Central Civilization

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= hypothesis by David Wilkinson : " "Central Civilization," born regionally in the Middle East about 1500 B.C. in the collision of two smaller, expanding local civilizations, expanded throughout the globe, engulfing all competing civilizations to become the unique global social system in the last 100-150 years". [1]

Contextual Quote


"We may identify the separate origins of Sumer, Egypt, and the Indus as at some time in the fourth to the third millennia bc. The world system begins with their later confluence. David Wilkinson (1989) dates the birth of "Central civilization," through the political-conflictual confluence of Mesopotamia and Egypt into one overarching states system, at around 1500 bc. Wilkinson's work is of very great value to the analysis of world system history. Essentially, the confluence of "Mesopotamia" and "Egypt" gave birth to the world system."

- Barry K. Gills and Andre Gander Frank [2]


"Where Toynbee had urged us to look beyond our nation to our civilization, and to realize that our civilization was but one among a considerable number, now we are urged to consider the world as a whole, linked by networks of communication, trade, and monetary electronics, or in the current phrase, by globalization. Civilizations seem, by contrast, parochial, redundant, transitional. It appears that civilizations have not died; they have only merged. For David Wilkinson, at home as either world systems analyst or civilizationist, civilizations are historical entities, to be studied as historians study the Tang Dynasty or anthropologists Mississippian Culture. Long before globalization became a term in common usage, all civilizations had merged into a single Central Civilization."

- Matthew Melko [3]


Video by Robert Conan Ryan via https://www.facebook.com/robert.ryan.9279/posts/pfbid02jYEawSjq29D6Y1kvrLqnMwuYf7jqha7vH6voMRN1EqNh7QiiZ1GiUu1yJ1JL9ZUHl

"In this short video I briefly explain how world systems theory 3.0 is different from other approaches to analyzing civilization I stress the fact that there has never been a full collapse of the Magisteria. Civilizations come and go but the Magisteria only gets bigger and absorbs everything. Since the 20th century the world Magisteria has absorbed all Civilizations. All!! No civilization has ever fully collapsed that has joined the world Magisteria. Sure individual governments have fallen and borders are redrawn. But all Civilizations who joined the Magisteria have lived on through a shared system of knowledge. In other words, there won't be any civilization collapse because we are already in a post-civilization global landscape. Any local collapses will simply be restored by the world system as a whole - the Magisteria is a single global Knowledge system that already penetrates all major governments.. As such, reconstruction of smaller parts of "collapsed" world system is inevitable. Instead of thinking in terms of civilization collapse, we should be thinking in terms of a post civilizational world and the transhuman construction of posthuman creations. Even if the world goes through wars and resource shortages, the world will not lose the Magisteria (knowledge won't collapse). We should be more worried about the justification of HUMANS in a world where we can genetically modify and digitally augment the agents within this magisteria to posthuman statuses."


1. David Wilkinson:

"Today there exists on the Earth only one civilization, a single global civilization. As recently as the nineteenth century several independent civilizations still existed (i.e. those centered on China, Japan, and the West); now there remains but one.

Central Civilization. The single global civilization is the lineal descendant of, or rather I should say the current manifestation of, a civilization that emerged about 1500 B.C. in the Near East when Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilizations collided and fused. This new fusional entity has since then expanded over the entire planet and absorbed, on unequal terms, all other previously independent civilizations.

I label this entity "Central" civilization."


2. Wikipedia:

"Wilkinson redefines civilization on connectedness criterion, not cultural criterion, as "a city-state, cities-state, or tightly linked politico-military network of such states that are not a part of a larger such network", and considers civilizations as world-systems.

Wilkinson introduces the idea of "Central Civilization" or "Central World-System", which he argues emerged about 1500 BC with the integration of the Mesopotamian and Egyptian civilizations, and then engulfed the Aegean civilization in 560 BC, Indic civilization in 1000, the New World after the Age of Discovery, and finally the Far Eastern civilizations in 1850. This idea has been followed and developed by other scholars.

The notion that the Middle East and Europe are in the same system was also adopted by Ian Morris's award-winning book Why the West Rules—For Now, which defines the West as all civilizations descending from the Fertile Crescent, rather than just the traditional Western world."



See also: David Wilkinson's Views on the Other Civilizational Analysts

David Wilkinson:


The title of this article states my position in the rieh and burgeoning civilizationist/world-systems debate about as succinctly as possible.

Civilizationists and world-systems analysts should be studying the same entities. This will occur if and when civilizationists accept that the many local civilizations of the past have become the single global civilization of today; and when world-systemists accept that the single, global world-system of today is the fusion product of a substantial number of smaller-scale world systems of the past; and when both accept that the plural civilizations of the past, and the plural urbanized world systems of the past, were, and that today's singular civilization and singular world system are, identical.

A joint intellectual undertaking could then be pursued, probably with different but complementary emphases. Civilizationists might cluster their efforts more (but not exclusively) toward the earlier, more pluralistic epochs of civilizational evolution, world-systemists toward the later, more monistic.

Civilizationists already tend, I think, to interest themselves more in the cultural aspects of a society than in the political. and more in the political than in the economic; world-systemists tend oppositely; neither group need surrender its inclinations, though each would have to take account of the other's propositions.

