Quotes by Immanuel Wallerstein

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Production for sale in a market in which the object is to realize the maximum profit is the essential feature of a capitalist world-economy. In such a system production is constantly expanded as long as further production is profitable, and men constantly innovate new ways of producing things that will expand the profit margin. more...

Uncertainty is wondrous, and.. certainty, were it to be real, would be moral death. more...

A second variety concentrated on presumed major transformations of the capitalist system as of some recent point in time, in which the whole earlier point of time served as a mythologized foil against which to treat the empirical reality of the present. more...

Capitalism is first and foremost a historical social system. more...

What distinguishes the historical social system we are calling historical capitalism is that in this historical system capital came to be used (invested) in a very special way. It came to be used with the primary objective or intent of self-expansion. In this system, past accumulations were 'capital' only to the extend they were used to accumulate more of the same. more...

An individual or a group of individuals might of course decide at any time that they would like to invest capital with the objective of acquiring still more capital. But, before a certain moment in historical time, it had never been easy for such individuals to do this successfully. more...

But even in the absence of direct interference by those who had the power to interfere, the process was usually aborted by the non-availability of one of more elements of the process - the accumulated stock in a money form, the labor-power to be utilized by the producer, the network of distributors, the consumers who were purchasers. One or more elements were missing because, in previous historical social systems, one or more of these elements was not commodified or was insufficiently commodified. more...

That is why we may say that the historical development of capitalism has involved the thrust towards the commodification of everything. more...

So much were employers of wage-labor unenthusiastic about proletarianization that, in addition to fostering the gender age division of labor, they also encouraged, in their employment patters and through their influence in the political arena, recognition of defined ethnic groups, seeking to link them to specific allocated roles in the labor-force, with different levels of real remuneration for their work. Ethnicity created a cultural crust which consolidated the patterns of semi-proletarian household structures. more...

To be sure, the use of force by one party in a market transaction in order to improve his price was no invention of capitalism. Unequal exchange is an ancient practice. What was remarkable about capitalism as a historical system was the way in which this unequal exchange could be hidden; indeed, hidden so well that it is only after five hundred years of the operation of this mechanism that even the avowed opponents of the system have begun to unveil it systematically. more...

It is historically the case that virtually every new zone incorporated into the world-economy established levels of real remuneration which were at the bottom of the world-system's hierarchy of wage-levels. more...

What could me more plausible than a line of reasoning which argues that the explanation of the origin of a system was to achieve an end that has in fact been achieved? more...

Historical capitalism is a materialist civilization. more...

The concept that one ought to restrict one's political involvement to one's own state was deeply antithetical to those who were pursuing the accumulation of capital for its own sake. more...

As a matter of law the states recognized no constraints on their legislative scope other than those that were self-imposed. Even where particular state constitutions paid ideological lip service to constraints deriving from religious or natural law doctrines, they reserved to some constitutionally-defined body or person the right to interpret these doctrines. more...

Governments first of all have been able to amass, through the taxation process, large sums of capital which they have redistributed to persons or groups, already large holders of capital, through official subsidies. more...

Finally, states have monopolized, or sought to monopolize, armed force. more...

I am suggesting that there is, and always has been, a rather high correlation between ethnicity and occupation/economic role throughout the various time-space zones of historical capitalism. more...

It is this third consequence that has been elaborated in greatest detail and has formed one of the most significant pillars of historical capitalism, institutional racism. more...

The primary ideology that operated to create, socialize, and reproduce them was not the ideology of racism. It was that of universalism. more...

Truth as a cultural ideal has functioned as an opiate, perhaps the only serious opiate of the modern world. Karl Marx said that religion was the opiate of the masses. Raymond Aron retorted that Marxist ideas were in turn the opiate of the intellectuals. There is perspicacity in both these polemical thrusts. But is perspicacity truth? I wish to suggest that perhaps truth has been the real opiate, of both the masses and the intellectuals. more...

The break from the supposedly culturally-narrow religious bases of knowledge in favor of supposedly trans-cultural scientific bases of knowledge served as the self-justification of a particularly pernicious form of cultural imperialism. more...

