George Modelskia and Tessaleno Devezasb



aDepartment of Political Science, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA.

bFaculty of Engineering, University of Beira Interior, Covilhã 6200-001, Portugal




Abstract: Political globalization is one dimension of a process that is multi-dimensional (not just economic), historical (in millennial proportions), and transformative (in changing planetary institutional structures). Conceiving of political globalization in evolutionary terms (as one centered on innovative sequences of search-and-selection) makes it possible to construct a time-table for global politics, and to derive from it an agenda of priority global problems.

The following questions will be addressed on that basis: where in that process are we situated at the present time? (a time that is one of palpable uncertainty); what global problems does this analysis point to, and what does it tell us about where we are heading?

These are not forecasts but rather elements of an “institutional” framework of orientation for the discussion of the next several decades of global organization.





This is a Big Picture–Long View study. It takes in the whole of global politics, and it also spans more than two centuries. It does not purport to be the theory of everything, but it does aim to sketch out in broad outlines, the course of political globalization as shaped by global political evolution a century ahead, at least for certain well-defined problems.

Three questions will be addressed on this occasion:

1. Can political globalization usefully be analyzed as global political evolution?

2. What conceptual equipment needs to be deployed to undertake this task?

3. What does such an analysis tell us about where in that process we are presently located, and where are we heading in global political organization?



1 - An institutional conception of globalization


The conception of globalization advanced here may best be described as institutional because it seeks to explain the rise of great planetary institutions that include free trade regimes and transnational enterprises, global leadership, and global governance, world social movements, and world opinion.

An institutional approach might best be contrasted with a “connectivist” approach. In that latter view, globalization is defined, to give one example from a recent report, as the “growing interconnectedness reflected in the extended flows of information, technology, capital, goods, services, and people throughout the world” (National Intelligence Council, 2004:27).

Viewing “certain aspects” of these developments as “irreversible”, the report raises globalization to the status of a “mega-trend” (we describe it as ‘process’): “a force so ubiquitous that it will substantially reshape all of the other major trends in the world of 2020”. Such a global mega-trend can be visualized with the aid of aggregate data on world flows.

That is the pure “connectivist” position. Another facet of globalization viewed as connectivity is “openness”. To operate freely connections require open societies for connections thrive most in the absence of barriers – barriers to trade, to capital movements, to migrants, or to the diffusion of ideas and practices. That is why another set of indices of globalization is country indices of openness – the degree to which nations are accommodative to the world system. Openness is a property of national systems, and nations can be ranked according to the degree to which they are acceptant of world flows [1].

The measurement and analysis of global interactions yields much of the substance of the phenomenon of globalization. Trade flows, capital movements, travel and migrations do indeed make the world more – and at times less – interdependent. Scholars judge the progress of that process on the basic of empirical observations. The mapping of connectivity frequently uncovers variety of networks - trade, financial, social – which are structural features of the world system.  Yet these developments also fluctuate, and sometimes even collapse utterly. It is widely noted, for instance, that the hopes for world peace aroused by the expansion of world trade in the latter part of the 19th century were to be rudely dashed in 1914, and what followed was a substantial reduction, if not derailment of an apparent trend toward globalization. And yet we are not entitled to say that the process as such had then come to a complete halt, only a pause. Most of all, the mere ascertainment of trends is no answer to the question: why do we globalize in the first place?

The approach developed by David Held and his collaborators (1999:14ff) that has been described as “transformationalist” goes beyond the “connectivist” view and treats globalization as a historical process that brings about connectivity and openness but one that also has an institutional grounding, and can therefore be depicted in two dimensions, spatio-temporal, and organizational respectively. That model of globalization combines an interest in the intensity, extensity, velocity, and impact propensity of the flows that animate the world system, with an analysis of the organizational dimension that describes the infrastructure, and the institutionalization, of global interdependence (“a new architecture of world order”).

The view advanced here leans strongly toward this second dimension as one more suited to an evolutionary analysis even while recognizing the importance of having good reliable measurements of the multitude of interactions that are of interest. Notice that both connectivity and openness are the product of a set of organizational and institutional arrangements. They derive from the organizations that originate and manage these flows, the regimes that facilitate and govern them, the matrices of mutual trust that sustain them, and the systems of knowledge that guide them. In particular, and briefly stated, political globalization tracks the evolution of world order architecture, from the classical imperial form, through global leadership, to global organization.

