6 - The three hegemonies of historical capitalism  pp. 148-185

The three hegemonies of historical capitalism

By Giovanni Arrighi

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The decline of US world power in the 1970s and 1980s has occasioned a wave of studies on the rise and decline of ‘hegemonies’ (Hopkins and Wallerstein, 1979; Bousquet, 1979; 1980; Wallerstein, 1984b), ‘world powers’ (Modelski, 1978; 1981; 1987), ‘cores’ (Gilpin, 1975), and ‘great powers’ (Kennedy, 1987/8). These studies differ considerably from one another in their object of study, methodology, and conclusions but they have two characteristics in common. First, if and when they use the term ‘hegemony’, they mean ‘dominance’, and secondly, their focus and emphasis is on an alleged basic invariance of the system within which the power of a state rises and declines.

Most of these studies rely on some concept of ‘innovation’ and ‘leadership’ in defining the relative capabilities of states. In the case of Modelski, systemic innovations and leadership in carrying them out are assumed to be the main sources of ‘world power’. But in all these studies, including Modelski's, systemic innovations do not change the basic mechanisms through which power in the interstate system rises and declines. As a matter of fact, the invariance of these mechanisms is generally held to be one of the central features of the interstate system.

In this paper I shall attempt to show that by applying Gramsci's concept of hegemony to inter-state relations we can tell a story of the rise and decline of world power that accounts, not just for the invariance, but also for the evolution and supersession of the modern world-system.