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Honors and Memberships
Research Interests
Publications Summary
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ReOrient: Global Economy in the Asian Age
Essays on NATO and Kosovo
On-line Essays
Contact A.G. Frank

Andre Gunder Frank

Responses to ReOrient Reviews

Response to Gang of 3 ReOrient Reviews

This is my first once over lightly response to my friends and some time co-authors Samir Amin [5 books], Giovanni Arrighi and Immanuel Wallerstein [2 books each]. Writing in Wallerstein's and Arrighi's journal REVIEW [XXII, 3, 1999: 291-372] they have just critiqued my book ReORIENT [University of California Press 1998] and rightly so, since it was also critical of them. However, I find it very disconcerting that they deliberately kept me in the dark about their intentions to do so and thereby also did not allow me to formulate a considered response to their critiques for inclusion in that same issue of REVIEW.

Samir opens with the briefest of summaries of the book, which he dismisses - yes simply dismisses, not critiques- by interspersing terminology such as not only false but impotent, this kind of flattened history, Frank is forced to descend to this kind of a bland philisophy of history which has never produced anything new worthy of attention, the dead end in which Frank locks himself, a poor conceptualization of reality [as by] the media and journalistic articles, and Frank's blindness on this major issue in modern history. We may ask, what issue is that? Capitalism, of course. That is, and for decades has been, the ONLY theoretical issue and agenda of discussion for Samir. As at every one of the dozens of conferences we have attended together. this "critique" of his is also devoted only to HIS agenda about capitalism, never mind that it plays a deliberately subsidiary role in the book, which he is supposedly criticizing. So what he writes is irrelevant to this book, and therefore calls for no further response. All the less so, since -however innovative on other matters- on this issue Samir is like a broken record, which he himself says he has been playing again and again since he first started in 1957.

Moreover, we have already debated this issue of capitalism and its history many times elsewhere, including in our respective contributions to Frank & Gills [eds] THE WORLD SYSTEM: FIVE HUNDRED YEARS OR FIVE THOUSAND? [Routledge 1993/1996] . Curiously, Samir returns to that theme and also devotes several additional pages to repeating his views and writings on the thousand years before 1500, although my book does not start until 1400. In a word, about ReORIENT Samir has virtually nothing to say except that I did not write my book about his favorite topic of European capitalism, but about something else. So I also have nothing to reply.

Immanuel is also upset that I wrote the book I did and not another. But he goes Samir one better. While Samir's "critique" is simply to neglect the book I wrote, Immanuel's opts for a bellicose strategy and tactic to critique a book I did NOT write. He sets up and with a flourish knocks down a dozen or more straw men and repeatedly poses 'have you stopped - or why don't you stop - beating your wife' type questions, to which my simple answer is and must be ' I am not married.' And Immanuel also goes Samir one better in his dismissive, indeed ridiculing -or is it ridiculous?- terminology, of which the following is only a sample: after wading through 350 pages of text what confusion and how much blurring poor punctuations permits, deduction is a game Frank plays throughout this book, confusion compounded, a non sequitur, knocking down an open door, a completely straw man scarcely worth so much space and agitation, one more straw man, there can be no rational explanation, sneaky, clever, malicious.

And not one, but two coups de grace, the second one given several times: I am a Chicago monetarist who offers the final definitive proof of what the IMF is always claiming and that Frank has discovered the true European miracle [and] emerges as the greatest spokesperson for European achievement. This is because I happen to have a Chicago economics PhD and wrote a book designed in part to pull the historical rug out from under the Eurocentric thesis of the alleged European miracle and the alleged European originated and based Modern World-System of Wallerstein, and to a make a new beginning in mapping out the REAL Modern World System. "Who is the Wizard of Oz at the end of this road?" Immanuel ask in his closing sentence. It's the REAL world. For recall that the "Dorothy on the yellow brick road" that Immanuel evokes recognized that her Wizard's world is not Kansas. Neither is our wizard Immanuel's unreal world.

It is noteworthy but perhaps not surprising that Immanuel zeroes in on my 'deductions' and makes no mention of my inductions or of the mass of historical empirical data from which they are derived, which occupy the main body of the book. What's more, this world economic and Asian evidence empirically - and in the maps graphically - demonstrate the very severe limitations of Wallerstein's 'system' and theory. Moreover, in all humility, this is the first book ever to have done so for the period before 1800, as Giovanni recognizes in his first and last sentence. So why not Immanuel, who huffs and puffs about alleged straw men instead. Indeed, he dismisses the entire empirical Chapter 4 as " a straw man scarcely worth so much space and agitation" and he virtually disregards Chapter 2 on world trade and Chapter 3 on money, because they say that there was a world out there of which he and others took no account.. My straw man he says is that he never denied it was there. But the issue is not what he did not say, but what he did say about the world-system, that it was born in Europe and only after 1750 incorporated Asia, which is wrong, since reality was rather the opposite. Who is the scarecrow here?