The institutional approach not only focuses on the facts of transformation (and is therefore also “transformationalist”), but also reaches out for explanation of these vast changes. And it sees such explanation basically in a learning process, in the humans’ stubborn search for a better world, a journey with many detours and false promises, but one that has so far taken us quite far. A learning process can also be modeled, simulated, and projected into the future.



2 - Globalization is historical, transformational, and multi-dimensional


Globalization is sometimes described as the defining feature of our current era. Some call it a process of the world “getting smaller”. Others emphasize those features that increase connectivity. Let us postulate that it is the process of “emergence of organizations of planetary scope”. That is a definition that favors the institutional factor, but sees ‘connectivity’, and ‘openness”, both as causes, and as consequences.

In some discussions, globalization is treated as solely economic in character. Others view it as essentially a contemporary phenomenon and an obvious consequence of technological advances, and yet others treat it as a condition of life to-day without inquiring greatly into its provenance. In this discussion globalization is seen as a process that is historical, transformational, and also multi-dimensional, as well as one facet of world system evolution [2].

Globalization is a process in time, and therefore it also is a historical process in that its understanding requires tracing it back to its beginnings. These beginnings may arguably be traced i.a. to the Silk Roads across Eurasia, and the projects of World Empire, most prominently pursued by Genghis Khan and his Mongol successors in the 13th century, but more clearly seen in ocean-based enterprises of succeeding centuries. Similarly we cannot expect it to assume final form for possibly another millennium. It also is a historical project in that there is only one instance of it in the experience of the humankind. We cannot generalize about it (in the sense of summing up a number of instances) except by trying to trace that one instance of it that we know, but also by reducing it to a set of constituent processes and elements.

Globalization is transformational-institutional because it traces successive steps in what we might call the development of a planetary constitutional design. Where one millennium ago, the human species was recognizably organized in some four or five regional ensembles, with basically minimal mutual contact, and no organization, common rules, or knowledge, to-day information is abundant and low-cost, contacts have multiplied, and organization and rules dealing with collective problems are no longer exceptional. The institutions whereby human relate to each other have been undergoing a transformation at the planetary, but also at local, national, and regional levels.

Globalization, finally, is also multi-dimensional. That is, it has no simple recipe for identifying “stages of world history”, such as slavery or capitalism. As generally recognized, it comprises not just the spectacular expansion, under the banner of free trade, of world commerce and of capital movements, with the large array of transnational enterprises, and the elaborate body of rules and regulations governing all of these. Globalization also concerns the rise of global social movements, and world-wide cultural trends, and the emergence of world opinion as conception of common interest, but most particularly in the context of this paper it has a political dimension. But before we enter into a discussion of political globalization we need to review a few concepts basic to this analysis.



3 - Some key concepts


As is appropriate for the process of globalization, the approach adopted here is holistic – in that the basic unit of analysis is planetary. It also is diachronic in that it is about processes (rather than structures) in world system time. It is evolutionary in that the key to it are learning processes centered on variation and selection; and in its methodology it is social-scientific in that it confronts observational data with theory and then tests and retests it. Here are six key concepts of this argument, and two tables in particular that will presently be used as illustrations.


Process - This is the central term of an analysis that privileges change over stasis, and ‘flux’ over structure. It is a distinct way of perceiving reality, in that it ‘connects the dots’ to create event sequences. More than a mere trend (a drift, tendency, or general movement), it is defined as ‘series of connected developments unfolding in programmatic coordination’. Four (self-similar, relatively autonomous) global (institutional) processes - economic, political, social, cultural – arrayed in a cybernetic hierarchy, make up globalization. Political globalization, or global political evolution, is at the heart of this inquiry and belongs to the (nested) family of political processes (that also includes the –actor-level- long cycles of global politics, and the species level, evolution of world politics). In Table 1, second column, the central (institutional-level) process of political globalization is the evolution of global politics.


Program - “Programmatic coordination” inheres by definition in the notion of process. Global processes such as political globalization are evolutionary sequences and are conjectured to be programmed accordingly by a Darwinian algorithm of search and selection. A program is implied in the conception of self-organization. Search and selection respond to priority problems, and these are responded to by means of innovations.


