George Modelski








                        As we look back on the past generation of research and reflection on International Relations and World Politics, three areas of achievement stand out, at least in the opinion of this participant-observer.   The first of these was the rapid development of International Political Economy, that brought home, with a clarity not seen before, the close interrelationship of global politics and economics.   The second was the rediscovery of the importance of democracy to world politics and world order, a matter that the Wilsonians knew about almost a century ago and had nearly been forgotten in the meantime, but that now has been embodied in the concept of “democratic peace”.  Third,  but not the least important, was the recognition that in the modern world a measure of order in its affairs had been supplied by a succession of leading states.   These three domains of new insights are, of course, closely inter-linked, and to a large degree, mutually supportive.   Together, they constitute a significant enrichment of the field of International Relations.


                        The present paper focuses in on the third of these domains of debate, on leading states and the leadership they exercised in the global system.   The terms used in these debates to designate such states vary and included great and super-powers, hegemony, and also empire;  the list of names under such rubrics, and their respective tenures varied too, but a common understanding has emerged that the

United States, and earlier Britain, and perhaps the Dutch Republic, did occupy, in their time, a unique position in, and their policies constituted a distinct and structure-forming feature of world politics.   A descriptive account of this role and the activities entailed by it is now beginning to be common knowledge among students of these matters.   Less certain is a full explanatory statement, one grounded in an explicit theoretical position.


                        It is the argument of this paper that the role of “global leadership”, successively exercised in the modern era may best be understood as a component of an evolutionary process, that of political evolution at the global level, and best be interpreted with the help of social evolutionary theory.   Such a theoretically-grounded explanatory scheme in turn makes possible the making of predictions and their testing.   The scheme itself involves the analysis of long-run processes, of la langue duree, of politics, economics, and democracy,   that students of International Relations have not so far been accustomed to handling in a routine manner. 


        But that is all to the good because the expansion of human time and space horizons that has occurred in the 20th century  - locating us in an immense universe, with the past extending for billions of years  - make it incumbent upon all that world politics too be studied with an eye on long-term problems and developments, such that the coming generation of scholars might proudly add to its domains of discourse the unraveling of the complexities of world political evolution.



Defining global leadership


                        Global leadership may be defined as


an informal structure of global political authority in which a regular succession of single nation-states has advanced the management of global problems since about 1500.


            Let us review the several elements of this definition.  


In the first place, global leadership is constitutional structure of

world affairs.   It is not world government, nor is it a world empire, but it is an international institution, a nexus of arrangements whereby global interdependence, principally at the oceanic level, has been organized in the modern era.


                        Global leadership is, moreover, an informal structure because its rights and responsibilities have not been laid down in a treaty or organizational charter. The lack of formality makes for flexibility, and it has been effective as a feature of an unwritten constitution of the world political system, because it reflects widely held expectations, and it has had its legitimacy generated in particular though the successful leadership of a global-war winning coalition.   Both the claim to leadership. and the varying degrees of its acceptance can be documented for the entire experience of this international institution. 


                        Over the past half-millennium, global leadership has been exercised by a succession of nation-states, called here the world powers, a total of five instances altogether, in a process sometimes described as the “rise and fall of great powers”.   In the case of each world power, we can distinguish a “rise” , a “term of office”  and the rise of a successor.    More precisely, it is a selection process in which states with higher evolutionary potential are selecteout for high office and to advance priority global problems.   Throughout, the emphasis is on a single state, in a “unipolar” power configuration at the global level.   The existence of such unipolar distributions in respect of sea-power, that is for forces capable of exerting global reach, has been confirmed by a systematic measurement effort reported in Modelski and Thompson (1988).  Such one-sided power concentration in respect of forces of global reach do not preclude more diverse arrangements at the regional levels, in particular in respect of land forces.  


                        Global leadership, finally, concerns the management of global problems, and that is of its essence.   Not the display or the wielding of power, but the advancement of solutions to matters rising to the agenda of world problems.   Not all global problems, because they are many.   But critical global problems, including the organization of long-distance trade and  those recognized as critical by segments of world opinion,  as well as those that imperial challengers pose for the international system, leading to balance-of-power wars,



                        The temporal domain of global leadership starts in about the year 1500 because before that date there was no global political system in respect of which such leadership could be exercised.   That is when Portugal put in place a global political network structure consisting of fleets, bases, and alliances that made global leadership possible.   Subsequent powers each built upon that, fielded their own forces, and built increasingly more elaborate structures, but their essence, their emphasis upon global reach, remains to this day.



