In this chapter we will summarise the main conclusions of the work as a whole, exposing the basic argument developed in the previous chapters in a synthetic and concise way. Before that, however, we will criticise some of its weak points, and indicate some of the alternative concepts that could have been used and paths that could have been taken.
The main deficiencies from which this work suffers are, in our opinion, over‑ambition, over‑systematicity, and the consequent lack of supporting evidence and detail for many of the points made. This is to a large extent due to the use of a large‑scale framework such as world system theory.
Over-ambition was inevitable once the main subject was chosen. The phrase ‘the long twenty‑first century’ refers to the concepts introduced by Giovanni Arrighi in his magisterial work ‘The Long Twentieth Century’, which in turn refers to many other related ideas. Before even starting to expose what is meant by the title of this work, it was thus necessary to present, develop and explain at least the skeleton of the far‑reaching construction built by Arrighi and others.
Over-ambition was also inevitable once the main theoretical approach to the subject at hand was chosen. The defining common factor of world system theory, and perhaps the only one over which all world system theorists are agreed, is that the basic unit of analysis is the world system. The consequence is that, under this framework, there are no local or isolated questions. Any study undertaken requires one to consider the whole system, and the interaction between its constituent parts and the subject matter.
Finally, over-ambition was inevitable once the decision was taken to expose a theory that was to be as self‑consistent and as complete as possible, instead of relying on unexplained assertions and referring the reader to cited works.
Over-ambition quickly led to over-systematicity. In order to be able to present all the material necessary to establish a self-consistent world system theory within a constrained format, it was necessary to gloss over much of the work done by the authors cited, in a struggle between conciseness and effective communication. Unfortunately, this struggle often has no victors. Vae victis. Whole chapters were summarised in a paragraph, or even in a sentence. Whole books were turned into a table, or even into a footnote. Important and relevant concepts, and their authors, were often not given their due, and sometimes were merely stated, without what could have been lengthy and detailed justifications, and without what could have been complex and involved consequences. Connections between ideas were left unestablished. Loose ends were left untied.
Perhaps more importantly, alternative theoretical approaches, concepts and views were often left unmentioned, mostly because to mention each one would require one to explain their content and meaning, which would be too space-consuming. Instead, the appropriate references were given without further ado.
Over-ambition and over-systematicity together led to a scarcity of presented supporting evidence and detail for many of the points made. When a choice was to be made between adding another concept or another connection between concepts, and adding corroborating facts or extra layers of detail to the few actual instances of concepts that were presented, the decision favoured more often than not the first.
One cannot however overstate the fact that, in principle, world-views are not provable by evidence, data, or facts. They can only be more, or less, convincing and persuasive. Arrighi showed only that he could develop an economical, consistent, and plausible explanation of the major societal trends related to the rise and expansion of the capitalist world system up to the late twentieth century. He claims neither more nor less.
This work claims simultaneously more and less. Clearly it claims less, being a much shallower account of very much the same world systemic structures. But it claims more, relating systemic cycles of accumulation of capital connected to the Westphalian nation-state system to both the pre-capitalist world system and to the post-Westphalian one, extending into the first decades of the twenty-first century.
We will now summarise the main argument and conclusions of the work.