Global State Formation

In World Historical Perspective

Christopher Chase-Dunn, Hiroko Inoue,

Alexis Alvarez, Richard Niemeyer and Hala Sheikh-Mohamed

Institute for Research on World-Systems , University of California- Riverside

Bamako, Mali January 2006


Abstract: The long-term trend since the Stone Age is for polities and states to get larger, but all interpolity systems oscillate between relatively greater centralization and decentralization. The long-term upward trend is produced by occasional upward sweeps in which a new polity that is larger than any earlier one emerges. This chapter is based on a study of upward sweeps of cities and empires since the Bronze Age. The modern world-system is different from earlier systems in that the centralization/decentralization sequence has taken the form of the rise and fall of hegemonic core powers rather than the earlier pattern of the rise and fall of core-wide empires. Imperialism in the modern world-system has usually taken the form of vast dispersed colonial empires, and formal empire has been abolished as the system of states that began in Europe has been spread to the rest of the world. In the long run the human species is probably headed toward global state formation, but the contemporary institutionalization of the multipolity interstate system is very strong. Yet there has been a trend toward the formation of international political organizations since the Napoleonic Wars. The hegemony of the United States is declining and a new period of interimperial rivalry may be emerging, but there are also possibilities for new and more democratic forms of multilateral global governance to emerge within the next few decades.

To be presented at the conference on “Hegemonic Transitions and the State” held at the Centre for Global Political Economy, Simon Fraser University, February 23-24-2007. Draft v.2-19-07 10,141 words. This is IROWS Working Paper # 32 available at


Table of Contents                              page #

Upward Sweeps and Ceilings                                                               2

Urban Upward Sweeps                                                                                    5

Theories of Rise, Fall and Upward Sweeps                                         7

Extension of the State System to the Periphery                                  9

The Trajectory of Global Governance and Political Globalization     11

Political Globalization and Global Party Formation                           13

Contemporary Contestation in World Politics                                     15

Manifestos Galore in the World Revolution of 20xx                           17

The Multicentric Network of Movements                                           18

North/South Issues                                                                             19

Democratizing Global Governance                                                     20


All systems of interacting polities oscillate between relatively greater and lesser centralization as relatively large polities rise and fall. This is true of systems of chiefdoms, states, empires and the modern system of the rise and fall of hegemonic core states. But there has also been a long-term trend in which polities have increased in population and territorial size since the Stone Age and the total number of polities has decreased. These trends have been somewhat masked in recent centuries because the processes of decolonization and the emergence of nation-states out of older tributary empires have increased the number of smaller polities. But the general toward larger polities trend can be seen in the transition from smaller to larger hegemonic core states (from the Dutch, to the British to the United States), and in the emergence of international political organizations and an expanded and active global civil society[1] that participates in world politics.

            This paper reports some of the results of a project that is studying the growth of states and cities since the Bronze Age in order to model the socio-cultural evolution of larger and larger polities and potential future world state formation. [2]  We empirically identify “upward sweeps,” when the scale of cities and states dramatically increased. We review and synthesize explanations of chiefdom-formation, state-formation, empire-formation and the rise and fall of modern hegemonic core states in order to produce formal explanatory models. And we study the emergent characteristics that distinguish these different scales in order to comprehend how the processes have qualitatively evolved, and in order to consider what kinds of qualitative transformation might occur in the future. Our approach avoids the unscientific pitfalls of progressivist, functionalist, inevitabalist and teleological presumptions that have plagued many earlier approaches to socio-cultural evolution. We do not identify complexity and hierarchy with progress, but neither do we assume that they are the opposite of progress.


Upward Sweeps and Ceilings 

            Figure 1 (next page) is a stylized depiction of the rise and fall of large polities and occasional upward sweeps that portrays, not the history of a single world region, but rather the general evolution[3] of what has happened over the past 12,000 years as many small polities (bands, tribes and chiefdoms) have been consolidated into a much smaller number of larger polities (states, empires and a possible future world state).


Figure 1: Rise, Fall and Upward Sweeps of Polity Size

            George Modelski’s (2003) recent study of the growth of cities over the past 5000 years points to a phenomenon also noticed and theorized by Roland Fletcher (1995) – cities grow and decline in size, but occasionally a single new city will attain a size that is much larger than any earlier city, and then other cities catch up with that new scale, but do not much exceed it. It is as if cities reach a size ceiling that it is not possible to exceed until  new conditions are met that allow for that ceiling to be breached.

