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David Wilkinson

Fundamentals of a civilizations-as-world-systems approach

What constitutes a world system?

Civilizations are world systems. (Non-urban world systems, as studied by Chase-Dunn, do exist; but I shall not discuss them further in this expository context.)

What then are civilizations? Civilizations are societies with cities (settlements of or above the order of 104 = 10,000). Their spatial limits are located by the limits of regular transactional interaction, especially politico-military-diplomatic interaction. Contrary to the common ('Parsonian'?) assumptions that a society has a polity, an economy, and a culture, civilizations are social systems with a coextensive polity (usually a system of territorial states). But they usually nest within the more spatially extensive penumbra of an oikumene (world economy) which links them economically to other civilizations and to non-civilized (i.e. non-urban) but populated space. And they exist without coherent cultures or cultural systems; instead they usually, probably always, are polycultures.

Civilizations have customarily been distinguished from non-civilized societies by such criteria as cities (my criterion), writing, surplus, accumulation, non-producing classes, and from each other by criteria of coherence (cultural homogeneity, unity, uniformity) and connectedness or closure (transactional unity and wholeness; internal interdependence and external independence). However the criteria of coherence and connectedness are in application incompatible: one must be relaxed or abandoned. Most civilizationists have preferred to maintain the coherence criterion; I have argued the desirability of the alternative, and studied as 'civilizations' large, strongly interconnected, but culturally heterogeneous and incoherent social systems. Network maps of politico-military-diplomatic transactions between cities will show clusterings different from those shown by trade route maps or maps of cultural (religious, linguistic) interaction: I use the politico-military-diplomatic criterion.

Examining civilizationists' competing rosters of civilizations on the assumption that the spatio-temporal boundaries of civilizations would coincide with spaces and times of low or no regular intercity politico-military-diplomatic transaction


(invasions, alliances, embassies, commands, demands, requests) produced a roster in which about half of the traditional 'civilizations' remained, while the other half reappeared as regions (or even as epochs) of a single, larger, and hitherto unrecognized network entity. In particular, the traditional 'Western,' 'Classical,' 'Islamic,' 'Medieval,' 'Byzantine,' 'Russian,' etc. appeared to be regions or phases in a single, larger, longer-lived multiurban network which I labeled 'Central Civilization.'

Central Civilization also appeared to be the sole contemporary survivor of the species, having expanded to global scope and engulfed all competitors. This process was advanced by but was not identical with the 'Western' conquests and colonizations of the 'modern' era, and was not in the least reversed by the dissolution of the various empires with West European or East European metropoles (Wilkinson 1982; 1987a).

In its contemporary period, Central Civilization is indistinguishable from the modern global world system. I contend that in its previous, less-than-global condition, Central Civilization was also inescapably a world system, as were all its competitors.

The roster of world systems would include the following:

1 Mesopotamian, or - more accurate for its later period - Southwest Asian, including areas and/or epochs customarily labeled Sumerian, Akkadian, Elamite, Gutian, Amorite, Babylonian, Syrian, Assyrian, Hittite. Its largest cities, using Chandler's (1974, 1987) data and dates, but my taxonomy, are:

2250 BC, Agade; 2000 BC, Ur; 1800 BC, Isin; 1600 BC, Babylon. As a reminder that this is a polyculture, its cities include Ebia (Syria), Hazor (Canaan), Assur (Assyria), Susa (Elam), Khattushash (Anatolia)

2 Egyptian, or Northeast African, including Kush and Nubia. Its largest cities, per Chandler's data, are: 2250 BC and 2000 BC, Memphis; 1800 BC, Thebes; 1600 BC, Avaris. Avaris is Hyksos; again to keep attention on the polycultural character of these civilizations/world systems, this one includes Kerma (Nubia).

These two are conventional entries on rosters of civilizations. The next is not.

3 Central civilization. About 1500 BC, the expanding Mesopotamian and Egyptian civilizations collided and fused into a single, of course polycultural, sociopolitical entity. This civilization never fell; this world system exists today, now grown to global scope, as the sole survivor of its ilk. Its successive largest cities, using Chandler's data and dates, are: 1360 BC, Thebes (Egypt); 1200 BC Memphis (Egypt); 1000 and 800 BC, Thebes again; 650 BC, Nineveh; 430 BC, Babylon; 200 BC, Alexandria; AD 100, Rome; AD 361 and 500, Constantinople; AD 622, Ctesiphon; AD 800 and 900, Baghdad; AD 1000, Cordova; AD 1100, Constantinople again; AD 1200, Fez; AD 1300, 1400 and 1500, Cairo; AD 1600 and 1700, Constantinople again; AD 1800 and 1900, London. This list is evidently polycultural.


The next four are, again, generally agreed on by civilizationists, with some differences as to labels and datings.

4 Indie. Largest cities, using Chandler's data and my taxonomy: 1800 BC,' Mohenjo-Daro; 1200 BC, Ayodhya; 1000 BC and 800 BC, Hastinapura; 650 BC, Kausambi; 430 BC and 200 BC, Patna; AD 100, Anuradhapura (Ceylon); AD 361, Patna again; AD 500, Sialkot (Ephthalites); AD 622 and 800, Kanauj; AD 900, Manyakheta; AD 1000, Anhilvada; AD 1100, Kalyan the Later; AD 1200, Polonnaruwa; AD 1300, Delhi; AD 1400 and 1500, Vijayanagar. By about AD 1600, the Indie world system had been engulfed by the Central.

5 Far Eastern; more 'Sinocentric' than 'Chinese.' Largest cities, per Chandler, as above: 1360 BC, Ao; 1200 BC, Anyang; 1000 BC and 800 BC, Changan=Sian; 650 BC, Lintzu (Chi); 430 BC, Yenhsiatsu (Yen); 200 BC, Changan again; AD 100, Loyang; AD 361, Nanking; AD 500, Loyang again; AD 800 and 900, Changan again; AD 1000 and 1100, Kaifeng; AD 1200 and 1300, Hangchow; AD 1400, Nanking again; AD 1500, 1600, 1700, 1800, and (if applicable) 1900, Peking. To underline the polyculturality of this world system, note its cities would include Tonggoo (Korea), Kashiwara (Japan), Prome (Burma), Indrapura (Cambodia), Ye (Hunnic Anyang), Tatung (of the Toba Wei), Kashgar (Turkestan), Lhasa (Tibet), Tali (Nanchao), Silow (Khitan), Ninghsia (Tangut), Sukotai (Siam), Hanoi (Vietnam). Between the Opium Wars and World War I, the Far Eastern world system was engulfed by, and became part of, the Central world system.

6 Mexican, or Mesoamerican. Largest cities, per Chandler: 430 BC and 200 BC, Cuicuiico; AD 100, 361, 500 and 622, Teotihuacan; AD 800, Copan (Mayas); AD 900 and 1000, Tollan (Tula); AD 1100, Cholula; AD 1200, Tenayuca; AD 1300, Texcoco; AD. 1400, Azcapotzaico; AD 1500, Tenochtit-lan. In the first half of the sLxteeftth century, the Mexican world system was engulfed by, and became part of, the Central world system.

7 Peruvian, or Middle Andean. Largest city, AD 1400, Riobamba; AD 1500, Cuzco. The Peruvian world system was engulfed by the Central world system in the course of the sixteenth century.

The next four are familiar to all civilizationists, but accepted as separate civilizations only by some.

8 Aegean. Largest cities, per Chandler: 1600 BC, Knossos; 1360 BC and 1200 BC, Mycenae; 650 BC, Miletus.

9 West African. Largest cities, per Chandler: AD 800, Gao; AD 1300, Njimiye; AD 1400, Mali; AD 1500, Gao again. Toward the end of the sixteenth century, the West African world system was engulfed by, and became part of,

the Central world system.

10 Indonesian. Largest cities, per Chandler: AD 800, 900, and 1000, Prambanan; AD 1300, Majapahit. The Indonesian civilization/world system was engulfed by the Central in the course of the sixteenth century.


11 Japanese. Split off from Far Eastern. Largest cities: AD 800, 900, 1000, 1100, Kyoto; AD 1200 and 1300, Kamakura; AD 1400, Kyoto again; AD 1600, Osaka; AD 1700 and 1800, Yedo (Tokyo); AD 1900 (if applicable), Tokyo by that name. Within the period from the 1854 Perry mission to World War I, the Japanese world system was engulfed by, and enrolled in, the Central world system. Of the various civilizations, only the Japanese may possibly have been monocultural, at least at some periods.

The last five members on this list are treated by most civilizationists as too small, too brief, or too poorly documented to make their rosters. Only recently (Wilkinson 1993a) did accumulating evidence persuade me to add the last two.

12 Mississippian. Largest city, AD 1100, Cahokia. Apparently the only civilization on the list to have collapsed endogenously.

13 Irish. Largest city, AD 1100, Dublin.

14 Chibchan. Largest city, AD 1500, Bacata.

15 East African, or Swahili. Extant, fourteenth (possibly twelfth) and fifteenth century AD. Largest city, AD 1400 and 1500, Kilwa. Engulfed by Central civilization early sixteenth century.

