Long-Term Trends in Politics

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* Article: Long-Term Trends in World Politics. By George Modelski. Journal of World-Systems Research 11(2): 195, August 2015. (DOI: 10.5195/jwsr.2005.387)

URL = https://www.researchgate.net/publication/281467417_Long-Term_Trends_in_World_Politics

This paper applies "the learning algorithm of Lewontin-Campbell: g-c-t-r: 
a sequence of four iterations of that algorithm at the global institutional level"


"A revisit, and an extension, of the paper From Leadership to Organization: The Evolution of Global Politics, originally presented at the University of Zurich in 1993. Three long-term processes: the evolution of global politics (or political globalization); the rise and decline of world powers (the long cycle of global politics); and the emergence of the world system, have been reviewed and updated."

Contextual Quotes

Where are we now ?


"Looking further ahead we come to the next phase of the current long cycle, its “selection” phase of Macrodecision (2026–2050). In the four earlier cycles this was the phase that generated global wars, and as their product, new leadership. In “Leadership” (p. 18) I argued that “there is no reason why in the future this process could not assume a different form, coming to a decision without resort to large-scale violence...such substitutes can in fact emerge from within the democratic community. ”We might consider two scenarios: in the first, we see a cohesive global democratic community, comprising not only the majority of the world’s population, but also the preponderance of its military, economic, and technological resources, and a majority “party” within the United Nations. This arrangement might present such unassailable strength that a direct military challenge would obviously be unproductive, if not utterly destructive but it calls for bold structural innovation in the institution of global leadership. The second, multipolar, scenario, is more conventional but allows for the possibility of alliances between the several poles of that system, and within the United Nations, hence also between democratic and non-democratic states. This alternative might reduce the chances of deep division, but courts the dangers of large-scale military confrontation."


"he social organization of humans today is manifestly more elaborate—more complex—than it was 5000 years ago (cities, writing, states, great communities, world trade, etc.). To explain this we postulate a cascade of evolutionary processes (Devezas and Modelski 2003) that includes political globalization and the long cycle. The highest of these is the world system process setting the major tasks in each phase of the (world-scale, species-wide) four-phase learning process and describing the world system (or world society) that still is a “work-in-progress. ”At this level, the four phases of that process appear as the familiar eras of world history: ancient, classical, modern and (presumptively) post-modern. But viewed as successive elements of a learning algorithm they become part of a generalized learning process; they each assume a character all their own, defined by a major theme (characteristic of that phase of the learning process): ancient, by creating the learning infrastructure; classical, by socio-religious organization; and modern, by the problem of collective organization on a planetary scale(for empirical tests, see i.a. Devezas and Modelski 2003). The emergence of the world system (or world society) might then be seen as if programmed by a four-phased learning algorithm represented in Figure 1: Logistic curve for the worldsystem process. Where are we now, and what is the prognosis?"

- George Modelski phttps://www.researchgate.net/publication/281467417_Long-Term_Trends_in_World_Politics]


George Modelski:


"What is being tested, and selected, in each period of global political evolution is the institutional set-up to govern global interactions. Upon the failure of the Mongol project of world empire, the second period tests an alternative form of organization (global leadership, whose elements include navies, bases, and alliances) against the designs of a number of aspirants for imperial rule. With Britain, it hits upon an acceptable middle solution: the informal role of global leadership, and not empire (as some have argued recently). By the 20th century, the United States steps into the now established role but at a time and in conditions that indicated that movement toward new forms of global organization was already underway. The table shows each period of global political evolution as an instance of the working of the learning algorithm (that is, of the enhanced Lewontin-Campbell heuristic: g-c-t-r: generate-cooperate-test-regenerate, Modelski 2004), a sequence of four iterations of that algorithm at the global institutional level. In turn, each such period contains (in a nested, self-similar process) four long long cycles, each representing one phase of that same algorithm."