            Figure 2 plots Rein Taagepera’s (1978a,1978b,1979,1997) estimates of the territorial sizes of the largest and second largest empires in the “Central System”[4] for the purpose of identifying empire upsweeps. We know that the first upsweep was that of the Uruk expansion that began on the flood plain of Southern Mesopotamia (Algaze 1993), but we do not have quantitative estimates of the settlement and empire sizes in the early Bronze Age. After a long period of competing city-states in Mesopotamia the Akkadian Empire emerged as the first core-wide empire.[5] Its territorial size is estimated by Taagepera and so it appears in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Rise, Fall and Upward Sweeps as revealed by Taagepera's estimates of the territorial sizes of the largest empires in the Central System

            After the fall of the Akkadian Empire there was a millennium of no comparably large states until Egypt managed to attain a size as large as that of the Akkadian Empire (around .8 square megameters).  That was the ceiling until the rise of the Neo-Assyrians to a size twice as large, which was then quickly superseded by much larger empires – Achaemenid Persia and the Hellenic Empires. They reached a new ceiling that was as large as Rome and Parthia at their height several centuries hence. A new upward sweep was made by the Islamic caliphates, but then there was a trough followed by the Eurasian-wide, but brief, Mongol conquest, and then another trough that was transcended by the emergence of the modern colonial empires of the European states, with the largest of these being the British Empire of the nineteenth century. So there have been five major polity upward sweeps in the Central System that we may label 1. Akkadian-Egyptian, 2. West Asian-Mediterranean, 3. Islamic, 4.  Mongol, and 5. Modern.


Figure 3: City Size Upsweeps in the Central System

Urban Upward Sweeps

            Figure 3 graphs the population size estimates of largest cities in the Central System.[6] We have no estimate of the size of Agade, the capital of the Akkadian Empire because the archaeological remains of the city founded by Sargon have not yet been identified. But Ur, the restored Sumerian capital that succeeded the Akkadian Empire, shows an early peak that is followed by the Egyptian city of Avaris, the capital of the Hyksos dynasty. The next large city peak is that of Rome in 100 CE with 450,000 residents, which is then bested by Islamic Baghdad in 900 CE with 900,000. A slump is then followed by the rise of Mamluk Cairo to 400,000 in 1300 and then Ottoman Constantinople to 700,000 in 1600 and then the rapid increase of both Beijing and London, with London pulling ahead to 2,320,000 by 1850. The graph ends in 1850 because including largest cities after that year scales the graph such that the peaks of early millennia become invisible. The rest of the story is shown in Table 1.

            Largest City                              2nd Largest City









New York





New York



New York





New York







New York


Table 1: Largest and Second Largest City Populations, 1875-1970

After the 1950s a new ceiling of around 20 millions is reached by the largest urban agglomerations. Megacities in Brazil, Mexico and China began to catch up, causing the global size distribution of largest cities to flatten in the second half of the 20th century.


            The huge size of Baghdad in tenth century did not really constitute a new ceiling in the evolution of city sizes because it was an outlier that was not replicated for 1000 years. So there have been four upward sweeps that led to new plateaus of city growth in the Central System: the original heartland of cities in Mesopotamia and Egypt, the rise of Rome and other cities of similarly large size, then a decline followed by the rise of Cairo and then Constantinople, and then the well-known rapid upsweep of modernity which occurred in Europe, North America and China.

            Figure 4 uses George Modelski’s (2003) estimates of the sizes of the largest cities in East Asia to examine upward sweeps in that region. In order to be able to compare earlier changes with later ones in the same graph these city population sizes have been logged.

Figure 4: East Asian Urban Upsweeps (City populations are logged to the base 10)

            What we see here are four urban upsweeps in the East Asia region: an early appearance of cities that peaks around 800 BCE, a second upswing that starts around 500 BCE and then wobbles around 2.5 (log10), and the a third upsweep that has its first peak in about 900 CE when Changan reaches 3, and then a fourth upsweep in the 19th century. Figure 4 also shows the size of the second largest cities in the region.

            As mentioned above, our project to identify empire and urban upsweeps will examine both expanding interstate systems (political-military networks) like the Central System, and constant regions such as East Asia, South Asia, West Asia-Mediterranean as well as regions in the Western Hemisphere where quantitative estimates of polity and urban sizes are available.  The point is to identify a relatively complete set of cases of upward sweeps in world history in order to be able to test our explanatory models.


Theories of Rise, Fall and Upward Sweeps

            There are many theories about why systems of interacting polities experience cycles of rise and fall.  A thorough overview of the anthropological literature on “cycling” – the rise and fall of large chiefdoms-- is presented in David G. Anderson’s (1995) The Savannah River Chiefdoms. Chase-Dunn (2005) presents an overview of earlier theories and a new theoretical synthesis based on Peter Turchin's (2003) model of the dynamics of agrarian state growth and decline, network theory, a population pressure iteration model and explanations of the rise and fall of modern hegemons. This approach has been further modified to reincorporate the operation of trade networks (Chase-Dunn, Alvarez, Inoue, Niemeyer, Carlson, Fierro and Lawrence 2006). Explaining the upsweeps requires adding a discussion of emergent properties and the increasing geographical scale of interaction networks to the theories of rise and fall.

      The question of the timing of upward sweeps to new levels is entirely germane to the problem of modeling global state formation. So also is the issue of how unusually large states have been formed in the past. Upward sweeps have mainly been instances of a semiperipheral marcher state conquering and unifying adjacent older core states and nearby peripheral areas. Conquest of adjacent territories has been the main mechanism of large-scale political integration in the past. But the pattern of hegemonic rise and fall in the modern world-system has been different. The most powerful states, the hegemons (the Dutch, the British and the United States), have fought semiperipheral challengers (e.g. Napoleonic France and Germany) to prevent the emergence of core-wide empires. We contend that this is because the hegemons are the most capitalist states in the system, the ones for whom economic success is most closely tied to the ability to make superprofits on the technological rents that return from new lead technologies. 

