Who's interferin'? We're takin' over.
—Capt. James T. Kirk, Star Trek: The Original Series, "A Piece of the Action"
You know the typical portrayal of The Empire. Militaristic, totalitarian, imperialist, immensely powerful and massively dysfunctional. The sort of empire that rules over its occupied provinces with an iron fist, blatantly eradicating all sorts of dissent through mass executions, concentration camps, indiscriminate incarcerations, Big Brother Is Watching and indefinite detentions.
Except these. Following the concept of a soft power, this sort of empire that doesn't need to rule through its military; to remove and rewrite facts; to believe a contradiction; or destroy the vocabulary, although it certainly can, and even then, more subtly. No, a Hegemonic Empire dominates through attraction, absorption, enthrallment and sometimes Bread and Circuses, though it may be forced to utilize coercion, extortion and indoctrination. Common subordinate nations include protectorates, colonies, supported dictatorships, mini-states (designed to reflect their interests as a supposedly independent nation), occupied territories (where they'll force the natives to basically leach off their invaders' resources to survive), satellite states and puppet governments.
In more extreme cases, their cultural beliefs, values and perceptions influenced, manipulated and dominated the societies of a large amount of other province-dimensions; imposed as the societal norm, their culture is perceived as a universally valid ideology and status quo beneficial to all of society, symbolized by their language being one of the most commonly spoken in The Verse. An Hegemonic Empire isn't necessarily a People's Republic of Tyranny, but it could well be a rejuvenated empire, revived from a Vestigial Empire or The Remnant, and essentially remaining the same as ever, just more subtle in its imperialism.
Whenever the Hegemonic Empire faces a situation where they have to get more hands-on (like the occupied territories), it's not just that the smaller countries are dealing with a Superpower in a direct, country to country struggle; the Superpower meddles in their affairs, corrupts and barters and plays with them, and just flat-out won't let them run themselves. The bureaucratic administration of an Hegemonic Empire can vary; it may be The Republic, The Federation, The Kingdom or even The Alliance.
For sceptics that dislike the title, "Hegemony" is an indirect form of imperial dominance where the hegemon (leader state) rules subordinate states by the implied means of power rather than direct military force. Although a Hegemonic Empire practices soft-power methods, it never means that the empire cannot be evil, corrupt, or at the very least A Lighter Shade of Grey, nor does it mean that the empire is incapable of wielding hard power when provoked.
Also counts as a Meaningful Name - hegemony is Greek for "leadership/rule".
Anime and Manga
- In Crest of the Stars, the Humankind Empire Abh and the Alliance both practice largely differing methods for this trope. Needless to say, the results aren't pretty.
- In The Familiar of Zero, Romalia also utilizes a different sort of hegemony over Halkagenia, a continent that consists of five independent nations (Albion, Gallia, Germania, Romalia, and Tristain). Romalia is relatively weak militarily, and it often remains neutral (such as when Albion declared war on Tristain), but the Romalian Emperor, by exerting control over the church, can nonetheless override the other rulers' decisions.
- The Star Empire of Manticore in the later Honor Harrington novels is apparently heading in this direction, having acquired a certain taste for expansionism and imperialism, but still remaining The Kingdom/ The Republic good guys they started as. At the same time, Solarian League, despite quite obviously cracking at the seams, is still it big time.
- The Solarian League is in many ways a Vestigial Empire. It's military is mainly good for providing muscle for "Transtellers", that is megacorps which resemble crime syndicates and make their profit by sucking frontier worlds until they are ruined. Which is hardly a concept Adam Smith would have approved and certainly not the manner of more refined Mantie merchants(who would at least want to continue trading with something more then a desert) any more then having a big hulking fleet of targets is what Manties would consider to be sound naval tactics. Of course the actual transport for their gargantuan companies is provided by Manties who can win the first round of the war just by evacuating their ships and leaving cargo to rot in warehouses. Basically the Solarians are like the Persians before Alexander the Great came slaughtering his way through. Calling them a Hegemonic Empire would possibly work in some of the core worlds and the richer frontier worlds. In large parts it is just an Empire and not a very classy one.
- The Culture engages in covert social engineering missions on other planets and civilizations to help them see the benefits of joining the Culture.
- Ankh-Morpork on the Discworld is one of these. It used to be the more traditional type of Empire, but this way was more sustainable. The city-state only directly controls a small portion of land, but its economic influence throughout the continent is almost limitless, and its production is so great no one dares invade for fear of being deprived of the very tools needed for invasion. It's also the center of all information trade, giving unequaled political clout in the region.
- The Foundation was supposed to create one following the fall of the Galactic Empire by using their preserved knowledge of advanced technology as leverage against the neighboring systems.
- The first book is all about creating and maintaining such an empire. Leaving aside a temporary and extremely unlikely setback, the main reason why it is less prominent in later books is that it is so successful a policy (well, policies—the Foundation goes through several variations of 'use their superior technology and science as leverage') that by the last shown period, the Foundation proper has grown from a single world to over a tenth of the Milky Way.
- The nation of Panem in The Hunger Games. It exists After the End in what used to be North America, consisting of a wealthy Capitol and twelve outlying districts, each of which provides a specific industry for Capitol's citizens (such as coal, fish, electronics, lumber, transportation, energy). The primary means of enforcing its rule is through an annual tournament known as the "Hunger Games," in which two teenager from each district are forced to fight to the death in an outdoor arena, as punishment for a previous uprising. As President Snow says in the film, the games are a more effective means of maintain order because it gives the districts a bit of hope, whereas rounding up 24 random teenagers and executing them merely installs fear.