16 West Central African, or Kongo/Tio. Extant, fifteenth century AD, possibly earlier. Largest city, AD 1400, Ambessi/Mbanza Kongo (Sao Salvador); AD 1500, Sao Salvador. Engulfed by Central civilization early sixteenth century.

(For this roster of civilizations/world systems, and a large number of candidates not so classified, see Wilkinson 1982, and 1993/1994.)

A chronogram of the fusion of these civilizations (except Mississippian, which fell rather than fused) into Central Civilization is given as Figure 3.1.

I have attempted a more precise mapping of the first fourteen members of the above list, by assigning to them the largest world cities at various moments in time (Wilkinson 1992a, 1993a).

What are to be considered legitimate parameters?

I take this to be the question 'how much variation can entities display and still be considered world systems?' rather than the equally legitimate (but logically posterior) 'what are the numerical characteristics of the collection of all world systems taken together?' or 'what aspects of any given world system are constant for that system over time, though varying as between world systems?'

Civilizations/world systems (I use the terms interchangeably, subject to Chase-Dunn's reservation) may vary enormously in size. The minimum: one marginally qualifying city and its politico-military hinterland. The maximum thus far: the half-urbanized global world system of the late twentieth century AD. The theoretical upper bound is arguable: could there be an interplanetary civilization? Logistic difficulties would be enormous; I'd rule it out under current or reasonably predictable technologies and treat the whole Earth as a practical upper-bound domain.

wsh_fig3-1.gif (16417 bytes)

Figure 3.1 The incorporation of fourteen civilizations into one 'Central civilization.'

Note: This figure illustrates the successive incorporation of autonomous civilizations into a larger, composite 'Central civilization' in gray. ???? = transitions to civilization took place no later than this date for this case.

The spatial and demographic parameters of world systems thus allow a size range of five or six orders of magnitude at least; still, whale and flea are both 'animals' despite some scale differences, and the size range of civilizations is paltry when compared to that of the systems observed by physicists.

The temporal parameters are even more flexible. I would probably treat a city that lasted only about a generation before being destroyed by its neighbors (Dithakong) or evaporating through lineage fission (Kaditshwena) as a


'protocivilization' or, to borrow and refurbish Toynbee's term, an 'abortive civilization,' to be studied mostly to learn about startup failures, which must have been very numerous, and the failure process (Wilkinson 1993/4). However, the current world system/civilization I regard as having an unbroken continuity of 3,500 years to its formation in the Middle East by the fusion of two root civilizations (Mesopotamian and Egyptian), whose continuity adds at least another 1,500 years and probably rather more. Despite many vicissitudes, and crises in proportion to the number of analysts, it shows no signs of imminent demise.

Has there been a single evolving world system, have there been areas external to it, or have alternative systems existed side by side?

In the past, from whenever Mesopotamian and Egyptian world systems began to coexist, until the end of the historical autonomy of the Sinocentric Far Eastern world system, and of the Japanese world system, several civilizations/world systems have coexisted on the global surface. By the late nineteenth or early twentieth century, only one survived, which I would treat as the effective date of the globalization of society and politics. By the late twentieth century, probably no non-urban world systems remained. The basic point is: once there were several world systems; now there is only one.

The same point, incidentally, holds - mutatis mutandis - for oikumenes/world economies, of which there were several on the globe until the nineteenth century 'opening' of Japan incorporated its isolated world economy, the last such, into the much larger one, the curent sole survivor, which I have labeled the 'Old Oikumene.' (See Wilkinson 1992a,b, 1993a,c.)

By what processes is such a system defined?

It is as yet premature to use process-based definitions for world systems. Definition is itself an evolving process: we are still looking for the full set of processes characteristic of a world system. There can be located at least the following: a political process of fluctuation between states systems (the empirical norm) and world state/universal empire (often an ideological norm); a more finely specified political process of fluctuation among nonpolar, multipolar, tripolar, bipolar, unipolar-nonhegemonic, unipolar-hegemonic, and world-imperial orders; a


out of existence within world systems which continue. There may also be a general war-general peace process that operates at a very large scale.

Incidental findings on civilizations/world systems

There are some propositions which, though not of major concern to the participants in this particular debate, should be noted briefly.

Political forms of world systems: states systems and universal empires

The political structure of civilizations has ordinarily approximated one of two types: 'universal empire' or 'states system.' About twenty-three universal empires and about twenty-eight states systems may be identified: the states systems seem more durable.

The contemporary states system can be traced back to the decline of Rome in the face of the rise of Sassanid Persia, and is of unparalleled longevity, more than half a millennium older (with a span 40 per cent longer than) its nearest competitor (the post-Maurya pre-engulfment Indie system). Over time the post-Roman states system has expanded geographically; has lost old members and gained new ones; has shifted its power core; has had different kinds of member states, different great powers, and different would be hegemons from century to century. But it remains a single system, extending from the days of Ardashir I and Shapur I of Persia to our own (Wilkinson 1983).

Martin Wight once posed this problem:

Most states-systems have ended in a universal empire, which has swallowed all the states of the system. Is there any states-system which has not led fairly directly to the establishment of a world empire? Does the evidence rather suggest that we should expect a states-system to culminate in this way? (1977:43-4)

The empirical answer is that most states systems have ended in universal empires; that most universal empires have ended in states systems; that the contemporary states system has not led fairly directly to the establishment of a world state, but rather has proven the most durable member of its species, not to mention having outlasted any world state ever recorded (Wilkinson 1986).

By comparison to states systems, universal empires are peaceable, repressive, stagnant - and short-lived. Their collapses, and the consequent re-emergences of states systems, display a variety of motifs. Satraps usurp; provinces rebel; barbarians invade; border states arise; sects partition; classes struggle; enemies combine; and troubles multiply. These themes recur with different frequencies, but none seems universal. On the other hand, crisis in the real, functioning monarchic office of the universal empire political structure is very characteristic of the fall of universal empire (Wilkinson 1988).


Political forms of world systems: polarity

Students of power structures who examine only the modern world system from 1648 to 1939 are commonly led to assume that multipolarity is the normal political form for a system of states, and treat bipolarity as deviant, unipolarity as imaginary, tripolarity as implausible, nonpolarity as inconceivable.

However, a study of power structures in the Indie world system from 550 BC to its incorporation into the Central world system produces a rather discrepant picture. Unipolarity (non-hegemonic, hegemonic, or universal-state) was the most frequent form, and a stable (durable) one; bipolarity was next most frequent, and relatively stable; tripolar and nonpolar forms were more frequent than multipolar (Wilkinson 1993b). Multipolarity cannot then be treated as a transhistorical and transcultural norm for states systems: it becomes a condition to be interrogated, not assumed.

Cultural/arms of world systems: polyculture

A civilization is not identical to a culture, a language, a religion, a 'race,' a class, a state or a nation. It is a macrosociety whose boundaries ordinarily include many national, state, economic, linguistic, cultural and religious groups. The various civilizations are not necessarily based upon any major premise, nor do they necessarily articulate, develop and realize such, nor are they necessarily logically or aesthetically consistent or complementary - on the contrary, they arc actually highly and evolvingly contradictor}; conflicted, dialectical (Wilkinson 1995d).

Civilizations expand faster than civilization diffuses, but civilization diffuses faster than it is discovered or invented. Out of tens of thousands to millions of precivilizational social groups that have existed in human history only very few have evolved historically autonomous civilizations; an enormous number have been absorbed by expanding civilizations evolved elsewhere. Of the tens of historically autonomous and identifiable civilizations, most were engulfed by one of their members. But this engulfment is macrosocial and macropolitical: it has usually been preceded by economic penetration, and it has not usually been accompanied or followed by (mere) cultural assimilation.

Our time is unique in that only one civilization now exists on Earth, of global scope, without a periphery into which to expand further. It is, evidently, a polyculture, a mixing pot of coexisting contiguous cultures, interacting intensely, slowly exchanging memes and genes and persons and traits, yet maintaining some distinctive characteristics even over many generations. What is evident today was also true for the civilizations/world systems of the past - probably even for Japan with its established monocultural ideology, certainly for the rest.

Furthermore, in all probability world systems were polycultures at the time of their first urbanization, i.e. we hypothesize a polycultural precivilizational or proto civilizational matrix will be found to have preceded the settlement condensation, as will a local increase in population density and social pressure (Iberall and Wilkinson 1993).


Incidental to the assessment of systemwide monoculturalism as an ideology or ideal rather than a systemic characteristic, is the same assessment for actors and subsystems. In particular, contrary to the assumption that there today exists a world of nation-states, it is the case, in the modern world system as before and elsewhere, that the (normal) muldstate polity never matches the multinational polyculture, but is only weakly coupled thereto, on account of transhistorical and transcultural phenomena such as imperialism and empires, colonization and colonies, diasporas and occupational ethnicism, slave-trading and slavery (Iberall and Willdnson 1993).

Cores and peripheries

Do all world systems have core-periphery hierarchies?

