Hardt and Negri’s Empire

Hardt, Michael, and Antonio Negri. Empire. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2000.

Hardt and Negri’s Empire has been called by many, “The Communist Manifesto of the Twenty-First Century”. Indeed the rhetoric, the constant invocations of “you” and “we” and “they” are reminiscent of Marx’s pamphlet, but, perhaps because the historical moment of postmodernity requires such a complex amount of contemplation, this “Communist Manifesto” is daunting and complex. Therefore I might have to write a great deal to summarize it—hopefully it will get us somewhere.

The concept of “Empire” represents “not a fundamentally new phenomenon but simply a perfecting of Imperialism” (9). Empire and Imperialism however are radically different in Hardt and Negri’s analysis, one being the means of repression to a modern era, the other in a definitively post-modern age. Though it appears as a more advanced stage of imperialism, Empire was actually “called into being and constituted on the basis of its capacity to resolve conflicts” (15). These conflicts are the roots of Empire—empire is constituent with the antagonisms and conflicts that decentered its modernist predecessor.

An example of this charitable expansion of Empire occurs through NGOs, which “are in effect some of the most powerful pacific weapons of the new world order—the charitable campaigns and the medicant orders of Empire” (36). Though this statement casts the charitable work of NGOs in an unjust antagonism simply because they inadvertently espouse a Neo-Liberal ideology, NGOs are helpful as representatives of humanity and charity, not the state, that “prefigures the state of exception from below…oriented towards the symbolic production of the enemy” (36).

Though Empire itself is constructed as a response to various struggles, specifically to class struggles, Empire is also invoked and called into being by what Hardt and Negri refer to as the multitude. The Multitude is…hm? Though Empire is better for the multitude than past Imperialism, it operates on nearly opposing structures and therefore is more difficult to manage and attack. According to Hardt and Negri, “the localist position…is both false and damaging” (44). The localist is the leftist strategy of emphasizing cultural localities and nationalities that preserve heterogeneity and difference. “Often implicit in such arguments is the assumption that the differences of the local are in some sense natural, or at least that their origin remains beyond question” (44). Rather than focus on this essentialist doctrine of difference, Hardt and Negri focus on the production of locality as a systemic site of Empire and globalization. As they say, “The globalization or deterritorialization operated by the imperial machine is not in fact opposed to localization or reterritorialization, but rather sets in play mobile and modulating circuits of differentiation and identification. The strategy of local resistance misidentifies and thus masks the enemy” (45). The misrecognition of the enemy seems to be the very method with which Empire fosters itself.

In response to the fundamental tactic of Empire to occlude the “enemy”, Hardt and Negri suggest that “clarifying the nature of the common enemy is thus an essential political task” in the strategies utilized by the multitude. Alongside this proposition, Hardt and Negri also propose to “construct a new common language that facilitates communication as the languages of anti-imperialism and proletarian internationalism did for the struggles of a previous era” (57). Since Empire is called into being by the multitude in response to its own struggles for class equality, the constituent power of the multitude are also vital to understanding Empire as “merely…privation of being and production, as a simple abstract” (63).

To understand Empire as this simple abstract one must begin with the origins of Empire as a response to the crisis of modernity, “which is the contradictory co-presence of the multitude and a power that wants to reduce it to the rule of one” (97). The problem of modernity was always the representation of the people by a sovereign state, though this “people” was never the same as “the multitude”, and was therefore was conditioned to become homogenous in its interests, its race and language. “The modern conception of the people is in fact a product of the nation-state, and survives only within its specific ideological context” (102). The multitude rather, is “a multiplicity, a plane of singularities, an open set of relations, which is not homogenous or identical with itself and bears an indistinct, inclusive relation to those outside of it” (103). The function of the nation then is to “make the multitude into a people”, and it is when the antagonisms and conflicts of this homogenous “people” become too rampant that the structure of this very same crisis—the representation of the many into one—is dialectically sublimated into that of Empire. It is clear then that Hardt and Negri are no fans of Nationhood, but rather see the concept of the people by the nation as “blocking the constructive interactions of differences within the multitude” (113). Just because Empire structures itself off of difference, does not mean that there is differences within those differences that may, by virtue of their complex relationships and abilities to organize collectively, may subvert the very foundations of Empire.