- In Technic History The Poliosotechnic League is definitely this. The Terran Empire is more blatantly Imperial as are the Meresians. The Ythrians are definitely this as while they are powerful enough to keep their own turf and er, encourage their clients, they have a horror of Vast Bureaucracy which prevents them becoming anything more imperialistic.
Live Action TV
- In Andromeda the Vedran Empire was the more traditional type until non-Vedran species began to vastly outnumber the founders and it evolved into the Systems Commonwealth. When it contacted humanity thousands of years after becoming a constitutional monarchy we joined voluntarily.
- The Third Imperium of Traveller is halfway between one of these and The Empire. It doesn't care much how member planets run things and only gets involved when interstellar trade is disrupted.
- The Sylean Federation as well, which provided the resources for it to be evolved into the Third Imperium under Emperor Cleon I.
- The Empire of Abel in Anima: Beyond Fantasy is fueled by this trope, especially before it broke up, letting each nation (which were all those human in the world of Gaïa) under its control to have its own governments, etc.
- Metropolis in Soundscape is a textbook example, but they don't need to parade their lifestyle as the best possible one to achieve a (relatively) safer, happier life. Rather depressingly, living as a human (halfling or otherwise) is the only sure way to achieve a safer, happier life.
- Tamriel in The Elder Scrolls games one through four, while initially forged with the iron fists of Imperial Legions, is held together only through massive schemes of the last Emperor. It finally falls apart prior to part five.
- The New California Republic in the Fallout series is a borderline case. They can and have annexed regions by military force, but they prefer to expand through peaceful settlement and through inviting existing frontier settlements to join them. By the time of Fallout: New Vegas, it is engaged in a three-way power struggle over control of New Vegas, a very advanced, prosperous, and independent settlement.
- The concept of a Cultural Victory in 4X games such as Civilization and Galactic Civilizations is supposed to represent this.
- Paradox Interactive titles such as the Europa Universalis series include mechanics for expanding through peaceful vassalization and annexation.
- In Sword of the Stars 2 the Morrigi see themselves as self-appointed protectors of the "younger races", as such their Confederation incorporates many more species than most of the other factions and players of any faction can annex minor races peacefully.
- In the civilization stage of Spore, while military cities conquer other cities and religious cities convert them with a giant preaching hologram, economic cities trade with others until they're dependent on them, then buy 'em outright.
- Girl Genius: Baron Von Wulfenbach's empire acts a lot like this. All "The Baron's Peace" requires is "don't make me come over there."
- The earliest example would be the Delian League of city-states c.477 B.C., making this one Older Than Feudalism. The League was even the Trope Namer, since the position of leadership within the league was referred to as "hegemon". This hegemon, to nobody's surprise, was Athens, to the point where the League was often called the Athenian Empire.
- The United States of America is often considered as this by scholars.
- The US had a Hegemonic Empire along the Pacific trade routes long before the twentieth century although there was competition from others, including(banefully)Japan.
- Very much Truth in Television; third-world countries that were part of European colonial empires qualified as well.
- You could see stuff like this in Feudal Japan, as the vassal states were held together more out of reverence for the Emperor than by any direct control.
- The Republic of Venice.
- The Dutch in the seventeenth century.
- Rome both by it's admirers and it's haters is often unthinkingly thought of as a bureaucratic and military machine with a solid hold on it's territory-like a modern state. In fact in many ways it was more like a giant patronage web with either the Emperor or the Republic as patron over the whole system. A telling feature is the way it was able to maintain control for a long time with a remarkably small investment of manpower and might have done so longer had there been a more effective way to assure the Imperial succession then fighting over it.
- Vladimir Putin's policy towards the former Soviet republics is essentially creating one of these as a replacement for the USSR.
- Some of the most effective Empires start as this according to some historical theories. And even while empires they often have what might be called a "penumbra", a sort of sphere of influence in which their culture is either admired or just accepted because everyone else seems to.
- The predilection among many countries to have imitations of Greco-Roman culture such as "democracy", "senates", and so forth is an example of this.
- Related to this is a fairly popular idea in international relations, hegemonic stability theory, the gist of which is "hegemonic empires create institutions and stability that often outlive the hegemon, unlike direct empires."
- Even the most severely totalitarian empires will tend to end up being this in practice whatever their actual desire by the sheer limits of geography. The real difference between a "hegemonic empire" and a "just plain empire"(which are kind of ambiguous anyway) is what the actual policy is. The first will try to make a lemonade out of lemons and incorporate natural circumstance into it's policy while the second will try to jackboot the whole system even though everyone but the emperor knows that out in the provinces it is easy to get away with stuff you can't get away with at court.
- Fitzroy Maclean, a british adventurer visiting Stalinist Russia gave descriptions of Moscow worthy of Orwell but when he got out among the tribes, on the frontier, they just lived their grubby old lives the way they had for thousands of years.
- The British Empire was intentionally this. How much to interfere locally at any given time was often a philosophical controversy(and counterintuitively some of the nastiest stuff, like Cecil Rhodes' designs were done without the central government's direct approval). Local cultures were encouraged and often had political power; as well there was a circle of semi-independent client states around often with armed forces of their own. This was especially the case with "white" countries like Canada and Australia, but even in other places one would have to look at them one by one to say how independent they were. The results of the empire are both admired and disliked depending on who you ask.
- New France in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth century was a tangle of overlapping influences of Indian tribes, French-Canadians, and whomever the King had sent out. There were various power centers including the fur cartels, the Church, the (French) army and so on strung out over the wilderness tied together by the common military interest and desire to make money.
- This was common in the Middle Ages where politics were not so much about territorially cohesive states as about polities of various kinds and strengths in various degrees of dependency. It is still the case in much of the world. In fact the states recognized in the UN often do not reflect the true facts on the ground there.