Ages of Reorganization:    Self-organization in the World System

George Modelski

 

For  NATURE+CULTURE   Volume 1, Number 2, Autumn 2006,  205-227.

 

 

Abstract

Dark ages is a familiar, if untheorized, term of world history. We propose to generalize that concept, and to reinterpret it as “ages of reorganization”. We do this by viewing the two major periods of past dark ages as phases of world  community formation — this being one of a cascade of processes that make up world system evolution. This reconceptualization allows us to see contemporary developments as the onset of another millennial age of readjustment, understood also as a world system mechanism of self-organization. It is a means whereby the threatening features of earlier developments—those of the preceding ages of concentration—are reined in automatically, as it were, to contain the dangers that they might harbor. We propose to take up these themes, recently opened up by Sing Chew in two recent papers (2002a, 2000b), and will review the following questions in response (in the light of the recently consolidated “World Cities” database): 1. How robust is the concept of dark ages? 2. Have dark ages been features of world system history? 3. Are the grounds to assume the workings of an evolutionary process? 4. Have we already entered upon the modern age of reorganization?

 

 

How Robust is the Concept of Dark Ages?

Two millennium-long stretches of world history could be described as dark ages: the first, following the collapse of the Sumerian, Harappan, and also Mycenaean civilizations, and the second, following the decline and the fall of the Han and Roman empires. Such dark ages would stand in sharp contrast with those preceding them, the ages of concentration, that were marked by striking population growth, strong urban and economic expansion, as well as rising inequalities. That concentration, in turn, put heavy pressures on the environment. But the dark ages that followed, while punctuated by extensive population movements, unsettlement, and disorder, were also characterized by systematic adjustments in the form of growth cessation, reduced concentration, and a relaxation of pressures on the environment, combined with a measure of diffusion of wealth and power—hence, also redistribution.

            The concept of a dark age is well embedded in the public mind, both in the metaphorical sense, and in reference to remembered historical experience. The entry for “Dark Ages” in the 15th edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica (1975) neatly summarizes the contemporary understanding of it:

 

Dark Ages A term employed from about the 18th century to denote the early medieval period of western European history; specifically it referred to the time (476-800) when there was no emperor in the west; or, more generally, to the period between c. 500 and c.1000, marked by frequent warfare and a virtual disappearance of urban life. It is now rarely used by historians because of the unacceptable value judgment it implies. Sometimes taken to derive its meaning from the fact that little was then known about the period; its more usual and pejorative sense was of a period of intellectual darkness and barbarity. It has also been used to describe a similar period (11th to 11th centuries B.C.) in the history of ancient Greece.[1][SB1] 

 

The Britannica entry treats dark ages as a well-known, but also contested, expression. Let us highlight three of its characteristics:

1. It is a well-established concept. Catalogs show a number of books using it as a title. Historians have employed it, albeit cautiously, for maybe two centuries. and continue to use it, subject to qualifications. It is crisp and suggestive, and it has recently proven capable of being extended into the realm of environmental concerns.

2. It is a descriptive concept first applied to the period following the collapse of the Western Roman empire in the classical era. It was then extended to the centuries that followed the demise of the Mycenaean civilization at the close of the ancient era. It is now also used in relation to events in ancient Egypt, as well as Mesopotamia and South Asia. But in the main, it represents the description of a particular region rather than a statement of the condition of the world system.

3. It is a concept with a nicely judgmental edge. It is closely linked to the idea of civilization, because it is hard to think of dark ages before cities and writing had been developed. In the paradigmatic case of Rome, we have the center of a (regional) civilization apparently threatened by, and succumbing to, the onslaught of the so-called barbarians. In other cases, too, the dark age connotes conditions prevailing in what would be thought as elements of the center of the world system, and not in its hinterlands (that would of course be expected to be shrouded in darkness).

 

This makes the concept of dark ages interesting, with a fine pedigree, spotlighting important local problems, and capable of arousing some attention. We should give it careful scrutiny, but might also ask: what is their relationship to the trajectory of the world system? Are these more than a descriptive reference to periods of troubles experienced by some societies at particular times? Are these “important phases in world system history” as Sing Chew declares (2002b: 218)? What might justify projecting such historical formations into the future of the modern world system?

 

Testing for Systemic Dark Ages

Can we demonstrate the existence of  distinctively dark ages by an analysis of systematic data on world urbanization and world population? We do that by employing the World Cities database (to be described), subject to one overriding premise—that world system history over the long haul of millennia may be best understood as a sequence of ancient, classical, and modern eras. That periodization is now commonplace among students of world history (though views might differ as to the precise dating), but it is worth being more explicit because each era has its own special characteristics and is more complex that its predecessor.

We question whether we can discern, in each of these eras—ancient, classical, and modern—a phase that might be labeled ‘dark’ in the light of the record of urbanization. (We might recall that the Britannica entry cited above mentioned “virtual disappearance of urban life” as one principal distinguishing characteristic—the other was frequent warfare.) Can we identify similar phases[SB2]  in the available information on the history of world population?

We put these questions to our World Cities database, the product of a collection effort underway since the mid-1990s, and previously reported in a number of  reports[SB3]  at conferences and on the Internet. Inspired by the work of Tertius Chandler (“Four Thousand Years of Urban Growth: An Historical Census” 1987), it differs from  [SB4] in that it does not attempt to cover all the world’s cities above a given threshold, but documents only those that might be regarded as most important in each of the three eras.

The criterion of selection for the World Cities database is the population estimate for each city at a given point in time, on the premise that the most important cities are most likely to be found among those with the largest populations. The importance of the city is, of course, the function not just of its population but of  its position in the world system and the contribution to the institutional structure of the system it supports but for the present we take population size to be the first approximation of a city’s status.  For ancient era urban centers, the effort is made to identify all those above a threshold of 10,000 inhabitants. For the classical era, that threshold is 100,000. For the modern era, our search criterion is quite high, a population of 1,000,000. We posit that trends in world cities are representative of world urbanization at large.