Period - The unit of a process is a period. World system time is not continuous or flowing but discrete or grainy, reckoned in generations, and unfolding in distinct periods. Political globalization (evolution of global politics has a characteristic period of some 16 generations (about 500 years). Each period is defined by a set of priority global problems, and by the launching and diffusion of institutional innovation. In Table 1, the principal institutional innovations shown are Imperial Experiments, Global Leadership, and Global Organization. Empirical analysis of the Portuguese cycle of global leadership (Devezas and Modelski 2006) demonstrates it to have the form of a learning process.


Phase - Each period is a phased, evolutionary, learning process and has a programmed time-structure:  an event sequence that consists of four phases whose generic names (as in Table 1, first column) are variation, coalition, selection, and amplification [3] (the first two phases might also be called ‘preparatory”, and the other two, ‘decisive’.). That also means that all processes are self-similar (have the same time-structure, but at different periodicities). One period of political globalization consists of four phases, each of which is one long cycle that acquires part of its problem-focus from that position. In Table 1, in each of the three periods of global political evolution, the selection (third) phase (e.g. the Britain I in “global leadership’) is decisive for shaping the global political system for the ensuing two-three centuries.


Table 1 Evolution of Global Politics: Political Globalization

(930 AD-2300 AD)


Generic learning


Evolution of global politics: Institutions




930 - Imperial experiments:






Failed world empire

1200 - Mongol empire





1430  - Global leadership:






Global nucleus

1640  - Britain I, II





1850 - Global organization






Global governance

2080 - Democratic comm.





2300 - Consolidation





Columns show processes; rows show 4-generation periods.


Power law - Each period has a characteristic duration, reckoned in generations. In the cascade that makes up world system evolution, global processes synchronize, and they also stand in a fixed relationship that is expressed by a power law. “Bigger” processes (those higher in the cybernetic hierarchy, of higher information content) have longer duration, hence presumably greater importance. That is why political processes (such as political globalization) can be shown to have twice the length of the evolution of the global economy [4].


Problem - Note that the learning algorithm specifies the characteristic problem (or problem set) for each phase of a period. Thus the phase of the current period of political globalization (global organization) defines a priority problem - coalition - for global politics of that period, as one of laying the “democratic base” for global political evolution. That is how process defines the agenda.


We shall now review, first, political globalization and shall then follow it up with the long cycle, and democratization. For each we shall ask: where in its trajectory is global politics located at the present time, and what might be the prognosis for the future, up to a generation ahead.


4 - Essentials of political globalization


The focus of this analysis is global-level organization that is a necessary condition of an ordered world society but cannot spring into being all at once, in an instant, but only as the result of a sustained process of political globalization. In this paper, attention is focused (principally, but not entirely) on the political dimension, and the question is asked why political globalization might indeed be viewed analytically in an evolutionary perspective [5]. In its political dimension, too, globalization is an evolutionary process because it exhibits the same basic features as global political evolution. It describes changes in the collective organization of the human species, and traces the operation of the Darwinian learning algorithm of search and selection in the context of humankind as a learning system. Thus it shows how evolutionary mechanisms have helped to transform the way we live on earth.

Political globalization therefore shares with global political evolution all the primary characteristics, of process, time, change, and multidimensionality. But an evolutionary approach gives it, as it were, one additional yet essential, feature: it supplies an internal motor of change. It brings out the mechanisms that make for global political change, without invoking the deus ex machina of technology while paying prompt attention, too, to concurrent and antecedent developments in the economy, society and culture.

Table 1 depicted a summary outline of the course of global political evolution over two millennia. It may also be read as a timetable of political globalization, as well as a forecast of its future course. It is of course very much a Big Picture representation with emphasis on an evolutionary explanation. In going back one millennium it does take globalization back somewhat further than some would (though it is difficult to imagine how such a change could occur without printing, compass, and also gunpowder that the Mongols brought to Europe) but in its main lines conforms to the now increasingly familiar “history of globalization”. That unfolded promptly over long haul of the long sixteenth century. But in looking toward the future it also suggests that the critical (decisive) period for political globalization might be our own century.

In the main, Table 1 presents the evolution of global politics as a higher order, institutional-level process, animating the search for new forms of collective organization and the transformation of world-wide structures away from traditional empire, via the institution of global leadership, and toward global governance. The table also briefly hints (in the third column) at actor- or agent-level processes that we call long cycles that are nesting within, and driving it. That is the level at which global political competition centered on priority global problems is particularly evident. In the past half-millennium they took the form of the rise and decline of the powers exercising global leadership, of which the mature form has been that of Britain in the 19th century, followed by the United States in the 20th. It gives a foretaste of what an evolutionary analysis of globalization might add to our knowledge.