Few readers will he shocked to learn that my proposals suit my own established predilections; tor their benefit I should place my cards face up on the table. In 1966 I was urging my graduate students in international relations to find ways of integrating the work of Spengler and Toynbee with what was then called a systems analysis approach to international relations theory, whose chief representatives then were Morton A. Kaplan (1957) on the deductive. theoretical. normative side, Stanley Hoffmann (1960, 1965) on the historical-sociological side, Richard N. Rosecrance (1963) combining hoth - all three were my teachers -- and George Modelski (1961). This is the kind of assignment which one usually winds up having to carry out oneself. That duly occurred, and in 1967 I found myself producing for my students' henefit, or dismay. a manuscript called "Civilizations and World Politics:' whose then incarnation drew on most of the aforementioned. plus Charles McClelland (195R). A.F.K. Organski (195R. esp. chs. R. 12, and 17).

It didn't work because it vacillated between accepting the assumption of the international-systems analysts that the contemporary globe contained one and only one system, which produced the interesting and important phenomena of balance-of-power, states-system-and-empire, order-and disorder, peace-and-war, and the assertion of the civilizationists that the contemporary globe contained several distinct civilizations, defined by common cultural forms, for which the above-mentioned phenomena were the results of their internal processes.

Examining that manuscript at this distance in time, I am struck by the fact that I had all that I needed to reach the resolution I in fact accomplished much later. On the systems side, Modelski had drawn attention to "homogeneity"' (one vs. many parallel "traditions") in a social system as an important variable (1961: 126-30). Aron, following Papaligouras' (1941: 174) contention that multiple parallel international legal processes had authoritatively posited mutually contradictory international legal norms, had argued that "the distinction between homogeneous systems and heterogeneous systems" was fundamental (Aron, 1966:99-100), and had defined as "heterogeneous" those international systems in which states were organized according to different principles and obeyed different values (1966:94,98-100, 128). Hoffmann, extending Papaligouras' argument of (1941: Ch. VII -VIII), had argued that heterogeneous or "uneven" international systems were also unstable or "revolutionary," because the stakes of conflict therein were unlimited (1965:92-93). In contrast, Rosecrance, following Ashby's cybernetics, had contended that the degree of "variety" in international systems' disturbance and regulation was an important empirical variable in accounting both for breakdown and for stabilization (1963:220 ff). On the civilizationist side, Toynbee, in his Reconsiderations, had defined "society" as the total network of relations between human beings, "societies" as particular networks that are not components of any larger network, "civilization" as a state of society in which a minority of the population is liberated from economic activities, and "civilizations" as that species of the genus society whose members are particular historical exemplifications of the abstract idea "civilization" (1961:271,278,280,282,287). I also had Quigley's preliminary criterion of cities (and writing) as the external identifiers of a civilization (1961 :31-32). But I tried to compromise among incompatible world-views by adopting the criteria of all simultaneously. I proposed to examine, as civilizations and world systems: large and coherent social areas with a large and fairly dense population, cities, and writing; which comprised social-transactional network structures with closed boundaries; in which wealth is created, savings accumulated, a nonproducing class supported, and economic inventions created and exploited; and having unity of cultural form. These criteria simplified empirical and comparative study famously, as nothing got past them.

My work along these lines accordingly stagnated, though I watched with interest the extension of Kaplan's model to a smaller scale by my then colleague Anthony Martin (1970), the new work of Modelski (1972, 1987) and Modelski and Thompson (1988) on the evolution of the world system, and the beginning of what was to prove continuous development of the world systems approach of Immanuel Wallerstein (1974), none of which, however, could quite resolve my difficulties. Martin was examining a regional subsystem, a core, rather than a whole system. Modelski and Thompson brought a very useful reflection on geopolitics, and particularly the changing meaning of naval power in systems of different sizes and hence spatial configurations, without resolving for me the problem of the unit of analysis.

Wallerstein (like Modelski) went farther back in search of relevant history than most systems analysts, but not as far as Quigley, whose political economy seemed more persuasive.

After participating in the refoundation of the International Society for the Comparative Study of Civilizations in the United States (Philadelphia, December 1971), and in response to the dialogic initiative of Matthew Melko, reading Melko's 1969 work The Nature of Civilizations and the manuscript works of John Hord (q.v.), and having a 1977 redraft of "Civilizations and World Politics" (which tried to produce a Quigleyan model, but in process found coherence and closure to be incompatible criteria and ended by proposing that the contemporary world constituted a single incoherent civilization with a core-periphery structure) commented on by both, I was impelled, in Melko's ISCSC "Boundaries" sessions of 1978-1983 (documented in Melko and Scott, eds., 1987), to a reaffirmation, a radical simplification, a change of direction, a complete abandonment of the coherence criterion, and new conclusions, as follows.

1. Civilizations are world systems.

2. Their relevant criteria are cities and closed transactional networks, not size, nor writing, nor a Quigleyan "instrument of expansion," nor cultural coherence/homogeneity (Wilkinson, 1987b).

3. On applying these criteria to the roster of candidate civilizations, we find that many of the "usual suspects" - Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Far Eastern, Indie, Japanese, Peruvian, Mexican - pass muster. But many others - Western, Islamic, Russian, Greco-Roman, Medieval - are not closed societies; they are parts of a larger, culturally heterogeneous network-entity. This civilization, of which these other putative "civilizations" are then regions or epochs, needs a name. I have called it "Central" civilization".