An evolutionary perspective


                        So much would probably be regarded as a fairly non-controversial account of the phenomenon of leadership in world politics, and would not be inconsistent with such earlier accounts as that emerging from e.g. the work of L. Dehio (1962),   What value might be added to such an account by an evolutionary perspective?   This argument will now proceed by reference to the “Matrix of Evolutionary World Politics” that summarizes the several parts of the argument to follow.


(“Matrix” about here)


                        The “matrix” succinctly represents the evolutionary approach to global politics, and demonstrates too the key role of global leadership.   (For earlier discussions see Modelski 1996,1999, Modelski and Thompson   [1]).   The matrix offers, in the first place, a model of the evolution of modern world politics, a process that is centered on long cycles (numbered here 1-11) driven by a succession of major powers.   But it shows too how individual cycles cumulate to effect changes in world organization.   Characteristically, the completion of four long cycles marks a new era of global politics.


Secondly,  the matrix as shown here is also a preliminary test of that model in as much as most of its cells feature information about events characteristics of the phases that are predicted by the model.   For instance, the model predicts that the rise of rise of a world power (post-1500) that each long cycle depicts features  a “macro-decision” understood as the selection phase of that process, that took the form of a global war.   The matrix names the wars that marked that phase, and each one of them was a global war;  the shape of the next “macro-decision” remains to be determined.


Third, the matrix lays down a timeline for a “brief history of global politics”.   It is an outline of a continuous story of the evolution of global organization that shows that the universe of this field is not a grab bag of individual events and incidents and an assortment of “histories” from which “examples’ or “cases” can be extracted at random.   It is rather an interconnected whole in which single events acquire meaning as they related to the overall process.


Lastly, the matrix also serves as a calendar of world politics.   It tells us “system time”: what “time” it is in global politics to-day (coalition-building), and what broadly will be the structural conditions  30 or 60 or 100 years from now, just as it also places the entire modern experience of the system within that calendar.   The pulse of change, or the ticking of that evolutionary clock, is powered by generational turn-over, the interval, stable over centuries, and some 25-30 years in length, over which a generation replaces itself.





III.  MODERN ERA  (world organization)


(global problems)






affter 1500:

WORLD POWER next challenger)








Song founded


War with Liao

1020            LC1 Northern Song




reform parties


War with Chin

1160            LC2 Southern Song


world empire?


Mongol confederacy


Mongols conquer


1280            LC3 Genoa

Mongol empire




shipping links


Genoa, Mongols


1380            LC4 Venice



(global nucleus)









wars of Italy and

Indian Ocean

1516            LC5 PORTUGAL





Calvinist Inter-





1606           LC6 DUTCH REPUBLIC









Wars of Grand


1714            LC7 BRITAIN I










Napoleonic wars

1815           LC8 BRITAIN II



(global organization)








special relship.


World Wars I & II

1945            LC9 USA







2050         LC10


political framework



2170         LC11





2290 …     LC12

                                              LC   long cycles of global politics (numbered)



           What makes this approach to world politics an evolutionary one, and how does it bear on global leadership?


                        An evolutionary perspective makes it clear that global leadership is not a timeless phenomenon, but is, in fact, time-bound, a feature of an era in the evolution of world politics, specifically, of the modern era [2].   We might be able to point to early prototypes as offering useful insights, and in particular to Athen’s position in the Delian League in the fifth century BC, of which Greek historians left good accounts.   This was however a transitory arrangement, in a regional setting, and on a small scale that failed to generate a follow-up or to poject to the world stage.   In the modern period, likewise,   we have the cases of Genoa and  Venice in the 13th to 15th centuries.   Here too the stage is a regional one, and the scale maybe one-tenth of the Portuguese system that followed.   We can point to several ways in which Portugal :”learnt” from Venice (Modelski 1999b)  in no way can the Venetian system be described as “global”.   Only from about 1500 onward do we observe the rise of a globe-spanning system of fleets, bases, and alliances - a system capable of organizing transcontinental and oceanic interactions - and it is within that system that global reach can be systematically projected, and global leadership begins to be exercised.  


