The Five Thousand Year World System
Our thesis is that the contemporary world system has a history of at least five thousand years. The rise to dominance of Europe and the West in this world system are only recent -- and perhaps passing -- events. Thus, our thesis poses a more humanocentric challenge to Eurocentrism. Our main theoretical categories are:
- 1. The world system itself. Per contra Wallerstein (1974), we believe that the existence and development of the same world system in which we live stretches back at least five thousand years (Frank 1990a, 1991a,b; Gills and Frank 1990/91, 1992; Frank and Gills 1992). Wallerstein emphasizes the difference a hyphen [-] makes. Unlike our nearly World [wide] System, World-Systems are in a "world" of their own, which need not be even nearly world wide. Of course however, the "new world" in the "Americas" was home to some world-systems of its own before its incorporation into our (pre-existing) world system after 1492. - 2. The process of capital accumulation as the motor force of [world system] history. Wallerstein and others regard continuous capital accumulation as the differentia specifica of the "modern world-system." We have argued elsewhere that in this regard the "modern" world system is not so different and that this same process of capital accumulation has played a, if not the, central role in the world system for several millennia ( Frank 1991b and Gills and Frank 1990/91). Amin (1991) and Wallerstein (1991) disagree. They argue that previous world-systems were what Amin calls "tributary" or Wallerstein "world empires." In these, Amin claims that politics and ideology were in command, not the economic law of value in the accumulation of capital. Wallerstein seems to agree. - 3. The center-periphery structure in and of the world [system]. This structure is familiar to analysts of dependence in the "modern" world system and especially in Latin America since 1492. It includes but is not limited to the transfer of surplus between zones of the world system. Frank (1967, 1969) wrote about this among others. However, we now find that this analytical category is also applicable to the world system before that. - 4. The alternation between hegemony and rivalry.In this process, regional hegemonies and rivalries succeed the previous period of hegemony. World system and international relations literature has recently produced many good analyses of alternation between hegemonic leadership and rivalry for hegemony in the world system since 1492, for instance by Wallerstein (1979), or since 1494 by Modelski (1987) and by Modelski and Thompson (1988). However, hegemony and rivalry for the same also mark world [system] history long before that (Gills and Frank 1992). - 5. Long [and short] economic cycles of alternating ascending [sometimes denominated "A"] phases and descending [sometimes denominated "B"] phases. In the real world historical process and in its analysis by students of the "modern" world system, these long cycles are also associated with each of the previous categories. That is, an important characteristic of the "modern" world system is that the process of capital accumulation, changes in center-periphery position within it, and world system hegemony and rivalry are all cyclical and occur in tandem with each other. Frank analyzed the same for the "modern" world system under the title World Accumulation 1492-1789 and Dependent Accumulation and Underdevelopment (Frank 1978a,b). However, we now find that this same world system cycle and its features also extends back many centuries before 1492. Our thesis is elaborated in a forthcoming book, tentatively entitled The World System: From Five Hundred Years to Five Thousand, to which this essay is the draft introduction. In this book, this thesis is introduced by the early contribution of Kaisa Ekholm and Jonathan Friedman (1982). It is extended by David Wilkinson (1987) who argues...