Figure 6: Core-Wide Empire vs.  Modern Hegemony

      Only during hegemonic decline have the modern capitalist hegemons shown a tendency toward “imperial overreach” in which their military power is employed in a last ditch effort to prop up a declining economic hegemony. These efforts have not been successful, and a new hegemon only emerges after a period of hegemonic rivalry and world war. This is a primitive method of choosing “global leadership” that we can no longer afford to employ because of the existence of weapons of mass destruction. This is analogous to the succession problem within states. The construction of institutions that can peacefully resolve the struggle for hegemony is of the first importance for our very survival as a species.

      The approach that we propose is to model the main causes of state formation and upward sweeps taking into account the ways in which the basic processes have been altered by the emergence of new institutions.  We elaborate and improve upon the recent work of Robert Bates Graber (2004).  Graber develops both an ahistorical and an historical population pressure model of political integration. His ahistorical model is a very simplified version of the iteration model that includes population growth rates and the number of independent polities. Graber’s historical model takes account of the emergence of the League of Nations and the United Nations. But we add the rise and fall cycle, the emergence of markets and capitalism, and the growth of other international political organizations and non-governmental organizations to our model of the evolution of global governance.

      The main political structure of global governance in the modern world-system has been, and remains, the international system of states as theorized and constituted in the Peace of Westphalia. This international system of competing and allying national states was extended to the periphery of the modern world-system in two large waves of decolonization of the colonial empires of core powers. The modern system already differed from earlier imperial systems in that its core remained multicentric rather than being occasionally conquered and turned into a core-wide empire. Instead, empires became organized as distant peripheral colonies rather than as conquered adjacent territories. Earlier instances of this type of colonial empire were produced by thallasocratic states, mainly semiperipheral capitalist city-states that specialized in trade (e.g., Carthage, Venice, etc.). In the modern system this form of colonial empire became the norm, and the European core states rose to global hegemony by conquering and colonizing the Americas, Asia and Africa in a series of expansions (see Figure 7). The international system of sovereign states was extended to the colonized periphery in two large waves of decolonization (see Figure 7). After a long-term trend in which the number of independent states on Earth had been decreasing, that number rose again with decolonization and the core states decreased in size when they lost their colonial empires.

Extension of the State System to the Periphery

      The decolonization waves were part of the formation of a truly global polity of states. The system of European core states, each with its own colonial empire in Asia, Africa and the Americas, became reorganized as a global system of sovereign states. Most of the former colonies remained in the non-core and new forms of neo-colonialism emerged to allow the core states to continue to exploit the non-core states. But one of the early decolonized regions, “the first new nation,” rose to core status and then to become the largest hegemon the modern world-system has yet seen – the United States of America.  The doctrine of the national self-determination, long a principle of the European state system, was extended in principle to the periphery but new forms of economic imperialism continued to reproduce the core/periphery hierarchy.

Figure 7: Waves of colonization and decolonization based on Henige’s Colonial Governors (1970)

           Our historical model adds marketization, decolonization, new lead technologies, the rise and fall of hegemons, and the rise of international political organizations to the population pressure model in order to forecast future trajectories of global state formation. Because we are sensitive to the cyclical nature of many processes we can easily consider how downward plunges and possible collapses might affect the probable trajectories of global state formation.

      We also take into account the structural differences between recent and earlier periods. For example, the period of British hegemonic decline moved rather quickly toward conflictive hegemonic rivalry because economic competitors such as Germany were able to develop powerful military capabilities. The U.S. hegemony has been different in that the United States ended up as the single superpower after the decline of the Soviet Union. Some economic challengers (Japan and Germany) cannot easily play the military card because they are stuck with the consequences of having lost the last World War. This, and the immense size of the U.S. economy, will probably slow the process of hegemonic decline down relative to the speed of the British decline (See Figure 8 and Chase-Dunn, Jorgensen, Reifer and Lio, 2005).

Figure 8:  Trajectory of United States hegemony

      Our modeling of the global future also considers changes in labor relations, urban-rural relations, the nature of emergent city regions, and the shrinking of the global reserve army of labor (Silver 2003).   

The Trajectory of Global Governance and Political Globalization

     Global governance refers to the nature of power institutions in a world-system. So there has been global governance all along. It has not emerged. But it has changed its nature. The modern world-system was originally the European interstate system in which states allied and fought with one another for territory, control of trade routes, and other resources. As Europe became hegemonic over the rest of the world this system became the predominant form of global governance. The basic logic is the anarchy of nations and geopolitics, but this anarchy had a cultural backdrop that the English school of international relations calls international society (Buzan and Little 2000). In earlier millennia Christendom and the other world religions proclaimed and developed an ethic that differentiated the world into civilized, barbarian and savage peoples. Cannibalism, ritual human sacrifice and polygyny were banned. A degree of individualism and humanism emerged in the context of the European enlightenment, and the rules of this civilized culture were applied in geopolitical alliances and conflicts. Wars with other civilized peoples were somewhat different than wars with barbarians or savages. Thus did a moral order come to stand behind the anarchy of nations, a moral order that condoned less ethical forms of coercion when dealing with the peoples of the non-core.