Yes; but not at all times; but usually. Civilizations usually possess a core (central, older, advanced, wealthy, powerful); a semiperiphery strongly thereto connected (younger, fringeward, remote, more recently attached, weaker, poorer, more backward); and a weakly connected periphery (nomads; settled subsistence producers; other civilizations in the same oikumene, connected by trade but not by fighting or alliance). Civilizational cores may take any of several political forms, e.g.: a single hegemonic state; a great power oligarchy; the metropolitan region of a universal empire. Core areas expand and contract, the latter especially during hegemonic and universal-state epochs. Civilizations usually have a semiperiphery, especially during such periods, but need not; during states-system periods they sometimes do not have a core.

Cores move over-a long time span, sometimes in a single prevailing direction, sometimes shuttling back and forth. Old cores return, and new areas rise, to core status, with no marked propensity either way. Core areas of a civilization may partition functionally, with different areas serving as politico-military, economic and cultural cores, though there is some tendency for the functions to go together or drift together. Recent arrivals to core status have some advantages in competitions to destroy states systems.

By what processes are cores and peripheries created? City-making; economic innovation; military conquest; god-creation; political manipulation; cultural creativity and fascination; evasions of Malthus; rent-getting. Do core-periphery relations work in basically the same ways in all systems, or are there fundamental differences that emerge by context? Similarities seem more fundamental than contextualized differences (Wilkinson 1991).

Hegemony and its cognates

An important theme in the world-systems literature, as well as that of international political economy, and one of increased interest to civilizationists such as Matthew Melko (1995), is that of 'hegemony' The researchers represented at Lund 1995 take varyingly reserved and critical approaches to such common


theses as that: world systems usually have hegemons; Britain was hegemon in the world system of the nineteenth century; America became the hegemon after World War II. I reject all these theses unreservedly, while accepting that they are sufficiently widespread and deep-rooted to warrant an extensive and intensive critique. Not only critique: reconstruction. Hegemony is a genuine issue in the study of civilizations/world systems; there have been some few historic hegemons, more near-hegemons, and many hegemonic aspirations; failed and successful hegemonic (and anti-hegemonic) careers are worth studying; and there are intriguing cognates or analogues to hegemony equally worth attending to.

The issue of hegemony in the context of the discussion of world system history brings to mind the extensive arguments of Immanuel Wallerstein on the subject: these arguments provide a useful point of entry.

Nature and ambiguity of Wallersteinian hegemony

The idea of 'hegemony' assumes a remarkable significance in Wallerstein's theory. It is distinguished from world-empire (Wallerstein 1984:38). It has political, economic and politico-economic features, by definition or by hypothesis. Whatever its character otherwise, it is brief, rare, and peculiarly related to war, sea-power and free trade, and to the Netherlands, Britain, and America.

Wallersteinian hegemony defined

At times, Wallerstein defines hegemony politically, in 'power' terms. Given that there exists an interstate system with several great powers, hegemony exists when one of them has unquestioned supremacy (1984:58), is truly first among equals, with a really great power margin or differential (1984:38-9), can largely impose its rules and its wishes in the economic, political, military, diplomatic, and even cultural arenas (1984:38), has an edge so significant that allied major power are de facto client states and opposed major powers feel highly defensive (1984:39).

At times, hegemony is defined by Wallerstein in a completely different way, economically, as great and general competitive advantage. When 'no second power or combination of second powers seems capable of challenging the economic supremacy of the strongest core power' the situation is called 'hegemony' (Hopkins, Wallerstein et al. 1982a:52). What has occurred in each historic instance of hegemony was that

enterprises domiciled in the given power in question achieved their edge first in agro-industrial production, then in commerce, and then in finance. I believe they lost their edge in this sequence as well... Hegemony thus refers to that short interval in which there is simultaneous advantage in all three economic domains (Wallerstein 1984:40-1).


The pattern of hegemony seems marvelously simple. Marked superiority in agro-industrial productive efficiency leads to dominance of the spheres of commercial distribution of world trade .. . Commercial primacy leads m turn to control of the financial sectors of banking (exchange, deposit, and credit) and of investment (direct and portfolio). These superiorities are successive, but they overlap in time. Similarly, the loss of advantage seems to be in the same order (from productive to commercial to financial), and also largely successive. It follows that there is probably only a short moment when a given core power can manifest simultaneously productive, commercial and financial superiority over all other core powers. This momentary summit is what we call hegemony. (Wallerstein 1980:38-9)

Finally, at times hegemony is defined in a combined, politico-economic sense.

If we assume a number of core states, we can assume 'rivalry' as a normal state of affairs, with exceptional periods in which one core power exceeds all others in the efficiency of its productive, commercial, and financial activities, and in military strength. We can call this latter 'hegemony' (Hopldns, Wallerstein el al. 1982b:l 16)

When the political and economic forms of hegemony are not treated as if related by definition, they seem in Wallerstein to be causally connected. Having economic advantage depends on political power:

Hegemony involves more than core status. It may be defined as a situation wherein the products of a given core state are produced so efficiently that they are by and large competitive even in other core states, and therefore the given core state will be the beneficiary of a maximally fee market. Obviously, to take advantage of this productive superiority, such a state must be strong enough to prevent or minimize the erection of internal and external political barriers to the free flow of the factors of production. (Wallerstein 1980:38)

Having economic advantage leads to political power:

When producers located within a given state can undersell producers located in other core states in the latter's 'home market,' they can transform this production advantage over time into one in the commercial arena and then into one in the financial arena. The combined advantages may be said to constitute hegemony and are reflected as well in a political-military advantage in the interstate system. (Wallerstein 1984:17)


Or having economic advantage may be independent of having political power: economic supremacy is to be distinguished from 'imperium,' the characteristic of world-empire, 'in that it operates primarily through the market' (Hopkins, Wallerstein et al. 1982a:52).

Free-market policy of the Wallersteinian hegemon

Wallerstein argues that it would be rational for a hegemon (presumably in the economic or politico-economic senses only) to promote free trade. The material base of hegemonic power

lies in the ability of enterprises domiciled in that power to operate more efficiently in all three major economic arenas - agro-industrial production, commerce, and finance. The edge in efficiency of which we are speaking is one so great that these enterprises can not only outbid enterprises domiciled in other great powers in the world market in general, but quite specifically in very many instances within the home markets of the rival powers themselves. (Wallerstein 1984:38-40)

If hegemony is defined as a situation in which a single core power has demonstrable advantages of efficiency simultaneously in production, commerce, and finance, it follows that a maximally free market would be likely to ensure maximal profit to the enterprises located in such a hegemonic power. (Wallerstein 1984:5)

War-origin and seapower-basis of Wallersteinian hegemony

According to Wallerstein, the United Provinces (the Netherlands), Great Britain, and the United States have each held hegemony in the modern capitalist world-system. Each hegemony followed a world war (Thirty Years War 1618-48; Napoleonic Wars 1792-1815; the single long 'world war' 1914-45) in which a previously maritime power transformed itself into a land power to defeat a historically strong land power (the Hapsburgs, France, Germany) which seemed to be trying to transform the world-economy into a world-empire (Wallerstein 1983:58-9). The basis for the victory was the - momentarily greater - economic efficiency of the capital accumulators in these states in 'agro-industrial production, commerce and finance' (1983:59).

In each case, the hegemony was secured by a thirty-year long world war. By a world war, I shall mean ... a land-based war that involves (not necessarily continuously) almost all the major military powers of the epoch in warfare that is very destructive of land and population. (Wallerstein 1984:41)


Hegemonic powers were primarily sea (now sea/air) powers. In the long ascent to hegemony, they seemed very reluctant to develop their armies, discussing openly the potentially weakening drain on state revenues and manpower of becoming tied down in long land wars. Yet each found finally that it had to develop a strong land army as well as face up to a major land-based rival which seemed to be trying to transform the world-economy into a world-empire. (WaUerstein 1984:41)

Rarity and brevity of Wallersteinian hegemony

For Wallerstein, hegemony is a rare and unstable situation; the statistically normal situation of rivalry within the interstate system is one in which 'many powers exist, grouped more or less into two camps, but with several neutral or swing elements, and with neither side (nor afortiori any single state) being able to impose its will on others'(1984:39).

The hegemonies were brief because: the production advantages could not be sustained indefinitely (1984:17) - indeed, other states could copy the productive efficiencies without paying the same amortization costs of obsolete equipment; the hegemonic powers brought labor peace with internal redistribution; and the high military costs of hegemonic responsibilities were economically burdensome (1983:59-60); and 'the mechanisms of the balance of power intrude to reduce the political advantage of the single most powerful state' (1984:17).