"Where in this scheme do we stand at the beginning of the 21st century? The third period that we have already entered is certainly critical. The third period(selection and formation of global organization) is currently in the second of its preparatory phases (in the –c– phase of cooperation and integration) of this major institutional innovation that, on this analysis, will bring significant institutional change in the next, –g– phase of that process, a century from now. That (third) period will not be completed for two-three centuries. But we also recall that each such period consists of four phases, and in this instance, of four long cycles, and would extend over a half-millennium. Since about 1975 we have been in the second (integrative, community-building) phase of that third period, and that phase might extend to the last quarter of the century. That means that this, current, phase has several more decades to go. The prognosis is this: the global political system has been, since 1850, in transition to global organization, and that means that the US cycle has been no mere repetition of the British experience, but was shaped by that fact. We are now, at the start of the 21st century, in the second, coalitional, phase of that of transition. That phase will not be completed until mid-21st century, and will determine the coalition that will shape future global organization: will it be the global democratic community, or a system of “multipolarity”?"


Long Cycles

"The concepts of “rise and decline of world powers,” or the long (or “hegemonic”) cycle are now familiar to students of this subject, and they highlight principally the role of leading states, and the imperial challengers that squared off against them. That is, it is an agent-based process that is in fact subsidiary to political globalization. That of long cycles in particular goes further and includes the notion that what we are studying is a four-phased learning process (and therefore one that is structurally identical, self-similar but on reduced scale, to the two other processes we are considering). It is a basic feature of the four-phased learning cycle that the first two of its phases are preparatory in character, and that real change sets in its third, the selection phase. As we have already seen, the phasing makes it possible to establish the location in time, of the system we are analyzing.



"Where earlier, in the classical era, political interaction was mainly either local or regional, at about the year 1000 new interactors began to emerge at the planetary level, and started to activate a process of global political evolution."

Phase 1: World Empire (Failed attempt by the Mongols

Phase 2: Global Leadership

  • 1430 – discoveries Portugal, Spain
  • 1540 – Calvinist international Dutch Republic, Spain
  • 1640 – Europe’s Balance Britain, Franc
  • 1740 – industrial revolution Britain, France

Phase 3: Global Organization3

  • 1850 – IT revolution USA, Britain, Germanyg
  • 1975 – democratic transition USA, China, EU, UN
  • 2080 – global organization
  • 2175 - Economic organization




By George Modelski:

"This review of long-term trends in world politics” yields the following findings:

The main prediction (in “Leadership”) of a transition from the institution of global leadership to a form of global organization is holding up well. But such an advance might not take conclusive form for another century. The foundation for such an advance is likely to be the emerging global democratic community. The “imperial detour” is a structural feature of the institution of “global leadership” that is unlikely to change the long-term trend just outlined. The world system as a whole is well underway in the modern era of collective organization for world society."


More information

* Article: From Leadership to Organization: The Evolution of Global Politics. By George Modelski. In: The Future of Global Conflict, edited by Volker Bornschier andChristopher Chase-Dunn. London: Sage Studies in International Sociology.

"In that paper (subsequently referred to as “Leadership”), I examined insome detail the make-up of two important processes: the well-known long cycle of global politics, a.k.a. the hegemonic cycle, or the rise and decline of world powers; and the less well-recognized evolution of global politics, a related institutional process at a higher level of organization that is in effect one of “political globalization.” I presented the thesis, and the prediction, that the working oflong cycles activates, at a higher level of organization, the evolution of global politics, such that the political system at that level moves from a condition in which the chief institution organizing it is global leadership, to “global organization,” one of a more fully institutionalized form of governance." [1].

More articles by George Modelski:

“World System Evolution.” In World System History: The Social Science of Long-Term Change, edited by Robert Denemark et al.. New York:Routledge, 1999.

“Beyond Analogy.” The Evolutionary World Politics Home Page:http://faculty.washington.edu/modelski/index.html.

Modelski, George, and Perry Gardner. “’Democratization in Long Perspective ’Revisited.” Technological Forecasting and Social Change