Comp-post: Wallerstein 1974

Wallerstein’s a classic. If you’re a comparative student, you must read. These are concluding snippets from each chapter. The theoretical reprise in chapter 7 is the key. Enjoy, sports fans. –Erik

Wallerstein, Immanuel.  1974.  The Modern World-System I: Capitalist Agriculture and the Origins of the European World-Economy in the Sixteenth Century.  London: Academic Press.

Introduction: On the Study of Social Change (2)

Conclusion:  “When one studies a social system, the classical lines of division within social science are meaningless. Anthropology, economics, political science, sociology—and history—are divisions of the discipline anchored in a certain liberal conception of the state and its relation to functional and geographical sectors of the social order. They make limited sense if the focus of one’s study is organizations. They make none at all if the focus is the social system.” (11)

Chapter 1: Medieval Prelude (14)

Conclusion:  “As of 1450, the stage was set in Europe but not elsewhere for the creation of a capitalist world-economy. This system was based on two key institutions, a “world”-wide division of labor and bureaucratic state machineries in certain areas…We shall [then] look at the three zones of the world-economy each in turn: what we shall call the semiperiphery, the core, and the periphery.” (63)

Chapter 2: The New European Division of Labor: c. 1450-1640 (66)

Conclusion: “One of the principal features of the European world-system of the sixteenth century s that there was no simple answer to the question of who was dominating whom? One might make a good case for the Low Countries exploiting Poland via Gdansk, and certainly Spain exploiting its American possessions. The core dominated the periphery. But the core was so large. Did Genoese merchants and bankers use Spain or did Spanish Imperialism absorb parts of Italy? … Note that in all these cases we deal with a merchant city-state on the one hand and a larger nation-state on the other. If we are to untangle the picture any further, we must look to the political side, the ways in which various groups sought to use the state structures to protect and advance their interests.” (129)

Chapter 3: The Absolute Monarchy and Statism (132)

Conclusion: “We have now outlined the two main constituent elements of the modern world-system. On the one hand, the capitalist world-economy was built on a worldwide division of labor in which various zones of this economy were assigned specific economic roles, developed different class structures, used consequently different modes of labor control, and profited unequally from the workings of the system. On the other hand, political action occurred primarily within the framework of states which, as a consequence of their different roles in the world-economy were structured differently, the core states being the most centralized. We shall now review the entire sixteenth century in terms of a process, one in which certain areas became peripheral or semiperipheral or the core of this world-economy. We shall thereby try to give flesh and blood to what has risked thus far being abstract analysis. …The developments were not accidental but, rather, within a certain range of possible variation, structurally determined.” (162)

Chapter 4: From Seville to Amsterdam: The Failure of Empire (164)

Conclusion: “Could northern Italy at least have played the role of the northern Netherlands? Possibly, but there was probably not room for them both, and Holland was better suited for the task for a host of reasons than Venice or Milan or Genoa. Nor could Italy follow the path of England and France, for one thing for lack of political unity.  When the plague hit Italy in 1630, it reduced the pressure on food supply, but it also drive wages up still higher. It served as a last straw. Northern Italy thus completed the transition from core to semipeiphery. We already noted previously that Spain had been making the same transition at this time. No doubt northern Italy never fell as far as some other Mediterranean areas like southern Italy and Sicily, but this was to be a small consolation in the centuries ahead. R.S. Lopez in recounting all the things that went wrong for the Christian Mediterranean since 1450 concludes sadly, ‘Obviously the primacy of Mediterranean peoples could not survive so many adversities.’”

Chapter 5: The Strong Core-States: Class-Formation and International Commerce (224)

Conclusion: “One consequence was that, in order to hold an intrinsically more rambunctious bourgeoisie in check, the French monarchy had to both strengthen itself and to buy them off by the venality of office, which in turn diverted them from industrial investment.  In England, the aristocracy to survive had to learn the ways of and partially fuse with the bourgeoisie…The English Civil war occurred at the last possible moment. The resurgence of the landed classes in the next 150 years was to be great everywhere, even in England. But there at least the bourgeoisie had won droit de cite. And the landed classes meant less the aristocracy and more the gentry who were in the end bons bourgeois. In France, the bourgeoisie was far too weak in the seventeenth century to produce a Cromwell. It would not be until the 1789 that they would find their interests consonant with those of the state as state. By then, the world-economy had evolved and it would be too late for France to achieve primacy within it.” (297)

Chapter 6: The European World-Economy: Periphery versus External Arena (300)

Conclusion: “Portuguese citizens themselves drew the lesson of the decline of the entrepot boom. They began to cut themselves off from the home country (Estado da India)…When Spain absorbs Portugal in 1580, this accentuates the process further. The local Portuguese do not wish to cut the Castillians into their market, and the King of Spain has not got the strength to force them. But this means that instead of edging into the status of a peripheral area, a century of Iberian involvement pushed Asia further away. It would not be until a century or so later that Europe would be strong enough to begin to incorporate these regions.” (343-344)

Chapter 7 : Theoretical Reprise (346)

  • Conception of a world-system – a social system with boundaries, structures, members, and rules of legitimation – often tense and tenuous, and torn apart by those wishing to remake it in their mold
  • life within the system is by and large self-contained
  • success of capitalism  due to the variety of political systems in the world-economy (348)
  • capitalism is successful because of the public assumption of economic costs and risks and private accumulation of benefits
  • fluidity of the outer limits of the world-economy
  • division of labor
  • increasing advantages of core-state status, but no guarantee of remaining in the core (350)
  • “it is by definition not possible to have three or more (conscious) classes” (351)
  • bourgeoisie claims to the proper national culture, which is used as a tool to manipulate the less powerful classes to achieve its (the bourgeoisie’s) goals (351)
  • culture as national (internal) solidarity (“national homogeneity within international heterogeneity”) (353)
  • religions of the periphery/semiperiphery and core
  • overarching role of class formation (354)
  • states as necessary for capitalists’ protection (355)
  • “tipping mechanism” within a state  – “strength creates more strength” (356)
  • “The traditionalists may win in some states, but if a world-economy is to survive, they must lose more or less in the others.” (356)
  • “for all its cruelties, it is better that (the modern world-economy) was born than that it had not been” (357) – similarities to Evans’ thesis about TNCs catalyzing development  despite malicious intentions or otherwise negative impacts
  • Conclusion: “The mark of the modern world is the imagination of its profiteers and the counter-assertiveness of the oppressed. Exploitation and the refusal to accept exploitation as either inevitable or just constitute the continuing antimony of the modern era, joined together in a dialectic which has far from reached its climax in the twentieth century.” (357)

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