Wallersteinian hegemonic succession

In the long period following me era of hegemony, two powers seemed eventually to emerge as the 'contenders for the succession' - England and France after Dutch hegemony; the US and Germany after British; and now Japan and western Europe after US. Furthermore, the eventual winner of the contending pair seemed to use as a conscious part of its strategy the gentle turning of the old hegemonic power into its 'junior partner' - the English vis-a-vis the Dutch, the US vis-a-vis Great Britain . .. and now? (Wallerstein 1984:42-3)

Disambiguating hegemony

A critique of the theory of hegemony is obstructed by the confusing multiplication of definitions of 'hegemony.' We can best escape that confusion by remembering that 'hegemony' is a term that predates the confusion, and had (and has, if we wish) a reasonably unambiguous usage. For example, Herz (1951): 'When Wilson led the United States into the war at the side of the Entente, he did it in order to save Europe - and the world - from the danger of German hegemony [emphasis added]' (p. 213); 'The balance of power system of the last centuries has not prevented wars and injustice, nor has it been a safeguard against exploitation


and imperialism. But it has preserved a world of nations against the threat of hegemony [emphasis added] and domination by one super-power' (pp.2201).

Going farther back provides further illustration of the political-influence sense of hegemony. The Oxford English Dictionary tells us that hegemony is 'Leadership, predominance, preponderance, esp. the leadership or predominant authority of one state of a confederacy or union over the others.' Historians from the nineteenth century use the term with respect to Athens in the Delian League, Macedon in the Hellenic League, and Prussia in the North Germanic confederation. Hegemony was in all these cases the step just before empire, i.e. the abolition of the independent existence of the states. Thus, in the Delian League, founded (478 BC) at the instance of the smaller states, those who sought to pull out (Naxos 467, Samos 440) found their walls razed, their fleets seized, their once-voluntary tribute made compulsory, their islands colonized or garrisoned; those who stayed in found their forces under Athenian command and the League treasury moved to Athens. The Hellenic League, founded 338 at the instance of Macedon after it defeated Athens and Thebes, was a perpetual alliance (of those states, and the rest of the Greeks save Sparta), under Philip's headship and military command; when the Greeks tried to escape (335), Thebes was destroyed and its population enslaved, which persuaded the rest to be quiet; when Athens again tried to withdraw (323), and was defeated (322), it was garrisoned and its constitution remade by Macedon. What Prussia had wanted in the Germanic Confederation (1815-66) it got from the North German Confederation (1867-71): the presidency and commandership-in-chief; this hegemony was shortly replaced (1871) by an empire organized around Prussia.

One can go even farther back, inasmuch as 'hegemony' is an ancient term of political theory. In its classical context, its sense is once more clearly political (vs. economic or cultural) (Wilkinson 1994b). Systemwide hegemony is a distinct, meaningful and useful politico-military concept: a condition of overwhelming strength such that all other states in a certain group follow the hegemon, voluntarily, or through fear, or through applied force. This distinct concept is historically and politically important. No useful purpose is served by watering it down, or by turning it into an economic concept, or by weighting it down with economic provisos, stipulations or preconditions. Henceforward I shall therefore normally use 'hegemony' in its fundamental politico-military sense, to denote a systemwide unipolar influence structure in a system of states, including but something more than a unipolar coercive-capability structure, but something less than universal empire: unquestioned supremacy, a really great margin of power over other states, the ability (unequivocally demonstrable only by the act) to impose rules and desires throughout the system.

It then becomes necessary to find a replacement term to fit Wallerstein's economic of 'hegemon': a state characterized by great productive, commercial, and financial competitive edge, profitability, wealth and prosperity relative to the other states in a system. Modelski would prefer 'leader,' a term with which I am uncomfortable because the 'followers' of these 'leaders' are pursuers, perhaps disciples, but by no means associates, retainers, dependents or adherents. 'Fountainhead' might


convey the sense of the principal source of innovation in the system, 'apex' the sense of being at the top of a structure without controlling it, 'leadingwheel' the sense of being the first part of a system to get where the whole system is going I have used the nautical 'forereacher,' one who gains an advantage and goes ahead of others in a competition. This being an election year, I'll try 'frontrunner.' The unhistorical economic definition of hegemony could then be replaced by a falsifi-able economic hypothesis of hegemony: i.e. 'all world-system frontrunners (and only they) become world-system hegemons.' This hypothesis can then be scrutinized by inspecting the careers of the Wallersteinian hegemons, on the assumption that these states are correctly described as 'frontrunners,' greatly advantaged economically, but that evidence of their (politico-military) 'hegemony' remains to be sought. Wallerstein names three hegemons: the United Provinces, the Netherlands, in the mid-seventeenth century, Great Britain in the mid-nineteenth, the United States in the mid-twentieth (1983:58). In two cases there are perplexities in the dating of the alleged hegemonies.

The alleged Dutch hegemony In trying to date and comprehend the Dutch 'hegemony,' it seems necessary to set aside two anomalies in its treatment by Wallerstein. On one occasion the Dutch hegemony is alleged to have begun as early as 1608, presumably because otherwise the hegemon's free-trade ideology would have appeared prematurely (when 'at the moment of Dutch accession to hegemony in the seventeenth century, Hugo Grotius published that "classic" on international law, Mare Librium ...') (Wallerstein 1984:5). On another occasion, 1651-78 is seen as 'the height of Dutch hegemony' (1980:65); this dating fits the theory only in that it follows the Thirty Years War. Most often, however, the Dutch hegemony is seen as beginning 1620 (1984:17,40; Hopkins, Wallerstein et at. 1982b:l 16-18 -at latest 1625, as in Wallerstein-1900:39 and Hopkins, Wallerstein et al. 1982a:62) and ending 1650, followed by hegemonic decline and acute conflict with successors 1650-72 (Wallerstein 1984:58). Let us therefore examine the proposition that the United Provinces had hegemony in the world-system from 1620 to 1650.

Poles, whom Wallerstein includes within the modern world-system at this time, fought Russians (outside); Poles and Venetians (inside) fought, and Hungarians (inside) worked loose of, Turks (outside); Turks fought Persians, Persians fought Moguls, Moguls threatened to fight English. Wallerstein excludes, and I cannot countenance excluding, Russia, the Ottoman Empire, Persia, and perhaps India from the world-system in the mid-seventeenth century. If one counts them in, as I believe we must, there can be no question of a Dutch hegemony, which these actors surely never felt. Even if we include only western and central Europe and Iberian America in the world-system at this time, Dutch hegemony is by no means evident. One must grant that by this period the Dutch had become a naval power of the first rank: though humiliated by the Spanish fleet at Bahia as late as 1625, the Dutch were able to defeat the Spanish invasion fleet at the Slaak 1631, and even to gain an apparent naval primacy (by defeating Spain at the battle of the Downs in 1639) during the last third of their 'hegemony.' It is however also true that this primacy could be viewed, in the light of later events, as quite nominal,


since it lasted only until the first time it was challenged (by the English - first Anglo-Dutch War, 1652-4). One must also concede to the case in favor of Dutch hegemony that, while Portugal was a dependency chafing under Spanish rule, the Dutch were able to take away many of her (sub)-colonies; still, once having reestablished dc facto independence 1640-4, the Portuguese were strong enough to take back Brazil, 1645-54. Having granted this much to the Dutch case, which remains far from overwhelming, one must then note what lies in the other pan of the scales.

1 During most of the Thirty Years War (1618-48), far from behaving or being treated as a hegemon intervening to impose their rules throughout the world-system, the United Provinces were glad to hold their own, since they were fighting to preserve their de facto independence from Spain, and to persuade it to recognize them as de jure independent, and therefore to stop trying to reconquer them.

2 In this battle, Spain was quite able to invade the Netherlands (and held Breda 1624-37), while the Netherlands was never able to invade Spain (though others did).

3 The Dutch aspired to liberate the Spanish-occupied southern Netherlands, and did manage to counterinvade them, but failed to liberate them (except Maastricht), so that the 'Spanish Netherlands' they remained. When Spain at long last conceded Dutch independence by the Treaty of Munster (January 1648 - twenty-eight years after the Dutch attained 'hegemony'!), the Dutch had less of the Netherlands than in 1577, never having been able to regain Brussels, Tournai, Bruges, Ghent or Antwerp (lost to Don John of Austria and Alexander Farnese in the late-sixteenth century) nor Ostend (lost to Spinola in the early seventeenth).

4 When Spain made peace with the Dutch, it did so not because it was defeated in the field, but in order to fight on unhindered against what it apparently viewed as a more powerful, more threatening, more dangerous enemy, a state which had invaded metropolitan Spain (aid to Catalan insurgents 1641, occupation of Roussillon 1642) and had annihilated the Spanish field army (at Rocroi, May 1643): France. Apparently Spain was correct in its judgment, since, fighting on without Dutch assistance, France nonetheless proceeded to defeat Spain again (Battle of the Dunes, June 1658) and even forced it to cede much of Flanders (Peace of the Pyrenees, 1659), in the same Spanish Netherlands which the Dutch had been too weak to pry from the hands of Spain.

