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Empire of Capital Paperback – January 17, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Readers who make it past the musty jargon of academic Marxism that announces itself in the introduction will proceed to a thought-provoking genealogy of empires throughout history. Wood, a professor at York University in Toronto and an orthodox economic determinist, argues that the source of an empire's wealth drives its military, administrative and ideological practices. She distinguishes between the Roman "empire of property," a land-based system that stimulated unending territorial conquest; the Arab, Venetian and Dutch "empires of commerce," dedicated to the protection of trade routes and market dominance; and the British "empire of capital," marked by the imposition of market imperatives on conquered territories. The book culminates with a study of what Wood describes as the "new imperialism we call globalization." Challenging those critics of globalization who emphasize the role of corporations and international institutions like the World Bank, Wood says that the capitalist system is more than ever reliant on nation-states to maintain order, with the United States acting as the great imperial enforcer. Wood believes that the inevitable end of a system of universal capitalism is a system of universal war, which is how she sees the new doctrine put forth by the Bush administration in the name of fighting terrorism. Wood's dense analysis would have benefited from more historical evidence and engagement with alternative theories. The connections she draws between economic and imperial systems are intriguing but incomplete explanations of geopolitical dynamics. A worthwhile study for leftist academics, Wood's book is not written to appeal to a broader audience.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

“A splendid book.”—Eric Hobsbawm

“A thought-provoking genealogy of empires throughout history.”—Publishers Weekly

“The best articulation of the secular Left’s critique of global capital.”—Tikkun

“... a timely book ... a powerful antidote to one of the afflictions of the interregnum, the belief that appearance is everything.”—London Review of Books

“The most compelling account yet of imperialism in its current phase.”—Robert Brenner
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 200 pages
  • Publisher: Verso (January 17, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1844675181
  • ISBN-13: 978-1844675180
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #999,030 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 22, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This is a wonderful book that deserves to be read widely. It works its way through the history of empires and seeks to establish what is distinctive about the present 'Empire of Capital'. For Wood, the current form of imperialism is not simply a new US imperialism, but she manages in a glorious way to show the contradictions that result from the universalization of capitalism (which creates a new type of world market imperialism) on the one hand, and the pursuit of global domination by the US on the other. This book, grounded in real historical understanding, offers so much more if you want to understand the nature of the present than the currently popular discussions of empire and imperialism by ideologues like Max Boot, Niall Ferguson and Robert Kagan.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Douglas Doepke on March 15, 2004
Format: Hardcover
To quote from p. 5 of the book:
" The argument here is not that of capital in conditions of `globalization' has escaped the control of the state and made the territorial state increasingly irrelevant. On the contrary, my argument is that the state is more essential than ever to capital, even, or especially, in its global form. The political form of globalization is not a global state but a system of multiple states, and the new imperialism takes its specific shape from the complex and contradictory relationship between capital's expansive economic power and the more limited reach of the extra-economic force that sustains it."

In a nutshell, this is the book's thesis, and it addresses the timely question of what form globalization will ultimately take. Against the de-centered, monolithically global state of the sort detailed in Hardt & Negri's fashionable work *Empire*, Wood argues that the only possible outcome is a multi-state system, presumably like the one already in place. For that reason alone her book is worth the read, given the wide popularity of H&N's thesis. Of the two perspectives, Wood's is certainly on firmer empirical ground. As currently experienced, globalization is very much a product of a multi-state system, led by American capital and the state's capacity to maintain financial and military hegemony. (In fact, much of current middle-east policy can be understood from that strategic standpoint.) On the other hand, H & N's fluid leviathan appears more visionary than contemporary, more theoretical than factual, and more the result of shrewd extrapolation and darkly compelling fantasy than of historical necessity.

Nonetheless, Wood at times goes too far in her insistance on a multi-state alternative.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Michael Engel on July 2, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Wood is one of a rare breed--a jargon-free Marxist academic. In this short, thoughtful book, she discusses the political and economic basis of "empire" through history. The point is, of course, to better understand the nature of 21st century American imperialism. She achieves that goal. One word of caution--an understanding of Marxism, if not an acceptance of it, is probably a necessary starting point.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By not me VINE VOICE on April 6, 2007
Format: Paperback
"Empire of Capital" is a thoughtful but very slender book on a huge topic -- the history and typology of imperialisms. Written from a Marxist perspective, most of the book deals with relatively esoteric subjects such as the economic origins of Roman imperialism or the efforts by pre-capitalist Holland to monopolize international trade. There's even a sub-chapter on Hugo Grotius! Many readers will skim over these chapters to focus on the last chapter, which deals with the Bush Administration and modern American foreign policy.

Wood's thesis is that American foreign policy protects the interests of global capital in a world of multiple states, each of which has to supply a legal and political framework in which capital can flourish. Our need to dominate and influence the domestic institutions of sovereign states around the globe -- including our allies in Europe and Japan -- explains the presposterous size of the U.S. military and our propensity to leap into foreign entanglements that have no clear connection to U.S. interests. Washington uses "military theater" as a means to show the world who's boss and to deter other countries from building up enough military power to challenge U.S. hegemony.

Like many Marxists, Wood is on to something. The U.S. government does want to create a world of democratic capitalist states. It opens up foreign markets, funds opposition parties in "transitional" countries, and pursues "regime change" (also known as "transformational diplomacy") in countries such as Venezuela or Zimbabwe whose domestic politics and economic policies displease us. For more than 50 years, Washington has believed that the U.S. national interest depends on the domestic behavior of foreign states, not just their international behavior.
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