            The interstate system that emerged in Europe soon adopted institutions that had previously been elaborated in relations among the Italian city-states during the Renaissance. Diplomatic immunity and rules of engagement came to regulate warfare within the core. These rules were made explicit in the treaty of Westphalia in 1644. The balance of power among states was reinforced by the notion of “general war,” which prescribed that all states should band together against any “rogue state” that aggressively attacked another.  Theorists of the international system often portray this as a great discovery that distinguished the European interstate system from others, especially those more hierarchical interstate systems known to exist in South Asia and East Asia.  But similar institutions are known to have existed in much earlier interstate systems (e.g. the system of Sumerian city-states in the early Bronze Age).  The European balance of power system coincided with the emergence of Dutch hegemony in the seventeenth century, and indeed it was the Dutch state, arguably the first capitalist nation-state, that played a pivotal power-balancing role in that century. The growing importance of the accumulation of profits shifted the logic of state power increasingly away from tribute and taxation without dispensing with these entirely. Indeed, some states continued to pursue the tributary logic, but they were consistently beaten in competition with newly emerging capitalist states in the core. Thus did the logic of adjacent tributary empires become increasingly supplanted by a new imperial logic that sought the control of trade routes and access to valuable raw materials and labor that could contribute to the profitable production of commodities.

 The emergence of colonial empires corresponded with the reproduction of a multicentric core in which several European states allied with and fought each other. This system came to be taken for granted by international relations theorists as the natural mode of global governance. Despite that earlier systems had repeatedly seen the emergence of “universal states” such as the Roman Empire, the notion of a global state is now unthinkable because IR theorists define states in relationship to each other. This is part of the strong institutionalization of the modern interstate system – an historically constructed structure that has come to be seen as natural.

 The oscillation of earlier systems morphed into the rise and fall of hegemonic core powers in the modern system. A series of hegemons emerged from the semiperiphery -- the Dutch, the British and the United States. This cycle or sequence has itself evolved, with the hegemons becoming increasingly larger with respect to the size of the whole system, and with the institutional nature of states and finance capital getting reorganized in each “systemic cycle of accumulation” (Arrighi 1994). Tributary empires survived into the nineteenth century, but they were increasingly supplanted by nation-states. And the colonial empires of the European states brought the whole Earth into a single relatively homogenous global polity for the first time. The penetration of Qing China in the 19th century brought this last semi-independent center into the fold of the now-predominant Europe-centered system of states.

The evolution that occurred with the rise and fall of the hegemonic core powers needs to be seen as a sequence of forms of world order that evolved to solve the political, economic and technical problems of successively more global waves of capitalist accumulation. The expansion of global production involved accessing raw materials to feed the new industries, and food to feed the expanding populations (Bunker and Ciccantell 2004). As in any hierarchy, coercion is a very inefficient means of domination, and so the hegemons sought legitimacy by proclaiming leadership in advancing civilization and democracy. But the terms of these claims were also employed by those below who sought to protect themselves from exploitation and domination. And so the evolution of hegemony was a dynamic interaction between the global elites and the global masses. World orders were challenged and reconstructed in a series of world revolutions (Arrighi, Hopkins and Wallerstein 1984; Boswell and Chase-Dunn 2000)

Political Globalization and Global Party Formation

            The nineteenth century saw the beginning of what we shall call political globalization – the emergence and growth of an overlayer of regional and increasingly global formal organizational structures on top of the interstate system.  We conceptualize political globalization analogously to our understanding of economic globalization -- the relative strength and density of larger versus smaller interaction networks and organizational structures (Chase-Dunn, Kawano and Brewer 2000).  The most obvious indication of political globalization is the evolution of the uneven and halting upward trend in the transitions from the Concert of Europe to the League of Nations and the United Nations. The waves of international political integration began after the Napoleonic Wars early in the nineteenth century. Britain and the Austro-Hungarian Empire organized the “Concert of Europe” that was intended to prevent future French revolutions and Napoleonic adventures. After World War I the League of Nations emerged as a weak proto-state designed to provide collective security by preventing future “Great Wars.” The failure of the United States to take up the mantle of British hegemony during the Age of Extremes, and the weakness of the League (which the U.S. never joined) led to another round of unbelievably destructive world war. After World War II a somewhat stronger proto-world-state, the United Nations Organization, emerged and the United States stepped firmly into the role of hegemon.

The trend toward political globalization can also be seen in the emergence of the Bretton Woods institutions (the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank) and the more recent restructuring of the General Agreement of Tariffs and Trade as the World Trade Organization, and the heightened visibility of other international fora (the Trilateral Commission, the Group of Seven [Eight].

Some of the proponents of a recent stage of global capitalism contend that strong transnational capitalist firms and there political operatives working within national states have combined with existing international organizations to constitute an emerging transnational capitalist state (e.g. Robinson 2004). This version of the global state formation hypothesis claims that a rather integrated transnational capitalist class has emerged since the 1970s, and that this global class uses both international organizations and existing national state apparatuses as coordinated instruments of its rule. This perspective probably overstates the degree of integration of class governance on a global scale. The current reality is that both the old system of nationally competing capitalist classes and a very high degree of global integration now exist and these contend with one another to an extent that is much greater than in the past. An internationally integrated global capitalist class was also in formation in the second half of the nineteenth century, but this did not prevent the world polity from descending into the violent interimperial rivalry of the two twentieth century World Wars (Barr et al 2006).  The degree of integration of both elites and masses is undoubtedly greater in the current round of globalization, but will it be strongly integrated enough to allow for readjustments without descent into a repetition of the Age of Extremes? That is the question.