                        Why then do we open the analysis of modern evolutionary politics a half-millennium earlier, just before the year 1000, and what is more, in China?   We have just argued that the “birth” of the global political system can be dated to about 1500, but if we ask about its “inception”, the coming together of conditions that made it possible, we need to step back in time, to the time when the zone of highest evolutionary potential was found in and around Song China, and its flourishing economy and learning society that was a beacon for Columbus as late as 1492.   Song China was moreover the source of those innovations -printing, gunpowder, compass - that helped launch the modern world.   But the two Song cycles (LC1-2) opened up no more than the possibility of world organization;   the Mongol cycle (LC3) raised the question whether a world empire covering most of Eurasia might be the form that organization would assume but that idea collapsed in turmoil of which the dramatic career of Timur was the closing chapter.   In the meantime, Genoa, and then Venice (in LC3 and 4) established regional positions in the Mediterranean, Genoa in tandem with the Mongols, and Venice on the ashes of Timur’s project, shifting the active zone of world politics westward and anticipating features of later global structures. [3].   We start our analysis with these four cases (A:Eurasian transition) because that is how the seeds of modern developments were planted,  how evolutionary potential for a global system was initially put in place.


                        Viewed as a whole, the matrix represents the conjecture that the story of global politics might be seen as the work of a regular succession of major powers that after 1500 exercised global leadership.    Each such sequence describes the “rise” of a state to a leading position, and each such rise is an evolutionary process.   That is so because each “rise” is the product of a phased evolutionary learning cycle comprised of the four phases of “agenda-setting”, “coalition-building”, “macro-decision”, and “execution”.   [4]   These might be understood as operators of the basic evolutionary mechanisms of variety, cooperation, selection, and amplification.   States have risen to global leadership because they successfully fashioned evolutionary potential such as forces of global reach, lead economy, open society, into resources for solving global problems (such as opposing imperial aspiration or fostering discovery).


          Global leadership is a principal focus of that process but not its sole component.   The principal counterpoint to the world power exercising global leadership is the challenger;  the challenge is resolved by means of “macro-decision” (selection), testing rival alliance systems (cooperation), in relation to competing global agendas (variety).[5]      World powers have shaped global politics and implemented global problems in the phase of “execution” (amplification), even while their “tenure of office” has been a limited one, of one or two century-long terms. (each term being the  interval between “execution” and the next “macro-decision”).


                        In other words, the building bloc of evolutionary world politics has been the learning cycle focussed on the rise to global leadership.   But the several cycles have not been assembled at random.   The completion of each learning cycle creates the problem of succession:  who will lead next?   Each learning cycle solves a problem created by its predecessor, cumulates organizational experience for the global system, and also creates problems for the next cycle, if only that of succession.   For instance, the Dutch Republic led the resistance to the Spanish world monarchy created by the union with Portugal,  shaped the global system as by opening world trade and putting in place the modern law of nations;  in its turn, it prepared the ground for the co-optation of Britain to global leadership, creating the nucleus of the global political system.


                        That is why the long-run impact of long cycles has been the construction of a global political system, and the evolution of world politics.   We might postulate this to be a self-organizing process in which each learning long cycle constitutes one phase of a four-phase (some 500 year long) period of global political evolution.   In that sense, the first British cycle (LC7) optimized a political agenda, selecting (after the settlements of Westphalia -1648- and Utrecht 1713) the sovereign state as a principal political unit of the system, and the balance of power, as the basic principle of the system of states.   The four long cycles of the Atlantic-European period (B) might then be interpreted as the for-mation of the nucleus of a global political system around the alliance of the two “maritime powers” of Britain and the Netherlands.   This “nucleus” (or solidary core) would become, in the next period of global political evolution (in C), the basis for global organization.


                        If global political evolution (in a process self-similar to the learning cycle but on a larger scale) has created the organizational structure for the world system, states, nation-states, and now, in increasing measure, also  global organization, it also helped to reshape world politics as a whole, and the basic institutional structure of world affairs.   The three periods of global political evolution we have identified (and shown as A,B,C in the matrix) might in turn be interpreted as distinct evolutionary phases of the modern era of world politics.   That modern era  could then be read as that of world organization, seen as following upon the ancient and the classical eras, being those, respectively, of cultural and social construction (that is, also in a self-similar macro-sequence).   The consummation of the modern era, (whose selection phase is the current “Atlantic-Pacific” period) could therefore to be expected (LC11)  in the 22nd century.   By that time, global leadership will likely have assumed an entirely different form.