Included in the collection are data from the earliest beginnings of the system of world cities, in mid-fourth millennium, and at one-century intervals since -2500, right up to the year 2000, for which information was culled from the U.N. Demographic Yearbook. That means that the database contains information on about 500 urban centers distributed over five millennia, with a total of about 1,000 individual data points. The entire project has now been assembled under

one cover as World Cities: -3000 to 2000 (Modelski 2003), together with a commentary and some analysis of propositions bearing on world system evolution.

Tables 1 and 2 below supply the basic information for answering the questions we have posed in respect to dark ages (for fuller data, see Modelski 2003a). Let us summarize the conclusions that can be gleaned from them.

[[NOTE TO COMP: [Insert Tables 1 and 2 w/ captions]]]

 

Table 1 World cities, and world population, in the ancient and classical eras

 

World cities

(no.)

-3000

-2000

-1000

1

1000

Ancient

10

22

16

 

 

Classical

 

 

4

25

25

 

World

population

(m)

-3000

-2000

-1000

1

1000

Ancient

14

50*

50

 

 

Classical

 

 

50

254

255

Source: Modelski 2003:72, 206;         *proposed.

Note: The number of world cities expands between -3000 and -2000, and between -1000 and 1, but is stationary, or declines, in subsequent periods. This is the same for the world population that is expanding between -3000 and -2000, and -1000 and 1, but remains roughly stationary between -2000 and -1000, and 1 and 1000.

 

Table 2    Regional distributions of world cities in ancient and classical eras

 

Ancient world cities

(10,000+)

-3000

-2500

-2000

-1500

-1000

West Asia

10

18

16

4

3

             Sumer

8

13

11

-

-[SB5] 

Mediterranean

 

2

 

8

9

South Asia

 

2

6

 

 

East Asia

 

 

 

3

4

 

10

22

22

15

16

 

Classical

world cities

(100,000+)

1000

-500

1

500

1000

East Asia

1

8

9

5

6

South and

Southeast Asia

 

1

6

1

4

Mediterranean

2

5

8

8

4

West Asia

1

2

2

2

10

The Americas

 

 

 

3

1

 

4

16

25

19

25

Source: Modelski 2003: 38, 59.

Note: In the ancient world, the collapse of Sumer and Harappa[SB6]  after -2000, is offset by the increasingly wide distribution after -1500. In the classical world, expansion runs to year 1, followed by no growth or contraction thereafter, except for West Asia.

 

 

1. In Table 1, the most basic pattern of world urbanization in the ancient world is this: urban growth (that is, formation of urban centres) occurs in the first millennium; no net growth obtains in the second. In actual numbers, that means that the system of 10 world cities in -3000 expanded in number to 22 in -2000, but then shrank to 16 by -1000. That same pattern holds for the classical period, though in a slightly stronger form: a rise from four major (100,000+) cities in -1000, to 25 in the year 1, and 25 a millennium later. Here we have the first prima facie case for a dark age, both in the ancient and the classical worlds, showing up as a (net) no growth period. This is not a case of systemic de-urbanization—cities have hardly disappeared, but they have not notably flourished either. Urban life has continued, albeit dispersed and at a slower pace. The basic phenomenon we observe is growth cessation. Through the prism of major urbanization and at the systemic level, the two dark ages are periods of stasis, if not stability, but also urban change.

            2. Lest we dismiss this first basic finding as an exception or aberration, we see it confirmed in the second part of Table 1, in its series on world population.[2] Here, again, we observe growth in the initial millennium of the era followed by no growth in next one. The better data are for the classical era. The first millennium (-1000 to 1) allows for a sharp rise, from 50 m[SB7] illion in -1000 to 254 million 1,000 years later. Surprisingly, the second millennium, , in the end, shows no overall growth whatever beyond the level attained in year 1.[3] The case is less strong for the ancient era, for which few firm data points are now at hand, but they show a similar trend. That means that both the data sets in Table 1, on world urbanization and world population, are mutually supportive. When population expands, cities grow; when population stops growing, some cities decay while others rise, but the net result is no growth at the system level.    This leads us to the second basic characteristics of the two ‘dark ages’: they have been systemic periods of  (net) zero population growth.

            3. A finer-grained picture of the two eras may be gleaned from Table 2, on regional distributions of world cities. It shows that the numerical stability attained in the two dark ages does not mean lack of movement or change. In the ancient word, the most striking case is the disappearance of Sumerian civilization  (in southern Mesopotamia) and of the Indus Valley culture (in South Asia) (and a consequent ‘dark age’), that is balanced by the onset of urbanization in the Mediterranean and East Asiathe two growth centers of the classical world.

            Sumer was the original “heartland of cities” of the ancient world.   In -3000, Sumer accounts for eight out of ten world cities, the two others also having been Sumer-influenced (in Iran and Northern Mesopotamia). After -2300, the city-states of the land lose their independence to the empire of Sargon of Akkad. By -2000, under a native dynasty, Sumer still holds one half of the total, with the other important group in the Indus Valley linked to Sumer. But Ur III collapses under the pressure of the Elamites and the Amorites (Hammurabi was one), and by the 1740s, disaster strikes the south. After that date, to quote a recent study, “During all the dark ages in Mesopotamia we are confronted with an absence of written information”, and “there is a consistent absence of archaeological remains at the southern cities” (Postgate 1991: 299, 298). The Sumerian language dies and its civilization comes to an end, and a similar fate befalls the cities of the Indus Valley. The Hyksos, believed to be Amorites, establish themselves in Egypt, and in an episode for which records are sparse, control it until expelled, in an effort that launches the New Kingdom. At the same time, urban life is stirring in the Mediterranean (Crete, Mycenae), but that too is precarious and collapses after -1200. This inaugurates what, in the twentieth century, has usually been described as the Greek dark ages, with good evidence for destruction and depopulation, but also one that bridged Greece’ transformation, in the felicitous expression, from “Citadel to Polis”[4]. While Egypt remains an island of urban life, its once powerful New Kingdom falters; the Hittite empire collapses, and Babylon comes under attack from Aramean desert tribes that have settled in Syria. Almost all the centers of the world system are under severe pressure from the hinterlands.