            In addition to the formation of regional and global international organizations, the nineteenth and twentieth centuries also saw the emergence of transnational social movements and the enlargement of what has come to be known as global civil society. These have also altered the form of global governance by providing expanded arenas in which individuals and organizations participate directly in world politics rather than through the mediating shell of national states. Specialized international and transnational non-governmental organizations (e.g. the International Postal Union) exploded in the middle of the 19th century (Murphy 1994). Abolitionism, feminism and the labor movement became increasingly transnational in nature.  Earlier local movements had also had a transnational aspect because sailors, pirates, slaves and indentured servants carried ideas and sentiments  back and forth across the Atlantic (Linebaugh and Rediker 2000) but the large global consequences of these movements occurred when many mainly local developments (e.g. slave revolts) occurred synchronously or within the same time period.

The Black Jacobins of the Haitian revolution, by depriving Napoleonic France of important sources of food and wealth, played a role in the rise of British hegemony (Santiago-Valles 2005). These kinds of effects of resistance from below became stronger in the middle decades of the 19th century – the years around the world revolution of 1848.  This is usually thought of in terms of developments in Europe, but millenarian and revolutionary ideas traveled to the New World to play a role in the “burned over district” in upstate New York, where several important new Christian sects and utopian communes emerged. And in China the huge Taiping peasant and landless rebellion was fomented by a charismatic leader who became convince that he was Jesus Christ’s younger brother after reading some pamphlets supplied by a millenarian Baptist preacher from Tennessee. Non-elites were becoming transnational activists.  Elites had long been involved as statesmen, churchmen, businessmen and scientists. The decreasing costs of long-distance communications and transportation were now allowing some non-elites to play a more important and direct role in world politics.

            These developments ramped up during the Age of Extremes, the first half of the twentieth century.  Internationalism in the labor movement had emerged in the second half of the nineteenth century.  Global political parties were becoming active in world politics, especially during and after the world revolution of 1917. The Communist International (Comintern) convened large conferences of representative from all over the globe in Moscow in the early years of the 1920s. The history and evolution of global party formation is treated in several recent works on this topic that are considering current developments at the World Social Forum (Chase-Dunn and Reese forthcoming; Sehm-Patomaki and Ulvilla 2006; Patomaki and Teivainen 2006). Global party formation is playing a role in deepening the participation of the peoples of the Earth in world politics, and thus in the process of global state formation.

            The Comintern was abolished in 1943, though the Soviet Union continued to pose as the protagonist of the world working class until its demise in 1989. In 1938 Trotskyists organized the Fourth International to replace the Comintern, which they saw as having been captured by Stalinism. The Fourth International suffered from a series of sectarian splits and the huge communist-led rebellions that emerged during and after World War II were led by either pro-Soviet or Maoist organizations that held the Fourth International to be illegitimate. Conventional portrayals of the history of the Comintern focus mainly on sectarianism, vanguardism, intolerance of diversity and Soviet domination and these are held up as lessons for contemporary transnational movements in terms of what should be avoided.  A closer look at the red networks may also reveal valuable clues about how to put effective international and transnational organizations in motion.

            The Bandung Conference in 1954 was an important forum in which the leaders of the emerging nations explicated Third World interests. But the heady days of transnational social movements were overshadowed by the Cold War and the Keynsian national development project. It was only after the demise of the Soviet Union and the attack on the developmental state model by Reaganism-Thatcherism that a new wave of transnational activists began to form into a global justice movement.

Contemporary Contestation in World Politics

While transnational social movements date back to at least the Protestant Reformation, the scope and scale of international ties among social activists have risen dramatically over the past few decades, as they have increasingly shared information, conceptual frameworks and other resources, and coordinated actions across borders and continents (Moghadam 2005). In the 1980s and 1990s, the number of formal transnational social movement organizations (TSMOs) rose by nearly 200 percent.  While TSMOs are still largely housed in the global north, a rising portion are located in, and have ties to, the global south; the number of TSMOs with multi-issue agendas increased significantly, from 43 in 1983 to 161 in 2000 (Smith  2004). This rise in transnational organizing contributed to, and helped to produce the global justice movement. The global justice movement is a “movement of movements,” that includes all those who are engaged in sustained and contentious challenges to neoliberal global capitalism, propose alternative political and economic structures, and mobilize poor and relatively powerless peoples. While this movement resorts to non-institutional forms of collective action, it often collaborates with institutional “insiders,” such as NGOs that lobby and provide services to people, as well as policy-makers (Tarrow 2005; Keck and Sikkink 1998). The global justice movement and its allies includes a variety of social actors and groups: unions, NGOs, SMOs, transnational advocacy networks, as well as policy-makers, scholars, artists, journalists, entertainers and other individuals.