                        This is how the matrix presents a systematic overview of the crucial role of leadership in global political evolution.   It makes it plain that global leadership cannot be considered apart from a broad political context and that it must also be supplemented by an understanding of economic, social, and cultural considerations.



Holders of global leadership


                        Global leadership is, of course, an analytical concept, one that finds its anchorage in a theoretical system, and in this case, that of evolutionary world politics.   It is not chiefly a term of self-designation, one that was used by those we describe here as ‘holders of global leadership” (that is, world powers).   Nor was it a term of general political discourse and current usage.   It is of some interest to take note of the terms that were contemporaneously used for those powers that our matrix predicts acceded to such a position at the culmination of their learning cycles, in the phase of execution.  


          The flexibility that is the hallmark of these leadership arrangements is reflected in the variety of terms that have denoted that phenomenon.   The King of Portugal assumed, in 1500, the title of “Lord of the Conquest, Navigation, and Trade in Ethiopia, Arabia, Persia and India”.   That was not a claim to territorial conquest or to rule over any of these areas,  but one asserting a right to control traffic and trade between the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans, i.a. by means of establishing forts and trading posts in those waters.   That right was in fact exercised fairly effectively over the following century, and was backed up by a the treaty of Tordesillas, that partitioned the global ocean space between Portugal and Spain.   (Modelski and Modelski 1988:39-40,58).


            The Dutch Republic acted out its claim to global leadership by becoming the principal opponents of the Spanish King’s claim to “universal monarchy”, the advocate of the freedom of the seas (mare liberum) in the face of Portuguese-Spanish monopoly, and the anchor of Calvinist alliances against the Counter-Reformation.   Having achieved these goals, it became the emporium mundi, the center of world trade, but also the home of the Elect.   In British and French eyes, though, it turned into the center of global arrogance, and in the Treaty of Dover (1670) the Dutch were condemned for daring to set themselves up as “arbiter and judge over all other potentates”   (Modelski and Modelski 1988:184).


          British assertions of an exceptional position in world affairs took two forms.   In the European theatre, William III of Britain, the Dutch holder who ascended the English throne,  laid claim “to hold the balance of Europe” (1701), and the general peace settlement of Utrecht (1713) that terminated this particular period of global war, confirmed the balance as the fundamental principle of peace, and in effect endorsed that claim.   In the world at large, Britain asserted a “dominion of the seas” best expressed in the words of the popular song (1734) boasting that “Britannia rules the waves”.   Both forms were reaffirmed in the Vienna treaties of 1815, that settled the affairs of Europe following the principles of balance but left extra-European matters and naval problems to British discretion.  [6]


            The United States initially assumed a role that resembled the earlier British stance;  participating as one of a set of four “Great Powers” in the European settlements that followed World War II, albeit in a clearly commanding position (even more obviously so in East Asia, and on the seas and in the air).    As the cold war progressed, and was seen in “super-power” terms, the term “leader of the free world” was used, and also that of “command of the seas”.   In the 1990’s, “global leadership” made an appearance in Presidential statements, and most recently, the concept of “indispensable nation”, as well as that of “hyper-power”.


            This makes it clear that global leadership (that needs to be contrasted with the more expansive one of ‘world leadership’) has in the real world and in political experience denoted a limited but in fact critical set of global responsibilities, involving both the defeat of imperial ambitions of continental proportion, and the condition of oceanic communications.   Taking shape principally at the close of global wars, it did not amount to ruling the world but it did involve the shaping of the global layer of interactions, and assuring autonomy in the central precinct of the world system.   But its continuing rights and responsibilities over the whole term of office have been left mostly unspecified, and open to continuous reinterpretation.


            Does Portugal satisfy the requirements of of the concept of ‘global leadership’?   Critics who view Spain as more powerful tend to overlook the long history of Portuguese explorations and the effort deployed in mounting what were in effect the first operations of global reach.   Not only was a great navy (Modelski and Thompson 1988:Ch.7) deployed over inter-continental ranges, but the other “must-dos” of aspirants to global leadership: a lead economy, an open society, and awareness of global problems  (Modelski 1996; documentation in Modelski and Modelski 1988:Chapter 2) were also well in evidence.