The evolution of global politics is a higher-order learning process than the long cycle. It is a process of globalization because it is creative of political institutions of world-wide scope albeit in periods spanning half-a-millennium. It is one of political globalization because it accounts for the formation of political structures that weave together several strands of relationships and collective enterprises. Earlier, in the classical era, political interaction was either local or regional. It is only about the year 1000 AD that interactors (conquerors, traders, explorers) began to emerge at the planetary level and they set in motion a process of global political evolution. Driving that process at the agent level are long cycles of political competition but at the higher, institutional, level this adds up to global political evolution (Table 1).

Since the start of the modern era, about 1000 AD, global political evolution has established, in the course of “imperial experiments”, the technical preconditions of global order, in part by defeating the project of the Mongol world empire. In the period that fashioned the institution of global leadership (say 1430 AD to 1850 AD) an (oceanic) nucleus of global organization emerged in the defeat of (continental) imperial challengers. The two British cycles were the mature form of that structure as it moved from selection to amplification. The current period, as shown in Table 1, from 1850 onward as “Global Organization”, is to be completed in about two-three centuries. If the first period was one of no organization (or failed), and the second one of minimal organization, the third is one of selecting an adequate structure (to be completed in the fourth phase). By adequate we mean one that has the capacity to respond effectively to problems of human survival, especially those posed by threats that are nuclear and environmental.

Where in this scheme do we stand at the beginning of the 21st century? As Table 2 shows in greater detail in its second and third columns, we have now entered the third period of political globalization. (We leave aside until later a discussion of the co-evolving processes of democratization, and of K-waves).  That third period is one of “global organization”, and according to our analysis it certainly is ‘critical’. That period is critical because it is one that is programmed to be the one “selecting’ new forms of institutional innovation. That period is currently in the second of its preparatory (integrative, community-building) phases, and it lends an agenda to LC10 that, as note in the following section, centers on building a democratic base for global governance that will lay the ground – the sub-structure of solidarity – to serve as the foundation for significant institutional change in the next (selectional) phase of that process, a century from now.

The prognosis is this: global politics has been, since 1850, in transition to a presumptively democratic global organization, and that means that the US cycle has been no mere repetition of the British experience, but was shaped by that very fact. But at the start of the 21st century we are still in the second, cooperative, or coalitional, phase of that transition that is unlikely to be completed until mid-21st century. That second phase establishes the solidarity matrix within which future global organization will take shape. It is an implication of this analysis that such a condition is less likely to emerge from within a system of multipolarity. As political globalization gains additional strength, the control of global organization, e.g. via majority voting blocs or veto power, (hence institutional power) will increasingly become the condition of organizational leadership. Such a context will favor a functioning democratic community. It is on the foundation of a majority - democratic global base that a more effective system of global governance is likely to emerge in the 22nd century.


Table 2 – Social, political, and economic globalization, 1850-2080



Global social


Evolution of global politics

Long cycles of global politics





Early adopters

3. Global organization Inter-governmental









High growth


Democratic nucleus



World Wars I & II







High growth


Democratic transition

Democratic base



K19-Computer Internet






High growth






K20-Collective intelligence







Democratic community

Global governance









Periods (of learning process) in bold letters - phases in smaller print

Each column represents one process; each row represents one generation.



One other point. The all processes in Table 2 are learning processes: experiments accounting for the rise of world powers, and of global institutions. That is why each such “rise” comprises two preliminary phases that ready the ground for, and lead up to, the third one that activates the selectional mechanisms of collective decision and, in the fourth, achieves the completion of the process and “full tenure”. We reckon the US (learning) long cycle as extending from 1850 to 1975, with its preparatory phases lasting up to 1914-45, laying down the foundations for global leadership that was fully established only after 1940. But the United States’ (lightly institutionalized) “term of office”, then started, extends beyond 1975, until another selection is achieved (on our timetable, after 2026). Thus in respect of that US cycle, the learning sequence ends in 1975, but the “term of office” lasts longer, on this accounting, until 2026, but might also appear as a “lame duck” season, in which the global political system (as though in an election campaign mode), sets up the conditions for “macro-decision”, that is, post-2026, for a new selection, or re-selection. The same considerations also apply to the learning process in political globalization.



