Technology and the Death of Hegemony in International Relations

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* Article: The Death of Hegemony: How Technology is Shifting International Relations. By John R. Dreyer.

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"Technology and governance go hand in hand, especially when on a global scale. History offers examples of hegemonic powers using technology as a backbone for continued economic and territorial expansion. In the 21st century technology is undergoing a shift in how it is developed and used. In this paper I examine technology from a global governance perspective and how technology is undermining the idea of hegemony. Hegemony is the use of economics, culture and other perks of a powerful state, backed by the use of force, to create a sphere of influence that ultimately benefits the hegemonic state. The continuing development of technology that allow states, groups and individuals to spread economics and culture on a scale that is removed from the hegemonic state is contributing toward an erosion of the very idea of hegemony on an international scale. The first part of the paper develops a theory based on A Thousand Plateaus that advances the concept of the rhizome as a way of understanding how new technologies will influence how the hegemon dies.  Practical applications of this will be outlined in the second part of the paper, including such things as cloud computing, artificial islands, bacteria as fuel and other examples of recent developments. Technology is becoming more local, more grassroots. Local governments and individuals no longer need a hegemonic power to influence their culture or develop their economy; technology enables local people to do this themselves. Technology erodes the ability of a state to build and maintain hegemony."


John R. Dreyer:

"The decline of the hegemon is expressed through the concept of radical democracy, which is a deepening and expansion of the democratic ideal10.  Here Marxist and Gramscian ideas are reformulated into a post‐modern ideal of counter hegemony versus the prevailing concepts of the liberal democratic state. Radical democracy dismantles the single, unified space of hegemony and replaces it with a plurality of spaces that strive to unify into a single totality. The state can no longer represent the explosive increase new and radically different political spaces. The old hegemony can no longer control the new groups, the new interests that are different yet united by the logic of equivalence. With equivalence the different groups in their different political spaces see their pursuits take on an equal air despite being different struggles. The old hegemony is replaced with a new hegemony that is spread out amongst diverse groups, struggling for different goals but yet all equal in their importance.

What Laclau and Mouffe describe is a post‐modern hegemony; one that allows the information revolution into the political sphere and allows it to “go wild”. Benjamin Arditi takes Laclau and Mouffe’s ideas into the realm of technology through the basic thesis that hegemony, through technology, can create links between disparate elements of society11. The hegemonic sphere encourages discipline, and in forming a counter hegemony, Arditi posits the possibility of technology as a multiplier in forming a successful counter hegemony and the formation of radical democracy. Such specific elements such as social networking are worked into Arditi’s argument as products of purely intellectual labor. Articulation is the major task of politics and with such specific technologies as social networking politics can go viral, meaning that political messages will spread through networks and social groups as if it were a virus. A major product of this, believes Arditi, is electronic social disobedience.  Size matters far less than the ability for a consensus to form based on the logic of equivalence of the groups in involved.  

Here we distill hegemony down to the multitude, the great masses of people who take an active part in the counter hegemonic thrust to dissolve the present government and replace it with a government that takes into account the logic of equivalence of the multiple spheres of political space.  The multitude is an important concept in both the idea of radical democracy and in the theories of counter‐hegemony. First conceived by Deleuze and Guattari in their work A Thousand Plateaus as an expression of a new philosophy, the concept of multitude is based on the singularities of thought where like minded individuals construct spheres of interest that, eventually, join into one. Deleuze and Guattari use the example of the rhizome as the basis of this concept of multitude; a root expanding in all directions from different sources.  Hardt and Negri take this idea into the political sphere by constructing the idea of empire and multitude.  This conception of empire serves to colonize and interconnect far more areas of life and society than the British could even dream of. While Hardt and Negri construct empire as a negative they encourage they believes it serves as the springboard for the radical democracy and rhizome as put forward by Laclau and Mouffe and Deleuze and Guattari.  

Technology plays an essential role in this, far beyond the concept of an information revolution or even Arditi’s viral politics and electronic social disobedience.  The evolution of technology from existing technology is an important point in the function of how the political and engineering sides of the argument emerge .  Gradualism offers a theory of how technology maintains an even and slow evolution over what has been termed “the ancestor species”. This argument is expanded and furthered by the theory that, indeed, all technologies are combinations from existing technology and that technology harnesses and exploits some effect or problem.  Another way to look at is that technology is user driven and satisfies a need rather than a desire to own the technology in question."