Did Britain in fact carry through her leadership through two cycles of

global politics?    While writers such as Immanuel Wallerstein or Paul Kennedy have little trouble seeing Britain in a leading role, they date different periods for that condition, and do not differentiate between her two terms of office.   On the present analysis, it was the Dutch led by William of Orange who, about 1689, co-opted the British into a world role, such that, with the Treaty of Utrecht,  the (Georgian) 18th century became, in fact, their initial term of office.   That was the time when “Anglomania” first took hold of the European imagination (Buruma 1998) as shown i.a. in the writings of Voltaire or Schiller, or in the political and legal analyses of Montesquieu.    Britain held the balance of power in Europe, and dominated the seas, with only one brief interruption of the War of American Independence.   Hardly anyone questions the role of Britain in the (Victorian) 19th century.     The issue of the two British terms of office is important because it suggests that rather than an often implied one-term tenure, the norm in contemporary global politics (also supported by the two earlier Song cycles) might be a two-term office holding.  [7]  



Myths of omnipotence


                        Commentators and critics of historical instances of world powers have a tendency to overestimate the potency of global leadership.     That power has not, in the cases that we have reviewed, been absolute, and did not endow their holders with omnipotence.   It was always at its peak at the close of the phase of macro-decision,  in circumstances of successful ending of global war, and greatest in the phase of execution that followed it.   It never added up to ruling the world, or controlling it in the imperial fashion.


                        Post=1945, in the earlier phases of the cold war, though not in the past two-three decades, American policies were referred to by some of their critics as “imperialist”. [9]   Indeed in the waning years of their second term, at the turn to the 20th century, British scholars and statesmen were fond of comparing their own “Pax Britannica” (soon to come to a close) to “Pax Romana”.   In truth, the comparison was not really close at all.   If Rome and China (in their imperial phases) be taken as the exemplars of empire, then they had little in common with these political structures that more recently have been referred to as global leadership.   They were pre-modern, classical-era formations of regional scope and undemocratic kind that instituted absolute rule over their domain.   Absolute power called for a myth of omnipotence.   Global leadership, by contrast, has functioned in a the modern era in a global context, and in an evolutionary manner, helping to shape successive transformations in political organization, nurturing a succession of leading economic sectors, and an increasingly prominent democratic lineage. Global leadership operates within the confines of limited authority.


                        Nor is hegemony a useful concept for characterizing the main features of the form labeled here “global leadership”.   True, while hegemony at its origin connotes leadership, its historical experience and its persistent associations have been that of “coercive leadership” or “domination”.   If the classical prototype of global leadership (in a regional setting) might be the Delian League ([8] led by Athens after 478 BC,  then the League of Corinth (338), established by Philip of Macedonia and in which he assumed the position of “hegemon”, the enforcer of peace in Greece,   is the right precedent for discussions of hegemony.   In the modern setting, Napoleon’s rule over Continental Europe  was regarded as an example of hegemonic domination.   La Grande Armee of 450,000 men that the Emperor led to disaster in 1812  comprised fewer than 200,000 Frenchmen.   Contrast this with the coalitions that Britain forged against France during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars,  (in Modelski and Modelski 1988:238),  results of skillful and persistent diplomacy and of which the last one became the nucleus of the European order of the 19th century.   [10]


                        If hegemony connotes coercive power based on domination, global leadership flourishes in (though not invariably affords)  conditions of organizational autonomy,  expectations of equality, equitable burden-sharing, and regularized, joint, and participatory decision-making.   That is why expectations of omnipotence,  that is  of “overwhelming strength” or “unquestioned supremacy” (in Denemark eds 2000:67) with regard to it are misplaced.   Applying such criteria to Wallersteinian analysis,  and asking such questions as “Was Britain hegemonic over Russia?” (ib.:71) David Wilkinson finds hardly any “hegemony” in the Dutch system, none in the British system, and questions America’s role too, eagerly collecting examples in which its alleged hegemony was flouted, rather than flaunted (ib.:p73-5).


                        Global leadership is about limited power and circumscribed authority, principally concerned with the structure of interactions in the global layer of the world system.   Over the past half-millennium it has shaped some innovative forms:  creating at first a minimal global political structure,  initially granting exclusive property rights to the Portuguese, and then refashioning that structure into a more open system under the Dutch.    A system of sovereign states was  institutionalized at first in Europe, and then spread world-wide.    Sovereign states turned into self-determining, democratic nation-states, and forms of international organization then emerged.    The outlines of a global democratic community are now crystallizing.   Is that not enough of an agenda for global leadership of the past half-millennium?