Immanuel does not like my deductions, not that there is anything wrong with deduction per se, as Immanuel surely agrees. It is only faulty logic deductions or good deductions from faulty premises that we need reject, ah and the post hoc ergo propter hoc arguments Immanuel invents and then falsely - as he KNOWS - attributes to me. I would not be surprised that, like virtually every scientist, I have incurred in some such errors, which future students will discover and hopefully correct. But that it not Immanuel's objective or method here. Instead he repeatedly attributes positions to me that he knows I do not hold [e.g. European miracle] and sets up allegedly untenable dichotomies that are not in the book, like regional vs. global economy.

Immanuel also tries but fails to score a definitive blow by resurrecting but not advancing the argument we have had for years. "Frank surely knows that whatever position one takes on the question ' where does one locate a mode of production' [MP] determines ones entire historiography…Perhaps this difficult but crucial question is too hard for Frank." Not so, as Immanuel surely knows, since I - and other friends like Chase-Dunn and Hall - have long since argued that he locates the very concept of MP in the wrong place. What's more in a published exchange in 1991 [reprinted in Frank & Gills 1993/96] Immanuel and I disputed about the utility of the concept of MP, and I argued that it is best to discard it altogether. ReORIENT now brings tons of empirical evidence further to support this argument ad nauseum. Of course, Immanuel does not like that evidence and continues to locate the capitalist MP where Marx Weber did, and if my 'locating' MP outside historiography determines, if not quite what mine is, at least what it is not, i.e. Immanuel's as well as Samir's and Giovanni's, then so be it.

I do concede one point, but not the game, to Immanuel in his pp 358-59 argument about merchandize trade balances. He cites earlier work of mine [also in my book DEPENDENT ACCUMULATION AND UNDERDEVELOPMENT 1978] in which I argue that the merchandize trade surplus of the Third World at the end of the nineteenth century weakened it and made a vital material and financial contribution to the development of Europe, the United States and the Dominions. If so, Immanuel asks, why did the merchandize trade surplus of Asia and especially China not do the same in the 18th century and before. Good Question! And it deserves serious inquiry rather than Immanuel's debating point glee. My gut feeling, which is no substitute for analysis, is that 1. It did also strengthen Europe and North America, 2. It may have had some disadvantages for the exporters, 3. The international trade system changed after 1800/50 along with the industrial revolution, whose metamorphosis - contrary to my critics - I never denied, but also did not seek to explain since my book stopped in 1800. This is another case of them and many others complaining that I did not write a book that I did not write [yet?]. So if they find it so lacking and important, why dont they stop complaining to me and instead write it themselves - or let us collaborate in writing it ourselves as in the past? I have actually proposed that to them, but to no avail.

I concede another point to Immanuel: "The weakest segment of the book is the attempt to explain why the West won." And why not? My attempt does not have much to go on, since this is the first time anybody has even attempted a WORLD [political] economic explanation of this important historical event. Ken Pomeranz is publishing a second valiant attempt at Princeton University Press this month. So if my attempt - or even maybe his- is weak, lets strengthen it instead of dismissing it. For what are the alternatives? I challenge Imanuel to show me or the reader a stonger argument, his own or anybody elses. The libraries are full of ' exceptionalist European miracle' explanations that are empirically demonstrably wrong , theoretically much more deficient, and therefore altogether much weaker still. The alternative European world-economy and Modern World-System approaches constructed and inspired by Braudel and Immanuel himself and Giovanni's recent work have been a big help, but they are far too limited in their scope and therefore as explanations also still weaker than my modest effort. I invite Immanuel to get off his high horse and join me in the trenches.

Giovanni instead makes a serious critique of the book that I did write, which deserves to be taken seriously even if he also makes some serious misattributions that advance neither his cause nor mine. Giovanni's critique stands or wobbles on three legs that may be summarized as empirical, deductive, and political. The empirical critique is that despite having pieced together more evidence than anyone before, I have not done enough. I agree of course. But that empirical critique is also not good enough. Better is Giovanni's critique that on this weak empirical basis, I build theses or conclusion that are therefore not sufficiently empirically warranted.. Maybe, here and there. My defense is twofold: As in Giovanni's three or more legged argument, greater empirical robustness in this leg here can lend additional support to the weaker leg there, even if the latter leg per se is too weak to stand on by itself. Secondly, thereby I challenge and 'guide' others to dig up more data to strengthen all these legs and to confirm, disconfirm or modify these theses, which I at least identify and discuss, several for the first time anyone has troubled to do so.

