GaWC Research Bulletin 107

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This Research Bulletin has been published in Review (Fernand Braudel Center), 27 (1), (2004), 37-60.

Please refer to the published version when quoting the paper.


Homo Geographicus: A Geohistorical Manifesto for Cities

P.J. Taylor


Cities are the subjects of this manifesto; imagining a sustainable world-system is the object.

Cities are treated as constituting networks of prime social relations through which civilizations are created and sustained. Networks of cities express a mutuality of interests; the raison d’etre of every city is to be found in its relations with other cities. In our modern civilization, it is nations and states, promoted through the myth of the ‘nation-state’, that have created a territorial basis to social relations as ‘international relations’. This has encompassed a competitive ethos resulting in political division and war often taking prominence over social connection and peace. Contemporary globalization is on a cusp where the militarism of a ‘lone superpower’ meets the new potentials for global social connections, the threat of perpetual war versus a promise of perpetual peace. This manifesto argues that cities as a global network of cities are the necessary spatial organization for stymieing the former and encouraging the latter.

Imagining a sustainable world-system has been a problematic utopian endeavour for steering social change precisely because of the domination of our modern geographical imagination by an ‘international’ political mosaic: state as nation is embedded in the contemporary social psyche providing only a competitive international relations as the framework for engaging with the world-system as a whole. Segmentation into competitive camps, with or without a lone superpower, is no way for humanity to deal with a contemporary world in which the critical problems are system-wide, that is global. This manifesto argues that dis-embedding the territorial through re-imagining the world as social relations constituted in a world city network is a necessary starting point for challenging the modern world-system trajectory to environmental catastrophe.

My title indicates an anthropocentric approach to the environment and this is by choice not mere taken-for-granted ideology. Subject and object of this manifesto come together through identification of our species as developing a unique way of using its environment across a wider geographical range than other species – I coin the term homo geographicus precisely to describe this point. One initial result was the invention of cities for organizing this wider range. But ultimately this particular species use of the environment through the modern world-system has created the situation of incipient destruction of the very environment we have been so successful in harnessing. Thus when this singular ability to use a wider range of environment reached the limit that is globalization, the resulting ecological threat to the Earth was not just as the home of humanity but also as the only known locale of life (i.e. all species). We cannot eschew what makes us human but we can go back to its origins in the invention of cities and work out how our species’ advantage need not lead to environmental disaster through our social globalization.


Humanity is often portrayed as the ultimate ‘generalist’ species: in its short existence it has adapted to massive climatic changes by spreading across the world to occupy a wide variety of different ecological niches. No doubt, as omnivorous scavengers, our ancestors were a very successful species in difficult times but this ecological cleverness cannot be an explanation for the ultimate result of humans creating a global ecological crisis. The relationship of humans to their environment has not simply been a quantitative matter of using more than other species, there is a qualitative difference of how reproduction of human life has been achieved and expanded. To understand this human exceptionalism we need to consider the spaces of reproduction. Utilizing an environment for reproduction creates two basic types of space.

First, there are spaces of places. Ecological niches define such a space: each niche is a different place wherein specialist species reproduce. Of more interest here is the space of places defined by territories. Territories are bounded places that are created and controlled for the purposes of individual and group reproduction. Thus territoriality is a particular strategy for organizing an environment for reproduction. Territorial behaviour uses boundaries to control access to a territory and to determine its content. Many species are territorial and this is often associated with power hierarchies within groups. It has been claimed that humans have such a ‘territorial imperative’ and therefore modern states are just the most recent expression of this ‘instinctive behaviour’.

Second, there are spaces of flows. This is where reproduction is much less static. Instead of the fixity of territories, the environment is used through a strategy of movement. Many species are migration species whose behaviour can involve great movements covering large segments of the Earth. In sea, air and on land, this spatial strategy involves moving in order to use very different environment spaces at different times. Of course, humans have had their ‘great migration eras’ when the species diffused across the world but we are not normally identified as a ‘migration species’ because the movement did not constitute a permanent reproduction strategy.

The fixidity and fluidity of these two spaces interact in numerous ways – territories of predators will often straddle migration routes of prey. Some species may operate aspects of both through different times in their life cycle. But the point is that these two types of space define two distinctive spatial strategies of reproduction. And furthermore, humans are identified largely with just the territorial approach to harnessing environmental resources. And here’s the rub: contemporary globalization is usually interpreted as a new dominance of spaces of flows (notably trans-state movements) over spaces of places (notably territorial states). If we accept this position then the proposition that humans are a territorial species is severely problematized: a human behavioural attribute that supposedly dates back to the origins of humanity cannot be discarded in just a couple of decades. I am strongly of the opinion that it is modernity that has been territorial not humanity; and making nation-states ‘natural states’ through association with animal territoriality had the added conservative bonus of naturalising social hierarchies within humanity. The message of globalization is to revisit humanity reproduction strategies in relation to spaces of flows.


Territoriality and movement are extremely localised strategies for utilising the environment. Whether a bounded area or a seasonal pathway, individuals only have access to resources in their immediate surroundings. In contrast, humanity has developed a simple strategy for expanding the range of environmental resources available to it in any single locale. Instead of consuming environmental resources in a locale where an individual is located, humans have brought environmental resources from several locales together through the practice of trade. This is the differentia specifica of humanity: we are the only species that trades. Contemporary globalization can be traced back to this single distinguishing spatial strategy of humans creating spaces of flows of commodities.