       Two important sections of global civil society and transnational activism are: (1) The participants in the World Economic Forum (WEF), who tend to see neo-liberal corporate globalization as a positive development, and (2) those that identify with the global justice movement and attend the World Social Forum (WSF). The WSF and the WEF represent two rather different slices of global civil society and may presage a new era in global party formation and political contention over the future of world society (Carroll 2006a,2006b; Chase-Dunn and Reese forthcoming).[7] The organizational forms, discourses, and goals are intentionally different, with the WSF being a popular alternative to the “leadership” focus of the WEF.  And yet some of the discourse and goals of the two forums overlap, and some individuals and organizations participate in both.

The WEF was established in 1971 as a non-partisan independent international organization committed to improving the state of the world by engaging leaders in partnerships to shape global, regional and industry agendas.[8] The WEF maintains a headquarters in Geneva and usually holds its annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland. The WEF invites discussion among corporate and political leaders who want to help cope with problems that are exacerbated or not resolved by corporate globalization. They are concerned about the environment and poverty in less developed countries and about corporate social responsibility.[9]

The WSF was established in 2001 as a counter-hegemonic popular project focusing on issues of global justice and democracy.[10] Initially organized by the Brazilian labor movement and the landless peasant movement, the WSF was intended to be a forum for the participants in, and supporters of, grass roots movements from all over the world rather than a conference of representatives of political parties or governments. The WSF was organized as the popular alternative to the WEF. The WSF has been supported by the Brazilian Workers Party, and has been most frequently held in Porto Alegre, Brazil, a traditional stronghold of that party. Whereas the first meeting of the WSF in 2001 reportedly drew 5,000 registered participants from 117 countries, the 2005 WSF meeting drew 155,000 registered participants from 135 countries.  In opposition to Margaret Thatcher who declared that, “there is no alternative” to neoliberal globalization, WSF participants proclaim that “another world is possible.”  The WSF is both an institution—with its own leadership, mission, and structure—and an “open space” where a variety of social activists from around the world can meet, exchange ideas, participate in multi-cultural events, and coordinate actions. The WSF is open to all those opposed to neoliberal globalization, but excludes groups advocating armed resistance (Teivainen 2004). Participants vary in terms of their affiliations with particular movements and different types of organizations. Both participants in unconnected local and national campaigns come together with long-time veterans of transnational organizations and internationally coordinated groups (Smith 2004). The WSF has inspired the spread of hundreds of local, national, regional, and thematic social forums (Byrd 2005; Della Porta 2005).

            Some have claimed that the pattern of hegemonic rise and fall is now morphing into a new structure of core condominium (Goldfrank 1999) while others see the rise of the neoconservatives in the United States as a repetition of the pattern of “imperial overstretch” that may portend another period of contentious interimperial rivalry.  Several outcomes are possible, including a repeat of what happened after the last decline of a hegemon -- another world war among core states (Chase-Dunn and Podobnik 1995). The current crisis of the world-system seems fraught with several possible, and potentially interactive, dangers of collapse – huge international and growing within-nation inequalities, ecological disaster, what would appear to be an unsustainable trade and investment imbalance, and a huge mountain of debt structured as “secure” claims on future profit streams.

Manifestos Galore in the World Revolution of 20xx

            It is in this context that a new world revolution is brewing. The movement of movements at the World Social Forum is in the midst of a manifesto/charter writing frenzy as those who seek a more organized approach to confronting global capitalism and neoliberalism attempt to put workable coalitions together (Wallerstein 2007).

            One issue is whether or not the World Social Forum itself should formulate a political program and take formal stances on issues. The Charter of the WSF explicitly forbids this and a significant group of participants strongly supports maintaining the WSF as an “open space” for debate and organizing. A survey of 625 attendees at the World Social Forum meeting in Porto Alegre in 2005 asked whether the WSF should remain an open space or should take political stances. Exactly half favored the open space idea (Chase-Dunn, Reese, Herkenrath, Alvarez, Gutierrez and Kim Forthcoming). So trying to change the WSF Charter to allow for a formal political program would be very divisive.

            But this is not necessary. The WSF Charter also encourages the formation of new political organizations. So those participants who want to form a new global political organization are free to act, as long as they do not do so in the name of the WSF as a whole.

            In recent Social Forum meetings, “Assemblies of Social Movements” and other groups have issued calls for global action and other political statements. At the end of the 2005 meeting in Porto Alegre a group of nineteen notable intellectuals and activists issued a statement that was purported to be a consensus of the meeting as a whole. At the 2006 polycentric meeting in Bamako, Mali a somewhat overlapping group issued a manifesto entitled “the Bamako Appeal” at the beginning of the meeting.  The Bamako Appeal is a Third Worldist call for a global united front against neoliberalism and United States neo-imperialism (see Bamako Appeal 2006). And Samir Amin, the famous economist, has written a short discussion entitled “Toward a fifth international?” in which he briefly outlines the history of the first four internationals (Amin 2006). Peter Waterman (2006) has proposed a “global labor charter” and a coalition of womens’ groups meeting at the World Social Forum are on the second revision of a manifesto for women.