The creations of differences and production of alterity is, like apartheid, “the compartmentalization of the colonial world”, integral to the formation of Empire (125). Indeed, these efforts of valorizing difference are thus seen as a symptom of the limits of Postmodernist and postcolonial theories, according to Hardt and Negri.

Postmodernist and postcolonialist theorists never tire of critiquing and seeking liberation from the past forms of rule and their legacies in the present. Postmodernists continually return to the lingering influence of the Enlightenment as the source of domination; postcolonialist theorists combat the remnants of colonialist thinking…We suspect that postmodernist and postcolonialist theories may end up in a dead end because they fail to recognize adequately the contemporary object of critique, that is, they mistake today’s real enemy (137).

The proposed critique is that these theorists are attacking phantoms in the dark, that the new structures of globalization and Empire actually rely on critiques of Enlightenment paradigms, as they Capitalism now operates on anti-Enlightenment paradigms. Indeed, Hardt and Negri see the focus on the Enlightenment as a distraction from the “new form that is looming over them in the present” (138). Empire rather rules,

through differential hierarchies of the hybrid and fragmentary subjectivities that these theorists celebrate…and the postmodernist and postcolonialist strategies that appear to be liberatory would not challenge but in fact coincide with and even unwittingly reinforce the new strategies of rule (138).

These theorists, as Hardt and Negri say, “thus find themselves pushing against an open door”, and though they aren’t as condemning as Anthony Appiah when he calls them “the intelligentia of global capitalism”, since they accurately criticize modern sovereignty as opposed to modernity itself, they emphasize the importance of these theories in encouraging the new contexts of global power. “Despite the best intentions, then, the postmodernist politics of difference not only is ineffective against but can even coincide with and support the functions and practices of imperial rule” (143).
Hardt and Negri are not belittling postmodern theorists, rather they are emphasizing their historical role in transforming the structures of power from modern sovereignty into the formation of Empire and the world market. “The ideology of the world market,” they say, “has always been the anti-foundational and anti-essentialist discourse par excellence” (150). “Postmodernism is indeed the logic by which global capital operates”, transforming difference into opportunity for marketing, where “the more differences that are given, the more marketing strategies can develop” (152). Even the theoretical contributions against race and gender are transformed into new logics of Empire and global capital. As Hardt and Negri say, “the old modernist forms of racist and sexist theory are the explicit enemies of this new corporate culture” (153). Differences are thus organized in the interests of profit, “by the imposition of new hierarchies…by a constant process of hierarchization” (155). Finally, Hardt and Negri attempt to put the final nails in the coffin of “post” theories, by accusing them of a exemplary elitist, stating that “the liberatory potential of the postmodernist and postcolonial discourses that we have described only resonates with the situation of an elite population that enjoys certain rights, a certain level of wealth, and a certain position in the global hierarchy” (156).
Naturally, to provide such a scathing criticism of somewhat deified theorists, one must provide an alternative– Hardt and Negri propose such an alternative within the sphere of production, but not the production of commodities, rather, the production of truth, knowledge and culture. But to grasp the significance behind the sphere of production takes an extensive understanding of Empire as “a universal republic, a network of powers and counter powers structured in a boundless and inclusive architecture” (166). Because this system is engendered by class antagonism, there is an immanent “idea of peace…at the basis of the development and expansion of Empire” (167). This idea of peace of difference from the idea of “civilization” that kept the old imperialism striving, when “Roosevelt, along with generations of European ideologues before him, relied on the notion of ‘civilization’ as an adequate justification for imperialist conquest and domination” (175). As a response to a call for peace among conflict, Empire thus “resides in a world context that continually calls it into existence” (181). It does not impose itself onto subjects, but rather arises as an apparent necessity and alternative to a violence and hatred brewing within a society based on modern sovereignty—i.e. the homogenization of nation-states. Specifically, “the contemporary idea of Empire is born through the global expansion of the internal U.S. constitutional project” (182).

Racism plays a key role in identifying the different structural ideology that Empire proliferates. Relying on the postmodern concept of racism, the dominant theory of race is shifted “from a racist theory based on biology to one based on culture” (191). To elaborate,

with the passage to Empire…biological differences have been replaced by sociological and cultural signifiers as the key representation of racial hatred and fear. In this way imperial racist theory attacks modern anti-racism from the rear, and actually co-opts and enlists its arguments (191).

