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The Long Twentieth Century: Money, Power and the Origins of Our Times

A comprehensive analysis of the development of world capitalism over seven hundred years.

The Long Twentieth Century traces the relationship between capital accumulation and state formation over a 700-year period. Arrighi argues that capitalism has unfolded as a succession of “long centuries,” each of which produced a new world power that secured control over an expanding world-economic space. Examining the changing fortunes of Florentine, Venetian, Genoese, Dutch, English and finally American capitalism, Arrighi concludes with an examination of the forces that have shaped and are now poised to undermine America’s world dominance. A masterpiece of historical sociology, The Long Twentieth Century rivals in scope and ambition contemporary classics by Perry Anderson, Charles Tilly and Michael Mann.

Reviews

  • “A vivid, fact-filled expose of the cyclical monetary forces that surge through human society.”
  • The Long Twentieth Century has the grandeur of a sprawling epic and the schematic grace of a Richard Neutra blueprint... It is the single most useful text on offer for anyone who wants to narrate the story of world capitalism—from its nascent form on the rim of the Mediterranean to the current reach of the United States’ empire, and beyond.”

Blog

  • "Economic System" and "Theory of an Economic System"

    In An Economic Theory of the Feudal System, published in 1976 by Verso in a translation by Lawrence Garner, Witold Kula constructs a model of the Polish economy as it developed from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century. Introducing the book, Fernand Braudel wrote:

    Kula's demonstration proceeds step by step. It analyses the very dynamic of the feudal economy, and its functional possibilities for the seigneurial economy oriented towards the export trade; for the peasant plots which sought to produce a surplus for the local market; for the craft guilds with their difficulties in a relatively unurbanized society. Numerous Polish monographs-studies of production and prices-provide documentation for Kula's hypotheses. His model is then submitted to the test of the "long-term dynamic.” The problem for it is to ascertain “the constant or recurrent phenomena whose cumulative action determined structural transformations.” For each of the parties to the system, nearly always unconsciously, by merely adapting their historical calculations to changing economic or political conjunctures, to their particular situation, to the resistances of the others, eventually falsified the inter-play of the system and altered the model so much that in the end it disintegrated. Thus from 1820 to 1860 the whole system was overthrown in a Poland that remained “feudal,” yet where the landowners had become capitalist entrepreneurs whose behaviour would have been aberrant and impossible in 1780 or so.

    Kula demonstrates the possibility of sudden ruptures in an economic model, once its resilience has been tried too repeatedly by a number of contradictions working in the same direction — contradictions some of which may be internal or inherent to the system itself, and others external and sometimes unpredictable (for example, the halt of European purchases of Polish cereals during the Continental System). His analysis of these is unerringly subtle and logical.

    Kula's work is thus an example of a Marxist problematic mastered, assimilated and elevated to the level of a lucid and intelligent humanism, and a broad explanation of the evolution of the collective destiny of men. All the findings of Polish and non-Polish economic and historical research are gathered here in an effort of objective and patient reflection, of unusual intellectual honesty. The subject of this book — in effect, underdevelopment in modern history — is of such great interest that this novel approach to it, at once very general in its analysis of a phenomenon of long duration, and very concrete in its account of the daily economic calculations of peasant, lord, magnate or squire, is an important event for historians.

    In the excerpt below, Kula defends the concept of an "economic system" and the theorization therof. 


    "Grain Doesn't Pay." Detail from the obverse of a two-sided Polish painting illustrating the falling profitability of agriculture over the course of the eighteenth century. via Wikimedia Commons

    In the preceding chapters we have studied the mechanism governing the operation of the Polish economy during the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries. We, therefore, regard this work as contribution to the economic theory of the feudal system. Theoretical construction is not possible where there are no recurring phenomena, and traditional historical science denied on principle the existence of any such phenomena.

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  • Nationalism and Imperialism: The Premises of Hobson's Definition

    Giovanni Arrighi's The Geometry of Imperialism was published by New Left Books in 1978, in a translation by Patrick Camiller. "I was disturbed, at the time," Arrighi later told David Harvey, "by the terminological confusions that were swirling around the term ‘imperialism’. My aim was to dissipate some of the confusion by creating a topological space in which the different concepts, which were often all confusingly referred to as ‘imperialism’, could be distinguished from one another."

    In Marxist debate, Arrighi argued, such confusions could be traced to Lenin's classical theory of imperialism, which at times fails to clearly distinguish it from "the monopoly stage of capitalism" or "finance capital." Arrighi's study would then be neither 
    "a simple reproduction of the thought of this or that theoretician" nor the development of a new theory of imperialism, but rather an examination of "the presuppositions of the theory of imperialism in order to explicate, specify, and delimit them." Those presuppositions were to be located not in Lenin's own theory, but in that of J.A. Hobson, which preceded it.

    In the excerpt below, the book's first chapter, Arrighi identifies 
    four primary elements of Hobson's conception of imperialism and isolates them in the form of Weberian ideal types, which them serve as the coordinates for his "topological" reconstruction. 



    It is no easy task to define the concept of imperialism. The same term is customarily used to designate diverse, and in certain respects antithetical, concepts. Indeed, theoretical controversy is often based on nothing more than a failure to grasp what is the object of reference.

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  • The Landing: Fascists without Fascism

    This post first appeared at Research & Destroy.



    We can imagine a person slowly becoming aware that he is the subject of catastrophe. The form of consciousness might be likened to someone peering out the window of a plane. They have been aboard for a long time, years, decades. From cruising altitude the landscape below scrolls past evenly, somewhat abstracted. The stabilizing mechanisms of eye and brain smooth the scene. Perhaps they are somewhere above the upper midwest. Their knowledge of the miseries that have seized flyover country hovers at the periphery of a becalmed boredom. Steady hum of the jet engines, sense of stillness. Borne by prevailing winds the first balloonists detected no wind whatsoever. So this flight. Though the passengers will never travel faster than this they scarcely feel any motion at all.

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Other books by Giovanni Arrighi