4. There was a plurality of civilizations/world systems on the globe until the late 19th or early 20th centuries. Now there is only one survivor, Central civilization, whose network expanded to global scale and absorbed all others (Wilkinson, 1987a).

5. Civilizations typically show the alternation between political disunity and political unity posited by Toynbee in his revised "Helleno-Sinic model" (1961:157, 170-209). However, the unity - the phase of the "universal state" (Toynbee), "universal system" (Kaplan), "world state," "universal empire" (Quigley), or "world empire" (Wallerstein) - is usually brief and fragile, for reasons having to do with the structure and succession of leadership (Wilkinson, 1983, 1988).

6. The chief social bond scaled to the dimensions of the civilization is politico-military-diplomatic. Cultural bonds have smaller scales. Until the growth of Central civilization to global scale, economic bonds had larger scales, and defined oikumenes, trading areas that were larger than the areas in which states could rule, fight or ally (Wilkinson, 1992, 1993).

7. Central civilization is only the most blatantly heterogeneous of civilizations. Other civilizations too are polycultures (Iberall and Wilkinson, 1993), though when (e.g., Japan) they have possessed a universal state of long duration it has usually had a homogenizing ideology and utopia (cf. Mannheim, 1936) and policy.

8. The civilization-formation process was still continuing - that is, cities were appearing on preurban social terrain, not as extensions of or reactions to the political impingements of neighboring cities, hut often as reactions to the economic impingements of oikumenes - perhaps as late as the 17th, even the 18th century in Africa (Wilkinson, 1993, 19(4).

9. Central civilization formed in the first instance in the mid-2nd millennium BC, in consequence of the expansion, collision and fusion of two pre-existing civilizations, Mesopotamian and Egyptian. It grew by expanding against, and engulfing, other civilizations, without ever fully homogenizing them or itself (Wilkinson, 1984).

10. The heterogeneities of other civilizations may be the result of the same processes. That is, a trade network extends itself into a preurban social terrain; a city forms, perhaps so that a local political elite can avail itself of the local surplus thereby generated; but a larger expanding civilization, its familiars driven by similar motives, in due course recruits the new city to its polity. The motives to recruit it to its (anyway heterogeneous) culture are weaker, and a diversity of languages (and dialects), religions (and cults and schisms), races (and physiognomies and ethnicities and families), apparels, etc. persists. Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Indic, Far Eastern, Mexican, and Peruvian civilization could fruitfully be examined comparatively, with a view to relating their various heterogeneities to the order and independence of their urbanization processes. "



David Wilkinson:

51 I have elsewhere (Wilkinson 1987: 48-53) provided some impressions of the economic "facts" about Central civilization which comparative theory needs to accommodate and explain. The civilizationist most noted for attention to economic issues is Carroll Quigley (1961); the analyst of world-systems most so noted is Immanuel Wallerstein (e.g. 1974, 1975, 1979a, b, 1980, 1982, 1983, 1984). To what extent can Quigley's and Wallerstein's ideas be deployed for such an explanatory purpose?

52 Carroll Quigley's economically driven model of the evolution of a civilization is elegant, lucid, consistent, and tight. There are serious problems in its delimitation of the units of macrosocial analysis, and in its dependence upon a relatively homogeneous structure and process to explain fluctuations in relatively heterogeneous social systems. It is not at all clear that such systems have "stages" rather than "phases." Nevertheless Quigley's concept of an instrument of expansion is more generally useful than the alternative "mode of production," which suffers from the same defects while not directly addressing the crucial issue of the general phenomenon of macrosocial expansion. Similarly, Quigley's ideas about core and periphery relationships, and about expansion/stagnation cycles, are of great value in broadening later views of the same topics.

53 The world-systems school of Immanuel Wallerstein and his colleagues has produced a large body of provocative work with great internal complexity. It too delimits the units of macrosocial analysis in ways that seem to call for revision, though in different ways from Quigley's work. It would be Useful for world-systems analysts to consider Quigley's work as a potential contributor to their own.

54 For the study of Central civilization, Quigley and Wallerstein are resources despite the fact that Quigley would deny that such an entity ever existed, while Wallerstein would accept it only for the past two centuries or so. Nonetheless this entity displays core-periphery phenomena, and probably buffers "globally" the effects of "local" expansion/ stagnation cycles which its world wars probably also "locally" entrain. Even if one does not accept the tight policy-economy linkages implied in the Quigleyan civilizational and Wallersteinian world-systems schemata, one cannot come away from reading Quigley and Wallerstein without accepting that there must be some such linkages: if not quite that posited by either, then perhaps mixtures of their pure types, and perhaps softer, more delayed, sometimes even inverted versions of their harder couplings. No two writers seem better sources for hypotheconcerning the political economy of Central civilization.

Extracivilizational as well as intracivilizational trade characterized Central civilization's Egyptian and Mesopotamian predecessors, and Central civilization itself from its inception until its incorporation of the globe. Wallerstein's propositions about the "rich trades" help to account for the existence, distance, and relatively low impact of such external trade. Still, if it is highly rational to trade what is "worthless" for what is "precious," one must expect traders (and tribute-seekers, and predators) to flock toward preciosity. Such a tendency may help explain the marked inclination of civilizations to couple with or engulf onc* another, on the assumption that uneven distribution of resources and uneven development of technology tend, while civilizations are separated, to create what will be viewed as "preciosities" as soon as they begin to communicate. This proposition, and all those hereafter asserted for Central civilization, may well be true of other civilizations, and certainly should be treated as comparative hypotheses or heuristics.