            In the classical era, urbanization has now spread to all the major world regions. The main story of this second ‘dark age’ is not the special role of any one region, but the decline and fall of empires.   Contrary to a widely held impression, imperial structures were not the dominant or chief organizational force of pre-modern history. The great urban expansion of the first classical millennium was the product of systems of autonomous societies across Eurasia, but especially in East Asia and in the Mediterranean. The empires that took hold toward the close of that millenniumHan in China, Rome in the West, and Maurya somewhat earlier in north Indiano more than consolidated the fruits of the growth of the preceding centuries.[5] It is the collapse of the empires that animates the dark ages of the classical world, and paradigmatically so in Europe. That collapse is due as much to the inherent weaknesses of the far-flung, overstretched, and undemocratic organizations as vehicles of domination,[6] as to the strengths and the ascendancy of the hinterlands over the centers of regional organization. The intrusion of the Huns and the Germanic and other tribes into the Mediterranean world, topped by the sack of Rome (at  AD 410, 455[SB8] ), have become as emblematic as the cry “barbarians at the gates.” But similar processes were also at work in South Asia, where the Kushans, a clan of the Yue Qi nomads, established a wealthy domain that supplanted the post-Mauryan world. In China, the Later Han rule disintegrated in conditions of peasant rebellions and military coups, leading to what historian Jacques Gernet (1982:172) has called the “Chinese Middle Ages.”[SB9]  The imperial capital, Luoyang, was sacked twice, once in 190 by a military adventurer whose army comprised large numbers of so-called barbarians, and again in 311 by a Xiongnu ruler. It left the field open to barbarian rule in north China, but sparked a cultural boom in the south.[7]

            In the seventh and eighth centuries, the Arab armies brought down the Sasanian Empire of Persia and severely weakened that of Byzantium, besieging Constantinople both in 674 and 717. The Arabs came out of the desert hinterlands of the Fertile Crescent, and proceeded to build a Muslim community (Ummah) in the central portion of Eurasia. At a time when Europe was experiencing its dark ages, the world of Islam, in counterpoint, was flourishing.[8]

By the end of the classical era, we find the four main Eurasian regions assuming quasi-

separate identities, each with its own urban center. The overall level of urbanization is basically unchanged, but zero net growth does not mean stability, and in fact has brought turmoil consequent in the form of the fall of empires and the decline of  established centers resulting in elite conflicts and population movements.[SB10]     It is not at all obvious from the last column in Table 2, at 1000 (with just four entries for the Mediterranean), that the modern surge of major urbanization (or population growth) would take off in Europe, but it does make it likely that such a surge would, once begun,  spread to all of the world’s regions.

 

An Evolutionary Process

What are the findings of this empirically based analysis in search of dark ages? Having searched four millennia of world history for systematic data on world urbanization (and population), we cannot escape the conclusion that this evidence points directly to an evolutionary process.[9] In the first place, it indexes social change on the scale of the world system—call it world community formation. But it is also evolutionary because, over la longue duree, it shows urbanization gaining both in worldwide coverage and in complexity—moving from smaller to larger cities, serving a population that grows by orders of magnitude, in a process that tests all cities and finds some wanting. Over the same time, increasing number of people select the urban (‘civilized’) way of life over its (nomadic, tribal, or rural) alternatives. The world system shows for the first time a degree of large-scale organization in recognizably regional proportions, and, indirectly, on a world scale. Some fundamental innovations, indispensable to evolutionary learning, have been launched and took root worldwide: cities and urbanity; literacy, information storage, and time management; and the experience of solidarity on scales larger than bloodlines or face-to-face contact.

            However, we also find that the process of world social organization is not simply a matter of marching up a linear slope of progress. It is a learning process whose trajectory includes both exponential growth and periods of pause. On the one hand, parts of it undoubtedly display characteristics suggestive of dark ages. In particular, the second millennium of each era has shown zero growth in major urbanization and world populationthat is, on two dimensions crucial to world system organization.[SB11] . On the other hand, we also observe that even while we can point to several undoubtedly important, albeit local periods that observers have labeled dark ages, each of these two millennia also manifests great structural changes, evoking evolutionary processes. In world perspective, we observe no general deurbanization or population decline (only a halt to growth), and no overall loss of evolutionary potential (conditions that facilitate evolutionary learning). That is why, even while bearing in mind that the dark appellation might be appropriate in respect of certain identifiable local (often regional) situations, in that wider perspective, we cannot describe the world system as moving through unequivocally dark phases. On past experience, the world system has not exactly passed though dark ages, though it might have experienced some localized “dark spots”.

            To sum up, what we have here is a crucial, albeit long-range, social process of world proportions, with 1,000-year long phases, zero-growth characteristics on some indices, but also important transformative features. For without the ‘dark ages’ could we have had Classical Greece? And a fortiori, without the dark ages, could we have had modern Europe? So the question is, how do we conceptualize this ambiguous process without suggesting some needlessly gloomy scenarios (as indicated by such titles as “Dark Age Ahead” (Jane Jacobs 2004), or “Dark Ages America” (Morris Berman 2006)? 

            In an earlier Lund conference paper (Modelski 2000), we proposed that the evolution of the world community might entail a four-phased learning process with 1,000-year long phases, a process that can be called one of world socialization or community formation: “The evolution of the human community … is not a process of linear expansion but one of persistent tension between the pressures for innovation … and the demands for equality that are the operative conditions of every community. Innovations produce concentrations of metropolitan power … often centered on opulent cities and brilliant empires. Forming in opposition to them are the hinterlands … that from time to time organize themselves to effect a system leveling … It is hypothesized that major phases of concentration, a millennium in length, alternate with equally significant intervals of hinterland assertiveness” (Ibid: 38).

