Vol. 40(3), September 1996, pp.321-342


George Modelski


Department of Political Science

University of Washington



Abstract: The evolutionary paradigm for global politics here presented consists of four key propositions: (1) The global political system is a population of policies or strategies;  (2) Global politics constitutes a complex system that evolves in specifiable conditions; (3) Accounting for global political evolution is a four-phased learning process whose key operators are variation (innovation), cooperation, selection, and reinforcement; (4) Global politics coevolves with global economics, community, and opinion etc. The evolutionary paradigm sheds light on two processes in particular: the formation of institutions at the global level, and the rise and decline of world powers (the long cycle).

Two propositions are central to this paper: (1) the institutions of world politics evolve, that is they undergo change subject to identifiable evolutionary processes, and (2) the rise and decline of world powers (the long cycle) is a mechanism of global political evolution.


By institutions of world politics we mean constitutive and widely accepted arrangements in respect of war and peace, nation-states, alliances, and international organization, and global leadership and international law. If we consider these arrangements in a sufficiently long perspective, say over the span of the past millennium, we cannot but help noticing significant changes that have occurred in relation to these, that continue to affect them, and that therefore need to be understood and explained. We need a structural-historical theory of world politics.

The rise and decline of world powers, that has been the lead story of the past few centuries of world politics, also needs to be understood in a wider framework. It is not the case of some eternal struggle for power but rather that of a mechanism that in the recent past has mediated major changes in world political and social organization. We need to see the long cycle not in isolation but as a feature of world institutional growth.

That is why, to better understand world politics in its time dimension in particular we require an evolutionary framework. What might be the salient features of such a paradigm?


Types of evolution

What is a paradigm? A paradigm is an exemplary pattern that identifies the key questions and the fundamental variables; more generally it is a set of canons for the statement of problems of general significance, that is espoused, or shared, by a research community.

What does the pattern exemplify? It represents a conception of the natural order of things, and specifies what, in a particular realm, is to be normally expected. Explanations then amount to showing why actual events diverge from 'normal', that is 'reasonable', expectations. A paradigm defines, for a class of events, what stands to reason.

An evolutionary paradigm is one such pattern. Kenneth Boulding (1981:9,25), a social scientist, described it as "a pattern of the universe", "a pattern in space-time". Like Herbert Spencer before him /1/, Boulding saw this pattern characterizing not only the biological world, but also the physical universe, viewed on the very large scale of cosmology, and also the social world. If, following Spencer, culture is added to that list as a separate realm, also subject to these considerations,  four types of evolution emerge: physical, biological, social, and cultural that can be ranked along a time axis according to the period of their evolutionary processes. Thus cosmology and geology operate on a time scale of billions of years; the story of life, and the animal kingdom on earth is reckoned over tens and hundreds of million years. Social organization, for humans in particular, does not extend much over hundreds of thousand years, into some million, and culture has an even shorter time span. All of these major processes together make up evolution, but they all need to be kept distinct, too, if only because their periods vary (Table 1).


(Table 1 about here)


That makes evolution a pervasive pattern of some considerable power and generality. It is indispensable in grasping long-range processes even though it is not claimed to be a pattern of everything and does not explain every class of event or process. But does that also mean that the study of evolution necessarily involves a hierarchy of sciences, and that biology, as the science of life, has an inherent or overriding claim on priority of insight in evolutionary theory?

Not necessarily. In the evolution of evolutionary theory, all branches of knowledge (that are fields of culture) have participated in the past and continue doing so. In mid-nineteenth century, biologist Charles Darwin captured public attention with an account of the origin of the species, and his name came to be completely identified with the concept of evolution by natural selection. But his own insights and discoveries were profoundly shaped not only by earlier work in geology, such as that of Charles Lyell, whose principle of "uniformitarianism" (that past changes are to be accounted by processes still in operation) is basic to Darwin's work, but also by that formative work in early demography, Thomas Malthus' "Essay on the Principle of Population". What is more, sociologist Herbert Spencer developed his own concept of evolution even before Darwin's work had appeared in print.

That is why each type of evolution may also be regarded as occupying its own domain, and privileged time-space. The knowledge of each contributes to evolutionary theory, and researches mutually cross fertilize work on all others. While evolutionary conceptions have recently had particularly full elaboration in biological theory, no one should forget the role of geology and astronomy in pioneering the understanding of deep time.  Claims to priority or one-way influence by any one field of evolutionary study need to be treated with caution.

Social science evolutionary paradigms

The present study is therefore located in social evolution, and in the social sciences, and concerns global politics as one sub-type of social evolutionary process. What are the essentials of an evolutionary paradigm for the social sciences? /2 /  According to R.C Lewontin writing in the International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences (1968:203): "There is a hierarchy of principles in the evolutionary world view: change, order, direction, progress, and perfectibility. Evolutionary theories are distinguished by how many of these are successively included as essential."

These five principles serve as a convenient framework for discussion. The argument will be that, for present purposes, the essential ingredients of the evolutionary paradigm for the social sciences are only two: change, and direction. Order, progress , and perfectibility are not essential parts of such a framework.


The most basic evolutionary considerations  center around "change". An evolutionary perspective represents "a commitment to the instability of the present order as well as the past. In its simplest and irreducible form evolutionism is the doctrine that change of state is an unvarying characteristic of natural systems and human institutions and that such change follows immutable laws" (Lewontin, ibid.).

Change of state in societies means change in the economic, political, societal, and cultural structures that constitute them.  Structural change is to be distinguished from routines that characterize all social life; (this distinction is central e.g. to the Nelson and Winter (1982) analysis of economic development). Structural change commonly represents innovation that is a departure from standard operating procedures, and that is why the story of social evolution is a record of innovation. But structural change, or the diffusion of innovation, also takes time, and that is why the observation of change in human institutions invariably requires a long perspective.

Such an approach is clearly structuralist, in that it proposes that the persisting clusters of social behavior that are subject to social evolution form emergent social structures whose properties cannot be deduced from the parts composing them, and that it focuses on transformations of these structures. It emphasizes change, rather than "evolutionary stages" that are often seen as the principal products of evolution analysis, and often reified, or even personified, as in "capitalism".  It is not functionalist in that it does not inquire into the functions of persisting structures, but it does search for explanations of change in these structures.