This is quite a claim but think what advantages this new form of behaviour bestowed upon humans. Unlike other species, humans had access to a range of environmental resources far greater than any one individual or group could harness. Archaeological evidence for early humans in the form of tools do not show our uniqueness as a tool-maker – other species have been shown to use tools – rather the material of the tools show trading patterns linking, for instance, sources of flint with hunting areas long distances away. Obviously moving on to the various metal ‘ages’ would have been impossible, or at least geographically very limited, had not trading been in place to move metal ores and their products to create new spaces of flows.

Bringing the environment to the users is therefore fundamental to human success as a species. Instead of simple ecological reproduction based upon either a territorial or movement strategy, trading produces a much more multifaceted process wherein resources from different environments can be utilised simultaneously. The result of this mixing of environmental resources is a world of complex geographies, of varieties of human-environmental relations in which food chains are replaced by commodity chains. These are strings of nodes where work in done on a commodity starting with extraction of the raw material from the environment through nodes where work progressively modifies the product until its consumption as a finished commodity. Commonly, such chains have been small with few work stages but in the modern world-system many commodity chains have large numbers of nodes. Contemporary globalization is characterised by a recent dramatic rise in globally organised commodity chains.

Clearly humans have a special form of species reproduction that goes far beyond the ecological dynamics of other species. I will term these trading patterns geographical dynamics: thus we are homo geographicus.


We know very little of the geographical dynamics of the earliest commodity chains. The hunters and gatherers used their stone tools to skin animals and grind seeds and we can know from whence the tools came (using geological knowledge) but not how they were traded. Extrapolating from more recent hunter- gatherers and more generally from areas of very low trading levels, we can postulate initial simple exchange between contiguous bands of humans followed by itinerant traders of more valuable (i.e. environmentally scarce) commodities such as amber that required relatively long distance movement from localised sources. At some point trading becomes large enough to warrant a spatial reorganisation of its practice: central places are created as markets for exchange, trading locales that bring buyers and sellers together. These new strategic places are typically located on boundaries between different environments that have formed the basis for increased trading. It is this geographical dynamics that has created cities.

The traditional explanation for the origin of cities emphasises the large agricultural surpluses that resulted from harnessing the particular riverine environments of the Nile, Tigris-Euphrates and Indus. The first ‘urban revolution’ is identified in Mesopotania, literally the ‘land between two rivers’. This follows the ‘agricultural revolution’ that provided the precondition for generating the surplus that made possible the transition from rural peasants to urban townsfolk. But this undervalues the trading of the hunter-gatherers and its results. We know from excavations at Jericho (c. 8000 BC) and Catal Huyuk (c. 7000 BC) that very large settlements numbering several thousand persons existed thousands of years before the irrigation agriculture that created the cities of Mesopotania (from 5000 BC). These two settlements cannot be other than hunter-gatherer’s central places supporting a population that is servicing a hinterland. In this argument cities emerge before agriculture and, in fact, they are the stimulus and source of transition from hunter gathering to farming. Thousands of years later irrigation agriculture creates a new flowering of cities on the back of the new surpluses.

The traditional focus on Mesopotamia is useful because it provides us with knowledge of cities as networks within networks. Sporadic excavations of hunter-gatherer’s central places can provide an incorrect image of city origins. There is no ‘mother city’, a singular first city of a region, as myths sometimes claim. Cities as central places only exist in networks. And it is in Mesopotamia that we can first study networks of cities. Excavations show mixes of artefacts that indicate how different settlements fit into an overall trading pattern. This geographical dynamics shows the delineation of the external relations of cities as a network of connections. But there are internal relations of cities that encompass another geographical dynamics. Cities are unique concentrations of large numbers of people within small areas. This creates a density of communication that is an unprecedented mammalian phenomenon. The resulting myriad flows of information, ideas and knowledge makes cities much more than simply central places of commodity exchange. They become special knowledge-rich social environments, crucibles of inventions and innovations. As the creative centres of humanity, this urban social environment has stimulated not just agriculture, but also, as shown in Mesopotamia, a litany of the attributes of ‘civilization’: - writing, law codes, abstract religion, architecture – in ever-increasing divisions of labour. It is through intra-city networks that inventions arise and it is through inter-city networks that innovations are diffused to create a civilization.


One of the fascinating features of the Mesopotamian network of cities is the fact that fortifications appear to be rare in the earliest cities and large scale fortified walls only emerge with the rise of kingship. This marks a transition from city as central place to city-state. Trading may be the distinguishing feature of humans as a species but that does not mean that this is the only way humans relate to their environment. Traders take time and effort to move commodities but they do not necessary reap the benefit of their endeavour. Trading attracts non-traders who want the reward without the effort, a common strategy among other animal species. Enter the human thief in numerous guises: bandit, pirate, Mafiosi, brigand, warlord, king, and emperor. The latter two, and more generally ‘the state’, have proved to be the most dangerous threat to cities and their networks.

The ruling strata of civilizations can be divided into two sections: those whose power is based largely on capital and those who derive their power through coercion. In reality these sources of power overlap but they can be distinguished through identification of the fundamental ethos of their practice. The economic elites have a commercial ethos that highlights inter-dependence and therefore the need for cooperation. In contrast political elites have a warrior ethos that highlights competition in a world of incessant rivalry. These can be identified in fundamentally different sets of practices. The warrior ethos is grounded in landed property harnessing directly from the environment: initially largely agricultural, today with energy resources to the fore. In contrast, the commercial ethos is based upon social trust because ownership of moveable capital assets requires mutuality (right above might) to make commodity production and trading feasible. A change in ethos from commercial values to acquiring a liking for landed property (‘aristocratization’) appears to be a universal sign of the decline in the commercial vibrancy of a community.

