Hegemony and Bifurcation Points in World History

  • Terry Boswell Emory University


Examination of the rise and fall of hegemons over the last 500 years reveals that each lasts about 100 years, with another 100 year period between hegemons that is characterized by rough balance among shifting powers frequent major wars. Can the future differ from the long and established pattern? Theories that causally link hegemony to uneven development succeed in explaining the perennial rise and fall of world leaders, but fail to explain the persistence of a leader who has become hegemonic. The explanation given here is the establishment of institutional inertia in the world order, which slows the diffusion of innovations, but also restrains the adoption of subsequent changes. An analytic model describes the cycle of hegemony as the historically and politically contingent interaction of long terms trends in the world-system. Recently, hegemony has come into interaction with the cumulative trends of market commodification, decolonization, and democratization. This has produced a rise in independent nations and decline of imperial states worldwide. In the conclusion, we speculate on how these new developments make possible such events as a multi-state hegemony, a shared world polity, and a democratic world government.
How to Cite
Boswell, T. (1995). Hegemony and Bifurcation Points in World History. Journal of World-Systems Research, 1(1), 178-209. https://doi.org/10.5195/jwsr.1995.49
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