56 There existed an Old World oikumene, an ecumenical macroeconomy, a multicivilizational structure which apparently provided the highest-level largest-scale economic order until the global reach of Central civilization, as the evolving context of the world economies of the various Eurasian civilizations linked by the silk, spice, slave, gold, and ivory trades. This economy was larger than any polity (universal empire or states system) it contained, encompassing Central civilization, Indie, Far Eastern, and others. It may require theoretical treatment as a whole; its theory is likely to be quite special, precisely because of the absence of a polity.

57 Local economies and short-range trade probably account for most economic activity most of the time, with the extraction of food from each city's hinterland and its distribution to the city population of primary importance.

58 World-economic commodities in Central civilization have tended strongly to be elite goods - luxury food, clothing, shelter, and display items - along with the trade tools of elite-supporting soldiers and bureaucrats (weapon-metal; paper for record-keeping). Elites, classes, and the associated inequalities must not be treated as recent phenomena.

59 Early Central trade in precious metals may, and coinage does, imply the development of mobile free persons, merchant classes, and economic (vs. politicomilitary) elites, characterized by private property in portable

wealth. These elements of capitalism similarly must not be treated as of recent vintage.

60 The entry into the Central world-economy of fish, wheat, oil, and wine suggests mass consumption driven either by political redistribution (to hire loyalty of armed men, clients, voters, etc.) or by markets, probably varyingly by both. Luxury goods may also have spread more widely through the social structure.

61 The general trend over time is clearly toward a continuing increase in the number and variety of commodities traded in the world economy of Central civilization. Within this trend there are temporary and permanent commodity dropouts, shifts in regional contributions, epochs of faster and slower commodity increase; but the trend remains. Commodities and commodification too precede modernity, and must be attributed to some early cause, perhaps simply to civilization's division of labor, increased scale, and increased population. Commodities and markets are not intrinsically related: granite appears to be a state commodity for Egyptian monument-builders; granite-hewers worked not (primarily) to build for their own tombs, but to satisfy the monumental egos of the state elite. The increase in the number and variety of commodities over time is one piece of evidence for a secular trend to expansion in Central civilization over the past 5,000 years.

62 There is as yet discernible no clear increase in the per capita wealth or living standards of the median individual during the premodern periods of Central civilization. It appears that increased production is mostly utilized to increase total population and total urban population. The aggregate wealth of the wealthiest strata (typically politically rather than economically defined) must have increased, but it is not clear that the per capita wealth of these strata also increased.

Modernization seems another story. But if Wallerstein is right regarding "absolute immiseration," it is an even less cheerful story. One wonders, for instance, if the forward days of contemporary world food reserves are more or fewer than in the first food-storing cities. At best, there is room for doubt, and for inquiry.

63 There is no clear evidence of an endogenously economic general crisis or collapse ever having occurred in the Central world economy, although there have been city-level and state-level disasters, and system wide periods of setback and stagnation, usually deriving from politicomilitary events. This has been argued elsewhere at some length (Wilkinson 1987: 39-48). A very long-term expansive trend appears to underlie various cycles of expansion and stagnation. If Quigley is right, this implies very frequent reforms and circumventions. If an economy is very mixed, with strong regional differentiation, regional failure by institutionalization may lead to the semiperipheralization of the failing region and the destruction of the failed institutions by intruders from another region of the same civilization - a combination of Wallerstein's core-shifting and Quigley's semiperipheral-success ideas.

64 The basic expansive process in Central civilization appears to be circularly causal, dependent upon the presence of an unpopulated or underpopulated geoeconomic periphery and a Malthusian pressure: population expands; more and larger and more dispersed cities with more populous hinterlands extend and intensify settlement; there is greater division of labor and specialization; sufficient demand arises to mobilize new products or longer routes to more distant sources; total production rises; increased production mainly serves to support an enlarged population; etc. While seas, seabeds, poles, deserts, mountains, forests, tundra, atmosphere, and space remain in many ways peripheries and frontiers of expansion, they are also barriers. Whether the ultimate bounds of human expansion are those of landmasses or of the universe is not clear. Can a civilization avoid taking out all its economic expansion extensively, by a corresponding population growth? Perhaps not.

65 The borders and cities of Central civilization expanded preferentially toward commodity sources, but not always quickly, effectively, or uniformly. Quigley and Wallerstein employ circumferential rather than radial images of expansion; otherwise their theories meld well with this observation. We may add that a preferred direction of expansion could well be precisely toward "rich trades." Otherwise, areas likely to be brought into the semi-periphery sooner would include likely population outlets and tribute sources.