Distinguishing "structural" from "routine" change helps to get over the problem that Lewontin raises, of separating "real" change from a stasis that has only the appearance of change. But to assert that evolution is structural change does not necessarily imply the statement that order is the natural outcome of evolutionary processes. A more modest proposition would stipulate that such processes are concerned with adaptation, that is they might cope with a set of identifiable problems, in relation to which they may, or may not, be adaptive.



Lewontin's third principle (1968:204), direction, also is a basic one. "By direction in evolution we mean the concept that there is some natural linear order of states of the system and that an evolutionary process can be described as passing through successive states in that order" in a line that is always ascending or descending.

Is the scale on which such directionality can be measured differentiation, or complexity, as Herbert Spencer first proposed it?  Over very long periods, we can observe both differentiation, and increase in complexity in social systems. In the evolution of the world system of the past millennium, a prominent instance of differentiation has been the formation of the global and national systems, where previously there was only regional and local organization. Arguably, too, the world system was less complex ca. 1000 than it is going to be in the year 2000. But is such differentiation, and higher complexity due to evolution, and if so how?

Directionality does not posit the existence of a design, or blueprint; "genes are much more like a recipe than like a blueprint" (Dawkins 1987:296), and it is not teleological, in the sense of implying search for evidence of such design in nature. It does not lead to "laws of history" proclaiming developmental sequences familiar in, and rejected by, the social sciences such as that of "feudalism ---> capitalism" leading  to the "final goal" of socialism".

But directionality does imply that evolution is not random and that it is a cumulative process, whereby a succession of small changes can bring about great transformations (Dawkins 1987:Ch.3). A recipe is a set of ingredients, and a set of instructions. Instructions organize the process in time thus giving it a temporal structure; evolution might be thought of as involving some such instructions. Ingredients compose the conditions that induce evolution; they define the spatial aspect of that process.

Directionality can be made more tractable at shorter time frames if it understood to be the product of learning. J.W. Pringle (1951) has shown that learning viewed as increased complexity of behavior over time, may be thought of as equivalent to organic evolution, usually thought of as increased structural complexity (in space); hence social evolution is basically about learning new behavior (see also Campbell 1969, Schull 1991). Successful social learning produces structural change; a learning process, furthermore, is inherently phased, has a distinct time-structure, hence direction. It might therefore be argued that it is learning that gives directionality to evolutionary processes.  It could be seen as a "natural" process of trial and error, as if the unwinding of an internal logic or program of adaptation, one that does not require the postulation of a grand design or purposeful intention, but does call for an explanation.

Such an approach is neither deterministic, nor does it assume randomness; it is probabilistic. /3/ It favors directionality without projecting for it a fixed content or a finite purpose, and does not require the teleological assumption of a final goal or destination. It requires adjustment to changing conditions of the world system, including environment, population, urbanization, technology, and wealth, but does not require the assumption of a grand design. All it says is that the system under study proceeds on its way in a certain manner, and according to codes, or programs, that need to be explicated. It obeys a set of rules in that it plays out in a given natural and social environment that includes other processes and policies each carrying out their own programs. All such a model does is to postulate an "inner logic", that is the formal-logical requirement that the processes evince a time-structure that constrains them.


Progress and perfectibility

There is a tradition of long standing (cf. review in Ginsberg 1961) that regards progress as an essential characteristic of evolution. Progress is not identical with evolution, but is linked to it: it is evolution in a direction that satisfies certain criteria of value. The prominent formulations of the idea of progress date from the era of the Enlightenment. The most famous among these formulations were those of Condorcet, and his criteria, that included equality, and peace, do not seem as utopian as they were once made out to be. But whether the study of social evolution can by itself provide the relevant criteria of value is a matter for debate. And even if the criteria were agreed, there is room for disagreement as to whether or to what degree the record of human history, be if of the 20th century, of the last millennium, or of the past l0,000 years, shows progress in the human condition. Some social evolutionists mainta in that any such claim is misplaced and that no such progress has in fact occurred.

These are matters still open to discussion, both on empirical and on theoretical grounds. But they make it clear that it would be unwise to include progress, movement in a "good" direction,  among the essential traits of social evolution. Biologists have had some difficulty specifying precisely what might be meant by biological progress. Suffice it to say that a "learning" conception of the directionality of evolution keeps open the possibility of progress, but leaves the determination of the precise characteristics of that progress to the analysis of cases. A "learning" conception of social evolution leaves room not only for "materialist" components (of wealth and power) but also for "idealist" elements (of truth, and love) that make for a well-rounded analysis.

Lewontin's fifth principle, perfectibility, is even more stringent. This again, is a criterion of Condorcet (a mathematician), who saw it as a limit toward which the process might be moving, without ever attaining it. To-day evolution is more often viewed as an endless process with no ultimate goal or destination, and even a "learning" conception stresses in the first place adaptation to current problems rather than final purpose. But as Lewontin points out (1968:206) if there is directionality on some criterion, then perfectibility cannot be altogether ignored. Indeed, for social evolution it raises the problem of a possible life cycle for the human species. Could it be programmed to die out at the end of such a cycle?


Macro- and micro-evolution

This discussion leaves us with two main evolutionary principles: structural change, and Formal-logical directionality. It remains to point out that these are broadly equivalent to the two major divisions of biological theory:  macro- and microevolution. These are very basic distinctions, even if the dividing line between macro and micro, description and explanation is not as sharp as it might be thought to be.

Biological theorists (such as Ayala 1982, Pollard 1984) commonly now divide evolutionary (or the synthetic) theory into two areas, macroevolution and microevolution. Macroevolution, meaning the evolution of all living groups, considers the question whether evolution has occurred and by what pathways. It was called the theory of descent by Darwin (who defined evolution as descent with modification), and sometimes is called the fact of evolution, with a strong descriptive element. Darwin's "tree of life" is the most general graphic representation of the observed facts of evolutionary change.

Microevolution is the study of the mechanism of evolution. Darwin suggested that natural selection was a chief mechanism that explains the non-random aspects of evolution, and thus supplied a principal explanation for the observed variety of life forms, but we now think of it as one among such mechanisms. These mechanisms could be thought of as supplying the directionality of evolution.

