The World As It Is

In the previous blog post, I touched on what could be an evolution of power as well as an evolution of the international system in the 21st century. This evolution is largely characterized by a transition of sorts, which marks the beginning of the end of a 500-year period of European global hegemony and thus a transition into something different than European hegemony. The watershed moment that ended 500 years of European global hegemony, which consisted of three stages – Colonialism, the Cold War, and American global hegemony – was America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan in August of this year. Thus, America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021 marks the beginning of a transition out of a 500-year period of European hegemony over the international system towards something different.

            But rather than a transition to something new and uncertain, a departure from 500 years of European global hegemony could actually be a reversion to a world system or international system that pre-existed European hegemony. In a book titled “Before European Hegemony: The World System A.D. 1250-1350,” the late American historian and sociologist Janet Abu-Lughod describes and analyzes a world system that Europe would end up dominating for five centuries. In this world system – which Europe later dominated for five centuries – Europe was a rising entity within the world system, and Europe was largely interconnected with the Middle East and China through commerce and trade. Thus, there is a “traditional” period of the world system which is described and analyzed at great length by Abu-Lughod and is characterized largely as a system that is interconnected through commerce and trade between Europe, the Middle East, and China. On the other hand, there is also a “modern” period of the world system spanning 500 years of European hegemony which is described and analyzed at great length by the late world system analyst Immanuel Wallerstein.

            Abu-Lughod argued towards the end of her book that the main thing which is buoying European hegemony over the world system in this day and age is American military hegemony, which in the long run is an unsustainable form of hegemony. Thus, as the modern period of the world system begins winding down, the postmodern period of the world system may actually be a reversion to the traditional period of the system, but with social and technological evolutions. Much of the politics and economics of the world system in a postmodern age may reflect those of the traditional period.

Whether America’s involvement in the world system of Europe, the Middle East, and Asia in the postmodern age will become limited in scope as a result of domestic politics is something that is yet to be fully determined. But if the populist surge in the United States has not died down – and there is evidence to suggest that it has not died down – recent history suggests that a populist surge will end up limiting the scope of America’s involvement in the European, Middle Eastern, and Asian world system in the years and decades to come. Thus, as opposed to transitioning into something new and uncertain, the world system is perhaps reverting to something old and traditional in the years to come.

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