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Chase-Dunn on Arrighi

Chase-Dunn on Arrighi

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Published by: Luis Alfredo Garrido Soto on Feb 01, 2011
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© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2010 DOI: 10.1163/156920610X489144
Historical Materialism 18 (2010) 39–51
 Adam Smith in Beijing 
: A World-Systems Perspective
Christopher Chase-Dunn
University of California-Riversidechriscd@ucr.edu
 Abstract 
Giovanni Arrighi’s last book is compared with Andre Gunder Frank’s
Re-Orient 
. Teimplications of Arrighi’s study of the East/West-comparison for comprehending world-historicalevolution and the political issues of the current conjuncture are considered.
Keywords
 world-systems, comparative civilisations, hegemony, hegemonic decline, Adam Smith,colonialism, warfare, East Asia, market-society, capitalism, imperialism
Giovanni Arrighi was an historical sociologist and one of the originators of the world-systems perspective (along with Immanuel Wallerstein, Samir Amin and Andre Gunder Frank). His
Geometry of Imperialism
is one of thevery best dissections of modern economic and political-military power, andhis
Te Long wentieth Centur
, which is really about the last 600 years, is thebest overall analysis of the modern Europe-centred world-system.
1
 Arrighi’s last book,
 Adam Smith in Beijing 
, provides a world-historicalcomparison of the trajectories of China, Europe and the United States. Arrighi revisited the classics of political economy to explain the rise of the West, its eclipse of China in the nineteenth century, the rise and decline of US hegemony in the twentieth century, and China’s recent rise to greatercentrality in the world-economy. Arrighi contended that two distinct paths of economic and politicaldevelopment, which he calls ‘capitalism’ and ‘market society’, have allowedsome modern national economies to escape the Malthusian trap of population-pressure and economic stagnation. Capitalism is the path that the West followed and market-society is the path that has been followed by China. He also contended that the Chinese Revolution helped to create the
1. Arrighi 1978, 1994.
 
40
C. Chase-Dunn / Historical Materialism 18 (2010) 39–51
conditions under which this kind of market-society and paternalistic statecould re-emerge in the decades since Mao’s demise. Arrighi saw the recentrise of China as a progressive development that might help to facilitate theemergence of a more labour-friendly and less environmentally-destructive world-society.Tere is a lot at stake here. Arrighi was addressing the huge social-scientificand political issues that are brought up by the East/West-comparison and by the continuing decline of US hegemony and the rise of the People’s Republicof China. He produced a compelling world-systemic analysis that specifiesboth the similarities and the important structural differences between theBritish hegemonic trajectory of the nineteenth century and US hegemony of the twentieth century. Te analysis in
 Adam Smith in Beijing 
of processes of financialisation, neoliberalism and neoconservative ‘imperial over-reach’ asefforts to prolong US hegemony, build on Arrighi’s own earlier work and onstudies by Robert Brenner and David Harvey.
2
 Adam Smith in Beijing 
is dedicated to Andre Gunder Frank and Frank’sinfluence is obvious throughout. Arrighi’s focus on China, and his re-readingof Adam Smith, Karl Marx and Joseph Schumpeter, were inspired by Frank’slast book,
Re-Orient 
, in which Frank tried to overcome Eurocentrism by re-examining world-history from 1400 to 1800.
3
Arrighi’s last book not only reconsiders the classics but also made great use of a large corpus of recentscholarship that has been produced by a group of economic historians who were also inspired by Frank (Kaoru Sugihara, akeshi Hamashita, Bin Wongand Kenneth Pomeranz).
4
Tese close studies of Chinese economic history show that there has been a distinctive and dynamic East-Asian path of development. Tis review will outline the similarities and differences between Arrighi’s and Franks analyses of the East/West-comparison in world-historicalperspective. Arrighi shows that the use of 
Te Wealth of Nations 
as a totem of neoliberalnostrums about the magic of markets, the wonders of capitalist globalisation,and the evils of state-regulation, is based on ignoring much of what Smithactually said. Arrighi’s contrasts of Smith with Marx and Schumpeter producesome very useful ideas for comparisons between the East and the West.Smith’s distinction between ‘natural’ and ‘unnatural’ paths of economicdevelopment is used by Arrighi to bolster the notion that China followed theinternally-oriented ‘natural’ path of market-society, focusing on labour-
2. Brenner 2006; Harvey 2003.3. Frank 1998.4. Tese authors all contributed to an important book edited by Arrighi, Hamashita andMark Selden in 2003.
 
C. Chase-Dunn / Historical Materialism 18 (2010) 39–51
41
intensive forms of development and on improving the domestic economy, whereas the capitalist success-stories of the West have focused on capital-intensive development that emphasised foreign trade, drew raw materialsfrom distant colonies and made profits based on providing ‘financial services’to the larger world-economy.
5
Smith also focused mainly on the conditions that allowed for nationaldevelopment, whereas Marx, like Tomas Friedman and many of the otherbreathless portrayers of the wonders of globalisation, assumed a singleintegrated world-market for capital and labour and a ‘flat world’ in whichglobal inequalities would soon be reduced by the rapid and even diffusion of capitalist development. Arrighi finds Smith giving advice to legislators aboutthe dangers of allowing big capital to dictate state-policies that are not in theinterest of the nation as a whole. Smith also focuses on the demographic andgeographical features of each national society (the container that is the state-territory) as constituting important constraints and opportunities for thepossibilities for national development. Whereas Marx analysed capitalism inorder to provide a theory that would be useful to the workers of the world,Smith intended to provide a theory that would be useful to public-mindedleaders of nation-states about the best ways to develop the wealth of theirnations. Arrighi does far better than Frank in seeing that there was a substantially independent East-Asian international system prior to the nineteenth century.Frank claimed that there had been a single world-system since the Bronze Age.
6
Surely there were some important long-distance effects of prestigegoods-trade and the diffusion of technologies back and forth across the silk-roads in earlier centuries, but Eastern and Western geopolitics and statecraftdid not become integrated into a single political-military interaction-networuntil the European states surrounded and tried to penetrate China in thenineteenth century. Before that, there was a substantially separate East-Asianinternational system. After describing the first Opium War in 1841, Arrighisays: ‘After a disastrous war with Britain (now joined by France), Chinavirtually ceased to be the centre of a relatively self-contained East Asianinterstate system’.
7
5. In his earlier book,
Te Long wentieth Century 
, Arrighi adopted a definition of capitalismdeveloped by Fernand Braudel that makes a similar distinction between market-society (smallcommodity-production) and the anti-market of high finance and monopoly-profits.6. Frank and Gills 1993.7. Arrighi 2007, p. 341.

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