Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Desperately seeking hegemony

In one of David Brooks's columns in The New York Times, Brooks wrote, "Some see a nation in permanent decline and an end to American hegemony."
He concluded with the stirring quatrain, "In short, the U.S. has taken its share of blows over the past few years, but the isolationist dog is not barking. The hegemon will change. The hegemon will do more negotiating. But the hegemon will live."

The word "hegemony" means the preponderant influence or authority, especially of one nation over others. It is generally pronounced with the accent on the second syllable and a soft "g" -- "heh -JEM -owney", although the dictionary says a hard "g" is also OK.

It comes from a Greek word "hegemon," meaning "leader," which Brooks so elegantly invoked. ("Hegemon" is not in my Webster's New Collegiate; it's listed as an "obscure" word on Google.)

We see the word hegemony in history texts, as in "France hoped to end to a long period of German hegemony in Europe." We see it in articles about international affairs, as from The Washington Post: "...Within Iraq, there are thousands of current and potential gunmen willing to fight for their people and their creeds -- Kurdish autonomy, Sunni hegemony, Shiite control, an Islamic republic. But the force charged with defending a pluralistic, united Iraq just went AWOL under fire..."
And you see it in Alexander Wolff's mellifluous college basketball stories in Sports Illustrated, in sentences like "The Lady Vols unwillingly endured five years of UConn hegemony in women's basketball."

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