This chapter presented a very concise brief summary of some aspects of world systems theory. We concentrated on the concepts of systemic cycles of accumulation of capital and hegemony in the modern world.
We studied the way in which one power is able to reorganise the structure of the world system through a massive expansion of its foundations, launching and leading a phase of systemic material expansion, thus attaining hegemonic status.
The unravelling of material expansions due to inherent internal contradictions was also studied. However, just as each hegemony contains the seeds of its own destruction, its decline also provides opportunities, that when taken up by a successful new group of capitalists constitute the seeds of a new systemic cycle of accumulation of capital.
The Genoese (allied to Iberia), Dutch, British and American hegemonies were successively studied. While we concentrated on the political economy aspects of each, we also briefly looked at their social, military, and cultural aspects, as well as to the periods of systemic chaos marking the transitions between hegemonies.
Each two consecutive systemic cycles of accumulation can be seen as a single larger structure, as after periods of geographic expansion are naturally followed by periods in which the opportunities created are exploited to the full: the Dutch traded with the world that Iberia ‘discovered’, the Americans traded with the world that Britain ‘conquered’.
We situated the formation and evolution of the capitalist modern world system in the wider framework of a five thousand year world system. In this respect, we can see the double Genoese/Dutch ‘discovery’ cycle as marking a meta-systemic transition from a world system based on Eastern (Asiatic) hegemony to a world system based on Western hegemony. This was accompanied by a change in the nature of polities, with the formation of the Westphalian inter-state system.
This meta-systemic chaos, during which the Eastern and Western hegemonies coexisted, was finally resolved with the double British/American ‘conquering’ cycle, when Western agencies attained undisputed hegemony.
Finally, this chapter dealt only with the world system up to US hegemony, mentioning only briefly the question of whether, when and how it will come to an end. That will be the subject of the next chapter.