The discussion of Lewontin's principles has now brought the subject down essentially to where biological theory also finds itself. But do we wish to draw, in our own analysis, a sharp distinction between micro- and macro-evolution, between fact and explanation? Probably not, because the boundaries between description and explanation are not really that sharp; good description, and classification, imply a good theory, and convincing explanations need to be tested against data collected on the basis of a theoretical scheme. What is more, macro-analysis requires reliable knowledge of micro-conditions, and vice versa.

How do such distinctions apply to the study of social evolution? Are conditions such that an "evolutionary analogy" is in fact justified?


Comte-Spencer v. Darwin

Since the second half of the 19th century, two conceptions of evolutionary theory have existed side by  side:  the Comte-Spencerian, and the Darwinian.

Auguste Comte, and after him, Herbert Spencer, proposed that human evolution  passed through major stages of social development. Also referred to as "evolutionism", this view emphasized major stages that might be manifested in the history of humanity, and could therefore be regarded as a form of "macro-evolutionary" analysis.

The Darwinian model elucidated a central causal mechanisms of evolution to explain continuity and change in populations, but avoided the temptation for quick explanations of socio-historical processes. It centered on the analysis of selection, and for that reasons has also been referred to as selectionism. In the social sciences, Darwinian selectionism is a form of "micro-evolutionary" analysis.

Over time, the Comte-Spencerian program fell into disuse, even if the problems it was intended to tackle, understanding large-scale change in human affairs, has not disappeared. But in mid-20th century, Darwinian theory experienced a strong revival and reinvigoration through a "modern synthesis" (Huxley 1942,3rd ed.l974) that followed the revolution in genetics and was followed by the discovery of DNA, that in turn has been subject to much critical analysis (e.g. Pollard 1984), and that also exerted much influence on the social sciences.

Our project here is to combine these two conceptions. Darwinian micro-mechanisms of search and selection, as adapted to the social context, that have now become an accepted part of social science (cf. Nelson and Winter 1982, or Elster's treatment of selection, 1989) are also strongly represented in our model, albeit in novel forms. It is the "macro-evolutionary" component of this project, that raises larger questions and deserves closer scrutiny, because it paints, in broad strokes, a "big picture" of global political evolution in the Comte-Spencerian manner, but with new concepts and in a way that also requires Darwinism for its validity.

All in all, this does not imply that evolutionary biology (as well as physics, and cultural theory) and the social sciences must have an identical evolutionary theory.  The question is not: how much like biological systems are social systems, or how much social behavior is rooted in biology. Nor is that question part of the debates that have centered around Social Darwinism (cf. Campbell 1969), even though it is fair to assume, (without taking on a commitment to biological determinism), that social behavior has a significant biological component.

Instead the question is: given that the theoretical basis of biology is micro- and macro-evolution, in the sense that both change, and directionality are essential components of evolutionary theory, what additional useful analogies might there be for the social sciences, if the social system of the human species, mutatis mutandis, is viewed as subject to evolutionary processes. There are important differences between biological organisms (not to mention the physical universe, and culture) and societies, and they argue for keeping, at this stage, the several realms analytically distinct.

There is also the consideration that the structures that undergo change are not unitary but differentiated, in the case of the social sciences, at least into those of economics, politics, society, and culture. Accordingly, there is not only evolution of each of these structures to be considered in their own right, but also the relationship among these evolving structures, each proceeding at their own pace, but sensitive, and adaptive to, developments in each of the other processes. That is not a problem (how the evolution of one species affects that of others) that is apparently much or commonly studied in biology.  Hence the problem of coevolution: how change in one set of social structures and its direction relates to the others. That is why coevolution may be added to macro- and microevolution.


Rational choice v. evolutionary paradigm

Evolutionary paradigms for social sciences embody no claim to universal solution for every problem. They are fitted to deal with some important problems, but are not necessarily the prime remedy for many others. Ultimately, and in the long run, the various paradigms should be mutually compatible, being attempts to study the enormous elephant of social life from a number of different directions. But in the shorter run, such compatibility may not be immediately attainable.

In the social sciences to-day one important paradigm is that represented by rational choice theories (cf. Elster 1989). It has an excellent pedigree, and a fine methodology, contemporary neo-classical economics being one of its successful incarnations. How does it contrast with evolutionary theory?

Most basically, rational choice is the study of decision, that is of actions to be taken in the light of given preferences, and constraints. Its time perspectives are those of the rational decision-maker, which might often be severely discounted by lack of knowledge or limited by short time horizons. Even more fundamentally, rational choice theories offer no purchase on social structure or structural change, and have difficulty with processes that have time and directionality as their essential characteristics. Neo-classical economists have not had much success in dealing with long-term economic development, structural unemployment, and turn-over in leading sectors. In political science, neo-realists have had some trouble coping with structural change at the global level.

The differences between evolutionary and  rational choice approaches (see also Modelski & Thompson 1996:136) might be summarized as follows:


In other words, rational choice theory might yield better insights in the analysis of individual decisions and policy choices, but evolutionary approaches should give superior results in the study of long-range social processes, and of structural change in particular. Evolutionary approaches do not require the postulate of rationality; they allow for the possibility of trial and error solutions by social selection. But they also supply the context within which policy decisions must be formulated, just as micro-choices provide a sound basis for the understanding of great movements.

Such an approach places both "ends" and "means" together at the center of analysis. Both values and ideas, and power, both idealist (agendas, free societies) and materialist (politico-strategic, and economic) components of social processes are equally implicated in this analysis. This is not just a case of trying to have it both ways, in the manner of eclecticism, but rather a deliberate strategy to cover the four dimensions of enduring social experience /5/.


What needs explaining?

What problems in the study of world politics are particularly suited to an evolutionary approach?

Global politics evolution might be defined as the theory accounting for the appearance of political organization at the global level, and the processes by which global political structures have acquired their present form. Therefore the short answer is: structural change at the global level. which changes, via mechanisms to be determined, is the global political system , and the process is shown in Table 1 as a sub-set of (world) political evolution. /6/ Not nation-states, not countries, but the global political sector of the world system.

