Giovanni Arrighi: The Long 20th Century
Do recurring economic crises suggest that capitalism itself is in terminal decline? For the sociologist and world-systems theorist Giovanni Arrighi, “capitalist history is indeed at a turning point,” but the moment of crisis “is not as unprecedented as it may appear at first sight.” As he argues in The Long Twentieth Century, his classic analysis of world capitalism from the 16th century to the present day, contemporary instability repeats a basic process experienced by all previous hegemonic capitalist powers, from the Venetians to the Dutch to the British: the exhaustion of material forces of production and the turn to “financialization” as a mode of accumulation. Yet, far from inaugurating a new epoch of growth and power, financialization spells instead the end of hegemony: as Venetian capital eventually flowed to Holland, its successor in power, so Dutch capital flowed to Britain, and British capital to the U.S. If financialization marks the “autumn” of U.S. capitalist power, what follows? What can the history of capitalism foretell us of its future?
In this course, we will read Arrighi’s The Long Twentieth Century in its entirety as we seek to understand the nature of capitalist crisis and the relationship between capital accumulation and the rise and fall of capitalist world powers. Tracing the interlinking histories of Venice, Genoa, Holland, Britain, and the United States, we’ll examine the Western European origins of globalized capitalism, made possible, per Arrighi, by a “unique fusion of state and capital”; the forces propelling its expansion; and the cyclical pattern of development, accumulation, and crisis seemingly experienced by every leading capitalist state. Throughout, we will ask: How do technology, geography, and state structure factor in the rise, and decline, of world power? What’s the nature of capitalist interstate rivalry? How does one state supplant another, and what effects does it have on the scope and character of world capitalism as a system? What are the forces driving financialization? What is the future of American hegemony? If the U.S. is in decline, what will displace it? And, what will such a reconfiguration of world power mean for capitalism as a world system?
Course ScheduleMonday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
May 08 — May 29, 2023