Traders constituted the first ruling strata in Mesopotamia in their network of cities but eventually gave way to a political elite in a world of competing city-states. Finally, the first ‘marcher lord’, Sargon of Akkad, conquered all of Mesopotamia (and more) to create the first expansive empire of domination (in c. 2300 BC). Since taking wealth is usually much easier than producing wealth, empires and kingdoms have dominated civilizations since Sargon. Of course, the warriors rely on the wealth producers to provide the means to coerce and conquer but the synergy between the two sections of the ruling strata is usually a weak one. Empire-builders create social order that provides traders with a space in which to prosper, especially after periods of war between political elites, but traders remain vulnerable to arbitrary non-economic direction. Always state and state religion legitimate a social hierarchy with warriors valued above ‘vulgar’ commercial elites (hence the appeal of aristocratization).

For the rest of the manifesto it is necessary to point out that in this argument I do not distinguish between exchange and production. The commercial ethos is about making profit out of buying and selling within a commodity chain and it does not matter whether a sale is the result of moving a commodity from B to A (the sales point) or actually making the commodity in A. The key point is to ‘produce’ the commodity for inspection by the buyer at place A, clinch the sale, and thereby reap profits to expand capital. In practice, from the very beginning trading and making will have been very closely related and this has continued into modern times whereby industrial revolutions in production have always been associated with massive rises in exchange. Thus from this point on I will frequently refer to the two sections of the ruling strata as simply takers and makers.


We can now identify the two forms of social organization that the geographical dynamics of broadening the range of human reproduction has made possible.

First, there are networks of cities, epitomised by early Mesopotamia, dominated by economic elites, which we can term world-economies. The reference to ‘world’ in this context in not a reference to geographical scale (i.e. world as global) but refers to a particular ‘social world’, in this case a region dominated by the commercial ethos. Security is important, of course, but this is provided without violating the basic ethos of the social system (i.e. in modern parlance, supplied by police not by an army). As noted above, such social arrangements are highly vulnerable to external threat and therefore world-economies are relatively rare.

Second, there are expanses of land ruled by political elites that we call world-empires. In this case the social world is dominated by the warrior ethic in a hierarchical arrangement topped by king or emperor. The latter are ‘superhuman’, both ‘super-warriors’ and supernatural beings according to the world’s religion. A warrior ‘aristocracy’ and a priestly caste share the spoils of the wealth taking (tribute, taxes and plunder). Cities remain important and continue to operate as trading networks but with a hierarchical structure imposed from above. Certain cities will be favoured for non-economic reasons to become capital cities and holy cities. World-empires define the norm for civilizations until the modern era.

The actual historical trajectories of these two types of world-system are rather more messy than the above suggests. There are innumerable ‘warlords’ that represent incipient world-empires only a few of which reach their potential to become latter-day Sargons. Similarly there are city networks that constitute incipient world-economies and survive at the interstices of concurrent world-empires – the Phoenicians and then the Greeks in the Mediterranean, the Arabs in the Indian Ocean and the trading networks of south-east Asia and central Asia all prospered at different times in this way. However, none of these city networks evolved into a fully-fledged world-economy because they were unable to solve the basic security problem: ultimately their survival depended on the whim of external warriors. Such odds in favour of takers over makers have changed in the modern era.


The changing balance of power between political and economic elites is what defines the modern world-system as a distinctive era. An incipient world-economy emerged in the late Middle Ages along the ‘city-studded spine’ of Europe linking the two urban-dominated ‘poles’ of northern Italy and the Low Countries. Given an economic boost by the development of the new Atlantic trading in the sixteenth century, the modern world-system was consolidated in the seventeenth century. And it is this consolidation that is crucial: why did this incipient world-economy not succumb to warrior threats like previous city networks?

The answer is to be found in the Dutch rebellion against Hapsburg centralization that created a completely new type of polity. The seven ‘United Provinces’ that gained independence controlled the northern half of the Netherlands and administered their territory in very decentralised manner. In effect, this was a collection of important trading cities, freed from warrior control, seizing the opportunity to realise the potential that existed in the incipient world-economy. As their rebellion was absorbed into a general European war (the Thirty Years War 1618-48), the Dutch produced a unique political entity with a defensive territorial shell surrounding numerous, vibrant trading cities. Impenetrable to warriors, the Dutch cities prospered to create their ‘Golden Age’ in the midst of the ‘crisis of the seventeenth century’ for the rest of Europe.

Derided as a mere ‘merchant state’ by the failed warriors, this new polity was in fact a multi-nodal city region that had produced a local solution to the perennial security problem of incipient world-economies. The warrior threat was taken care of by using the Orange family and paying mercenaries to maintain territorial integrity. With this sorted, the city merchants were left free to harness the new trade networks both across the Atlantic and to Asia. In this way the Dutch became the centre of the modern world-system, its cities operating as the key nodes for far-flung networks across the system. Thus although only controlling the centre of the networks that constituted the incipient world-economy, the Dutch created what remains the closest any political-economic unit has become to being ‘capitalist’, makers beyond the reach of takers.