            This mechanism of self-organization consists of the alternation of millennial phases of concentration with phases that might be labeled those of reorganizationt. These phases are shown in Table 3, below. They are mechanisms of social leveling, but because of their wide scope and great impact, they are also mechanisms of environmental balancing. The data on urbanization and population offer strong confirmation of such unexpectedly long-range movements.

[SB12] 

 Table 3     World community formation/socialization

Year

-3000

-2000

-1000

1

1000

1850

2900

Period

Regional solidari-

ties

 

 

 

Global community

 

 

Phase

Concen-tration

Reorgani-

zationadjust-ment

Recon-centration

Reorgani-

zationadjust--ment

Concen-tration

Reorganizationadjust-ment

Recon-cenration

 

 

 

 

            The alternation of millennial phases of concentration and reorganization and redistribution drives the process of community formation at the world system level. We postulate a human propensity to cooperate that, in conditions of favorable evolutionary potential, tends to bring about the evolution of forms of cooperative action, even at the world level. That takes shape via a four-phased learning process whose carrier is, in this case, urbanization. That is, the four millennial phases (in the ancient and classical era) we have just reviewed might be seen as steps in the creation of several wide-area, regional matrices of cooperationframeworks within which large-scale cooperative action might hold promise. As we have seen, four major city-based networks of interaction did emerge toward the close of the classical era, found in East Asia, around the Kaifeng-Hangzhou north-south axis; in South Asia, less clearly, between Kannauji, near the Ganges in the north and Thanjuvur, a Chola capital, in the south; in the Muslim world, from Baghdad to Cairo; and in Europe, focused on Constantinople.

That is, over a period of some four millennia, we observe the formation, at the world level, of networks of regional solidarities.[10] These involved, at various times, extended trade linkages, political structures including empires, and wider religious communities. In the classical world, empires were linked with the spread of religious organization, as in Asoka’s espousal of Buddhism in the Mauryan era (c. -250), followed by Kanishka’s Kushan patronage (c. 100) that propelled it toward East Asia, Constantine’s embrace of Christianity in the Mediterranean world (312), “great religious fervour” in “Buddhist” China of the “middle ages” (Gernet 1982: 172) and the Tang in particular, and of course the Islamic empire founded by Arab cavalry armies. Accompanying these changes were, of course, the dissemination of knowledge and of technologies, of the military kind in particular, together with the intensification of long-distance commerce.

            These were forces of reorganization and readjustment. They tended toward eroding concentration and enhancing leveling. But these ancient-classical times were a rough world of uncertain order and pervasive insecurities, lacking in consensus on basic rules and in the institutions for facilitating adaptive change. In these “rough” conditions of the ancient and classical worlds, the carriers of readjustment were footloose nomads of the steppes and wandering tribes of the forest and the desert. They proceeded to impose their rule upon the faltering centers by force of arms, seizing new lands, power, wealth, and social positions. Ages of redistribution saw few contests among central powers and many assaults upon power centers from the hinterlands. Complementing their strength was the exhaustion of the centers, both material, in that concentration had led to resource exhaustion (as in soils, deforestation, or pollution) or human exhaustion (by epidemics, manpower shortages, and lack of adaptability).[11] The real question is: are those rougher features likely to resurface once again in a new age of readjustment?

A New Age of Reorganization?

What is the evidence for another age of readjustment?   We say: it is the same type of data that helped us to delimit the two earlier periods, and is summarized in Table 4.

Table 4 World cities and world population in the modern era

 

1000

1500

1800

1900

2000

2100

World cities

(1m+ inhabitants)

1

1

4

16

363*

 

World population

(m)

310

500

980

1650

6060

9460

Source: Modelski 2003: 74, 216.    *Revised

 

[SB13]             Table 4 shows another period of concentration. From small, slow beginnings, close to being aborted by thirteenth century Mongol-induced devastations and restarted only sometime later, world cities enter a growth spurt in the eighteenth century that takes them from four “millionaire” cities in 1800 to 363 only two centuries later. This is an unprecedented and never previously experienced growth rate that cannot be sustained for very long, if only because  urbanization has now reached 50 percent of the world population (10% alone living in world cities) and that growth cannot much continue much beyond approximately 80 or 90 percent. That same trend is evident in world population that, according to the United Nations (UN) projection of 1999 used in the table[SB14]  4, is expected to be nearing a plateau by 2100. In other words, both of these trends—urbanization and world population—are seen to be approaching a peak about a millennium since the closing of the classical age. Their peaks may or may not be sustainable, but much greater concentration seems unlikely.[12] The empirical evidence supports the theoretical prediction that the process of world community formation (socialization) is entering, or has entered, a new phase.

            At this point, we need to sharpen our dating scheme. We have operated so far with millennial (1,000-year long) time spans, and when dealing with such high numbers, an error margin of one or even two centuries might be tolerable. We should add, too, that this millennial interval is no mere matter of operating with round figures (though that is no doubt attractive too). In the cascade of evolutionary processes that is founded upon generational turnover (some 30 years) and that makes up world system evolution, the four phases of world community formation (socialization) are each postulated to extend over 32 generations; that is, on the average, over 1,000 years (Devezas and Modelski 2003: 836). That means that this interval has theoretical as well as empirical support.

