Hegemonic Empire

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.

This is not that trope. This Empire works a bit differently.

"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. A Hegemonic Empire doesn't need to rule through its military. It doesn't need to remove and rewrite facts. It has no need to believe a contradiction or destroy the vocabulary. At the same time, it can do all of these, sometimes a bit more subtly. A Hegemonic Empire dominates through attraction, absorption, enthrallment and sometimes Bread and Circuses. Only towards its "enemies" does it 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.

A Hegemonic Empire maintains control by making other people want to be part of it, typically by varying combination of Rule of Cool and being the lesser of two evils. Therefore, it justifies all of its potential infringements in civil liberties or human rights as Necessary Evil.

In more extreme cases, their cultural beliefs, values and perceptions will influence, manipulate and dominate the societies of a large number of states that might be "officially" beyond their reach on paper. 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. A 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 a Hegemonic Empire can vary; it may be The Republic, The Federation, The Kingdom or even The Alliance.

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". Compare Voluntary Vassal—a province that joins a traditional conquering empire of its own accord (which is standard procedure for a hegemonic one).


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    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.

    Comic Books 
  • In the Star Wars Expanded Universe, when Jagged Fel becomes Emperor of the Imperial Remnants he launches the "Victory Without War" campaign expanding through aid to planets ruined by the most recent galactic war. It continues until his grandson's reign when the Sith pull a coup. It then resumes when his great-granddaughter restores the Empire.
  • The Shi'ar Empire in X-Men is said to expand through "shotgun weddings", using the threat of force to turn others into allies rather than actual force to subjugate them.

    Fan Works 
  • Evangelion 303: In this doujin this is like Seele sees USA: an unrestrained imperial war machine and an overbearing international police organization that rules over the world like the only and unchallenged superpower. The Black Project Evangelion is started to prevent its plan to finish with what they call "the American Empire" once and for all.
  • In the Harry Potter fanfic King Of Kings Ruling Over Rulers, the magical Roman Empire is one of these, possessing sovereignty over the vast majority of the wizarding world, excluding the small quantity of territories that are controlled by the International Confederation of Wizards.

  • 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 Anderman Empire was always this. Gustav Anderman I's first conquest, Kuanyin, was overjoyed to have him, because they were in the midst of a worldwide crop failure and he was rich enough from his merc days to hire a cadre of scientists to cure the blight that was causing it.
  • 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 Currents of Space in the prequel Empire series reveals that the Trantorian Empire (the polity that became the Galactic Empire) had elements of this. Evidently, once you grow large and powerful enough to be able to buy out a planet and arrange the evacuation of the entire human population thereof, soft-power methods for expanding influence come with the package.
  • While the One World Order in Ender’s Game is called The Hegemony, it is more in the vein of a necessary evil: there's a Bug War happening and someone needs to take control. At the end of the Shadow series, Peter Wiggin replaces it with the Free People of Earth, which governments opt into voluntarily and are only allowed to opt into voluntarily. It works, at least for a while (supposedly it collapsed somehow and was replaced with the Starways Congress of the later Ender books).
  • The Tamul Empire from The Tamuli (the sequel series to The Elenium) by David Eddings is one of these - they conquer other countries by usually only needing the threaten war as they have one of the finest fighting forces in the world in the shape of The Atans - a people who through centuries of selective breeding are the biggest, strongest and most skilled soldiers ever. They then exercise authority through the existing power structures, don't interfere with the existing culture, religion customs or social order, impose minimal extra taxes and the only real rule they enforce is banning war between provinces. Not for nothing are they known in universe as "history's finest imperialists". They don't even punish revolutionaries - if revolutionaries appear in a province they take this as a clear indication that something has gone seriously wrong in the local governance and will usually offer the job to the revolutionaries - who will discover that this is a Poison Chalice as no-one likes the provincial government!
  • The titular empire in Malazan Book of the Fallen was formed mostly by way of military conquest, but its constituent states have all mostly realized that remaining in the Empire means not constantly feuding with neighbors. In Assail, a character lampshades the fact that from the perspective of the common people, the Malazan Empire is no more corrupt than the old regimes and it offers the poor opportunities they never had before. The empire is mostly a meritocracy and thus a peasant from a backwater community like him can raise up in its ranks as far as his talent and luck will allow him.
  • The Instrumentality of Mankind in the eponymous series by Cordwainer Smith. However, the Instrumentality is very, very unusual. In fact, trying to give an encyclopedic explanation of how it governs, its structure, its people's, history or even its policies wouldn't explain it with any justice.
  • This is how the current iteration of the Fjordell Empire in Elantris works. Centuries ago, Fjorden was a traditional empire, but it was unable to hold onto its military conquests and eventually fell apart. Fjorden's current rulers, being rather more Genre Savvy than their ancestors, are dedicated to expanding their power through cultural and religious dominance instead, and are successful enough that, despite being small when looked at on a map, their nation has gained effective control over more than half of the continent of Opelon. Having their emperor also be the head of the Derethi church helps, since it means that people who convert to Shu-Dereth are technically answerable to the Fjordell government regardless of national affiliation.
  • The Norgolian Empire in Cannon Fodder. While definitely an empire and definitely expansionist, they're pretty fair to their own citizens.
  • The Empire of the Star from the Eldraeverse prefers to operate in various versions of this way, having noticed long ago that conquering people who don't want to be - and keeping them conquered afterwards - is expensive and problematic, whereas if you can make them want to join up, the whole conquering thing becomes somewhat superfluous, expansion-wise.