Moreover, if a distinction is drawn between institutions (the rules of the game), and organizations (the actors or players in that game, pursuing strategies) (as does e.g. North 1990), two kinds of change will be recognized: in major actors, and in basic institutions of global politics. A most prominent instance of change in actors over the most recent 500 years have been the rise and selection of successive world powers (the most recent being that of the United States) that has provided the basic pulse of global politics.

The other, longer-range process has been that of institutional change. A superficial glance at world politics  suggests to some onlookers nothing but a chaos of perpetual 'coming and going' but in fact there is a pattern to it: the succession of world powers not only involved successful copings with a parade of global problems, but also powered basic institutional change. For in the past one thousand years, global politics has moved steadily on a path toward greater global organization, beginning with failed attempts at world empire that overshadowed the earlier centuries of world system history, continuing with the rise of the nation-state system, and moving increasingly into forays toward world organization that are also likely to extend considerably into the future. In other words, in taking a long view of world politics, we can perceive not just changes in factors, but also changes in basic institutions.

The outline of that process portrayed in the third column of Table 2 shows a succession of leading powers, central to global politics of their time, and grouped into blocs of four, each representing periods with characteristic forms of global organization. The first period, Eurasian-centered, is that of the establishment of preconditions, and its defining feature, the failure of the Mongol design for world empire. The second period, West-European in spatial orientation, shows the laying down of a nucleus of an emerging global system in that area, with world-wide repercussions. The third period, opening about 1850, is the start of global political organization, seriously taking off after 1945. Each period marks a transition to new institutions, and new rules of political organization.


(Table 2)


Students of this field therefore confront the fact that global politics is subject not just to routine processes, but also to substantial and continuous structural change at more than one level and the basic question becomes: what explains such change in the past millennium so that the process can be projected into the near future? For in that millenium (a) the form and substance of global organization has changed substantially (i.a.) from a condition of minimal or non-existent structure and low connectivity, to one of substantial structure in conditions of substantially higher connectivity to-day. Moreover, that development has been not merely one of change but has also shown (b) directionality (rather than randomness) in that the change has embodied search for innovative forms of organization (appropriate i.a. to an expanding population), and has also traced an orderly path in space, and exhibited a temporal structure.

Put differently, significant aspects of world politics have been about institutional innovation, and about mechanisms and agents of such innovation. Because global politics has been subject to an evolutionary process, an evolutionary paradigm is likely to afford the best answers to questions about that process, and justify some confidence for projections into the future. Such a paradigm accommodates and privileges (diachronic) studies across time, as in long range processes, but also requires (synchronic) at-one-point-in-time studies of conditions that favor and govern evolution.

All this represents the claim that theoretical (Darwinian) biology and the theoretical social sciences are "equivalent, albeit different examples of the use of one and the  same general  theoretical calculus (or model), the theoretical   structure  of  which remains the same" (Schmid 1987:82). Arguably, therefore, this same model aids in understanding social processes and structures in general, but in the formulation here attempted, the basic propositions of evolutionary theory will be specified as applicable to global political structures. It is these evolving global structures, and not invididual polities or societies, that are the subjects (or unit) of the evolutionary process.



Let us propose here, in respect of global politics, a process model of evolutionary change. A process is a sequence or string of events, and we fit the global political process into the  causal structure of the world that we take to be an evolutionary one.

It is a process model because it singles out for emphasis changes over time rather than static "stages of development" that such changes might be said to be bringing about.  But allowances are also made for a multilevel analysis both of change of actors, and of change in basic institutions of world politics.

As applied to political events at the global level, the process model consists of four sets of basic expectations:

1. The global political system is a population of strategies.

2. Global politics is a complex system that evolves in specifiable conditions.

3. Accounting for global political evolution is a learning process of which the key operators are variation (innovation), cooperation, selection, and reinforcement.

4. Global politics coevolves with global economics, community and opinion (etc).

These are the basic propositions that comprise the present evolutionary paradigm; they might be called the "hard core", in Imre Lakatos' sense, of this evolutionary research program. Taken together, these four propositions offer a framework for the explanation of structural change in world politics.


1. Global political system as a population of strategies

The starting point for evolutionary analysis is the global political system viewed as a set of policies (or strategies) for the (collective) management of global problems. These policies may (conceptually) be carried by a variety of actors or agents: world empires, city-states or nation-states exercising, or aspiring to, global leadership, alliances and coalitions, international regimes, and world organizations. But the emphasis at this point is not on actors (that afford the ingredients for policy) but on the policies themselves viewed as sets of instructions, or programs of global potential.

The instructions embodied in global policies provide the basis for the standard operating rules, or routines, of the global political system. Such routines reproduce themselves through processes of socialization and training. Variation and innovation in these routines is the material for global political evolution, and occurs as generations of policies succeed each other.

That which experiences global political evolution is the social organization of the human species. Which makes it clear that nation-states are not the basic units of world politics, even though certain nation-states may at times be carriers of global policies. That also means that policies of nation-states such as the United States, or Japan became principal units of evolutionary analysis only in so far as vehicles or indicators of global political change. Their evolutionary fitness, if any, is a component of the global process.  Similar considerations apply to evolution viewed regionally, or locally, whose operation should be specified in relation to the global level.  It might be supposed that the working of evolutionary processes is most marked at the species level.


2. Complex systems evolve

Most basically this argument rests upon the conjecture that the global political system is a complex system, and therefore it evolves. The explanation of the evolution of global politics rests upon the global political system belonging to a larger class of phenomena, that of complex systems, all potential subjects of evolution. The argument has two aspects: global politics evolves because it is a complex system; it evolves when "necessary conditions" are best satisfied.



The directionality of evolutionary politics is that which Davies (1984:239-240) calls "organized complexity". The basic distinction is between complex systems, and others that may be either orderly, or chaotic. Ordered (or equilibrium) systems follow a fixed pattern and have no flexibility or capacity for change;  chaotic systems are disordered and upredictable.  Complex systems stand at the "edge of chaos" but are not themselves chaotic;  they have sufficient capacity for change to adapt to new conditions. That is, in the present case, it is the argument that  world politics is neither an equilibrium (or  near-equilibirium) system, as postulated in traditional "balance-of-power" accounts, nor is it anarchic, in the sense of being chaotic, but is in fact fluid, far from equilibrium, and flexible, one in which order arises through fluctuations /7/.