The Dutch golden age did not last. After their remarkable defeat of the Hapsburgs, Dutch territorial defences were breached by the French later in the seventeenth century (but without reaching Amsterdam), and by the eighteenth century the Dutch were a pale economic shadow of their former selves. Nevertheless their contribution to the making of the modern world-system had been completed by then. The economic success of such a small territory – territory was the traditional measure of power – changed the way rival states operated. Traditionally political rulers used territory as a source of soldiers and taxes to fight wars. Now it was shown that territories could be better used to create wealth and thereby pay for even larger armies. Such economic policy harnessed to political ends is called mercantilism.

The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries are the ‘age of mercantilism’ when France and England vied to replace the Dutch at the centre of the modern world-system. Without creating ‘merchant states’ – political elites remained in charge, especially in France – the traditional policies of cities to divert as much value as possible from commodity chains into their trading networks were adopted and adapted by territorial states. The result was the creation of an inter-state system in which the core states were as notable for their commercial-economic prowess as for traditional military-political prowess. Although not exactly the ‘pure’ capitalism that the Dutch presaged, this represented a massive change in the nature of world-systems.

What was created was not a ‘capitalist world-economy’, but rather a half-way house between political and economic rulership. I shall call this a world political-economy, a possible transition to capitalism. I am reluctant to call the modern world-system ‘capitalist’ because of the continuing importance of political elites. What we have is a contingent modus operandi that represents a very fluid and uneven compromise between political and economic elites. This balance is uneven over space with economic elites more important in core states and it is also uneven over time with political elites more important even in core states in the run up and early stages of world wars.

In a sense, the ‘Dutch project’ was never completed, emulation of them was partial: it did not include putting the warriors in their place as security officers. Thus unlike their emulators, it is doubtful whether we should even call this multi-nodal territory of cities a modern state. For instance, there was no state executive holding a monopoly of legitimate coercion. Rather, the Dutch polity consisted of a core of vibrant cities surrounded by a territorial frontier of defensive fortifications. The cities cooperated for their defensive needs but all political decisions were subject to a unanimity rule. The key was the centre constituted as a network space wherein cities prospered together, each specialising within a dynamic economic division of labour. This was a unique polity, seen neither before nor since. Thus its impact has been economic not political on the ensuing world political-economy.

One consequence of this position is to problematise the concept of the ‘capitalist state’. Although there are well-developed Marxist ‘theories of the capitalist state’, in this argument this concept is simply a non sequitur. No recent state has come anywhere near to being capitalist as the seventeenth century Dutch polity. It is cities as nodes in networks that are capitalist not territorial states with their competitive international relations. Deriving the ‘capitalist state’ as necessary for the ordering and regulation of capital is to suggest there is no historical precedent for capitalist regulation through other means. This is simply not the case. The lex mercatoria that straddled the late medieval and early modern periods, before being incorporated into territorial state law, is the classic example of self-governing trade law. Without tools of physical coercion, networks of merchants nevertheless applied sanctions to rogue traders through simple economic boycott. Placing a merchant outside the network meant he could no longer ply his trade. In general, economic networks ultimately depend on trust – this is what rogue traders violate – and theorists of the so-called capitalist state totally under-estimate this essential feature of cooperation in networks. The fundamental point is that it is cities in networks that constitute basic economic units not states in mosaics and therefore in looking for capitalism we must start with city networks not state territories.


The Dutch are commonly viewed as the first world hegemon. Hegemony is used here to mean not just dominance but also leadership indexed in particular by emulation. Mercantilism as emulation of Dutch economic practices is the first case. The other two hegemons are Britain in the nineteenth century wherein emulation of economic success took the form of industrialization; and the USA in the twentieth century with widespread emulation of their consumer society which we know as Americanization. In effect, hegemons define new modern worlds for other countries to copy thus periodically restructuring the whole modern world-system.

This restructuring is fundamentally an economic process: the hegemon has pre-eminence first in production, then in commerce and finally in finance. The peak of hegemonic power occurs when these three superiorities are in place together: this period of world economic prominence is termed high hegemony. But the process of emulation means that each of these superiorities is inevitably lost. They disappear in the same order that they arise so that having the world financial centre is the final vestige of each hegemony – first Amsterdam, then London, then New York. This rise and demise of hegemonic economic power defines a hegemonic cycle.

Hegemons are the ‘ultimate makers’ in our story – the make nothing less than new social worlds – but the takers remain a threat. Thus the process of world hegemony cannot be entirely economic. Warrior tendencies remain strong in the modern world-system and hegemons have to earn their world status on the battlefield. Near the centre of each cycle there is repulse of a political-military challenge in a world war (in the sense that its outcome determines the nature of the post-war world-system). Hegemony is the opposite of imperium, the political practice of expansion by coercion to dominate the modern world-system, ultimately to convert it back into a world-empire. Hegemons lead the anti-imperium coalition to prevent such ‘regression’: the Dutch against the Hapsburg Empire in the Thirty Years War (1618-48), the British against the French in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars (1792-1815), and the Americans against Germany in the two twentieth century ‘world wars’ (1914-1945). In each case, defeat for the imperium power confirmed the reproduction of the modern world-system. The fact that warriors such as Hapsburg emperors, Napoleon and Hitler are key figures in the trajectory of the modern world-system, despite their final demises, corroborates my view of the system as a world political-economy and not a capitalist world-economy.


US high hegemony followed the final defeat of Germany in 1945 and lasted until about 1970. In this period US economic prowess went undisputed and in hindsight it can be seen that the American economy was building up to this period from the late nineteenth century. The downside of the US hegemonic cycle is much more controversial.

