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

58: Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri part III:
Against Empire: Desertion, Exodus and Nomadism: The New Barbarians

Summary by: Jeff McLaren
Against Empire: Desertion, Exodus and Nomadism: The New Barbarians
         Empire exists everywhere and no where at the same time. Empire's bureaucracy and mechanisms can appear powerless and all powerful at the same time(Q1). Empire can take its modern opposition and make it serve Empire's interest. Modern opposition usually takes the form of violent (and non-violent) struggles. Violent struggles are doomed to failure because no one can stand against the ubiquitous military, financial and cultural power of Empire; anyone who takes up a violent struggle today will ruin their future(Q2); violent struggle only legitimizes Empire's power(Q3). Non-violent struggle against Empire can at most make small adjustments to inessentials in the networks of Empire (Q4); but they again legitimize Empire. Modern struggle does not hurt Empire; it feeds it. Even science and technological development (which have traditionally destabilized regimes) legitimize Empire. (Q5)
         However there is hope if one wants to oppose Empire. The authors describe three forms of postmodern opposition which might be more successful due to their non-directional, non-demanding and nonsupporting character: desertion, exodus and nomadism.
         Desertion requires giving up and/or failing to support the institutions, processes and expectations of Empire. (Q6) Exodus and nomadism refer the the mobility and migration of labour. Exodus is the act of leaving and nomadism is the willingness to keep moving on. People who voluntarily move from one location to another represent for the authors one of the greatest powers on earth. Each and everyone of these people are seeking liberation and a better life. In this desire and the actions of many there is a hint and a hope of the power of the multitude to effect a better world.(Q7)
         Unfortunately the forces of Capital have always fought against labour mobility because from their perspective it is a desertion and a refusal to submit to the discipline of their established work regime.(Q8) The result is that most people who practice this form of opposition to Empire end up no better than (and often worse) than when they started. There are two reasons for the paucity of good results (both reasons are forms of focusing on the negative): 1) the sense or outlook of life of the people who desert and 2) ignorance of the powers of the multitude for production.
         In order to be a successful deserter one needs to be a barbarian. The authors would like to give a positive spin to the term “barbarians.”(Q9) Historically, barbarians after great struggle moved through transforming then destroying Imperial Rome. Barbarians, then and now, having lived in a “poverty of experience” seek out a new and better life. Where there are walls, barbarians see and seek new ways often destroying the obstacles for the purpose of creating a new life. Destruction for the sake of destruction is a lost cause and was never the goal of barbarians rather it was destruction for the sake of a new and better life. At this time the world needs a new barbarian horde with new ways of living that will smash the injustices and evils of Empire while making a better life for us.(Q10)
         The start of a new barbarian horde can be found in alternative lifestyles communities such as gay, bisexual and lesbian communities, the IWW union, the Occupy Wall Street, and perhaps the Tea Party movement (before it was highjacked). In essence any community of people who cannot submit to command. Then they need to understand where their power is: in production – next week's topic.
         Q1 Do you ever feel that you should not do something solely because it is illegal and not for any moral or ethical reason? The authors claim that that is one example of the disembodied power of Empire over your life: all powerful but no where to be seen. Have you felt angry with a member of some bureaucracy when you feel they cannot (or will not) do something for you? Bureaucrats always claim that something is against the rules or against policy and so they are powerless to help. The claim that “policy” is not in the hands of the person in front of you keenly deflects blame to a non-object. Lastly when the police come to arrest someone it is certain that they are all powerful as it is very difficult to escape from the police. In this sense Empire can be everywhere though internal mechanisms such as guilt or fear; powerless or all powerful through bureaucracy; and when needed can appear with overwhelming power. How does these notions of everywhere and no where; powerless and all powerful strike you?
         Q2 Do you really believe that violent struggles against the current world order are doomed to fail for both individuals and states?
         Q3 Do you believe that the UN, NATO or the US become more legitimized in the eyes of the world when they try to intervene (or perhaps meddle is a better word) in the affairs of other nations that are in a crisis? Which is better from a legitimation point of view: failure or success?
         Q4 A victory to grant abortion rights to women; a victory to grant personhood to fetuses: the authors claim that Empire could not care less about the issue. However if supporters of one side or the other challenge the system, its methods (rather than its conclusions) directly then they will feel the full force of Empire on their lives. The authors claim that for the most part the issues and causes people fight for are inessential to Empire's legitimacy as long as they fight for the issue within the system. Do you accept the authors distinction of essential and inessential elements to Empire?
         Q5 Since the development of science in the 1600s it has always challenged the powers that be. Science challenged authority with a method; the scientific method. Today science supports Empire by giving legitimacy to a method over a principle (ie the policy must be right even if it make no sense to me); by taking the human out of nature (ie taking out all values except repeatability and a type of objectivity); and most importantly through the production of knowledge within a system of accredited universities, pear reviewed journals and corporately financed research (each functions as each others legitimizer). Is it believable that science as a concept and as institutions are engaged in the enthusiastic support of the current world order?
         Q6 What do you understand by the term desertion? Who benefits from its negative connotations? The authors point out that soldiers who know they are about to die curse the war they fight and envy the happiness of the deserter. Could desertion ever be a positive word in your lexicon?
         Q7 Do you believe that the voluntary migration of people is a sign of a desire for something better in life? Is it possible to imagine this migration (exodus and nomadism) as a force for positive change?
         Q8 Is not the alarm clock a most unnatural device: a forced self discipline the makes us deny our body's need for sleep making us perpetually sleep deprived for the sake of …? Is there really a class struggle and if so which classes are in conflict? In your world, which class' interest are best supported by the system (and consequently by Empire)? The authors see any institution, policy and/or manufactured desire that restricts or hampers the mobility of the work force as a support for the upper classes. Is this true of immigration control and anti-human trafficking laws; the goal of home ownership; and the impulses created by a mass consumption society?
         Q9 What connotations do you associate with the word “barbarian”? Are they positive or negative?
         Q10 In this analogy today's capital and the upper class is the corrupt Roman Empire and the middle class are the submissive plebs. Just as many plebs joined the barbarians of old, today many in the middle class can also become barbarians. Do you accept the analogy as far as it goes? Would you want to be a barbarian? Who would you consider to be today's barbarians?

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