This chapter built on the theory developed in chapter II, in order to study the developments that the capitalist world system is currently undergoing, concentrating on systemic aspects.
We argued that the long twentieth century has ended, that is, that the systemic cycle of accumulation of capital led by the USA has come to an end. This chapter then dealt with the way the world system is being reformed after the end of US hegemony.
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 systemic cycle of accumulation of capital. The long twentieth century has ended and the long twenty-first century has already started, and we supported the view that the world system is now in the early stages of a material expansion phase.
We studied the technological foundations of the new systemic cycle of accumulation of capital, based on its strategic commodity, namely information and communications technology, and showed how they lead to some of its most important features.
We argued that the new hegemony is hegemonless, in the sense that, due to new information and communication technologies, no single group of capitalists associated with a given state now holds, or indeed could hold, hegemony.
This new hegemony has nevertheless an imperial character, that manifests itself in the coexistence of overlapping institutional structures and jurisdictions that complement each other and compete with each other, with fuzzy frontiers that do not separate spaces and sovereignties. The new universal constructs cannot thus 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.
A new non-geographic core-periphery structure has been formed, whereby a large 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 the (non-geographic) core.
We situated the new systemic cycle of accumulation in the wider framework of the five hundred year capitalist world system. In this respect, we can see the Empire without Emperor ‘permeating’ cycle as marking a meta-systemic transition from a world system based on territorial hegemonies where the basic unit is the nation-state, to a world system based on a non-territorial hegemony where the basic units are world-wide, regional and local networks. This was accompanied by a change in the nature of polities, with the transfer of some of the powers and competencies nation-states had in the Westphalian inter-state system towards both higher (trans-national entities) and lower (regions within states) levels.
The next chapter will be dedicated to the study of Europe under the framework of the new systemic cycle of accumulation of capital and the related hegemonless hegemony.