Leaving aside the obvious inference that France surely was, and Spain probably was, on balance more powerful than the Dutch, it would be well to remember that during the Thirty Years War, other participants also raised large armies, fought longer, and/or collected more winnings, than the Dutch. It was Sweden, not Holland, which was able to demand and receive concessions in territory, money and intra-German influence to purchase peace. The Austrian Hapsburgs kept larger armies in the field longer and operated at longer distances from home than


the Dutch, and when they were defeated, it was the French, Swedes and German states that did the crucial fighting. As for other states, Bavaria, Brandenburg, Denmark, England, Poland, Saxony, Scotland, Switzerland and Transylvania, all seem to have fought (or abstained), gained (or lost) with very little reference to or notice taken of their Dutch 'hegemon.' A more traditional reading of history contends that the Thirty Years War marks a shift from the Hapsburgs to France as the first-ranking, but not hegemonic, power in the states system. On the whole the traditional interpretation remains more persuasive than the Wallersteinian. It is hard to maintain the idea that the Dutch were a hegemonic power 162050, or at any other time. In that period, there was no hegemon. The Dutch were frontrun-ners, marvelously competitive and prosperous. Never did they have hegemony, never did they approach hegemony.

The alleged British hegemony Again the time-boudaries of this 'hegemony' flex more than is desirable. It may run from 1815-50 with a decline 1850-73 (Hopkins, Wallerstein et al. 1982a:62, by analogy with Netherlands dates), or 1815-73 maximally (Wallerstein 1984:17,40), or from 1850-73 (Hopkins, Wallerstein et al. 1982b:l 16,118), with 1815-50 then a period in which the new hegemon bypasses an old one in decline and 1873-96 (Wallerstein 1984:58) a period of declining hegemony with acute conflicts with successors. The most frequently cited dates for British hegemony are 1850-73.

In the British case (as in the American) there is no longer a difficulty caused by world-systems' analysts excluding some notable members of the states system of Central Civilization from the hegemonic accounting. Britain, too, was during the period of its putative hegemony accepted by all powers as an independent state, and avoided the indignity of having any part of its metropolitan territory occupied by a foreign power. Thus far the case is easier to make than that for the Dutch.

Choosing 1850-73 as the hegemonic period, and again assuming that Britain was indeed the world-system's frontrunner (and the Crystal Palace exhibition of 1851 surely asserted a flagrant prosperity), the case for Britain's political hegemony can at least be made more credibly than for the Dutch.

Even skeptics must concede that Britain in this period did blockade Greece (1850) to compel interest and compensation payments; did block Siamese attempts (1850-63) to expand southward into Malaya; did (or the East India Company did) end friction with Burmese interests by a war (1851-3) in which south Burma was annexed; did drive Persian occupiers out of Afghanistan (1856-7); did put down the Great Mutiny in the armies of the East India Company, and take the government of India from it (1857-8); did fight the second Maori War in New Zealand (1860-70) to a settlement satisfactory to Britain; did bombard Kagoshima (1863) to punish Japan's Satsuma clan for a murder; did conduct a successful punitive expedition against Bhutan (1865) over frontier disorders, and another, even more successful against Abyssinia (Ethiopia; 1867-8) over the imprisonment and murder of consular officials; did put down Louis Kiel's first rebellion in Canada (1869-70). These were indubitably hegemonic acts, even in some cases imperial acts, with respect to these countries.


To prove the systemwide hegemony of the hegemon such a listing is of some value, but certainly not sufficient, for those who felt the British yoke were not the crucial actors in the system, the great powers. On the other hand, to deny that Britain had hegemony, it is of some value, but again not sufficient, to point out that most events in the Americas, North and West Africa, Southwest Asia, Indochina, Indonesia, interior China, Japan and Korea went on without reference to the rules, desires or permission of Britain: conceivably the small powers were controlled by the great, and the great by the Greatest.

What is critical to the case for and against British hegemony is to examine the other 'great powers' - in this period, France, Russia, Austria-Hungary, Prussia/ Germany. One might also look closely at the conduct of the United States, given that hegemony theorists have named it as Britain's successor. In this period 1850 73, it is not easy to make a case that Britain's hegemony was regularly felt by all these powers; nor regularly felt by any; nor, indeed, that it was felt.

Was Britain hegemonic over France? Britain tamely observed the coup of Napoleon III in 1850, and the revolution of 1871, and did nothing to assure that either new regime would subserve its desires. The Franco-British expedition in the Crimean War (1853-6) was largely an egalitarian collaboration, but if either led the way it was France; to balance this (and preserve us from believing in French hegemony) the British may then be seen senior partners with the French in the Second Opium War against China (1856-60). When France and Piedmont combined (1859) to despoil Austria of northern Italy (1859-70), Britain's objections to a war were ignored, and ignored with impunity. When the British, French and Spanish jointly occupied Vera Cruz (1861) to compel payment of the Mexican debt, it was France which attempted to create a puppet empire under Maximilian, Britain (and Spain) which responded by withdrawing (1862), the Mexicans who balked France, and ultimately the US which, mobilizing 50,000 men on the Rio Grande and threatening military intervention (18656) persuaded France to withdraw its troops. When France was ultimately defeated, and Napoleon Ill's career ended, it was not accomplished by Britain, but by Germany, 1870-1. Where was British hegemony over France? Invisible, and nonexistent.

Was Britain hegemonic to America? While Britain did intervene, indirectly and delicately, in the American Civil War - by building raiders (Florida, Alabama, Shenandoah) for the Confederacy, the side toward which Britain's economic interests predisposed it - not only was that side not saved by the 'hegemon,' but the British even accepted an arbitration (1871) which awarded the US damages (1872) for the cruisers' depredations. American pressure, not British, openedJapan (1853-4); the US participated (with Britain, France and the Dutch) in bombarding Shimonoseki (1864) to end the anti-foreign activity of the Choshu clan. Where was hegemony over America? Not in evidence.

Was Britain hegemonic over Russia? One might as plausibly ask, was Russia hegemonic over Britain? If Britain behaved hegemonically in its sphere, so did Russia in its. Russia put down the rebellious Poles (1863^1-) despite British protests. Russia advanced its frontiers in Central Asia toward India (1860-8), Tashkent, Samarkand and the Oxus, despite Britain's fears and objections. Russia


outpaced Britain into China; indeed, it was the Russians who truly won the Second Opium War against China - without even having fought it! - by acquiring (in the 1858 Treaty of Aigun) the left bank of the Amur, and (in the 1860 Treaty of Peking) the Ussuri region. Russia unilaterally abrogated its obligation fireaty of Paris, 1856) to leave the Black Sea neutral, unfortified, and without a navy -and despite British protests Russia compelled the London conference (1871) to accept the abrogation as &fait accompli. Indeed, it would be easier to make the case for Russian than for British hegemony in this period: after all, when Napoleon III prepared to advance against Austria in Italy, it was Russia's acquiescence France sought, not Britain's. And in the Crimean War (1853-6) it took the combined forces of Britain, France, Turkey, and Piedmont, repeated Austrian threats of war, and a defensive alliance of Prussia and Austria, to bring weight enough against Russia to frustrate her attempt to extend her influence in the Balkans, the Black Sea and Turkey: the implication is that Russia would have been more than a match for any one of the allies (say Britain) alone; such strength is a characteristic usually attributed to hegemons, and a combination of great powers to bring low one of their number is frequently treated as implying that the victim is seen as near-hegemonic in attainments and hegemonistic in ambition.

If Britain was the hegemon, and Russia too, surely Austria was also the hegemon. While Britain and France fought the battles and took the casualties, Austria's first Crimean War ultimatum to Russia (June 1854) ended the Russian occupation (from July 1853) of the Danubian Principalities (Wallachia and Moldavia); Austria's second ultimatum (December 1855) ended the war on terms very unfavorable to Russia (Vienna Four Points, rejected by Russia 1854, medicine made even more unpleasant, -swallowed at the Congress of Paris, 1856). Surely this is how hegemons behave.

Was Britain at least hegemonic to Prussia? Here at last one sees a single genuine instance of quasi-hegemonic behavior. Swedish troops, backed by British naval threats, caused Prussia to setde its 1848-50 war with Denmark over Schleswig-Holstein on unfavorable terms. Thereafter, however, the story is different. In the better-known Schleswig-Holstein war of 1864, Prussia, carrying Austria in its train, effaced the humiliation and reversed the verdict of the prior war, and despoiled Denmark of these provinces in the teeth of British attempts to bring about peace and save the Danes. In the Austro-Prussian war (1866), Prussia (and Italy) defeated Austria and most German states; France, cowed by Prussia, mediated a settlement on Prussian terms which reduced Austria and aggrandized Prussia; Prussia did not move until its relations with Russia were excellent; Britain's feelings were not consulted. In the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1), Prussia's purpose was to bring the south German states into a Prussian-ruled Germany; France was defeated, Germany united as an empire on Prussian terms; Britain's concern was to preserve Belgian neutrality; that guaranteed, Britain counted for nothing. Was this British hegemony? Surely not.

In 1850-73, Britain was rich, powerful, and controlled a great empire. Nonetheless, it was not hegemonic to the world-system, which had no hegemon.