66 Whatever may be true for state and local economies, it is not correct at any time to describe the world economy of Central civilization as fundamentally feudal, nor slave, nor hydraulic, nor free-peasant, nor communal, nor corporate, nor hierocratic; nor is it fundamentally, in the Wallersteinian sense, either a "world-economy" (capitalist) or a "world-empire" (tributary). In the fifth century bc, to take an apparently extreme example of variety, but a binding one, what was the Athenian economy? A slave economy (there was a very large slave population)? A peasant economy (most citizens were country-born and bred, and landowners, producing sheep, cattle, grapes, olives, grain)? A merchant capitalist economy (exporting wine and oil, providing coinage and a carrying trade)? An industrial economy (based on the silver, lead, zinc, and iron mines, importing grain)? With an industrial proletariat (slaves included skilled workers; free workers' wages hovered at subsistence)? A world-empire (Athens imposed trion other states)? A welfare state (much of the population was on the pupayroll via the mass-jury system)? A socialist state (massive expenditures on public works - harbors, fortifications, temples, naval expeditions)? Clearly something of all: a very mixed economy. And all this in a tiny fraction of the total area of Central civilization!

67 It is an interesting fact, and one worth reflecting on, not just a given, that Central civilization has never yet been completely penetrated by any particular "instrument of expansion" (in the Quigleyan sense) or "mode of production" (in the Marxian sense). A possible hypothesis is that there are a limited number of possible modes of production (Wallerstein); that all have inbuilt self-destructive propensities (Quigley); and that the only available choices at times of reform or circumvention are the items from the same old menu.

68 A possible reason why the world economy of Central civilization has never been fully statist is that the universal states of Central civilization have been either short-lived, with their extraction capabilities confined to the civilizational core, or tolerant of private property and merchant classes. Since the same could be said of universal empires in Indie, Far Eastern, Japanese, and Mexican civilizations, we might want to look at the Inca empire, also brief but apparently ultra-statist, to question its extremism, explain its divergence, and thereby explain the norm. Similar questions might be usefully put to statist national economies, e.g. the Soviet and Chinese, within states systems.

69 A possible reason why the world economy of Central civilization has never been fully capitalist (private-propertarian, individualist, marketive) is the unbroken prominence of the political state, based on force, and of political-military-religious elites based on ground rents, taxes, and extraction by force. Why can these elements apparently not be expunged? How far can they be suppressed, and kept suppressed? These are questions of interest at least to libertarians, and to those socialists who are in touch with the anarchist rather than statist tendencies of that movement. Wallerstein's idea of the marketer's mixed motives and the consequent need of capitalists for states is very much in point here.

70 For whatever reason, the Central economy is at all times a mixed, political economy, embodying trade and war, coercion and bargaining, the one-few-and-many. The balance shifts with time, scale, region, commodity. And possibly other variables. The determinants of the mix need study, The coexistence, with regional and temporal variations, is so marked as to suggest a theory of the mixed economy as historic norm, and the idea of capitalism and socialism as ideal-typical extremes needs developing.

71 The balance shifts more toward "capitalism" (without ever coming close) as states are small, weak, and numerous, more toward "statism" as they are few, strong and large.

72 One useful indicator of the statist/capitalist balance in the civilization might be the balance between cities of the same size that are state capitals (i.e. power-maintained) and that are commercial centers (i.e. trade-maintained).

73 The core/semiperiphery distinction is not that of a straightforward division of labor between political coercion and economic supply, nor between primary and higher-tech products; but both divisions are notably present. The element of time-delayed expansion over space, of institutional aging, of destructive core wars, of unequal "materialism" and exogenous technical development will also all doubtless prove factors in determining and shifting cores.

74 It is the politicomilitary predominance of the core, not any purely economic differentiation or "unequal exchange" tradition, that mainly accounts for the tendency for the core to drain the semiperiphery: loot, tribute, taxes, price controls, confiscations, trade route closures, and enforced monopolies are primarily political ventures. A significant fraction of primary products come from within the core, from the hinterlands of core cities. This becomes less true in the nineteenth century with the development of railroads; the British .policy of agricultural free trade may mar the shift. However, it remains true that...

76 Citification, and eventually core status, tends to move toward major semiperipheral supply sources.

77 Wherever it is possible to map the distribution of wealth in Central civilization, inequality prominently appears: by city, by region, by political power, by inheritance, in law, by age and family status, by gender. The several inequalities do not appear to be reducible to, any one fundamental root inequality.

78 There is abundant scope here for theory and observation, dialectic and eristic, in the contemplation of the world economies of Central and other civilizations. A world system will certainly have a world economy associated with it, and it is worthwhile trying to describe such an economy, and seek theoretical assimilation of the description. Terminology adequate to describe holistically the economic structure of a civilization does not yet exist. It cannot be produced simply by adapting and generalizing "macroeconomic" terminology suited to describe the economy of a state or the economic institutions of a culture, since a civilization is neither a state nor a culture. World economies do not appear to be characterized by sufficiently homogeneous class systems, property systems, production relations, divisions of labor, or instruments of expansion, to make holistic Marxian, Wallersteinian, or Quigleyan characterizations very revealing. There are coexisting and contradictory property types rather than a prevailing property type, coexisting and inconsistent class structures rather than a prevailing class structure, heterogeneous divisions of labor, and several competing instruments of expansion. We have clearly only just begun the theoretically salient description of Central civilization's world economy.

79 It is the case that there have been economic structures of larger scale than the political structures they contain. I would refer to the theoretical problem of establishing the interconnections between economy and polity when the two are not coextensive as the problem of the oikumene.4

80 An "oikumene" is here defined as a trading area, a domain internally knit by a network of trade routes, in which there is enough internal trade so that the whole trading area evolves to a significant degree as a system, while trade outside the area, though perhaps important both to the oikumene and to other oikumenes with which it trades, is not sufficiently dense and significant to cause system-level development to encompass these external systems.

