Giovanni Arrighi’s Tapestry of East & West

  • John Gulick University of Tennessee, Knoxville


What a difference a year makes. While Giovanni Arrighis Adam Smith in Beijing is a complicated tapestry, threaded with multiple strands and sub-themes, if it offers any single master thesis, it is this: over the last four or so decades, the fading of US primacy and Chinas precipitous ascent are dialectically interconnected, structured processes abetting one another. And, for good measure: Chinas ascent just might culminate in the formation of a qualitatively novel, world community of market-linked states orbiting around East Asia, but without a dominant center (pp. 7-9). Were I putting together this review in mid-2008, I would express profound skepticism about both theses. Certainly, such skepticism would issue not from the conviction that US global power is invincible, but rather from an evidence-based belief that Arrighi habitually underestimates the extent to which Chinas ongoing rise in the world order will be traumatically disrupted by the inevitable wipeout of highly leveraged paper assets on Wall Street (and the City of London, for that matter). Well, in the wake of the planetary financial crisis and economic slump, the early returns on Chinas coping capacity are in. The ways in which China is responding to and weathering the storm vindicate more than a few of the claims and insights Arrighi advances in Adam Smith in Beijing, including some that I would have regarded with raised eyebrows a year ago. The thrust of this review is a critical assessment of Adam Smith in Beijing from the standpoint of how well or poorly its theoretical maneuvers and key arguments allow us to make sense of the current shake-up in the global system, with a focus on the interdigitated destinies of China and the US. In this evaluation I will take a page out of Arrighis own playbook and try to bear in mind the crucial distinction between geo-economic and geopolitical ebbs and flows of the moment and longer-term hegemonic ruptures and transformations.
How to Cite
Gulick, J. (2009). Giovanni Arrighi’s Tapestry of East & West. Journal of World-Systems Research, 15(2), 243-248.
Book Review Symposium: Giovanni Arrighi's Adam Smith In Beijing