            At present there is an impasse between those who are willing to risk charges of Napoleonism and those who want proposals and totemic texts to bubble up from the movements. And there are also important disagreements about both goals and tactics. Such political statements, particularly those issued by the 19 notables in 2005 and the Bamako Appeal, have generated considerable controversy about process and legitimacy, since they were issued by socially privileged and unelected leaders, mainly intellectuals, who claim to speak on behalf of the “masses.” Creating democratic mechanisms of accountability through which WSF participants can engage in global collective action and move towards greater political unity remains an important political task.

The issue of process is strongly raised in several of the critiques of the Bamako Appeal in a collection of documents published just before the World Social Forum meeting in Nairobi in January of 2007 (Sen et al 2007). This collection includes the Communist Manifesto, documents that came out of the Bandung Conference, recent communiqués from the Zapatistas in Mexico, and a number of substantive and processual critiques of the Bamako Appeal. Several sessions at the WSF in Nairobi discussed the Bamako Appeal, the processes that produce manifestos, resistance to promulgations by intellectuals, and alternative proposals for collectively producing manifestos and charters that would allow grass roots activists to participate (e.g. “wikifestos”).

The Multicentric Network of Movements

Just as world revolutions in the past have resulted in restructuring world orders, it can be presumed that the current one will also do this. But do the activists themselves agree on the nature of the most important problems, visions of a desirable future or notions of appropriate tactics and forms of movement organization?  A study of the structure of overlapping links among movements as represented by attendees of the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre in 2005 who identify with and/or are actively involved in a long list of movements shows that the structure of movement overlaps is a multicentric network (Chase-Dunn, Petit, Niemeyer, Hanneman, Alvarez, Gutierrez and Reese 2006). Human rights, anti-war, alternative media, anti-globalization and environmental movements are strongly linked with one another and are bridges to almost all the other movements (See Figure 9). 


Figure 9: The network of WSF movement linkages

This structure means that the transnational activists who participate in the World Social Forum process share goals and support the general global justice framework asserted in the World Social Forum Charter. It also means that this group is relatively integrated and  is not prone to splits. A united front approach that pays attention to the nature of this network structure can have reasonable hope for mobilizing a strong force for collective action in world politics, though solutions need to be found to address the issues of process that have become apparent in the first wave of manifesto-writing. 

North-South Issues

The focus on global justice and north/south inequalities and the critique of neoliberalism provide strong orienting frames for the transnational activists of the World Social Forum. But there are difficult issues for collective action that are heavily structured by the huge international inequalities that exist in the contemporary world-system and these issues must be directly confronted. A survey of the attendees of the 2005 World Social Forum found some important differences between activists from the core, the periphery and the semiperiphery (Chase-Dunn, Reese, Herkenrath, Alvarez, Gutierrez, Kim, and Petit. Forthcoming).

Those from the periphery were fewer, older, and more likely to be men. In addition, participants from the periphery were more likely to be associated with externally sponsored NGOs, rather than with self-funded SMOs and unions, as NGOs have greater access to travel funds. Southern respondents were significantly more likely than those from the global north to be skeptical toward creating and strengtheningor reforming global-level political institutions and to favor the abolition of global institutions.

Those who favor reforming or replacing global institutions in order to resolve global problems (see discussion of Monbiot below) need to squarely face these facts. This skepticism probably stems from the historical experience of peoples from the non-core with colonialism and global-level institutions that claim to be operating on universal principles of fairness, but whose actions have either not solved problems or have made them worse. These new abolitionists are posing a strong challenge to both existing global institutions and to those who want to reform or replace these institutions. These realities must be addressed, not ignored.

Democratizing Global Governance


Ideas of democracy that are deeply institutionalized in modern societies are being increasingly applied at the global level, raising issues about the democratic nature of existing institutions of global governance. Why are some countries allowed to have weapons of mass destruction while others are not? How have these decisions been made? Are the institutions and actors that made them legitimate in the eyes of the peoples of the world?

Ann Florini (2004) acknowledges the need for democratic global governance processes to address global issues that simply cannot be dealt with by separate national states. Florini contends that global state formation is impossible, undesirable and would engender huge opposition from all quarters. Instead she sees a huge potential for democratizing global governance through uses of the Internet for mobilizing global civil society. Florini and others point out that existing institutions of global governance have a huge democratic deficit. The most important and powerful elective office in the world is that of the U.S. presidency, but only citizens of the United States can vote for contenders for this office. Thus is existing global governance illegitimate even by its own rules..

George Monbiot’s Manifesto for a New World Order (2003) is a reasoned and insightful call for radically democratizing the existing institutions of global governance and for establishing a global peoples’ parliament that would be directly elected by the whole population of the Earth. Monbiot also advocates the establishment of a trade clearinghouse (first proposed by John Maynard Keynes at Bretton Woods) that would reward national economies with balanced trade, and that would use some of the surpluses generated by those with trade surpluses to invest in those with trade deficits. He also proposes a radical reversal of the World Trade Organization regime, which imposes free trade on the non-core but allows core economies to engage in protectionism – a “fair trade organization” that would help to reduce global development inequalities. Monbiot also advocates abolition of the U.N. Security Council, and shifting its power over peace-keeping to a General Assembly in which representatives’ votes would be weighted by the population size of their country.

