Review of Heikki Patomaki’s The Political Economy of Global Security: War, Future Crises and Changes in Global Governance (London: Routledge 2008) for review symposium in Cooperation and Conflict  [v. 7/19/08, 2355 words]

The Evolution of Capitalist Globalization and Possible Human Futures:

 Hamlet without the Prince

Christopher Chase-Dunn, Sociology, University of California-Riverside


Heikki Patomaki has written a fascinating and valuable examination of the macrohistorical patterns exhibited by the global political economy over the past two centuries and a helpful and thought-provoking set of possible scenarios that might constitute the human future in the twenty-first century. Patomaki is a political scientist who is mainly addressing an audience of international relations and peace and security academics, but his book has great relevance for all those who want the human species to solve the problems it has created for itself in a humane and relatively cooperative manner. Patomaki’s thorough and original analysis of the causes of the late nineteenth century “new imperialism” and the coming of World War I is one of the best I have seen. And his use of that analysis to shed light on analogous features of world historical developments in the late twentieth century and early twenty-first century is also excellent. His insightfully elaborated scenarios for the rest of this century are thought provoking and useful. The rather likely probability of the return of another “Age of Extremes” in some ways similar to the first half of the twentieth century is disturbing, but is also something that progressives need to both try to prevent and to be ready for lest they eventuate.

            Patomaki focuses on the importance of competitive imperialism as the key process that produced the structural context that led to World War I. In doing this he partially avoids the core-centric mistake of many other IR theorists who focus exclusively on the “great powers” and ignore completely what is happening in the non-core. And Patomaki is careful to avoid the pitfalls of stage theories and teleological explanations. He rightly contends that world history is an open system and that conjunctural events play a big role in how things play out, while at the same time there are structural patterns and processes that cause some-what similar repetitions. And, while his analysis puts great weight on the processes of capitalist accumulation, he also considers how changes in institutions and in consciousness affect the outcomes of world history. His use of world historical analysis to inform the present and to suggest what urgently needs to be done in the twenty-first century is of great value.

            This said, there are several important elements that are either absent or are insufficiently foregrounded in Patamaki’s analysis. Mysteriously, there are two  bodies of work that are not mentioned despite the fact that they are entirely relevant to Patomaki’s project. The power cycle approach of political scientists George Modelski and William R. Thompson (1996) is not discussed. Modelski and Thompson have developed a model of the rise and fall of “system leaders” in which the analysis of the nineteenth century British power cycle is compared with earlier such cycles and with the twentieth century U.S. power cycle. And Patomaki’s somwhat rough treatment of world-systems analysis is at least partly due to a selective or incomplete reading of that school. Patamaki only criticizes parts of the work of Immanuel Wallerstein. But Samir Amin, Andre Gunder Frank and Giovanni Arrighi also founded the world-systems approach. Arrighi’s (1994) evolutionary study of “systemic cycles of accumulation” and his careful dissection of the U.S. trajectory in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries are not mentioned by Patomaki despite the rather similar, but also importantly different, approach taken by Arrighi.

Patomaki’s focus on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries provides some good historical purchase for comprehending the possibilities for the future, but by ignoring systemic patterns in earlier centuries (and millennia) his framework is rather too narrow.  All hierarchical interpolity systems experience a sequence of the centralization and decentralization of power. Anthropolists who study the rise and fall of paramount chiefdoms call this process “cycling” (Anderson 1994). Everyone knows about the rise and fall of empires. The rise and fall of modern hegemons is just a latter day continuation of this process, albeit with some new twists. Unlike tributary empires, modern hegemons do not conquer adjacent states to form a larger imperial state. Rather they have formed colonial (or neocolonial) empires of distant provinces and tried to control world trade in order to amass profits. The Dutch did this in the seventeenth century, the British in the 19th century, and the U.S. hegemony has done the same thing except that colonial empires have been replaced by neocolonial modes of control such as foreign investment and manipulation of international financial institutions. This long-term perspective on world historical evolution is provided both by the world-systems approach and by Modelski and Thompson’s power cycle approach. Some of the differences between these two approaches are mostly semantic, e.g. “hegemony” vs. “system leadership.” But some are more important. Modelski and Thompson are core-centric, whereas the world-systems scholars see the rise and fall of hegemonic core powers as taking place within a larger core/periphery hierarchy in which the actions of non-core peoples play an important role in shaping world history.

            What difference would it have made if Patomaki had incorporated some of the ideas from these other related perspectives? While Patomaki discusses and compares the rise and decline of both Britain and the U.S., he does not see this as part of a long-run evolutionary pattern. Both Wallerstein (1984) and Modelski and Thompson (1996) outline a sequence of stages that each hegemonic rise and fall passes through. Arrighi (1994) depicts this as an evolutionary process of the development of the relationship between state power and finance capital in which more and more functions of the whole world-system become internalized within the purview of the hegemonic state. This provides a centuries-long perspective on the evolution of global governance and implies future state formation, although Arrighi does not develop this latter aspect of his model (but see Chase-Dunn et al 2008).