Complex organization of living organisms can be shown to arise spontaneously given the existence of an ensemble, that is a large collection of similar systems. Complexity has been defined as the ability to make transitions, that is to evolve. According to Murray Gell-Mann, a "complex adaptive system" is a collection of simple parts that interact to form a complex whole capable of learning about, and reacting to, the outside world. (8)

In the present case, the relevant collection is the population of strategies or policies, past, present, and future. That way experiments will occur with alternative strategies until, in favourable conditions, innovation comes along that is selected out and then cumulates through amplification. The accumulation of countless innovations, large and small, leads to systems as intricate as modern market economies or free democratic communities.

To show directionality, or future-orientation, or "naturalness" there is no need to embrace determinism or assume "progress', as in "evolutionism"; but to postulate only that the evolutionary process unfolds in accordance with an inner logic and/or sequential structure, in that each phase creates the conditions for the next, always responding to new conditions in the environment.  Such a process requires some capacity to anticipate the future but no greater motivation other than "search for a better life", or as Adam Smith put it, when accounting for what prompts humanity to save, the ever-present "desire for bettering our condition".

A complementary assumption is that of "sensitive dependence on initial conditions": that the beginning forms have an important effect on the course of development, in that they help cumulate the results of early changes, a basic reason why to examine carefully the time path of structural change that we also think of as path-dependent. David (1988:18) describes processes whose outcomes are path-dependent as those dynamic processes in which the position and motion of the system, and its constituent sub- systems, are "sensitive to initial conditions". They are characterized by non-ergodicity (they do not pass through all the states compatible with its energy in the course of time) and irreversibility. /9/ Both path-dependency, and future-orientation are ways of saying that the processes under study have a temporal structure.

Conditions of evolution

If it is now established that complex systems are both path-dependent, and future-oriented, the questions then becomes: what are the optimum conditions required for the occurrence of evolution?

Even though there is no need to invoke the postulate of progress, there is no reason to believe that evolution is a random process, a matter of lucky accident, or "manna from heaven". Rather we suppose that in the presence of certain conditions political evolution (or political learning) will tend to occur. For Charles Darwin, these conditions included Malthusian population growth, and certain environemntal conditions. According to Ervin Laszlo (1991:110) "evolution is not an accident

but occurs necessarily whenever certain parametric requirements have been fulfilled". These are for complex systems: openness to energy flows, diversity in components, catalytic cycles, and feedback. A chief characteristic of complex systems is heterogeneity.

What might these requirements be for social systems? In respect of global politics it has been argued (Modelski 1987, 1995a) that the necessary and sufficient policy conditions for the rise , that is selection, of one nation-state to leadership in the global poitical system in the past half-millenium have been:  politico-military organization of global reach; lead economy; a cooperative society; and openness and responsiveness to global problems. These are (local) conditions that made it possible for some nation-states to get ahead of others in the competition for global status in a heterogeneous world system. To the degree that long cycles have been the drivers of political evolution, these have also been the conditions of institutional development. Thus they also serve as guides to policy making, and to institution-building.

More broadly speaking they are also conditions that apply to the evolution of world institutions, and to global political evolution in the next century; the nearer the global system  approximates, not uniformly but at least in some of its regions, such conditions, suitably generalized,  as adequate political organization, matched by a world economic infrastructure of a maturing world market hospitable to the rise of new lead industrial sectors, in the context of an emerging global democratic community, and while responding to global problems, the more likely is political evolution to proceed at a smooth and measured pace. Even more generally these might be argued to be the conditions of evolutionary development in all dimensions of society.

Thus it is important to specify these conditions with some care. All in all there is no denying the most basic postulate of this approach, that political evolution necessarily occurs in conditions of complexity. That also means that this is not an attempt to explain evolution as the generation of complexity, nor seek to measure its progress by that yardstick; rather to take social evolution to be the property of complex systems that, as occasions and conditions demand, may grow more or less complex, but that flourishes best in certain specifiable conditions. It is the elucidation of conditions hospitable to evolution that is a first priority of the evolutionary theory.


What expectations does this set up in respect to our field?  Most basically, that global politics is subject to an evolutionary process: that it is subject to evolution, and capable of evolution. Global politics is not, and has never been since its inception, frozen into a stasis of a system populated by "preformed" states of unclear origin and uncertain future. Rather it is the constantly changing global political system of the human species with some parts of it evolving at faster rates than others. Within it, distinct policy lineages or lines of descent can be distinguished that carry the evolutionary process. An evolutionary tree of world political development might clarify such concepts; it would assert the common descent of populations of policies, and their common origin via a branching process (of differentiation). That is why we might view the evolution of the entire world system world as one process (Modelski 1995b).

Pre-evolutionary biologists regarded each individual species as created "preformed", that species were immutable productions, and had been separately created (Aristotle having originally posed the question whether the embryo was preformed, a miniature individual, or differentiated from an amorphous initial state). The preformation doctrine was widely held until early in the 19th century when epigenesis (development involving gradual differentiation of an initially undifferentiated entity) was finally demonstrated by Karl von Baer. It now "stands to reason" that students of world politics can no longer start with "preformed" states as basic units, but must finetune their analysis in light of the long-term variability of political institutions by refining the conceptual equipment that bundles change.

3. Evolutionary mechanisms

The third proposition proceeds to conceptualizing the working of this process over time; it asks how and why,  what are the mechanisms, and replies, in terms that reach beyond Darwinian analysis, that the basic evolutionary operators are four: not only the Darwinian staples of selection and variation, but also cooperation, and amplification, that jointly constitute a coherent set. They do not operate haphazardly but appear in sequences that extend over time and constitute learning processes. /10/

Selection is, of course, the classical  Darwinian mechanism, so much so that some discussions such as Elster's (1989) convey the impression that it is the only evolutionary mechanism that counts. But Darwin himself gave equal billing to variation, being that which sets the entire process in motion, and Walter Bagehot's (1872) early social and political interpretation of Darwinism certainly gave it a prominent place. However, genetic mutation being also seen as an apparently random process, it often occupied a less conspicuous role, less subject to control than selection. To-day, innovation is generally seen as the source of variation in social evolution, and its independent importance is now getting to be widely appreciated.