Scientific culture created a framework within which individual mobility was possible without threatening hierarchical work-force allocation. On the contrary, meritocracy reinforced hierarchy. Finally, meritocracy as an operation and scientific culture as an ideology created veils that hindered perception of the underlying operations of historical capitalism. more...

The first and probably most fundamental aspect of this crisis is that we are now close to the commodification of everything. That is, historical capitalism is in crisis precisely because, in pursuing the endless accumulation of capital, it is beginning to approximate that state of being Adam Smith asserted was 'natural' to man but which has never historically existed. The 'propensity [of humanity] to truck, barter, and exchange one thing for another' has entered into domains and zones previously untouched, and the pressure to expand commodification is relatively unchecked. more...

This is a steady, ceaseless process, impossible to contain as long as the economy driven by the endless accumulation of capital. The system may prolong its life by slowing down some of the activities which are wearing it out, but death always looms somewhere on the horizon. more...

It is not surprising that liberals believed in progress. The idea of progress justified the entire transition from feudalism to capitalism. It legitimated the breaking of the remaining opposition to the commodification of everything, and it tended to wipe away all the negatives of capitalism on the grounds that the benefits outweighed, by far, the harm. more...

What is surprising is that their ideological opponents, the Marxists - the anti-liberals, the representatives of the oppressed working classes - believed in progress with at least as much passion as the liberals. more...

It is, let me say, at the very least by no means self-evident that there is more liberty, equality, and fraternity in the world today than there was one thousand years ago. One might arguably suggest that the opposite is true. I seek to paint no idyll of the worlds before historical capitalism. They were worlds of little liberty, little equality, and little fraternity. The only question is whether historical capitalism represented progress in these regards, or regression. more...

I rather wish to rest my case on material considerations, not those of the social future but those of the actual historical period of the capitalist world-economy. more...

The second reason why we haven't observed the growing gap is that our historical and social science analyses have concentrated on what has been happening within the 'middle classes' - that is, to that ten to fifteen percent of the population of the world-economy who consumed more surplus than they themselves produced. Within this sector there really has been a relatively dramatic flattening of the curve between the very top (less than one percent of the total population) and the truly 'middle' segments, or cadres (the rest of the ten to fifteen percent). more...

We must distinguish between the kind of structural transformation that would leave in place (even increase) the realities of the exploitation of labor, and one that would undo this kind of exploitation or at least radically reduce it more...

Communism is Utopia, that is nowhere. It is the avatar of all our religious eschatologies: the coming of the Messiah, the second coming of Christ, nirvana. It is not a historical prospect, but a current mythology. Socialism, by contrast, is a realizable historical system which may one day be instituted in the world. more...

To those critics who see capitalism as a system of inegalitarian, oppressive structures, its defenders have vaunted its ability to recognize and encourage what they call individual merit and asserted not only the desirability but also the inevitability of differential reward, of earned privilege, so to speak. more...

We can tentatively credit capitalist civilization with a positive, if very geographically uneven, record in the struggle against disease. more...

On the one hand, there has been a remarkable expansion of the total production and productivity of food production, and on the other hand an extraordinarily skewed distribution system, substituting medium-run threats for short-term threats for the majority of the world's population, particularly the 50 to 80 percent at the bottom. more...

Wars between states and people seem to have existed under all historical systems for as long as we have some recorded evidence. War is quite clearly not a phenomenon particular to the modern world-system. On the other hand, once again the technological achievements of capitalist civilization serve as much ill as good. One bomb in Hiroshima killed more people than whole wars in pre-modern times. Alexander the Great in his whole sweep of the Middle East could not compare in destructiveness to the impact of the Gulf War on Iraq and Kuwait. more...

The very concept of universal formal education is a product (and a relatively late product) of the capitalist world-economy. more...

The basic question that the 'new science' raises for our balance sheet is the issue of what scientific questions have not been asked for 500 years, which scientific risks have not been pursued. It raises the question of who has decided what scientific risks were worth taking, and what have been the consequences in terms of the power structures of the world. more...