US hegemony is complicated by the Cold War. This had two key effects. First, it kept the warriors, both American and Russian, busy during a time of world peace. Hence in this hegemony, economic pre-eminence coincides with a political-military rivalry. Second, the end of the Cold War with the USA triumphant makes talk of American decline seem incredulous to many. The answer to this perception is that US hegemony operated as a creator of a new world in its high hegemony phase when Americanization of other national societies was put in place to different degrees across the world. In fact, this consumerism ideal infiltrated the Cold War rival and is as important as increased militarism for bringing down these ‘drab’ (i.e. no consumerism) regimes. But this is no longer how the USA relates to the rest of the world because this emulation is over: consumerism is now firmly entrenched in the modern world-system. Today it is increased military expenditure that is the mark of the declining hegemon. In the hegemonic cycle model this is what we have come to expect after high hegemony. This is a case of assertion of political-military power to compensate for declining commercial-economic power. For instance, building the British Empire into the largest in the world in the late nineteenth century did not begin as a political project until after British high hegemony (i.e. post-1870).

There is a second complication to understanding the decline phase of US hegemony. The sequence of three hegemons shows an increase in size from ‘little’ Holland, through Britain as a medium-sized state, to the USA as a continental state. This pattern cannot really be continued – recent ‘pretenders’ to US economic leadership such as Japan and Germany are not even continental in size. Thus, unlike the Dutch and the British whose economies were soon overtaken in size after their high hegemony, the US economy is still by far the largest national economy in the world and will remain so for the foreseeable future. Although hegemonic power is based upon economic efficiency relativities, there is no doubt that US absolute economic size is an important source of continuing economic power. Thus it remains difficult to identify serious rivalry to the US in the near future either economically or politically.


Americanization, as the worldwide diffusion of consumer society, was led by US-based ‘multi-national corporations’ after 1945 and the process has continued after US high hegemony within contemporary globalization: now the multinational corporations have a wider range of national ownership. Americanization always had an opening of markets across the world as its ideal and this is now being realized as economic globalization through imposition of neo-liberal policies by the World Bank and the operations of the World Trade Organization. This is another effect of the end of the Cold War: with no ‘second world’ resisting the ‘capitalist first world’, erstwhile second world counties and so-called third world countries have been brought into line. Hence the concept of globalization replaces, marks the demise of, the conflictual ‘three world model’. The initial result was that in the early 1990s the idea of a peace dividend enters the political agenda: with the end of the Cold War, armed forces and defence industries can be scaled down to peace time levels. Clearly, this was a potential triumph for the traders against the warriors in the US economy despite hegemonic decline.

But it was never that simple. Peace dividend policies barely scratched the military power of the USA relative to other countries. As lone superpower America is the greatest military power ever developed by a single state, with the greatest-ever geographical reach (effectively global), and with worldwide access to military bases greater than even the British Empire at its height. From this viewpoint it looks very much like a new global empire, a triumph for American warriors. However, the latter have suffered from the lack of a credible enemy to warrant this extreme militarism since the demise of the USSR. Neither the ‘war on drugs’ in Latin America, nor the Clinton administration’s using anti-territorist and humanitarian reasons for bombing four countries in three other continents, hardly justified the great global arsenal. Enter 9/11. Beyond the material damage, it was the symbolic impact of al Qaeda striking at the heart of both US economic and political power, through a remarkable penetration of US territory, that placed security back at the top of the political agenda. In one act, the US warriors found a new source for permanent war: Islamic territorists were deemed worthy successors to communist revolutionaries. Thus, in contradiction to economic globalization and the building of global governance institutions, the lone superpower has declared its right to pre-emptive military strikes wherever and whenever it sees fit. This doctrine marks the end of the United Nations as an incipient institution of political global governance: the UN is only deemed to be ‘relevant’ when it agrees with US policy. Clearly this is a triumph for the warriors over the traders in post-hegemonic America.

US hegemonic decline has precipitated a bifurcation point in the modern world-system: the trajectory of our world political-economy can be warrior-driven towards world-empire or trader-driven towards a ‘true’ world –economy which contemporary globalization has begun to give us a brief glimpse of.


In past unfolding of hegemonic decline, the culmination has been a world war between two up coming states whose rivalry for world power has been clearly marked. Thus after Dutch hegemony France versus England/Britain dominated the world political-economy and, similarly, after British hegemony Germany versus the USA was a predictable ending. As discussed previously, in each case the pair of pretenders included one state with stronger warrior tendencies (France, Germany) and the other with stronger trader tendencies (Britain, USA) and the erstwhile hegemon allied with the latter to prevent the warriors creating a new world-empire. However, we have already noted that it is hard to identify a hegemonic successor to the USA and it would seem that the lone superpower argument similarly precludes finding a new imperium threat. But this is only the case if we continue to think in terms of states as unitary actors.

As a continental-scale state, the USA encompasses a wide range of regional differences but the most enduring one has been between North and South. The very founding of the state was based upon compromise between a trading North of cities and an aristocratic South of plantations. Subsequent divergence led to the Civil War in which the ‘warrior South’ did much better than its political-economic power deficit relative to the ‘capitalist North’ would have suggested. But the warriors were defeated, and then gradually reincorporated not least through the US armed forces in the twentieth century world wars. In the meantime, the cities of the North were building US hegemony. By the time of high hegemony, discriminatory political practices in the South so contradicted the international role of ‘leader of the free world’ that domestic reform became a necessity: in the 1960s the South was finally defeated domestically and forced to conform. However during hegemonic decline a New South has risen to challenge the North, still warriors but now bereft of the cultural baggage that so recently offended the hegemonic self-image. Thus the warrior threat at the end of the US hegemonic cycle is an internal one: the South. And it is a very dangerous situation because the first years of the twenty first century are marked by a unique circumstance in the whole history of the modern world-system: warriors control the state with the largest economy.

