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Hegemony and Power: Consensus and Coercion in Contemporary Politics.

Hegemony and Power: Consensus and Coercion in Contemporary Politics by Mark Haugaard and Howard H. Lentner. Rowman & Littlefield, 2006, 262 pp., $25.95.

In Hegemony and Power, Mark Haugaard and Howard H. Lentner compile nine essays from prominent political science scholars to provide "the first systematic examination of the relationship of hegemony and power." The concept of hegemony in this book is derived mainly from the works of Antonio Gramsci, an early-twentieth-century Marxist who sought to discover the interplay of power and the state in Western democracies for revolutionary exploitation. The book is divided into three sections. The first is devoted to explaining Gramsci's theories of hegemony and subsequent development by other scholars. The second applies Gramsci's theory to the realm of international politics. The third section explores the concept of hegemony from three postmodern, constructivist perspectives.

The book begins with a more-than-satisfactory explanation of Gramsci's theory of hegemony, a social-power relationship where the dominant party maintains its position through a system actively supported by subaltern (non-dominant) actors. The system is perpetuated through the institutional structures of the society which, in turn, socialize subsequent generations and subaltern groups to "buy-into" the system; for example, capitalism continually reinforced through government, schools, churches, sports, civic groups, and so forth. This concept is analyzed further in the second essay, giving detail to the ways in which the hegemonic power continually reinforces its position as well as potential vulnerabilities to a counterhegemonic movement.

Two noteworthy concepts are offered in the initial discussion of the structure of hegemony under Gramsci's theory. First, true hegemonic power is "rooted in meaning and social knowledge, not coercive resources." (p. 62) Second, a counterhegemonic movement, such as Gandhi's passive resistance to destructure British dominance in India, can succeed when it avoids reproducing those structures supporting the hegemony while offering viable alternatives. It would not be a difficult leap to extend Gramsci's theory as developed in the first two chapters to help understand the current ideological struggle between liberal capitalism and radical Islam.

The section on international politics begins by exploring the pursuit of hegemony by the United States as a policy; that is, "operationalizing hegemony." Following Gramsci, this author posits that US hegemony can not be imposed from the top (coercively) but must flow from below. This bottom-up support is achieved through US cultural dominance. He states, " The perceived desirability of imitating the American way of life is also the most important justification for voluntary compliance with American-style norms, the convergence of political and economic institutions and practices, and an emphasis on capturing the benefits of globalization for the purpose of domestic coalition-building." (p. 84, italics in original) This becomes problematic when US domestic interests ultimately diverge from actions necessary to sustain the institutions reinforcing the hegemonic order; for example, the pursuit of regional free-trade agreements while not resolving the impasse of the World Trade Organization's Doha Development Agenda. This "opportunistic behavior" reduces support for, and the true basis of, hegemonic power within the system.

The second essay of this section offers a concise explanation of the major themes in international political theory. Although a good synopsis, the author does little more than suggest that the study of power and hegemony can benefit from each other. The final essay of this section explores the power dynamics of Europe and the United States under hegemony. The concept of power is explored along three lines--termed capacity, relational, and structural power--giving the impact on each for different proposed courses within the trans-Atlantic relationship. The time frame for the analysis is from 11 September 2001 until June 2004 and employs Kagan's famous Mars/Venus analogy as well as Vaclav Havel's 2002 address to the NATO conference on the normative importance of the Atlantic community. The author develops the strengths and weaknesses of both the American and European approaches to the concepts of multilateralism and unilateralism while making an argument for the Iraq invasion as a process of "groupthink."

The final collection of essays focuses on postmodern interpretations to hegemony and power. The first essay in this section breaks down the white, Western feminist movement as a hegemonic system. The specific case in question revolves around an attempt by Finland to criminalize the buying of sexual services. However, the main value comes in the form of a concrete example separating the components of a hegemonic system that is, on the surface, counterintuitive. The next essay is a theoretical piece arguing for the study of hegemony through a critical, naturalist approach. Through a discussion of foreign aid, the author proposes an alternative perspective for viewing the hegemonic system. The final two essays explore the concept of the actual location, or even the existence, of power as an object for radical political thought and antagonism and delve into the method in which political power is formulated.

On the whole, Gramsci's theory of hegemony seems to offer a promising and interesting framework for understanding ideological struggle. However, this book does not offer an enjoyable avenue for exploring this concept as a general reader. The work is steeped in theory and does not present adequate discussion of any practical application for the ideas presented. The target audience seems to be academics wishing to debate some of the subtle nuances in hegemonic systems, which makes this collection of essays tedious and often boring.

Mark Haugaard is a lecturer in the Department of Political Science and Sociology at the National University of Ireland, Galway. Howard H. Lentner is professor emeritus in the Department of Political Science at the City University of New York.

Maj Rhett Champagne, USAF

Ramstein Air Base, Germany
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Author:Champagne, Rhett
Publication:Strategic Studies Quarterly
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2008
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