the culture of that society (...)

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  • This explains what hegemony is; but it doesn't say whether democracy itself is a hegemony. – Mozibur Ullah Apr 28 '18 at 3:07
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Hegemony is a concept I associate with Gramsci, and which as you say, is synonymous with overwhelming political soft power.

Democracy need not be hegemonic, but it can be.

Francis Fukuyama would probably agree with your thesis, as he claimed that the liberal democratic state was the end point of history in his book The End of History. In this he was a right Hegelian.

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People can only make decisions on the information they have, that's inputs of sounds and images.

If big corporations and governments control information, they influence the direction of thought/debate, then this is the invisible power to which you refer, and democracy is an hegemony.

Democracy certainly isn't the definition given, I think thats clear. So what is this "democracy"? I'm really not sure anymore.

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