Emphasis on selection and what some saw as necessary concommitants, "survival of the fittest", conflict and war, jarred many and led to arguments, one of the early ones being Peter Kropotkin's  MUTUAL AID: A FACTOR IN EVOLUTION (1914), placing cooperation at the center of the evolutionary scheme. Robert Axelrod's (1984) simulations showed cooperation not only to be possible among rational egoists, but also to be subject to evolutionary change. Studies of synergy (Corning 1983) have pointed in the same direction. More broadly we might regard "self-organization" as a fundamental attribute of all evolutionary processes, and regard it, as Stuart Kauffman (1995) has argued, as equal in importance to selection. We therefore regard cooperation as one of the necessary conditions of evolutionary fitness, and survival.

Finally, also implicit in Darwin's framework was the notion of selective advantage, or differential survival, the reinforcement and amplification experienced by "selected" programs, as maintained e.g. by Donald Campbell (1969:73) for "retention":   "a mechanism for the preservation, duplication or propagation of the positively selected variety". "Operant conditioning ... is clearly an evolutionary mechanism ... a mechanism of reinforcement whereby a habit is selected 'within' a

particular organism" (Van Parijs 1981:96). Reinforcement takes place where there is capacity to learn, and is essential to all learning, and so it is to social evolution.

By synthesising these classic conceptions, the present account suggests not only that the social evolutionary process utilizes all four mechanisms and that all four are its necessary components. /11/ It also proposes that these four mechanisms are closely and meaningfully related to one another, and may be best understood if seen working in sequences, starting with variation, through cooperation and selection, to reinforcement and retention. But even though they are interdependent, their close relationship is often obscured by the fact that each of these mechanisms falls within the domain of a different social scientific discipline. Very broadly speaking, variation "belongs" to cultural  studies, cooperation to several social sciences, including sociology, selection raises problems of politics, and reinforcement, of economics. "The attempted integration of these diverse mechanisms in the study of evolutionary processes represents an ambitious and risky synthesis" (Andersen 1994:14).


Global political evolution

The basic units of analysis in respect of global political processes, as previously argued, are not nation-states, empires, or world organization, but persistent global political strategies (or policy routines). We regard forms of global organization, such as world empire, or global leadership, as carriers of tight clusters (or populations) of strategies that may or may not experience change.  Students of international politics are conditioned to think of states, and non-state actors, as the fundamental units of analysis. Such a view might serve as a first approximation, and often suffices as a shorthand expression. But on close analysis it cannot withstand scrutiny. Organizations such as states use individuals, but they act though policies. The interplay of global policies constitutes the global political system. It is changes in these policies, changes that alter standard operating procedures, that need to be subjected to the greatest scrutiny.

The essentials of an evolutionary learning process, or "calculus" /12/ might therefore be formulated as follows:

a) The starting point is a population of global political strategies (or policies) that persist (that is, successfully reproduce themselves). "Persistence" (or reproduction) means the transmission of a program, or code, or set of generating rules, to the next generation of strategies. Persistence of strategies need not be, in and of itself, problematic for an evolutionary theory, for it is accounted for by the basic inertia of all social stystems.

b) Over time, some if not most of these strategies will be reproduced in a routine fashion, by copying; but others will undergo change, e.g. by experiment or chance mutation, or will be proposed as innovations by policy enterpreneurs in response to demands for the solution of global problems. These are the sources of VARIATION that introduce innovation into the population of strategies.

c) In complex evolving systems, innovations will engender cooperative, combinatorial or synergistic (cf. Corning 1983) effects. Strategies that become the focus of effective alliances have a better chance of surviving. Such COOPERATION, combinations and coalitions are more probable in free societies, and are not random.

d) The political and social environment of this population of strategies (and not, in the first place, "nature", or the "natural environment") might then be regarded as  comprising a selective factor or mechanism that helps to determine causally which parts of the program will persist, and which policies shall be sustituted for by new programs. In global politics, SELECTION has been most directly the product of macrodecision, and in the past, those of global war; more generally, for all political systems, elections are the selective mechanism par excellence. In global economics, there is the competitive environment of the world market;  in global community formation, the contest of ideologies for the building of "model societies".

e) This completes the processs of revising the code, and all that remains is REINFORCEMENT, (that is reward, combined with punishment for non-selection) such that the result is a set of revised strategies that are then diffused, via mechanisms of amplification, and transmitted via a system of inheritance, in successive generations of policies.

One example of an evolutionary learning process exhibiting these characteristics is the long cycle of global politics (Modelski 1990, 1995a; Modelski and Thompson 1996; see also Table 2 above). This (learning) cycle is a non-linear process that comprises four phases, each one of which manifests, and brings to the fore, the operation of one evolutionary mechanism. The first of these phases, is "Agenda-change", that through "variation" brings policy innovation onto the global agenda. "Coalitioning" manifests the importance of cooperative action in global affairs. "Macrodecision" is the selection process of that system, and "Execution" is an opportunity for amplification, diffusion of innovations, and the building of memory.


(Table 3 about here)

But the turnover of lead powers is no more than a mechanism of world institutional change. Such change at the global political level may be reckoned in four long cycles, each cycle (driven by one global power, competing against others) representing a characteristic evolutionary phase of the global politics process, and four long cycles constituting a distinct period of global political evolution. The West European period of global politics (15th-19th century, cf. Table 2) comprised of the Portuguese, Dutch, and two British long cycles, might be thought of as having been formative both of the nucleus of the global system, and of the basic elements of the nation-state system, defined by rules of international law (forming what some call the Westphalian system). Each of these cycles might also be regarded as having activated successive evolutionary mechanisms at the global level: the Portuguese, those of variation through discoveries, the Dutch those of cooperation in creating, with Britain, the nucleus of the global system, and the two British cycles first selecting the new international system, based on balance-of-power strategies, and then amplifying it through industrial and trade expansion. In other words, we observe (as in Table 3) the working of the same four evolutionary mechanisms both on the scale of one world power rising to global leadership, and of the institutional complex of the world polity in formation.

Hence we argue that evolutionary processes involve the same mechanisms in different settings and in different time frames.

That is, the process of changing policies, or institutions, is not homogeneous but passes through a number (four) of distinct and sequenced phases of a learning experience, each strongly linked to one of the evolutionary mechanisms. Such phases are (in one form or another) the property of all social evolutionary processes because they are all learning processes.



