The term hegemony is associated with the work of theorist Antonio Gramsci. He studied the ways in which dominant states secured their position through force, coercion, powers of persuasion, and the construction of consent (Kiely, p.8). After the decline in imperialism at the turn of the last century, hegemony became a better descriptor for one country’s influence over others. It tended to be referred to as U.S. or American Hegemony because the growth of the power of the United States in the 20th century set the country up as the dominant player on the world stage.
Up until recently, hegemony has been seen through the nation state lens. However, Upendra D. Acharya suggests in his article, Globalization And Hegemony Shift: Are States Merely Agents Of Corporate Capitalism? that the nation state no longer has exclusive rights to the hegemony domain. He argues that the corporations are gaining more influence in that area and are actually starting to influence on a global scale through multinational corporations. Acharya states, “Since the 1990s, however, the fall of the Soviet Union, the spread of technology, and the advent of multinational corporations have led to a new order wherein corporate capitalism has become a primary force in international law and states mostly serve corporate interests.” (Acharya, p.937). He continues:
This early process of globalization paved the way for today’s corporate capitalism. Today, the inverse is true—corporate capitalism is the locomotive force of today’s globalized world. Corporate capitalism has created an invisible and inevitable system comprised of two primary elements: market and technology, which have become two faces of globalization—a modern Ardhanarishvara Shiva (p.938).
Many of Acharya’s points in this article mirror the talk I linked to by Paddy Ashdown about the global power shifts. With almost the same words, Acharya observes, “We face a challenge in determining the role that law and authority should play in globalization induced and sponsored by corporate capitalism” (p.939). In the section Globalization as a Precursor to Hegemony Shift, he makes the following statement:
International law, as a product of hegemonic process of powerful Western states, has globalized the values of Western hegemons as a necessary legal condition for the world order and has shaped a worldview. Nevertheless, there has been a remarkable shift in the development of international law since 1990. Until 1990, powerful states used international financial institutions and their national corporations to expand the idea of capitalism as a political ideology against the competing Soviet model of socialism. In the post-1990 globalized world, corporations and states have partnered to promote the hegemon’s influence and market access until corporations attained or even exceeded the power wielded by their native states (p.948-49).
Acharya notes that the shift from state hegemons to corporate hegemons was not that difficult to achieve. The state’s reliance on multinational corporations (MNCs) comes at the cost of the states’ sovereignty. Corporate forces become hegemons in their own right (p.959). The image below is my illustration of Acharya’s description of the development of corporate hegemons.
Corporate Hegemony and Rhizome Theory
The relationship between the state and multinational corporations has reached a level of deterritorialization and reterritorialization. The relationship is much like the orchid and the wasp where the state has become one with the corporation out of necessity. While the state is forced to maintain its primarily arborescent state — stuck in one spot, its power only as great as the reach of the highest and widest limbs — the corporation is free to reterritorialize anywhere it wants. It actually has more power and reach than it did before, with loyalties only as deep as the pockets of the ones paying for their services. The spread of corporate hegemony is a threat to world order because democracy, freedom, and basic human rights may be compromised for the sake of the bottom line of a multinational corporation. With multinational corporations diversifying their interests, the reach of a few will lead to a concentration of power in the hands of non-elected and internationally ungoverned entities.