81 Oikumenes may contain no civilization (pre-urban trade networks); may contain and be coextensive with one civilization (the present global economy); may contain but outlie one civilization; may contain and outlie more than one civilization.

82 In an empirical examination (Wilkinson 1992-3), it proved possible on the whole to correlate "civilizations" (politicomilitarily linked urban' networks) with "oikumenes" (economically linked urban networks) in which they nested. What similarities and differences exist in the nature and development of oikumenes, as trading areas, and civilizations, as systems of states and empires?

83 A world economy, lacking a coextensive world polity, but containing world polities of smaller area than its own, existed from (at least) the fourth millennium BC (when it linked the world polities of Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilizations) to the nineteenth century ad (when a world polity became global, and coexistensive with the world economy that had theretofore contained it). Other such "oikumenes," trade-linked but not politicomilkarily bonded, probably connected Chibchan with Peruvian civilization, and may have linked Mexican with Mississippian and/or Mexican with Peruvian civilization. But it is particularly noteworthy that Central civilization, from c. 1500 bc to c. 1900 ad, formed a politically coherent social system smaller than, nested wit, expanding in pace with and into the space pioneered by, an economically coherentbut politically unlinked oikumene. Because that oikumene seems to have been the globe's oldest "world economy," it is designated herein the Old oikumene. The Old oikumene is not only the eldest of the several members of its species (there have been Indie, Far Eastern, and Japanese oikumenes at least, in addition to those of the New World); in its expansion it, like Central civilization, engrossed all others, and today, grown to global scope and (for the first time) coextensive with a polity, is the sole survivor of its species.

84 Oikumenes contain civilizations, but not the reverse. Oikumenes organize larger areas more weakly. Why should this be? Perhaps because politicomilitary ties (rule, attack, threat, alliance) are more costly for actors to maintain than economic ties; or because they impose a net economic loss on the whole system that maintains them, while trade ties produce a net gain. Politics (or political economy) may be a negative-sum game, economics a positive-sum game. Western neoclassical economists would be happy to think so; redistributionists would not.

85 Oikumenes tend to expand. Despite occasional setbacks (reflected by losses of urban population), there have been underlying upward trends in numbers of megacities and in their sizes. Oikumenes tend to expand in area as well as in human and urban numbers: the Old oikumene expanded from the Middle East to global scope, in the process colliding with and absorbing the other oikumenes.

86 There is a parallelism between the tendency of oikumenes to expand, collide, and merge and that of civilizations to do the same. But there is also a major difference: namely, the apparent absence of the distinction between (he inegalitarian "engulfment" and egalitarian "coupling" relationships in oikumenical fusion. In particular, during the interval between the fusions of the Old oikumene with Indie and Far Eastern oikumenes, and the later fusion of Central civilization with Indie and Far Eastern civilizations, i.e. between about 326 bc and 1000-1600 ad in the Indie case, and between about 622 ad and 1900 ad in the Far Eastern case, it is hard,; to argue for any kind of extreme inequality in the transactions between the formerly separate oikumenes. Intense complaints and resistance seem to appear as a result not of economic penetration, but of politicomilitary penetration, not of oikumenical fusion but of civilizational fusion, in which politicomilitary predominance also alters the terms of economic redistribution in the direction of the penetrating powers.

87 Civilizations follow oikumenes, and "the flag follows trade," and not the reverse. There appears to be a powerful economic incentive, once trading areas have expanded beyond the politicomilitary reach of the powers in a civilization's political system, for those powers to extend the reach of their rule, violence, threat, and power-bargaining. No doubt there is a reciprocal incentive for traders and colonists to get outside civilizations' polities, and then to reach back for economic ties. Economy flees polity, which pursues.

88 Oikumenes do not allocate their benefits equally and impartially, except in the Malthusian sense that populations '"granted" a surplus tend to use it to become numerous and poor rather than few and rich (though elites within such populations seem to do the opposite). On the assumption that a notable growth (or shift) in megalopolitan population implies, and results from, a notable growth (or relative shift), of "wealth," the question of which world city was the largest when becomes of theoretical interest.

89 No clear system-level processes exist that give or remove primacy of wealth and population to or from chief cities of the civilizations in polycivilizational oikumenes; urban primacy at the oikumene-level appears to be mostly an epiphenomenon of asynchronous imperial unions and collapses at the civilization level.

90 It would seem consistent to expect that in a monocivilizational oikumene (like the current one), economic inequality is likelier to be the result of politicomilitary than of purely economic processes.

91 There are some apparent, though not in principle unresolvable, discrepancies between this argument and the recent and current findings of other workers, notably Barry K. Gills and Andre Gunder Frank (chapter 3 above; cf. Frank 1990: esp. 228-33). On the one hand, their argument that the world system developed from its origins in Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Indus, into the "Asio-Afro-European ecumene" and incorporated the Western hemisphere after ad 1500 (p. 81-2 above) is virtually identical to the interpretation I would put on Tertius Chandler's (1987) city data, though I prefer the term "Old oikumene" to both the "world system" and "the 'Afro-Eurasian ecumene.'"

92 Furthermore, I fully concur with their defense (p. 85-7 above) of Central Asia's very important and unduly neglected role in the development of "the world system" (for me, of Central civilization and of the Old oikumene).