It cannot be expected that the geography of this new warrior threat will be as precise as when the threat is represented by an aggressive state but nevertheless the territory of this sub-state challenge is reasonably clear-cut if we divide California into two. The American North is a land of great cities, innovation centres that first built hegemony (New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit) and has subsequently kept the US economy world-competitive (San Francisco-Silicon Valley, Boston, New York, Seattle). This is the region of makers, the South the region of takers. As well as the military bases (Norfolk, Virginia and San Diego for the navy; Fort Bragg, North Carolina and Forts Hood and Bliss, Texas for the army) and defence industries, the South complements these warrior attributes with harmonizing circus cities, playtime places producing entertainment to take our minds off matters of life and death (obviously Hollywood, Disneyland and Disney World, plus Las Vegas and for easy listening Nashville (country), Memphis (blues and rock n’roll) and New Orleans (jazz)). In contemporary globalization we can identify five US global cities, three in the South – Washington/Pentagon as the Global Military Command Centre, Los Angeles/Hollywood as the Global Circus City, and Houston as the Global Energy Capital, and two in the North – New York/Manhattan as the Global Finance Centre and San Francisco/Silicon Valley as Global Innovation Centre. This three-two ratio is a reasonable reflection of current American political economy. In short, the North created the hegemonic economy that the South in now squandering on warriors and circuses.


Although today’s warrior control of the American economy is important, this is a process that transcends any one particular administration, the current victory of the South appears to be well entrenched in US politics. This has come about through the changing nature of the American party system.

All political parties with realistic aspirations for government represent coalitions of interests. The Democratic Party was the party of US hegemony in the 1940s building upon the wide-ranging New Deal coalition that Roosevelt had assembled a decade before. The concept of a ‘Global New Deal’ was an initial slogan for what was to become Americanization. The Democratic administrations of Presidents Roosevelt and Truman set up the UN political infrastructure and created the ‘free world’ in which US business was to expand and prosper. At this time, the Republicans were a party of the North combining Mid-West isolationists with North-East pro-business ‘one worldists’. The former were frightened out of their isolationism by the ‘communist threat’ and when the Republicans returned to power in 1952 they continued the hegemonic internationalist project of the Democrats. Most pertinently, it was President Eisenhower (1952-60) who warned against the rise of the industrial-military complex in the USA. The return of the Democrats (Kennedy-Johnston, 1960-68) marks the high water mark of hegemony although Johnston, as a southerner, realised that his liberal domestic policies would have catastrophic electoral repercussions for the Southern element of his party’s old New Deal coalition. In fact, the hegemonic two-party compact was gradually dismantled in the last quarter of the twentieth century with the gradual conversion of the South from Democrat to Republican stronghold, especially at the level of national politics, creating the basis for a new post-hegemonic American politics.

The electoral geography of this process is quite straightforward: J. F. Kennedy is the last politician from the North to be elected President. Gerald Ford of Michigan became President after Nixon’s resignation but failed to be re-elected as Republican incumbent in 1976. Ford is just one of six major party candidates from the North who have failed to be elected since 1960 (Humphrey (D) in 1968, McGovern (D) in 1972, Mondale (D) in 1984, Dukakas (D) in 1988, Dole (R) in 1996). The South has finally won the Civil War and the hegemonic project has been ditched. The liberal multilateral agenda of both Republicans and Democrats has been eroded, first domestically (by the 1980s liberalism was a derogatory term) and then internationally (current unilateralism). We can be sure that both parties have learned the lesson and will be fielding presidential candidates only from the South for the foreseeable future. Thus the changing nature of the parties has facilitated the post-hegemonic warrior phase of US power. The greatest change has been to the Republicans: from the ultimate traders party (Northern pro-business core) to the leading warrior party (Southern fundamentalist-Christian core).

For the sake of the innovative cities of the world it is to be hoped that a North political fight back is not too far in the future. But this is not a prospect I explore here. Having reached the present I return to the fundamental bifurcation that faces humanity.


Modern states are sovereign powers within defined territories. This political geography of boundaries was created in 1648 at the Treaty of Westphalia that brought to an end the Thirty Years War. A response to the carnage and destruction of that war, the resulting world of multiple sovereignties – our political world - is usually considered to be a historically unique arrangement whereby mutual recognition of sovereignties ensures system stability. But the problem is that states are inherently competitive.

States, modern or otherwise, are the creations of warriors carving out a space for themselves. Once established, states have, by and large, also been the creatures of warriors. This means that the modern world-system’s Westphalian international order has always been a very fragile affair. International relations scholars tell us that all states have to be perennially vigilant because the interests of states vary and therefore war, and threats of war, are inevitable. Hence the system stability requires permanent war preparedness (having an army is a mark of stateness) and is better characterised as asocial anarchism commonly referred to by such phrases as ‘dog eat dog’ and the ‘law of the jungle’. These natural metaphors reflect the animal side of the human psyche that warriors represent. Originally traditional ‘landed elites’ (from previous land grabs), aristocracies have provided all state rulers until the emergence of nationalism and democracy. These latter processes may have separated social status from rulership but it certainly did not curtail territorial wars. Converting state sovereign territory into national homeland exacerbated the warrior tendency (by linking state rivalry to cultural identity) culminating in the great popular wars of the twentieth century.