            Empirical data reported in Table 4 would indicate that the twentieth century was indeed marked by spectacular spurts (popularly known as an ‘explosion’), both in urbanization and population, that appear similar to those attained in the years -2000 and 1, even though the most recent rate of growth is the highest ever. But these long-range world systemic movements must also be understood as synchronized, within the cascade, with shorter-range, agent-based global processes such as (economic) K-waves, long cycles of global politics, and possibly also democratization. For those shorter event sequences, the mid-nineteenth century serves as a plausible turning point, with, say, 1850 as the “start” of a new era.[13] That would suggest that the age of reorganization has now been underway perhaps for over a century and a half, and will continue to take its course until the latter part of this millennium.[14]

            Lest we reach any hasty conclusions, we need to remind ourselves that the postulated length of such a phase is 1,000 years, and that means that the distinguishing characteristics of that age are yet to be selected and to come into full swing. The early period would, in fact, be expected to be one of the definitions of the situation and the clarification of issues, hence at this time one of preliminary ground-clearing. The shape of things to come in centuries ahead is yet to be fully clarified, and the full impact of this process will not be felt for some considerable time.

            But the dating scheme that suggests a 1,000-year periodicity must also be understood, not as simple repetition, but as the phasing of an evolutionary process. That is, the modern age of redistribution would be different from the ancient and the classical ones in that the world system shows higher capacity for problem solving, including problems of reorganization and redistribution. Knowledge about the functioning of global processes is at a decidedly higher level (making an informational blackout on the model of the earlier dark ages hard to imagine), the bounds of solidarity are in the (long-term) process of extending to all of humanity[15] the institutional structure at the global level is gaining ground, and the economic surpluses available for global action are becoming significant.

            If the earlier four millennia served to form large segments of partial (regional) solidarities as the basis for world order, the following four millennia would be more than enough to ensure the formation of a world community. Within such a context, problems of redistribution appear manageable, even for a world whose cities and population have ceased to expand. That would also be a nicer world, one that would not live in fear of the barbarians at the gates.

            In a perspective that is shorter than 4,000 years, the key to a good argument that a simple repetition of what is known as the dark ages of the ancient and classical era is unlikely lies in globalization.   In the modern era,  (and initially, therefore, in the era of concentration), a cluster of processes has begun to create increasing connectivity that in turn generated the institutions that make it work on a continuing basis[SB15]  (Modelski  2000:43ff).

            The most substantial promise of a nicer world , one capable of self-organizing a readjustment in a manner less disruptive as compared with the experience of the ancient and classical eras, is therefore that set of processes that comprise globalization: the Information[SB16]  Revolution, the emerging network of international organizations, both governmental and nongovernmental, and democratization and the rise of a world opinion increasingly attuned to a global problematique.[SB17] 

            The most substantial promise[SB18]  for a beenign resolution of the age of reorganization might well reside in democratization, that is, the process of establishing institutional democracy as a sine qua non for global governance. The practices of democracy are now well entrenched in a number of nation-states, and as of the year 2000, over one-half of the world’s population lived in democracies, a condition greatly favored by a parallel rise in urbanization. But democracy needs to be seen not just as a matter of electoral machinery (though that is initially quite important) and constitutional engineering (though that is important too), it needs to be ultimately recognized as a condition of growing equality that extends to all spheres of social life. The conditions of democratic life on the scale of world system are yet to be realized, but they are aided by the spread of information that is the antithesis of dark ages and advances in global governance that help to control insecurity. These are large tasks, but ultimately inescapable, for only on a democratic foundation can a secure world order be constructed—one that is adequate to the challenges of an age of reorganization..

 

Implications

The reality of an unfolding age of adjustment seems to be gaining greater persuasiveness. Here, some chief implications for world environment:

 

1. Readjustment is a long-term mechanism of self-organization in the world system. Problems of the ages of concentration—those that create and empower the center—have been corrected twice in the past by the forces generated by ages of readjustment and are likely to do so again.

 

2. This analysis predicts an approaching limit to major urbanization and possible zero growth for world population over the long haul of centuries, both conditions tending to alleviate pressures on the environment. .

 

3. The modern age of reorganization is unlikely to assume the shape of a generalized, systemic dark age (barring a nuclear winter) because of the ongoing process of globalization. The information revolution, the evolution of democratic practices, and the rise of world opinion make it likely that problems of an age of readjustment will find resolution in a milder form than those experienced in the ancient and classical eras.

 

ACKNOWLEDGMENT

Revised and expanded  version of paper prepared for the Lund conference on “World System History and Global Environmental Change” (August 2003) that bore the title “Ages of Redistribution”. The present title conveys more accurately the major thrust of the present contribution.

George Modelski is professor emeritus of political science  at the University of Washington, Seattle. His current interests include global political evolution and models of globalization. His most recent books are World Cities: -3000 to 2000 (2003) and World System History: The Social Science of Long-term Change (coeditor, 2000).

 

References

Auyang, Sunny Y. 1998. Foundations of Complex Systems Theories in Economics, Evolutionary Biology, and Theoretical Physics. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Chew, Sing C. 2002a. “Globalization, Ecological Crisis, and Dark Ages.” Global Society 16 (4): 333–356.

———. 2002b. “Ecology in Command.” Pp. 217–229 in Structure, Culture, and Theory, eds. Sing C. Chew and J. David Kotterus. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

Devezas, Tessaleno and George Modelski. 2003. “Power Law Behavior and World System Evolution” Technological Forecasting and Social Change. 70: 819859.

[SB19] Gernet, Jacques. 1982. A History of Chinese Civilization. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Kauffman, Stuart. 1995. At Home in the Universe. New York: Oxford University Press.

Kenoyer, J. Mark. 1998. Ancient Cities of the Indus Valley Civilization. Karachi, India: Oxford University Press.

Laughlin, Robert B. 2005. A Different Universe. New York: Basic Books.

Modelski, George. 1999. “Ancient World Cities: 4000 to 1000 BC: Center/Hinterland in the World System.” Global Society 13 (4): 383–392.

———. 2000. “World System Evolution.” Pp. 24–53 in World System History: The Social Science of Long-term Change, eds. Robert Denemark, Jonathan Friedman, Barry Gills, and George Modelski. New York: Routledge.