5 - LC 10: From agenda-setting to coalition-building


Consider now the shorter-range, long cycles, nested within, but also driving, global political evolution that, in the second period of its trajectory (see Table 1), assumed the form of ‘global (sometimes called ‘hegemonic’) leadership’ [5].

The concept of the long (or ‘hegemonic’) cycles of the ‘rise and decline of world powers’ is familiar to students of world politics, and it highlights principally the role of leading states, and of the imperial challengers that squared off against them. It also helps to establish the time-location of the global political system.

As shown in Table 2, as of 2005, long cycle LC10 has moved from the initial phase of Agenda-setting (1975-2000) to that of Coalition-building. Agenda-setting shook up the comforts and certainties of the post-World War II world, and placed new problems on the list of world priorities. While the successes of the industrial revolution brought in its train environmental dangers, the information-scientific revolution produced nuclear threats to human survival. The collapse of the Soviet bloc cleared the way for creating a majority-community of world democracies, and this came to pass in the next phase, that of Coalition-building.

Even while the United States is still filling the (informal) role of leadership assumed in 1940s, the system of global politics is now in the preparatory phases of a new “macro-decision” (selection for –new- global leadership). On the analogy of a four-year electoral cycle, global leadership has moved into the lame duck season, anticipating a coming (s)electoral test. In the current phase, the principal question is: how will the key players of the global political system line up in view of the approaching problem of re-selection?



6 - Coalition for renewed global leadership


The Coalition-building that began in 2000 is a period of new alignments, and realignments. The opening sentence of a recent (National Intelligence Council 2004:9) report declares: “At no time since the formation of the Western alliance system in 1949 have the shape and nature of international alignments been in such a state of flux”. In previous cycles this has been the time when blocs were starting to form that then squared off in generation-long global wars to select new global leadership. A classic example of such a formation is the “balance of power” that arose in Europe in the two-three decades prior to 1914 when the European system of states, after a period of uncertainty, came to line up into two opposing camps that ultimately faced off in World Wars I and II, but also resolved the question of global leadership.

The current phase is equally likely to be increasingly influenced by competition for global leadership, one that is likely to set in even more actively in the third decade of this century. This might take the form of opposition to the sitting, status quo world power or else reflect the need to line up a winning coalition that would sustain renewed global leadership that, if and when it prevails over the inevitable challengers, or coalitions of challengers, would emerge from that process in the following one-two decades. The respective positions of i.a. China, India, Russia, and the European Union, and the United States in relation to these issues will be closely watched and their geopolitical positioning carefully monitored. The general tendency is toward deconcentration, most clearly economic but also political.

Since the collapse of the Soviet bloc in 1989-91 the concept of “multipolarity” has served as a source of one alternative vision. That is a notion that used to be advocated prominently by the President of France, but also one that at various times was also espoused by leaders in i.a. Moscow, Beijing and New Delhi. (relevant developments include the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and the East Asian summit, to meet in Beijing in December 2005). Lacking in detail, it harks back to late-19th century conceptions of balance of power just mentioned. At bottom, and in present conditions, multipolarity is a product of deconcentration, and is a counter to unipolarity that is seen to have arisen from the United States’ post-Cold-War predominance.

Do world conditions in the coming decade or two trend toward multipolarity? Measured in terms of raw power, military force distributions at the global level (nuclear-missile-space and air-naval) suggest unipolarity but at the regional level the situation is less clear. On the other hand, the distribution of economic power (in GNP terms) indicates, with the anticipated rise of China and India, a situation that is turning increasingly multi-polar. The mounting for oil and gas in the world economy, hence rising prices, enhance the wealth, and influence, of the energy producers, such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Russia, Iraq, or Venezuela. In terms of institutional power (that is the power to influence the decisions of international organizations, in summits, UN bodies, global financial institutions, world trade talks) the situation appears even more fluid, marked by ad hoc coalitions. In other words, the strategic option of multipolarity may not be easily dismissed.

But there is alternative conjecture, arguing that a similarly strong focus of contemporary coalitioning will be the possibility of an “alliance of democracies”. It is a hallmark of this current, Coalition-building, phase that, accounting for over one-half of the world’s population, democracies have now (for the first time ever) acquired a majority position, a condition that favors cooperation and makes war less likely among a large portion of the world’s peoples. That is why arguably the other strategic option, that of democracy, has a good chance of prevailing, and why the odds for the long term may lie on the side of democratic institutions, even at the global level. The democratic ‘lineage’ (the sequence of democratic-leaning world powers) runs through a millennium of global political evolution and is closely linked to democratization (the world-wide spread of democratic practices).

