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'What is meant by the term "hegemony", and how far can it be applied to Britain's international role in the mid to late 19th century?'

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Tom Woodling Rise Of The Modern World Order Term 1 Essay 1 'What is meant by the term "hegemony", and how far can it be applied to Britain's international role in the mid to late 19th century?' What is meant by the term 'hegemony', and how far can it be applied to Britain's international role in the mid to late 19th century Surveying the political, economic and military fallout surrounding the Peace of Versailles in 1783, it would have been easy to forgive the pessimism that arose in British political circles after the loss of the American colonies. Indeed, as Sir William Shelburne (who was responsible for negotiating the preliminaries, and much of the content, of the Peace) reflected later '"It appeared a madness...to think of colonies after what had passed in North America."'1 This seemed a huge blow not only to Imperial ambitions, but also to Britain's prestige and position against the European states that had inflicted this defeat on them - France, Spain and Holland. The next decade presented a gradual expansion of trade, and a tense but solid peace, and it was in this time the seeds were sown for a new Empire. ...read more.


The importance of this is immense, and once a cogent movement formed around it in the 1820s, it formed the bedrock of Britain's economic response to the aftermath of the Napoleonic wars. By the middle of the 19th century Britain had established itself as the primary supplier of finance capital into the world markets. There had also been a large flow of capital to the continent, and this is important in the first place for establishing Britain as a hegemon. By the definition given earlier, this export of capital allowed for returns to be accrued from the work of others. These invisible exports were to play an ever-increasing role in balancing Britain's trade, but importantly allowed her political leverage with most of her rivals - although America was still very protectionist at this time due to internal considerations. Free trade was the process by which Britain had opened up the world to her capital, and 'capitalism' became an indispensable fixture in the lexicon of both economists and politicians (see Hobsbawm, 1975, p1) in this period. Free trade was only a concept, though, and it was through the sheer dominance of the Royal Navy and associated maritime ventures in all main shipping routes that was to provide the apparatus. ...read more.


Also, the position of the City of London and the returns from overseas capital investment already made - �1,000 millions invested by 1875 (see Hobsbawm, 1975, p34) - gave her some relief. Even Gramsci appreciated this, The composition of the British balance of trade was subject to constant modification for about fifty years prior to the war [WWI]. The part contributed by the export of goods declined in relative importance and equilibrium was reached more and more thanks to so-called invisible exports.6 Drawing together all the evidence, it looks correct to conclude that hegemony as a concept is applicable to Britain's role in the mid to late 19th century. Even though Britain's economic position relative to the rest of Europe and America declined in the final quarter of the century, her efforts before this had built a base to continue operating as the prime world-power, especially in terms of naval power. The loss of ideological supremacy, in terms of liberal politics and free trade, can be seen as symptoms of the hegemonic decline towards the end of the period, but it was not until the outbreak of World War I that Britain's hegemony could resist the expansionist Germany no longer and was finally exorcised. ...read more.

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