———. 2003. World Cities: -3000 to 2000. Washington, D.C.: FAROS 2000.

Modelski, George, and William R. Thompson. 1999. “The Evolutionary Pulse of the World System: Hinterland Incursions and Migrations, 4000 BC to 1500 AD.” Pp. 241–274 in World-Systems Theory in Practice, ed. P. Nick Kardulias. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

———. 2002. “Evolutionary Pulsations in the World System” Pp. 177–196 in Structure, Culture, and History: Recent Issues in Social Theory, eds. Sing C. Chew and J. David Knotterus. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

Postgate, J. Nicholas. 1992. Early Mesopotamia. London: Routledge.

Smith, Vincent A. 1981. The Oxford History of India. Delhi, India: Oxford University Press.

Thomas, Carol G., and Gary Connant. 1999. Citadel to City-State: The Transformation of Greece 1200–700 BCE. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

Wilson, Edward O. 2002. The Future of Life. New York: Random House.

Wright, Robert. 2000. Non-Zero: The Logic of Human Destiny. New York: Pantheon.

 

 

 

Appendix:   A  note on evolution, evolvability, and self-organization.     

In recent literature, self-organization has two principal connotations. One is basically that of an evolutionary process. The other is that of a “prerequisite for evolvability,” (Kauffman 1995: 188) hence, a precondition for evolution.                   

The first connotation is that of an evolutionary process, pure and simple—as one that was anticicpated for instance by Erich Jantsch in his bold “The Self-organizing Universe:  Scientific and Human Implications of the Emerging Paradigm of Evolution” (1980).    The evolution process is one in which organization spontaneously increases by the operation of evolutionary mechanisms. That is, it is a process by which systems of many components tend to reach a particular state with no external interference. In a related formulation (the Principia Cybernetica website  (http//:pcspmc1.vub.ac.be[SB20] ),  self-organization is defined as “basically a process of evolution where the effect of the environment is minimal.” Much then depends on what we choose to regard as external interference, or as minimal environmental impact. Most generally, however, we would be entitled to treat world system evolutionary processes (including political globalization or world community formation) as examples of self-organization.

            Another approach leads via complex systems—and the world system is commonly recognized as such—that are said to have the capacity for evolution, and (hence) also for self-organization. In this formulation, “self-organization is the spontaneous appearance of order that is common in complex systems,” or, alternatively, as evolution is structural change, the “spontaneous formation of new structures” (Auyang 1998: 33, 242). Self-organization highlights spontaneity while evolution brings out law-like regularity.   

The other connotation, “prerequisite for evolvability,” is attributable to Stuart Kauffman (1995: 188), penned in a work that is subtitled, Search for the Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity. Kauffman contrasts self-organization with natural selection, but also pairs them as the twin sources of order for free. Virus self-assembly, genomic networks, life as a phase transition in chemical reactions, patterns of coevolution at higher levels—these are examples of conditions of evolvability upon which natural selection can act in historical conditions (Ibid: 186). Natural selection then seeks good conditions in which evolution can take place. The chief characteristic of these systems (as demonstrated in the case of Boolean networks) is that in order to be evolvable, they exhibit neither frozen order nor a chaotic state, but must lie on the very edge of order and chaos. We note that there are reasons to think that world system processes do indeed reside, and presumably flourish best, in the “edge of chaos” regime (Devezas and Modelski 2003: 853–854). That also means that they do not flourish in parts of the world system that show either frozen order or total chaos.

Several general considerations may be added to these distinctions. 1. The initial premise is the propensity of matter to self-organize—that is, the premise behind Kauffman’s theorizations that include living matter and (human) social organization such as the economy. The last, (social) part of that assumption is yet to be conclusively demonstrated. 2. World systems are open systems that have emergent properties and symbolic components (such as language). 3. Self-organization and phase transitions are characteristic only of very large systems (Auyang 1998: 183). That is why the world system and world system processes might be subject to it, while smaller, local or regional systems may be to a lesser degree or not at all. 4. Self-organization is a property of systems situated on the boundary of order and chaos. Recent analysis (Devezas and Modelski 2003:854) shows world system evolution to occcur in that region. 5. Power laws are the so-called signature of self-organized systems (as in Per Bak’s sand piles). World system evolution is a cascade of planetary processes whose relationship is governed by a power law. Specifically, one period of world world community formation  is twice the length of world political organization. The identification of power laws in processes of world system evolution (Devezas and Modelski 2003) supports the notion of self-organization. 6. Order and structure (including phase transitions—that are the best known examples of emergent phenomena—and the growth of organization) do emerge in nature spontaneously, without violating the second law of thermodynamics (entropy), but what emerges is only a partial product of a larger system, another part of which becomes more disordered. We need to look for that effect in social systems.

            More generally, we use the concept of “evolution” comparably to the way Robert Laughlin, a physicist, employs the term “emergence,” as “a physical principle of organization” (2005: 6), but one that has wider implications. We regard evolution as a principle of biological and social organization, one that is observed in processes of self-organization, and that also see phases as an organizational phenomenon at work on larger scales. Laughlin, too, sees “complex organizational structures growing out of simple rules” (2005: 200). In what sense does the concept of self-organization shed new light on the problem of ages of reorganization and readjustment?

 

An Evolutionary Process

In the first place, let us treat the term ages of reorganization  as one phase of a long-period evolutionary process. We postulate the existence of a four-phase world system–level process, that of world /community formation/ socialization (Devezas and Modelski 2003: 836–838) with a period of some 4,000 years. In such a process, millennial phases of concentration alternate with phases of readjustment (in what seems to amount to an autocatalytic process—in which a reaction is catalyzed and accelerated by one of its own products). That is, population growth, rising urban connectivity, and expanding centers of power and wealth set in motion over the long run, processes of countervailing effect—population movements, political insecurity, resource exhaustion—that reshuffle the connections and redistribute wealth and power. In another related perspective, large population surges, extensive urbanization, or land or resource utilization will be seen as reaching the limit of their particular niche’s carrying capacity, as well as a point of saturation wherein soil exhaustion sets in (as in Sumer) or social organization loses its traction (as in Roman, the Han, and other empires).