All in all, we are still early in the Coalition-building phase, with maybe two more decades to go, and much is yet to happen. Our framework suggests that the major institutional innovation of the current long cycle will be securing a democratic base for future global governance but that base is unlikely to be fully “operational’ until after it had been “selected”, say after 2050.



7 - Imperial temptation?


A rounded conception of the two preparatory phases of the next long cycle draws attention to the “lame duck” feature of this season of world politics. At a time when the “sitting” world power is past the phase of executing its primary agenda, that whose execution placed it in office in the first place, and whose major achievements involved the defense of clusters of autonomous states from the designs of imperial powers, friction and uncertainty arise, powered by hubris, that tend to prompt projects that amount to an “imperial detour”. A case in point, and a significant current example, is the Iraq war of 2003. For in the moment of transition away from one completed (learning) cycle of global leadership, world politics is poised uneasily between the historically familiar form of large-scale political rule that is “empire”, on the one side, and “global organization”, as the wave of the future, on the other. The incumbents of the office of global leadership are torn between the “traditional” pull of empire and the beckoning but uncertain promise of global organization. Their primary agenda will have tackled the then urgent global problems but as these problems have been met, they then tend to slip into “traditional” patterns and yield to imperial temptation.

Those who succumb to the lure of empire ignore one of the principal rules of their ‘trade’. For the essence of global leadership is “global network control”. It lies in a skillful employment of forces of global reach for constructing, and maintaining, a world-wide arrangement of fleets, bases, and alliances that yields “command of the seas” or, more up-to-date, possibly “space control”. A specialization in global network control has the corollary of abandoning projects that entail continental or imperial-scale conquests at regional or national levels. One classic example of this strategy has been England’s abandonment of European territorial ambitions as a pre-condition of its global aspirations. Powers that become entangled in pacification campaigns, colonial wars, “nation-building”, wars “on the mainland of Asia”, run great if avoidable risks.

Past the second (learning) cycle (1750-1850), Britain’s Boer War (1899-1902) offers an illuminating example of this structural problem.    But a similar pattern has also been observed in the “lame duck” seasons following each one of the three earlier cycles of global politics. In the Portuguese and Dutch cases, they marked the end of the creative phases of their global experience; in the first British cycle, it was the war of American independence that brought forth a continental coalition that heralded the end of what the historians call the “first empire”, and a redesign of Britain’s strategy in the world system, one that made possible the “Pax Britannica” of the 19th century.

This “imperial detour’ is a structural problem of the ‘lame duck’ phases of the ‘global leadership’ period of global political evolution that is troublesome but not beyond remedy. The evolution of global politics rejected “world empire” at its early stages, defeated several attempts at imperial domination in the past several centuries, and works to discourage it in the 21st century.



8 - Global war, or democratic process?


The most recent US National Intelligence Council report (2004, p.98) declares that “the likelihood of great power conflict escalating into total war in the next 15 years is lower than in any other time in the past century”. That statement accords well with our own analysis. But for those seeking to peer beyond 2020 there comes the next phase of the current cycle, its “selection” phase of Macrodecision (c.2026-2050). In the four-five earlier cycles this was the phase that generated global wars (not because of some local conflict but due to the decay of the global political structure), but one also that generated new leadership. A consensus of world system history scholars judges this a period, beyond 2025, to be fraught with dangers of large-scale warfare. (Denemark 1999:63-4). In fact, such a “worst case scenario” cannot be excluded from an assessment of world security two-three decades ahead. But our long-standing argument has been that in principle there is no reason why in this case the process might not assume a new form, in that the global polity could arrive at a collective decision about leadership and global priorities without resort to large-scale violence because substitutes for global war can arise from within the democratic community. For it is the chief characteristic of democratic procedures that they are explicit substitutes for war (Modelski 1999).

Consider two scenarios concerning the form such a macrodecision might assume [6]. In the first, an effective global democratic community, comprising not only the majority of the world’s population, but also the preponderance of its military, economic, and technological resources, and forming a majority “party’ within international bodies, in fact guarantees world peace. This arrangement might present such unassailable strength that a direct military challenge would obviously be unproductive, if not utterly disastrous (though it might induce asymmetric conflicts). But such a scenario calls for constructive initiatives and some structural innovation in the institution of global leadership.