Attitudes are thus no longer seen as genetic, but “are due to their belonging to different historically determined cultures” (192). This emphasis on culture rather than biology permits a racist system to “appear to be against racism, and that imperial racist theory can appear not to be racist at all” (192). Empire thus utilizes the post-modern concepts of racial differences by tolerating and respecting those differences, implying then that “differences between cultures and traditions are, in the final analysis, insurmountable. It is futile and even dangerous, according to imperial theory, to allow cultures to mix or insist that they do so” (192). Hardt and Negri are quick to point out that this new racial formation does not rely on hierarchies, but rather, in positing that “all cultural identities are equal in principle” and that cultures must be preserved, “according to Imperial theory, then, racial supremacy and subordination are not a theoretical question, but arise through free competition, a kind of market meritocracy of culture” (193).

Imperial racism can then be identified rather as “differential racism,” one that “integrates others with its order then orchestrates those differences in a system of control” (195). It becomes a part of black culture to be less inclined towards academics than Asian Americans, and therefore a disproportional university is acceptable and furthermore tolerant of cultural difference. By inversion, if a University thus had a fair proportion of Asian Americans as African Americans to its community population, something about that university would be irrespective of cultural traditions—would in some way be misrecognizing Asians for their cultural inclination towards homework and the African American’s cultural heritage of not appreciating homework. In a meritocracy based on cultural tolerance, it is the very freedom of individuals from their biological races that create a hierarchy in retrospect—why can’t African Americans get higher test scores than Asian Americans? They are free to do so, thus there is a cultural mechanism that simply chooses not to value schoolwork, and such a difference must be accepted because it is a cultural byproduct. No attempt can then be made to change or question such a subjectivity of difference, without itself being racist or intolerant. Imperial racism, then, “rests on the play of differences and the management of micro-conflictualities within its continually expanding domain” (195).

With the elaboration on race and the production of subjectivities and knowledges that have produced such a bind, it is no wonder that Hardt and Negri see the production of subjectivity as the prime site of resistance to Empire. The multitude thus calls Empire into being through this demand for difference, to “imagine a situation not in which [differences] do not exist but rather in which we are ignorant of them” (198). These differences of course are always “nonconflictual differences, the kind of differences we might set aside when necessary…[and] are imagined to be “cultural” rather than “political,” under the assumption that they will not lead to uncontrollable conflicts but will function, rather, as a force of peaceful regional identification” (199). Empire is thus defined “by the management and hierarchization of these differences in a general economy of command…[and] thrives on circuits of movement and mixture” (199). “The imperial ‘solution’ will not be to negate or attenuate these differences, but rather to affirm them and arrange them in an effective apparatus of command” (200).
Where then can resistance be located, if not in difference? One such sites of resistance lies within the domain of migrant labor and a mass exodus of highly trained workers—a defection from the system.

“The mobility of the labor force can indeed express an open political conflict and contribute to the destruction of the regime…we need a force capable of not only organizing the destructive capacities of the multitude, but also constituting through the desires of the multitude an alternative. The counter-Empire must also be a new global vision, a new way of living in the world” (214).

By the appropriation of the production of subjectivity, identities based on difference can be overcome when mobility itself becomes “an active politics and established…political position” (214). But mobility and hybridity of identity mean nothing unless they become “the common productive experience of the multitude” (217). The task then becomes to construct “a new place, constructing ontologically new determinations of the human” (217). In other words, the production of new subjectivities that are neither modern nor post-modern, but are rather formed as total fluidity and ability to construct ones own identity—the agency to choose or reject ontological modes of existence.

Like Marx, Hardt and Negri find forms of resistance as interior to the new capitalist order, specifically in the concept of wage emancipation. Though “the peasants who become wage workers and who are subjected to the discipline of the new organization of labor in many cases suffer worse living conditions…but they do become infused with a new desire for liberation” (252). The production of a desire for freedom thus “constructs the desire to escape the disciplinary regime and tendentially an undisciplined multitude of workers who want to be free” (253). The world market, too, rather than functioning off of Marx’s concept of formal subsumption: “processes whereby capital incorporates under its own relations of production laboring practices that originated outside its domain (255–Capital, 1019), Hardt and Negri examine real subsumption as “more intensive than extensive”, coming about “through a transformation of social and productive relations”, and such a passage from formal to real “must be explained through the practices of active subjective forces” (256). Capitalism no longer looks outside itself for new terrain, but is “intensive rather than extensive” (272). Post-modern accumulation then is a completion of the industrial and colonial project, and rather a real subsumption of existing terrain.