And Monbiot advocates global enforcement of a carbon tax and a carbon swap structure that would reduce environmental degradation and reward those who utilize green technologies.  Monbiot also points out that the current level of indebtedness of non-core countries could be used as formidable leverage over the world’s largest banks if all the debtors acted in concert. This could provide the muscle behind a significant wave of global democratization. But in order for this to happen the global justice movement would have to organize a strong coalition of the non-core countries that can overcome the splits that tend to occur between the periphery and the semiperiphery.  This is far from being a utopian fantasy.  It is a practical program for global democracy.

       Upward sweeps have led to new levels of political integration in the past. What are the prospects for another upward sweep that would result in the formation of a real global state? It is generally the case that increases in organizational complexity and hierarchy require the appropriation and control of greater amounts of energy (Christian 2003). The last big upward sweep of city sizes and colonial empires was greatly facilitated by the harvesting of fossil fuels that stored the sunlight and heat of billions of years of photosynthesis and carbon storage below the surface of the Earth. New energy technologies will eventually emerge that can facilitate new levels of human complexity, but in the mean time we will have to deal with the negative anthropogenic environmental consequences of this colossal harvest of energy, the coming of “peak oil” and the eventual exhaustion of the fossil fuel stores.  It would be reckless to bet on a “technological fix” that will arrive in time to allow us to continue to rely on the existing institutions of global governance. Thus the processes of political globalization, the growth of transnational activism, and the potentials for democratizing global governance that we have discussed above are needed to manage the huge issues that are on the immediate horizon: the interimperial rivalry between a declining U.S. economic hegemony and the rise of East Asia, the timely achievement of demographic stability as the non-core moves on from an industrial death rate and an agricultural birth rate to the demographic transition, the transition to a sustainable relationship with the biosphere and the geosphere, and the reduction of global inequalities.

            The global democracy movement is global state formation from below, whether or not it is politic to say so. Perhaps it would be better to call it “multilateral global governance.” Hopefully the U.S. will be “the last of the hegemons” (Taylor 1986). New economic challengers are emerging, but the autonomous role of political hegemon will be played in the future within a stronger context of multilateral global governance.

            The European Union process itself only creates a larger core state that can contend with the United States, and as such it does not change the logic of the interstate system and global governance by hegemony. But the example of the emergence of a multinational state apparatus out of a process of peaceful politics, rather than as a result of conquest, holds important lessons, both positive and negative, for the larger process of global state formation.  It shows it can be done.



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[1] We follow Mary Kaldor (2003:44-5) in defining civil society as “the medium through which one or many social contracts between individuals, both women and men, and the political and economic centres of power are negotiated and reproduced.” Kaldor’s explication of this descriptive and aspirational concept considers its emergence in Greek and Roman antiquity, the European Enlightenment, the 20th century totalitarian challenges to individual rights, and the world revolution of 1989 in which Eastern European and Latin American political theorists redefined the concept in ways that allow it to be expanded to a global political arena. It now includes the domestic realm of institutions as well as non-governmental organizations (NGOs), informal networks, social clubs and non-state religious organizations, and social movement organizations (SMOs). Global civil society, as defined above is a medium of contention in which all humans on Earth participate in one guise or another, since all are involved in the politics of the family and the household during at least some parts of their lives. We recognize that the aspirational elements of the idea of civil society, including civility, the rule of law, tolerance, reasoned political conversation, and etc. do not extend to all the people of the Earth, and we agree with Kaldor that it is a laudable goal to try to extend these virtuous conditions and opportunities to all. We also note that some who enjoy these conditions within national polities do not conceive of themselves as active direct participants in world politics at the global level. We employ the term “transnational activists” to designate those who identify with, and actively participate in, social movements, including religious movements, that are composed of social networks based in two or more nations (Tarrow 2005: 29).

[2] Our National Science Foundation proposal is at

[3] We use the term evolution despite its tawdry history. We are talking about socio-cultural evolution, not biological evolution and we are well aware that teleology and progress need to be washed out of the concept of evolution before it can be scientifically useful (Sanderson 1990;2006).

[4] The idea of the Central System is derived from David Wilkinson’s (1987) definition of “Central Civilization.” It spatially bounds a system in terms of a set of allying and fighting states, and the Central System (or Political-Military Network) is the one that emerged in Mesopotamia with the birth of cities and states, then merged with the Egyptian system around 1500 BC and subsequently engulfed the rest of the Earth. Because it is an expanding system its spatial boundaries change over time. That is the unit of analysis used in Figures 2 and 3, but we also study constant regions (see Figure 4) as well as other Political-Military Networks.

[5] There were a few instances in which new core-wide empires were formed by internal revolt (e.g. the Akkadian Empire, the Mamluk Empire) or conquest by peripheral marchers (e.g. the Mongol Empire), but by far the majority of new empires were the work of semiperipheral marcher conquests.

[6] See Footnote 3 on page 3 for a definition of the Central System.

[7] Interestingly, both forums claim to be “non-partisan.”

[8] World Economic Forum


[9] We have not been able to locate any systematic published research on those who attend the WEF but PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC) has done an annual “global” survey of CEOs since 2001 that has been summarized at the WEF meetings by PWC executives.

[10] World Social Forum Charter