Philosophy Hammer
Philosophy, Economics, Politics & Psychology Tested with a Hammer

56: Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri part I:
The Problematic of Empire

Summary by: Jeff McLaren

         The Problematic of Empire
         In the categories most important for our political and social lives the world is fundamentally different today than it was 30 or 40 years ago. (Q1) Over the last 60 years we have witnessed the dismantling of formal empires and the growth of a world market in production and consumption. With these developments has come a new world order with new rules for ordering every aspect of human life. This new order with these new laws and rules constitute a new form of sovereignty different from any that has existed in the past: this new global sovereignty, made up of dynamic networks of sub-national, national and trans-national entities, the authors call Empire.(Q2)
         The world today is Empire (not an empire – not the latest in a long line of empires but something new) and Empire is growing stronger every day.(Q3) The authors' goal in writing this book is to provide a “general theoretical framework and a toolbox of concepts for theorizing and acting in and against Empire.” (xvi)
         “Imperialism is over.”(xiv) no country, not even the USA, will be a world leader in the same way that European countries were in the age of empires. (The USA does hold an exceptional position in the world today; however the authors claim that it is a result of the differences between the USA and the old empires; not their similarities.)
         Empire for the authors is not a metaphor; it is a concept. Where past imperialist empires had very clearly marked territories and limits, Empire does not. Empire's rule is now universal. Where an imperialist power claims that it is 'our turn now'; Empire presents itself as the natural way things should be now at the end of history. Where imperialism concerned itself primarily with social control for the sake of economic enrichment, Empire governs every human function and social interaction and creates the perceived and desired world. Imperialist empires rarely had ideologies. Ideology at the service of the state is a relatively new phenomenon. Those empires that used ideology had citizens and soldiers who believed that their culture was superior to all others and were providing a service; Empire's ideology also claims to provide a service but not a cultural one; Empire's ideology is always directed to peace (despite its practice always being directed to war).(Q4)
         In describing the constitution of Empire (of the new world order) the authors first start with its contradictory juridical formation. Empire was born of modern nations with their modern form of sovereignty and from which Empire derives its initial claims of legitimacy (ie like the UN, Empire is backed by the sovereign power of nations) but Empire must go beyond the traditional modern (Westphalian) sovereignty of nations because it can only survive on its own if it can legitimize itself independently of its parent nations. This requires a transfer or an aggrandizement of sovereignty to supra-national juridical entities.(Q5) Each success or (more often) failure of the process of sovereignty aggrandizement leads to the greater legitimization of Empire in both theory and practice.(Q6) (In theory with new versions of old ideas(Q7) and in practice through a permanent state of crisis(Q8) that continually calls forth Empire as a solution). Even failure to directly increase sovereignty indirectly leads to Empire's increased sovereignty.
         Secondly the authors draw attention to Empire's near total control within the permanent state of crisis in the social field: biopolitics. In a modern society of discipline there exist institutions (family, schools, hospitals, prisons, churches, firms etc.) which train and discipline the people within specific domains to act in certain ways. Today most institutions are in crisis: they no longer are able to train and discipline people in the postmodern controlling society as they did in the pasting modern world. In the postmodern controlling society disciplining is so common and pervasive that people have internalized it to the point of being blind to its control over their lives. Diffuse entities like the media, technology, finance etc. all work synergistically to create needs, minds, ideas, social relations; that is, to create all our subjectivities: everything we feel and think at every moment of our lives.(Q9)
         The authors see Empire as the enemy but it is not altogether evil. Empire is a force that disrupts all the power centers in the world and then reconstitutes new ones. As such Empire is doing away with all the old establishment power structures. In so doing Empire's capacity for force and violence is beyond measure for it inherits all of the modern world's destructive potential and adds previously unimaginable levels of control of the population. Empire cannot be beaten nor destroyed on its terms – those who have tried failed (even the whole 2nd world could not stand against the forces of Empire).(Q10) Our only hope is to redirect or seduce its capabilities of forming new power centers into an order that is more humane and liberating for the world's multitudes. This goal is eminently possible if enough people understand what Empire is and how it works; that is if enough people realize their position and what is at stake in the new world of Empire.(Q11)
         Q1 Do you believe the world today is somehow fundamentally different than in the past? Or would it be better to say that the world is just different to a degree rather than in kind or category? If you believe it is fundamentally different, what makes it different today?
         Q2 Is their notion of postmodern sovereignty really a different sovereignty than the traditional modern Westphalian model of sovereignty? Can we account for the world today with Hobbesian or Lockean models governance? Do you feel that the government or the media or some other institution has too much power over you?
         Q3 The authors claim that everything can help make Empire stronger: from selective media reporting; the moral indignation of other culture specific practices; international coalitions of the willing; the latest technology (iPhone5), fashion or popular culture products and even our economic system all play a role in calling out to Empire; in bring it more and more legitimacy and power over our lives. Does this sound farfetched? The authors claim there is a common purpose but not an overall command. Do you believe that there is a leaderless self-reinforcing network of power relations in the world? If so, is it getting more powerful?
         Q4 What do you think of as the difference between modern and postmodern? The authors contrast modern (imperialist) imperialism with postmodern (Imperial) Empire. How does this notion to separate the modern from the postmodern strike you?
         Q5 This seems to fit with bureaucratic theory which claims that once an bureaucracy is set up it will fight for its survival and aggrandizement. Do you see the UN, NATO, WTO, the IMF, the BIS, the World bank etc. as having a life of their own independently of the nations that brought them to life? Could the USA shut anyone of them down? What about sub-national entities such as FEMA, CIA, FBI, DoD, the DHS. Do you think that the president could shut them down today? The authors believe that these entities have achieved independent legitimacy and as such are part of Empire. Even NGOs such as Oxfam, the Red Cross, Doctors without borders etc. these organizations are at the forefront of calls for the enlargement of Empire often through the tool of moral indignation and calls for intervention.
         Q6 Can the failures of the UN (or any other institution) be used as an excuse to grant the UN more power and/or more legitimacy?
         Q7 The authors call attention to the recent resurrection of the Christian notion of a Just War to legitimize interventions, police actions and preemptive wars. Do you see a certain obfuscation in the very words we use to describe events?
         Q8 The media are very good at providing a non-stop litany of crises to suit everybody's style and taste but does that really mean we are more likely to call in Empire against our interests?
         Q9 Is it conceivable that most our thoughts and desires and actions are created for us? How many of our commitments did we consciously choose as opposed to having them imposed on you from in the form of expectations from earlier commitments?
         Q10 North Korea and Iran seem to be fighting against Empire; groups labeled terrorists and extremists seem to be too. Do you think they are doomed to fail? Is some one who resists Empire on this level (the plane of immanence) running to their ruin?
         Q11 At this point in our discussion, what do you see as being at stake concerning the rise of Empire?

© 2008 - 2018, James Jeff McLaren