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Chaos and Governance in the Modern World System

1999
Authors:

Giovanni Arrighi and Beverly J. Silver

Chaos and Governance in the Modern World System

Examines what historic transformations in power relationships can teach us about our own time--and about what lies ahead.

In a period of dramatic political transformation and upheaval, as we wonder what the future holds, this book reminds us that the world has experienced enormous changes before and that an understanding of those changes may tell us something about our own turbulent time.
The authors look to earlier periods resembling the present in key respects and find recurrent characteristics in such transitional areas as well as important differences from previous patterns.

Chaos and Governance in the Modern World System is one of the most provocative books in the literature that seeks to decode the present period. Rather than prudent assessments the authors give us daring forecasts based on a careful reading of past epochal transformations. There is much to be learnt and debated here.

Saskia Sassen, author of Globalization and Its Discontents

In a period of dramatic political transformation and upheaval, as we wonder what the future holds, this book reminds us that the world has experienced enormous changes before and that an understanding of those changes may tell us something about our own turbulent time.

The authors look to two earlier periods that resemble the present in key respects: the transition from Dutch to British world hegemony in the eighteenth century and the shift from British to U.S. world hegemony in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. In each case, a systemwide expansion culminated in crisis and systemic chaos; eventually, a new hegemonic power reorganized the system to solve the problems and contradictions that underlay the chaos.

The authors find recurrent characteristics in these transitions, such as the resurgence of finance capital and the intensification of interstate rivalries and social conflict. They also recognize, however, how the present transition differs from the previous patterns. Among the anomalies are the proliferation of transnational organizations and communities, increased social conflict in driving systemic change, a geographical split between military and financial powers, and a shift in the processes of capital accumulation away from the West.

Chaos and Governance in the Modern World System addresses controversies affecting a range of fields-political, economic, social, and cultural-concerned with global change. Though written from a world-systems perspective, it emphasizes the instability and adaptability of world capitalism and the role played by hegemonic states in periodic reorganizations of the system.

ISBN 0-8166-3151-4 Cloth £00.00 $57.95xx
ISBN 0-8166-3152-2 Paper £00.00 $22.95x
320 Pages 8 Figures 5 7/8 x 9 June
Contradictions of Modernity Series, volume 10
Translation inquiries: University of Minnesota Press

Chaos and Governance in the Modern World System

Giovanni Arrighi is professor of sociology at the Johns Hopkins University. Among his books is The Long Twentieth Century: Money, Power, and the Origins of Our Times (1994). Beverly J. Silver is associate professor of sociology at the Johns Hopkins University.

Chaos and Governance in the Modern World System

Chaos and Governance in the Modern World System is one of the most provocative books in the literature that seeks to decode the present period. Rather than prudent assessments the authors give us daring forecasts based on a careful reading of past epochal transformations. There is much to be learnt and debated here.

Saskia Sassen, author of Globalization and Its Discontents

Arrighi and Silver’s Chaos and Governance in the Modern World System is an extraordinary book for extraordinary times. There is a broad consensus among scholars that we are in the midst of a profound transition in the world system from the patterns forged in the crucible of the first half of the 20th century to something new, but there is no consensus whatsoever about where we are going. Most discussions of what lies ahead are simple-minded extrapolations of trends in the present or mechanical projections of cycles of the past into the future. In contrast, Arrighi and Silver study earlier large scale transitions in the world system in order to identify the specificity of the current situation and chart the possible futures we confront. This is a masterful and important piece of work.

Erik Olin Wright, University of Wisconsin

Arrighi, Silver, and their collaborators have produced a book that cuts through the fog enveloping current discussions of globalization. Together with their reconstruction of past transitions, their account of the present shows clearly which features are cyclical recurrences, which are new variations on old themes, and which are truly novel transformations. The result is a masterful blend of theoretical reasoning, empirical analysis, and informed projection.

Walter L. Goldfrank, University of California, Santa Cruz

Arrighi and Silver present us with a bold and theoretically sophisticated restatement of the declinist thesis, which sets the contemporary U.S.-centered world system in perspective with previous examples of hegemonic decline, namely, the Dutch and the British. In doing so they provide a provocative and persuasive analysis of both the current world system and its likely future trajectory. The authors have succeeded in pushing forward the frontiers of thinking theoretically about hegemony and stability in the international system. They have reminded us that despite this current climate of financial market euphoria, as the seasons cycle, autumn must arrive.

Political Science Quarterly

Building on Arrighi’s stunning work, The Long Twentieth Century, Chaos and Governance begins by critically reviewing some notable recent characterizations of the current transformations. These still-incomplete transformations are then subjected to a systematic comparison with the two other instances of hegemonic transition in the modern world-system (Holland to Great Britain, Great Britain to the United States). The authors consider four macrosociological arenas of change: finance and geopolitics, the organization of the firm, social movements and conflicts, and the West versus the rest. Because of their research (and here I include Arrighi’s earlier book), we have a much clearer picture of what is new and what is not in the contemporary transformations. Arrighi and Silver implicitly position themselves halfway between those who see the present as a repetition of previous hegemonic cycles and those who understand it as a transition to something wholly new albeit still capitalism.

Walter Goldfrank in Political Power and Social Theory

Giovanni Arrighi and Beverly Silver command admiration for the clarity and precision of their argument, and for their mastery of the literature about ‘world systems’ that flourishes among residual Marxists, who yearn for a foreseeable catastrophe for capitalism in an age when older recipes for its demise are less plausible. I also admire the open-endedness of their analysis of the contemporary situation, their reach into the past for analogues to current perplexities, and their recognition of how the ‘post 1970s crisis’ they think we are experiencing differs from the tw

William H. McNeill in Political Power and Social Theory

The arguments are illuminating. A key value of this book lies in the way comparisons illuminate macroprocesses and global dynamics that lie hidden from other perspectives. Arrighi and Silver’s book offers challenging and illuminating arguments and significant alternatives for understanding our current global condition.

International Affairs

The book will give you not only new ideas, but much new information about the modern world as well.

The Futurist

In the context of debates over the future tendencies of the world economy in an era of rapid globalization, this book is a timely reminder that the current conjecture has been shaped by structures and processes that have been in play for at least the last four hundred years. The book offers a compelling alternate world-historical interpretation of political, social and economic structures and processes in the making of the modern world. It is a valuable and timely addition to the ongoing debate on the future of the world economy in an era of political and economic uncertainties.

Canadian Journal of Sociology