The second, multipolar, scenario, that is more “traditional”, allows for alliances between the several poles of that system, and within the United Nations, hence also between democratic and non-democratic states. This alternative could reduce the chances of a polarizing divide but is basically opportunistic and courts the dangers of large-scale military confrontation conceivably leading up to a nuclear catastrophe.

To recapitulate, global politics is now approaching, say in two-three decades time, the end of the “term of office” of “sitting global leadership”, but the procedures of renewing its mandate remain uncertain. Repeated failures to agree on a new structure for the UN Security Council are a symptom of that uncertainty. Yet in even longer perspective, the process of search for new organization to tackle global problems must continue.



9 - Democratization


Table 2 showed global political evolution synchronized with three related and co-evolving  processes that make up globalization at the agent level. One is political (long cycles) but the two others are social, and economic [7].  Let us briefly comment on these relevant but basically contextual matters.

Democratization is the social process that favors and propels the diffusion of democratic practices world-wide. It has a period of one-quarter millennium, and is now in the (decisive, or selectional) stage of ‘democratic transition’, that is just past the tipping point of establishing a world-wide majority of democracies, and building a base for future democratic governance. This global evolutionary process of the human species acquiring the elements of democratic practice can be represented by a learning curve (Devezas and Modelski 2003:845) that shows how an increasing portion of the world’s population has come to live in democracies. The first stage (see Table 2 above), one of early adopters, unfolded in the decades prior to World War I (at about the 10 per cent level); by 1975, a nucleus of democracies had emerged (reaching the 40ies) that moved, at the close of the cold war, to a majority position in the world population.

Since 1850, democratization encountered a series of militant and competing movements. These were anarchist-nihilist groups prior to World War I, Nazi and Communist forces through much of the 20th century, and since the late 1970s, developments in the Arab and Moslem worlds. These may be viewed as successive challenges to democracy, and resistance to the spread of democratic values and practices. The earlier attempts demonstrably failed to garner sustained global support. Recently most prominent has been the Islamist-al Qaeda challenge, even raising the call for a new “caliphate”, harking back to Islam’s classical empires.

Each phase produced its own methods and tactics. In recent decades terrorism has become prominent at the global level. A study of terrorist incidents shows them to be in a growing phase but it is too early to tell whether the trend might yet abort, or whether it will cumulate into a more powerful phenomenon (Devezas and Santos 2005).



10 - The global economy


The process of rise and decline of world powers (the long cycles that drive global political evolution) has run in tandem (except at lower scales) with the rise and decline of leading industrial sectors - the driving forces of economic globalization. Both are evolutionary processes in that they exhibit, at the minimum, variation (innovation) and selection (power or market competition). They are self-similar (symmetric across scale), synchronized, and nested, in those K-waves, and initially located in world powers. And K-waves, while supplying the wherewithal of economic globalization, also are the driving forces of global economic evolution.

The computer-internet K-wave (or K19, see Table 2) took off in the United States, and more precisely in California’s Silicon Valley at about 1973-75. Around 2000, after experiencing a (selectional) shake-out, it entered upon high growth moment likely to last some two-three decades. While shaping and reshaping the global economy it launched a burst of innovative energy spearheaded principally by American enterprise. Its significance lies in the qualitative changes it has wrought in the world economy.

K19 serves as a productive platform that tends to support a bid for a second “term” of global leadership. For the United States, it has boosted American productivity, and renewed its status as a “lead economy” (that observers in the 1980s and 1990s thought was ‘in decline’). Just as K17 and K18 provided the sinews of American power in World Wars I and II, K19 induced a “military revolution”, enhancing the US capacity for global reach and equipping its forces with high precision-guided weapons earlier than others.

However, past 2000, K19 is now in the phases of high growth, and advantage now increasingly shifts from early to late adopters. Producers outside the United Stats have mastered the manufacture of computers and the writing of software, and are now part of the cell phone-internet explosion. The relative advantage of US producers and users of the new technology is declining, competition rises, and new productive centers, as in China, India, or Brazil, emerge, while older centers, as in Europe or Japan, retool. At this stage economic globalization reinforces multipolarity. But the United States’ status as lead economy in the Information Revolution, as well as their position as open democratic society, are at this time two of the factors making probable American re-selection to a second term of global leadership in an evolving global democratic polity.





11 - A timetable for globalization


All of this goes to show that political globalization can usefully be analyzed as global political evolution, and also tells us a good deal about the agenda of global political problems for the 21st century.