If Empire is a intensification of existing territories under a new global order, the nation-state then can be seen as a remnant of the Modernist past, useful as a potential unity of an international opposition, but otherwise can no longer be seen as oppositional to Global capitalism, but rather is systemic to Empire, as its focus shifts from national and international boundaries to “fluid infra- and supranational borders” (335). Hardt and Negri “believe…that it is a grave mistake to harbor any nostalgia for the powers of the nation-state or to resurrect any politics that celebrates the nation,” because “the nation carries with it a whole series of repressive structures and ideologies” (336). Though third worlds have utilized the nation-state for their own political battles, in the age of empire, nation-states becomes a part of the differentiating structures of Empire. In the age of the IMG, WTO, World bank and GATT, “the globalization of production and circulation, supported by this supranational juridical scaffolding, supersedes the effectiveness of national juridical structures” (336).

The administration of Empire thus follows three main trends, the first that it seeks political ends, the second that it acts as “a disseminating and differentiating mechanism”, and third that the “administrative action has become fundamentally non-strategic, and thus it is legitimated through heterogeneous and indirect means” (341). Thus, local autonomy in the form of nation-states or otherwise is incorporated by Empire “as a “fundamental condition, the sine qua non of the development of the imperial regime,…it would not be possible to claim a principle of legitimate administration if its autonomy did not also march a nomad path with the populations” (342). Consent to the imperial regime occurs when one consents to the necessity of Empire to communicate trans-nationally in the interests of self-regulation—thus transforming the transnational organizations into police forces of Empire.

To Hardt and Negri, Empire can only adequately be challenged in the form of a counter-empire, one created by the Multitude, which can only “be ruled along internal lines, in production, in exchanges, in culture—in other words, in the biopolitical context of its existence” (344). This biopolitical context thus gives the multitude “the potential to be transformed into an autonomous mass of intelligent productivity” (344). We must become producers—not of commodities, but of ideas and of an absolute democratic power. The idea then is not to take control of apparatuses of power such as the state, but to defer from them, as they say,

We have to put an end to the continuous repetition of the same that Marx lamented 150 years ago when he said that all revolutions have only perfected the state instead of destroying it. That repetition has only become clearer in our century, when the great compromise (in its liberal, socialist, and fascist forms) among big government, big business, and big labor has forced the state to produce horrible new fruits: concentration camps, gulags, ghettos, and the like. (349)

Finally the concept of Empire then, can said to be where “no subjectivity is outside, and all places have been subsumed to a general ‘non-place’” (354).
The multitude’s main project then is “to suture together virtuality and possibility”, a process that Empire seeks to slow down by blocking such connectivity and freedom of migration. If virtuality is “the set of powers to act that reside in the multitude” (357), then the “movements of the multitude [are] a virtuality that must be made real…circulation must become freedom” (361). The multitude, in order to disrupt the Imperial sovereignty and legitimization through difference, “must achieve a global citizenship” and resist “the slavery of belonging to a nation, an identity, and a people, and thus the desertion from sovereignty and the limits it places on subjectivity” (362). In such migration and non-identity, “nomadism and miscegenation appear here as figures as virtue” (362). To Hardt and Negri, attempts at reclaiming culture and heritage in a multiculturalist ideology are complacent with Empire, meaning that “today’s celebrations of the local can be regressive and even fascistic when they oppose circulations and mixture, and thus reinforce the walls of nation, ethnicity, race, people, and the like” (362). Rather, “the concrete universal is what allows the multitude to pass from place to place and make its place its own” (362). Hardt and Negri pose forms of mixture as a project for liberation, effectively examining global capital and “imperial command” as a project that “isolates populations in poverty and allows them to act only in the straightjackets of subordinated postcolonial nations” (363). Liberation, in contarst, “means the destruction of boundaries and patterns of forced migration, the reappropriation of space, and the power of the multitude to determine the global circulation and mixture of individuals and populations” (363). By migration and mixture, the new nomad becomes the paradigm that offers liberation.
As with industrial capitalism in Marx’s time, Hardt and Negri also see the crisis and corruption of Empire as a contradiction of its own design—yet in Empire, crisis and antagonism are actually definitive of Empire and therefore are not only intregal to its process, but to its very being of Empire, since it “is defined by crisis, that its decline has always already begun, and that consequently every line of antagonism leads toward the event and singularity” (386). As stated before, if crisis is substantial to its formation, then the only way out is through generating the apparatuses of desire from a biopolitical standpoint. “Desire appears here as productive space” they say, “in reality we are masters of the world because our desire and labor regenerate it continuously…the decision of the sovereign can never negate the desire of the multitude” (387-8). Since globalization and Empire all operate in politically democratic spheres, the desires of the multitude must shift from difference and exploitative nation-states to a singular desire, a “collective mechanism or apparatus of desire” (388). But the Empire “strikes back” in forms of corruption, where “the multitude must be unified or segmented into different unities: this is how the multitude has to be corrupted” (391). The corruption of exploitation naturally is inherent to Empire, as are the functioning of ideology “in the perversion of the senses of linguistic communication”—the biopolitical realm (391).
Migration, miscegenation, nomadism and Diaspora—all of these forms thus complicate and contradict the formation of Empire, these forms thus constitute a multitude which “defers” from the ideological processes of Empire—the nation-state, ethnicity, race, culture, etc. As Hardt and Negri say:

The movements of the multitude designate new spaces, and its journeys establish new residences. Autonomous movement is what defines the place proper to the multitude. Increasingly less will passports or legal documents be able to regulate our movements across borders. A new geography is established by the multitude as the productive flows of bodies define new rivers and ports. The cities of the earth will become at once great deposits of cooperating humanity and locomotives for circulation, temporary residences and networks of the mass distribution of living humanity (297).

Mobility is invoked in the multitude as the means to deferment—to “Strike” from the biopolitics of Empire, “this is how the multitude gains power to affirm its autonomy, traveling and expressing itself through an apparatus of widespread, transversal territorial reappropriation” (398). Empire’s “striking back,” then, is to “restrict and isolate the spatial movements of the multitude to stop them from gaining political legitimacy” (399). Immigrants and diasporas are the blind spots of Imperial sovereignty, and the multitude’s response, then, is “a matter of recognizing and engaging the imperial initiatives and not allowing them continually to reestablish order” (399).

Hardt and Negri come up with a four point plan for the multitude, first in this transmigration as the goal of global citizenship, where “the general right to control its own movement is the multitude’s ultimate demand for global citizenship” (400). The second programmatic political demand is “a social wage and a guaranteed income for all” due to each member of society, which can naturally only ever become a realistic demand after global citizenship is achieved (the underlying assumptions are that there will be something to appeal to which has the power to make something like this even possible). The third political demand is “the right of reappropriation,” especially “the reappropriation of the means to production” (406). Naturally, this would have begun from the very onset of the invocation of the multitude, since biopolitics must be disrupted to even produce the minds and bodies that would be capable of something so collectivized as to disrupt Empire. But in a political sense, “reappropriation means having free access to and control over knowledge, information, communication, and affects—because these are the primary means of biopolitical production” (407).

Though Empire itself is constructed as a response to various struggles, specifically to struggles of class, Empire is mainly called into being by what Hardt and Negri refer to as the multitude, which they define as “a multiplicity, a plane of singularities, an open set of relations, which is not homogenous or identical with itself and bears an indistinct, inclusive relation to those outside of it…an inconclusive constituent relation of people” (103).

The problem of modernity to Hardt and Negri, was always the representation of the people by a sovereign state, though this “people” was never the same as “the multitude”, and therefore was conditioned to become homogenous in interests, race and language. As Hardt and Negri say, “The modern conception of the people is in fact a product of the nation-state, and survives only within its specific ideological context” (102). The multitude rather, is “a multiplicity, a plane of singularities, (103). The function of the nation then is to “make the multitude into a people”, repressing instances when the antagonisms and conflicts of this homogenous “people” become rampant.

It is clear then that Hardt and Negri are no fans of Nationhood, but rather see the concept of the people by the nation as “blocking the constructive interactions of differences within the multitude” (113). Just because Empire structures itself off of difference, does not mean that there are differences within those differences that may, by virtue of their complex relationships and abilities to organize collectively, subvert the very foundations of Empire. The term “Multitude” is, like Deleuze’s concept of the rhizome, a non-centered state of difference that presumes a “center” within each individual.

