Global State Formation
Legitimacy, Capacity and Security for the Governance of the Global Settlement System
Christopher Chase-Dunn, Hiroko Inoue,
Alexis Alvarez and Paul Peterson
Institute for Research on World-Systems (IROWS)
University of California-Riverside
This is IROWS Working Paper #69 available at http//:irows.ucr.edu/papers/irows69/irows69.htm
This paper uses a world historical and evolutionary perspective on human institutions to discuss recent developments in the global system and to suggest policy directions for improving the governance of cities and of the human population of the Earth.
We briefly outline our notion of the evolutionary trajectory of global governance in the modern world-system, discuss what could be done to improve the legitimacy and capacity of existing institutions, especially the United Nations (U.N.), and consider the issue of where support for, and opposition to, democratization and capacity-building of the U.N. is likely to come in the next several decades.
world settlement system has become a network of large cities and city regions
that contain over half of the human population. There are immense inequalities
between those powerful global cities that control global financial and military
apparatuses that affect everyone and the huge cities of the Global South that
face growing problems of poverty, disease and insecurity. The modern
world-system has, over the past several centuries, exhibited cycles of
globalization (Chase-Dunn Brewer and Kawano 2000), the rise and fall of
hegemonic core powers, and upward trends in population growth and economic
development. The massive global inequalities that emerged during the 19th
century have not been reduced despite the rapid economic development of
The three main challenges of the 21st century will be:
· addressing huge environmental issues and moving in the direction of sustainable development; and
· addressing the issue of huge inequality between the global North and South.
· restructuring global governance in order to prevent a recurrence of warfare among the great powers and to improve the capacity for managing the other two challenges.
All the large cities of the world will be affected by the timing and rapidity of these emerging crises and so a plan for restructuring the global system in order to more effectively meet these challenges is greatly needed. This paper proposes the strengthening and democratization of the United Nations in order to enhance global cooperation for meeting these challenges and for supporting the empowerment of the peoples of the Global South.
The Core/Periphery Hierarchy
world-systems perspective conceptualizes global inequalities as a hierarchy of
national societies – the so-called core/periphery hierarchy (see Figure 1). The
core is the twenty countries of the Global North (
Figure 1: The Core/Periphery Hierarchy
The Global Settlement System
The global settlement system is now
composed of gigantic cities and city regions as well as remaining rural and
wild regions. Human population density has risen slowly since the Stone Age,
but the rate of growth became exponential in the last three centuries and the
proportion of the total population living in cities (urbanization) has rapidly
increased. Now over half of the people on Earth live in large cities. The sizes
of the largest settlements have been strongly correlated with the degree of
complexity and the relative power of human societies since the Stone Age
(Morris 2010). The first states in
But in the late 20th century the
positive correlation between the power of national states and the sizes of the
largest cities decreased because of the rise of very large cities in the Global
South. The largest cities on Earth are now between 20 and 30 millions in terms
of the population of the contiguous built-up areas, and the list of the very
largest cities includes many that are not in the core of the modern
world-system. Rather there are now several of the very largest cities in the
Figure 2: The Global City-Size Distribution in 1900 CE
Some of the largest cities are centers of global financial services and the location of the headquarters offices of the world’s largest firms (Sassen 2001; Taylor 2004; Carroll 2010). Others are huge cities populated by recently arrived people from rural areas who have been thrown off the land by the latest wave of agricultural export promotion. The huge cities of the Global South have become gigantic slums in which new migrants from the countryside live in shanty-towns along with recently downwardly mobile formal sector workers who have lost their jobs to downsizing, streamlining and privatization (Davis 2006).
The latest wave of capitalist globalization has made all cities into world cities, though there are still important distinctions among cities regarding their functions in the world-system.  So consideration of the governance of world cities is equivalent to the consideration of the governance of the whole human population because all the humans are now greatly dependent on what happens in large cities and all the large cities are greatly dependent on the global networks that link them to one another.
The evolution of global governance: political globalization
Realistic consideration of
possibilities for improving the governance of global cities needs to comprehend
the long-term trends as well as recent developments in the evolution of global
governance. The modern world-system is somewhat similar to earlier regional
world-systems in that there is a cycle of the rise and fall of powerful
polities. The existing system of global governance is based on a mixture of
institutions that developed within formerly separate regional international
systems. In the 19th century the European international system
merged with the system that had long existed in
Figure 3: Waves of colonization and decolonization, 1415-1995 CE (Source: Henige 1970)
Thus did the system of colonial empires
that had been a major structure of global governance since the rise of the West
come to an end. But the institutional means by which core countries could
dominate and exploit non-core countries did not end. Colonial structures were
replaced by neocolonial institutions such as financial indebtedness and foreign
direct investment. This neocolonial regime was organized after World War II
around international institutions such as the World Bank, the International
Monetary Fund and what became the World Trade Organization. But the rise and
fall of hegemonies that had long been a characteristic of the European system
(Wallerstein 1984; Arrighi 1994) continued as the major structural basis of
global governance. The British hegemony declined and the
The rise and fall of hegemons intermittently supplies global regulation for the world-system, but the method of choosing leadership has been by means of a contest in which the winners of global wars become the hegemons. This is a form of leadership selection that humanity can no longer afford because of the development of weapons of mass destruction.