What is different in capitalist civilization has been two things. First, the process of meritocracy has been proclaimed as an official virtue instead of being merely a de facto reality. The culture has been different. And secondly, the percentage of the world's population for whom such ascent was possible has gone up. But even though it has grown up, meritocratic ascent remains very much the attribute of a minority. more...

It seems to me the only pertinent question is: cui bono? It is clear that the size of the privileged strata as a percentage of the whole has grown significantly under historical capitalism. And for these people, the world they know is better on the whole than any their earlier counterparts knew. more...

For the other end of the spectrum, the 50 to 85 percent of the world's population who are not the recipients of privilege, the world they know is almost certainly worse than any their earlier counterparts knew. It is likely they are worse off materially, despite the technological changes. In substantive as opposed to formal terms, they are more, not less, subject to arbitrary constraints, since the central mechanisms are more pervasive and more efficient. And they bear the brunt of the various kinds of psychic malaise, as well as of the destructiveness of civil wars. more...

It was the French Revolution that served as the catalyst of this renovation. Its impact was to make the concept of popular sovereignty the new moral justification for the political system of historical capitalism. more...

The mode of reconciling the promise of ever-increasing reward for the cadres and the demands of the working classes for a quid pro quo for their loyalty to the state was to offer the latter a small piece of the pie. more...

If we return to the two faces of individualism - individualism as the spur of energy, initiative, and imagination; and individualism as the limitless struggle of all against all - it can be seen how the two practices emerge from and limit the extend of the disequilibrating impact of the contradiction involved in the geocultural agenda. more...

This argument has been codified in the twentieth century as meritocracy, in which those on top in the process of capitalist accumulation have merited their position. more...

The way in which these two practices contain each other is that it has always been possible to use the one against the other: to use racism-sexism to prevent universalism from moving too far in the direction of egalitarianism; to use universalism to prevent racism-sexism from moving too far in the direction of a caste system that would inhibit the work force mobility so necessary for the capitalist accumulation process. more...

When systems come to be far from points of equilibrium, they reach bifurcation points, wherein multiple, as opposed to unique, solutions, to instability become possible. more...

We seem to be in the midst of a process of cascading bifurcations that may last some 50 more years. We can be sure some new historical order will emerge. We cannot be sure what that order will be. Concretely, we may symbolize the first bifurcation as the effect of the world revolution of 1968 which continued up to and including the so-called collapse of the communisms in 1989, the social bifurcation. more...

One by one, these governments came undone, and were forced into IMF tutelage (and national illegitimacy) by the careening oil prices, the debt imbroglio, and falling terms of trade. The last of these governments to fall were the Communist regimes of eastern Europe, which have now gone the way of other Third World countries. The second in the cascade of bifurcations is thus symbolized by 1989. more...

Are there still other possibilities? Of course there are. What is important to recognize is that all three historical options are really there, and the choice will depend on our collective world behavior over the next fifty years. Whichever option is chosen, it will not be the end of history, but in a real sense its beginning. The human social world is still very young in cosmological time. In 2050 or 2100, when we look back at capitalist civilization, what will we think? more...

When Time magazine conducted a poll in Europe in March [2003] asking which of three - North Korea, Iraq, or the United States - was the biggest threat to world peace, a whopping 86.9% answered the United States. more...

What can be done? Well, the governments of the world can undertake what amounts to a vast clean-up campaign and a vast campaign of organic renewal. The problem is the cost of an effective operation, which is enormous, and thus must be paid by someone via some form of taxes. more...

The real threat to U.S. military power is nuclear proliferation, because if every little country has nuclear weapons it becomes very tricky for the United States to engage in military action. more...

The employment rates are in very bad shape. We vastly underestimate the unemployment more...

The world system is coming to the structural crisis more...

The language of intrinsic human rights represented a significant advance beyond the previous language of world religions in terms of its universal applicability and its thiswordliness. more...

People resist exploitation. They resist as actively as they can, as passively as they must. more...

The mark of the modern world is the imagination of its profiteers and the counter-assertiveness of the oppressed. Exploitation and the refusal to accept exploitation as either inevitable or just constitute the continuing antinomy of the modern era, joined together in a dialectic which has far from reached its climax in the twentieth century. more...


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