Origin C16: from Greek hegemonia, from hegemon 'leader', from hegeisthai 'to lead'
[Concise Oxford Dictionary Tenth Edition (1999)]
Hegemony. This is the term used by the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci to describe how the domination of one class over others is achieved by a combination of political and ideological means. Although political force - coercion - is always important, the role of ideology in winning the consent of dominated classes may be even more significant. The balance between coercion and consent will vary from society to society, the latter being more important in capitalist societies.
For Gramsci, the state was the chief instrument of coercive force, the winning of consent being achieved by the institutions of civil society eg the family, the Church and the Trade Unions. Hence the more prominent is civil society, the more likely it is that hegemony will be achieved by ideological means.
Hegemony is unlikely ever to be complete. In contemporary capitalist societies, for example, the working class has a dual consciousness, partly determined by the ideology of the capitalist class and partly revolutionary, determined by their experience of capitalist society. For capitalist society to be overthrown, workers must first establish their own ideological supremacy derived from their revolutionary consciousness.
[The Penguin Dictionary of Sociology (1988)]
"If those in charge of our society - politicians, corporate executives, and owners of press and television - can dominate our ideas, they will be secure in their power. They will not need soldiers patrolling the streets. We will control ourselves."
[Howard Zinn, historian and author]
hegemony. Greek: hegemon, a chief or ruler. Term used since the last century to denote the influence on one state over others; hence 'hegemonism', which describes the politics of those powers that cow their neighbors and dependants into submission.
In political thought the term is now as often used in the sense given to it by Gramsci, in which it denotes the ascendancy of a class, not only in the economic sphere, but through all social, political and ideological spheres, and its ability thereby to persuade other classes to see the world in terms favorable to its own ascendancy.
Gramsci advocated the construction of a rival hegemony, through the infiltration and transformation of those small-scale institutions by which class ascendancy, once achieved, is sustained. This struggle for hegemony is seen as a transforming factor as important as any development of productive forces, and corresponds to Lenin's 'subjective conditions' for revolution.
[Roger Scruton (1982) A Dictionary of Political Thought; Pan]