There was also a continuation of a trend
that had begun with the Concert of Europe after the Napoleonic Wars – the
emergence of both general and specialized international political organizations
that began the formation of a world state.
The long-term trends over the past two
centuries have included the extension of national sovereignty to the Global
South because of the decolonization movements (Figure 3 above), the growing
size of the hegemon in the transition from the British to the U.S. hegemony (Figure 4 below; Chase-Dunn, Kwon, Lawrence and
Inoue 2011) and the emergence of still-weak but
strengthening global-level political institutions. This has been a process of political globalization in which global
governance is becoming more centralized and more capacious because of the
increasing relative size of the hegemon and the emergence of global proto-state
course there have also been counter-movements and periods in which the long
term trend reversed. We are in such a period now because
The current period is similar in many important ways to the period just
before the outbreak of World War I. The hegemon is in decline and powerful
potential challengers are emerging. In all earlier periods of this sort a World
War among the contenders has settled the issue of who should be the next
hegemon (Chase-Dunn and Podobnik 1995).
We can no longer afford to use this primitive form of leadership
selection because a war among core states using weapons of mass destruction
would probably be suicidal for humanity. Thus the system of global governance must
evolve an effective mechanism for managing uneven development without resort to
major wars. No single state is large
enough to replace the
Figure 4: Shares of World GDP (PPP), 1820-2006 CE [Source: Chase-Dunn, Kwon, Lawrence and Inoue 2011]
Legitimacy: Democratizing the United Nations
The United Nations was established ostensibly
to do just this – to provide collective security. Unfortunately the United Nations suffers from
some defects that make it unlikely to be effective during a period of continued
Capacity: A Sizeable Portion of Legitimate Violence
But there is another grave deficit at the U.N. It does not have the capacity to effectively help humanity meet the challenges of the 21st century. The main weakness is with regard to the U.N. ability to resolve major conflicts and to enforce decisions that are made. In order be able to resolve major conflicts among powerful national states the UN Peacekeeping Forces would have to be superior those military forces that might choose to oppose it. It is usual to consider global governance without discussing Max Weber’s definition of a state as most importantly “a monopoly of legitimate violence.” But ignoring the issue of military power and security will not help us through the coming period of great power rivalry. The United Nations is not a state by Weber’s definition.
Rather a near monopoly of global violent
capability is held by the armed forces of the
A legitimate global government would provide due process even to those considered to be evil.
In order to have sufficient capability to resolve conflicts among the great powers the U.N. would also need the legal ability to collect taxes, such as the proposed Tobin Tax on international financial transactions. With such capability, and with additional legitimacy produced by meaningful democratization, the U.N. would be in a much better position to effectively mediate the conflicts that are likely to emerge in the coming multipolar structure of interstate power.
There is an existing global military
apparatus that has been erected by the United States, composed of 865
facilities in 40 countries and overseas U.S. territories (Johnson 2010:183). Chalmers Johnson, an intrepid critic of
We also agree with Johnson that
dismantling the empire would be a good thing for both the world and for the
Johnson (2010) proposes that all 865
A United Nations with a substantial share of global military power would have an enhanced reputation that would spill over to its other activities. The U.N. would also need to exercise more control over the global financial institutions – the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization and they would also benefit from the increased legitimacy to be derived from democratic oversight.
Support For and Opposition to Global State Formation and Democracy
A revitalized, capacious and legitimate United Nations could also help humanity deal with the environmental and North/South inequality challenges that are going to be major problems in the next few decades (Smith 2008; Chase-Dunn and Niemeyer 2009). But if further global state formation and democratization is going to happen, it will have to be supported by forces that are strong enough to overcome what will surely be a great deal of resistance. The international system of states is so institutionalized that most people, and many social scientists, have a very hard time even imagining the possibility of a world state. And yet the idea of a world government has been around for millennia since the emergence of the world religions. The king of kings, the universal umma, the idea of a single godhead – these are all discourses about authority that posit the possibility of a singular unity of governance and right. Within the European Enlightenment and secular humanism there has also been a long discussion of the idea of a secular world government. Immanuel Kant’s discussion is usually interpreted as a consideration of the notion of the democratic peace among a set of sovereign and autonomous republics, but other interpretations of his writings see a discussion of a singular federated global polity based on world law (Laursen 2010).
Past rises of political globalization have been mainly due to the emergence of a hegemonic core power that provides support for a global governance regime that it largely controls. The main strides in institutionalization of general international political organizations have followed world wars that have caused vast death and destruction, and so many actors were strongly motivated to assent to institutions that were designed to reduce the likelihood of future disasters of this kind.