But it is the multitude that calls Empire into being through a demand for difference and collectivity based on an imagined community, to “imagine a situation not in which [differences] do not exist but rather in which we are ignorant of them” (198). These differences to Hardt and Negri are always “nonconflictual differences, the kind of differences we might set aside when necessary…[and] are imagined to be “cultural” rather than “political,” under the assumption that they will not lead to uncontrollable conflicts but will function, rather, as a force of peaceful regional identification” (199). Therefore “the imperial ‘solution’ will not be to negate or attenuate these differences (whether cultural, racial, or ethnic) , but rather to affirm them and arrange them in an effective apparatus of command” (200).

The question concerning the Multitude then becomes: where can resistance be located, if not in difference? (2 min)

One such sites of resistance lies within the domain of migrant labor and a mass exodus of highly trained workers—a complete defection (or deferral) from the system. Hardt and Negri say that “the mobility of the labor force can indeed express an open political conflict and contribute to the destruction of the regime…we need a force capable of not only organizing the destructive capacities of the multitude, but also constituting through the desires of the multitude an alternative. The counter-Empire must also be a new global vision, a new way of living in the world” (214).

This “new way of living” is one of hybridity, mobility and nomadism. The first step for Hardt and Negri is to appropriate the productions of subjectivity, (i.e. the apparatuses of Ideological production). Identities based on difference can only be overcome when mobility itself becomes “an active politics and established…political position” (214). But mobility and hybridity of identity mean nothing unless they become “the common productive experience of the multitude” (217). The task then becomes to construct “a new place, constructing ontologically new determinations of the human” (217).

The multitude, in order to disrupt the Imperial sovereignty and legitimization through difference, “must achieve a global citizenship” and resist “the slavery of belonging to a nation, an identity, and a people, and thus the desertion from sovereignty and the limits it places on subjectivity” (362). In such migration and non-identity, “nomadism and miscegenation appear here as figures as virtue” (362). To Hardt and Negri, attempts at reclaiming culture and heritage in a multiculturalist ideology are complacent with Empire, meaning that “today’s celebrations of the local can be regressive and even fascistic when they oppose circulations and mixture, and thus reinforce the walls of nation, ethnicity, race, people, and the like” (362). Hardt and Negri pose forms of mixture as a project for liberation, effectively examining global capital and “imperial command” as a project that “isolates populations in poverty and allows them to act only in the straightjackets of subordinated postcolonial nations” (363). Liberation, in contrast, “means the destruction of boundaries and patterns of forced migration, the reappropriation of space, and the power of the multitude to determine the global circulation and mixture of individuals and populations” (363). By migration and mixture, the new nomad becomes the paradigm that offers liberation.

Free decisions of Migration, miscegenation, nomadism and Diaspora, all serve to complicate and contradict the formation of Empire. These forms thus constitute a multitude which “defers” from the ideological processes of Empire—the nation-state, ethnicity, race, culture, etc. As Hardt and Negri say:

Autonomous movement is what defines the place proper to the multitude. Increasingly less will passports or legal documents be able to regulate our movements across borders. A new geography is established by the multitude as the productive flows of bodies define new rivers and ports. The cities of the earth will become at once great deposits of cooperating humanity and locomotives for circulation, temporary residences and networks of the mass distribution of living humanity (297).

Mobility is invoked in the multitude as the means to deferment—to “Strike” from the biopolitics of Empire. The Empire thus “strikes back,” when it “restrict[s] and isolate[s] the spatial movements of the multitude to stop them from gaining political legitimacy” (399). Immigrants and diasporas are the blind spots of Imperial sovereignty, and the multitude’s response, then, is “a matter of recognizing and engaging the imperial initiatives and not allowing them continually to reestablish order” (399).

Hardt and Negri come up with a three point plan for the multitude:

(1) “the general right to control its own movement is the multitude’s ultimate demand for global citizenship” (400).

(2) to demand “a social wage and a guaranteed income for all” due to each member of society.

(3) “The right of reappropriation,” especially “the reappropriation of the means to production” (406). In a biopolitical sense, “reappropriation means having free access to and control over knowledge, information, communication, and affects—because these are the primary means of biopolitical production” (407).