A specific example that comes under Giovanni's critique is the relation between demographic and economic growth. Since we have more data on quantities and growth rates of people than of their goods, I sometimes try to infer something about the latter from the former. Giovanni says that is not legit. Well, how legit it is depends - on what direct evidence we have about the goods, what other inferential evidence we have, how consistent the inferences are with other evidence or inferences. Specifically, I argue that rapid population increase must have been accompanied by rapid increases in production, especially of foodstuffs -- if there is no evidence of growing poverty and there is evidence of increased cropping, new crops [corn, potatoes, yucca from the Americas], and more crops. Giovanni is not satisfied. Me neither. Lets get more and better data. Several sinologist are digging up data and constructing data bases that demonstrate higher growth rates of output, income, standards of living, indeed of the life expectancy that is the ultimate 'standard' of living, in China than anywhere in Europe before 1800.

Another example, where Giovanni is on stronger ground, is my reference to long economic cycles. Perhaps they are not adequately documented or even documentable - yet. But, contrary to Giovanni who first introduced me to long cycles in 1972 but now disavows them, my argument neither stands on nor falls with such cycles. Giovanni also falsely accuses me of accepting or rejecting arguments on the basis of whether they consist of or contribute to Eurocentrism, which he rightly rejects as an acceptable criterion. But that is non-sense of course, since my criterion throughout is the evidence and only the evidence, whatever ideology it may support. However, the real world historical evidence does undermine Eurocentrism - and unfortunately for my three critics the ideology of European capitalism as well.

Deductions, contradictions and questions not asked nor answered: Giovanni claims but never shows that my deductions don't stand up to inspection or even prove to be contradictory. But that is only because my deductions and even inductions do not correspond to HIS [or Samir's and Immanuel's] logic or paradigm, which is in turn contradictory in terms of mine as I demonstrated to him about THE LONG TWENTIETH CENTURY long ago personally and in part again in ReORIENT, which argues that he cannot insist on global financial innovations in pre 1500 Southern Europe in a global economy centered on China. Giovanni commends my thesis that the global whole is more than the sum of and helps shape its parts. But he condemns me for allegedly denying that the parts also form the whole. But of course that critique is absurd; since the book is full of cases and analyses of how parts, eg. China and its trade, the Americas and its silver, Europe and its commerce, and much smaller geographical, sectoral and other parts helped transform the whole. "Frank never tells us anything about such specifics" Giovanni writes. That this claim is absurd as well is shown by the 36 pages of index that list all manner of specifics - in a book devoted to the general whole. "The book is all about unity and not at all about diversity" he also charges. Not so. Although the book does emphasize unity - and that is its merit as recognized even by Giovanni although alas not by Samir and Immanuel - it also shows how that same unity generates diversity within it. That is why Giovanni's charge that "Frank joins the chorus of neoliberal ideologues in reviving the belief in self-regulating markets" is as wide off the mark as it is unfair. Market yes, but NOT the "liberal creed" that it solves the world's problems through equalization. Where in the world did Giovanni find that in any of my writings or in our personal talks over the 30 years we have known each other?

Like Rome, Japan was not made in a day, but Europe was. Impossible says Giovanni . No, it is both logically possible and empirically substantially true if we consider the transformation in and through Europe between 1750 or even 1800 and 1850. He claims that I "carefully suppress" all evidence of lower growth in Asia and higher in Europe. That is both a low blow and empirically quite untrue, since the book and also its chapter 6 contains all sorts of evidence on lower Asian growth then and there, and Giovanni knows that I am not one to fudge the data in my favor - indeed he says I "do not even spare some of his [my] earlier writings" when the evidence contradicts them.

The greatest weakness of ReOrient is "the purposeful exclusion from the analysis of political-military power." Yes and no and maybe, with certain reservations. Purposeful the exclusion was not, I can assure Giovanni, unless it be as the Primus mobile. But whatever the intentions, it is true that the political analysis is weak , and that is a weakness. However, how weak that is, depends. Giovanni believes that political-military institutions and power exert far-reaching influence or even determine economic relations. I dispute this belief in Chapter 4 theoretically and de facto throughout the book. My a-political weakness is therefore crippling only if Giovanni is right, and it is only a relatively minor weakness if I am right. For instance, Giovanni claims that I do not ask and hence do not answer why China should have had a capital shortage but Europe a capital surplus. But I DO ask precisely that question and I give an answer, satisfactory or not. Of course my answer cannot satisfy Giovanni because it is in these political-military factors where "I [GA] suspect that here ultimately lies the answer to the question that Frank should have asked but never did…[about] the greater capacity to concentrate surplus capital from all over the world in European financial markets." Well, bully for Giovanni's suspicion and also for my demonstration of how the use of the Europeans political-military power in Africa and the Americas - for in Asia they were scarcely able to exercise any - were vital for European capacity to amass capital also from Asia. But of course the capital they concentrated to Europe still remained an only very small part of all world capital. Giovanni also charges that I cannot see the politico-military origins of the industrial revolution itself. Well, that depends on whether its origin did or did not lie there. If that means the highly touted state formation and the inter-state system within Western Europe, there is plenty of evidence that it did not generate the industrial revolution, and there is also plenty of evidence that world economic factors did, which ReORIENT is the first book to examine.