    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.
  • In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Eddington accuses the Federation of being this.
    • And the Dominion is a more sinister take on this; to start with, the Founders are very restrictive and totalitarian, and genetically engineer client species to roles in society (also brainwashing them into considering the Founders gods).
  • The Klingon Empire seems to operate this way, especially in the TNG era. Personal freedoms are fairly pervasive and military conquest was rare, and overall Klingons default to problematic allies. This briefly changed during the latter half of Gowron's reign, but appeared to be back on track by the end of Deep Space 9.

    Tabletop Games 
  • 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 First Imperium initially expanded through economic domination, but the Second was a straight-up military conquest.
    • The Hiver Federation acts like this towards minor races, manipulating them towards space travel and then joining them.
  • 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 Gaļa) under its control to have its own governments, etc.
  • Unlike its far future counterpart, The Empire in Warhammer is ruled by a genuinely benevolent Emperor. While there are times when bandits and rebellious lords have to get put down, the armies generally spend their time protecting the Empire from invasion by external forces. Life there is far from nice, but it beats the Hell out of everywhere else in the setting, as you can generally find some sort of job, a place to live, and something vaguely resembling food. Just stay away from the sewers and avoid anyone with physical deformities or unfamiliar iconography.
    • After all it is basically a fantasy version of the Holy Roman Empire.
  • The New Commonality of Humankind in Mindjammer incorporates the scattered Lost Colonies through a variety of means. Some few worlds are all too happy to join when recontacted, but most resist assimilation in some way. They emplace Mindscape instances enabling access to the Commonality's collective memory, send SCI Force teams to destabilize hostile governments, allow Corporacies to establish branches on world, eventually the planet either joins the Commonality or declares war and gets curbstomped.