It has been said that under conditions of contemporary globalization the USA is the only state that remains sovereign. But the key point about the lone superpower is that it is becoming the instrument for destroying sovereignty; that is the consequence of the claimed right to pre-emptive strikes anywhere in the system. Here we get a glimpse of bifurcation along the warrior route. The ‘shell’ of Westphalian boundary politics is being dismantled making the asocial anarchy of modern international relations appear quite benign. It will be replaced by wars of networks based upon fluid spatial organizations. The new imperium powers will fight a perennial war against ‘terrorism’ through their networks of land bases, sea patrols and satellite surveillance. And their opponents will respond in kind with a different mix of networks. They have no choice: no longer will opponents be able to resist through using or ‘capturing’ states given that territories no longer provide protective shields from attack. Hence the rise of network resistance not linked to any state – al Qaeda is the primordial example. Unlike conventional wars, neither side can ever be victorious because network wars don’t lend themselves to clear-cut endings in the way that conquering territory does. Perpetual war is good for warriors (on both sides) but bad for cities. As well as being targeted for physical destruction, innovative cities are economically drained of their vitality: takers can only take from makers for so long before the making stops. Realising our high tech animal potential is to embark on a global economic cul de sac. One way or another, it is hard to imagine how this trajectory, steered by warrior ethics (taking), does not lead to anything other than ecological disaster. We need to find an alternative trajectory.


States have moulded city networks to their own likeness: creating hierarchical structures. From the mutuality of trans-territorial networks, modern states have imposed relations of direction upon cities from the capital city downwards. If we are to realise our human potential through cities they have to escape from their territorial cages. With contemporary globalization this appears to be happening, at least for some leading cities.

In the modern world-system, cities and their networks have been devalued by states in three main ways. Firstly, there is the political-economic bias that favours some cities over other cities. This political selectivity, starting with designation of a state capital as command and control centre, undermines networks by creating an urban logistics closer to a warrior ethic than a commercial ethic. Second, nation-states have created a social imagination that denigrates the urban. Nationalists revere their ‘homeland’, the ‘country’ largely as idealised ‘countryside’ in which cities (except for monumentalised capital cities) intrude as alien and dangerous. The typical characterisation of ‘the city’ is as a ‘problem’ so that urbanisation becomes a perennial threat to rural idylls. The cosmopolitanism of cities does not fit well with nationalism. This accounts for the fact that, thirdly, state-centric urban researchers have operated through a geographical imagination that identifies only ‘national urban systems’. These models describe inter-city relations as if they end at the boundary of the state. For instance, it is as if relations between, say, London and New York or Paris and Milan simply do not exist. It is this image of a world of separate national urban hierarchies that is no longer tenable with contemporary globalization. Thus there is a trader route to the future through cities that we are just beginning to glean. This is the other branch of the bifurcation, the one that realises our human potential as makers.

But the makers are as much implicated into the modern world-system and its environmental destructiveness as the takers: this is why I have called the system a world political-economy. It is premised upon competition in the economic as well as the political sphere of activities. In the resulting world of winners and losers, the economic winners are monopolists. In the search to maximise profits monopoly tendencies come to the fore because pure markets keep prices down. Thus every commodity chain is a complex mix of economic transaction that fashion a range of types from markets to monopolies. Those operating at the market end of the range make low profits, those operating towards the monopoly end earn large profits with super-profits available at the limit (unfettered price-setting). Monopoly tendencies are achieved in many ways – using the state to ‘protect’ a home market, by development of a new product through innovation, by literally cornering a market, etc. – but the result is always the same: more production, more growth, and ultimately more pressure on the environment. This economic push for growth is in synergy with the political push for growth by the modern state in its economic policy. With globalization, states compete for growth on their territories through development strategies. All governments promise growth, that’s how they get elected and re-elected. The result is a political economy trajectory of incessant growth to environmental disaster. Thus the state is not only a problem as a war-mongering political unit, it is also a problem as an economic unit operating as a perpetual growth machine in a modern world-system reaching its environmental limits.

The idea of a ‘no-growth state’ with a government elected on an ‘anti-growth ticket’ is unimaginable. However, no-growth movements have been successful politically in a few cities where environment issues have taken precedence over economics. These have been rich cities (e.g. Vancouver) and suburbs (e.g in California) preserving their privileges through following a selfish ‘not in my back yard’ politics. However, this should not detract from the essential argument: economic growth is not automatically a good thing. The problem is that the message has been developed within a place-based politics. But it is still a possible precursor to a radical green politics to the degree that it can be diffused through city networks for mutually agreed distribution of economic activities. Certainly this idea of ‘green traders’ is much more palatable than a future run by ‘green warriors’. Makers may be at the forefront of ‘competition states’ and ‘development states’ today but, as the environmental implications of ceaseless growth become increasingly apparent, their self-interest will lead them to ditch their allegiances to the political economy of states for good economic reasons. In contrast, the pending environmental crisis will stimulate the warriors to protect the environmental security of their territory at the expense of others. An ecological dynamics dominated by takers will create global political chaos at historically unprecedented levels.

The utopian outcome of this argument is an ideal geographical dynamics: a world of traders with their commercial ethic operating sustainably through a worldwide network of cities. At one level the traders provide the commodities, both material and informational, in free world markets to facilitate individual and group reproduction. At a second level the cities provide a mutuality that facilitates species reproduction through enabling the creation of a sustainable world-system. In summary, we can only achieve our potential as homo geographicus through a new imagining of our world: replacing the modern mosaic metegeography of states by a postmodern network metageography of cities.


