The bursting of this peculiar bubble has transformed but by no means done away with the world-historical circumstances that generated the Project for a New American Century. In this concluding part of the article, I will highlight these circumstances by using Harvey’s concepts of spatial fix and accumulation by dispossession in a longer perspective than he does. Within this optic, the new imperialism will appear as the outcome of a protracted historical process consisting of spatial fixes of increasing scale and scope, on the one hand, and on the other, of an American attempt to bring this process to an end through the formation of a us-centred world government. This attempt, I will argue, was integral to us hegemony from the start. Under George W. Bush, however, it has reached its limits and in all likelihood will cease to be the primary determinant of ongoing transformations of the global political economy.
As Harvey suggests, there is an interesting correspondence between Hannah Arendt’s theoretical observation in The Origins of Totalitarianism that ‘a never-ending accumulation of power [is] necessary for the protection of a never-ending accumulation of capital’, and my own empirical observation in The Long Twentieth Century that the expansion of world capitalism has been based on the emergence of ever more powerful leading capitalist organizations.footnote4 The correspondence, however, is not as ‘exact’ as he suggests. For Arendt’s observation refers to the accumulation of power and capital within states, whereas mine refers to the accumulation of power and capital in an evolving system of states. The difference is crucial in more than one respect.
Arendt draws our attention to the process whereby individual capitalist states tend to experience an accumulation of ‘superfluous money’ (that is, of more capital than can be profitably reinvested within their national boundaries) and a need to grow more powerful in order to be able to protect growing property. From this perspective, imperialism of the capitalist sort is a policy aimed both at finding profitable external outlets for surplus capital and at strengthening the state. My observation, in contrast, draws our attention to the process whereby increasingly powerful capitalist organizations have become the agency of the expansion of a system of accumulation and rule that from the start encompassed a multiplicity of states. From this perspective, imperialism of the capitalist sort is an aspect of the recurrent struggles through which capitalist states have used coercive means in the attempt to turn in their favour the spatial shifts entailed in the ‘endless’ accumulation of capital and power.footnote5
As Harvey underscores, finance capital backed by state power plays a crucial mediating role both in the production of space that is involved in the enlarged reproduction of capital and in the ‘cannibalistic practices and forced devaluations’ that constitute the essence of accumulation by dispossession. He is nonetheless vague about the world-historical coordinates of this role. Like Arendt, he seems to adhere to the view that finance capital has been an outgrowth of nineteenth-century industrial capitalism. While this may be true of capitalist development in some states, it is certainly not true of it on a world scale.