His insights are a useful corrective to neo-Marxism, but they don’t constitute a separate and unique theory, as he imagines. His world system theory, like Darwin’s theory of evolution, has so many precursors that I wonder they were ever controversial. But we’re capable of holding only a limited number of ideas in our minds, and keep forgetting them, so that each new generation restates the same old ideas in new and different words and imagines they’re the first to think of them.
Wallerstein says changing the world system through reform and/or revolution only becomes possible in times of crisis. This is merely Gould’s and Eldredge’s theory of evolutionary change as punctuated equilibrium applied to social change; and both are merely narrower versions of Prigogine’s theory of change in hydrodynamic, chemical and biological systems. Prigogine’s version is not only the precursor, but the most inclusive, which seems to justify the low opinion physical scientists have of social scientists.
Wallerstein wrote this book in the ‘60s, when he'd persuaded himself that the soixante-huitards were genuine revolutionaries who would change society for the better. As a member of that generation, I saw it was an illusion. Society was indeed in crisis, as it had been for generations; but the socialist revolution failed to save it. All that remained was fascist counter-revolution.
We're all fascists now, more than half in love with easeful death. We're all dying, and glad of it. The moment we’re born we begin to die. That alone is true. Everything else is illusion. We can’t live with that truth always in our minds, so we keep forgetting it.