The reality of partnership


The reality of leadership at the global level has been the importance of cooperation, and in particular of that form of it that might be called

 nuclear partnerships’.   In that respect global leadership fundamentally differs both from imperial structures, and from clearly unsuccessful efforts at international policy structuring.   Empires such as Rome, China, or the Mongols, never treated with other states or rulers on conditions of equality;  Athens leadership, lacking partnership, did not last.  The successful world powers of the evolutionary process,  operating in basically in a system of independent powers, derived their strength from alliances  and coalitions, from balancing, co-optation, and succession;   equal nuclear partnership was one of them.


                        All of the instances of global leadership that are recorded in the Evolutionary Matrix were conditioned on crucially effective partnership close to the heart of their operations.    Such cooperative efforts were not restricted to individual personalities but represented institutionalized habits of working together whose results then cumulated.

Let us briefly review them (see also Modelski and Modelski 1988).


                        Portugal’s rise to global leadership was built upon a careful cultivation of its Burgundy-Hapsburg connection.   In the late middle ages, the Low Countries were ruled by the Dukes of Burgundy, and links, both commercial and dynastic, with the Portuguese were traditionally strong.   In 1483, the Burgundian connection transformed into  one with the House of Hapsburg, when Maximilian, son of a Portuguese princess, came to rule in the Netherlands.   Soon the  Hapsburgs extended their reach to Spain, and ultimately (1580-1640) to Portugal.   The Hapsburg connection was the home base of Portugal’s global system.


                        The Dutch, who knew the Portuguese global system best of all, constructed their own on the basis of a close relationship with England.   The foundations were laid during their common resistance to the Spanish Hapsburgs, in the Treaty of Nonesuch (1585), that laid down the conditions of English assistance on land, and for cooperation on the seas.   The defeat of the Armada (1588) that was to land the Spanish army of the Netherlands in England, was part of a joint Anglo-Dutch undertaking.    At one point, Elizabeth was asked to become the ruler of the Low Countries. 


                        The Anglo-Dutch relationship in the 17th century was beset by commercial rivalry, and three naval wars that resulted from it  (although Cromwell, too, proposed a treaty of union) but in the face of the rising power of France, it grew stronger once again.   It was formalized in the Treaty of Westminster (1678), and found full expression when William seized the English throne in 1688, “in the Protestant interest”, and in effect co-opted Britain into the role of global leadership.   The Anglo-Dutch partnership was the nucleus of the Grand Alliance that fought France for the next two-three decades, and was the core of 18th century world order.  


                        In the period of Napoleonic wars Britain did not have a unique partner but maintained a strong system of alliances throughout, and this might be an exception to the rule.   But the need for close cooperation became clear late in the 19th century and came to be focussed, ca.1900, on the “Anglo-Saxon” alliance with the United States.    World politics in the 20th century might be said to have been shaped by the British-American special relationship.   It was via that partnership, whose personification was Winston  Churchill in his relationship with Franklin D. Roosevelt, that the United States moved into global leadership.   Up to the present, that relationship has continued to be  at the core of the structure of world politics.


                        It remains to ask, what might be, or what should be,  the nuclear partnership of the cycle now ahead.   Could it be the continuation of the  Anglo-American relationship?   That might present too  slender a basis for world order in the 21st century.   Could it be a United States - European Union partnership?   That would seem possible if the EU continues to strengthen its foreign policy coordination and defense policies.   Or might it be the democratic community as a whole?



Concluding thoughts


                        Our analysis suggests that global leadership was a successful device for the management of global affairs in the recent past, superior to any imperial solution.   But it is also embedded in an evolutionary process that might be expected to bring about its rearrangement, in the direction of strengthening of global organization through demo-cratization.  (see also Modelski 1999a).   If the priority global problem is the consolidation of democracy,  then the macro-decision that is due within the half-century, will help to redefine the place of global leadership in that context.