            We have previously examined evidence, relating chiefly to urbanization and population, that lends considerable support to such a proposal. That is a surprising finding, and if the evidence holds up and withstands further testing, then it opens up a major puzzle: what is the source of such large-scale order, not just planetary in scope, but also millennial in its temporal reach? The short answer proposed here is the following: propensity for self-organization translates into propensity for evolutionary learning.

            What we have here is one of the four postulated species-level processes (the other three are world economy, active zone (political), and world system processes) that constitute the organization of the human species. As evolutionary learning, world world community formation (third highest in information) is postulated to pass through four (millennial) phases—those of variety-formation, cooperation, selection, and amplification—to bring about a major innovation. The first of these phases is one of concentration, the second, one of readjustment, followed by another pair of these for the third and fourth phases. The observables that we have used as proxies for this process, and as units that are selected, were world cities.

The first period of world socialization brought about the formation of a regional zone of solidarity in East Asia, South Asia, West Asia, and Europe. The second period, that has now entered its second phase, may be postulated to lead in the future to formation of a world community.

            Why do we describe this process as one of self-organization, and what is gained by describing it as such? We achieve explanatory parsimony by viewing it as basically an endogenous process of the world system that arguably, too,  proceeds without external interference. It does proceed in synchronization with the other (endogenous) world system processes, but does so spontaneously.

            For all we know, we cannot attribute the observed order and regularity to any identifiable central agency or social organization that extended for millennia. The rudiments of global organization, the four great regional zones of Eurasia, were only just emerging. Yet, we have also argued,  counterintuitively, that ages that historians have dubbed dark needed to be regarded, in world-systemic perspective, as somehow ordered, even if negatively. In most general terms, during those ages, while world population had ceased growing, it did not decline overall even while showing redistribution. The number[SB21]  of world cities ceased rising, but the overall weight of large urban centers did not decline either. We observe many decisions and complex action sequences, but ones bearing little evidence of motivation for systemic reorganization in the grand sense. In other words, while the word system did experience reorganization via a variety of pathways and mechanisms that in the long run consolidated order, it could not be said to have been in a state of chaos that the term dark ages would seem to insinuate. And it did reorganize, as it were, spontaneously.

 

Evolvability

The other connotation of self-organization lies in the realm that Stuart Kauffman has called evolvability: the capacity of certain areas, groupings, or ensembles, to produce spontaneous order. Not all such regions or societies are equally capable of such a feat, he argues, but only those poised on the boundary of order and chaos, showing neither rigidified orderings or structures nor amorphous chaos or anarchy. Only those parts of the human species that inhabit the edge of order and chaos can be expected to show spontaneous order, hence evolutionary capacity[SB22] . Where do we find these?

            Most generally, we find that evolvability varies across the world’s landscapes. (Kauffman [1995: 248] calls evolution “a search procedure on rugged fitness landscapes”  but says little about where such locations might be found in human societies.) It flourishes in social systems and arrangements that favor information, openness, capacity for collective action, mobility, and of course, adaptability, and also those that maintain cross-cultural contacts but are not swamped by an excess of outside impacts. It discourages isolation, closure, and rigidity. In the past, systems of autonomous entities with organized contacts, such as the city states of Sumer, the Mediterranean, or the Spring and Autumn period in China, were examples of evolvability. Grand imperial structures, impressive to behold, usually did not persist for long, tended to lag in innovation and adaptability, and by crumbling, left the field open to alternative orders. That is why, for example, in the classical era, the problems of readjustment centered on the decline of the Roman and Chinese empires. The contemporary world system, harboring a multitude of independent agents in good communication, offers good chances for global evolutionary change

            In short, the study of world evolutionary processes has two divisions, both implicated in self-organization:

1. Evolutionary processes, and their mechanisms, in cluding selection, and their temporal trajectories.

2. Conditions that favor or frustrate evolvability.

 

A Deterministic Dynamic Process?

We treat here reorganizationt (that is, one phase of one period of the process of world community formation) as a deterministic process. Deterministic theories, observes Sunny Auyang (1998: 240), “which are logically simpler, are preferred whenever they are practical.” It remains to be seen if the line of argument proposed here can be specified with sufficient detail for that proposal to be practicable. If it cannot be so specified, then other, more complex approaches would be more appropriate.

Auyang argues that a deterministic process follows a “dynamic rule that specifies a unique successor state of a system undergoing a process” and that “encapsulates the temporal evolution of a system” (1998: 230). In the case of world system processes, the rule is the learning algorithm that specifies the course (the phases) of that process, and is characterized by a certain learning rate, together with notions of self-similarity and nestedness that govern relations among processes. The initial state of the system is defined by the results of the preceding period. That makes the entire structure of world evolutionary processes subject to one basic rule, repeated at several scales, and in several contexts, a simple rule that would account for the world’s social complexity.

            Then what we have here is a deterministic process, in as much as it can be understood as implying a dynamic rule underlying global social change. But that does not implicate it in any sweeping claim of determinism, whereby “the future of the world is held to be wholly determined by its present configuration” (cited in Auyang 1998: 262). A deterministic process does not imply, or require, a deterministic world. What it calls for is only a small portion of the world in which a modicum of causality and predictability may obtain. That is as much as can be claimed for this analysis.

 

 

 



[1] At Vol. III:380.  This entry is repeated, in a slightly abbreviated form, in The New Encyclopeadia Britannica (1998, vol.3: 888).

 

[2] For the historical series of world population derived from data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau, see Modelski 2003: Appendix 5.

