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

60: Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri part V:
War and Empire

Summary by: Jeff McLaren

         War in the Age of Empire
         Empire refers to the new global sovereignty made up of a hierarchical but leaderless, dynamic network of non-national, sub-national, national and transnational entities which depend on each other for legitimation and that oversee the world market in production & consumption and the ordering of every aspect of human life. Biopower refers to “...a form of rule aimed not only at controlling the population but producing and reproducing all aspects of social life.” Biopower is a regime that creates all subjectivities.
         Modern War
         In distinguishing between modern and premodern war, most historians make a demarcation at the treaties of Westphalia in 1648 in which a modern concept of sovereignty emerged: the state became sovereign. There were to be no more wars of religion: religious dogma was not going to be the excuse or motivation for war. Neither emperors, nor popes nor other states could claim a right to dictate the internal affairs of other states.(Q1) Most of the wars since 1648 have been modern wars with the principle goal being the economic control of territory.(Q2)
         A second aspect of modern war is its exceptionality: war was supposed to be limited to battle fields and brief spans of time; special laws applied to war (both in the practice and in the civil society) but peace was to be the natural norm. The end or goal of war was to achieve peace on favourable terms(Q3).
         Recently, with the advent of the wars on poverty, drugs and terrorism and with the development of police actions (Vietnam) and coalitions of the willing (Iraq) modern war has become extinct. (the last mostly modern war was the Falkland Islands War in 1982).(Q4)
         Postmodern War
         In the postmodern world the state of exception has become the rule: we are in a world of unceasing and interminable war. Those of us living in or near the political centre of the world (including Canada) will not likely see hot interstate fighting but there are consequences for our lives. Postmodern war means 1) war is no longer spatially and temporally defined: postmodern war can happen anywhere and will need to be fought again every day. 2) the distinction between the outside and the inside becomes blurred to the point where everything is a police action and the people become primary suspects based on resistance and nonconformity. 3) The enemy has become universalized disembodied and wholly evil: no one in their right mind would support terrorism so questioning a policy will bring suspicions of evilness and/or traitorousness. 4) lastly, since war requires obedience to the commander, democracy, freedom and justice are sacrificed with ever increasing frequency and bluntness.(Q5) Postmodern war is a particularly successful form of biopower.(Q6)
         Postmodern war involves many apparent contradictions. The first contradiction involves the development of the military industrial complex: a source of biopower that deals in death. A second: the technological dream of developing a risk free war which takes away all incentive on our side for ending war. A third: the existence of outsourced armies in the form of allies and client states (that is mercenaries) creates a constant security problem. Unlike modern war which sought to end a war in victory or negotiation the essence of postmodern war is directed at a state of never ending war with increasing stakes.(Q7)
         The Other Side of War: Resisting War
         For the authors the other side of war is not defence or how to fight back (at the point of violence the resistance has probably lost its cause) rather the question is how does one fight a system dominated by the vital biopower of war. Resistance is always and everywhere (from teenage rebellion to full revolution – even if not fully articulated) a quest for the dream of perfect democracy and freedom (their precise meaning will have to wait for another meeting). This goal that has never been achieved but that which continues to be dreamed is the common thread that can be found in all forms of resistance. Empire can be made compatible with the multitudes' interests (as we saw last time) but aggressive war can never be in the multitudes' nor democracy's nor justice's interests. The first task is to end the biopower of the war machine.
         A network form of organization is needed that uses the immaterial production of the multitude to engineer a more democratic and free society; a biopolical production that develops a new antiwar ethic and promotes the desertion and exodus from the war making legitimatizers of the current form of Empire.(Q8)
         Q1 Until modern times people spoke of attacking a neighbour based on the will of God, or for the sake of the true religion, or by imperial right – these notions are pre-modern and were meant to be forever eliminated at the Peace of Westphalia. Today, the essence of these notions is coming back. Can you see yourself (or people you know) supporting offensive war for some overriding justification such as “human rights,” “security,” or “humanitarian intervention”? These notions are at their core the same as the pre-modern notions because we believe we should impose our sense of “the good” on others who may disagree. Do you believe there are occasions when we should compel others to accept your morality and values?
         Q2 Is this idea of identifying 'economic control of a territory' or 'economic expansion' as the main or sole reason for a modern aggressive war realistic or not?
         Q3 Although peace was in theory the norm there were just as many wars (if not more) in the modern era as before. From the perspective of Europeans, the continent did look more peaceful (with the Napoleonic wars, WWI and WWII being exceptional times) The difference being that wars were exported in the form of imperialism to other continents. From your perspective and in terms of war which is a better world to live in the pre-modern or the modern world? You get both in the postmodern world.
         Q4 Does war for purely economic control seem dated or is it still very much alive? Some say that the US went into Iraq for oil – this is a modern economic motive. Some say America went in to get rid of an evil dictator; make the world more democratic; to eliminate WMDs – these are postmodern justifications. The authors suggest that all of these are factors that can sell the idea. However the real reason we went to war was for the sake of war. Iraq was the next easiest target to sell after Afghanistan. Then came Libya; right now it is Syria; next it will likely be Iran. How does the notion of war for the sake of war strike you?
         Q5 Two examples are the 1) the move from a defence narrative to a security narrative: this is a move from reactive to proactive policies; outward directedness to inward directedness; from an actual physical enemy to a potential enemy; preserving the social order to changing the social order. Also consider 2) the justification for violence: a nation's right to the exclusive use of violence within its borders is eroding (which is not necessarily a bad thing). However, in the modern world there was one justification for violence: the reaction to the initiation of violence by another. Today justifications can include morality (i.e. human rights protection, humanitarian intervention), legality (UN mandate), and most importantly a retroactive legitimacy based on “success”. Do you see a net benefit or net detriment for your life and our society in these moves?
         Q6 Have you sensed profound changes in the world especially since 9/11 in how you personally relate to security (and non-security) related apparatuses (people, procedures and institutions)?
         Q7 These are contradictions only from a modern perspective in which peace is the desired end. Who benefits most from a “justified” unending war? How will this affect your life and your children's lives?
         Q8 Do you have any ethical red lines that you would never cross no matter how much money was offered? A new subjectivitiy such as “I would rather starve than work for Haliburton [or any other war legitimatizer]” is needed. Is it possible?

© 2008 - 2018, James Jeff McLaren