The main argument developed in this chapter will be that the USA systemic cycle of accumulation of capital (SCA) has come to an end, and that the material expansion (MC) phase of a new SCA already started. The argument will build on the analysis of SCAs and hegemony developed in the previous chapter, trying to establish the main features of the new SCA and the characteristics of the associated new hegemony. We will draw mainly on Jean Marie Guéhenno’s concept of an “Empire without Emperor” (Guéhenno 1995).
III Empire without Emperor
The communal impulse appears to be in conflict with the great universal constructs, and if the imperial age is the age of emperors, the era of diffusion of power – the era of power that cannot be located – is far removed from the era of empire. But if the empire can be distinguished from the republic as the indefinite can be from the definite, as procedure from principle, as the movable from the fixed, the manager from the sovereign, then we are indeed witnessing the eve of the birth of a new empire. An empire whose capital will be neither in Washington, nor in Brussels, nor in Tokyo, nor in Moscow. Rome will no longer be in Rome, and no territorial given, no dominant group, will be able to impose itself. This empire will be neither a supernation nor a universal republic. It will not be governed by an emperor. And yet, it is the concept of empire that most nearly approaches the organization that is emerging. (Jean-Marie Guéhenno 1995: 47)
The main argument developed in this chapter will be that the USA systemic cycle of accumulation of capital (SCA) has come to an end, and that the material expansion (MC) phase of a new SCA already started. The argument will build on the analysis of SCAs and hegemony developed in the previous chapter, trying to establish the main features of the new SCA and the characteristics of the associated new hegemony. We will draw mainly on Jean‑Marie Guéhenno’s concept of an “Empire without Emperor” (Guéhenno 1995).
We will start by defining the main characteristics of the what we propose as the new SCA, as we did in sections II.3.3-II.3.6 for the previous SCAs, without trying to justify all the assertions made. This approach is taken in order to state from the beginning the main ideas behind this chapter, to which we will then come back in the following sections.
The assertion that US hegemony has ended will then be justified. This is quite clearly needed, as apparently, with the disintegration of Russia as a superpower, the USA dominates the international political system even more strongly than heretofore. The point we will argue is that, while the USA continues to be the most powerful state in the world system, it no longer leads it and hence no longer defines the hegemony.
Then, the ‘long twenty-first century’, and in particular its technological basis, will be examined in more detail. The strategic commodity of the new SCA, information and communications technology (ICT), has a central role in defining its characteristics. Not only is ICT itself a major component of the new high-value added products, it is an enabling technology in many other areas, leading to enormous efficiency gains in production and commercialisation of goods.
Further, extensive use of ICT in automation leads to a qualitative change in the labour market, with important consequences for the core-periphery structure. This is of vital importance for the understanding of the unfolding societal processes, because the core-periphery structure determines the social and economic position and organisation of individuals and of states. Hence we will study the changed core-periphery structure, as well as its consequences for the world system.
 Dating of SCAs is rather arbitrary, as they describe major societal trends, not well-defined pin‑pointable events, such that precise dates are not very meaningful. In Table II, 1989 is indicated as the end of the US SCA, because the fall of the Berlin wall (and the subsequent German reunification) symbolically marks the end of the Cold War, which was the structuring defining mechanism of the US SCA. Other symbolic events could be the launching of the first web browser (Mosaic, in the early 1990s), the siege of Sarajevo, or even the mediatised death of Princess Diana.