 

[3] . The data for 1 and 1000 are from the world population series by Jean-Noel Biraben (1979, in Modelski 2003). A more recent United Nations estimate has 300 million in year 1, and 310 million for the year 1000. The figures for China are based on censuses that have survived in official histories and are therefore the best documented; they reveal a population that fluctuated downward between 1 and 1000 but returned at the end to the level reached in year 1.

 

[4] Carol Thomas and Gary Connant (1999) argue that Classical Greece could not have occurred without the dark age, and wonder whether that expression refers to conditions prevailing  in the form of a lengthy, severe and widespread cultural depression, or to the historian’s ignorance of these conditions.

[5] At year 1, empires controlled 18 of 25 world cities; by -500, they held sway over only 8 out of 19, and in 1000, 6 out of 25 world cities (Modelski 2003).

[6] As Robert Wright (2000: 134) recently commented, “By the time the barbarians descended on the western Roman Empire en masse, it deserved to die”.

[7] Jacques Gernet (1982: 172, 181) regards as “inaccurate” comparisons between the incursions of the “Five Barbarians” of the fourth through sixth centuries in north China (that included the Hsiung-nu -[Xiongnu]) and the invasions experienced a little later in Europe, on the grounds that, unlike the Huns in the West who were true nomads, the barbarians had already been much sinicized and no link can be established between the Huns (in the West) and the Hsiung-nu in East Asia. Gernet’s point is valid in relation to the Huns but not the Germanic tribes that had been interacting with the Romans for several centuries. China continued to be exposed to intrusions from the steppes until the fourteenth century.

 

[8] The world city system nucleated in Sumer (West Asia) at the opening of the ancient era, and its center returned to West Asia (Baghdad) at the close of the classical era.

 

[9] But it is not the only evolutionary process. It is one in a “cascade” of world system processes, the others being the world economy process, the (political) active zone process, and the world system process. See Devezas and Modelski (2003: 836-41), and Modelski (2000: 3743).

 

 

[10] In Modelski (2000a: 40), Table 2.4, the phases of world socialization are referred to as concentration and dispersal. The term reorganization seems a better descriptor of that latter phase. The first period of world socialization, one of the emergence of regional (hence partial) solidarities, was marked by the prevalence of methods of brute force propelling transformations associated with dark ages. It also indicates the limits imposed by only partial extensions of human solidarities. A so-called nicer world might be expected to prevail in the succeeding period, in conditions of orderly and lawful changes, when and if such solidarities fully extend in planetary proportions.

 

[11] This is an endogenous account of the process of reorganization. It leaves aside such exogenous forces as earthquakes, and (non-anthropogenic) climate change, including droughts and floods.

 

[12] Why would world population stabilize? Demographers cite the end of “demographic transition” as the conclusion of a one-time, sui generis, extraordinary leap in numbers. E.O. Wilson (2002: xxiii) regards it as a temporary “bottleneck” of overpopulation and wasteful consumption, with the exhaustion of resources in plain sight. We would expect an emancipated population that is highly urbanized and better educated to lower its growth rate. Or else we would suggest that the balance between concentration and redistribution is now tipping to the other side.

 

[13] Analysis suggests that mid-nineteenth century (c.1850) marks both a new period of the world economy process and a new decisive phase of global political evolution.

 

[14] The analysis presented in Modelski (2000) and Devezas and Modelski (2003) suggests the following dating scheme:ion: world community, 1000 to 5000; phase of readjustment, 1850 to 2900 (concurrent with the Information  Revolution, and democratization, 1850 to 2100) (see also Table 3). We conjecture that the period 1850 to 2100 is one of arriving at a definition of the problem of readjustment.

 

[15] To Charles Darwin, such a trend was obvious a century and a half ago (and some might be surprised to read this from the author of the ‘struggle for existence’): “As man advances in civilization, and small tribes are united into larger communities, the simplest reason would tell each individual that he ought to extend his social instincts and sympathies to all the members of the same nation, though personally unknown to him. This point being once reached, there is only an artificial barrier to prevent his sympathies extending to the men of all nations and races” (and, we might add, women) (in Wright 2000: vii). That barrier is now in the process of being dismantled.


Please provide the page number. [SB1]

 

 

Consider “phases”? [SB2]

 

ok

Partial report? Please clarify. [SB3]

 

 

This assumes the reader is familiar with Chandler’s work, though no reference or explanation has been made. [SB4]

 

 

 [SB5]Is there a reason this line is italicized? If not, please correct it.

 

 

 [SB6]Where is this in the table?

 

 

 [SB7]Is this defined in the table?

 

yes

 [SB8]What are these? Page numbers? If so, please provide the name and year of the reference. If not (year?), please clarify.

 

years

 [SB9]Please provide a reference for this statement.

 

 

 [SB10]This sentence is confusing - please rewrite more clearly.

 

 

 [SB11]This part seems fragmented. Please rewrite or erase accordingly!

 

 

Please confirm this placement is okay. [SB12]

ok

 

Please confirm this placement is okay. [SB13]

ok

 

Please specify which table. [SB14]

4

 

This does not fit into the sentence, it’s not connected to any part of it. And what about the institutions? Do you mean that the level of global organization generates these institutions as well as increasing connectivity? Please clarify. [SB15]

 

 

Please make sure that IT has been spelled out in the footnote above. [SB16]

 

 

Is this a direct quote? If so, please include the reference information after the quotation marks and put a period after it. If it’s just a coined phrase, please put the period outside of the quotation marks. [SB17]

no

 

Promise of what? Please clarify. [SB18]

 

 

These two reference are for the same article in the same journal, but the page number and volume number are different. Please make sure one of them is correct and delete the second. If they are supposed to be different, please correct. [SB19]

 

 

Please provide a reference for this which includes the URL. [SB20]

 

 

Strange word choice—do you mean the procession? Rise? Please clarify. [SB21]

 

 

Please provide a reference for this information. [SB22]