1. For political globalization, the priority problem (in long perspective, since 1850) has been the construction of global organization. That is a major innovation whose completion cannot be anticipated in any shorter time frame than that of one-two centuries.

2. As part of that process, the agenda of the current phase of political globalization, since 1975, has been the consolidation of a democratic base for global governance in the next century. A “democratic transition” to a majority-democratic world system is the principal characteristic of the current phase of democratization that may be expected to achieve the widespread diffusion of such basic democratic institutions as elections. This would tend to facilitate the avoidance of global war as a mechanism of selection of new leadership, and of new global policies and obviously is a a high priority problem.

3. At the agency (or actor) level of “long cycles” the principal innovation of the current learning cycle is the consolidation of a democratic base. The US first term of global leadership is in a ‘lame duck’ season. More precisely, however, we now find the global political system in the ‘coalition-building’ phase of LC10. The priority long cycle problem for the coming decades is the selection, or re-selection, of global leadership. Political alliances are shaping up with the view to determining that selection process, and the platform of global policies to be implemented. Those forwarding the project of global organization, by being instrumental in building the democratic base, are more likely to be successful.

4. In a wider context, it also suggests that the type of analysis developed for modeling world system evolution (as in Devezas and Modelski 2003) and employed here, is also relevant, and applicable, to illuminating the several other dimensions of globalization: economic, social, and cultural.

An evolutionary account serves well as a timetable of political globalization. It suggests that global politics is indeed in the midst of an epochal transformation to an enhanced form of world organization but also that the very great weight of that process demands much time for its completion. It also suggests what is achievable, and at what pace, and what needs to be placed on a longer time horizon.


For publication in:   WORLD FUTURES:  The Journal of General Evolution,  63 (5-6)  2007.




* Based on material presented at the NATO Advanced Research Workshop on Kondratieff Waves, Warfare and World Security, University of Beira Interior, February 16, 2005, and in the Harrison Program on the Global Agenda at the University of Maryland, September 28, 2005.


[1] The Foreign Policy magazine has published annually since 2005, the A. T. Kearney-Foreign Policy “Globalization Index” (www.atkearney.com) that employs a variety of data to measure the global entanglement of 62 countries that account for over 80 per cent of the world population. In 2005, Singapore ranked 1st on that index, followed by Ireland, Switzerland, and the United States. China placed 54, and Iran held the last place, at 62. The index measures economic integration, personal contacts, technological connectivity, and political engagement.

[2] Globalization is placed in the context of world system evolution in the modern era in Modelski 2000:43-9.

[3] Each period of global political evolution is an instance of the working of a learning algorithm (that is, of the enhanced Lewontin-Campbell heuristic: g-c-t-r: generate-cooperate-test-regenerate, Modelski 2004). In turn, each such period is driven (in a nested, self-similar process at the agency level) by four long cycles, each of which represents one phase of that algorithm. 

[4] It is the conjecture underlying this argument that these learning processes reveal a program (or set of rules) that actuates the social evolution of the human species, via a process of extended group selection.  The human species tends toward self-organization at multiple levels (including also at the species-hierarchical level), over time in a cascade of (autocatalytic) learning algorithms, and in such a manner as to give rise to interactors and replicators, and to constitute a lineage, assuring continuity. For general context see Modelski 2000, 2004, and Modelski and Devezas 2003.

[5] The context of this section is a set of ideas known originally as the theory of long cycles and more recently described as “evolutionary world politics”. Accounting for that shift was the dawning realization that “long cycles” in fact are an evolutionary process. It is not a “general theory” of world politics but an account of certain critical processes of transformation. The long cycle is a pattern of regularity in global politics but as an evolutionary process it charts change rather than a circular process of repetition. See i.a. The Evolutionary World Politics Home Page at http://faculty.washington.edu/modelski/ .

[6] Our analysis suggests that the current long cycle will culminate in another selection for global leadership, mainly because the global political system is not yet ready for a fuller measure of global governance that will have to be anchored in an extended democratic base, yet to be consolidated.

[7] The fourth agent-level global process is the evolution of world opinion (a product of opinion leaders, the media, and the world of learning) that early in the 21st century is in the phase of discovering, defining, and institutionalizing global solidarity (1975-2080), a process that moves ahead with the recognition of common interests in global security and human survival and that will form the basis of common action in the 22nd century.





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