The Papacy in World System History
So, the world has a new pope. Coming from Argentina, Pope Francis I seems to be the first pope from the global South. Arguably, he’s the first pope from what some call the ‘semi-periphery’ – middle income nations that play an intermediate role in the world economy. I suppose though that it could be argued that Poland was part of the semi-periphery, but that depends on whether we regard the communist block as being part of the world economy or standing outside of it and opposed to it. I also have to admit that I’m not sure about the precise geographical parameters of the semi-periphery in the late classical or dark ages. I don’t think Immanuel Wallerstein saw the world-system of modern capitalism stretching that far back in time, as according to his account the capitalist world-system began in the 16th Centruy.
In any case, the papacy has been analysed within the context of the historical world system by Robert Denemark, who’s opposed to Wallerstein’s periodisation as well as other attempts to organise history according to transitions between epochs. According to Denemark, there were no clear patterns to changes in the class origins of popes during the whole period in which the capitalist world-system is supposed to have been emerging and the periods in which industrialism, modern nations, states and classes arose. Denemark suggests that talk of great transitions is bunk, supporting Frank’s view that world system history is best understood in terms of continuity and cylical repetition. Interesting, but isn’t it possible that this only shows the power of the Vatican and the Catholic Church as organisations capable of insulating themselves from external social pressures?
The historical significance of a pope from the global South (but still very much of the West) is left as an excercise for the reader… and countless op ed columnists I’m sure!