A generation is a key temporal unit of evolution, because evolutionary processes are measured in terms of such generations, and generational turnover seems a basic source of periodicity. The measured generations in question are those of policies or strategies. But it might also be assumed that structural change is closely linked to generational turnover, or the coming and going of generations of organisms, and of humans. If a generation is reckoned as the replacement period, that is the interval during which a generation replaces itself, then in (human) social systems the interval is of the order of 25 to 30 years, and is the basic temporal unit of (social) evolutionary processes. Generations, moreover, are basic units of social learning processes. It is these phases, and generational sequences of phases, that constitute the most important material for the analysis of policy and institutional change.

The fact of regularity of the long cycle, and  of related global processes, is now quite well documented.  What are the explanations of that regularity? In and of itself, it may not be altogether surprising. According to Paul Davies (1984:241,57) "periodic motion, or oscillation, is perhaps the most widespread example of order in physics"; indeed, "physical systems which display exponential behavior are also likely to display periodic 'sinusoidal' behavior".

The fact of periodicity or oscillation, or better still, a constant rate of evolutionary change, in turn, accounts for the synchrony that can be observed in co-evolution. Both global politics and the global economy can be called "oscillators" because, as shown, they execute periodic behavior. In physics, as in biology, it is now taken for granted that "coupled oscillators tend toward synchrony". As there are reasons to believe that the global political and economic systems are significantly coupled, they might also be expected to synchronize their behavior, and by extension the same argument applies to processes by which cooperation evolves at the global level, that is the processes of global community formation.

All this poses the question as to the mechanism of such regularity, and suggests the intriguing hypothesis of a social-evolutionary clock. A lead in this matter is provided by biologists who recently found evidence of evolutionary molecular clocks (in Dobzhansky et al. 1977:308-313, Ayala 1984). Regular changes in molecular structure have been found to pace evolutionary processes over very long time spans (millions of years).

The assumption of a constant rate of evolutionary change (for a given process) is crucial to this analysis. But it is not confined only to molecular biology. That assumption was recently employed with good results in the massive study of the genetic history and geography of the human species, by Luca Cavalli-Sforza and his associates (1994:33). What is more, as they point out, studies of "genetic distance", used to infer when two populations shared a common ancestor, show a close correspondence with , and are supported by the results of, work on linguistic evolution. Indeed, linguists have used the same (though indedependently derived) logic of a "linguistic clock" (Jones 1993:111) to unravel the origins of the world's languages, the pioneering work being that of Morris Swadesh (1971) who based "glottochronology" (history of the differentiation of languages, on the "relatively constant rhythm of substitution" in a basic vocabulary.

A  postulated social-evolutionary clock might be stochastic in character, governed by a constant probability of a certain amount of mutation; at the level of social processes, why not conceive of innovations that might cluster in particular time periods. Such bunchings have been noted in the literature on innovations, and have had so far no clear explanation. They might possibly be linked to the organization, in time, of social processes.

Such a clock could also be metronomic, that is timing such change. The determination of calendars has been basic to the emergence of civilization, and also highly politicized. For instance, the succession of dynasties, as in ancient Egypt, or in China, have been clear markers of world time. For centuries, history was written as political history, and as a story of political regimes. The more recent trends in historiography that emphasize social and economic trends, enrich our understanding of the past, but do not negate the "time-keeper" or "time-setter" effect of political processes. Possibly some evolutionary processes, such as the long cycle, might serve to time




Basic to this analysis is the insight that evolutionary processes and mechanisms operate simultaneously, though at different speeds,  at more than one level. As previously argued (also Modelski 1987,1995a), in respect of global politics two such levels might be distinguished: one is the actor level, at which, in each long cycle, a new actor has been selected for global leadership, or its equivalent. The other is the institutional level, where a global polity process operates, each period of which represents the cooperative search and amplified selection of a revised institutional framework, the adoption of new rules, and the reordering of the constraints defining the system.

That is why in Table 2, the third (long cycle) column shows three periods of the global polity, those of Eurasian Transition, West European, and Post-West European, each of which represents the search for a new set of basic rules, and an evolutionary process of a restructured kind. Table 3 shows the nesting of these four-fold evolutionary mechanisms and in particular how each long cycle, of the rise of one world power, is composed of four phases, and how four long cyles in turn add up to one period of institutional evolution at the global level. At a yet more inclusive level, these three periods of the Global Polity might each be seen as exhibiting the working of the same evolutionary mechanisms at the world system level as eras of world order.

These two global levels are, of course, analytically distinct /13/, but they are also substantially related in a "nesting" fashion on a basis of self-similarity /14/. That is, these processes are structurally similar, but differ in scale and duration. What is more, the greater (institutional) process might be seen to enfold the smaller (long cycles), while on the other hand, the smaller, while nesting within the larger process, might also be seen to drive it.

It is the specification of the calendar of events (or sequences of events) at the two levels of the global process that is the other top priority of evolutionary theory.



What additional questions and expectations does this discussion place on the agenda of scholarship? First, that world politics is subject to learning processes of determinate structure that are steadily changing it. Second, it tells us that time is a cardinal dimension of that field, and that no event or policy may be considered in ignorance of that factor because events and policies have duration, and sequential order, and call for coordination. Attention to such "temporality" highlights the constancy and ubiquity of evolutionary change, and the importance of synchronization.


4. The co-evolution of global structures

We have shown so far that global political processes can be studied, in the first instance as endogenous, but it is also clear that the conditions that favour political evolution in turn depend on other evolutionary processes that are exogenous to it. In so far as leadership in global politics depends in part on economic leadership, then the lead condition of a candidate economy is a function of its ability to produce global leading sectors (in originating a K-wave); in turn, leading sector expansion  nests in yet other exogenous processes (that is, in the same example, in the evolution of the entire world economy, and of the world system). Concretely, British political leadership ca.1700-1850 was the product of the leading condition of the British economy, etc. The picture is complex indeed.

"Co-evolution" is a term referring to "diachronic changes in two or more interacting objects or systems" and Lumsden and Wilson (1981:367) have extended it to include the reciprocal effects of genetic and cultural evolution. In populations of policies we might speak not only of co-evolution of strategies in global politics and economics, but also of policy lineages. The relationship of coevolution also partakes the character of nesting based on self-similarity.

