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!


Posted on March 13, 2013, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I agree w your comment on Denemark (to judge from the abstract of his article, at any rate).

    Btw in the latest issue of Am Pol Sci Rev there is a piece “The Feudal Revolution and Europe’s Rise” arguing that pre-1500 political developments, specifically restraints on rulers in W Europe and their resulting longer tenures, contributed to the eventual development of representative institutions and thus to the preconditions of ec growth. (And linking this to an argument about the differences betw European feudalism and ‘mamlukism’ in terms of where rulers looked for military support/recruitment.) On a quick perusal, the article seems to me to leap from, say, c.1200 to the Glorious Revolution, ignoring much of what happened in between. Among various other problems.

    Anyway, link is here:

  2. Thanks. I on a bit of a historical sociology binge right now so I will add it to the stack if I can get access to a copy.

  3. I’ll e-mail you a pdf version.

  4. (hmm, thought wd be easier to find e-mail address than it is. well, i’m sure you can access it through whichever academic library you’re currently using)

  5. No worries, I’ve sent you an e-mail.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s