                        Global leadership viewed as form of managing global problems has also had its costs.   It was marked by weak institutionalization and uncertainty in respect of the way problems might be dealt with, and how they might be funded.   It was marked by a democratic deficit and weak accountability, even though its networks of partnerships and coalitions (forming a democratic lineage) did tend to alleviate these problems.   Most importantly, it was regularly beset by succession problems:   the question of occupancy of the role of global leadership was usually resolved only after the prolonged turmoil of global war, even though the line of succession looks, in retrospect, amazingly predictable.   The threat of global nuclear war remains an open problem, though it might move toward a resolution in the context of the growth of the democratic community.


                        An evolutionary perspective allows us to place these weighty questions in a long-term framework.   It shows that change comes slowly in world affairs, and in global leadership, but when its time has come,  it might be unsurprising.




Symposium on “Global Leadership, Stability and Order:   Hegemony and the Provision

of International Collective Goods”

Hohenheim University, Stuttgart, June 15-6, 2000


1.     See also   “What is Evolutionary World Politics?”  on the“Evolutionary World

Politics Home Page” at


2.   In accord with recent historical scholarship we regard here the modern era as extending over the entire millennium just past.


3.     In his political testament Doge Mocenigo (1423) told the Venetians:  “You supply the world, and all the world loves you…”  (Modelski and Modelski 1988:28).


4.     The “rise” of Portugal is described in these terms in Modelski 1996:13-23.


5.     In respect of evolutionary potential the challengers differ in systematic ways from

 the world powers.   Most strikingly, the challengers represent land power, closed societies, and command economies, while world powers have been open societies, with innovative economies, and a maritime orientation.   At the close of the phase of macro-decision, each world power has held absolute superiority in respect of sea power, hence “dominion of the seas”, but did not control the preponderance of land forces.


6.   In 1876, well past the second British (learning) cycle,  Queen Victoria assumed the title of “Empress of India”.   The Liberal opposition denounced this as an instance of “bastard imperialism”.


7.     That would also be supported by synchronous trends in the global economy,

 and in democratization, that showed the British economy in the lead, and British social movements and political organization most prominent.


8.     Founded 478 BC  under Athenian leadership, disbanded 404;  a new league started

in 377, crushed by Philip of Macedonia in 338.   The League in was in effect turned into an Athenian empire by 448.


9.   A recent exception is a new book by Chalmers Johnston eititled    Blowback:  The Costs and Consequences of American Empire (1999)   who discerns in American actions post-1945 not only the classic imperial forms worthy of Rome or the Ottomans, but who is also keen to argue for the similarities of American and Soviet imperial positions.


10. Usually defined as the period between 29 BC and 162 AD;  Edward Gibbon described the period of the Antonines (96 -180 AD) as the “most happy and prosperous” in the history of mankind.


11.   In IR debates of the last two-three decades, hegemony has additionally assumed the  connotation of economic preponderance, or productive superiority that in turn bring political power.   Of course, leadership in the global economy, especially in respect of innovating industrial sectors pioneering in world trade,  has been the special characteristic of global leadership, and for that reason is not irrelevant to a discussion of it.   But it needs to be contrasted with the large, continental, controlled,  and land-oriented economic enterprises of the powers challenging them (see i.a. Modelski and Thompson 1996).




Buruma, Ian    1998    Anglomania: A European Love Affair,   New York:  Vintage Books


 Dehio, L.   1962    The Precarious Balance,   New York:  Knopf


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Modelski,  George   1996   Two Lectures on World Politics,   Lisboa:  Academia de Marinha.


-----      1999a   “From Leadership to Organization:  The evolution of global politics” at pp. 11-39 of Volker Bornschier and Christopher Chase-Dunn eds.   The Future of Global Conflict   London:  Sage Studies in International Sociology.


-----       1999b   “”Enduring Rivalry in the Democratic Lineage:  The Venice-Portugal Case” at pp.   153-171 of William R. Thompson ed.   Great Power Rivalries   Columbia:  South Carolina University Press.


----       and Sylvia Modelski  eds.   1988   Documenting Global Leadership   London: Macmillan


-----     and William R. Thompson  1988   Seapower in Global Politics 1494-1993   London:  Macmillan


            -----    1996   Leading Sectors and World Powers:  The Co-evolution of Global Economics and Politics;   Columbia:  University of South Carolina Press.


 1999   “The Long and the Short of Global Politics in the 21st Century:  An evolutionary perspective”    International Studies Review,  October.: pp.109-140.