    Video Games 
  • 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.
    • Economic Victories are usually a less pure version of this — you might not dominate culturally, but your economy is so strong and influential that anyone trying to attack you would find their economy crippled and their industries failing.
  • Paradox Interactive titles such as the Europa Universalis series include mechanics for expanding through peaceful vassalization and annexation. Victoria: An Empire Under the Sun also has the "sphere of influence" mechanic, where countries are integrated into the domestic market and are more willing to accept (or in fact unable to refuse) diplomatic offers, while still nominally sovereign. In exchange, you have to protect them from rebellion and outside aggression.
  • 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.
  • In Tears To Tiara 2 The Empire was originally one a long time ago. But especially since it changed its name to The Holy Empire it has become The Empire. After Hamil and the Canaanites rebel and forms The Alliance to take on The Holy Empire, he wants to recreate the old Hegemonic Empire centered around Hispania.
  • In the Mass Effect universe, one of the political powers is the Batarian Hegemony, but since the other information on the Batarians suggests they are a Fantasy Counterpart Culture to either North Korea or Soviet Russia, it seems likely that their official title is a People's Republic of Tyranny situation. The Asari Republics, on the other hand, play this trope straight; they are the cultural and economic superpower in the galaxy, they are the founders and most powerful member of the Citadel Council, their extremely long lives means they are quite willing to be patient and wait for their culture to become omnipresent on its own rather than force the issue, and the codex explicitly compares their early governments to ancient Mediterranean city-states.
  • In Thedas from the Dragon Age games, Orlais definitely qualifies. Filling the power vacuum the collapsing Tevinter Imperium left, Orlais can and will expand through military conquest, but most of their power is derived from their advanced and sophisticated culture, its prosperous economy, the fact that the dominant religion, the Andrastian Chantry, is based in the Imperial capital, Val Royeaux, and the immense, Machiavellian schemes of its nobles and diplomats. It's a Fantasy Counterpart Culture of France during the Ancien Regime, specifically the reign of the Sun King, Louis XIV, with more than a little influence from the Holy Roman Empire, the two biggest hegemonic empires for much of European history.

  • Girl Genius: Baron Wulfenbach's empire acts a lot like this. All "The Baron's Peace" requires is "don't make me come over there."

    Web Original 
  • Most of the Archailects that rule the Sephirotic Empires of Orion's Arm prefer to expand my memetic engineering than messier forms of warfare. But the Solar Dominion is one of the more notable, being an Empire ruled by a God Emperor that has stood for over 8,000 years with its celebration of personal identity and potential.