            Another missing idea that could provide a better theoretical framework for much of Patomaki’s analysis is the idea of “world revolutions.” Originally formulated by Arrighi, Hopkins and Wallerstein (1989, see also Boswell and Chase-Dunn 2000), world revolutions are rebellions spread across the world-system that cluster together in time in ways that pose huge challenges for the core powers and the hegemon. These clustered rebellions are an important cause of the evolution of global governance because enlightened conservatives consolidate new hegemonies by making compromises in which they adopt some the demands of earlier world revolutions in order to preserve or extend hegemony at a later date. Thus the evolution of global governance by means of hegemony is the outcome of a struggle among competing elites in a context of repeated rebellions from “below,” and below includes both subordinated classes within societies and also popular movements from the periphery and the semiperiphery.

Patamaki discusses the causes and effects of the world revolution 1848 in some detail, though he does not see the connections between the democratic forces in Europe, the new Christian sects in the United States,[1] and the Taiping Rebellion[2] in China.  He also sees the importance (mainly negative) of the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, but does not mention connections with the Mexican and Chinese revolutions in the same decade. He also discusses the student-led world revolution of 1968 to some extent, though he does not mention the links with the Cultural Revolution in China. A more systemic approach to world revolutions could serve to inform the project to construct a Hobsonian global democratic federation that Patamaki favors for the future (Hobson 1988 [1902]). Patomaki has elsewhere discussed the world historical emergence of global political parties since the 19th century (Patomaki and Teivainen 2008). And yet in The Political Economy … he claims that global civil society first emerged in the 1990s. Elites have organized world parties at least since the Protestant Reformation (e.g. the Jesuits), and popular transnational social movements and parties became important players in world politics in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Were these not earlier forms of global civil society?

            Part of the cost of not much focus on the process of the rise and fall of hegemonic core powers is missing the tranformative role played by semiperipheral states, movements and parties.[3] The idea of the semiperiphery[4] hardly appears in Patomaki’s book, and this is partly due to the failure to see that the core/periphery relationship is a fundamental structure of the global system. He contends that imperialism is an important process because it causes world wars, but the exploitation of the periphery by the core and the actions of non-core actors are fundamental causes of the main patterns of world history. The phenomenon of semiperipheral development can only be noticed if one is consciously analyzing core/periphery relations and if one uses a comparative world-systems perspective to examine earlier regional world-systems.

            In his nicely written concluding chapter Patamaki makes use of Marx’s remark about history repeating itself, the first time as tragedy and the second time as farce, to begin a discussion of the ways in which his own future scenarios fit or do not fit into the standard categories of dramatic genres. His analytic approach to world historical social change is largely successful. He is quite conscious of the need to address how the study of structures and large-scale processes can tell us where the agents of social change are likely to come from. But his theoretical approach is somewhat lacking in this regard.  In his analysis the agents for construction of a future Hobsonian global democratic federation are  cosmopolitan transnational social movements that help global citizens learn from emergent crises and disasters. Patomaki includes an interesting discussion about why individuals are moved to take political risks. But there is little about what can drive these movements or where they will get enough support to do the jobs that need to be done. His play looks like Hamlet without the Prince, or with only a thin Prince of composed of enlightened  cosmopolitan individuals.

It is here where a world historical analysis of core/periphery relations can help. Semiperipheral development suggests that transnational social movements will receive their greatest support from individuals, organizations and states from the semiperiphery. The hegemon and the other core states are stuck in their old ways. Some individuals and organizations from the core will help, but the muscle and many of the ideas will come from the semiperiphery. If this is right it has important implications for strategies of progressive transformation.

These critiques aside, Heikki Patamaki’s The Political Economy… is a very valuable contribution that should be widely read by those who would seek a deeper understanding of the patterns of world history and by those who want to help the humans to bring about a democratic global commonwealth and to deal humanely and cooperatively with the crises and calamities that are already emerging in the twenty-first century.



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[1] Joseph Smith, the original leader of the Mormons (Latter Day Saints), was a communist.

[2] The leader of the Taiping rebellion had been given millenarian pamphlets by a Baptist preacher from Tennessee and became convinced that he was Jesus’s brother.

[3] The idea of semiperipheral development is that innovations and the implementation of new technologies and organizational forms tend to occur out on the edge, in the semiperiphery because older core powers have huge investments in older ways of doing things and are not motivated to take the risks that are involved in doing things in a new way. Alexander Gerschenkron (1962) called this “the advantages of backwardness.” See Chase-Dunn and Hall (1997: Chapter 5). All the modern hegemons were formerly semiperipheral national societies.

[4] In the contemporary system the semiperiphery consists of large non-core national societies such as Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, India, China, Indonesia, and Russia and smaller non-core societies at that have significant sectors of industrialization such as South Korea, Taiwan, South Africa, Cuba, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic. These countries are in the middle of the core/periphery hierarchy either because of the size or because of important industrial sectors. The oil-exporting countries may also be understood as semiperipheral in some respects.