93 On the other hand, I feel compelled to use a substantially later dating of the incorporation of several key areas into "an over-arching system of inter-penetrating and competitive super-accumulation" (p. 81-2 above) than is implied in their work, which brings the Indus zone into the "world system" by about 2700 bc (p. 81-2 above) and China apparently by 500 bc. To the extent that I am constrained by Chandler's data, I see the Indus as inside the Old oikumene in Chandler's "snapshot" for 1800 bc, but Indie civilization as thereafter outside the Old oikumene in 1200, 1000, 800, 650, and even 430 bc, and not back until 200 bc. To that same extent, I see Far Eastern civilization as outside the Old oikumene up to the 500 ad "snapshot" and inside it only in and after the 622 AD "snapshot."

94 The reasons for our differences are two, and the same in these two cases. One reason is approachable by theory, one by research. The theoretical reason is that I am unwilling to accept that the connection of two oikumenes has produced a single system until the trade routes that connect the two have been studded with entrepot cities whose population and polity are pretty clearly sustained by brokering (and guarding, warehousing, servicing, repackaging, rerouting, and parasitizing) the trade. Thus the rise of Rayy, Baikh, Broach, and Taxila are to me important and necessary indicators of the reincorporation of Indie civilization's private oikumene into the Old oikumene by 200 bc; the rise of Samarkand and Kashgar serves similarly as indicators of the incorporation of the Far Eastern oikumene into the Old oikumene by 622 ad.

95 The researchable reason might, however, reduce or even resolve our chronological disagreement without requiring changes in theory on either side. Chandler's 1987 data takes the threshold of city size down only to 30,000 in 430 bc, and to 40,000 in 500 ad. Were data to be collected down to the threshold of 10,000 which I prefer, it may be taken as certain that each of Chandler's tables of cities would be greatly expanded, perhaps in the case of some of the later tables expanded by one or two orders of magnitude. Inspection of the Chandler tables suggests very strongly that city sizes form a near-Zipfian distribution - the larger the fewer; the smaller the size the more cities at that size. In the process of such expansion, it is highly probable that many cities which, like Samarkand and Kashgar, crossed a 40,000 threshold by 622 ad, would have crossed a 10,000 threshold by 500 AD and not impossible that they did so much earlier, or that other cities on the same route crossed the lower threshold long before those crossed the higher. It is therefore quite conceivable that further research will fully resolve our chronological disagreements, with or without a resolution of our theoretical differences.

96 A second difference between the argument developed here and that of Frank and Gills has to do with the system-level phenomenology of my "Old oikumene" and their "world system." I have not located prior to the nineteencentury the phenomenon they characterize as "super-hegemony": a "privileged position... in whicone zone of the world system and its constituent ruling and propertied classes are able to accumulate surplus more effectively and concentrate accumulation at the expense of other zones" (p. 103 above).

97 I prefer (to "superhegemony") the term "parahegemony," based on the multiple connotations of the prefix "para-": related to; almost; closely resembling the true form; abnormal; beyond. "Parahegemony" is a position in an oikumene in which the parahegemon derives economic benefits similar to those which a true hegemon is able to extract by the use or threat of force. But the parahegemon does so without the need to spend on force, because it has the economic advantage of being a highly privileged fore-reacher (a center of invention, and/or saving and investment, and/or entre-preneurship) and/or a rentier (monopolizing a scarce resource, a trade-route intersection or choke point, an enormous market, etc.); and because it has the politicomilitary advantage of being strong enough to defend its centers and monopolies, or of being outside the politicomilitary striking range of its rivals and/or victims.

98 The terminological difference is not crucial. "Parahegemony" could not unreasonably be called "superhegemony," even though it involves less relative power than "hegemony," because it may be more secure, less assailable, cheaper to maintain than genuine politicomilitary hegemony.

99 There have, I believe, been recognizable parahegemons on the world-systems. Britain, often mistakenly styled "hegemonic" in the nineteenth century, was a parahegemon - able to defend itself from anyone though not to conquer or control any of its great-power rivals; advantaged by being first or fastest in industrial development and then in finance.

100 So, after the Second World War, was the United States parahegemonic rather than hegemonic? The USA was incapable of compelling positive compliance by Russia (Stalin's violation of Yalta), China (failure of the Marshall mission; failure of the 1950 Acheson initiative), France (general intractability of General De Gaulle), India (defection from 1950 Korean war support coalition; foundation of nonaligned movement), even North Korea (1950-3) or North Vietnam (1954 ff.). It was, however, fully capable of defending itself, all its trade routes and major trading partners, and it possessed relative superiority in agricultural and industrial capacity and in innovative capacity and achievement. By contrast, the position of the USA in 1991 was far closer to hegemony than to parahegemony: it was better able to coerce, and less able to compete.

101 But were there pre-nineteenth-century parahegemons? I have not found their trace in the Chandler data. The historical traces of oikumenical parahegemony ought to include cosmopolitan accumulation of wealth; and, if we accept that a wealthy cosmopolis will contain a luxuriating patriciate and a proliferant and/or immigrative plebs, remarkable growth in population ought to be as usable a sign of parahegemony as would be the accumulation of palaces and temples, pleasances and theaters, monuments and brothels, warehouses and ministries, harems and hippodromes.