The alleged American hegemony In the American case, time-boundaries are more consistently asserted: 1945 to 1967 (Wallerstein 1984:17,40; 1979a:95; Hopkins, Wallerstein et ai, 1982b:l 16,118 and 1982a:62). At the end of the World War II, 'the US emerged as the uncontested hegemonic power' (1984:71); 'the United States was unquestionably the strongest power in the world' (1984:69). 'The only significant constraint on US power was the USSR' (1984:135); 'Although the USSR was not as strong, either economically or militarily, as anyone pretended, it was just strong enough to create world-systemic space for various anti-hegemonic and antisystemic forces' (1984:135). 'Until 1967 the United States dominated the world military arena and political economy - including the markets of other industrialized countries - and western Europe and Japan followed US leadership willingly and completely. By 1990 the former allies will have parted company with the United States' (1984:58). 'The heyday of US world hegemony is over. This means that at no level - economic production and productivity, political cohesiveness and influence, cultural self-assurance and productivity, military strength - will the US ever again match its unquestioned primacy of the period 1945-67. However ... the US is still today the most powerful state in the world and will remain so for some time' (1979:95). 'I expect the emergence of two new de facto bloc that of Washington-Tokyo-Bcijing on the one hand ... and that of Bonn-Paris-Moscow on the other' (1984:141). 'I have argued elsewhere that the de facto Washington-Beijing-Tokyo axis which developed in the 1970s will be matched in the 1980s by a de facto Paris-Bonn-Moscow axis' (1984:183).

The case for an American hegemony having existed is easier to make than for a British (and far easier than a Dutch): the US was a superpower after World War II, one of only two; unlike the British it sought and got a voice in the resolution of virtually every major world issue in the years in question. Since the US surely did emerge from World War II as the 'frontrunncr' of the world-economy, it conceivably represents a (lone) confirming case of the path from frontrunners to hegemon.

Furthermore, there arc numerous events of the period 1945-67 which could indeed be interpreted within a framework of global hegemony: the reconstruction of Japan and Western Germany, and the politico-economic structures and world roles of those states; the Marshall Plan economic reconstruction, and NATO politico-military reconstruction, of Western Europe; the maintenance of the status quo in the Greek-Turkish events of 1946-8 and the Berlin blockade of July 1948; the mobilization of a winning military coalition in the early Korean Wax, June-October 1950; the settlement of the Suez Crisis of 1956 and the Congo Crisis of the 1960s. Let us therefore examine the 1945-67 period, assume 'American hegemony' as of 1945, and look for its termination. The procedure here adopted will be to explore history from 1967 backward to look for events which might be seen as terminators to a hegemony which presumably began in 1945. We are seeking, for instance, a stalemated outcome which might evince global bipolarity or multipolarity; seeking also cases in which the hegemon's 'hegemony' is flouted or ignored, and it responds with passive acceptance or impotent


frustration (rather than enforced obedience or condign and deterrent punishment).

Hegemony, if real, will be flaunted, not flouted.

Perhaps then the American hegemony ends in October 1964 rather than 1967, when China explodes a nuclear weapon and blasts its way into the nuclear club, and is not expelled. Or in April 1963, when France begins to pull out of the naval side of NATO, and is not prevented. Or in October 1962, when the USSR by making and reversing a nuclear-missile initiative extracts a US promise not to invade Cuba, which is kept. Or in August 1961, when East Germany reinterprets Berlin border-control rights in its own favor by the fait accompli of the Berlin Wall, which remains standing. Or in April 1961, when the US-sponsored exile invasion of Cuba gives new meaning to the word 'fiasco,' and defeat is accepted. Or in February 1960, when France explodes a nuclear weapon, while the US stolidly looks on.

Perhaps the first hegemonic failure could be dated in March-April 1959, when China puts down the Tibetans despite US unhappiness. Perhaps the first failure of hegemony comes in OctoberNovember 1956, when Russia puts down the Hungarians with similar unconcern. Or does hegemony end in April 1955, when the Bandung Conference launches a 'nonaligned' movement of states at a time when the US is vigorously promoting alignment, and succeeds while American diplomacy fails? Or in 19545, when India refuses US military assistance and arranges Soviet economic assistance as a substitute? Or in August 1954, when France rejects the European Defence Community? Or in June 1953, when the USSR puts down the East Berlin rising? Or in 1950-3, when China fights US-led forces to a stalemate in Korea, preventing the annihilation of the North Korean state? Or in February 1952, when Britain explodes a nuclear device? Or in November 1950, when China invades Tibet?

Perhaps the end of American hegemony should be dated to June-December 1950, when India refuses to cooperate with US policy in Korea and goes its own way. Or to February 1950, when China allies with the USSR in open defiance of vigorous US efforts at dissuasion. Or to the undisturbed slicing of the Hungarian salami 1947-50. Or to September 1949, when the USSR explodes a nuclear device. Or to 19479, when the Republic of China collapses and a Communist revolution is victorious despite US objections. Or to 1946-8, when the British Labour government embarks on massive socialist experiments at nationalization, not to be reversed until the days of Thatcher, and then not at America's behest. Or to July-August 1948, when the USSR excludes the US, Britain and France from the new Danubian Basin regime. Or to February 1948, the intensely resented but unimpeded Communist coup in Czechoslovakia. Or to July 1947, when the USSR rejects the Marshall Plan. Or to March 1947, when the USSR rejects the US-UN atomic energy control plan. Or to January 1947, when the US charges that the USSR has violated the Yalta Agreement for free elections in Poland.

The hegemon's collapse may be earlier still: December 1945-January 1947, when Marshall's mission to stop the Chinese civil war fails because neither of the Chinese parties will comply with US wishes. Indeed, one could see American hegemony as having vanished as early as April-June 1945, when the US acceded to a United Nations Charter which gave it a Security Council role no greater than


that of Russia, Britain, France or China, in no way comparable to that of Athens, Macedon or Prussia in their respective leagues. If so, American hegemony was born dead.

Are these episodes of self-restraint (or perhaps of impotence, or prudence, or unredeemed frustration), proper tests of American hegemony? We can best judge by asking another question: what if each of these events had occurred differently? What if in each case US pretensions, demands and achievements had been greater, and US desires willingly complied with (as in the Western European Marshall Plan), or complied with under fear or threat (as in the Suez Crisis), or recalcitrants occupied militarily and reconstructed (as were the powers just defeated in World War II) or attacked by force and harshly punished (as was North Korea). Suppose the US had demanded, and secured, the permanent presidency and only right of veto on the Security Council, and the perpetual high command of all UN military forces; had imposed a free-market free-election settlement of the Chinese Civil War against the will of both parties; had canceled the tainted elections in Poland, and conducted new ones; had imposed unilateral nuclear (and perhaps conventional) disarmament on the USSR; had demanded and obtained a reversal of Britain's socialist experiment. Would not such impositions be treated by any hegemonist historian as first-class evidence that the US possessed hegemony over the states thereby victimized, and, if these were all the other great powers, over the world-system as well? Surely then the consistent absence of such impositions must be consistently treated as evidence that there was no US hegemony over the USSR; nor China; nor India; nor many Third World states; nor, at some time, France nor Britain. These states, however, account for most of the world-system. Only if we define the 'globe' to omit the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, China, India, the Third World after 1954, Cuba under Castro, and France under Gaullist influence, can the case for American hegemony become more plausible. Unfortunately for the proposition we are examining, it would remain plausible long after 1967.

The conclusion is inescapable. America was remarkably prosperous and a politico-military superpower 1945-67, one of two, in a bipolar system in which it occasionally exercised a regional hegemony, but no more. In the world-system as a whole, there was no hegemon; and there was no American hegemony.

Dofrontrunners achieve hegemony?

Apparently they do not. There have been economic frontrunners. The frontrunners have been more inclined than most states to free trade, have been seapowers, have been great powers, have prospered in great wars that have punished their rivals. But they were never hegemons. Hegemonic research ought to be redirected to finding out why not. Did they even seek hegemony? Could they have had it if they had sought it? Perhaps the fact that they were not hegemons, probably never sought hegemony, and possibly were never seriously suspected of seeking hegemony, is evidence of common sense, and helps explain why they prospered while others were brought low by the costs and counteralliances that afflict hegemonist imperialism.


In any case, the hypothesis that frontrunners become hegemons is nonviable. The evidence contradicts it, and actually suggests the contrary proposition. The comparative study of civilizations may enlarge the contrary proposition, for there exist world systems that, having become universal empires, almost certainly passed through some prior stage of hegemony. If we can show, as perhaps we probably can show, that genuine hegemons like Ch'in, Assyria, Persia, Rome, were not only geographic fringe states but economically uncompetitive states when their ascent began, and even during much of it, the contrary proposition can become part of the theory of world systems.

Economics of parahegemony

Despite the fact that they did not have hegemony in common, there remains something similar about the economies of those states which have been mislabeled 'hegemons,' something of historic privilege which all sense and some misattribute to mere power. What is it?

'Parahegemony' is a term which I have coined, somewhat in contrast to Frank and Gills' 'superhegemony.' 'Parahegemony' is a position in an oikumene in which the parahegemon derives economic benefits similar to those which a true hegemon is able to extract by the use or threat of force. But the parahegemon does so without the need to spend on force, because it has the economic advantage of being a highly privileged frontrunner (a center of invention and technology, and/or saving and investment, and/or entrepreneurship) and/or rentier (monopolizing geoeconomic control of a scarce resource, a trade-route intersection or choke point, an enormous market, etc.); and because it has the geopolitico-military advantage of being strong enough to defend its centers and monopolies against predatory or hegemonic attack, or of being outside the politico-military striking range of its rivals and/or victims (Wilkinson 1993a:67-70).

