In This Review

After Liberalism
After Liberalism
By Immanuel Wallerstein
New Press, 1995, 278 pp.

For those who like their meta-history in big doses, this book will fit the bill admirably. Rather than seeing the collapse of communism as a victory for liberal ideology, Wallerstein argues that it marks the end of several long cycles: the 500-year cycle of the capitalist world system; an ideological cycle that lasted from 1789 to 1989; and finally a Kondratieff cycle now in its B-phase of slowing economic growth and mounting social problems. (Wallerstein has covered his bets by noting that there could be a revived A-phase of capitalist expansion for the next generation or so; he is positive, however, that the definitive collapse of capitalism will take place around 2050 or 2075.) The current world system is based on northern exploitation of the familiar geographical South and also the"internal" South of minorities and marginalized people in each developed country. These contradictions will sharpen over the next few years, unmasking the fraud of liberal ideology and leading to a highly chaotic world situation.

To falsify this type of theorizing is difficult. One could, for example, point out that an important part of the South--East Asia--has caught up with and in some respects surpassed the North economically and that parts of Latin America are poised to do the same. The author would counter that the center is merely reorganizing itself while continuing to exploit the remaining periphery. Other points are poorly grounded empirically, such as Wallerstein's claim that capitalism is facing a crisis because it has run out of cheap labor. With the successful entry of China, India, and other parts of the Third World into the global economy, cheap low-skilled labor is abundant--bad for northern workers and bad for world systems theory.