The bottom line and read thread of these three friends' and also other critiques is CAPITALISM. None of the three is willing to contemplate or even examine the evidence that the theoretical concept - indeed terminology - of "capitalism" may be an ideological construct that is out of synch with world historical reality. That very suggestion is so intellectually and even personally threatening to them that they have to - among friends -- resort to Giovanni's relatively benign distortions of my argument, Immanuel's biting sarcasm and grotesque and even counter-factual caricatures also of me personally, and Samir's complete neglect of the book and its argument altogether. Alas, their use of these tactics and deployment of such weapons on a muddied capitalist battleground of their own choosing only displays their own weakness. Each for his own reasons as well for the albeit anti-capitalist ideological reason they share simply will not allow them to confront reality or face the issue posed by real world history. That even these themselves pioneering scholars, former co-authors of mine, and long time friends are so paralyzed and hamstrung is further evidence of how sorely we need a new departure to ReORIENT.

Sommers on Stokes in AHR on Frank on Hegemony

Subject: Stokes on Hegemony
Date: May 17, 2001
From: Jeff Sommers
      World History Center
      Northeastern University

The American Historical Review 106:2 (April 2001) includes a review essay by Gale Stokes (pp. 508-25), "The Fates of Human Societies: A Review of Recent Macrohistories."

I was surprised [therein] TO see Gale Stokes' characterization of Gunder Frank's work .... If this is representative of work printed in the AHR and the "mainstream of the American historical profession," then it appears that ignoring evidence is what in fact may, unfortunately, be defining scholarship in our "profession" and its "premier" journal.

[Stokes completely MISrepresents Frank when he writes]

"Practitioners of the new field of world history have begun to sidestep or ignore questions such as these in favor of what Pomeranz calls "reciprocal comparisons." This approach recognizes that a truly comprehensive account of the past thousand years must concentrate on polycentric interactions rather than questions of priority or hegemony that have exercised scholars like Landes or Frank for the past generation. [An] approach focused on origins, less essentialist, and less polemical is on the verge of entering the historical profession."
"Many of the critics of the European perspective are, or considerthemselves, world historians, of course, but what I mean by the term here is the growing group of scholars who put aside questions of hegemony and ressentiment and attempt to write truly comparative history."
[Contrary to Stokes' mischaracterization of Frank], in _ReORIENT_, Frank says the following regarding hegemony:
"The notion of European followed by Western 'hegemony' over the rest of the world is implicit in the most historical, social 'scientific,' and popularizing writing and perception. Political hegemony is explicit in much recent international relations literature, from Krasner (1983) and Keohnen (1983) to Modelski and Thompson (1988). Economic hegemony is explicit in Wallerstein and his followers. I have expressed doubts about the dubious theoretical status of such hegemony before (Frank and Gills 1992, 1993; Frank 1994, 1995)."
"In the face of the evidence, should we not review and revise the entire concept of hegemony?" pp. 332-3.

Frank has critiqued the whole notion of cultural, political, and economic hegemony in print for at least a decade. Moreover, in print, he has written that global history should be viewed through a lens that reveals multiple centers of power being the historical norm, with power quite often being diffuse. What he has derided is the exact position Stokes projects onto him. In the process, Stokes then lays claim for the "American historical profession" the very interpretation that Frank has implored our profession to consider for at least a decade.

Ironically, Frank seems to have prevailed. The "American historical profession" seems to have adopted (plagiarized?) his very program under its name, while unfortunately airbrushing out of history its very author. For a decade Frank has called for a focus on the very "polycentric interactions," which Stokes now claims to be a "new" approach taken by US scholars. To arrive at this point required first deconstructing the idea of European hegemony, which Frank did, thus laying the groundwork for the "new" approach to world history Stokes advocates.

Whether we agree with Frank's view or not is an entirely different matter, but hopefully the "American historical profession," as represented by Stokes, would at least, in principle, be interested in accurately presenting his position....

[Jeff Sommers]

Table of Contents
Personal and Professional
Honors and Memberships
Research Interests
Publications Summary
Recent Publications
ReOrient: Global Economy in the Asian Age
Essays on NATO and Kosovo, 1999 On-line Essays
Contact A.G. Frank