Terms:

Marites Mendoza and Christopher Patterson

ENGL 556

25 November 2008


Michael Hardt & Antonio Negri / Empire

Overview

Empire, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri state in the Preface to Empire, is a “new global form of sovereignty” (xii) which presents a “new logic and structure of rule” (xi). Hardt and Negri’s argument is premised on the decline of the nation-state and its sovereignty in the contemporary moment of globalization, in which the capitalist economy has become liberated from the regulation by the nation-state. Their book challenges current thought – including political theory, post-modernism, post-colonial theory, and other critiques of modernity – for their insufficiency in being able to conceptualize the current form of power and domination found in Empire. By extension, these modes of thought are also unable to conceptualize effective, non-utopic liberation. Because Empire and global capitalism thrive on mobility, circulation, and difference, old modes of liberatory thought – especially those emphasizing difference – only dovetail with the mechanics of Empire. Empire takes up the challenge of newly conceptualizing this new form of power and domination, as well as suggestions for the modes of liberation that must necessarily emerge from Empire itself. The expansive, cross-generic book proceeds first by constructing a genealogy of Empire and sovereignty as responses to the central crisis in modernity. Hardt and Negri then proceed, in the vein of Karl Marx’s Capital, to the realm of production, where “the most effective resistances and alternatives to the power of Empire arise” (xvii).

Elaboration through Key Terms


Empire

The concept of Empire represents “not a fundamentally new phenomenon but simply a perfecting of Imperialism” (9). Empire and Imperialism however are radically different in Hardt and Negri’s analysis, one being the means of repression to a modern era, the other in a definitively post-modern age. Though it appears as a more advanced stage of imperialism, Empire was actually “called into being and constituted on the basis of its capacity to resolve conflicts” (15). These conflicts are the roots of Empire—empire is constituent with the antagonisms and conflicts that decentered its modernist predecessor.

An example of this charitable expansion of Empire occurs through NGOs, which “are in effect some of the most powerful pacific weapons of the new world order—the charitable campaigns and the medicant orders of Empire” (36).

Multitude

Though Empire itself is constructed as a response to various struggles, specifically to class struggles, Empire is also invoked and called into being by what Hardt and Negri refer to as the multitude, defined as “a multiplicity, a plane of singularities, an open set of relations, which is not homogenous or identical with itself and bears an indistinct, inclusive relation to those outside of it…an inconclusive constituent relation of people” (103). Though Empire is better for the multitude than past Imperialism, it operates on nearly opposing structures and therefore is more difficult to manage and attack. According to Hardt and Negri, “the localist position…is both false and damaging” (44).

The Modern Crisis

Hard and Negri trace two modes and moments of modernity, leading to a third moment of sovereignty. The first moment was the development of the plane of immanence, which shifted knowledge from a place of transcendence (created and given by the divine) to the earthly plane – “the powers of this world” (71). Knowledge, creation, and liberation became proper to humans. This constituted a threat to transcendent authority, thus giving way to the second moment of a new transcendent power that tried to reestablish authority by “playing on the anxiety and fear of the masses, their desire to reduce the uncertainty of life and increase security” (75). The crisis of modernity to which Hardt and Negri refer is this antagonism between immanence and transcendence, multitude and authority; indeed these opposing forces are what constitute modernity. Sovereignty emerges as a resolution to this crisis, which nonetheless continues to pose conflicts with (and creates openings against) Empire as sovereignty.

Sovereignty, Modern vs. Imperial

Sovereignty attempts to resolve the conflict and regulate tension between immanent and transcendent powers. In Thomas Hobbes’ conception, sovereignty is a transcendental political apparatus that transfers the autonomous power of the multitude to a single sovereign power. Both human immanence and transcendental power, then, are retained. While modern sovereignty seems to close the crisis, current capitalist relations and conditions of modernity have also opened conflict and conditions of continual breakdown that have produced imperial sovereignty, which is its current form under Empire.

Enlightenment Paradigm

The creations of differences and production of alterity is, like apartheid, “the compartmentalization of the colonial world”, integral to the formation of Empire (125). These efforts of valorizing difference are thus seen as a symptom of the limits of Postmodernist and postcolonial theories:

“Postmodernists continually return to the lingering influence of the Enlightenment as the source of domination; post colonialist theorists combat the remnants of colonialist thinking…We suspect that postmodernist and post colonialist theories may end up in a dead end because they fail to recognize adequately the contemporary object of critique, that is, they mistake today’s real enemy” (137).