The current situation is that we need to figure out how to motivate another round of global state formation before the war rather than after it. A search on Google Images for symbols of world government is instructive. About a half of the images are somewhat positive or neutral, while the others suggest fear of an evil empire -- a conspiratorial new world order that is being constructed by an oppressive elite. Anti-authoritarianism is a healthy human tendency, and modernity does not seem to reduce it. Chiefdom formation, state formation and empire formation have all had to overcome strong resistance to the rise of new forms of authority. Modernity reproduces radical egalitarianism and strong norms about equity. These are all healthy tendencies that are produced by peoples’ skepticism and lack of trust in those who claim the right to rule, and by repeated instances of corruption and abuse of power and wealth by elites.
The justifications of governance have evolved to legitimate centralized authority by limiting it to certain functions, providing countervening powers, mechanisms for replacing elites that do not perform well, and by institutionalizing rationality and science as justifications for governmental functions. Functional and process claims will also be important justifications of a new level of centralized global governance in the next few decades. And these justifications will have to overcome the fears and mistrust that have been generated by the history of hierarchical institutions as fig leaves for exploitation and domination.
The back and forth history of the
European Union has important implications for the prospects of increasing the
capacity of global governance institutions.
To the extent to which the EU has been successful at creating a
supranational level of governance, it is a positive example of how state
formation can occur by means other than conquest. Most of the big upward sweeps of polity size
since the Bronze Age have been instances in which a semiperipheral marcher
state conquers a group of older core states to form a core-wide empire. The
EU has made great strides, but there has been substantial resistance. The European version of neoliberalism has
been far more social democratic than the forms that are strong in the
How much support for globalization from below will come from the core, the periphery and the semiperiphery? One might suppose that the powers-that-be would oppose democratic reforms of the institutions that they already control. But as neoliberalism and neoconservatism fail to keep global order many of those who have been supporters of the old institutional structures will see the need for new levels of legitimacy and capacity at the global level. During the years in which the neoliberal globalization project could take credit for economic growth in many parts of the world the challenges were weak. But since the financial crises of 2007 and the ensuing global recession even many of the elites are casting about for new directions.
World Social Forum (WSF) was established in 2001 to serve as a global movement
of grassroots progressive movements that could counter the politics of the
World Economic Forum. The WSF has become the main arena in which transnational
social movements try to coordinate their activities with one another. A survey conducted at a meeting of the World
Social Forum in Nairobi in 2007 shows that most of these New Global Left
members of global civil society have rather critical attitudes toward the
existing institutions of global governance (Reese et al 2008: Table 2). The
percentages of respondents who want to abolish the International Monetary Fund
and the World Bank vary from 18% at the WSF in
Abolitionists at the WSF in
Social Forum attendees were also asked about support for the idea of a democratic global government. Attendees were given three choices in answering the question: “Do you think it is a good or bad idea to have a democratic world government?” Check one: oGood idea, and it’s possible oGood idea, but not possible oBad idea
the Nairobi WSF on 15% thought that a global democratic government is a bad
idea, but at
Given the antistatist politics and commitment to horizontal leaderless movements that seem to be favored by the World Social Forum attendees (Santos 2006), it is somewhat amazing how much support there is for the idea of a democratic global government. A major stumbling block, however, is that a large proportion of those in favor think that this goal is unrealizable.
et al (2008) further analyzed the
Core 39% (40) 45% (47) 16% (17)
Semiperiphery 26% (106) 37% (148) 37% (148)
Periphery 30% (12) 48% (19) 23% (9)
Table 1: Attitudes toward the idea of a global democratic government by world-system position (Numbers of attendees in parenthesis)
One might suppose that support for reforming and
democratizing the U.N. would come from those national societies that are
excluded or only play a minor role in the current structure.
If a legitimate and effective road to improving global governance is not found humanity risks repeating the chaos that characterized the first half of the 20th century, except that it might be worse because of the global environmental problems that are likely to exacerbate rivalries and North/South issues. As described by Mike Davis (2010), populist social movements in the teeming cities of the Global South are demonstrating how humanity can live happily with a smaller environmental footprint. Thus might the Planet of Slums help to build a collectively-rational and democratic global commonwealth.
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 A “city size distribution” is composed of the relative sizes of the largest settlements in a region. Most city size distributions approximate the rank-size rule in which the second largest is one half the size of the largest, the third is one third the size and so on. Some regional city size distributions are called “urban primacy” by geographers because the largest city is much larger that would be predicted by the rank-size rule. And some size distributions are called flat when the largest settlements are about the same size. The global city size distribution has become flat since the middle of the 20th century. It is as if there is a size ceiling on large cities of about 25 million and so largest do not get larger than that while others catch up to the size ceiling.
 The best
research on the recent changing structure of the world settlement system is
being carried out the scholars at the Globalization and World Cities Research Network (GaWC) at
 A careful quantitative study of the trajectory of political globalization over the past two centuries would provide valuable insights into current and potential future trends.
 Chase-Dunn and Lawrence (2011) consider what
would have to be done for the
 Democracy is a contested concept in the contemporary world in the sense that there are competing definitions, including disputes about representation vs. delegation. But the broad notion that government should reflect the interests of and be changeable by the people is very widely accepted.
and Lawrence (2011) compare the similarities and differences between the periods
of the British and