This manifesto is in the tradition of providing a broad geohistorical context that leads on to a social ideal as a backcloth for rethinking contemporary political action. Beyond the call to ‘give perpetual peace a chance’, the argument is particularly unusual on two counts. First, it transcends the traditional nature-city divide that sees the latter as essentially ‘unnatural’, the destroyer of nature no less. Here I have argued that cities will be essential for saving nature. Second, there is a clear identification of a political ideology that only makes sense in the globalization era: the manifesto promotes a world-systems anarchism. This latter is a new ‘human politics’ for the bifurcation along trader lines (as opposed to the continuation of the old ‘animal politics’ consequent upon the warrior route).

‘World-systems anarchism’ sounds like a classic political non sequitur. However, contemporary globalization has removed the concept from this ultimately futile status through its so-called ‘double movement’ towards accentuation of both global and local social practices. In this way, widespread recognition of the importance of world-systems analysis’ systemic-level of social activity has emerged just as renewed concern for enabling local communities to determine their own identities/destinies has come to the fore. Put together they create what has been called globalization from below as an alternative global governance to the current corporate domination. The common denominator of these contemporary changes is a demotion of the importance of the state as a social actor: the double movement is in two scalar directions away from the state.

Traditionally the common political purpose of anarchism has been described as the ‘negation of the state’. Emerging as a major strand of radical thinking and practice in the second half of the nineteenth century, this coincided with the consolidation of the state as social actor through nationalism both explicit (conservative nation-building) and implicit (radical political party building within states). A more inhospitable political terrain is hard to imagine. In contrast, in the twenty first century, whether globalization is eroding, threatening or simply reforming the state, such upheaval provides new political space for anarchism, possibly even leading to contemporary globalization transmuting into the anarchist moment. But this is only to look at what anarchism has been against. Consideration of its political programmes indicates a fundamental localism which is why linking this politics to world-systems analysis appears such a non sequitur. There may be much variety in how anarchists adopted negation of the state in practice, but this never stretched to global governance.

Localism is fraught with problems, its perceived parochialism is counter to so many radical political values that it is a major reason for the failure of anarchism as a political movement. With its programmes often looking, to its critics, like a nostalgic throwback into a pre-industrial world, its utopia appears to be a vision by-passed. Certainly most anarchism has had a distinct anti-urban tinge to it: a common purpose of leading urban anarchist thinkers has been to make cities look more rural! If harmony with nature requires isolated rural idylls, then the only means of so converting modern society would seem to be via ecological catastrophe, a negation of the harmony being sought. But localism can be interpreted in another way. It is an expression of a more fundamental concern to create a society free from hierarchy and coercion. This defines an anti-centralization politics to avoid top-down authority, which in the modern era has naturally translated largely as anti-state. More generally, however, it is an ‘anti-gigantism’ argument, where the fact of the size of social organizations and institutions is the basic problem. Quite simply modern states, and industrial cities and contemporary corporations, all exist at a ‘non-human scale’, an organizational problem ‘solved’ (made to function) only by bureaucracy and multiple hierarchies. The negation of all this has been a retreat to the local as a self-sufficient place, but this is not the only way to express a movement away from hierarchy.

Networks are the negation of hierarchy. They can only exist through a mutuality of interests amongst members; they may incorporate hierarchical tendencies but the determining feature of a network is the dominance of cooperation over competition. The contemporary world city network is just such a social institution and may form a future means to counter the dehumanising effects of gigantism through a network politics based on city mutualities. But note also that isolation in place is equally dehumanising given that trading is what distinguishes us as a species. The anarchist emphasis on self-sufficiency is a negation of trade, a recipe for destroying the world’s cities, their creativity and their cosmopolitan celebration of humanity. In world-systems terms, anarchist predilection for the rural is a peripheralization of the system. However I am not here trying to set up a place versus network argument (after all cities are places), rather we need to explore how they can be brought together combining the sanctuary of place with the vibrancy of network. World-systems anarchism then emerges from a confrontation between the ideals and practices of trading and self-sufficiency.

This confrontation can only be mediated through a critical political analysis of geographical scale. By this I do not mean a simple combination of localism and globalism, the double movement with which this discussion of world-systems anarchism began. This was itself a product of state-centric thinking. Rather there need to be ‘multiple movements’ of scale produced by answering the world-systems anarchist question: at what scale should self-sufficiency be defined for a given social activity/production. Within the fundamental constraint of generating a sustainable world-system, answers to this question will vary in a new human politics producing both multiple localisms plus new network politics in necessary circuits of trade organized through cities. This may just create the conditions to make a twenty first century politics commensurate with imaging a sustainable world-system.


By its nature this text does not have a reference list but I do need to acknowledge authors from whom I have borrowed ideas and who have inspired me in developing the above argument. Some will/would have sympathy with the argument, others will/would not. The one thing I am sure of is that none will agree with me!

Giovanni Arrighi, James Blaut, Fernand Braudel, Murray Bookchin, Manuel Castells, Richard Falk, Peter Hall, Terry Hopkins, Jane Jacobs, Victor Kiernan, Michael Mann, Saskia Sassen, Ed Soja, Charles Tilly, Immanuel Wallerstein

Edited and posted on the web on 28th April 2003; last update 1st July 2003

Note: This Research Bulletin has been published in Review (Fernand Braudel Center), 27 (1), (2004), 37-60