- The Modern World-System IV: Centrist Liberalism Triumphant, 1789–1914 by Immanuel Wallerstein
Immanuel Wallerstein published the first three volumes of his The Modern World-System in 1974, 1980, and 1989, respectively. Four volumes were originally projected, and now at last, nearly twenty-three years after the publication of the third volume, the fourth volume has appeared. But now Wallerstein says that four volumes will not be enough, so fifth and sixth volumes are projected. The fourth volume spans the period between 1789 and 1914. Volume 5 is projected to cover the period 1873–1968/89, and Volume 6 will run from 1945/1968 to about the middle of the twenty-first century. The key theme of the final volume will be the structural crisis of the capitalist world economy, its demise, and its transition to a successor system, the nature of which is “unknowable.” Wallerstein is apparently optimistic that he can finish the fifth volume, but says the sixth volume will only appear if he “can last it out.” It is hard to imagine that he can last it out for that volume, or even the fifth, since he is now in his eighty-second year and the mass of relevant literature has only grown larger.
Twenty-three years from the fourth to the fifth volume is a very long time, much longer than the time between the first and second volumes (six years) and between the second and third volumes (nine years). Why did it take so long? One reason is that the amount of literature devoted to the “long nineteenth century” is far greater than the literature devoted to earlier centuries. Wallerstein admits that this was one of the problems, posing serious difficulties of reading time and synthesis. But Wallerstein was apparently also engaged in a number of other intellectual activities, the nature of which he does not exactly [End Page 987] tell us. This is curious. What could be a more important intellectual project than finishing the grand project begun in the early 1970s? One is reminded of Marx. He published the first volume of Capital in 1867 and had written thousands of pages of draft unbeknownst to even his closest friend and collaborator. As is well known, it was left to Engels to spend at least a decade organizing and assembling these pages into what became Capital’s second and third volumes. What else was Marx doing in all of this time? Other intellectual projects? Other political projects?
One can evaluate this book either as what it claims to be, the fourth volume, or as a book in its own right. I shall attempt to do both. I make this point because it seems to be that the so-called fourth volume is not that at all. A fourth volume would be expected to run parallel to the first three volumes and thus analyze the complex economic and political interactions among core, periphery, and semiperiphery; the decline of British hegemony; and the massive technological changes of this period. But that is not what we get. Instead, we get an analysis of “the triumph of centrist liberalism.” We get mostly a treatment of, in Marxian terms, the ideological superstructure and very little on the forces and relations of production. Of course, the evolving ideological superstructure of the nineteenth-century world-system, such as it is, is an important part of the story, but it is only one part, and probably not the most important part. What a disappointment that this is all we are offered.
But I do not wish to be unduly harsh, and therefore acknowledge that the book can be evaluated on its own terms, the question of a fourth volume being pushed aside. Wallerstein tells the story basically as follows. Liberalism began with the French Revolution in 1789. It began life as an ideology of the Left, although in due time it moved toward the Center. As characterized by Wallerstein, liberalism is “the belief that it was necessary...