The proposed critique is that these theorists are attacking phantoms in the dark, that the new structures of globalization and Empire actually rely on critiques of Enlightenment paradigms, as Capitalism now operates on anti-Enlightenment paradigms. Hardt and Negri see the focus on the Enlightenment as a distraction from the “new form that is looming over them in the present” (138).

The Production of Truth

Naturally, to provide such a scathing criticism of somewhat deified theorists, one must provide an alternative– Hardt and Negri propose such an alternative within the sphere of production, but not the production of commodities, rather, the production of truth, knowledge and culture. But to grasp the significance behind the sphere of production takes an extensive understanding of Empire as “a universal republic, a network of powers and counter powers structured in a boundless and inclusive architecture” (166). Because this system is engendered by class antagonism, there is an immanent “idea of peace…at the basis of the development and expansion of Empire” (167).

Imperial Racism

Racism plays a key role in identifying the different structural ideology that Empire proliferates. Relying on the postmodern concept of racism, the dominant theory of race is shifted “from a racist theory based on biology to one based on culture” (191). To elaborate, “biological differences have been replaced by sociological and cultural signifiers as the key representation of racial hatred and fear…imperial racist theory attacks modern anti-racism from the rear, and actually co-opts and enlists its arguments” (191).

Attitudes are thus no longer seen as genetic, but “are due to their belonging to different historically determined cultures” (192). This emphasis on culture rather than biology permits a racist system to “appear to be against racism, and that imperial racist theory can appear not to be racist at all” (192). Empire thus utilizes the post-modern concepts of racial differences by tolerating and respecting those differences, implying then that “differences between cultures and traditions are, in the final analysis, insurmountable. It is futile and even dangerous, according to imperial theory, to allow cultures to mix or insist that they do so” (192). Imperial racism can then be identified rather as “differential racism,” one that “integrates others with its order then orchestrates those differences in a system of control” (195).

Mobility

“The mobility of the labor force can indeed express an open political conflict and contribute to the destruction of the regime…we need a force capable of not only organizing the destructive capacities of the multitude, but also constituting through the desires of the multitude an alternative. The counter-Empire must also be a new global vision, a new way of living in the world” (214).

By the appropriation of the production of subjectivity, identities based on difference can be overcome when mobility itself becomes “an active politics and established…political position” (214).

The Imperial Regime

The administration of Empire thus follows three main trends, the first that it seeks political ends, the second that it acts as “a disseminating and differentiating mechanism” (ideological), and third that the “administrative action has become fundamentally non-strategic, and thus it is legitimated through heterogeneous and indirect means” (341). Thus, local autonomy in the form of nation-states or otherwise is incorporated by Empire “as a “fundamental condition, the sine qua non of the development of the imperial regime,…it would not be possible to claim a principle of legitimate administration if its autonomy did not also march a nomad path with the populations” (342). Consent to the imperial regime occurs when one consents to the necessity of Empire to communicate trans-nationally in the interests of self-regulation (IMF, WTO, World Bank)—thus transforming the transnational organizations into police forces of Empire.

Virtuality

The multitude’s main project then is “to suture together virtuality and possibility”, a process that Empire seeks to slow down by blocking such connectivity and freedom of migration. If virtuality is “the set of powers to act that reside in the multitude” (357), then the “movements of the multitude [are] a virtuality that must be made real…circulation must become freedom” (361).

Global Citizenship

In order to disrupt the Imperial sovereignty and legitimization through difference, the multitude “must achieve a global citizenship” and resist “the slavery of belonging to a nation, an identity, and a people, and thus the desertion from sovereignty and the limits it places on subjectivity” (362). In such migration and non-identity, “nomadism and miscegenation appear here as figures as virtue” (362).

Corruption

The Empire “strikes back” in forms of corruption, where “the multitude must be unified or segmented into different unities: this is how the multitude has to be corrupted” (391). The corruption of exploitation naturally is inherent to Empire, as are the functioning of ideology “in the perversion of the senses of linguistic communication”—the biopolitical realm (391).

Migration, miscegenation, nomadism and Diaspora

All of these forms complicate and contradict the formation of Empire, these forms thus constitute a multitude which “defers” from the ideological processes of Empire—the nation-state, ethnicity, race, culture, etc.

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