We have previously determined a set of conditions that are "necessary" for selection to global leadership, and that will determine the shape of global organization. As just noted, in the case of the politico-strategic structure the relevant process is, of course, endogenous; that organization rises as part of the long cycle. But for the three other conditions recourse needs to be had to a set of conditions that, while evolutionary too, are exogenous to the global political process.  These might also be called "interaction effects" because students of international political economy habitually lay much stress on the interaction of politico-military with economic factors.

In respect of the lead economy, as just mentioned, we need to consult developments in the global economic system, and inquire into the conditions that are likely to foster new global economic sectors in particular. The "co-evolution of global politics, economics, community, and opinion, shown in Table 2 is a schematic (descriptive) representation of four processes.  The third column, previously noted, shows long cycles that mark the rise (and implicitly also the decline) of world powers, and their antecedents in the early modern period. The fourth column shows K-waves that are coordinate with long cycles and that chart the rise and decline of leading sectors of the global economy; these sectors have been both industrial, and mercantile, representing innovative spurts (or Schumpeterian shocks) in economic and commercial organization, centered on the lead economy. Just as the long cycle might be viewed as the mechanism propelling the global political process, K-waves can be seen as the moving element of the global economy; jointly they activate the international political economy (full documentation in Modelski and Thompson 1996).

In respect of social organization, there is need to look into the rise and decline of "model societies", the shifting fortunes of social movements, and the prospects for a global democratic community;  the second column of Table 2 shows the "model societies" that (each accounting for one period of that process) have been successively prominent in cumulating for the formation of a community at the global level, and  have thus constituted the outline of what might be called the democratic

lineage. Each entry also reports the "opposition", social forces in resistance to which emerged the successive members of the democratic lineage, viewed initially as experiments.  This process is in effect one of global community formation, community being defined as a framework or pattern of enduring cooperation. /15/ It is community formation because the global community that is yet to emerge, may be expected to do so around a nucleus formed by the experimental societies of recent experience, among whom a democratic lineage might be traced;  equally important this community formation is also coordinate with the political and economic processes just discussed. At the most general level, the evolution of the entire global system appears to be paced (as shown in the first column) by changes in the conceptual and intellectual currents that shape the media, global opinion and education.

Table 2 therefore depicts global politics of the past millennium as a co-evolutionary process activated by successive world powers, interacting with parallel developments in economy and community,  and also displaying fundamental change at the institutional level. The elements of a global system arose in Sung China after the 10th century, and generated the Mongols' attempted world empire in the Eurasian  context. As that attempt failed, the process then moved, from small beginnings of trial, error, and experiment, through the consolidation of a global nucleus in Western Europe, toward a condition of greater world organization in its current post-West-European period. In turn, that process is shown to be supported, at different but symmetric time scales, by related movements in the global economy, and in the structure of the global community. In these respects it also suggests explanations for the collapse of Communism, and of the Soviet bloc in Eastern Europe and in Russia in 1989-91.

So much for co-evolution of global structural processes. For an even more complete picture, reference must also be made to developments at regional and national levels. All in all, a complex task, that opens broad and ever widening vistas for evolutionary theory. But it might be rendered more tractable because the conditions hospitable to evolution (specified in section 2 above) that define and characterise complex systems may be regarded as the initial proxies for these more wide-ranging ramificatons.



How does this discussion change expectations about the normal course of global politics? It makes it clear that structural change at the global level is not confined to global politics but needs to be thought of as in close coordination with global economics, community, and opinion, all of them hanging, albeit at different rates, and with different "ingredients". No longer is it possible to subsume such efforts under the umbrella of "international political economy" alone. Transition crises in the several processes synchronize, and need to be tackled comprehenisively.

Questions also arise that reach beyond global politics.This entire discussion implicitly proposes, that in its basics and mutatis mutandis), that framework might also hold for global evolutionary processes in the realm of the economy, society, and opinion. Not in respect of all the problems that might be encountered, but specifically in respect of those of long-range import and transformational character.

Hence certain general statements about global politics might also be relevant for other social sciences and seen as basic: that for purposes of evolutionary inquiry, the basic unit of analysis is the human species in its political interactions; that global politics, as well as global economy, immunity, and opinion all evolve, and flourish in certain specifiable conditions, those involving variation, selection, cooperation, and amplification; that the mechanisms of that evolution are (four-phased) learning processes of determinate periodicity; and that at the global level these processes systematically  co-evolve through coaction and synchronization.


A research program

So much for the "hard core" (in the Lakatosian sense) of the social evolutionary research program in respect of global politics. It is actuated by the conception of the world system as subject to evolutionary process, in particular in regard to world politics, and one that is driven by the long cycle understood as a (phased, and therefore also periodic) selection process. This is the heart of the "evolutionary analogy" (see also Pringle 1951).  "Analogies are, of course, not sources of proof, but sources of hypotheses" (Campbell 1969:73).

The "hard core" of the program may not be directly testable, but predictions generated from within it may be, and have given rise to a sustained research program. It began with a demonstration of the existence of long cycles as historical-structural regularities in world politics (Thompson 1988). The theory predicted that at the close of each of the past five global wars one power would emerge with a monopoly of seapower, a key element in the politico-strategic organization for global reach that is a necessary condition of global leadership. Research and measurment has confirmed that prediction (Modelski and Thompson 1988). Other reserch and documentary work confirmed that prediction with qualitative material, and yet other work related to developments at the regional level.

The next stage was the search for explanation, and the advancement of the thesis that long cycles were an instance of an evolutionary process (Modelski 1990,1995a). Such work has shown that the rise of world powers may be understood as a phased learning process, as predicted by the "evolutionary analogy", and flourishing best in conditions that may be interpreted as those favouring evolution.

A new stage was entered with the demonstration that the global political process (driven by long cycles) is synchronous with the evolution of the global economy (Modelski and Thompson 1996). There are grounds for thinking that co-evolution of a simila r kind can be shown with the global community process (as proposed in the second column of Table 2), and evolution of the global system as a whole (in the first column). Another challenge for the evolutionary paradigm is the construction of a calendar of global politics for the 21st century.