Antonio Gramsci (pictured) used the term ‘hegemony’ to describe the phenomenon by which the majority of people accept the values and political axioms that ensure their own subordination to the ruling elite. Business elites reinforce this hegemony through propaganda, public relations and social conditioning, aided by leading social institutions such as schools and the media. Elites also reinforce hegemony by rejecting and marginalising those who propose radical change. They promote the virtues of the existing system and denigrate alternatives as unworkable, disastrous, undesirable.
However this hegemony is not stable and requires constant reinforcement. The proliferation of corporate propaganda during the 20th Century shows that ideology has played a vital role in supporting and legitimising capitalism.
The power of an ideology is that it presents a view of the world as the ‘truth’ and, in particular, as the moral truth. Hegemony presents existing social relationships, beliefs and prevailing ideologies as 'natural', inevitable and unchangeable. It defines these things as common sense so that they will not be questioned or challenged. However this does not mean that they are not.
Hegemony, however, is not something that is permanent; it is neigher done or unalterable. Gramsci understood hegemony as a process that was always in the making. To effectively wield power through consent, ideological work through cultural leadership is an ongoing necessity. The terrain of common sense and the natural must be continually reinforced because people's actual experiences will lead them to question dominant ideological assumptions.
According to G. William Domhoff, the ruling elite or power elite in capitalist society are those who have taken on the leadership roles in the corporate and policy-making communities. They include members of the upper class as well as directors or trustees and high-level employees of corporate institutions, both profit and non-profit.
In concert with the large banks and corporations in the corporate community, the foundations, think tanks, and policy-discussion groups in the policy-planning netowrk provide the organizational basis for the exercise of power on behalf of the owners of all large income-producing properties.