    Real Life 
  • 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 Romans were masters at this, and many client states/vassals had already been so 'romanized' that when the Romans actually moved in to annex them, the people didn't notice (or realize they were, until then, technically still independent).
    • They were so good that the one time it backfired, which resulted in the Social War (as Rome's federates were called socii in Latin), it was because they refused to annex their Italian vassals: the socii had the duty to provide half the legions for any given campaign, but obtained little of the profits and had no say in the external politics, and when the Senate redistributed public land while refusing to grant them Roman citizenship they finally revolted. The Romans managed to win militarily, but quickly passed a law that made all the loyalist Italian communities into Romans and another that allowed people from the excluded communities to obtain Roman citizenship on an individual basis.
    • Augustus reputedly wanted and worked hard at making Rome this, thinking of it as a more practical and cheaper option than holding northern Europe by force.
    • The predilection among many countries today to have imitations of Greco-Roman culture such as "democracy", "senates", and so forth is an example of this. Even the European nations that weren't actually part of the Empire were still affected by it, and that got passed on to their colonies, which became entirely new nations.
  • Rome's enemy Carthage had their own hegemonic empire in Spain and the African coast from Anfa (modern day Casablanca) to Oea (now Tripoli), and the three main campaigns of their second and most decisive conflict (Italy, Spain and Africa) were effectively attempts at breaking each other's hegemony: Hannibal's Italian campaign had an initial limited success but ultimately failed note , while Rome's Spanish and African campaigns successfully destroyed Carthage's empire.
  • The United States of America counts as a contemporary example. Its many interventions in Latin America and the Middle East often result in regime changes of supposedly hostile or opposing leaders (particularly those who nationalize their industries); assassinations of rival world leaders; assisted coups that put the armed forces in power; installing of pro-US dictatorships; and establishing puppet states to service American companies. Many countries in the world utilize the dollar, many American corporations have turned multinational, many American products have turned international (ala McDonalds in Japan, of all things), English is the third most spoken language in the world, and even NATO is often seen as a mere extension of US military might as opposed to an international coalition.
    • This is a tendency that it seems to have inherited from the British Empire, which is perhaps to be expected considering that the US ended up taking up the strategic slack in place of an exhausted Britain. The British Empire mostly operated by gaining economic control of an area, appointing a few advisers here and there to influence and control the local ruler, then leave them in place to do the basic admin work of ruling from day to day while the British reaped the benefits. When trouble arose, Britain relied on its vast and powerful Navy, which was essentially unchallenged from the Battle of Trafalgar to the Battle of Jutland and unsurpassed until WWII (when it was surpassed...by their allies, the Americans), small, highly trained, efficient and highly mobile armies and its economic influence. In the meantime, it encouraged the people to adopt their attitudes, language, culture and religion. This worked better in some places (Australia and Canada) than others (India and South Africa). The spread of English as the language of power and money (something which can partially be attributed to the US), the retention of Greenwich Mean Time and the resultant system of time zones and the widespread nature of British culture is a testament to this.
  • Third-world countries that were part of European colonial empires qualified as well.
  • 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.
  • The Holy Roman Empire during most of its reign, owing to the difficulty in getting most of the elector princes and other lords to back many serious military campaigns after the Crusades.
  • Vladimir Putin's policy towards the former Soviet republics is essentially creating one of these as a replacement for the USSR. To date it's gotten a pretty cold reception, though Russian media did play a major role in Kyrgyzstani President Bakiyev's overthrownote .
    • The response from the West has been positively frigid, particularly from the US (which is worried) and Britain (which has had a bone or two to pick with the Kremlin following the Litvenenko assassination). Germany and France, on the other hand, seem to want to avoid another Cold War and are more ambivalent.
  • 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.
  • 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."
  • The Persian Empire of Cyrus The Great could be considered the Trope Maker. Cyrus was quite tolerant towards other cultures. After invading Babylon he sent the Jews back home and gave orders that the Temple of Jerusalem be rebuilt, meaning he is portrayed very positively in Jewish scripture. However the attempted invasion of Greece seems to have given Persia a reputation of being The Empire.
  • Australia, in regards to its immediate neighbours. New Zealand often toes whatever line Australia happens to follow; Papua New Guinea used to be a colony (and is often seen as a puppet) of Australia; Malaysia is too weak to do much; and most refugees in Southeast Asia head over to Australia for better opportunities than in their own countries. Indonesia, the fourth most populated nation and the largest archipelago in the world, is more or less The Rival to Australia, but most of its major parties are corrupt and civil services aren't really helpful to those who don't have the money for it (and there are a lot who don't have the money for it). Its military is roughly on par with Australia and it has a much larger population than Australia, but otherwise, there aren't really any other true opponents to Canberra in its immediate vicinity, so many people (in Canberra, of course) consider Australia to be something of a Rising Empire.
  • Contrary to popular belief, the Aztecs ran one of these, ruling through client kings, and demanding tribute, rather than obeisance, from those states they had defeated in battle. They rarely left their own governors in place, and didn't tamper with local religions, relying instead on a combination of cultural hegemony and military superiority to ensure continued compliance with the empire's dictates.
  • Imperial China operated on this principle for centuries. In dynastic Chinese political theory, the Emperor was the 'Son of Heaven' and thus the legitimate sovereign of the entire world; even states that weren't directly under Chinese control were expected to recognize this fact. It only really fell apart when the rising power of the industrial West coincided with a period of relative weakness for China; unsurprisingly, the imperialist Western powers (who were used to thinking of themselves as the best people on the planet) weren't too happy to kow-tow to the monarch of some (in their view) backwards nation. A few humiliating (for the Chinese) wars later, it was getting rather difficult to keep pretending that China was the grandest place on earth; this ultimately led to the downfall of last imperial dynasty, and to the founding of Republic of China, which would eventually be superseded on the mainland by the People's Republic of China.
    • And even before that, in China's pre-imperial feudal period, the Zhou Dynasty resembled this for about 600 of its 800 years in power: the king had little real power outside the immediate demesne of the capital, but was nevertheless recognized by the various feudal power-holders as their nominal overlord. During what is often translated as the Period of the Five Hegemons, some lords rose in power sufficiently to informally dominate the other states, without attempting to directly claim the title of overlord. Eventually, though, one of them became powerful enough to conquer the rest of China; this was Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor, and whose short-lived Qin Dynasty is actually the root of our word 'China'.