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

62: Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri part VII:

Summary by: Jeff McLaren

         The project of the multitude is the project of absolute democracy: the rule of all by all or in other words: the universal, equal and free rule of everyone. The authors' notion of democracy contrasts with Athenian democracy which was the rule of the majority and with the modern concept of representative democracy both of which were unfinished steps on the way to an ideal which is only now within reach.(a)
         All of the grievances of the modern world can be categorized into three broad topics: 1) critiques of current forms of representation; 2) protests against poverty; and 3) opposition to war. These are the sources of the crisis of modern democracy: that is modern democracy cannot seem to solve these problems but intuitively we believe that democracy should be able to solve these grievances. (b) Absolute democracy will solve these problems. (c)
         There are also many causes for the reform of various institutions that are perceived to be contributing to one or all the grievances. These reform movements are usually good in theory but the practice is difficult to maintain because each successful reform can sometimes be co-opted by the ruling elite of Empire (for example the Canadian Bill of Rights) or what is possible to reform is just a small drop taken out of a corrupt ocean. Nevertheless the amelioration of even a small degree is preferable to none. We should never stop trying to make the world a better place. (d)
         The authors would like you to consider the ultimate reform. The reform (or perhaps revolution is a better word) that will make all others infinitely easier, more successful and efficacious, and more meaningful. Bring about absolute democracy at every opportunity: from the common everyday cooperative acts to a global absolute democracy of the multitude where everyone rules over everyone.
         First: realize that one (a king, president, a party or a leader) is not necessary to rule over all -- we can all rule ourselves. The leader is superfluous we are not. (e)
         Second: realize that we do not live in a world of scarcity anymore-- we have enough economic production capabilities to provide more than the basic needs of everyone on Earth. Additionally should not live in fear of lack.(f)
         Now consider some models of how the democracy of the multitude would work: 1) the human brain; made up of trillions of neurons working in common; not one having power over the others yet working together despite conflict (we are conflicted individuals) and the unexpected (any new situation) to run the human body. 2) Language; made up of hundreds of thousands of individual words that when put together they can express an almost limitless amount -- limited only by our imagination. Consider also that language seems to have a life of its own: how often do you consciously think about what you are going to say before you say it? Consider finally language's evolution through time: there is no central force and no one person can evolve it by design. And yet it's use is very much regulated by us its users. 3) open-source programming collaborations: hundreds of individuals making decisions and working in common that produce products just as good if not better than private proprietary software. 4) The Zapatista Army of National Liberation (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional, EZLN) often referred to simply as the Zapatistas. The authors seem to keep bring them up thought their books as excellent examples of everything right in a revolutionary movement for absolute democracy and anti-Empire.(g)
         The fight for true absolute democracy begins with the fight against sovereignty: when someone claims authority and the right to impose their beliefs and values on another in the name of the group. True democracy begins when the multitude come together to solve problems. If the proposed solution requires aggressive violence it loses the support of the multitude; the opposition vacates the institution thereby delegitimizing it and setting up a defensive legitimate institution.(h)
         Let's try a real practical example: next meeting's date.
         (a) the birth of democracy in Athens was the first step on a journey to absolute democracy. Where one property owning man had one vote was a step a head compared to a tyrant or king. Modern representative democracy was meant to overcome the large distances and numbers of people in a modern nation. However all hitherto existing forms of democracy have suffered under one common obstacle that effectively destroys absolute democracy: the sovereignty of a unity. As long as one person or group can claim to speak and act for the unity they are actually claiming more power than they really have. This power is always aggressively used to repress portions of the multitude. Do you believe that the sovereignty of a unity is a stumbling block to absolute democracy? Have you ever been unsatisfied with the democratic process? Do you believe the notion of an absolute democracy in which the rule of all by all would be better or even possible?
         (b) Is there really a general wish or feeling that if we had good representation we should be able to solve the problems of poverty and war within a democratic system. Part of the problem with modern sovereignty is the underlying assumption of a war of all against all. (If we do not have a strong sovereign the will be anarchy any our lives will be "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short") do you believe this assumption? The alternative is that we are naturally social and cooperative animals. Could you ever imagine a society that would be safe prosperous and pleasant without the need for police or institutions of fear and coercion?
         (c) Jesus said that we will always have the poor amount us (Mark 14:7, Matthew 16:11). Historians say that was has been almost constant through out human history and therefore will likely always be with us. The authors disagree. Can you believe that a world without poverty and war is possible? And possibly close at hand?
         (d) Do you believe that the current local, provincial, national and international institutions can be reformed for the betterment of all peoples here in Canada and in the world and not just for the elites? The authors believe it is possible on one condition.
         (e) There seem to be more and more examples of self organizing groups today than ever before. The authors claim that it is due to the hegemony of industrial labour being replaced by the hegemony of immaterial labour as the dominant production paradigm. Do you believe that it is easier to self organize today than at other times? If so does it have to do with the move to the hegemony of immaterial labour?
         (f) The authors do not mean that we should not bother to plan for our lives rather that the fear of lack created by the media as a form of social control is unjustified when compared to the reality: it is unlikely that you will ever starve or freeze to death in Canada. And there really is nothing to fear from NOT getting the latest smartphone. Do you agree or disagree?
         (g) The EZLN has been "at war" with Mexico generally in a non-violent offensive and violent defensive strategy; they seek local control of land and natural resources; they act on the idea of participatory democracy or radical democracy by limiting public servants' terms to two weeks; they do not use visible organization leaders, and constantly refer to the people they are governing for major decisions, strategies and conceptual visions in a bottom up style of democracy; and they support total equality between men and women.
         (h) How does the notion of sovereignty as the major stumbling block of democracy strike you? Certainly there are examples of cooperation without sovereignty but some would argue that we would still need some sovereignty in some cases. Would a world without any legitimate sovereignty be possible or desirable?

© 2008 - 2018, James Jeff McLaren