The Rhizome

John R. Dreyer:

"Deleuze and Guattari discuss the rhizome, a subterranean stem that is much different from a root19. Rhizomes are all inclusive, the best and worst, animal or plant; it matters little. The most important part for our purpose is that rhizomes can be connected to anything other, there is not fixed point like a root has. Instead the rhizome, as the authors state, establish connections between semiotic chains, organizations of power and builds relations between the arts, social struggles and the sciences. The rhizome leads us to the idea of the multiplicity, which is a concept that contains neither a subject nor an object but instead is composed of determinations, magnitudes and dimensions.  Instead of a single guide directing the multiplicity, there are connections to what the author’s term as “multiplicity of nerve fibers”. These connections are indeed the primary girders that hold the rhizome together in the absence of points or positions.  

The rhizome is made up of connections, yet is not merely a tracing but a map that constructs the unconscious20. This map is open and it is continuously being modified, re‐mapped, and re‐engineered to represent different and new connections between the disparate points of the rhizome. Perhaps another conception of this is of an acentered system; what is termed finite networks in which communications run from any neighbors to any others.  The channels which allow this are not pre‐existing but instead are constructed as the communications occur. Further the neighbors and individuals within the systems are interchangeable. These individuals are defined by the state they are in and it is through this that local operations can expand worldwide without a central coordinating agency.    Here a central point is not a central point. Instead the rhizome connects any point to any other point. The traits of one point in no way need join to a like point. Instead the traits of various points are mixed and unmatched.  There is no beginning, no middle and no end to a rhizome; it keeps growing, keeps connecting disparate points to one another with little thought to organization. The rhizome operates by variation, expansion, conquest, capture and offshoots. The map of the rhizome is constantly being re‐ drawn, modified, detached, connected, and reversed while always showing new entrances and exits. Importantly the rhizome is non‐hierarchical and non‐signifying without a leader and without an organizing memory or central automaton. The rhizome is, as Deleuze and Guattari state, a plateau as plateaus are always in the middle, neither a beginning nor an end.  A plateau is a continuous, self‐ vibrating region whose development avoids any orientation toward a cumulation point or an external end.

The rhizome as radical democracy is based on a logic of collective action by elements that challenge the relation of subordination23. It is the relation of subordination is where the agent is given to the authority of another, such as an employer. The relation of subordination gives rise to the relation of oppression, where the relationship is no longer mere authority given down the chain of command but now that relationship if fraught with antagonism between the parties involved." (

Wither Hegemony?

John R. Dreyer:

"Technology is killing hegemony. The hegemonic state builds its power on control: control of culture, economics, politics and security. This control enables the hegemonic state to build and maintain influence. Control enables the creation of civil society that succeeds in tying the smaller powers to the sphere of hegemonic power.  Technology allows individuals and non‐state groups to circumvent the control of the hegemonic state. These individuals and groups will often be able to filter into the state itself, drawing it out from under the umbrella of the hegemon.  The creation of data islands and cloud computing plays a crucial part in the structural deepening of advanced communication in the form of social networking, sms texting and other peer to peer services. Consequently the ability to form new institutions through the connection of the rhizome is not just a possibility, but is happening right now.   The world is becoming decentralized. New centers of innovation are being created in regions that can support them through locally produced energy and a population that is hungry to join the rest of the world on the buckboard of digital communication. These centers produce technology that is cheap, adaptable and, above all, affordable enabling it to become widespread. As more and more capital is invested in these new centers the hegemonic state begins to see less and less investment.  The concentration will not happen in any particular state but will be spread around the globe.  The ability to attract innovation without an extensive infrastructure will drive developing economies.  

The concept of the rhizome is based on the notion of a root spreading out to connect with other roots in an unorganized, seemingly chaotic fashion. As technology becomes cheaper and more adaptable the rhizome will experience a growth spurt, a structural deepening that sees the world truly becoming globalized. Events like the “Twitter Revolution” will not be hindered by a limited user demographic or government control of communications infrastructure.  As the hegemonic state strengthens their institutions to deal with these new forms of technology, a gamble to either compete effectively or to retard progress as much as possible, new roots will form and connect. These will in turn strengthen existing channels of communication, trade and culture and create new ones specifically designed to cater to things like cyber‐culture. The rhizome is undermining hegemonic control.  As we see hegemonic institutions tightening their grip on digital communication technology within the hegemon the incentive to locate infrastructure elsewhere is increased. The era of hegemony is over ; era of the rhizome is here." (