102 The largest city in an oikumene is, then, perhaps also the sign of the oikumenical parahegemony of the state within which it lies. But there are other possible explanations for cosmopolitan size. A city might be largest by reason of direct hegemony (not parahegemony) over the oikumene as a whole. Or it might be largest for reasons accidental to the oikumene but well-grounded for some region within the oikumene, e.g. because its state was locally hegemonic (or parahegemonic) to the most populous or wealthiest region within the oikumene.

103 In reviewing Chandler's list of "Cities that can have been the largest" (Wilkinson 1992-3: Table 30) most such seem to have their status plausibly explained on grounds that relate to their regional rather than their oikumenical role. Most commonly they rose in population as their state acquired hegemony, empire or universal empire, not within the whole of the Old oikumene but within a civilization that was a politicomilitarily linked region within the economically bound system of the oikumene, and they fell in size in proportion as the scope of the regional domination of their state shrank.

104 On the whole, therefore, the achievement of oikumenical parahegemony seems to be a relatively recent phenomenon. Why? The answer is no doubt partly to be found by closer examination of the rise of nineteenth-century London and twentieth-century New York; but also in the failure to reach parahegemony of earlier plausible candidates. These would be those cities that acquired large populations without acquiring empires large enough to account for those populations, and which accordingly probably prospered mainlymrough success in trade, but which never rose to demographic primacy: perhaps this list should include Kerma (Nubia), Hazor, Ugarit, Saba (Yemen), Hastinapura, Miletus, Broach, and Canton; surely it would include Tyre, Athens, Carthage, and Venice. If the experience of the latter quartet is characteristic, then the usual pattern of the failure on the road to parahegemony is dual: one becomes a target for the attacks of dominant powers on their way to hegemony or universal empire, and is thereby distracted from wealth-seeking to defense, or destroyed, or taken over and drained; and/or one turns from the road to economic parahegemony to the parallel but different road to politicomilitary hegemony, and finds oneself unfitted to be a hegemon by just those social characteristics that made one a fit candidate for parahegemony, e.g. (perhaps) an open, fluid, volatile, mercantile social order.

105 Whether the USA has acquired the attributes needed by a hegemon, and in the process lost those required of a parahegemon, is a question that might be raised in this connection; but not in this paper.

106 Since Gills and Frank do not as yet ascribe "superhegemony" to any particular pre-nineteenth-century state, it cannot be said that we are as yet in substantive disagreement. But I am now pessimistic about the likelihood that empirical research will in future locate such an entity, while I believe they remain rather more hopeful. To the extent that their "superhegemon" and my "parahegemon" mean the same thing theoretically - the overlap is not complete, but substantial - this difference of expectations is also resolvable by research rather than otherwise. I have tried in this essay to begin where my own independent research began, and to end by coming to grips with the challenging, stimulating, and important theses about the world system and superhegemony lately articulated by Gills and Frank. Certain issues divide us still, and these are always to me the more interesting. I regard the question of hegemony, parahegemony, and superhegemony as the premier issue for the next phase of the debate, which this collection opens."


More information

  • "Civilizations as Networks: Trade, War, Diplomacy, and Command-Control", 8 Complexity no.1 (September–October 2002), pp. 82–86.
  • Wilkinson, David (1987). "The Connectedness Criterion and Central Civilization". In Melko, Matthew; Scott, Leighton (eds.). The Boundaries of Civilizations in Space and Time. University Press of America. pp. 17–21. ISBN 0819164925.
  • "Civilization: Definitions and Recommendations". International Society for the Comparative Study of Civilization. Archived from the original on October 1, 2014. Retrieved August 27, 2014.
  • Wilkinson, David (Spring 1994). "Civilizations Are World Systems!". Comparative Civilizations Review. 30 (30): 59–71. Retrieved November 24, 2017.
  • Wilkinson, David (Fall 1987). "Central Civilization". Comparative Civilizations Review. 17 (17): 31–59. Retrieved November 24, 2017.
  • Wilkinson, David (Fall 2004). "The Power Configuration Sequence of the Central World System, 1500-700 BC". Journal of World-Systems Research. 10 (3): 654–720. Retrieved November 24, 2017.

Abstracted Articles

* Article: Wilkinson, D. (1996). World-Economic Theories and Problems: Quigley vs. Wallerstein vs Central Civilization. Journal of World-Systems Research, 2(1), 117–185. doi

URL = https://jwsr.pitt.edu/ojs/jwsr/article/view/63

"This is one in a series of papers on civilizational issues. Its predecessors have argued for the existence of a world system/civilization, "Central Civilization," born regionally in the Middle East about 1500 B.C. in the collision of two smaller, expanding local civilizations, expanded throughout the globe, engulfing all competing civilizations to become the unique global social system in the last 100-150 years. If continuing social struggles both are and imply continuing social entities, there is social continuity-stabilities, trends and cycles--in the struggles forming and maintaining Central Civilization. A consequence of accepting Central Civilization as a genuine entity, or a reason for treating it as a fruitful heuristic, is, in particular, the finding that it possesses a political cycle (states system--universal empire) characteristic of other entities commonly treated as civilizations (Wilkinson, 1986; 1987, 53-56; 1988) as well as a political evolution (from multistate anarchy to balance-of-power) incipient but never successfully established in other world systems (Wilkinson, 1985)."