The Netherlands (which may barely make this list), Britain and America have indeed shared certain features that make them studiable as a set. They have been frontrunners; they have been 'parahegemons'; they have also been 'antihegemons.' They are 'parahegemonic' in the sense that they were able to find or make and defend a place (geopolitical and geostrategic as well as technical and innovative) which allowed them to extract great benefits from the world economy without paying the very high coercive costs that hegemony entails.

The Netherlands, Britain and America also shared with each other an 'antihegemonic' character: these states seemed to have defined their conscious interest, what others would say was their rational interest, as neither to seek, nor to accept, nor to permit any others to achieve, hegemony.

General queries

World systems and world economy

For me, two types of issues exist here: the relations between world systems and oikumenes; and the relations, within world systems, between economic and other phenomena.


Data on city sizes for the last four millennia are consistent with the proposition that civilizations/world systems show long-term phases of alternating economic growth and stagnation or decline. However such phases come against the background of a strong secular uptrend; their durations are somewhat irregular; inter-civilizational collisional effects interrupt, interact with, and obscure them; some such phenomena appear attributable to intracivilizational regions, or to supracivilizational oikumenes (world economies) without world politics, integrated by trade but not by war and diplomacy. Nonetheless, macrosocial decline phases do exist, and their causes are accordingly of theoretical interest (Wilkinson 1995a).

In the Indie world system, there was some sign of a loose coupling between bipolar power structures and A; phases of economic growth, and between uni-polarity (and tripolarity) and B; phases of economic decline. Periods of economic decline also appear to have been associated with stability of system power structure and of major-power elite membership, relative to periods of economic growth (Wilkinson 1993b).

There is a great deal of interesting work in the comparative and evolutionary study of world economies that can be done on many lines: analyses by system, by phase, by commodity, by technology, by factor of production, by mode of production (loosely defined), by statist/marketive structure. The competing approaches are not yet fully enough developed to make interaction more fruitful than independent pursuit of independent paradigms and research programs; but some interfaces exist, that can be worked at with mutual benefit.

World systems theory and political praxis

There may have been some faint penetration of actual policy-making by civilizational/world systems theory, which raises intriguing and disturbing issues. The noted comparative civilizationist Carroll Quigley, whose theorizing rested on the whole span from Mesopotamia to the 1960s, was a teacher wcll-rcmembered by his student Bill Clinton. Quigley, by an intensive process of reduction or rather idealization of masses of historical data, derived a procedure for the diagnosis and therapy of ailing civilizations, notably that which he thought he inhabited. Some coherent, recurrent, personal motifs in the policy discourses and peculiar variant initiatives of his student, the President, bear more than a passing resemblance to the hopeful, idealistic, voluntaristic, intellectual, scientistic, economistic, demi-materialistic propensities of the civilizationist-teacher (Wilkinson 1995c). Despite the fact that Quigley sought lucidity, brevity, and political effectiveness, and that Clinton was intelligent, absorbent, and favorably disposed to Quigley and his ideas, the maximum estimate of the actual impact of Quigleyan theory on Clintonic praxis would have to be that it was residual (surfacing when Clinton was not yielding to immediate pressures), small (since Clinton usually was thus yielding), primarily rhetorical (affecting words more than deeds, hopes more than laws or budgets), and simplified (even beyond Quigley's formulas).

Setting aside irrelevant feelings about Clinton per se or Quigley per se, we might instead contemplate the prospect that if world systems theory were ever to


seek and achieve practical application, it might do so by inserting and valorizing as little as am single word into political discourse and decision. (With Clinton, Quigley perhaps managed two words; but probably this was a tour de force, a tribute to student and teacher alike.) Given that such a word would be partly misunderstood, and, to the extent it was not, understood only in its least subtle meaning - what's the good word?

Does systemic logic undergo fundamental transformations, or are all systems basically the same?

I cannot assume a systemic 'logic,' whether Platonic, Hegelian, Marxian, Sorokin-ian, Spenglerian, Toynbeean or Hordian. I suspect empirical inquiry will locate pluralities of 'logics,' perhaps to be labeled 'dialectics,' but not in the Platonic, Hegelian, or Marxian senses; Heraclitean fluxes of logics that will show Hordian fissions, may show Sorokinian fluctuations, may conceivably show a Toynbeean spiral, seem more likely.

Can different world systems be compared?

They can be compared and contrasted, certainly; equated, certainly not. The comparative study of civilizations/world systems is a necessary part of their study, drawing from and questioning case studies. The number of civilizations in human social history has been small, but there are several, with distinctive histories and contents. They consequently lend themselves more to comparative-historical than to statistical study. The small number of cases means that comparative analysis is likely to remain "viable indefinitely, to be duly supplemented but never superseded by quantitative or formal approaches of counting and modeling. Since only one world system currently exists, comparative analysis must be comparative-historical.

The present solitude of the global civilization defines the limits of applicability of comparative-historical study to the present world system: studies of encounters between civilizations, or of geographic expansion into a cityless periphery, are less engineeringly or predictively relevant than studies of endogenous problems, phases and sequences.

Are our concepts adequate?

Barely. We were asked to assess the adequacy of the existing conceptual equipment for dealing with the 5,000 years of world system history: its evolution, its transformations, and the regularities underlying these processes. A brief answer:

(1) the concepts 'world,' 'system,' 'civilization,' 'world system,' 'states system,' 'world state,' 'city,' 'oikumene,' 'core,' 'semiperiphery,' 'periphery,' 'hegemony,' 'dominant power,' 'general war,' 'balance of power,' 'decline phase,' 'unipolarity,' 'bipolarity,' 'tripolarity,' 'multipolarity,' 'nonpolarity,' and some others, can be just about adequately specified to permit empirical, comparative-historical research


and theorizing; (2) no unambiguous or precise specification is as yet feasible, but nor is such urgently necessary; (3) no consensus specifications are now feasible nor foreseeable, but there could well be consensus on what the competing specifications are, which would allow for substantial translations of findings between researchers.

Is convergence in sight?

Not generally, but in some significant respects. More precisely, we were also asked to clarify the possibilities of convergence among extant approaches on substantive and methodological issues, and as regards data collection. With respect to convergence between the approach I employ and those of others:

(1) There is a very high degree of compatibility between my approach and that of Frank and Gills. We have to clarify between us the status they give to civilizations/ world systems other than the one I label Central Civilization. We have also to discuss among ourselves the issue of what I call 'parahegemony.' I see no currently insuperable barriers to substantive concurrence, though our terms may remain somewhat divergent.

For my own purposes, I prefer Quigley's nexus savings-investment-invention to Frank and Gills' focus on capital accumulation. Furthermore, I believe an element of analytical neo-Malthusianism or Ricardianism needs to be juxtaposed to the Frank-Gills emphasis on capital accumulation, which emphasizes material accumulation. At least as fundamental, as a datum, as a strategy for the poor, and as a strategy for statist economics (especially rent-seeking and hegem-onistic) has been the multiplication of people. This is not an independent variable; and much depends on it. If elites value a large and increasing flow of rents (rather than an accumulation of capital), and masses value a marginal increase in wages (via child labor), then maps of populations (rather than material accumulations) will best display the growth of wealth. Granted that maps of demographic growth will no doubt largely match those of capital accumulation, still there will be discrepancies, which would be missed by too strong a 'materialistic' focus.

We ought indeed nonetheless to support research into the relations between hegemony and surplus-accumulation. I would hypothesize, however, that the relationship between hegemons, hegemonic candidates, and the hegemonic project, on the one hand, and surplus-accumulation, on the other, is by and large predatory and dissipative: the hegemonic project targets existing surplus-accumulations, but tends to dissipate them in war damage, armaments costs, and grandiose monuments (Wilkinson 1994a:375).

We ought also to research the characteristic economics of hegemonistic states. My counterpoint to Gills' proposal that 'mercantilism' is associated with hegemonistic imperialism, and 'openness' with a hegemon's attempts to maintain the stability of the hegemonic status-quo is: 'mercantilism' or perhaps better 'Colbert-ism' is indeed the characteristic economics of hegemonistic states; hegemonic


states have tributary and imperial-redistributive economies; openness is the characteristic strategy ofparahegemonic and antihegemonic states.

The concept of super-accumulation, though it will need considerable dialectical refinement, is likely to provide the impetus for some fruitful empirical research, which will be reflected in century-by-century maps of capital accumulation.

Many of the research proposals of Frank and Gills are important to all approaches to world systems. We must do Central Asia; we must trace spatio-temporal boundaries and route structures; we must chronogram the interregional balance of trade within civilizations, and the intercivilizational balance within oikumenes.

