The Structure of Hegemony

By Karl von Piloty - Public Domain,

When we say that the mega-corporations are secondary actors in international relationships and that commonly require the states to act, we are not unaware that the mega-corporations, the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund and other international agencies with varying degrees of autonomy, integrate a system of subordination whose reality is suffered daily by peripheral states.

We therefore believe that the concept of "hegemonic power structures," by Samuel Pinheiro Guimarães, is most appropriate to cover the complex mechanisms of subordination that exist in the international system. The hegemonic structures are the result of a historical process, born together with the international system during the historical period of the first wave of globalization that began with the maritime discoveries driven by Portugal and Castile, whose main protagonists were, among others, Enrique the Navigator, Vasco da Gama, Christopher Columbus, Ferdinand Magellan and Sebastián Elcano.

It is precisely from 1492 when the process of subordination of the world outside starts. This process was developed in three phases. The first one involved the subordination of the Americas. The second one gravitated in the subordination of Asia, whose major milestones, for its strategic and economic importance, were the subordination of India and China. The third one, finally, involved the subordination of Islamic countries and sub-Saharan Africa.

The concept of the hegemonic power structure, defined by Pinheiro Guimarães, realizes that stage and international dynamics in which the peripheral states acts, are organized around hegemonic structures of political and economic power, whose core is formed by the central states. These structures are the result of a historical process, they give advantages to the countries that integrate them and are aimed its own perpetuation. Thus, the concept of hegemonic structures includes, for Pinheiro Guimarães, "links of interest and law, international organizations, multiple public and private actors, the possibility to incorporate new participants and ongoing development of standards of conduct, but at the core of these structures are always national states. The hegemonic structures are rooted in economic and political expansion of Europe, starting with the formation of the great national states. In Spain, with the conquest of Granada and the expulsion of the Moors (1492). In France, with the Hundred Years' War (1453), the expulsion of the British and the creation of the unitary state by Enrique IV, and in England, from Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603). European expansion accelerates with the cycle of discovery, after the fall of Constantinople (1453), which intensifies the search for the sea route to the East and the consequent commercial growth and wealth accumulation with the formation of colonial empires from Cortes (1521) and Pizarro (1533) and in Brazil from sugar cane in Pernambuco. Technological, military and industrial revolution of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, with the steam engine, strengthens European supremacy on the international stage.

The dynamics of the cycles of capitalist accumulation and the relations between the great private capital and the state and between technology, armed forces and society, explains, in large part, the formation processes of the hegemonic power structures. These processes passed, between 1917 and 1989, by a crucial phase of dispute with alternative socialist model of organizing society and the State, interrupted from 1,939 to 1946by the conflict emerged within the structures, with protestant States, Germany, Japan and Italy (1939-1946). To overcome this crucial phase, the hegemonic structures have tried to consolidate their extraordinary ideological, political and economic victory by expanding their influence and action around the world, especially on the territories that were recently under the socialist organization lately before, and on the territories of the periphery to which they had tacitly allowed deviations of economic and political organization in the most uncompromising period of the dispute to the alternative socialist model "(Pinheiro Guimarães, 2005: 30).

Therefore, by following Pinheiro Guimarães, we can affirm that the hegemonic structures generate the major trends on the international stage and the international stage itself. These trends are, at the same time, those that influence later on the same hegemonic structures in a dynamic process of multiple linkages at different levels of activity of societies and states. If in the nucleus of the hegemonic structures are always found the national States, in the center of the nucleus are the great powers. In the first globalizing wave, the leadership of the hegemonic structures was conducted by Spain and challenged by England; this, in turn, led the second phase of globalization. Meanwhile, the British leadership was challenged first by France and then Germany. Today, in the third stage of globalization, leadership is exercised by the United States, "State continent" converted into superpower and unique within the Great Powers, whose economic, political and military interests cover all areas of the earth's surface. This leadership - today undeniable- will quite possibly challenged by the emerging Chinese power.


PINHEIRO GUIMARAES, Samuel, Cinco siglos de periferia. Una contribución al estudio de la política internacional, Buenos Aires, Ed. Prometeo, 2005.

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