V.2 Summary and conclusions
Assume the existence, in a given region, of surplus capital, which is then available to be invested in a material expansion. The group of capitalists, best positioned to lead this expansion and govern the rules of its developmental path, attains a predominant position in the world system, that is, hegemony.
Such expansions have built‑in limits. The same features that make a group of capitalists prevail over others also eventually create the conditions for their eventual decline, that provides opportunities which when taken up by a successful new group of capitalists constitute the seeds of a new systemic cycle of accumulation of capital. The transitions between hegemonies are periods of systemic chaos.
Historically, successive hegemonies have been related to given states, each one defining a long century, namely Genoa (allied to imperial Iberia), Holland, Britain and America. Each hegemon after Genoa changed the workings of the inter-state system by restoring the Westphalian system of sovereign states (in the case of Holland, by founding it), while partially superseding it, as the sovereignty and autonomous capabilities of its constituent units are successively reduced with each new hegemony
Each two consecutive systemic cycles of accumulation can be seen as a single larger structure, a double cycle, as periods of geographic expansion (that is, widening of the system) are naturally followed by periods in which the opportunities created are exploited to the full (that is, deepening of the system): the Dutch traded with the world that Iberia ‘discovered’, the Americans traded with the world that Britain ‘conquered’.
The long twentieth century has ended, that is, the systemic cycle of accumulation of capital led by the United States of America has come to an end. The inherent internal contradictions of the US systemic cycle of accumulation led to its eventual decline, but it also provided new opportunities, that contained the seeds of a new one. The long twenty‑first century has already started, and the world system is now in the early stages of a material expansion phase.
The technological foundations of the new systemic cycle of accumulation are the new information and communications technology, which leads to some of its most important features. For instance, the new hegemony is hegemonless, in the sense that no single group of capitalists associated with a given state now holds, or indeed could hold, hegemony.
This new hegemony has an imperial character, that manifests itself in the coexistence of overlapping economic, statal, sub- and supra-national institutional structures and jurisdictions that complement each other and compete with each other, with fuzzy frontiers that do not separate spaces and sovereignties. We thus name the new hegemony by the phrase Empire without Emperor, coined by Jean-Marie Guéhenno. The new universal constructs cannot be based on a formal universal polity or economic system. Instead, they are based on harmonised standards and regulations that define the interactions between different components. This allows and encourages diversity, as long as it conforms to the framework of rules agreed upon.
Also due to the new information and communications technologies, identities become fragmented, breaking bonds of solidarity. A new non‑geographic core-periphery structure can then be formed, whereby a sizeable part of the population of core countries is excluded and delinked from the benefits of coreness, and whereby a small part of the population of peripheral countries becomes part of a newly constituted non‑geographic core.
The implications for Europe will now be summarised.
A system of multilevel governance is emerging in Europe, with overlapping and ill‑defined spheres of competence and of allegiance by different actors. Nation-states remain important actors, but they are joined by sub-national ones such as regions, supra‑national ones such as the European Union, and non‑national ones such as transnational corporations. This complex polity is well adapted to the Empire without Emperor hegemony: it is highly flexible, delocalised, diffuse while being able to claim tight connections to particular loci, and it sustains and promotes the coexistence of multiple identities.
The European Union can be seen as a legal and regulatory polity, that relies extensively on external inputs, mainly provided by transnational corporations and business associations and by single-interest representation groups. It is thus the facilitator of the transfer of national policy making to those actors with privileged access to its institutions.
Its institutions, particularly the European Central Bank after European Monetary Union, contribute to a decline of provision of welfare and to reduction of social rights in a way that is democratically not accountable, which furthers the internalisation of the core‑periphery structure of the Empire without Emperor hegemony in Europe.
The European society becomes split into two tiers, one composed by the new core of ‘knows’ as well as by what is left of the old geographic core, the other composed by the new non-geographic periphery of ‘know-nots’. The all‑inclusive citizenship associated with nation‑states is replaced by a fragmented citizenship which only the first tier will enjoy, based on participation in the processes of governance, that are no longer exclusively the concern of governments.
Antisystemic movements have changed their nature accordingly. They no longer base their claims on universal constructs such as class solidarity, instead they use fragmentation to claim rights for single-interest groups, whose membership is made of the non‑geographic core, that thereby actively participate in the exclusion of the non‑geographic periphery.
The exclusive, self-sufficient, national culture no longer mobilises citizens into solidarity and common identification. While the appeal to the nation does not disappear in the Empire without Emperor hegemony, it loses importance relatively to local and regional cultural traditions. This engenders new nationalisms, that are not, however, expansionist as in the nineteenth century, but defensive.
Non-violent nationalisms do not threaten European integration under the aegis of the European Union. Violent nationalisms such as in Yugoslavia do threaten the European system, but the structures to control such threats are already in place. This is based on prevention of conflicts through a long-term economic policy by the European Union on one hand, and on local containment of conflicts by military means when prevention fails on the other hand, mostly carried out by NATO.
We will now discuss the theoretical framework presented and try to extend it.