(2) There is also a very high degree of compatibility between my approach and that of Chase-Dunn and Hall. We have a bone or two to pick, those of Plato and Heraclitus among others: where they see logics I see at best dialectics. Radier than single organizing principles, I see coexisting organizational polycultures. Like Frank, I believe that 'tribute' is also understandable as 'taxation,' but with states not individuals as its targets. I also stand with the classical pessimists Ricardo and Malthus, and the classical optimist Henry George, in holding that rent, not profit, was and remains the fundamental form of extraction: the nineteenth century overstated the role of profit, for polemical and Utopian reasons.

A point for argument with Chase-Dunn concerns the cause of the failure of the hegemonic projects of Napoleonic France and the Second and Third German Reichs, which I believe he attributes to the 'capitalistic' structure either of the world system or of the hegemonistic states (1994:362), while I attribute it to antihegemonic parahegemons (1994a:375). This probably is researchable.

The most productive interaction I see with Chase-Dunn and Hall lies at the origins of civilizations, the first proto-urban world systems. By our polycultural hypothesis (Iberall and Wilkinson 1993), these should be found to be descendants of polycultural non-urban world systems of the type they particularly study. The most recent such transitions appear to have occurred in Africa (1993/4) there could be some cooperative research planning on African world systems, urban, proto-urban, non-urban.

(3) I observe with great interest Modelski and Thompson's working backward in time in search of earlier long cycles. We are likely to have some discussion of spado-temporal boundaries of die system diey are studying, with whose earlier manifestadons I have some problems.

Talcott Parsons' learning process sequence is a powerful analytical construct, and I am glad to see his late work on civilizations being extended and built on by Modelski and Thompson. I remain skeptical that die degree of global process integration that is necessary for die scheme to be successfully applied globally over a multi-thousand year the scale did exist; and I would like to see some physical foundation for die evolution of die teleology implicit in their sequential-


functionalist version of evolutionary selectionism. It is clear that there were some very early global or near-global demographic processes, as we have argued elsewhere (Iberall and Wilkinson 1984a), and technology and/or commodities when studied will surely reveal oikumenical processes of some sort. I would be more inclined to see a less purposive, less agent-like global process, with global social pressure and local agent-like exchange processes. The search for process time scales is a strategy that can effectively precede, and permit, a firm definition of die systems and boundaries within which those processes operate, a point already made indirectly by Sorokin (Wilkinson 1995d).

In this connection, some phraseology I would flag for discussion includes, in Modelski (this volume), die concepts of 'search'; 'advancing,' 'advanced'; 'learning sequence,' 'learning program'; 'phases ... of roughly uniform length,' 'die time-scale of die several evolutionary processes must stand in a determinate relationship to each odier'; 'die task of global political construction.'

It is prudent to insist on die use of Darwinist selectionism and Axelrodian evolution-of-cooperation to provide mechanisms for die development of social telos. That a retrospectively directional-seeming process (the 'global polity process' should have 'fumbling beginnings' but then become 'more steady' and then 'cumulative' is also reassuring.

Despite die desirability of a fuller examination of the concepts and assumptions of mis approach, Thompson (1995) is probably right to give priority to his school's current effort to integrate 'its 'modern' findings with 'premodern' history'

These competing approaches are all worthwhile undertakings. They are not fully integrable. I see little prospect of a common consensus on terminology, assumptions, hypotheses, or program of data collection. Established researchers in this field seem by and large to possess no resources to deploy but themselves, and they do so in die manner diey sec as most likely to develop their own work along die lines of most interest to themselves. Younger researchers show die same propensities.

Prospects/or research: cooperative

Is it possible to conceive of 'service research,' i.e. data collection priorities designed to serve the entire set of diose who research world systems, rather than an individual researcher? We might try. To my mind the most obvious candidate areas for identification of such 'service research' are continuations of (1) die heroic collection of city population data of Tertius Chandler, who would get my Miltiades-vote if we were collectively allocating research-assistant resources somehow miraculously provided; and (2) die cartographic initiatives of Colin McEvedy. I would also support (3) a systematic collection from archaeological field reports of a database of areas of settlements at various moments in time. (4) A qualitative data collection - an HRAF-like file - on premodern trade routes and commodities traded would also be of value. I suspect Chase-Dunn will agree with


me about the priority of item (1) at least, and Gills and Frank about item (4). On the other hand, we may inspire some archaeologist to undertake effort (3).

Prospects/or research: independent

An element of the comparative study of world systems/civilizations that is still in need of much work is their comparative geopolitics. The geopolitics of Spykman, for instance, with its characteristic anti-exceptionalism, interventionism, globalism, anti-hegemonism, and containment, was clearly a 'modern,' global, central-civilizational, twentieth-century and American conception (Wilkinson 1985). Not only the technology but the geography of non-global world systems was bound to produce different conceptions of actually different 'worlds.' A particularly interesting comparative study would involve the geopolitical constraints and conceptions of two potential globalizers - Mongol/Yuan and Ming dynasties - vis-a-vis two actual globalizers - Portugal and Spain.

Can dissertation topics be descried in our emerging subfield? I have unsubtly hinted to one student who is interested in the Ming dynasty naval expeditions that a comparative study of failed and successful globalizers would include the Mongol/Yuan dynasty and the Iberians; he agrees, in principle. But in practice, most interesting topics look like life-works rather than dissertations, and there is, regrettably, something to be said for entering this effort only after one is well established at some institution known to tolerate what Mattel Dogan and Robert Pahre (1990) have labeled 'Creative Marginality.'

Prospects/or research: challenging

The latter reference leads more or less naturally to my next argument: there is a benefit to be gained from studying world systems according to physical principles. The physics of complex systems deals with entities that have boundaries, that transform and dissipate energy, that act and produce in self-serving ways that support their existence, form and function and delay their dissolution into the environment: that expend energy over time to persist. The behavior of all ensembles of interacting atomisms may be described in terms of a very limited number of quantities that are conserved in, during and despite their interactions, varying only over a longer time scale and larger space scale than such local interactions. Complex systems, within the time scales and space scales at which they survive, repetitively and periodically go through certain performance repertoires at measurable energy-time costs in order to maintain themselves, and are to be known by their repertoires.

All complex physical systems display 'long' cycles: action cycles, factory days, lifetimes, population turnover times, species turnover times. Complex systems in general are observed spatially by finding interior-exterior boundaries (hence forms, patterns, morphology) and temporally by tracking their actions, energy budgets, activity spectra - their process spectroscopies. Sorokinian two-phase fluctuations; three-phase dialectics; Toynbee's three-dimensional spiral process, with


oscillatory motion in each of two dimensions (or revolutionary motion in both together) and unilinear progress in the third; Parsonian four-phase social system maintenance; Kaplan's six-plus phase system structure: all represent empirically-based, partly competing hypotheses for complex human social system spectroscopies (Wilkinson and Iberall 1986).

One entree for systems physics into the study of world historical systems would be via Gibbsian phase space mappings. A Gibbsian phase space plots a variable against its rate of change. Thus one axis of such a space represents high vs. low value for the chosen variable, the other axis represents increasing vs. decreasing variable values. For instance, one might plot, for uniform intervals of time, system population vs. the rate of system population growth; or system surplus accumulated value-in-exchange vs. its rate of accumulation; or system energy throughput vs. its rate of growth. Watching a temporal sequence of such plottings would provide a picture of a system dynamically unfolding through time. Observing the density of occupation per region of phase space would provide some sense of the probability that a system would on the average be expected to be found in each such region during a particular portion of its career. Engineeringly, it would provide some sense of the accessibility ease of certain phase-space regions for the contemporary world system (Iberall and Wilkinson 1986).

Civilizations are not geographically or demographically either fundamentally stable or (except perhaps at very small scales) cyclic. They have shown strong propensities to expand, which underlie their cyclic fluctuations. By a general application of Zipf's Law, it would seem that mere ought to have been many more small civilizations than are now recorded. We have accordingly collected data on city sizes and graphed them to sharpen up a story told by many others who have found evidence of small, brief, failed civilizations. The story suggests that there remain to be found a considerable number of civilizations; that these will tend to be small (e.g. one small city) and early or distant from the cores and even the semiperipheries of the better known, longer lived civilizations; and that they will be found to have terminated less often through engulfment by Central civilization, and more often through destruction (war, famine, pestilence), than has been typical for the larger, later and better known civilizations that figure on most extant rosters (Wilkinson and Iberall 1994).


Recognizing civilizations as world systems, and (most) world systems as civilizations, permits some fruitful interplay between the cultural focus of many civilizationists and the economic focus of many world-systems analysts, at some cost. Plurality of past world systems/civilizations, long term global evolutionary change, the singularity of the present soliton world system/civilization, ubiquitous polyculturality in world systems/civilizations, inequality of momentum as between world systems/civilizations, are die chief fruitful, and cosdy, theoretical propositions involved. The differences among the four approaches to world systems (Modelski and Thompson; Chase-Dunn and Hall; Frank and Gills;


Wilkinson) herein noted often seem to involve fundamental definitions and assumptions, and are probably irresolvable either through dialogue or through empirical work, so that research must proceed on separate tracks; though the results of such research can be rendered mutually comprehensible, translation will be required. There are however some resolvable issues, and some research projects likely to be of equal value to several or all approaches. And there is infinite scope for the satisfaction of curiosity.

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