2. The Dutch and their cities In his seminal text on the origins of the modern world-system, Wallerstein (1974) covers all bases in his identification of the ‘long sixteenth century’ that nearly covers two centuries and overlaps with the early decades of Dutch hegemony. Furthermore the latter is the pivot of volume two where Wallerstein (1980) describes the consolidation of the world-system. Thus in this story he certainly gives due weight to Dutch economic and political achievements, although ‘consolidation’ is not quite as strong an affirmation of the importance of the Dutch as that presented above. However I do not wish to dwell on this difference here. Rather there is another feature of Wallerstein’s treatment of the Dutch that particularly contrasts with the argument I develop in this paper. Although self-evidently a land of many cities, these places do not feature prominently in Wallerstein’s text. To be sure Amsterdam is frequently referred to but the remainder of the bustling Dutch cities are wholly or relatively neglected.
This is in stark contrast to Braudel (1984) for whom cities and their inter-relations are at the centre of his work. The difference between these two social analysts is best seen in their alternative concepts of world-economy. Whereas Wallerstein defines an area with an integrated division of labour, Braudel develops a city-centred concept of world-economy. Although these can be alternative descriptions of the same world-economy – geographically, Wallerstein emphasizing the ‘extensive’ (the zonal range) and Braudel’s emphasizing the ‘intensive’ (the network centres) – there is a basic difference in how the space-economy is understood. The emphasis on cities provides a spatial infra-structure, an organizational framework that enables a world-economy to come into being and expand. Here cities are not merely trading cities/ports, banking centres or industrial towns, they are integral parts of complex networks of capital circulation. Above all they are where the circulation is organised, where the use of the capital is decided. In other words, it is in cities that the fundamental decisions concerning production, distribution and consumption are made.
For Wallerstein (1976), the modern world-system represents the one and only time that a world-economy was able to resist conversion to a world-empire and become a capital expanding system. Previous world-economies were ‘fragile’ lacking overall political structures with ‘life spans probably less than a century’, which is all that Wallerstein says about them. For Braudel (1984) there have been many past world-economies defined by their vibrant cities and having various relations to co-existing world-empires. Both agree, however, that the rise of the Dutch polity with Amsterdam at its economic heart created a new enlarged European world-economy, trans-Atlantic for Wallerstein, world-wide for Braudel. Which to choose for understanding the Dutch republic? A key advantage of taking Braudel’s city-centric position is that it allows us to explore marrying Janet Jacobs’ (1984) heretical economics to world-systems analysis.